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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Dimensions

Before going further it is important to stress that all the terminology thus far used in this chapter about the “outpouring,” the “falling upon,” and the “coming upon” of the Holy Spirit points definitely to the gift of the Holy Spirit as a gift from without or beyond. The experience of the gift therefore is not some kind of mystical participation in the immanent presence of God. Rather, it is a profound experience of the transcendent God coming powerfully to His creature. In some ways it is a kind of spiritual invasion: from the heights to the depths. But the coming from without is by no means to break down or destroy; it is a gracious act whereby human beings may better become participants in the purpose and activity of God.

In the fourth place, those to whom God gives His Spirit are enveloped with His presence and power. The Spirit promised by the Father, sent forth by the Son, surrounds, encloses, immerses those to whom He comes. Nothing is left untouched or unaffected. It is as if one were bathed in the reality of God.

The biblical term that expresses most vividly this aspect of envelopment is “being baptized.” This reference is made not to water but to the Spirit, to being baptized with, or in,16  the Holy Spirit. By such a baptism, one is totally enveloped within the reality of the divine presence.

In the book of Acts this expression is found twice. It is used in connection with the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples at Jerusalem and to the Gentiles in Caesarea. Prior to the Jerusalem Pentecost, the words of Jesus are recorded: “John baptized [in]17  the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). Following the Gentile Pentecost, Peter, in his words to the apostles and brethren in Judea, refers to what had happened to the Gentiles as also being baptized in the Holy Spirit: “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized [in] water, but you shall be baptized [in] the Holy Spirit'” (Acts 11:15-16). Thus although the expression, “baptized in the Spirit,” is not used on the occasions of the gift of the Spirit to Jew and Gentile (Acts 2 and Acts 10), it is apparent that both occasions are baptisms in the Holy Spirit.18  By extension, since we have noted the use of other terms such as “outpouring,&quot “falling” and “coming on” for these and other events recording the gift of the Holy Spirit, we may properly speak of all these incidents as occasions of being baptized in the Holy Spirit.

The importance of this expression is further enhanced by the fact that all four Gospels likewise contain references to a spiritual baptism. At the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, John the Baptist points to it as a future event: “I have baptized you [in] water; but he [Jesus] will baptized you [in] the Holy Spirit [and fire].”19  There is no suggestion in the Gospels that this promised baptism in the Spirit is fulfilled during the period of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.20  It is only with the completion of the work of Christ in redemption that the Holy Spirit is given—and people thereafter are baptized in the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospels it is evident that Jesus will be the baptizer: “He [Jesus] will baptize you.” By implication the same is true in the book of Acts where, as noted, the text reads: “You shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is not depicted as the baptizer, as if one were being baptized by21  the Holy Spirit. Rather, Jesus is the baptizer and the Holy Spirit is the element wherein the baptism occurs. Even as water is not the agent in water baptism, neither is the Spirit the agent in Spirit baptism. Water and Spirit are the elements in which baptism takes place. This is an important fact to keep in mind, for it leads one properly to understand baptism in the Spirit as not an action by the Spirit but by the exalted Lord who immerses people in His Spirit.

We have briefly discussed the four Gospel instances and the two in Acts that specifically refer to baptism in the Holy Spirit. There is one other possible instance in the New Testament: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). It could be argued that Paul is dealing with a different matter here, namely, a baptism by the Spirit, so that the Spirit (unlike the cases in the Gospels and Acts) is the agent. However, since the Greek word translated “by” is the same as the word translated “in”22  in the prior six cases, it would seem preferable to translate it thus: “In one Spirit we were all baptized …” Accordingly, the Holy Spirit is again depicted as element and not as agent, and Christ (though not mentioned directly) is implied to be the agent.23  That this seems to be the more likely interpretation follows also from the second half of the verse which again does not show the Holy Spirit as agent: “all were made to drink of one Spirit.” Incidentally, this latter statement may also be translated: “all were imbued [or saturated] with one Spirit.”24  This translation sounds much like our previous description of baptism in the Spirit as immersion in or saturation with the Holy Spirit. However, whichever translation is followed, the Holy Spirit is not said to be the agent in 1 Corinthians any more than the Gospels and Acts.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2002

About the Author: J. Rodman Williams (1918-2008), Ph.D., is considered to be the father of renewal theology. He served as a chaplain in the Second World War, he was a church pastor, college professor, and key figure in the charismatic movement of the 1960s. Beginning in 1982, he taught theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and became Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus there in 2002. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

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