Pentecost, Spirit Baptism, & Charismatism

copyright 1987, Fred G. Zaspel


The Debate

Central to the debate between Charismatics and non-charismatics today is the doctrine of Spirit baptism. The Charismatics contend that it is an experience distinct from and subsequent to salvation in which a believer completely receives the Holy Spirit into his life, fully empowering him for worship and service. Indeed, this interpretation of the doctrine is the basic support of their entire system. This "second blessing," or receiving the Holy Spirit after salvation is (they teach) the means to fullness of blessing in the Christian life and the means to the exercise of the "charismatic" gifts. Without it, they claim, a person may be a Christian but not fully blessed or fully enabled to worship and serve the Lord. They further teach that it is received only upon the meeting of certain conditions, such as holiness and earnest prayer, and the chief evidence of receiving it is speaking in tongues. These claims are central to the debate and must be evaluated carefully.

The Doctrine

The Extent

The New Testament teaches repeatedly that all Christians receive the Holy Spirit and that in the same degree. There are no Christians who do not have Him. In fact, a person can not be a Christian without receiving the Holy Spirit. One of the great blessings of salvation is the reality of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God in the life of all believers.

John 7:38-39

Jesus promised, "He that believeth on me as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water," to which the inspired apostle John added the interpretive comment, "But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive" (John 7:38-39). Jesus plainly promised that all believers would not only receive the Spirit or merely receive Him partially, but that they would receive Him in rivers of abundance. The New Testament elaborates in great detail on this abounding possession of the Holy Spirit: the sealing, gifting, guiding, and sanctifying ministries of the Spirit are various aspects of it.

Romans 8:9

Perhaps most clear is the statement of the apostle Paul in Romans 8:9 which boldly declares that if one does not have the Holy Spirit, neither does he belong to Christ. This reception of the Spirit of God is no second blessing received after salvation; it is a very basic part of salvation itself. To speak of a man without the Spirit is to speak of a man without Christ.

I Corinthians 12:13

One more verse of Scripture deserves attention in this regard; that is I Corinthians 12:13. Paul states, "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (author's translation). Several references to Spirit baptism are found in the New Testament, but this is the only one that is directly interpretive. Others shed light on the doctrine by reference to it, but this one alone seeks to interpret it; thus, it is the basic teaching on the subject, the normative passage on the doctrine.

Notice first of all when this baptism occurs: it occurs at the time of salvation. It occurs when a man enters the body of Christ; in fact, it is the very means of entrance. This is no later, subsequent experience, but the event which brings a man "into one body."

Notice further the extent, that is, who is privileged to receive this blessing -- "all." This is not something reserved for a later experience of a privileged few; it is a blessing enjoyed by all who are in "the body."

The Provisions

The New Testament is equally clear in its teaching that when a man is saved he is given all he needs to complete his spiritual growth; he does not need to wait for anything else or any later blessing. Now there is the definite need of growth, and that growth can only come through certain means; but even the newest Christian has all the equipment necessary for worship and service.

Perhaps no verse of Scripture states this wonderful privilege any more clearly than does II Peter 1:3, which affirms that believers have been given " all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (italics added). There are no "have nots" in the body of Christ; not a member has been cheated or left out. This very point is also stressed in Romans 6, which declares that in his struggle with sin in this life, the Christian has all that is necessary for victory because of the sufficiency of Christ's work. The provision is complete for every believer.

Prophecy & Fulfillment

This blessing of the Holy Spirit was prophesied by the Lord's forerunner, John the Baptist, the last prophet of the old order. He prophesied, "I indeed have baptized you in water; but he shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost" (Mark 1:8). Over and again Jesus promised His disciples that He would send His Spirit (John 7:38-39; 14:16-18, 26; 15:26; 16:7-14). Just before His ascension into heaven, Jesus commanded his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for "the promise of the Father. . . . For John truly baptized in water, but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Ghost not many days hence" (Acts 1:4-5). Ten days later they experienced the great events of the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2), and they were "filled with the Spirit" (Acts 2:4). In Acts 11:15-17, Peter associates Cornelius' reception of the Spirit with theirs at Pentecost and identifies both as Spirit baptism.

The promise of the Spirit was fulfilled at Pentecost when the Lord sent His Spirit to indwell His church.

The Significance

"Spirit baptism," then, is a reference to the coming of the Spirit; the significance and implications of this must now be determined.

1. The Baptizer

Mark 1:8

First of all, it is important to recognize Who it is that does the baptizing work. It is often thought that the Holy Spirit baptizes; this is not at all the case. It is not the Holy Spirit but rather Christ Himself baptizing in the Holy Spirit; this is what John the Baptist plainly prophesied would happen: "He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:8).

