Tongues: An Interview

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:27-31

The gift of tongues has caused much controversy in the life of the church. This was true in the first century in Corinth and was part of the reason Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians. He felt compelled to address this issue. It’s also been true of the modern church ever since the Azusa Street revival broke out in 1905. Since then much of the church has been divided over this gift of the Spirit. However, I believe we are entering a new season that is bringing clarity and understanding where previously there was only confusion and misunderstanding.

What follows is a conversation between a Christian who is curious about tongues and their pastor. We’ll name the curious Christian “CC” and the pastor “P.”

CC: My first question is this, “Is the gift of tongues even operating today?” Some traditions of the church don’t believe it is.

P: Yes, I believe all the gifts of the Spirit are still operating today. We have no indication from scripture that they ever stopped.

CC: I’ve heard that some parts of the church believe that if you haven’t spoken in tongues, you don’t have the Holy Spirit. Is that true?

P: Well, maybe some churches somewhere believe that, but that is an exaggeration of a theological view called “Second Blessing” theology. Most charismatics and Pentecostals believe that if you believe in Jesus you have the Holy Spirit. Period.

The source of some of the confusion is that many people have testified to having a second experience with the Spirit, after salvation, where they felt set free from sin and empowered with gifts in a new way. Many call this second experience being “baptized” in the Spirit or “filled” with the Spirit. Charismatics and Pentecostals often witnessed people speaking in tongues during or after this second experience with the Spirit. What developed over time was “Second Blessing” theology that states, “if you haven’t spoken in tongues, you must not have been filled with the Spirit.” This is the theology that most other evangelicals find troubling.

CC: So do you think that if a person hasn’t spoken in tongues that they aren’t filled with the Spirit?

P: First, we need to understand that “receiving” the Spirit at salvation is one thing and getting “filled” with the Spirit is a different thing. I like to say that when we are filled with the Spirit we don’t get more of the Spirit but the Spirit gets more of us.

As to your question, my answer is “No.” I don’t think tongues are the only sign of someone experiencing a filling of the Spirit. I think there are many “signs” that a person has experienced a “baptism” in the Spirit or “filling” of the Spirit. One of those signs may be that they now pray in tongues. But I believe there are other signs that accompany that experience. Some people weep, others shake, others fall down under the weight of God’s power and glory, and the list goes on. I believe tongues is sometimes a sign and sometimes not.

More important than the initial sign is the actual fruit in a person’s life. If a person truly did experience a filling of the Spirit, they will have increased victory over sin in their life, increased power to live holy and surrendered, increased intimacy with the Lord, likely brand new gifts of the Spirit and/or gifts that were already there get lit on fire by the power of God.

CC: Are you saying you do think there is such a thing as a “baptism in the Spirit” that is different than what happens when we receive the Spirit at salvation?

P: I believe that we receive all of the Holy Spirit at salvation. I also believe we can experience these moments after salvation were we get “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). When charismatics and Pentecostals talk about the “baptism of the Spirit” I believe they are referring the the “first time” a person experiences a filling of the Spirit. Yet, I believe we can have many of these moments throughout our journey with Christ.

Evangelicals tend to believe that the “baptism of the Spirit” is what happens at salvation when you receive the Spirit. Yet, I grew up in the Southern Baptist church where people would have moments after salvation that they would call “rededicating their life” to the Lord. These “rededication” moments sometimes involved a new victory over sin and a general turn around in their life. I wonder sometimes if they simply experienced a “filling of the Spirit” in those moments and, because we were Baptist, just didn’t have language for it.

CC: So where do tongues fit into your theology?

P: Like I said, I do believe they can be a sign that accompanies a moment where a person has an encounter with God and experiences a filling of the Spirit. I also believe it can show up like any other gift. For me, I had a radical encounter with God that was a “filling of the Spirit” more intense than anything I had ever experienced before. Charismatics and Pentecostals would probably call this my “baptism in the Spirit” moment. But for me, this moment was preceded by a process and this moment did not involve speaking in tongues.

Imagine wading out into the ocean until finally a wave crashes down on your head. This is how it was for me with the Holy Spirit. There was a year and a half process of wading deeper and deeper into the waters of the Spirit until I experienced a wave of the Spirit that crashed over me. Pentecostals might call the wave crashing my “baptism in the Spirit” but really, it started with a process and culminated in an event. It wasn’t just about the event.

