The Gift of the Holy Spirit through Baptism
Baptism Message No. 3
Eric H.H. Chang
Montreal, March 25, 1979
What connection is there between baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit? The other day a brother asked me the question, When do we receive the Holy Spirit? Before baptism? After baptism? Or at baptism? I am grateful to him for raising this question, and although I answered him only briefly at the time, when I later pondered the matter, I felt that he raised a very important question to which the answer ought to be known by everyone. Therefore I would like to expound the matter more fully today.
What makes you a true Christian? Having the Holy Spirit
Why is this question so important? The reason is that it hinges on another question: What is a Christian? Is a Christian someone who simply believes all the doctrines of the church? Does genuine belief in these doctrines make you a Christian? Does going to church every Sunday make you a Christian? Just what is Christian? Is a Christian a person who smiles most of the time with a Colgate or Pepsodent smile? Or is it a combination of all these things?
What makes you a Christian? Paul gives the answer: having the Holy Spirit. Paul says in Romans 8:9 that if the Spirit of God does not dwell in you, you are not a Christian. The one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to God. “The Spirit of God” is parallel to “the Spirit of Christ.” Acts 16:6-7 also has a parallel between “the Holy Spirit” and “the Spirit of Jesus.” Both terms refer unquestionably to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Yahweh. Paul’s answer to our question is: a Christian has the Spirit of God.
You may believe all the church creeds or accept the Bible as the infallible Word of God. You may attend church regularly or even be active in church. But that doesn’t make you a Christian. None of these things in itself makes you a Christian. The Scriptural answer is that you are a Christian if and only if you have the Holy Spirit of God in you. If you don’t have the Holy Spirit despite having all these other things, you don’t belong to Christ; you are none of God’s. We are dealing with an exceedingly important matter, for whether you have received the promise of the Spirit determines whether you are a Christian in the Biblical sense. It is crucial to know when you receive the Holy Spirit.
Are you living by the power of the Spirit?
We must first ask why is it so important to receive the Holy Spirit. Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the Bible would know that you have life only when you have the Spirit, for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of life. You have spiritual power—the power to live the Christian life—only when you have the Holy Spirit. And if you fail to live the Christian life, it is precisely because you do not have the power of the Spirit.
We are not called to live the Christian life, or attain to the high spiritual ideals of the Sermon on the Mount, in our own strength. Little wonder that every scholar who writes on the Sermon on the Mount says it is impossible! “We can’t live this Christian life.” Of course you can’t. Who has suggested that you could? That is why God gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to live according to that high calling. He has never suggested that we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps to become the kind of Christian that the Lord Jesus speaks of.
A Christian is a supernatural person, yet Paul says to the Corinthians, “Because you have jealousy and strife, are you not natural men?” (1Cor.3:3). But you might ask which of us is not natural? In fact we are supernatural if we are Christians in the Biblical sense of the word. That is why Paul rebukes the Corinthians: “Are you not merely men? Are you not merely ordinary?” You may wonder where is the rebuke in that? The rebuke is that you are not living as Christians ought to live, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
That is why the Corinthian letters are concerned with the Holy Spirit. The First letter to the Corinthians deals especially with this. The Corinthians did have a concern about the Spirit, but they were concerned about the gifts of the Spirit rather than the indwelling power of the Spirit. They were interested in the external manifestations of the Spirit rather than the inner power of the Spirit. That is a common mistake that many Christians make. Going for external things is the mark of the natural man.
But the spiritual man is not interested in purely external performances. Speaking in tongues is something external. But whether you have the fruit of the Spirit—the power of the Spirit—in you is something internal, and that is what really matters.
So we are dealing with an important question: Do you have the Holy Spirit? One could have asked the question, Are you a Christian? But that latter question is vague because you might not know what I mean. You might think, “By asking me whether I am a Christian, do you mean whether I go to church? Or accept the church creeds? Or behave in a religious way?”
Rephrasing the question, I am asking: Do you have the Holy Spirit? Do you have an answer to this question? If you are uncertain of your answer, you will be uncertain whether or not you are a Christian in the Biblical sense of the word “Christian”. You are uncertain whether or not you are a disciple of Christ.
How and when do you receive the Holy Spirit?
