R. C. Sproul: Undervaluing Pentecost

Additional resource: R. C. Sproul: The Baptism of the Holy Spirit – devotional

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (v. 13). – 1 Corinthians 12:12–13

Recently, a history of Pentecostalism in the twentieth century titled The Century of the Holy Spirit was published. The title reflects the fact that a renewed discussion of the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian world occurred in the last century. More books about the Holy Spirit have been written since the mid-twentieth century than were written in all the years of church history before then combined.

Much of this is due to the Pentecostal and charismatic movements, with their emphases on the baptism of the Holy Spirit and “sign gifts” such as tongues. These traditions tend to distinguish between Spirit-filled Christians and non-Spirit-filled Christians. Anyone who trusts in Jesus for salvation is a non-Spirit-filled Christian, while Spirit-filled Christians have experienced a second work of grace known as the baptism of the Holy Spirit—an infilling of God’s Spirit with power and gifts for ministry. Normally, Pentecostals believe speaking in tongues proves that one has received the Holy Spirit.

Theologians in this tradition justify their view by appealing to the four instances recorded in the Acts of the Apostles when people received the Holy Spirit in an experience distinct from conversion: Jewish believers; Samaritan believers; God-fearers (Gentiles who believed in Yahweh without being circumcised); and believers who were once pagan Gentiles (2:1–13; 8:14–17; 10:9–48; 19:1–7). However, the New Testament nowhere else describes a second work of grace, making these narratives at best an incomplete foundation on which to build a theology of the Spirit. Acts records the transition in redemptive history when God, for our sake, had to make it clear that His gifts were no longer limited to Jews. In fact, Acts begins by telling us that the Apostles would witness to Christ first in Jerusalem, then in Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (1:8). Notably, the Spirit baptisms Luke records in Acts conform to this geographic spread of the gospel: Jews in Jerusalem, God-fearers in Judea, Samaritans in Samaria, and Gentiles, who represent the ends of the earth. These baptisms confirm that none who are welcomed into God’s kingdom through faith in Christ alone are second-class citizens.

Ultimately, traditional Pentecostal theology has an untenable view of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:12–13, the Spirit has baptized all believers into one body. There are no Holy Spirit have-nots in the kingdom of God.

When we separate the baptism of the Holy Spirit from conversion, we end up with second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. But as the Lord has poured out His Spirit on all His people, this is impossible. Christians may be at different points in their sanctification and level of Christian maturity, but no Christian lacks the Holy Spirit in his life. Let us be encouraged by this, for it means that we will certainly grow into conformity to Christ.

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Devotional, Copyright by R. C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries

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