After that I kept having new and fresh encounters with the Lord in different ways. It definitely was a “filling of the Spirit.” But for me, when a person is filled with the Spirit it isn’t that they get more of the Holy Spirit. It is that the Holy Spirit gets more of them. That’s what happened to me.

For six months after that I didn’t pray in tongues. I wasn’t given that gift. But I did want that gift, so I asked a friend of mine to pray for me that I receive it. And it didn’t come like a volcano, erupting out of me from the depths of my belly like it does for some. It came more like a slow trickle. Then the trickle became a stream and the stream became a river. It grew in me much like many other gifts have. It was a process.

CC: So you speak in tongues?

P: I pray in tongues. Meaning, I have a prayer language that is in tongues. I do not have the corporate gift of speaking in a tongue in a public setting and having it interpreted. That is a different kind of tongues. What people may not realize is that there are many kinds of tongues, and the Greek in 1 Corinthians 12:10 is in the plural. There is the tongues that erupts out of some people when they are filled with the Spirit for the first time and it acts as a sign (and less like a continual gift). There is the tongues that is the prayer language. There is the tongues that is the public gift that should be interpreted in a public setting. There is the tongues that is a literal human language given to people for the spread of the gospel in missionary settings. All of these are real and all of these are a version of the gift of tongues.

CC: So you pray in tongues. What does that mean?

P: It means in my private prayer life, I will often shift from praying in English, my native language, to praying in tongues, which is more of a Holy Spirit language. Paul said, “If I speak in tongues of men or of angels….”(1 Corinthians 13:1). Some people’s private prayer language sounds nothing like a human language. Some people’s private prayer language sounds just like a foreign language that they don’t know.

This shift into tongues can happen whenever I choose, but it sometimes happens without me choosing. Specifically, if I am praying either in great celebration and joy or in great agony and pain, I find that I will almost automatically shift into tongues during those moments. It’s like the Spirit is saying, “Here, since you don’t know what to pray, I’ll pray through you.”

CC: Fascinating! What would you say is the purpose of praying in tongues if you don’t even know what you are saying?

P: The way I describe it to people is this…you know how you can start a worship service feeling disconnected from God or just distracted. Maybe your heart and mind aren’t really focused on Jesus. But then you worship, and 30 minutes later you feel totally different. You feel connected to God. You feel His Presence. Your heart and mind are focused on Him. Your worries have dropped to the ground and your faith is rising. You feel His love for you and your heart feels like it is back to a place of peace, grounded in Christ. When you pray in tongues, what would take 30 minutes of worship to get you into that place spiritually takes only a matter of minutes, sometimes seconds.

The apostle Paul said the purpose of a person praying in tongues is to “edify themselves” (1 Corinthians 14:4). In other words, praying in tongues quickly realigns your heart and mind toward Christ and ushers you quickly into the Presence of God in a way that few other things can. When a person prays in tongues for extended periods of time, there is a kind of saturation of the Spirit that happens where hearing God becomes easier and communing with God feels natural.

CC: Are there other purposes for praying in tongues?

P: Definitely. The other kinds of tongues have other kinds of purposes. But “praying in tongues” specifically can also be used in spiritual warfare. I have found that demonic spirits hate when people pray in tongues. It’s like nails on a chalkboard to them. So there have been times in deliverance prayer sessions where we used it as a kind of weapon to weaken and expose the enemy.

CC: Are there certain times you pray in tongues more than others?

P: I try to pray in tongues every morning more as a spiritual discipline. But I especially find myself praying in tongues in moments of need. Like, if I am on my way to pray for someone who is critically ill and desperately needs healing, I would likely pray in tongues. In that moment I desperately need to hear from God, feel His Presence, and bolster my faith. Tongues helps that happen in a very short amount of time.

Or, if I am in a worship environment that is supercharged with the tangible Presence of God, I will likely find myself praying in tongues. This happens not because I am in a state of desperate need, but more as a reaction to the manifest Presence of God. It’s like the Psalmist wrote, “deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7). The Holy Spirit in me is responding to the Father making His Presence felt in the room.

CC: Do you pray in tongues out loud in a worship service? And if so, does that distract the people around you?

P: When I am praying for a person individually or I’m in a worship service, and I feel the urge or need to pray in tongues, I tend to do so under my breath. I don’t do this because I am somehow ashamed of tongues. Not at all. I love the gift of tongues and would want it for everyone. But I pray under my breath out of respect for the people around me who might take issue with it. I don’t want to be a distraction or a hinderance to their worship. But, if I am in the company of people that also pray in tongues or don’t object to praying in tongues, then I will do so in a way that is more vocal.