To answer this question, we have to know how we receive the Holy Spirit, and when we receive the Holy Spirit. These two questions are related. You might tell me that you have been a Christian for 10 or 15 years, but that doesn’t interest me because what is your point of reference? From the time when you knelt down and received Jesus as your Savior, as is often taught? Or the time of your baptism? Many people are baptized many years after they have made some sort of profession; the profession is the point they would usually count as becoming a Christian.
But the Biblical question is this: When did you receive the Holy Spirit? That is the only question that counts. I am not concerned whether you have raised your hand at some meeting. You might have done this in all sincerity. Does it automatically mean that you have the Holy Spirit? Is that the Biblical teaching? Presumably that is what you think happened to you, so you start counting your conversion from the day you raised your hand. But that is precisely the matter that we need to investigate, to know what the Scripture teaches and not what I teach. My answer counts for nothing. The Scriptural answer is what matters.
Repent and be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit
How and when do we receive the Holy Spirit? What is the Biblical answer? First let me point you to the statement in Acts 2:38, and I shall use it as the basis for our study.
You would remember that this statement was made after the Holy Spirit had been given at Pentecost, and as a result large crowds had gathered and there was a great stir. The apostle Peter addressed the crowds with these words:
For David did not ascend into the heavens; but he himself says, “The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, till I make thy enemies a footstool for thy feet.” Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Acts 2:34-36)
Peter did not preach a cheap gospel. His message immediately spoke of the lordship of Christ. The word “Christ” means the Anointed One, the promised king of Israel. “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” He speaks of Jesus as Lord. The declaration of Jesus as Lord cuts to the hearts of the hearers, so they say, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (v.37). And what is Peter’s reply?
And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” (vv.38-39)
God’s promises are wrapped up in the gift of the Holy Spirit. If you don’t have the Holy Spirit, you won’t have the promises. The promises come to us through faith. The gift of the Spirit is given to us through faith. That is to say, when you have faith, God gives you the Spirit, and all His promises come to reality. There are no promises outside the Spirit of God.
Note carefully what the apostle Peter says here. What then must we do? The answer is very plain. Repent! Repentance is a complete change in the direction of your life. As I have expounded before, it is a complete change of the mind. The Greek word metanoia means a complete change of mind, a complete change of attitude, a complete change in the direction of your life. Repentance is not just saying, “I’m sorry for my sins.” Feeling sorry is not good enough.
Repentance means that I am finished with sin—not just feel sorry about sin but am finished with it. I am through with my old life. I feel sorry enough to break with it completely, and to change the whole direction of my life. That is repentance.
But Peter didn’t say that repentance alone is enough. He says, “Repent and be baptized” (v.38). The church today does what it pleases with baptism, treating baptism in much the same way as it treats everything else that comes from God, and in much the same way in which John the Baptist was treated in his day, when people did with him as they pleased (Mt.17:12-13). Today we do with God’s Word, we do with baptism, we do with anything, as we please. We say, “Baptism is not important. It’s just external. Whether you’re baptized or not really doesn’t matter.” Who says it doesn’t matter? “Repent and be baptized”—that is God’s Word, not mine. If God’s Word says it doesn’t matter whether you are baptized or not, I will tell you the same thing. But that is not what God’s Word says.
Baptism alone is not enough. Repentance alone is not enough. Doesn’t Peter say that you need to repent and be baptized? You need the internal repentance and the external confession of that repentance before all men at baptism. You need to have what is internal, and you must express or confess that which is within. That is why Jesus says, “If any man confesses me before men, I will confess him before my Father” (Mt.10:32). He doesn’t just say it is enough to believe in him, but we must confess him before men (and he will then confess you before the Father). But the church tells us that so long as you believe, that is enough. It doesn’t matter if you don’t confess. You can be a secret disciple, whatever that is. No! It is most important that you confess him if you want him to confess you before the Father.
Why is it so important to repent and be baptized? Is it because baptism is a church ceremony? Or something that every religious person ought to do? Not at all! Read on: “And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” That is the whole point. How do I receive the gift of the Holy Spirit? Well, here is the answer. The Bible doesn’t leave us with vague statements that we cannot figure out. The answer is simple: Repent and be baptized, that is, you must confess your repentance. And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Repent, and let your life direction be completely changed. Then wash away your sins in baptism. When you have done this, you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Receive the Holy Spirit at baptism
Let us come back to our original question: When do you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit? Many in the church will tell you it is when you raise your hands at a meeting. Does the Bible really say that? So when do you receive the Holy Spirit? Is it when you believe in God, or when you kneel down and make a confession? Or it is when you repent that you receive the Holy Spirit? Is that what it says here? You certainly need to repent. But isn’t the Scripture very plain when it says, “Repent and be baptized, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”?
