The baptism in the Holy Spirit is nothing to fear. It's God's gift for all Christians.
The word "Pentecost" has special meaning for more than 500 million Christian believers worldwide. They not only joyfully tell the story of Acts 2 (called by some "the most-read chapter in the Bible"); they also experience the Holy Spirit just as the early disciples did.
Fifty days after Jesus' crucifixion, on the annual Jewish festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem, God launched the church of Jesus Christ with a mighty outpouring of His Holy Spirit. Here's how the Bible describes the event:
"When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:1-4, NKJV).
This marvelous personal encounter is known as "the baptism with the Holy Spirit," and it is accompanied by the miracle of "speaking in tongues." It wasn't for the disciples alone; you too can have this experience--your very own Pentecost.
Before the feast of Pentecost, Jesus' disciples had been praying in Jerusalem for 10 days. They realized their situation was tenuous because Jesus had been crucified there a month and a half before. However, they also remembered that, on the night before He died, Jesus had announced His departure and promised to send them the Holy Spirit as His replacement.
Forty days later (10 days before the day of Pentecost), the resurrected Jesus appeared for the last time and affirmed His pledge. "And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, 'which,' He said, 'you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now'"(Acts 1:4-5). Then they watched, dumbfounded, as He physically ascended into the heavens.
Pentecost Then and Now
As the small band of Galileans continued their prayer vigil "continually in the temple praising and blessing God" (Luke 24:53), a great tide of festive, boisterous pilgrims pressed into the swollen city, happy to meet with friends and worship at the glorious hub of Hebrew religion. Thousands began gathering into the courtyards of the great Temple, a massive structure that could accommodate 210,000 persons. Early Pentecost morning, 120 disciples were already praying in Solomon's Porch (or possibly the Court of the Women).
Suddenly three miracles commanded attention. The Spirit arrived--accompanied by a howling wind, a blazing fire and miraculous tongues.
Imagine a wind of hurricane proportions, heard but not felt. "Suddenly" means that God was moving and nothing could stop Him. The ruah, the "breath" of God promised by Jesus, had arrived (see John 3:8; Ezek. 37).
With it came a sheet of fire that descended over the disciples. Quickly the fiery mass divided into small flames that danced through the air, coming to rest on the head of each one of the 120 followers of Jesus. This was not literal fire, but "as of" or "like" fire, meaning it was absolutely real but also uniquely divine.
The third miracle was an explosion of sound. The unscholarly Galileans began speaking in more than a dozen known languages--although they had not learned them--as if they were expert linguists. This was the first manifestation of "speaking in tongues," the phenomenon that Jesus said would occur among His followers.
The disciples were not preaching in tongues but rather offering prophetic worship. The people said, "'We hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God'" (Acts 2:11). These worship acclamations not only glorified God but also softened hearts for Peter's subsequent message (like a plow breaking up hard ground).
After the ruckus had somewhat subsided, Peter began to preach the good news of Christ to the gathered crowd (probably in Aramaic, the common language). Midway into his sermon, he proclaimed a classic Christian concept in simple 1-2-3 style: "'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:38). Peter also had words for our generation: "'For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off [the Gentiles], as many as the Lord our God will call'" (v. 39).
The pattern Peter laid out in his message is a solid foundation for incorporation into the body of Christ:
1. Be born again by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Be water baptized.
3. Be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Each of these three phases has a vital objective, and the Holy Spirit is very much involved in each. Taken together as a whole they make up the introductory essentials for serving the Lord: salvation, sanctification and equipping for service. It is the last phase that is our current focus.
The wonderful experience of Spirit baptism is for those who already have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord. Conversion is, without a doubt, accomplished by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit; but the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a distinct infilling or empowering for service that is subsequent to conversion.
The word "baptism" refers to immersion and is best illustrated by what happens when a person is water baptized by dunking. "Spirit baptism" means that a person is engulfed by, immersed in and filled with the Holy Spirit--like an empty glass plunged into a tub of water.
Spirit baptism is a meaningful encounter with Christ that bonds the believer to the same Spirit, experience and church that was birthed at Pentecost--and helps him relate more deeply with Christ Himself. It accomplishes seven things in his life: It makes Jesus more real, increases his spiritual sensitivity, illuminates the Scriptures, provides the capability of praying "in the Spirit," brings sanctification, and allows for dynamic testimony and spiritual gift manifestation.
What About Tongues?
One form of praying in the Spirit is speaking in tongues. This is the ability to speak by the Holy Spirit a language not learned through natural means. Sometimes the words are recognized as a known language.
Tongues is a spiritual language used in our devotional relationship with God. 1 Corinthians 13:1 mentions tongues "of angels," suggesting the possibility that some prayer languages are angelic languages.
The Greek word glossa means "tongue" or "a language spoken." The more technical term for "speaking in tongues" is glossolalia, which comes from glossais lalein, a Greek phrase meaning "to speak in ('with' or 'by') tongues."
Sometimes tongues is called the initial evidence of Spirit baptism. It is not the only evidence but is generally the first, observable thing that happens.
Some suggest that spiritual fruit is a better sign (see Gal. 5:22). Admittedly, "fruit" is a good indication of the baptism in the Spirit, but it does not give immediate assurance--growing time is required. For instance, patience is a fruit of the Spirit, but we never pray for and expect it instantly ("I want patience, and I want it now!").
