If there were ever two doctrines that have divided evangelical Christians throughout our history they would be our biblical understandings of baptism and the Holy Spirit. So, how ought we reconcile these two ideas?
A couple weeks ago (March 10, 2019), Jack worked through John 1:29-34. There is so much rich content in this passage, and it is mainly focused on the long-awaited Lamb who would take our place, absorb all of our sin debt, die for those sins, and reconcile us to God. That lamb that never showed in Genesis 22 to save Isaac from being sacrificed was replaced by the ram, caught in the thicket. So, when John the Baptist proclaimed in John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world…” he’s emphasizing that the Lamb had finally arrived, the one who was promised in Genesis 22 has finally come. This is the major emphasis of this section of John chapter 1.
But, near the end of this section, we have the somewhat confusing proclamation from John the Baptist, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” So, John baptized with water, but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. What’s the difference?
Let’s start by understanding what John the Baptist was up to in baptizing people by water during this period of time. The water baptism that John dispensed during those days was for a significant purpose. Not only was he symbolizing the installation of the gift of faith by God in the heart of the person being baptized, but he was also looking for something in particular. John was looking for something to happen that would signify to him that his ministry was fulfilled. In John 1:31, John the Baptist reveals to us the motivation for baptizing with water: “the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” John the Baptist knew that his ministry of baptism existed, ultimately, to reveal Jesus. His whole baptism ministry was for the single moment when he baptized Jesus. Could you imagine, every baptism, John asked himself…”Is this the one?” Hundreds of people over the years passed through John’s water baptism until one day Jesus, his cousin, came and suddenly John knew. The sky opened up and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in what could only be described as looking like a dove.
Water baptism is a symbolic act of obedience by a new believer. It’s a public declaration by an individual that they have, in fact, been given faith to believe and trust in Christ, and that gracious gift of faith has empowered them to repent of their sin and fueled their desire to follow Christ. The church also makes a public statement in baptizing new believers, affirming with them that they agree with the one being baptized, that there is evidence of faith, and they welcome them into the family of faith, and often times, welcome them into membership into the church. And the local church has been given the mandate by Christ to baptize new disciples (Matthew 28:19).
So, this brings us to the other type of baptism listed here in John Chapter 1. John Piper states: “The difference between baptizing with the Spirit and baptizing with water is the difference between lighting and a lightning bug. It’s the difference between a person and a painting of that person. Between a marriage and a wedding ring. Between a birth and a birth certificate. Between immersion in water and immersion in God.” With that, Dr. Piper is telling us in very simple terms the difference between what John the Baptist was doing with his water baptism, and what Jesus came to do with his Holy Spirit baptism.
The difference between baptizing with the Spirit and baptizing with water is the difference between lighting and a lightning bug. It’s the difference between a person and a painting of that person. Between a marriage and a wedding ring. Between a birth and a birth certificate. Between immersion in water and immersion in God. - John Piper
Let’s dive a little bit deeper into Christ’s Holy Spirit baptism, and why it’s so necessary and different than water baptism. To clarify this point we have to go back to to the Old Testament. The problem God’s people have always had is keeping God’s law perfectly. They couldn’t do it; each and everyone of them failed in keeping God’s law. God’s favor on His people was tied to how well they kept His law, and because it was impossible to keep it perfectly, God set up a sacrificial system to temporarily symbolize the holding off of God’s wrath on their sin. The Old Testament cries out for a permanent solution for our failure to keep God’s Law. Through the prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34) God declared that He would make a new covenant with His people, one that forgoes asking them to keep and remember the law perfectly, but one that implants His Word in their soul, mind and heart so they can never forget it. This prophecy from Jeremiah actually says that God “will write it [His law] on their hearts.(Jer 31:33)” No more will the law be written in stone tablets and parchment paper; it will be written on the hearts of each individual child of God. This, my friends, is great news for us! God’s plan all along was to write His law on our hearts so we’d never forget. In the Old Covenant, obedience afforded God’s favor, but now, in His New Covenant, God’s favor affords us obedience to His will. And the act that places God’s law in our hearts is when God deposits His Spirit into us at the point of salvation. This is God’s perfect and final solution for my inability to keep His law…the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within me. This is the Christ’s baptizing us with the Holy Spirit.
So, because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, God has ushered in this New Covenant. Christ took on our sin, bore the wrath of God for that sin, permanently satisfying God’s demand for a sacrifice for our sin. To seal that new covenant with us, God implants the Holy Spirit within us to dwell in us, as a constant reminder of God’s way and will, guiding us, encouraging us, correcting us. So, because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are baptized (immersed in) the Holy Spirit upon our conversion.
At the point of our salvation, we get all the Holy Spirit we need to persevere in this life. At our conversion, we are totally, 100%, filled with God’s Spirit. And this all happens because of Christ’s work on the cross. Christ came so we could be baptized with God’s Spirit, sealing us for eternity, and a constant comfort and guide in this life as we wait for our Home. Praise God for His Spirit! Praise Christ for His sacrifice, making it possible for us to live in God’s new covenant…the gospel!