So when do we receive the Holy Spirit? After baptism? If so, how long after baptism? Three days after baptism? Five days? A week? No, it is at baptism that we receive the Holy Spirit. That is what the Word of God says. That is why baptism was so important in the early church.
But what have we done today? We have decided that we know better than the Bible, or that we can do with the Bible as we please. So we say it doesn’t matter whether you have been baptized or not. The daring of some churches never ceases to surprise me, as also the daring of certain pastors and preachers. How dare we speak in this fashion when the Word of God tells us differently?
The Holy Spirit—a seal, an anointing, a pledge
But there is more. The Holy Spirit is referred to particularly in three ways, and let us consider them.
Firstly, the Holy Spirit is given to us as a seal, the seal of the Holy Spirit. When do we receive the seal of the Holy Spirit? Have you been sealed with the Spirit of God? Today there is utter vagueness on these questions, and as a result most Christians don’t know whether or not they have been sealed by the Spirit of God, or when. When were you sealed if you indeed have been sealed with the Spirit?
Secondly, the Holy Spirit is an anointing. We are anointed with the Holy Spirit. But when did this take place? That is very important for you to know, for if you don’t know, you can’t even be sure that you’ve been anointed.
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is an earnest, a pledge, a down payment. I have spoken on this point before so I will not expound it here again. It is sufficient just to ask the question, When did you receive the pledge of the Holy Spirit? When was the Spirit given to you as an earnest or down payment?
Let us look at 2Corinthians 1:21,22 where the words “anointed,” “seal,” and “guarantee” (or “pledge,” “down payment,” “earnest”) all occur, though the RSV translation has replaced the word “anointed” with another word “commissioned” such that you wouldn’t know that “anointed” is in the original Greek. Second Corinthians 1:21,22 reads like this:
But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned (Greek “anointed”) us; he has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
God has anointed us and put His seal upon us. This seal is the Holy Spirit whom He has given us as a guarantee, a down payment. So we have all three words put together in these two verses. God has done three things to us when He gave us the Holy Spirit: He sealed us, He anointed us, and He gave us what is translated as a guarantee, or much better, a down payment, a first installment. When you buy a house, you don’t pay the entire sum at once but only a down payment. That is the meaning of the Greek word here. The down payment is a guarantee that you will pay the rest of the money that has yet to be paid. So the first installment is in some sense a guarantee, or a pledge that you will pay up the rest. That is the whole point.
The Holy Spirit is given to us as a gift of life, as a pledge that God will give us the fullness of eternal life on that day when we see Him face to face. We don’t have the fullness of eternal life yet, but only a pledge. Yet we do have the gift of life now, which in itself is a pledge of that fullness that is yet to come. If you are given a seed, that seed is a pledge; when it is nourished and grows, you will have the full plant.
The seal marks God’s ownership and protection
We are sealed with the Holy Spirit who is given to us as a down payment, a sealing that is also mentioned in Eph.1:13 and 4:30 and Rev.7:3. The verse in Revelation says that the servants of God, or more accurately, in the Greek, the slaves of God, are sealed by God.
What is a slave? A slave is somebody who has been bought with a price. How do you obtain a slave? In the days of slavery, you would go to a market to buy a slave. He becomes your property, your slave. He belongs to you. And what do you do when you buy a person? In those days, you would seal the slave in much the same way that you might seal or brand cattle today. Cattle raisers in Alberta and elsewhere would burn their brands on the animal, and the seal would mean, “The cow or steer belongs to me.”
What does it mean when you receive the Holy Spirit as a seal? It means that you belong to God, for you bear His seal upon you. You are His possession. As Paul says to the Corinthians, “You were bought with a price; you are not your own” (1Cor.6:19-20). You were bought with the price of the blood of His Christ. You belong to God. You are identified as His possession.
There is a further point in putting a seal on a slave. It not only marks him as the owner’s property, it also means that anything you do against that slave is done against his master. If you hurt a slave you will be in trouble not with the slave but the master. The seal in fact becomes a protection. Those who carry God’s seal will be protected by God, and will not be harmed by God’s judgment (Rev.7:3; 9:4). The seal signifies protection for those who belong to God. If you don’t have the seal, you don’t belong to Him; you will therefore come under God’s judgment, or come under the power of the Evil One. Satan can do with you whatever he wants because you are not under God’s protection, since you don’t belong to Him.
