The Holy Spirit #5: A Second Blessing? by Pastor Jack Lash
We have seen the tremendous impact of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the lives of the disciples. We have seem that the Holy Spirit is the One who brings the power and grace of God to bear in our lives too, so that we might be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. This article will focus on the nature of the Spirit’s work in our lives.
Historically, Christians have believed that the baptism of the Holy Spirit happens simultaneously with conversion. Today, however, there are some who argue that the Christian life is a two-stage process: First one becomes a believer, and then at some later point in his life he experiences the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This second experience (or "second blessing") is not always referred to as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but in each case the Christian life is seen as a two-stage process. And so, whatever you call this experience, it is a second blessing that typically comes to a Christian sometime after conversion. You may have been asked, "Are you Spirit-filled?" or "Is that a Spirit-filled church?" These questions are usually meant to distinguish those who believe in this second-stage reception of the Spirit from those that don’t.
So let’s talk about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Is it a second blessing? Is the pattern of the Christian life supposed to be two-staged?
In the last article I spoke about the fact that the expression "the baptism of the Holy Spirit" only occurs seven times in the Bible. Let’s review those seven because they are very important for our study today:
Once in each gospel on the lips of John the Baptist saying that Jesus was the One who was going to baptize with the Holy Spirit (
Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33).
Twice in the book of Acts, once on the lips of our Lord (Acts 1:5) where He said to the Twelve just before His ascension, "John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now", and once on the lips of Peter (Acts 11:16) where he is remembering the words of John the Baptist.
So all six of those point clearly to Pentecost (though the one in Acts 11:16 does connect it also with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at the house of Cornelius).
The only other time this expression is used is in 1Cor.12:13, where Paul says, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."
Several points need to be made with regard to this last verse:
The Greek words here are identical to the six references to the baptism of the Spirit in the gospels and Acts. The word translated "by" in most versions is the same Greek word translated "with" or "in" in the other six references.
The words "one,""all," and "into one body" are inserted by Paul into John the Baptist's formula here because Paul's point is different than John the Baptist's (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33) or Christ's (Acts 1:5; 11:16). Therefore, instead of merely saying, "In the Spirit we were baptized," Paul, making a point about the unity of Christ's body, writes: "For in one Spirit we were all baptized in one body." But the correlation between 1Cor.12:13 and the other six references to the baptism of the Spirit is clear.
An brief examination of the last phrase of this verse will add insight to the meaning of the first phrase. Most versions translate it this way: "we were all made to drink of one Spirit." The Greek word here translated "to make (someone) to drink" has two common meanings: this one, and "to water or irrigate" (i.e., to pour out upon). Paul uses both meanings in this Corinthian letter (e.g. 1Cor. 3:2,6,8). In the Bible, this verb is used in the passive voice only three times; the other two occurrences (besides this one in 1Cor. 12:13) involve the watering of land (Gen. 13:10 and Ezek. 32:6 in the Septuagint). The only time that this verb is used with "Spirit" is in Is. 29:10, where it is a translation of a Hebrew word that always means "to pour out." It seems then that the phrase means this: "and we have all been watered with one Spirit," picking up on the OT image of the Spirit being poured out upon the dry land of men's hearts and producing a garden where a wilderness had been (Is. 32:15, 44:3; Ezek. 39:29; Joel 2:28; Jer. 31:12).
It is very interesting that the baptism of the Spirit, which is often used to divide Christians into two categories, is the very foundation of Christian unity in Paul’s mind. When Paul, in the midst of a passage about how God has gifted different Christians in different ways, wants to stress the fact that we are all one, his appeal is to the baptism in the Spirit. This, he says, is what bonds us together: we have all been baptized in one Spirit into the one body of Christ. Therefore, there is no more distinction in Christ between Jew and Gentile, slave or free. In other words, whatever the baptism of the Spirit is, it is part of what it means to be a Christian. Without it there is no incorporation into the body of Christ.
