Is a believer baptized in the Spirit at conversion or after

Is Spirit Baptism at Conversion or Later?

How and when the Holy Spirit enters a believer has been the focus of much debate in recent years. With the rise of the charismatic movement, much more supposed phenomenal activity has taken place in churches, being attributed to the Holy Spirit. There has been the rise of practices such as being “slain in the Spirit,” which is found nowhere in Scriptures. Being led or filled with the Spirit has taken on various new meanings, far different from bearing fruit.

There are two main formulations of the time line. The traditional stance teaches that every believer is “baptized” in the Spirit at regeneration, and on and off throughout their walk they are “filled” with the Spirit as they yield their life to His control and bear fruit for the Kingdom. The more recent charismatic position is that the believer has the Spirit from regeneration onward, but to reach a higher level of spirituality one must seek out the “baptism” of the Spirit as a second blessing later on in their walk. This second blessing is manifested by speaking in tongues or prophesying. I once heard of a man’s supposed “baptism in the Spirit” where he lied on the ground and was levitated, being lifted and lowered a few times.

The traditional view keeps progressive revelation in mind, looking to the more developed theological statements in the later epistles. Their motto is “Acts is de-scriptive; not pre-scriptive,” meaning that just because a certain thing happened does not make it the standard for every Christian’s experience. They hold that the circumstances in the early church are different from ours. To them, the miraculous ought not be seen as the normal experience of the church throughout all ages. They will cite 1 Corinthians 12:13, which says “by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body,” to show that every believer is baptized with the Spirit. They will point to Ephesians 5:18 as one of many examples where believers (at a point after conversion) are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit.”

The charismatics on the other hand see the miraculous parts of Acts as normative for today. There we see accounts of people who have been saved for a long time being baptized in the Spirit. Acts also contains accounts of believers speaking in tongues, etc. after receiving the Spirit. They see no reason for the Holy Spirit to operate differently in the church today.

Might I say, though, that both of these positions are lacking. In both cases the theologians will approach Acts with preconceived notions of their own systematic theologies. This is never a good practice.

To help us all gain a better grasp on the Spirit’s work in Acts and today, I offer the chart below. This chart is an attempt to synthesize all of the terminology used for the Spirit entering a believer, and whether the Spirit entered at or after their conversion. Following the chart is an unbiased interpretation of the data, listing many clues we can glean for developing our opinions on the matter. I hope that we can all lay aside our prejudices and allow the data to speak for itself.

 

At Conversion

Post Conversion

Baptized”

Acts 11:16

1:5 (After salvation, yet first time they personally received the Spirit. First time Spirit is ever given, thus unique)

Filled”

2:4 (see note for 1:5)

4:31

9:17 (After conversion, but initial receiving of the Spirit)

4:8 and 13:9 (NASB has in margin “having just been filled”)

6:3, 5; 7:55; 11:24 (men described as “full of the Spirit”)

13:52

Fell Upon”

10:44; 11:15

8:16 (Although after conversion, this also is an initial act)

God Gave”

5:32; 11:17; 15:8

Bestowed”

8:18 (in a separate row than ‘given’ because in this case it specifically mentions bestowal by the apostles)

Poured Out Upon”

2:17, 18, 33; 10:45

2:17, 18
2:33 (see note for 1:5)

Received”

2:38; 10:47; 19:2

8:15, 17, 19 (see note for 8:16)

Come upon”

19:6

1:8 (see note for 1:5)

Unbiased Analysis: What does the data itself say?

The references to the Spirit “baptism” in Acts 1:5 and “coming upon men” in Acts 1:8 are pointing forward to the outpouring (Acts 2:33) and filling (Acts 2:4) upon the apostles at Pentecost. The “pouring out” which occurred then includes both pre- and post-conversion giving of the Spirit. It would be hard to limit Joel’s words to only refer to the “pouring out” (Acts 2:17-18) upon the apostles and not extending to the 3000 who believed that day and “received” the Spirit (Acts 2:38). The Spirit is “poured out” in the same way among the Gentiles at their conversion in Acts 10:45.