CC: Do you think people who don’t pray in tongues are somehow lesser Christians or less mature?

P: No. God is more concerned with our character than our gifts, and tongues is just one gift among many. It’s an awesome gift and a useful tool, but it shouldn’t be used as a barometer of spiritual maturity. There are plenty of spiritually immature Christians who can pray in tongues and plenty of mature Christians who cannot.

CC: Any final comments about praying in tongues?

P: The apostle Paul said, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues” and “do not forbid speaking in tongues“(1 Corinthians 14:5, 39). And I understand why he felt this way. It’s a great tool for the believer to have. So if you want to pray in tongues, pursue it. Pray for it. Ask someone who can pray in tongues to pray over you to get this gift.

But also understand that we shouldn’t fret over not having this gift. The Holy Spirit decides who gets which gifts. And while he does respond to our asking, he also is sovereign. If you don’t pray in a tongue, don’t worry about it and don’t judge others who do. Those are the two errors I see people fall into the most. Often out of insecurity, they either fret about not having the gift or they get cynical and judge others who do have this gift. Both reactions are unhealthy. Grow in the gifts you already have. Be a faithful steward of those gifts and trust God with the rest.

Baptism of Jesus

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:4-8

John the Baptist baptized people in water for repentance. But where did he get the concept of being baptized with or in the Holy Spirit by Jesus? Because of church history and tradition, we usually reserve that phrase, “baptism in the Spirit”, for charismatic or Pentecostal churches. So where did John get this idea from?

John the Baptist was the final and greatest prophet of the Old Testament/old covenant (Matthew 11:11). So this idea of Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit must have been a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. John was simply proclaiming what was expected of the coming Messiah. And there are a number of prophetic passages that expected the Messiah to have the Holy Spirit upon him and for the Spirit to be poured out in abundance in the new Messianic age. This was in contrast to the Spirit being selectively given to certain kings and prophets as was the case is the Old Testament. Here’s a few of those passages:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah 11:1-3

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners…

Isaiah 61:1

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
    and my blessing on your descendants.

Isaiah 44:3

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth…
    
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
    there will be deliverance

Joel 2:28-32

We know that Peter quoted this Joel 2 passages when the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost in Acts 2. The disciples saw that moment as the beginning of the fulfillment of these prophetic promises. Jesus was baptizing, immersing, flooding them with the Holy Spirit just as others had been baptized by John in water.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Acts 2:1-4

Baptism in the Holy Spirit is when we are filled and flooded with the Spirit. There is a tipping point of Jesus being invited to take over every part of a person’s life. Like a dam breaking and a flood carving new terrain in the landscape, the will breaks in surrender to the Lord and the Spirit pours out, carving new terrain, new freedom, new gifts, new power, new intimacy in the life of a believer.

The prophets of old had long expected this kind of outpouring of the Spirit. We get the incredible blessing of being a part of this Messianic age where all of this is possible under the new covenant. The Old Testament prophets and king longed to see what we see and experience what we now have access to in the Spirit.

Then he (Jesus) turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Luke 10:23-24

Analogy

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Matthew 3:11

Having experienced what some Christian traditions call “baptism in the Spirit” or “being filled with the Spirit” (Acts 2:4; Ephesians 5:18), I have spent years searching for ways to explain it. Before I experienced it, I felt that it had been explained poorly by many in the church, so I set out to find as many analogies as I could to describe it. In simple terms, it is when a person who has the Holy Spirit within them gets flooded by the Holy Spirit coming upon them. It’s not that we get “more” of the Holy Spirit but that the Spirit gets more of us.

