Spirit Baptism: How Do We Know?
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article first appeared in the magazine Pentecostals.
Does God still pour His Spirit on believers today? How do we know when a person has received the baptism in the Holy Spirit?
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (Acts 10:44-47, emphasis added).
The question of some is, “Do we need evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and if so, should we use tongues as the evidence?” If there is not a unique evidence, or some sign that it has happened, then anyone can say they have been baptized in the Holy Spirit and all that comes with it, even when they really have not. Peter knew believers at Cornelius’ house had received the Holy Spirit because they spoke in tongues, just like on the Day of Pentecost. Tongues was again the evidence when Ephesian believers received the Holy Spirit after the apostle Paul laid his hands on them and prayed for them (Acts 19:1-6).
Tension can arise from trying to use the Scriptures to explain an existing personal experience or interpret Scripture from a learned perspective. Historically, the rediscovery of the doctrine of speaking in tongues as the initial physical evidence of the Holy Spirit baptism began with a Topeka, Kansas, Bible school assignment that asked students to search the Bible and find out what it had to say about the subject. The students had not yet received the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. Preconceptions or personal experience did not cloud their perspective. They only had the Bible, each other, and an assignment.
After much study, they eventually concluded that the only repeatable sign of Holy Spirit baptism was speaking in tongues, and nowhere in Scripture was the importance of Spirit baptism ever diminished. So, they sought the experience with the evidence of speaking in tongues for themselves, and one by one began to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Since then, many theologians have undertaken the same assignment, with much emphasis given to the writings of Luke and the apostle Paul. But what if we started our research way before Paul or Luke and the Day of Pentecost? What if we started in the Old Testament?
The most often reoccurring manifestation of the Holy Spirit throughout the Old Testament is fire. Note how often the Holy Spirit is manifested as fire and what happens when He does.
• In the burning bush, the Holy Spirit appeared to Moses as an unquenchable fire that needed no earthy fuel, and through which the voice of the Lord spoke to His servant (Exodus 2:2,3).
• The fire of the Spirit was a light and guide to the children of Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 13:21,22).
• The power of the Holy Spirit was displayed on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18).
• At the tent of meeting, fire from God’s presence transformed the natural into the spiritual (Leviticus 9:24).
• The fire of God again provided confirmation with signs following as Elijah’s prayer was answered and the sacrifice consumed at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:38,39).
• The Holy Spirit was in the fire that transported Elijah to heaven (2 Kings 2:11).
• God answered King David with fire that consumed the offering (1 Chronicles 21:26).
• Fire appeared at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple as the glory of the Lord filled the place (2 Chronicles 7:1).
The final manifestation of the Holy Spirit as fire is after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. It was in the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost. Pentecost was the day set aside by the law of Moses for the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit into and upon the new Church, under the new covenant. Just as Passover had been kept for generations waiting on its fulfillment in Jesus, so had the Day of Pentecost. What happened on that long-awaited day is of great significance. It included the final manifestation of the Holy Spirit as fire and the first manifestation as speaking in tongues. There was not a recorded healing or a report of words of wisdom or knowledge, but everyone began to speak in other tongues.
They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:3).
When it comes to evidence, I’m with Peter. The only way we can know that someone has received the baptism in the Holy Spirit is if we hear him or her speaking in tongues! I doubt that you will experience tongues of fire, but when you are baptized in the Spirit, you will speak in tongues.
The Holy Spirit clearly uses people who have been born again and who are submitted to Him, yet have not been baptized in the Holy Spirit. He responds to the faith of people who have not been baptized in the Holy Spirit as well as to those who have. Being baptized in the Spirit does not make a person a “super Christian,” but it does align him or her with the Church in Acts and God’s continued plan for His Church. It positions us for the other manifestations of the Spirit and at the feet of the Teacher and Counselor Jesus promised to send.
I encourage you to not stop short of all God has for you. Join the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house, the Ephesian believers, and those in the Upper Room. Receive the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues, just like the New Testament Church.