The Language of the Spirit’s Coming
1Cor.12:13 has led some to say that it is not the baptism of the Holy Spirit but the "filling of the Holy Spirit" or the "anointing of the Holy Spirit" that is the appropriate name for this second blessing. But the fact is that the terms "outpouring of the Spirit," "baptism in the Spirit," "gift of the Spirit," "the Spirit coming on...," "filling of the Spirit," "receiving the Spirit," and "the Spirit falling upon" are all used interchangeably in the Book of Acts to refer to the same monumental new covenant gift of the Spirit that began at Pentecost. Pentecost itself is referred to as:
the "baptism in the Spirit" in Acts 1:5 and 11:16;
the "gift of the Spirit" in 2:38, 10:45, 11:17, and 15:8;
the "outpouring of the Spirit" in 2:17,18,33, and in 10:45;
the "filling of the Spirit" in 2:4;
the "coming on of the Spirit" in 1:8;
the "receiving of the Spirit" in 2:38 and 10:47;
and the "falling on of the Spirit" in 10:44 and 11:15.
If you take the time to look all of these up in context, you will see that all these expressions are being used synonymously.
Arguments for Second Blessing Christianity
On what basis then do people argue from Scripture for a second blessing? Primarily on the basis of the four outpourings in the book of Acts:
The Apostles' baptism in the Spirit (Acts 1:2-5;2:1-4): The Apostles themselves were certainly believers before Pentecost. Yet, they still were not baptized in the Holy Spirit until Pentecost.
The Samaritan's baptism in the Spirit (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17): Here is another example of people who had a two-stage experience. They believed in the Lord Jesus when they heard Philip and were baptized. Only later, when Peter and John came, did they receive the Holy Spirit.
The Caesarean's baptism in the Spirit (Acts 10:1-2, 34-46): Cornelius was "a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household...and prayed to God continually." However, it was not until Peter came and preached that "the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message," including Cornelius.
The Ephesians' baptism in the Spirit (Acts 19:1-6): When Paul came to Ephesus he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" Paul's question alone demonstrates that in Paul's mind it was very possible to be a believer but not have the Holy Spirit. And even if someone should argue that these men did not yet believe in Jesus, but only in John, there is still sufficient reason to conclude that there is a two-stage process going on here. For it is after they believe in Jesus and were baptized that Paul "laid his hands upon them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying."
I don’t want to take the space here to go into each of these passages in detail. (I do have further study sheets for those who would like to read my thoughts on the specific episodes.) But there are several considerations that help us to see where the thinking of those who use these passages to try to prove a second blessing theology is unsound:
Part of the problem is how we view the Book of Acts. Is it a random sampling of early Christian piety? A loose collection of edifying and inspiring episodes of early Christian life? Or is it a carefully thought out record of the initiation of the new covenant and its expansion from Israel to the ends of the earth?
How we view the Book of Acts will make a gigantic difference on the conclusions we come to about these verses.
There was something very peculiar about the generation which received these outpourings. It was the generation bridging the old and the new
. It began under the old covenant and ended under the new. Of course many of them received the baptism of the Holy Spirit after they were converted! The Holy Spirit wasn’t poured out until after they were believers.
The three outpourings of the Holy Spirit subsequent to Pentecost certainly are smaller repetitions of what took place at Pentecost, but that doesn’t mean that they are part of an indefinitely repeating series. These were part of a unique non-typical complex of events that laid the foundation of the Christian church. These were extensions of Pentecost as it expanded from the original 120 to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Not once does the Holy Spirit come like this upon an individual. And in all three cases it is a new class of people that is being reached, a new realm being penetrated with the new covenant gospel. And notice that apostles had to be at each outpouring.
In spite of these three aftershocks, J
esus isn’t pouring out His Spirit over and over again through history in the sense He did at Pentecost. That was a once-for-all event. The Holy Spirit was poured out and now is in a state of having been poured out. Just like the rest of Christ’s work, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was a distinct historical event. Jesus came, He taught, He did miracles, He was crucified, He was buried, He was raised from the dead, He ascended into heaven, and He poured out the Holy Spirit upon His people. He did each of those things once: once and for all. These are the great events of His historical ministry.
It’s not that each one of us is a believer like the apostles and then each one at some point has a Pentecost experience.