  1. Lightening Strike: When a positive streamer coming up from the ground (Holy Spirit within us) meets with a step leader coming down from the cloud (Holy Spirit upon us) and creates an explosion in the air that we call lightening.
  2. Flood: When the water in the lake (Holy Spirit within us) experiences torrential rain (Holy Spirit upon us) to the point where the dam breaks and floods the area.
  3. Temple: Baptism in the Spirit is when the curtain between the Most Holy Place (our spirit) and the Holy Place (our soul – mind, will, emotions) gets torn in two and the Holy Spirit breaks out from our spirit, into our soul and body (outer courts).
  4. Exodus: Israel not only went through the waters of the Red Sea setting them free from slavery, they also went through the waters of the Jordan River as they stepped into their promised inheritance. We not only are baptized by water, symbolizing cleansing from being enslaved to sin, but we are baptized by the Spirit, allowing us to step into the inheritance of the Kingdom that God has for us.
  5. Chocolate Milk: When we put chocolate syrup in the milk, it all goes in but it doesn’t mean we have chocolate milk yet. It all rests at the bottom of the glass. It’s not until the chocolate syrup is stirred up that it infuses through the whole glass of milk. Likewise we have all of the Spirit when we get saved. Baptism of the Spirit is when the Spirit upon us stirs up the Spirit within us and causes it to spread throughout our whole being. The result is something new.
  6. Popcorn: A kernel of popcorn has a tiny droplet of water inside it. When it is heated to a certain point it pops. Though nothing was “added” to the popcorn, it has become something completely different. It is flipped inside out. The pressure from the internal steam cooks it and pops it open. Baptism in the Spirit is when a Christian gets set on fire to the point of “popping.”
  7. Soda: When a cap is on a soda, even if you shake it up, it doesn’t overflow. But if you shake it up and then twist the cap, the internal carbonation starts bubbling up and overflowing. Baptism in the Spirit is when someone with the Spirit within (carbonation) gets shaken by the Spirit upon them and the cap gets removed causing an overflow. The cap is often something in our lives that has been resisting God in some way. It’s different for each person.

I hope these help. If not, I’ll continue to seek the Lord for better ways to describe this work that He does in our life.

Fire Fall

With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”

“Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.

“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

1 Kings 18:32-38

We all may know the historical meaning of this passage. This is when Elijah, a prophet of the Lord, confronts the prophets of Baal. They cried out for their gods to bring fire down on the altar and they could not. Elijah soaks his sacrifice in a deluge of water, calls on the true God to bring down fire, and God answers by sending a consuming fire upon the whole sacrificial altar.

Yet, as I read this passage again, the Lord seemed to highlight the prophetic or metaphorical meaning of this passage. Scripture tends to have lots of layers to it. One layer of this passage is how it points to Easter and Pentecost.

Notice the elements involved: a sacrifice, wood, stones, dirt, water and fire. The sacrifice was laid on the wood. Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice, was also laid on wood as He was nailed to the cross. Just as there were stones and a dirt trench, so too Jesus was placed in a tomb with a stone rolled in front. He was buried in His own kind of dirt trench.

Next we see the water poured three times, symbolically representing the Trinity and the cleansing waters of baptism. What was once a trench in the dirt became a kind of baptismal pool. When Jesus rose from the grave, He enabled us to be buried with Him in baptism and raised into new life.

But God wasn’t done. The final element was fire. The Lord sent fire down for Elijah and sent fire down for the Church at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Notice what the fire does for Elijah. It was meant to just light the wood and burn the sacrifice, but the fire of the Lord does so much more. This passage says that the fire fell and, “burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.” The fire not only burned up the sacrifice and the wood, but also the stones, the soil and the water.

Metaphorically, the fire of the Holy Spirit enables us to live out the victory of the cross (the sacrifice and wood). The fire of the Holy Spirit also enables us to live out the victory over death and the grave (the stones and soil). Yet, there’s more! The fire of the Holy Spirit is even greater than the cleansing waters of baptism. Baptism in the fire of the Spirit refines us in a way that the waters of baptism never could. It is an all consuming fire!

Lord, turn our hearts back to you!

Lord, may Your fire fall on us once again until we are completely consumed by You!

Uninformed

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.

1 Corinthians 12:1

Paul’s great desire for the churches that he started was that they not be uninformed about the gifts of the Spirit. And yet in so many churches today, most of the members are uninformed about these gifts.

I’ve had so many conversations in the last month where people asked me about the gifts of the Spirit. One girl came to me asking about tongues and whether she should even desire that gift. She also wondered that, because she doesn’t pray in tongues, whether she is baptized in the Spirit.

In another conversation, a pastor of another church came to me asking about the gifts. When he prays for people in the morning, he feels like the Lord gives him the ability to see them the way God sees them. He never had a label or a name for it. It was just something he noticed God enabled him to do. So we talked through the difference between a “word of knowledge,” a “prophetic word” and “discerning the spirits.” All three of these gifts of the Spirit are revelatory in nature but have slightly different functions.

