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What is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit?

Jesus had talked about the Spirit in Acts 1 before he ascended to heaven, saying how “John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:5) Even before that, John the Baptist made a reference to this new baptism in Matthew 3:11 when he said “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

And to go even further back, the prophet Joel talks about the outpouring of the Spirit way before any of this happens, a passage Peter references on the day of Pentecost:

After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone;

        your sons and your daughters will prophesy,

        your old men will dream dreams,

        and your young men will see visions. (Joel 2:28)

Not only does this seem important, but there is a clear distinction between baptisms. So what is the baptism in the Holy Spirit and how does it differ from water baptism? Other than the lack of liquid needed, the baptism of the Spirit is very different, yet a lot more difficult to pinpoint. One analogy I like to use that I learned from Bible teacher Putty Putman might be helpful:

A helpful Illustration of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit

If you think of a snow globe, you know that the little pieces of snow are always in the globe. When you give your life to Jesus and commit to following him – the Holy Spirit – (or the snow) comes to take up permanent residence in you. He helps guide you, brings conviction of sin, and even intercedes for you. (Romans 8:26)

But the baptism in the Holy Spirit is like when the snow globe gets shaken up. All of a sudden all of that snow is everywhere and that shaking can often be felt in our bodies, it can affect us emotionally, and it empowers us for Kingdom work.

In his fantastic book from InterVarsity Press, Miracle Work, author and pastor Jordan Seng describes it this way:

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is an empowering manifestation of God’s indwelling presence in an individual.

Isn’t power something we need? Very often, there are barriers between where we are now and where we want to be, and if you’re like me you’ve come to understand that you can’t overcome those barriers using your power alone. Maybe we need a helper to give us what we can’t drum up on our own.

The last words Jesus said before ascending to heaven reference this power:

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

This power to be “witnesses” not only gives us what we need to share the good news, but can also unleash spiritual gifts, it can give us a hunger for God’s word, a passion for intimacy with Him, and can bring the affirmation of our identities we need to recall as sons and daughters of the King.

And speaking of good news, it’s actually really easy to access the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In scripture, there is a pattern that emerges which sees people laying hands on someone else to receive this, impartation style. It’s why it’s important as a ministry leader to give people opportunities to get filled and re-filled as much as possible.

But when we pray for others to receive this gift, it’s important to remember that it is not only something that might not happen instantly, but it’s also often tough to decipher how or if anything is happening at all. But an approach full of patience and hunger often yields a tangible sense or feeling that the Spirit is at work within us.

Perhaps you have been in a situation or church where people have manipulated or even faked an experience with the Holy Spirit for attention. I’m sorry. The problem with the church is that imperfect vessels (you and me) are involved. But don’t let that sour you completely on the work the Spirit does in our lives when we ask for more. The best way to put aside your skepticism is to notice how people change after their encounters with the Holy Spirit. Basically, what is the fruit of their lives after being empowered or filled? Another test is to find out if you or others are suddenly desiring the same things the Spirit desires.