When was the Lord Jesus sealed?
Once we understand the meaning and significance of the seal, it is important that we know whether or not we have been sealed. Have you been sealed? And when were you sealed? In this connection, it is important to notice that the Lord Jesus tells us that he himself is sealed by God (“for on him has God the Father set his seal,” John 6:27). Isn’t that remarkable that the Son of God lives in this world to be a slave! That’s the whole point of Philippians 2, that he humbled himself and became a slave.
To answer the question “When were you sealed?,” we can ask, “When was the Lord Jesus sealed?” Was he sealed at his birth? Or at the beginning of his ministry?
We can answer this in a number of ways. First of all, we see that the word “sealed” is tied to the word “anointed,” and also to the word “pledge” or “guarantee”. Therefore we also ask the question, When was Jesus anointed? We shall come to that in a moment.
It is clear that the seal is connected with the Holy Spirit. When did the Lord Jesus receive the Holy Spirit? Think back to his baptism. What happened at his baptism? The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus bodily as a dove (Luke 3:21-22). Then the next chapter begins with the statement, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit” (Luke 4:1).
God appointed the man Christ Jesus to be our Savior and redeemer; hence Jesus had to learn obedience through the things he suffered in order to be the sinless sacrifice for sin, and to became the author and completer of faith. That is the whole point of Hebrews chapter 2.
The seal: circumcision of the heart by the Holy Spirit
Let us look in another way the question of when we receive the seal of the Holy Spirit. In Romans 4:11, the word “seal” is applied to circumcision. In what way was Abraham sealed? He received a different kind of seal, the seal of circumcision:
“He received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” (Romans 4:11)
So circumcision is a seal. This is interesting because we too are circumcised and therefore have the seal. But we were circumcised not in the flesh but in the heart:
But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. (Romans 2:29, ESV)
We read in Colossians 2:11:
“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ.”
What is “the circumcision of Christ?” The answer is found in verse 12:
“And you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised Christ from the dead.”
Notice that the apostle Paul moves from circumcision to baptism. We have not received physical circumcision as Abraham, but we were circumcised in heart. And what is the sign of this circumcision of heart? It is baptism. That is the connection between verses 11 and 12. And when did we receive the seal of this inner circumcision of heart? Paul tells us in verse 12 that it is at baptism. And how has this circumcision of heart come to us? We saw earlier that the seal is the Holy Spirit. So we have a kind of equation: the Spirit is the seal, and baptism is the sign of the circumcision of the heart.
Are we saying that we are somehow saved by baptism? Not at all! We saw that there must be both repentance and baptism. It is not baptism that saves, but what baptism expresses that saves: the circumcision of your heart. Just being dipped in water won’t save anybody. What matters is the transformation which baptism expresses. There must be transformation. That is why everyone who is a candidate for baptism is carefully questioned as to their repentance, their total change of mind, and their total commitment to God. Repentance does not just mean feeling a bit sorry, but is a complete change, a total turning away from the old life, the putting off of the body of flesh, in order that they may, as Paul puts it, put on Christ.
Baptism: A washing of new life from the Holy Spirit
There is a further connection of baptism with the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 6:11 we read:
“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
And in Titus 3:5 we read:
“God saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.”
God saved us in His mercy, and not because of our efforts or means. How did He save us? By the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit. Once again we see the connection between the washing and the Holy Spirit. Baptism and the Spirit are constantly linked. This washing is not just any kind of washing; it is the baptism which has to do with the circumcision of the heart.
Anyone who has not utterly repented, or is untransformed in heart, should not be baptized. But as for the one who has totally turned away from his old life and is baptized, he receives the circumcision of the heart. He has the washing of regeneration. It is a descriptive genitive in the Greek, which means that it describes the kind of washing: a washing that has to do with regeneration, a washing that has to do with the new life. But how do you get the new life? It has to come from the Holy Spirit in “the renewal in the Holy Spirit.”
A picture of baptism: Noah in the ark is saved by repentance and obedience
This is why 1 Peter 3:20-21 says:
“…who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
(I am giving you all these Bible references even if it is a little tedious for you to read through them, so that you may know that I am not giving you my own opinions but what the Bible says.)