In a different conversation, a woman in my church asked about impartation and its value. Impartation is when a person lays hands on another person and asks God to release a transference of anointing or gifting in the Holy Spirit. We see this sort of thing talked about in Deuteronomy 34:9, 1 Timothy 4:14, and 2 Timothy 1:6. Her question was, “Does baptism in the Spirit or new gifts of the Spirit come only through impartation?” She wondered if one could just receive more from God while praying one-on-one with Him. My answer was that those are the two main ways people receive new things from the Holy Spirit–waiting in prayer and impartation.

In another interaction, a couple in my church had some struggles with healing prayer and wanted to learn more. We dialogued back and forth about certain elements of praying for physical healing which led to them wanting to read about it on their own. So I suggested a few books for them.

In yet another conversation, a pastor of another church had a detailed dream that he felt was significant, but he couldn’t discern its meaning and wasn’t sure if it was from the Lord. So he asked for my help. As he and I discussed the dream, the meaning began to emerge. The Holy Spirit began to lay out the interpretation. When I shared the interpretation that I felt I was hearing from the Lord, he was deeply touched. The Lord had spoken to him so directly and so specifically, addressing a family situation that he had been concerned about.

The point is that many in the church are uninformed about the gifts of the Spirit but are hungry to learn more. People don’t want to stay uninformed, but many pastors are fine with them staying that way. Many pastors are themselves uninformed about the gifts of the Spirit so they can’t begin to teach on it. Or, if they do know about them, they only know enough about them to view them skeptically and suspiciously. They don’t want anyone operating in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit in their church because it might mean a loss of control for them. Or maybe they’ve never seen these gifts used with maturity or within healthy boundaries, so they don’t believe healthy use of the gifts is possible. Whatever their reason, it ends up muting the Holy Spirit’s expression in the local church.

The apostle Paul had a different approach. Here’s one of the places he talks about the gifts:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healings by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishings of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 NASB

If you are a follower of Jesus, the Holy Spirit dwells in you and these gifts are available to you. But like most other things in the Kingdom of God, you’ll need to pursue them. And part of pursuing them is becoming informed about them, even the gifts you don’t yet have.

If you want to become more informed about these gifts, how they work, what they’re for, and how to express them in a healthy way in the church, I have an entire teaching series for you. I called it the Supernatural Christian Life. Each week has an audio teaching, slides, links to videos, and book recommendations. It’s a 7 week series where I cover every gift listed in 1 Corinthians 12 in detail. I offer it to you freely at the link below. My only request is that you hunger for more. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

https://horizontowson.com/supernatural-christian-life-study

Re-baptism

Do you know that feeling of being in love?

You think about the person all the time. At the store you think about fun gifts you could buy for them. At the stop light your mind drifts to them, wondering what they are doing. Regular daydreams featuring that person cloud your mind throughout the day. Just thinking about the person makes you smile, and sometimes it makes you tear up. You go through your day in awe of their love for you and intoxicated by your love for them. It’s a beautiful thing, but it usually doesn’t last very long.

Do you know that feeling of loving someone sacrificially for a long time?

This feeling is different than being in love. There is a grit and a strength to this kind of love that doesn’t disappear when hard times come. This kind of love has seen it all and comes back for more. This love isn’t easily offended or deflated. It sees past the surface of things and into the heart of a person. This is a love that is willing to do the hard thing, the messy thing, the painful thing. This love is deep and lasting. This is the love that grows in a marriage that has stood the test of time.

Now imagine if you were able to combine these two loves. Imagine if you could experience the depth of sacrificial love with the fire of being in love. That is the best way I know how to describe what it felt like for me to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Luke 24:49 & Acts 1:4-5

I had been a Christian for 26 years. I had been in full-time pastoral ministry for 10 years. I had a good relationship with the Lord. I loved God and served Him as faithfully as I knew how. But getting baptized/filled with the Spirit was life-changing. I found myself radically and totally in love with Jesus like never before. It wasn’t the kind of “in love” feeling that was fleeting. It was a deep and lasting love. And I’ve been in love ever since. It has now been over four years and the intoxicating love of God just seems to increase.

I find my mind drifting to Him when I sit at stop lights. Sometimes I just pray prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving. Other times, His love is so tangible that it brings tears to my eyes. Even after all those years as a Christian and all those years in ministry, I never knew this kind of closeness and connection to the Father was possible. I never knew you could actually be in love with God and have that intimacy last forever. This is not a youth group camp spiritual high. I know what that is like. This isn’t that. This is like being married to someone for 30 years and falling deeper in love with them than the day you married them.