Pentecost is redemptive history, not necessarily a model for our experience.Think back on 1Cor.12:13. It is not that we have all had a certain experience that makes us one in Christ. It is rather that the Lord has begun His temple construction and has filled the building, though it is not yet complete, with His Holy Spirit. This filling occurred at Pentecost. When an individual person becomes a Christian, he is added to the temple as a living stone, he becomes part of the temple that is filled with the Holy Spirit. And that means that that person, when he becomes part of the building, is baptized in the Spirit. Look at 1Cor.12:13. When does this baptism take place? "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body..." When we become Christians we receive a share of what was accomplished 2000 years ago. Just as our union with Christ through faith gives us a share in what He did in His death and resurrection, so also our union with Christ gives us a share in what He did at Pentecost when He poured out His Holy Spirit and baptized His church with the Holy Spirit. And so, at regeneration, when each believer is born again, when a sinner is born of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit comes upon that person and begins to work upon his soul bringing it to life and beginning the process of remaking that person into the image of Christ Jesus. That can’t happen apart from the Holy Spirit coming upon him. And remember that when we say the Holy Spirit comes upon a person we don’t mean locationally. We mean that He brings His power and grace to bear in that person’s life, He shows Himself in that person’s life by changing and transforming him. Once the Holy Spirit bursts into a person’s life in this way, He is there to stay. That person has the Holy Spirit. That person is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will never leave him or forsake him.
This fact that every Christian is the recipient of the Holy Spirit is confirmed by other passages as well:
Romans 8:9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
Everyone who believes receives the Spirit:
Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Galatians 3:2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (NASB)
(Happily more and more pentecostal/charismatic leaders are rejecting this second blessing theology. It seems that the more serious attempts to substantiate this second blessing theology from Scripture are revealing just how difficult it is to do so.)
The Pros and Cons of Pentecostal Theology
How did the pentecostal doctrine of two-staged Christianity get started? I believe that it was probably the result of wrong interpretations of real works of the Spirit. (And none of this is meant to detract from the fact that God can and has done real work in the lives of those who, in my opinion, theologically misunderstand their experience.) It is very wrong for us to look down on our brethren who believe this way. In many ways, a lot of them are more godly than we are, in spite of the fact that they misinterpret some of their experience.
Much good has come out of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. It has forced the church to come to grips with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. JI Packer says that the charismatic movement has rubbed our faces into the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. And that’s good! We need it!
Another good thing about this theology is that it reminds us that a Christian must never grow satisfied with his life as if he has arrived, and he must never accept the mediocrities of his life as if they will never change. The impulse to seek more grace, more power from God, more of His help is a good one. We need to have a keen grasp of the fact that the Holy Spirit is not done with His work in our lives as soon as we become Christians. The Christian life is meant to be a dynamic one. It is not supposed to be static. It is supposed to be a life of change and continuous rearrangement and transformation. It is supposed to be a life of radical encounter with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is not enough to be in Christ, we must grow in Christ. Progress must be a regular part of the Christian life. We are not supposed to be content with a dead or comatose Christianity.
The negative side of this movement is that it tends to divide Christians into two groups. The problem with a two-stage Christian life is that you end up with a two-tiered Christianity. You have those who have had the second blessing and those who have not, first level and second level Christians, first class Christians and second class Christians. And this two-tiered thinking extends to churches as well. (And we must be certain that the same thing doesn’t happen the other way around either.) The Holy Spirit is the unifier of the body of Christ, and He has been made out to be the divider of it (not purposely but in effect). The pentecostal mindset often fails to adequately recognize the variety of ways that the Holy Spirit works in different people.
This pentecostal thinking also easily slips into the trap of mistaking the work of God for an exuberant personality. Sometimes folks who are exuberant are considered haves and people with more placid personalities are considered have nots. I can’t tell you how many times after I’ve given a talk someone has come up to me and said in effect, "I can tell that you have had the second blessing." (Of course I’m sure there are many times when people who observe me say to themselves, "I can tell he’s not full of the Holy Spirit." They just don’t come up and tell me that.) There is great danger in thinking we can read how much of the Spirit another person has by seeing if there is a glow on his face. It is so easy to mistake what is human for that which is divine.
I have encouraged us to seek the Holy Spirit, that is, to seek His work in our lives. What I am encouraging you to seek is not a one-time outpouring that will move you from the low tier of Christian life to the high tier of Christian life. This is a permanent posture that I’m advocating here. I want us to incorporate this seeking of the Spirit as a regular part of our Christian lives. This is not a you-have-it-or-you-don’t-have-it kind of thing. We will always feel like there is a chasm between our lives and the life of Christ. We will always see that the Holy Spirit’s power is the solution to this need. We will always cry out to God for His Spirit to help us over the chasm. The Holy Spirit is not all there is to Christianity. But you don’t have true Christianity without His activity. He should become a part of our daily thought-life.