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What exactly is the baptism of the Holy Spirit?


Spirit-filled Christians do not all view "the baptism of the Holy Spirit” in the same way. Some teach that believers need to experience a “second blessing” in order to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, while others teach that every believer is baptized with the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion. (1 Corinthians 12:13) So who is correct?

George Verwer addresses this theological and practical question with deep insight. I heard Verwer speak several decades ago at the Okoboji Bible Conference in Iowa. This spiritual dynamo came to the conference with many books to give away. The little paperback book I picked up that day was titled, A Revolution of Love and Balance.  

In his book, Verwer identifies two basic schools of theology concerning the Holy Spirit.

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"From both schools have come great men of God: Jonathan Edwards, for instance, leaned heavily towards Calvinism, while Charles Finney leaned more strongly towards Arminianism. George Whitefield leaned toward Calvinism, but John Wesley toward Arminianism. Hudson Taylor leaned toward Calvinism, whereas General William Booth towards Arminianism, and we could go on giving a list of hundreds of names of men from both schools. All lived lives in the power of the Holy Spirit. We can see that whether they believed in the ’second blessing,’ or whether they believed in a continual filling of the Spirit, the lives of one group were as powerful as the other group. Now this is a tremendous thing!"

Verwer continues, 

"We must constantly remember that the committed and dedicated lives of men in one school of theology are as powerful as the lives of committed men from the other school. I could name man after man who has never experienced a ’special’ baptism of the Spirit, who has never claimed a 'second blessing,’ and yet whose life has been filled with the power the Holy Spirit, as he daily sought to live in the Spirit, yielding to Him. I could name many, also, who have claimed to have experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I wish we could have a few Wesleys now, or Whitefields. You could give me a Calvinistic Whitefield or an Arminian Wesley to work with. I can work with any man, if only he has such reality in his life."

George Verwer was in high school in the 1950s when a neighbor gave him a Gospel of John. “Verwer became a Christian at a Billy Graham meeting at Madison Square Garden, and made a commitment to global missions and spreading God’s Word on a massive scale.”
Verwer founded Operation Mobilization “to mobilize young people to live and share the Gospel of Jesus. OM started in Mexico and had spread to Europe and India by 1963.” Today over “5000 workers, representing more than 100 nationalities…bring God’s unchanging truth to millions of people every year.” Verwer is now 82 years old and has delivered millions of free Bibles, Gospel tracts, Christian books, and humanitarian relief to people in need all around the world. 

What has motivated Verwer and these thousands of workers to go into all the world to lead others to Christ? Jesus told His disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And on the Day of Pentecost, “all of them werefilled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). When the disciples were baptized with the Holy Spirit on that spectacular occasion, they received God’s power to boldly proclaim the Gospel as witnesses for Christ.

Many Christians, like Verwer, have not only received a second blessing from the Holy Spirit but a third, fourth, and many more fillings as well. We can be filled with the Holy Spirit every day as we meditate upon God’s Word and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is also necessary to spend plenty of time in prayer if you want to live a Spirit-filled life.

Martin Luther said that if he did not spend the first 3 hours of his day in prayer, he would not have enough time to complete his daily duties. Prayer empowers and enables us to accomplish God’s will and to focus properly on what is truly necessary. What if you and I were to spend at least 30 minutes in prayer every single day? In my 2017 op-ed, I explain that the more we pray, the more power we receive from God. 

D.L. Moody said, “We are leaky vessels and we need to be filled every day.” The Apostle Paul wrote to Christians: “Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). The verb tense indicates that believers are to “keep on being filled.” This is why some Christians use the phrase: "One baptism, many fillings.” I wrote about this back in 2012.

R.A. Torrey said, “Every regenerate man has the Holy Spirit, but in many believers, the Holy Spirit dwells in a hidden sanctuary apart from their conscious experience. So just as it is one thing to have a guest in your house living in some remote corner of the house where you scarcely know that he is even there, and quite another to have that guest taking entire possession of the house.” The Holy Spirit wants to fill every room within our heart and mind with His beautiful and powerful presence.

When this happens, Christ lives in us and through us more fully, and we are empowered to help others meet the Lord and grow in Christ.

Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 6:19 the physical body of every believer in Jesus is a “temple of the Holy Spirit.”  Just as the Holy Spirit lives “in” every believer, He also wants to fall afresh “upon” God’s children every day. Acts 2:3 tells us the fire of the Holy Spirit "came to rest on each of them" on the Day of Pentecost.

In Luke 11:13, Jesus said, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.”  Believers can walk in humility before God and man with a hunger and thirst for the Holy Spirit to fill us and fall afresh upon us every day.

We must first be emptied before we can be filled. Therefore, confess your sins to God as you turn away from them. And then call upon the Lord with a pure heart for more "power from on high” (Luke 24:49).  As believers in Jesus, we have been granted the privilege to “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16). And so why not make the words of this song your persistent prayer: “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me; Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me; Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me."

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska. 

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