Use whatever label you want. Some Christian traditions call it being baptized in the Spirit (Acts 1:4-5; 11:15-16). Others call it being filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4; 4:31; Ephesians 5:18). Still others use those terms interchangeably. For them, baptism in the Spirit is the first of many fillings of the Spirit that happen sometime after receiving the Spirit at salvation. The debate about what to call it comes down to an argument about whether there is an experience of the Spirit that happens after salvation–after we’ve received the Spirit.

I used to think the answer to that question was “No.” I used to think we received the Spirit at salvation and that was it. But I was wrong. There is more! I just didn’t know what I didn’t know. You can call it whatever you want, whatever fits with your theological tradition. But make no mistake, there is an additional encounter of the Spirit after salvation that is life-changing.

People have asked me if I think I got more of the Spirit in this experience. I tell them that I didn’t get more of the Spirit but that the Spirit got more of me. And because He got access to more of me–more pieces of my life in total surrender to Him–I got greater access to Him. I didn’t get more of Him as if He is some spiritual liquid. No, I got all of Him when He came into my life at salvation. But I now experience more of Him. Just as we experience more of a person when we go from friendship to marriage–more connection, more physical intimacy, more closeness–so too we experience more of the Holy Spirit after being baptized/filled with the Spirit.

Baptism in the Spirit is available for every Christian, and every Christian, if they knew how amazing it really is, would want it with all their heart. It’s not something you earn. It’s something you receive, like salvation, with a heart that is postured to receive it.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled“(Matthew 5:6). Hunger matters. If you want more of what I described here, then ask Jesus to baptize you in the Holy Spirit. Or, if that language is difficult for you, ask Jesus to fill you with the Holy Spirit. There is more! There is always more of our infinite God to experience in our lives.

Father, You are so good and so gracious. You pursued me–a skeptic with a scientific and theological mind. You broke down the walls of doubt that I had put up around my understanding of You. Holy Spirit, You flooded my heart, my mind, and my body with Your Presence. Holy Spirit, even after all of my sin, even after all of my rejection of You, even after I mocked those who believed in Your gifts and manifestations, You still pursued me. You still came after me. You still came flooding in, upending my life. And I am so grateful.

Jesus, I ask in Your name that You would do the same for those reading this who hunger for more. I ask You to flood their lives, baptize them in the Spirit, fill them with your Holy Spirit. Break down the walls that are keeping them from experiencing more of Your Spirit in their lives. Holy Spirit, come! Have Your way! We give You our “Yes,” our unconditional “Yes!” More Lord!

Crossing the Jordan

He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”

Joshua 4:21-24

The people of Israel were to set up memory stones, a memorial, to help them and future generations remember the miracles of God. Just as God created a way through the Red Sea when they were getting free from slavery, God again created a way–this time through the Jordan River–as the people entered the Promised Land. The purpose for both miracles was less about Israel and more about the nature of God. These miracles demonstrated the power of the Lord.

The Red Sea crossing was a kind of water baptism. It was a type, a foreshadow, of our baptism in water when we trust in Jesus. Jesus saves us from slavery to sin. As we leave our old life behind, we go through the waters of baptism.

If the Red Sea crossing was a kind of water baptism, what was the Jordan River crossing?

This second crossing wasn’t about being set free from slavery but about entering the promises of God. It was about stepping into the fullness of the inheritance that God had for the people of God. The Jordan River crossing was a kind of baptism in the Spirit. It was a type, a foreshadow, of what we see in Acts 2 when followers of Jesus are filled with the Spirit.

This second crossing was necessary for Israel to step into the fullness of what God had for them. He didn’t just set them free from Egypt so they could wander around the desert. The purpose of the Red Sea crossing found its fulfillment in the Jordan River crossing.

The same relationship exists between baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit. We didn’t get saved from sin and death just so we could continue to wander around as a slave to sin. We must also be filled with the Spirit in order to experience the fullness of the inheritance that we have been given in the Kingdom of God.

The apostle Paul wrote to a group of Christians who had the Spirit dwelling in them and said, “…be filled with the Spirit“(Ephesians 5:8). In other words, having the Spirit dwelling in you because you are saved is not the same thing as being filled with the Spirit. Israel was technically “saved” in the desert, but they didn’t enter all that God had for them until they crossed the Jordan.

