In a couple of days believers all over the world will celebrate Pentecost. Particularly those who have had experiences similar to what happened on the day of Pentecost will seize this occasion to acknowledge specific characteristics of their faith – including the baptism in the Holy Spirit. What is it actually all about?
Shortly before his ascension Jesus speaks to his disciples about the promise of the father. He instructs them to wait in Jerusalem and goes on to say: “John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:5). Now finally, what Jesus had pointed out before, was about to be fulfilled. All four gospels report this promise (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:32-33) and now Jesus speaks to the disciples who had followed him for three years. They had gotten to know him closely, heard his teachings, believed in him and had received assurance of salvation and authority. Still, one crucial experience was missing: Empowerment by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses (Acts 1:8).
One day I was out walking with a friend and we talked about this promise. I tried to describe that today, more than ever, we need the empowerment to be witnesses. Initially my friend shrugged me off: “What do I need that for? I already am a child of God.” I told him: “It is about the promise of the father!” He was taken aback, started to think about it and finally said: “Okay, I want to have it. Now!” Well, we were walking on the main road of our local cemetery. I looked around and said: “We better go home. There I will gladly pray for you.” But he went down on his knees – ready for prayer. What could I do? I blessed him and he experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not an end in itself. Its purpose it not to elevate Christians into a special spiritual position. Nobody can boast about himself because he or she experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit. As always, when God gives a gift there is a distinct purpose. The same is true here: The preaching of the gospel should be in power. As Christians we are to speak about Christ – this is our great commission – but we are not to do this out of our own strength and resources, but in the power of God and with his resources. The baptism in the Holy Spirit opens the door to this power. It makes us strong and bold to be emphatic witnesses for Jesus.
When viewed from the perspective of salvation history, Pentecost was a onetime incident: The era of the Holy Spirit began. From then on God wanted to be present among mankind by the effects of his spirit. The spirit was to inspire the preaching (1 Corinthians 2:1-16, Ephesians 1:17), convict of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8), induce faith (2 Corinthians 4:13, Galatians 5:5), dwell in the believers (Rom 8:9), bestow redemption, adoption and assurance of salvation (John 3:5, Romans 8:4-16, Titus 3:5), distribute gifts for the edification of the church (1 Corinthians 12-14), etc. Nevertheless, all these effects do not describe the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is the experience the disciples had on the day of Pentecost. And this experience is promised by the father to all children of God. Even today.