By Rob Lampard
This is the fifth and last paper in this series. In the fourth, we looked at the response to the gospel that Jesus looks for in us. Earlier, we saw that those who do respond gain entry into the kingdom of God and a present experience of eternal life, which is literally ‘the life of the age to come’.
Finally, we’re going to look at a couple of further ways in which God blesses those who respond to Jesus’s gospel.
Assurance of Sonship
Jesus’s ministry was immediately preceded and introduced by that of John the Baptist. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all record this. John the Baptist preached ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mark 1:4). He also spoke of a greater baptism to come:
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12)
On a practical level, most religious people in the world, non-Christian as well as Christian, understand Christian baptism to involve the convert being immersed in water as an initiation into their new faith. This is in line with the original secular meaning of the word. ‘To baptise, was used among Greeks to signify the dyeing of a garment, or the drawing of water by dipping a vessel into another.’ Such a meaning led early Christians to understand baptism as symbolic of a person’s dying to their life of sin and self-centeredness and then being raised to new life in Jesus (Romans 6:1-4, cf 2Corinthians 5:17).
However, Vine goes on to list a secondary meaning for the Greek word ‘baptise’: ‘Plato, metaphorically, uses it of being overwhelmed with questions.’ This meaning, we suggest, better helps us to understand what might be meant by being baptised with the Holy Spirit. We are not so much dipped in him as overwhelmed by him.
Just as we saw with the matter of baptism in water, Jesus makes no statements about baptism with the Holy Spirit until immediately before his ascension. Before that, what he does is to give us a personal demonstration of what it means.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)
There are relatively few Christians throughout history who have experienced the Holy Spirit descending on them in visible form, or of hearing as Jesus did an audible voice from heaven at their baptism. But what all share with Jesus as a result of being baptised with the Holy Spirit is a new and overwhelming assurance of sonship. It is common in our day for the people of the world to strongly assert their ‘human rights’. In contrast, Christians, having freely yielded themselves to be slaves of God, have given up their rights to him. Wonder of wonders, to such people Jesus freely grants a new right:
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12)
Here indeed is good news.
Baptism with Fire
Meanwhile, we should explore a little the meaning of the second element in John the Baptist’s prophecy about Jesus (see Matthew 3:11-12 above). What might it mean to be baptised with, immersed in, or overwhelmed with fire? Again, Jesus’s personal experience guides our understanding.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.
The context here suggests this meaning: to be baptised with fire means to be refined, to be set apart, to be tested, to be proved true, to be prepared for ministry. The latter point is proved by the flow of Luke’s presentation:
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him (ie Jesus) until an opportune time. Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. (Luke 4:11-12)
In our case, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the process might also be one of cleansing and of purifying (see Mark 9:49). This is certainly a way in which one of Jesus’s companions understood it. (1Peter 1:7). Our comments here doubtless don’t exhaust the meaning of the phrase in question.
Power for Ministry
Jesus’s brief teaching on the subject of baptism in the Holy Spirit is recorded in Acts chapter 1.
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 1:4-5)
He goes on to explain that this will result in his followers receiving power to be his witnesses (1:8). Throughout the remainder of Acts, Luke (who authored this book as well as the one bearing his name) documents repeated examples to demonstrate that those baptised with the Holy Spirit are empowered to make spontaneous, godly, verbal utterances. Hence its obvious connection with being witnesses. Examples are: speaking in new languages (2:4, 10:46, 19:6), declaring the wonders of God (2:11, 7:55-56, 10:46), preaching (2:14-36; 4:8-12), prayer (4:24-30), prophecy (13:2, 19:6). Here is present power: power to do that which the baptised person could not previously do; power to boldly testify to the death and resurrection of Jesus; power to bring blessing and conviction to non-believers (John 16:7-8); power to bring glory to Jesus (John 16:14-15). Which of us would want power like this?
 W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Marshall Morgan & Scott, 1981, pp 97.
 Vine, p97.
 See for example, Peter’s assertion in Acts 2:33.
 See many New Testament verses, e.g. Romans 6:15-22, 1Corinthians 7:22;1Peter 2:16.
 Some might find the New Testament teaching in this area contradictory in that in some places it asserts that believers are slaves of God and Christ (see footnote 4 above). But then it also asserts that we are no longer slaves but sons (Galatians 4:7). Clearly then there must be points of view from which both sentiments are true and both should have their proper place in the believers mindset. Further exploration of all this will need to be reserved for a future blog.