The Lord has wisely given two confirmations of Spirit-baptism--one instantaneous and the other requiring maturity--both of which strengthen the believer. The immediate sign, a response to faith, is speaking in a language you have never learned. A later sign, the fruit of the Spirit, develops over time and evidences the character of Christ.
The book of Acts records five examples of people receiving the Spirit: the Jewish disciples (see Acts 2); the Samaritans (see Acts 8); the apostle Paul (see Acts 9); the household of Cornelius (see Acts 10); and the disciples of John the Baptist (see Acts 19). In three of the episodes instantaneous tongues were spoken, and in the other two the same occurrence is strongly suggested. It seems logical to affirm tongues as the initial evidence of Spirit baptism from a historical perspective.
Speaking in tongues is not merely a token experience; it is meant to be an ongoing spiritual experience that will greatly empower and facilitate your Christian life by making your relationship with Jesus Christ more wonderful and your service more dynamic. A believer can certainly live without speaking in tongues, but why would anyone want to do so when the promise is so grand and the results so beneficial?
Still, it's important to remember that an authentic Christian--one truly born again--will not be refused entrance to heaven because he did not speak in tongues. We are saved by personal faith in Jesus Christ, not by our ability to exercise a spiritual gift.
When seeking the baptism with the Holy Spirit, our focus should be on seeking an encounter with Christ rather than on seeking an experience of tongues. If you desire to receive Spirit baptism, follow these steps:
1. Be certain you are a Christian. Have you asked Jesus to forgive you of your sins and accepted Him as your Savior?
2. Make a heartfelt decision to receive.
3. Set aside a meaningful time to pray.
4. Dedicate yourself to being a temple of the Holy Spirit.
5. Specifically ask God for the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
6. Be worshipful and expectant in your seeking.
7. Express your praise, emotions and feelings to God.
8. As you sense the Holy Spirit, release yourself to Him.
Opening yourself to God--like taking the lid off a vessel--positions you to receive. Your spiritual nature will become vividly conscious of deepening peace, intense joy and even tumultuous energy (indications of the presence of God).
Spirit-baptism does not always necessitate a physical reaction, though most people do have a strong emotional response. Regardless of reaction, you will sense a wonderful, new awareness of Jesus Christ and a dynamic awakening of faith.
When you become conscious of God's presence, open your mouth in audible praise. Your tongue will be given miraculous ability by the Holy Spirit. It may seem strange and even unbelievable, but you will find that God has chosen a truly marvelous way to manifest Himself.
Gratitude to God will rise within your spirit and burst forth in languages never learned. Like the early disciples you will find yourself filled and empowered to serve God in a way you have not previously experienced. And like them, you'll see miraculous results!
At Pentecost, when the disciples declared the greatness of God in languages they had never learned, a remarkable, life-changing experience was initiated. The Holy Spirit expressed Himself through them in a dynamic way that bonded the disciples to God and one another--and made the awareness of Jesus excitingly real. This miracle of tongues wonderfully combined both the initiatory act of Holy Spirit baptism with the participation of people.
The gift of tongues is still very much in evidence today. It is not meant to replace normal Christian responsibilities or minimize the importance of the Bible, but it will enhance all the good things of God already in your life. Here are six great reasons for seeking and using this gift:
- Personal evidence.The Holy Spirit uses tongues as a miraculous, abiding sign. Miracle languages confirm the inner presence of the Spirit by using the body member most dependent on volitional, human intelligence--the tongue (see Acts 2:4; 10:44-47; 19:6; James 3:8).
- Praise declaration.Tongues initiates a prophetic gush of inspired worship and causes the heart to soar in adoration and worship unattainable by human means, creating "the fruit of the lips" (see Is. 57:19; Heb. 13:15; John 4:23-24; Phil. 3:3).
- Impetus for the Great Commission.Tongues reaffirms our call to the nations and the urgency of the Great Commission. The baptism with the Holy Spirit ignites, through various languages, a burning passion to proclaim Christ to every ethnic group (see Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-17; Luke 24:47-49).
- Uniform experience.The expression of tongues at the time of Spirit baptism authenticates the experience as genuine and gives evidence that it is the same as that of believers everywhere. It reverses Babel's curse of separation and instead initiates unity (see Gen. 11:7-9; Acts 10:46; 11:15-16; 15:8).
- Spirit-inspired prayer.The miraculous gift of tongues, which is activated by the Holy Spirit, brings glorious new dimension of prayer into our lives. Though of course we should pray in our native languages as well, praying in tongues allows us to relate to God through our spirits rather than our minds (see Rom. 8:15; 1 Cor. 14:2; Eph. 6:18; Jude 20).
- Same-Spirit continuity. Speaking in tongues authenticates the continuing, abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in both the individual and the body of Christ. Miraculous tongues continue as a convincing witness and evidence of the Spirit of Pentecost wherever the Gospel is preached: "And these signs will follow those who believe. ... They will speak with new tongues" (Mark 16:17).
Ernest B. Gentile is the author of several books, including The Glorious Disturbance (Chosen), and travels extensively, speaking at churches and conferences in the United States and 22 foreign countries.