Sealed—not yet baptized—with the Holy Spirit.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 November

’Cause there’s a difference between the two, despite what non-charismatics claim.

Ephesians 1.13-14 KWL
13 In Christ you heard the truthful word—the good news of your salvation!
In Christ you believed; you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit!
14 He’s the down payment of our inheritance—
releasing our trust fund—praising God’s glory.

’Member when you got saved? Maybe not; maybe it was a gradual process. Doesn’t matter. At some point in that process God decided to take up residence in your life. We call it indwelling. You got “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,” as Paul put it. He’s in you. Right now. Whispering God’s will into you. Hope you’re listening.

Now, non-charismatics claim when the Spirit gets into us like that, yeah it’s called indwelling, but it’s also called “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Lk 3.16, Ac 1.4-5 Those two events, they insist, are one and the same. ’Cause the Holy Spirit gets in you and on you, kinda like the water does in the baptismal when you don’t hold your nose.

Why do they claim this? ’Cause they’re non-charismatics. A charismatic believes God absolutely does miracles in the present day. A non-charismatic really doesn’t think so. Some of ’em will be full-on cessationist and claim the miracles stopped back in bible times. Others know better—why even pray, why even ask God for stuff, if he’s tied his own hands and won’t intervene? But they either insist miracles are rare, ’cause for some reason God doesn’t want to overplay his hand; or they insist God only works through natural means, not supernatural.

And if God doesn’t do supernatural stuff, the Holy Spirit’s baptism doesn’t look like it does in Acts 2. Instead it’s invisible. Unnoticeable. Can’t tell the difference between Spirit baptism and when your phone starts to vibrate in your pants pocket. Plus it happens when you got saved: When you were sealed to the Spirit, you were simultaneously baptized by him. Didn’t you feel great when you came to Jesus? Well that’s Spirit baptism. You’re welcome.

Charismatics, by comparison, believe Spirit baptism is gonna resemble its description in the bible. Maybe not with rushing wind and tongues of fire. Then again, maybe so. But if that doesn’t happen, there will at least be speaking in tongues—a topic I’ll discuss elsewhere.

But not today. Today I just wanna make clear: Getting sealed with the Spirit is not the same as getting baptized in the Spirit. One happens when you come to Jesus. The other happens when the Spirit decides you’re ready to use his power.

When’d you get the Spirit?

Like I said, the Spirit comes to indwell us when we get saved. You might be able to pinpoint that time. If you had a really dramatic conversion experience—there was a revival service, there was an evangelist begging you to come to Jesus, there was stirring music, there were some powerful emotions, there was probably weeping and blubbering and snot, you asked Jesus to take command of your life, you really felt he said yes and now lives in your heart—you figure that’s when the Spirit came into your life. Or as the songs inaccurately describe it, “when Jesus came into your heart.” Same thing, but wrong person of the trinity.

’Kay. But you might not realize you received the Spirit before that point.

No, really. See, we actually can’t be saved unless the Spirit is in us already. He’s the one who empowers people to have faith. He’s the one who makes us able to call God our Avvá/“Father.” Ro 8.15, Ga 4.6 We can’t say any sinner’s prayer, and mean it, without the Holy Spirit in us, making it possible. Which means he actually had to get into us before the fact.

Yeah, he totally set you up to be saved. (And if he’s actually in you, you’re gonna find that awesome instead of creepy.)

But see, this means we can’t accurately nail down the moment the Spirit came to indwell us. Unless he tells us specifically when that was (and he usually doesn’t), it means getting sealed with the Spirit wasn’t an experience. It was something which happened to us unawares.

It’s like when a judge hands down a warrant for your arrest. If you’re a suspect, or a criminal, you might have some idea something like that is gonna happen. But you won’t know when it’ll happen unless you’re actively checking on the courts. And you won’t realize it took effect till the police shows up with tasers and handcuffs. Your warrant isn’t an experience. Getting arrested—now that’s an experience. Same with when the Spirit seals himself to you, and when you turn to Jesus.

Now the baptism of the Spirit: That’s an experience. It’s most definitely an experience. You will know it happened. You’ll know when it happened. You’ll know he did something to you. If you’ve never heard of Spirit baptism—and that happens with some Christians—you’ll know God did something profound to you, but won’t know what to call it. You’ll just know it was weird but awesome, and now you’re full of power and joy.

