Formed by the Spirit in Baptism

Summary: Many people today are baffled by the initial evidence of Spirit baptism, speaking in tongues. Throughout this post, I hope to demystify this precious baptism for believers and help you understand why we speak in tongues when Jesus baptizes us in the Holy Spirit.


In my last post, I finished teaching on developing Christian character as we talked about how to suffer as a Christian. In this post, I begin another facet of discipleship in Jesus, formed by the Spirit in baptism.

Some Christians don’t believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I believe a disciple of Jesus must be equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). If God has something more for us as Christians, we should desire it. Spirit baptism is part of that process by which God’s Spirit dwelling in us from salvation wants to minister more effectively and powerfully through us.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit has merit for the growing disciple of Christ. Why would we spend so much time talking about Jesus’s teaching and commands for us and not address what the Holy Spirit does in us? If He dwells in us, He has goals for our formation. He has a purpose in Spirit baptism. With that said, let’s get started.

Biblical Evidence for Spirit Baptism

Christians who don’t believe in the baptism of the Spirit suggest doctrinal statements such as cessationism (belief that the baptism of the Spirit and the gifts were only for the first century until after the Bible was written), not enough evidence in Scripture for it, and its abuses and misuses in the Church.

As we walked through the biblical evidence, have an open mind and a heart ready to receive from the Holy Spirit. There have been misuses of the baptism and gifts of the Spirit. But should we stop doing what Scripture shows just because it is abused by some? After all, the virgin birth of Jesus is mentioned only in one or two verses, and never referenced after that.

The rest of Scripture can refer to something that happens earlier without having to restate it repeatedly. Opponents of Spirit baptism say it only happens in Acts. And yet, it is the foundation for the gifts of the Spirit talked about numerous times by several New Testament authors. So, I ask as a disciple of Jesus, How many times does the Bible have to say something before we believe and practice it?

As far as the cessationist argument goes, what about other gifts of the Spirit? Did we stop the fruit of the Spirit? To my knowledge, we continue to exercise love, peace, patience, and faithfulness, along with the other fruit of the Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit are still in operation today. We still rely on the fivefold ministry and leadership gifts such as pastors, teachers, evangelists, and even apostles and prophets.

If this is all true, then we must get selective about the things we don’t like the Bible telling us, which is what cessationists do. I’m not trying to be rude or argumentative. We need to think through what the Bible says, and put it into action. With all that said, what does the Bible say about the baptism in the Spirit?

John the Baptist prophesied about Spirit baptism when he said Jesus will baptize with “the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). It’s interesting that in Acts 2 where the disciples are baptized in the Spirit, they have tongues of fire on their heads. Jesus thought Spirit baptism was so important that He told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the “promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4-5).

In Acts 2:1-13, we see the disciples in one place praying and seeking the Spirit. When you are baptized in the Spirit, you will speak in tongues. Why do I believe that? Notice what happened when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples. There was a mighty, rushing wind, tongues of fire, and they spoke in tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Let’s go to another place in Acts (Acts 10:44-48). Peter is preaching to Gentiles for the first time. Before he finishes his teaching, the gift of the Spirit comes on the Gentiles. How did they know? They spoke in tongues, just as the Spirit had done to the disciples in Acts 2. Peter immediately assumes that they need to be baptized in water because they were already baptized in the Spirit.

In Acts 19, Paul finds some disciples among the Ephesians and asks them about Spirit baptism (Acts 19:1-7). They had been baptized in water as John the Baptist baptized, but they had not even heard there was a Holy Spirit. These disciples readily accepted that they needed to be baptized again into the name of Jesus. When Paul lays his hands on them, the Holy Spirit comes on them. How do we know? They spoke in other tongues and prophesied.

In each of these accounts, Spirit baptism has several signs, but the only common denominator of each account is that people speak in tongues when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. Another place in Acts does not explicitly tell us people spoke in tongues when receiving the Spirit, but we may infer something like this happened. Philip preaches the gospel in Samaria, and many people believed the message (Acts 8:9-13). They are water baptized in the name of Jesus.

After this, the apostles come from Jerusalem so they might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-25). Watch the language of the passage. They come so that the Samaritans can “receive the Holy Spirit,” they had “only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (water baptism), they “laid their hands on them,” and they received the Holy Spirit. The laying on of hands is what Paul does in Acts 19. Luke distinguishes between water baptism in the name of Jesus and what happened when they “received the Holy Spirit.”

Let us continue to read closely what happens to Simon the Sorcerer. When he “saw” that the Spirit was given through the “laying on of hands,” he wants to buy the ability to lay his hands on people so they may receive the Holy Spirit. What did Simon see? What was so extraordinary he wanted to buy it? Simon had seen all kinds of supernatural activity. And yet, when he sees the apostles lay their hands on people, he saw something he had never seen before. Though the text does not say, we may deduce that they spoke in tongues.

