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Summary: Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Today is our first Sunday in the new year. What better way to begin this new year then talking about the baptism of the soul. When you think of baptism what images come into your mind? Do you think of infant sprinklings or full immersions whether in a baptismal font or in a river? What other forms of baptism exist? How many veterans here received a “baptism of fire” or perhaps you can note the date and time when you received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

What is baptism? Is it a ceremony a rite of passage? Could it be a rite of promise, or is it a rebirth?

According to Elwell’s Theological Dictionary, it is the divine covenant, to its provisional fulfillment in a divine act of judgment and grace, and to the coming and definitive fulfillment in the baptism of the cross. In other words, it is a rite of promise between you, God, His grace and the mercy he brought to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Baptism is one of those rituals that often defines the various theologies of several different denominations. In our United Methodist tradition, we view baptism more as a covenantal ritual between the parents of the child, the church, and God. This means we take an oath at the baptism to bring this child up to know who God is, and to learn how to walk with God.

One of the reasons we do not encourage second baptisms say at the teen years or when we “accept” Christ into our lives for ourselves is that we do not believe that baptizing some how saves you or that the baptism some how did not “stick.” We believe that Jesus saved us through His crucifixion and resurrection, and that this salvation is freely given for us to receive.

In other denominations, baptism may be promoted in a different way. For example, there are some denominations who firmly believe that the baptism itself is what saves you. In accordance with their beliefs, it is the simple act of baptism, which secures your place in heaven.

Truthfully, this belief has no biblical ground on which it can stand. There is no passage within the scriptures which says that baptism saves you. It is only symbolic of the cleansing you receive for the forgiveness you ask of God for all of your sins. My wife was raised as a Southern Baptist for most of her life. In their denomination, they believe that full immersion is representative of the death and rebirth of the sinner. In other words, as the person is immersed, they are symbolically being buried, and when they surface, they are in a sense reborn.

While these are physical representations of our new life in Christ, John the Baptist spoke of another kind of baptism that only Christ him self could bring about, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit:

John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Luke 3:16 NIV)

What exactly is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit? What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? John Wesley was a recipient of this greatest among all blessings, during the infamous Aldersgate Experience.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit is an indwelling. In other words, God fills your body with His power and glory. Those who have the “conversion experience” or that feeling of absolute joy and wonder often experience this. It is that feeling that all of the cares and troubles of the world have been lifted off their shoulders, and they have come to absolute peace.

In the case of John Wesley, he described it as the warming of his heart. This warming or baptism brought about a change in Wesley that allowed him to realize that it was more important to bring the Word of God to the people, and that preaching cannot be limited to the pulpit. It was from that point on that he preached not only in the churches, but he preached in the fields and on the street corners. Moreover, he preached with a renewed sense of purpose, and love for God.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 6 Paul tells us that at one time we were sinners and the like, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11 NIV) In other words, we have received the baptism of the Spirit when Christ died for our sins on the cross, with the salvation he bought for us all.

Now for some of us, baptism of the Spirit may bring up images of people speaking in tongues or rolling on the floor. It may bring up images of faith healing services, or maybe people being “slain by the spirit”. In fact, all of these images may seem very un-Methodist-like. We tend to associate these practices with the Charismatic churches, with pastors like Benny Hinn or Oral Roberts.

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