Look at what this passage is saying: Baptism, which corresponds to the going into the ark in the days of Noah, now saves you. What saves you? Baptism saves you! You might exclaim, “That is an amazing statement!” Baptism saves? Yes, but not as a removal of dirt from the body. It is not a matter of going into the water to wash off some dirt from yourself, but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience. How do you appeal to God for a clear conscience? Through a deep repentance in the heart, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In this passage Peter gives the picture of Noah and the ark. How were the eight people saved? It rained for forty days and forty nights and the waters arose from below them, for “the fountains of the great deep burst forth” (Gen.7:11-12). Here is the picture of baptism. Do you see the beauty of it? You have the water coming from underneath and the water pouring down from above, and Peter says it is a picture of baptism. How were the eight people including Noah saved? They were saved in the ark through this baptism that came from above and from below. And Peter says that we too are saved through baptism, but not because we get our body washed.
Noah was saved. When he was in this ark, he was baptized, for unlike the other people, he had repented of his sins. He turned away from the sinful life. Notice these words, “Noah obeyed God” (cf. Gen.6:22). He obeyed God. When God said, “Noah, make an ark,” he made an ark. When God said to Noah, “Go into the ark,” he went into the ark. He expressed his repentance through obedience and that is how he entered into this baptism in the ark. He was baptized as the waters poured down. All eight persons were saved through the floodwaters.
Peter is saying in verse 21 that you are saved in the same way, that is, through repentance and finishing with the life of sin, just as Noah was finished with the world of sin. Noah repented of sin; he turned his back completely upon it and obeyed God. He then got into the ark. Baptism saves in this same way. This is very important to understand.
The Holy Spirit is likened to the outpouring of water which cleanses our hearts
Baptism and the Holy Spirit are constantly linked together because the Holy Spirit is often spoken of as an outpouring of blessing, the water that is poured upon us. Joel chapter 2 is the passage quoted in Acts 2 when Peter was explaining to the crowds what had happened to them.
He was telling them, “What you see today—the pouring of the Holy Spirit upon us—is precisely the fulfillment of Joel.” It is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Baptism and the Spirit are always linked together in the Bible, whether at Jesus’ baptism where the Spirit appears, or even in a general statement such as 1 Corinthians 12:13 where Paul says, “You were baptized by one Spirit into the body of Christ.”
Consider also John the Baptist’s own words. “I baptize you with water for repentance … He will baptize you with the Spirit” (Mt.3:11). Again we see this link between baptism and the Spirit which is so characteristic in the New Testament. What is John the Baptist saying? He is contrasting his baptism with the baptism which the Lord Jesus will minister. John is saying that his baptism is a baptism with water for repentance: When you repent, you express your repentance publicly in baptism. But when Jesus comes, he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
It doesn’t mean that water baptism doesn’t matter anymore. No, on the contrary, in John 4:1-2 we read that Jesus’ disciples baptized many more people than John the Baptist did. They carried out water baptism. What John the Baptist is saying is this: “I cannot give you new life. Only the Christ sent by God can give you new life. I give you external cleansing when you repent, but when Jesus comes, he will give you internal cleansing—the washing of regeneration—that accompanies the external cleansing.”
When are you anointed with the Holy Spirit? At baptism
Let us come to this word “anoint”. Many of you would know that the word “Christ” means the Anointed One. “Christ” is the Greek form of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” which also simply means the Anointed One. Jesus is spoken of as the Anointed One many times in the New Testament. Acts 10:38 says that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.” He was also sealed by God, as we have seen in John 6:27.
It is important to realize that we too have been anointed with the Holy Spirit. I have already mentioned 2Cor.1:21-22, and there is also 1John 2:20 where the apostle says to Christians, “But you have been anointed by the Holy One.” He repeats this in verse 27. The anointing that the Christian receives is the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit of God teaches us and leads us into all truth (John 14:26; 16:13).
When do you receive the anointing?
But here comes the same important question: When do you receive the anointing? Were you anointed with the Holy Spirit before baptism? Or at some unspecified time after baptism, in which case you wouldn’t know for sure when you were anointed? Or were you anointed at baptism?