When Paul lays his hands on the Ephesians disciples, they speak in tongues as they “receive the Holy Spirit.” The ability to speak in a foreign language would have been extraordinary. These clues help us to see continuity with the rest of the Acts accounts of receiving the Holy Spirit. It’s not a hill I’m willing to die on, but it makes sense. Therefore, we have three accounts that explicitly describe speaking in tongues as the evidence that people were Spirit baptized, and one plausible account.

Are these the only places that speaking in tongues is described? No! Paul talks about speaking in tongues and prophecy as gifts in 1 Corinthians 14. So it happens in more than Acts. Paul distinguishes between speaking in tongues as a gift for the church and a personal prayer language that edifies our spirits (1 Corinthians 14:1-5, 14-18). He prizes speaking in tongues as a personal prayer language, but in the church service, the gift of speaking in tongues must be accompanied by the gift of interpretation.

Who Baptizes You?

The Spirit is not the one who baptizes you. Whenever John the Baptist said of Jesus, that “He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire.” Jesus gives us this gift by immersing us in the Holy Spirit and His power. Jesus is the Spirit baptizer. The Holy Spirit is His Spirit, and He wants you to walk in the power of Spirit baptism. This is when we say you are “baptized in the Spirit.” It’s not the Spirit who does the baptizing, but Jesus.

What Happens in Spirit Baptism?

Let’s use the example of water baptism to understand why something must happen that can be observed by others, especially those praying for us to receive the Spirit. They would not know we were baptized in the Spirit if something didn’t happen they could observe. How do you know someone gets baptized in water? They get wet!

So also, when Jesus baptizes you in the Spirit (the first time) and even when you are filled with the Spirit regularly, the first sign when you are baptized for the first time is speaking in tongues according to the Bible. When you are filled with the Holy Spirit regularly after that, there may be other signs.

Let’s demystify baptism. In both water and the Spirit, the Greek word is baptizo. We have essentially brought the word from Greek into English. We must translate “baptize” to understand it better. If you look it up in a Greek dictionary, the word means “to immerse.” So, when you are Spirit baptized, you are immersed in the Spirit’s power.

Spirit baptism is a “second work” of the Spirit. Everyone who knows Jesus and is His disciple receive the Holy Spirit as a Seal at salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14). Anyone who suggests Christians who are not Spirit baptized is “not saved,” or a second-class Christian who cannot be effective for Jesus does not understand this principle. Spirit baptism has specific reasons for happening in our lives.

What the Holy Spirit Does in Baptism

For many of us readers of the Bible and unbelievers, speaking in tongues sounds strange. After all, our cell phones and devices can translate another language with fair accuracy. Why do we need to speak in tongues? We need to understand why we speak in tongues when we are Spirit baptized.

James sheds some light on our discussion. He tells us that no one can control the tongue, which is “a restless evil full of deadly poison” (James 3:2b, 8). No person can tame their tongue. Since this is the case, we need Someone to help us control our tongues. This is why the Holy Spirit brings His power on us by speaking in tongues.

He says, “You can’t control your tongue, but I can. And I will.” We need His help because one reason Jesus baptizes us is to become strong witnesses for Jesus (Acts 1:8). That’s exactly what happens when they are Spirit baptized in Acts 2. They speak the languages of their visitors, praising God in those languages (Acts 2:6b, 8). Luke lists at least 14 nationalities with different languages.

The Holy Spirit controls our tongues so we can speak about Jesus. He who speaks for Jesus and exalts Him wants to do the same in us. If He can control our tongues, He can control us and lead us into holiness that glorifies Jesus. All we must do is listen and obey. When we are immersed in the Spirit, we speak and live as those worthy of the name of Christ.

Seek the Baptism

All that is left is for each of us to seek the baptism in the Spirit. This is the promise of the Father. Jesus wants to bless us with Spirit baptism so that we can speak about Him and live holy lives that glorify Him. Theologians argue about whether today’s speaking in tongues is like that first time, using the languages of people to declare God’s glory.

I can make the case that Spirit languages do not only include human languages. But that’s a discussion for another time. Seek the baptism in the Holy Spirit so you can be an effective witness of Jesus and what He’s done in your life. The Spirit empowers us for many other things in our Christian walk, but witnessing about Jesus is the first and most important reason we seek to be Spirit baptized.

Growth Challenge

Consider the biblical evidence and reasoning behind speaking in tongues as the initial evidence of Spirit baptism. If you have not already received the promise of the Father, seek Spirit baptism until you receive it.

Up Next

We have begun our miniseries on Spirit formation, starting with the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In my next post, I will continue the theme of Spirit formation by talking about walking with the Spirit.

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