Holy Spirit Baptism
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire the possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13–14).
Under the new covenant, all of God’s people receive the gift of the Spirit for ministry. Pentecost and the subsequent outpourings of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts signify not that there is a “second blessing” in the Christian life, but that all with faith in Jesus, no matter one’s race, class, or gender, receive the indwelling of the Spirit for service. There is no such thing as a new covenant believer who lacks the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13–14).
This infilling is one of the many things depicted in baptism, as Peter makes clear in Acts 2:38. This raises the question for us as to whether the Holy Spirit automatically indwells a person when he is baptized. Roman Catholic theology makes a direct link between baptism and regeneration. Unless the person being baptized hinders the work through unbelief, the rite of baptism itself puts the soul in a state of grace, which grace is renewed through the sacrament of penance. Because infants are not in a position to impede such grace, baptism works automatically to confer its benefits.
However, Scripture tells us the blessings and graces exemplified in baptism cannot be received apart from faith. There is no automatic link between the sign and the reality it signifies every time the sacrament is administered. Yet baptism is not a naked symbol. Baptism is always a sign of the promise that all with faith in Christ will receive the benefits of regeneration, remission, ingrafting, and empowering depicted in the sacrament. The Lord’s promise to redeem all believers is what is conveyed. We can look on our baptism and find hope, not because the rite saves us but because it shows us that Jesus saves all those who continue in repentant faith, no matter how far they fall.
Baptism also reflects our sealing by the Spirit in which He puts an indelible mark on our souls that we belong to God (Eph. 1:13–14). Again, if we never come to faith, then we have never been sealed with the Spirit. The outward washing automatically sets us apart as part of the visible community of professing believers, but the inward reality of belonging to the Lord only occurs if, by faith in Christ alone, we also join the invisible church made up of all true believers.
The New Testament speaks of baptism often because it recognizes the Lord’s presence in this sacrament in a way not found elsewhere. If we truly understand the importance of baptism, then we will find our faith and confidence strengthened every time one is performed. By faith, the tangible reality of water and the hearing of the words of institution can be used of the Spirit to impart to us the conviction that He is able to save and cleanse all who trust in Him.
Passages for Further Study
- Ex. 29
- Ezek. 36:22–38
- Mark 1:40–45
- Titus 3:4–6