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The gospel writers make a clear and deliberate distinction between water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism – Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16 and John 1:26 – 33. One is a physical ritual which may or may not express genuine human faith. The other is a deep and permanent spiritual reality, a gracious action of God by which he unites us to himself.

As we read the New Testament we discover that there are two distinct but intimately connected simultaneous, synergistic truths involved in the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the concept of being ‘baptized’:

The believer is baptized by Christ in [Greek = en] the Spirit
The believer is baptized by the Spirit into [Greek = eis] Christ.

There is a kind of mutual spiritual immersing that happens the moment we believe in Jesus Christ: Jesus Christ immerses us in the Holy Spirit, and we are immersed by the Holy Spirit into Christ.

Jesus Christ baptizes us in/with/by the Spirit
We need to keep in mind that the Greek en is the only preposition used in relation to being baptized in, with or by the Spirit. Where our English translations use these three prepositions which we understand quite differently from each other, the Greek uses only en. Its primary reference is to position [location]; only its secondary reference is to instrumentality.

This baptism by Christ in/with/by the Spirit is also termed ‘the gift of the Spirit’ and ‘receiving the Spirit’. It happens to all genuine believers as an essential part of their salvation.

This is the baptism referred to by John the Baptist when he said:

‘I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire’ [Matthew 3:11].

‘I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’ [Mark 1:8].

‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit’ [John 1:33].

And by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:13b:

‘… and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.’

From the very nature of its description in the New Testament this baptism in the Spirit happens to every believer without distinction or difference when they first truly believe in Christ. It is part of the blessedness of the comprehensive and complete salvation given by sheer grace to those who believe (Ephesians 1:13). Here the Spirit of God comes to us and makes us his dwelling place.

The Holy Spirit baptizes us into Christ and into his body
In addition, every person who truly believes in the Lord Jesus Christ is, simultaneously with the above regeneration, at this point of conversion, baptised by the Spirit ‘into Christ’ and into the church, the body of Christ.

We are baptized by [en] the Spirit into [eis] Christ, and into his body. This refers to us in Christ.

1Corinthians 12:13a: ‘For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free …’

Galatians 3:26-28: ‘You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’

This aspect of Holy Spirit baptism unites us with Jesus Christ, and therefore unites us with every spiritual blessing that Jesus Christ obtained for us through his life, death and resurrection. By this Holy Spirit baptism we are united to and identified with the death of Christ (Romans 6:3). By this Holy Spirit baptism Christ’s death becomes our death. Without this baptism into Christ by the Spirit, which includes being baptized into Christ’s death, we would not and could not be saved; we would not possess any aspect of the salvation which Christ obtained for us. Without this baptism into Christ by the Spirit we would be standing before God still exposed in all of our sin and guilt, still exposed to his wrath. This baptism into Christ by the Spirit occurs simultaneously and synergistically with Christ baptising in/with/by the Spirit.

This baptism by the Spirit into Christ also incorporates us into ‘the body of Christ’, the church, and annuls all flesh based distinctions between believers. Paul clearly teaches ‘For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body …’. There is no biblical support for any teaching that distinguishes between believers on the basis of Holy Spirit baptism. On the contrary the Bible teaches that this Holy Spirit baptism renders all distinctions irrelevant.

This two-sided spiritual ‘baptism’, this synergistic work of the Son and the Spirit at the point of conversion, brings into being that mutual indwelling taught by the New Testament: God in us, and we in God.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2024