I Corinthians 12:13

The same is taught in I Corinthians 12:13 which states that "in one Spirit we all were baptized into one body." Christ Himself baptizes, not in water but (in a mystical sense) in the Holy Spirit, thus making a man a part of His body. The Authorized Version (KJV) translates the Greek preposition en as "by" in this verse. This translation, although grammatically allowable, is not at all in keeping with Paul's line of thought here. The thought is similar to that of Romans 8:9 which declares that a man without the Spirit is without Christ. He is not showing that the Holy Spirit has formed the body of Christ but that all in the body of Christ enjoy the blessing of the Holy Spirit, because in Him all are baptized (by Christ). The Holy Spirit is the common denominator of all believers; therefore, all have Him. This is Paul's point. This is further stressed in the remainder of the verse which declares that all in the body "have been made to drink into one Spirit."

In summary, the thought of I Corinthians 12:13 in this regard is this: all believers share in the Holy Spirit; this is true because in Him all were baptized (by Christ) into Christ's body.


The phrase "baptism of the Holy Spirit," although common, is never found in Scripture and conveys an inaccurate doctrine. It is the Lord Jesus Christ Who baptizes, not the Holy Spirit. He baptizes, as John prophesied, not in water, but in the Holy Spirit, thus placing a man into His body, the church.

2. The Meaning

One of the most striking of Christ's promises regarding the gift of the Spirit given at Pentecost is found in John 14:12-18. Verse 16 promises the coming of "another Comforter," or the Paraclete (Greek, parakletos). He is "another" in the sense of "same" (Greek, allos), the same help as was Christ. Verse 18 is the climax: "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." Notice the identification, "I" -- "I will come to you." This is often interpreted to signify a promise of His second coming or His resurrection from the tomb; perhaps these are somehow included. But the emphasis of this promise is Christ's return to them in the person of the Holy Spirit. He will come to them by sending the Holy Spirit, "another Comforter."

This verse is significant, then, in that it identifies the coming of the Holy Spirit as a continuation of Christ's saving work. The coming of the Holy Spirit, Spirit baptism, is not something that can be viewed separately from Christ's work: it is the continuation and (to this point in history) the climax of it. Jesus Christ, the Head and Founder of the Church is present and living in His church, now, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, the "other comforter." The coming of the Holy Spirit was the coming of Christ Himself to His church.

This is the significance of the promise of His coming: the Holy Spirit was always present and working in the world and in His people but never before in this capacity as the coming of Christ to His church. This was the great promise of the Holy Spirit Who was "not yet given" (John 7:39): He came as the capstone of Christ's personal provision for His church. This is the significance of Paul's comment in Colossians 1:27, " Christ in you the hope of glory" (italics added). This is what Paul has in mind when he says that "Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20). This also explains why Paul could speak of the Holy Spirit's indwelling as equivalent to Christ's indwelling (Romans 8:9). This further explains why the apostle could say "The Lord is the Spirit" (I Corinthians 3:17) and why in one place he speaks of Christ supplying the gifts (Ephesians 4:7ff) and of the Holy Spirit supplying them in another (I Corinthians 12:8). Moreover, this is the believer's vital union with Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ Himself is indwelling His church in the person of the Holy Spirit of God Who was sent and given at Pentecost. This is the significance of Spirit baptism.


Spirit baptism, then, is not at all something which God does for a believer sometime after salvation: it is an essential and prominent part of salvation itself. For a man to suggest that it is something received later, after salvation, is to suggest an entirely new meaning of salvation; it suggests that in salvation Christ really didn't provide everything after all. But make no mistake about it: when Christ saves, He provides everything. He has not "left us orphans" (John 14:16), but rather He has come to indwell us by His Spirit, and He "has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (II Peter 1:3). We are "complete in Him" (Colossians 2:19).

Remaining Questions

The Contrast

One question that remains is this: what, then, is the difference between what the Old Testament believers had and what the New Testament believers have? If the coming (gift) of the Spirit (Spirit baptism) is something unique to this church age, what does the New Testament believer have that the Old Testament believer didn't?

The answer to that question is not that believers of this age have the Holy Spirit while the others did not. That Old Testament saints did have the Holy Spirit is obvious from the fact that, 1) their God-pleasing lives (sanctification) would have been impossible without the indwelling Spirit, and 2) the passages of Scripture which plainly state that the Holy Spirit was "in" Old Testament believers (e.g., Genesis 41:38, Joseph; Numbers 27:18 and Deuteronomy 34:9, Joshua; Daniel 4:8, 9, 18, 6:3; I Peter 1:11, the Old Testament prophets).