And it’s not just subjective—it’s not an experience you had, but no other Christian has. Charismatics recognize it happens to lots of Christians. Not every Christian. But I would venture to say most of us. You too—if you ask the Spirit for it.

How indwelling and baptism got mixed up.

When the very first Christians came to Jesus in the first century, they were baptized, in water, as soon as possible. That’s the pattern we see in Acts: Confess Jesus, get baptized. Don’t need a baptism class. Don’t need confirmation. Just get in the water. No point in waiting. After all, they’re Christians, right?

A lot of times (and we see this in the present day too), they’d be baptized in water and the Holy Spirit, near about the same time. In Acts 10the gentiles were filled with the Spirit before Simon Peter could even get them into the water. For that matter, the reason he put ’em in water was ’cause the Spirit had baptized them, to his great surprise. Ac 10.45-48 Left to his own devices, he might’ve put off declaring them Christians till they’d first become Jews. Ac 11.1-2 Heck, plenty of Christians back then still insisted gentiles become Jews first. Ac 15.1 But when the Spirit immediately empowered people when they confessed Jesus as Lord, it put that debate to rest. If the Spirit baptized ’em, it made no sense to not call ’em Christians—and baptize them in water.

Problem is, we Christians like to simplify God and our theology whenever we can. Early Christians began to assume the Spirit’s activity was all part of a package deal. When they confessed Jesus at their baptism (or, if they were baptized as an infant, at their confirmation) they figured they were sealed and baptized with the Spirit. Simultaneously.

What about when the Spirit really baptized them later? They figured it was a separate mystical experience. God musta granted ’em the gift of tongues or something.

Though various Christian groups figured out getting sealed in the Spirit and baptized in the Spirit are two different events, it wasn’t really till the mid-1800s that the idea became widespread. Protestants in the United States, reading Acts 19, realized baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit obviously aren’t connected. So after praying for the Spirit’s baptism, he granted it, and they experienced it. These would be the Pentecostals.

Anti-charismatics object that because the Pentecostal movement didn’t begin till the 1800s, this teaching is too new, too novel an idea. It’s not new. It’s found in Christian mystical traditions stretching all the way back to bible times. Understandably, mysticism tends to be on the fringe of Christendom, ’cause mystics have a bad habit of not getting confirmation for their visions, and going weird and heretic. But church leadership never officially rejected the idea that baptism of the Spirit is a separate, subsequent experience to salvation.

Speaking in tongues.

Pentecostals believe when the Holy Spirit baptizes us, we know it’s the real thing because speak in tongues, just like the early Christians in Acts 2, 10, and 19. Happens every time, in one form or another.

Other charismatics rightly point out the Spirit can perform any miraculous sign he wants. It doesn’t have to take the form of speaking in tongues. Could be prophecy. Or a supernatural healing. Or some other wondrous thing. Up to him; God has free will. Insisting the Spirit only does tongues sounds like we’ve limited him, or we’ve reduced Spirit baptism to a formula.

I understand their concern. Makes perfect sense. But the reason Pentecostals say Spirit baptism is always accompanied by tongues, is because in our experience, Spirit baptism is always accompanied by tongues. Sometimes the Holy Spirit has people perform other miraculous acts as well—but he always manages to include speaking in tongues. As a result, Pentecostals just figure it’s what he does. It’s consistent with Acts. So that’s why, and where, we hang our hat.

Because non-Pentecostals claim, “The Spirit can confirm his baptism however he wants; doesn’t have to be tongues,” there are a lot of non-Pentecostals who insist they’ve totally experienced the Spirit’s baptism, even though tongues didn’t happen. Funny thing is, a lot of them later have an experience where tongues does happen… and then they repent and say, “Okay, that was the Spirit’s baptism. That previous experience, which I thought was Spirit baptism… I don’t know what that was. I mean, I thought it was. It was profound. But I guess I was wrong.” They don’t always become Pentecostals as a result (and who says they need to?) but they do confirm what Pentecostals have always said: Yeah, the Spirit can do whatever he wants. But he wants to do it this way.

In any event, all charismatics, Pentecostal or not, recognize Spirit baptism is an experience. Just like water baptism, it’s not about intellectually recognizing God did something. God chooses to attach an experience to our knowledge. It’s why water baptism: We repent and turn to Jesus; we get in the water to represent our sins washed away. Same with being granted God’s power: We get drenched in his power. And just as water runs off us in water baptism, the supernatural (i.e. tongues) runs off us in Spirit baptism.