“Realize that you are indeed dead unto sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:11).
The Holy Spirit does not exalt Himself. He honors the Father and the Son. Jesus emphasized the importance of the coming of the Holy Spirit in explaining: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you, but if I depart, I will send Him unto you” (John 16:7). “When He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth, for He shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak, and He will show you things to come. He shall glorify Me, for He shall receive of Mine and shall show it unto you” (John 16:13-14).
It is thus not surprising that through the book of Acts, as some of His greatest works are taking place, the special work of the Holy Spirit is assumed, but is not the center of attention. He would come and immerse believers in a special way at Pentecost. Historically it happened. Later references in the epistles explain this special Spirit immersion. What is recorded in Acts 2, however, is not the invisible uniting of believers in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, but the filling of the Spirit (which was not radically different from His work of filling in the Old Testament) and the resulting clear evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit among believers.
Jesus had made clear that the Holy Spirit formerly had “come upon” individuals, that He had been “with” His own, but that following Pentecost He would be “in” believers (John 14:17). That too is an invisible presence. We know that immersion by the Spirit and the indwelling of the Spirit began at Pentecost and continue to take place today, not by what we see, but by what Scripture teaches. We see changed lives and empowered lives, and we acknowledge that the power is not that of the individual but of God. Our comprehension of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is by simple faith, not on outward demonstrations of fillings or works.
Just as John the Immerser had immersed with water, so the coming Holy Spirit would immerse true followers, as the Father and Jesus had promised (Acts 1:4-5). That took place dramatically (Acts 2:1-3), accompanied by a filling (Acts 2:4). The immersing work of the Spirit as well as water immersion would follow repentance (Acts 2:38, 41). That Spirit immersion resulted in believers being added to the spiritual body of Christ is indicated in the summation: “The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). They were permanently made part of the greater body of Christ. Many from foreign lands were temporarily participating in local church life before returning to be the nucleus of local churches through various parts of the Roman Empire (Acts 2:9-11). They were all at Spirit immersion made part of the greater body of the Lord Jesus. They participated in local gathering as pictures of the new reality.
Although activities of the Holy Spirit are not identified, they can be distinguished. Both people of Samaria and Simon a sorcerer believed and were immersed in water (8:12-13). Spirit immersion into the death and resurrection of Christ would have occurred in the courts of heaven at the point of true belief. When Peter and John arrived, they discovered that the indwelling of the Spirit had not taken place (8:15-16), no doubt to emphasize the oneness of these Samaritan believers with all other believers (cf. John 4:9). Filling of the Spirit is not mentioned and probably did not occur, lest it be misunderstood by those who had yielded to sorcery (8:11).
That Spirit immersion is in connection with personal faith in the Messiah and does not automatically accompany water immersion was clarified in the ministry of Paul in Ephesus (19:2-6). Both Spirit immersion and then water immersion should be recognized in 19:5, and the observed coming of the Spirit (19:6) may have been both indwelling and filling.
One who knew only the immersion of John was clearly indwelt by the Spirit (18:25), probably a true believer prior to Pentecost. Men do not control the Holy Spirit. Men do not cause the Spirit immersion of others or of themselves. Men do not “see” the accomplishment of Spirit immersion in themselves or in others. It is a divine work, fully at the discretion and will of the Holy Spirit Himself as guided by the Father and the Son. His spiritual work is not for sale. It cannot be dispensed or withheld. Repentance and faith lead to eternal life.
The Apostle Paul used likenesses of water immersion to explain the special immersing work of the Holy Spirit (Rom 6: 1-10; Col 2:12-13). He also spoke of the oneness of Spirit immersion (Gal. 3:27; Eph. 4:5). At other times he seems to be speaking only of water immersion (1 Cor. 1:13-17; 12:13; 15:29). Probably both Spirit immersion and water immersion are the doctrines of Hebrews 6:2. The Apostle Peter used immersion as an appointed figure concerning our deliverance from death, that it is not teaching about our putting away the filth of the flesh (which any washing might do), but the evidence of a good walk by the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 3:21).
Deliverance from impending death (Egyptians or the Red Sea) is the likeness in relating that fathers were all immersed unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. Coming forth and unto the Promised Land is the unstated result of that immersion. Israelites were not immersed by Moses but unto Moses. Believers since Pentecost are immersed by the Spirit, not unto the Spirit. Our Spirit immersion is not figurative; it is spiritual. Our Spirit immersion does not involve a cloud or water, but is a judicial uniting whereby God reckons us dead unto sin through the death of Christ and alive unto spiritual reality in our being united in His resurrection from the dead.
God has but one way of salvation, through the death of Christ Jesus. His redemptive work in believers is the same from Adam to the end. Three special accompaniments are special to this present dispensation. 1) The “immersion” by the Holy Spirit takes place at that moment of conversion. 2) The resulting new spiritual life and oneness in the greater body of the Lord Jesus Christ began unendingly at our conversion. We are in Christ, and He is in us. 3) The Holy Spirit also is now resident (the Trinity cannot be divided). As individuals, we are to submit, to follow, to yield, to learn, to witness, to teach, to be directed as working “parts” of the body of Christ.
|Warren Vanhetloo has A.B., B.D., Th.M., Th.D., and D.D. degrees. He served three pastorates in Michigan, taught 20 years at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN), taught 23 years at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA), and is listed as adjunct faculty at Calvary. Retired, he lives in Holland, Michigan. At the urging of fellow faculty and former students, he sends an email newsletter called “Cogitations” to those who request it. You may send e-mail to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.