Baptism in the Spirit isn’t you getting more of the Holy Spirit; it’s when the Holy Spirit gets more of you. It’s when your surrender and obedience allows Him access to more and more rooms in your heart, mind and body. As He fills your house with His Presence, there is an overflow that happens. More and more of the Kingdom of God is not only within you but begins to pour out of you.

Have you crossed the Jordan? Have you been filled to overflow with the Spirit?

The baptisms of Jesus

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:16-17

Jesus goes out to the Jordan River in order to be baptized in water by John the Baptist. And yet, instead of one baptism, we witness here three kinds of baptism (or a trifold baptism) that Jesus experiences before His public ministry.

The first is a baptism in water representing repentance, cleansing, and forgiveness of sins. Jesus didn’t really need this baptism because He had never sinned, but He does it anyway to set the example for us. When John the Baptist protested, Jesus said, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness“(Matthew 3:15).

The second baptism happens just as Jesus comes up out of the water. Heaven opens up and the Spirit of God descends on Jesus like a dove. This passage is the only time the translators translated the Greek word “erchomenon” as “alighting.” Every other time it is used in the New Testament they use the simpler translation “coming.” So the Greek phrase used here (erchomenon ep auton) literally means “coming upon him.” The Holy Spirit in this moment did not “dwell within” Jesus, it “came upon” Him. I believe Jesus already had the Holy Spirit dwelling within Him (see Luke 1:35; Luke 2:40 & 42-47). Here at His water baptism we see Jesus also baptized in the Spirit as it rests upon Him.

The third baptism is the baptism of the Father’s love. After the Holy Spirit descends and rests upon Jesus, the Father’s voice from heaven speaks words of identity, words of love, and words of favor and blessing over the life of Jesus. The baptism of the Father’s love is when a person encounters the love of the Father (not just the love of Jesus) in such a tangible way that it forever transforms how they see themselves and the people around them. They become forever marked by love.

If you want to hear a great testimony of the baptism of the Father’s love, watch this video of Leif Hetland (a former Baptist pastor, now international minister, who was born in Norway). He has experienced all three of the baptisms mentioned above at different points of his life.

So Jesus experiences a baptism of water, a baptism of the Spirit and a baptism of the Father’s love. After this experience at the Jordan River, Jesus will soon undergo a fourth baptism of sorts–a baptism of testing–as He is tempted in the wilderness by Satan. After Jesus’s first three baptisms (or trifold baptism) scripture says that He was “full of the Holy Spirit“(Luke 4:1). Yet, it wasn’t until after his fourth baptism, when He returned from the trial in the wilderness, that scripture says Jesus walked “in the power of the Spirit“(Luke 4:14).

If Jesus experienced all four of these baptisms before His public ministry, it seems to me that we all need each of these baptisms as well. If we are going to be followers of Jesus who also walk in the power of the Spirit, we’ll need to be refined by these encounters as well.

The baptism of water is a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. It is the baptism of Jesus. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a baptism of power. The baptism of love is the baptism of the Father. It’s a complete immersion in liquid love.

D.L. Moody describes an experience he had (sometime at the close of 1871 and beginning of 1872) that completely transformed his ministry. This experience seems to be a combination of a baptism of the Spirit and a baptism of love:

Well, one day, in the city of New York—O, what a day! I cannot describe it; I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to me. Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years. I can only say, God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went on preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you would give me all of Glasgow.

D.L. Moody

The great evangelist Charles Finney had a similar experience of encountering both the baptism of the Spirit and a baptism of love on Wednesday, October 10, 1821.

…the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity,  going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings. 

No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, “I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.” I said, “Lord, I cannot bear any more”; yet I had no fear of death.

How long I continued in this state with this baptism continuing to roll over me and go through me, I do not know…

Charles Finney

Both of these men experienced these encounters many decades before there was any such thing as a “Pentecostal” or “charismatic” Christian (for Moody it was nearly a full century before). There was no such thing in their day. Those labels are 20th-century creations, often used to stigmatize the work of the Spirit.

If these baptisms were available to them, they are available to us now!

How many baptisms have you experienced?

He will baptize you…

“I baptize you with (or in) water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with (or in) the Holy Spirit and fire. 

Matthew 3:11

John the Baptist paved the way for Jesus, the Messiah, to come. He prepared people’s hearts by preaching a message of repentance. He baptized people in water as they came to confess and seek forgiveness for their sins. But John also declared that the Kingdom shouldn’t stop with repentance and forgiveness of sins. John pointed to Jesus, the One who would baptize with more than water.