The application of Jesus’ words applies not only to the apostles then and there, but to all who believe. For Peter later (Acts 11:16) references the same quote and applies it to the Spirit “falling upon” Gentiles at their conversion (Acts 11:15-17).

The term “baptism” is used for a post-conversion experience in Acts 1:5. However, we should not see a parallel here with the charismatic doctrine. These already-Christians are said to be baptized because it is the initial giving of the Spirit ever in this way. We are talking about a shift in salvation history. They had not yet received the Holy Spirit because there was none yet (on earth) to receive. Yet, after the Spirit is initially given we see no more post-conversion “baptisms” in the Spirit.

On the other hand, we do see this same action which was earlier called “baptism” (Acts 1:5) and “coming upon” (Acts 1:8) labeled as being “filled” by the Spirit (Acts 2:4). Thus, although the “At Conversion” column is empty for “filled”, here the term is used for the initial action the Spirit takes upon a person. Also, “filled” in this instance is paralleled with two terms which denote the initial act at salvation in other places.

In Paul’s case, “fill” is the word used for his post-conversion receiving (Acts 9:17). However, this post-conversion filling differs from the usual “be ye filled” aspect, for this is the first time Paul received the Spirit (he did not have the Spirit in him while blind and fasting). To object that Paul had the Spirit before then because every believer does is quite awkward and would be reading our developed system into the text. Therefore, from this and the case above, “baptized” and “filled” with the Spirit can be used interchangeably.

Acts 8:14-17 also describes believers getting the Spirit after conversion. Again, it is nonsense to force the traditional model into the passage and say they had it all along. This “receiving” of the Spirit is the first time the Spirit enters them. This passage also contains a variety of vocabulary, paralleling “receiving,” (Acts 8:15, 17, 19) “falling upon,” (Acts 8:16) and “bestowal” (Acts 8:18). These then, although post-conversion, can be set alongside “baptism” of the Spirit as terms for the initial receiving of the Spirit.

In Acts 11:15-16 “fell upon” and “baptized” are paralleled, both referring to receiving the Spirit at conversion. It also says that it was “given” of God in Acts 11:17, a term used only to denote ‘at conversion’ elsewhere (Acts 5:32; 15:8). This retells the story just before in Acts 10:44-47 where “fell upon,” “poured out on,” and “received” are all paralleled, referring to an experience at conversion. Thus, these terms are all interchangeable. Yet the three terms in Acts 10:44-47 are each also used in post-conversion instances.

The term “fill” is often used in the “be ye filled” sense, but not always. In Acts 6:3, 5; 11:24; 13:52 we see believers described as being “full of the Spirit”. This seems to mean that the men spoken of are living a life yielded to the Spirit, bearing much fruit. The same may be the meaning for Peter and Paul in Acts 4:8 and Acts 13:9 respectively, although it is more ambiguous because it could be that the Spirit was giving them utterance at those times. However, in the case of Peter, John, and their companions in Acts 4:31 it seems more like an outpouring of the Spirit occurred because of the supernatural activity accompanying the “filling” (the building shook). So also, although Stephen was a man “full of the Spirit” (Acts 6:5), the reference to him being filled with the Spirit at his martyrdom (Acts 7:55) seems more naturally to be a special outpouring too because of the vision.

The account of the disciples of John in chapter 19 is tricky, for there is debate over whether or not they were saved. I personally hold that they were not saved until Paul spoke to them. That aside, we see that this act is the first time that the Spirit entered them. Here, this initial work of the Spirit is labeled both “receiving the Spirit” (Acts 19:2) and the Spirit “coming upon them” (Acts 19:6). Both of these terms are used only of the initial entering of the Spirit. This has larger implications if they were saved before this encounter.

-Steven Rohn

What do you think?