The difference is simply that, 1) by virtue of this baptism a man is a member of the body of Christ which was first formed at Pentecost, 2) His ministry in believers today is greater and more extensive than before (e.g., gifting, increased spiritual understanding, etc.), and 3) the Holy Spirit has come in a new and greater capacity: He has come as the risen and ascended Christ to His church. Never before had the Spirit come in this dimension. This interprets Jesus' declaration that the least of New Covenant believers are greater than John the Baptist, the greatest of the Old Covenant believers (Matthew 11:11). This also explains the marked difference in the apostles before and after Pentecost. The contrast is great, but not absolute. The Holy Spirit has always indwelt His own; without this, none could have lived sanctified lives. But His coming in this great dimension marked an immeasurable increase in provision and blessing, a blessing reserved for the New Covenant believer (Ezekiel 36:27).

The Conditions

Another question involved concerns the conditions of receiving the Holy Spirit. It is often taught today that Spirit baptism is received only by meeting the conditions of absolute surrender, total yieldedness, obedience, faith, and/or earnest prayer. The basic assumption to such an interpretation is that the Holy Spirit can only indwell that which is holy. That may seem like a proper assumption until it is asked how a person is to be holy without the indwelling Spirit. How can a person live a holy life without the Holy Spirit indwelling and guiding (Galatians 5:16)? Furthermore, if a man could live such a life without the indwelling Spirit, why then would he need Spirit baptism at all? What would be the purpose of it in such a case? Such an interpretation defeats itself: if a man can produce holiness by himself apart from the indwelling influence of the Holy Spirit as a condition for receiving Him, then the need of Him is gone.

The New Testament teaching is quite to the contrary: the Holy Spirit does not come to indwell holy people. He comes to indwell unholy people in order to make them holy. If this were not the case, then no one would ever receive Him, for holiness is impossible without Him. Believers receive Him not because they are righteous but because Christ's righteousness has been imputed to them. The Holy Spirit then comes to aid in the struggle against and to gain victory over sin in the life.

Neither is prayer a condition of receiving Him but rather an evidence of it (see below).

The New Testament simply never states any such conditions for Spirit baptism. The receiving of the Spirit is a provision of salvation itself, not a blessing received only upon the meeting of certain conditions afterward.

The Evidences

One more question concerns the evidences of Spirit baptism. Many teach that the chief (if not the only) evidence of having received the Spirit is speaking in tongues. The following considerations militate against that interpretation.

1) The New Testament simply never teaches such a doctrine; nowhere does it hint of that teaching. In fact, the contrary is true: most of those present at Pentecost, although being baptized in the Spirit, never spoke in tongues (Acts 2).

2) Throughout church history, the greatest movements of the Holy Spirit were never marked by the speaking of tongues. Such a phenomenon is strikingly absent.

3) The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus at His baptism, yet our Lord never spoke in tongues.

4) I Corinthians 12:13 teaches that all in the church have been baptized in the Spirit, while verse 30 teaches plainly that all do not speak in tongues.

The evidences of Spirit baptism given in the New Testament are (seemingly) not so spectacular. Prayer (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15-16), spiritual understanding (I Corinthians 2:12; Romans 5:5), assurance (II Corinthians 1:22), holiness (Galatians 5:22-23), and love (I John 4:12-13) may not seem exciting to some, but these are wonderful and thrilling spiritual qualities available only because of the indwelling Spirit. (It is interesting that while assurance of salvation is an evidence of having received the Spirit, the basically Arminian theology of the Charismatics, who speak most of having the Spirit, makes very little allowance for such assurance.) These are the marks of a man indwelt by God's Spirit. The emphasis is not on tongues at all, but on holiness (cf. John 15:26 and 16:14).

Do you want to know if you have received the Holy Spirit? These are the tests and the evidences.

Summary & Conclusion

The foundational teachings of Charismatism (i.e., that the Spirit is received after salvation only by the meeting of certain conditions and is evidenced by speaking in tongues) is clearly not in keeping with the Scriptural teaching.

Spirit baptism is the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ baptizes His people in the Holy Spirit, making them a part of the church. Christ Himself has come to indwell His church in and by His Spirit; this is the climax of His work in His people (to this point in history). Spirit baptism is the means of entrance into the body of Christ, not a blessing received subsequently. It is received as a free gift, a part of salvation itself, and is evidenced by holiness.