Again the baptism of Jesus answers the question for us. When did the Holy Spirit come upon the Lord Jesus? It was at his baptism that the Holy Spirit was visibly seen to descend upon him in the form of a dove. Does that mean that the Lord Jesus did not have the Holy Spirit before baptism? Of course it doesn’t mean that. Jesus certainly had the Holy Spirit before baptism. Does it mean that you didn’t have the Holy Spirit in any sense before baptism? Of course not, for if you did not have the Holy Spirit in any sense before baptism, how could you repent at all? It is the Holy Spirit working in your heart and life that leads you to repentance.
The Spirit works in your life before you become a Christian
But if we already had the Holy Spirit in some sense before baptism, what are we saying about baptism? We are talking about the anointing. We are not talking about having the Holy Spirit in a general sense but in its specific sense.
We must keep our thinking clear here. Unless the Holy Spirit had been working in your life before you became a Christian, how could you ever have become a Christian? Indeed the Holy Spirit has been working in your life, perhaps even from your childhood, maybe even from the day you were born. The Holy Spirit had been constantly working in our lives from our non-Christian days when we were enemies of God. Looking back, I can see that God had been working in my life long before I believed in Him. In fact, if God hadn’t worked in our lives, we would never have believed in Him.
But at baptism we are not talking about whether or not the Holy Spirit was present in each one of our lives in some way or other. We are talking specifically about receiving the Holy Spirit as a gift, a possession, a mark, a seal. We are not talking about this in any general sense.
In the general sense, you can safely say that the Holy Spirit works even in the lives of non-Christians. If your father or mother is not a Christian, when you pray for them, what are you asking for? You are praying that God will work in their lives by His Holy Spirit. You confidently believe that the Holy Spirit is present to work in their lives even as non-Christians. It is clear then that when you come to confess Christ, it is only because the Holy Spirit has been working in your life. Without the Holy Spirit, none of us would come to God through Christ.
But right now, regarding baptism, we are not talking about that. We are talking about the seal. We are not asking when the Holy Spirit was drawing you or convicting you of sin. We are not talking about the working of the Holy Spirit in this wide sense of the word “work,” but we are asking: When did you receive the Holy Spirit as a possession, as a gift of God? When were you sealed with the Holy Spirit?
God’s Holy Spirit is given to those who obey Him
Consider Acts 5:32 (“the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him”). What is the condition for us to receive the Holy Spirit? To whom does God give the Holy Spirit? In this verse we read that God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him. But you might ask, If the Spirit is given only to those who obey Him, how could anybody become a Christian in the first place by obeying God without the help of the Holy Spirit? Is this person saving himself without the power of the Holy Spirit?
There is some confusion in that way of reasoning. We have already said that the Holy Spirit works in the lives of all kinds of people, including non-Christians, but the Spirit is not yet given to them. But to those who heed His voice and obey Him, the Holy Spirit is given in these very special ways, as a gift, as a down payment, as a seal, as an anointing.
None of the ones here who will be baptized today would be here unless the Holy Spirit had been working in their lives—unless we are teaching salvation by works in which they work their own way to this position today and save themselves. And at baptism they will receive the Holy Spirit and have the Spirit from now on. But before reaching that stage, the Holy Spirit has already been working in their lives.
You may ask, “Then what’s the point of saying that God gives the Holy Spirit only to those who obey Him since they already had the Holy Spirit before they obeyed Him?” The point is that He now gives the Spirit as a gift, the fulfillment of promise. You don’t receive the promise of God until you obey Him. It is important to grasp this point.
God gives the anointing—spiritual authority—at baptism
We have seen what the seal means. The seal signifies that you have become God’s possession, something that happens when you repent, are baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. What about the anointing? What does it mean that you have been anointed? In Israel, kings and priests and prophets were anointed. Was it just some kind of religious ceremony? Not at all. The anointing involved the giving of spiritual authority by God.
A king has no authority unless it is given to him by God. That is what the Lord Jesus said to Pilate: “You would have no authority over me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). The kings of Israel were unlike the kings of the world in that they were God’s representatives in Israel. That is why they had to be anointed by God; they didn’t anoint themselves. In the anointing, God conferred authority upon them.
The same goes for the priests, especially the high priest. He was chosen by God and anointed to show that he was the high priest, not because he was somebody wonderful, or because he had won a majority of votes (this doesn’t matter). He is the high priest only because God has appointed him. And the anointing means that he has received this calling and this authority from God. Calling is also mentioned in Acts 2:38-39.
The prophets also received the Holy Spirit, for unless you have the Spirit, you have no authority to prophesy. You cannot prophesy without the Spirit of God. We read in the Bible that the Spirit of God is the one who enables the prophet to prophesy, to declare the Word of God, and to foretell future events. That is why the Lord Jesus, quoting the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 61:1-2, says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:8). What is the anointing? The Holy Spirit is his anointing, which enables him to preach the gospel.
And when did Jesus quote Isaiah 61:1? Was it when he was in the temple at the age of 12? No, it was immediately after his baptism. Have you noticed that? When was the Lord Jesus anointed? At his baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended upon him. And that is why immediately after his baptism, and upon returning from the temptation, the Lord Jesus declared these words, “I have been anointed to preach the gospel.” He has now begun his preaching because he has been anointed.
So the whole picture becomes clear. When do we receive the anointing of the Spirit? At baptism, just as in the case of Jesus. Jesus, of course, had the Holy Spirit before baptism, but now he has been anointed to preach the gospel, and has thereby begun his ministry. He didn’t preach the gospel before the anointing or before his baptism. But now, after baptism, he begins to preach the gospel, having received the anointing and the task to preach.
Sealing, anointing, pledge, and God’s Spirit in baptism
I hope that you can see from Scripture the constant connection between the word “baptism” and the word “Spirit”. Because of this connection, we see also the connection of: (1) the sealing and the Spirit in baptism; (2) the anointing and the Spirit in baptism; and (3) the earnest or pledge and the Spirit in baptism.
I hope that you now see the importance of baptism. As Peter tells us, it is not a physical washing of the flesh but an expression of the inner repentance “for a clear conscience before God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1Pet.3:21). This is what makes repentance meaningful. If Jesus had never risen from the dead, you can repent all you want, but where will be the forgiveness of sins? Or the power to live the new life? But it is through Jesus’ resurrection that you have God’s power to live in newness of life.
God gives the Spirit at baptism but is sovereign to decide
For a focused understanding, we need to see another principle in Acts 2:38 which we have already read:
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
God is sovereign, and He can give the Holy Spirit even before baptism if He wishes to. Or after baptism if He chooses to. But as a general rule, He gives the Holy Spirit at baptism.
This last point is important. God is absolutely sovereign, and can give the Spirit whenever He chooses. But as a general rule, He gives the Spirit at baptism. Yet there is one instance in the Bible, occurring within a special set of circumstances, in which God gave the Holy Spirit before baptism (Acts 10:44-48), and another instance in which He gave the Holy Spirit after baptism (8:12-17).
For the sake of completeness I mention these two instances in Acts. I am well aware that these took place in special circumstances in the history of the church. But never quote these two exceptions to conclude that a rule doesn’t exist, because in fact the exceptions prove the rule.
In the first of these two instances, Acts 10:44-48, the Holy Spirit was given before baptism. That was because Cornelius was a Gentile and the Jews were reluctant to accept Gentiles into the church, so much so that Peter had to give a long explanation to the Jerusalem church as to why he had baptized the Gentiles. He was saying to them, “You see, while I was preaching to them, God poured the Holy Spirit upon them; therefore I had no choice but to baptize them” (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-18; 15:6-9). He was effectively saying, “I wouldn’t have baptized them but I didn’t have a choice.” This was the situation in the early church in which there was resistance to admitting Gentiles into the church.
In the other case, Acts 8.12-17, it was the other way around. The Samaritan Christians were baptized earlier but they didn’t receive the Holy Spirit. Why? Again it has to do with the situation in which a bad relationship existed between the Samaritans and the Jews. God had to compel the leaders of the Jerusalem church to personally go and receive the Samaritans, whom the Jews hated, into fellowship. Therefore, although the Samaritans had repented and were baptized, the church leaders at Jerusalem were commanded to go to them and personally receive them into fellowship through the laying on of hands for the gift of the Spirit.
So these two exceptions to the rule indicate, firstly, God’s freedom to give the Spirit before or after baptism whenever He chooses. Secondly, these exceptions also indicate that as a rule, the Spirit is given at baptism as we see from various texts. And I repeat, it is not because the water at the baptism is efficacious, but because baptism expresses both the internal repentance and the external obedience to the command of Jesus. He commands us to be baptized and to baptize: “Go ye into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt.28:19). Jesus Christ, the one sent by God, commanded baptism, and when you obey him, you have obeyed God.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church