So many of our conservative evangelical and liberal mainline protestant churches have people who are only baptized in water. The gospel that is preached is mostly about repentance and forgiveness of sin, which was the message of John the Baptist. Many churches have yet to move on to the gospel of Jesus which offers much more than that.

Some people believe that when you receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within you, that is what it means to be “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” Even if we assume that is true (which I’m not sure it is), then what about being baptized in fire?

John prophesied that Jesus would baptize in both the Holy Spirit and fire. Where is the baptism of fire? Where are the messages that preach and teach about the baptism of fire? Unfortunately, it gets glossed over and lumped in with the salvation experience. I’m convinced there is more available to us because I’ve experienced it firsthand.

In the Gospel of John (John 20:22), we see the resurrected Jesus breathe on the disciples in the upper room, and we see them receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus’s very next words were about forgiveness of sins. Receiving the Holy Spirit within us is about being forgiven of our sin and being able to forgive others when they sin against us.

Then, before ascending back to the right hand of the Father in heaven, Jesus says to His disciples (who’ve already received the Holy Spirit within them), “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high“(Luke 24:49).

Luke, the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, reiterates this same point in Acts 1 and brings meaning to the words of John the Baptist. Speaking about the resurrected Jesus before He ascended, Luke writes,

On one occasion, while he (Jesus) was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with (or in) water, but in a few days you will be baptized with (or in) the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 1:4-5

Then in Acts 2 we see the disciples “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” This experience in Pentecost was very different than what the disciples experienced in the upper room when Jesus breathed on them. This was a much more powerful and violent experience of the Holy Spirit. There was a sound of a violent wind, tongues of fire and speaking in tongues. This was the disciples being “clothed with power from on high.” This wasn’t about forgiveness of sins like the upper room experience in John 20. This was about the Spirit empowering the disciples for purity and powerful ministry.

One way to say it is that first the disciple received the Spirit within them and then they received the Spirit upon them. The first was the breath of God; the second was the wind of God. The first was for their own salvation; the second was for the salvation of others. The first came gently, intimately, and quietly; the second came powerfully, outwardly, and loudly.

If one still wants to maintain that we as Christians are baptized with the Holy Spirit at salvation when we receive the Spirit within us, then we could still call the event that happened to the disciples at Pentecost a baptism of fire. It was still something more. John’s words stated that Jesus would baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire.

For others, it is clear that baptism in the Spirit is a second event that results in us being “filled with the Spirit“(Acts 2:4; Ephesians 5:18) similar to what happened at Pentecost. Some experience this second event months or years after salvation and others experience it simultaneous with conversion. I didn’t experience it until over two decades after my conversion experience.

Either way, (whatever you want to call it – baptism of the Spirit or baptism of fire) the truth remains: There is more available to us than most Christians are experiencing! There is more power of the Spirit, more gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12), more supernatural encounters, and more freedom from sin.

So many churches in American have stopped at the ministry of John the Baptist. They preach a message of repentance and baptize with water, but never introduce their people to the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. They have a room full of people on Sundays baptized in water but hardly anyone (if anyone) baptized in the Holy Spirit and fire.

No wonder the world is so skeptical of the gospel message. We claim to proclaim the message of Jesus but only experience the ministry of John the Baptist. We proclaim a supernatural God who came in the flesh in Jesus, performed signs and wonders throughout His ministry, and rose from the grave. Yet, people come to our churches and don’t see any of this: no supernatural gifts of the Spirit, no healings, no casting out demons, no supernatural encounters with God. It’s not too hard for people to see that, while we preach a supernatural God, there is nothing supernatural happening in the lives of many Christians or in the life of the church.

We need to be teaching our people that the Christian life is more than water baptism, repentance, and the forgiveness of sins. There is more than the ministry of John the Baptist. Jesus made available to us a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

Have you had that kind of baptism?

Renewal by the Holy Spirit

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,

Titus 3:3-6

Paul believes in the “before and after” power of the gospel. We see Paul write a few different times in the New Testament the reality of real transformation from one way of life–our old self–into a completely new way of life–our new self. We see him lay this out similarly to the Corinthian Christians who formerly lived as pagans:

 Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

When God’s mercy and kindness step in, when we receive Jesus as Savior, we are transformed by grace. Paul tells us in his letter to Titus that the Holy Spirit does two things: 1) rebirth and 2) renewal. Rebirth is when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us and justifies us–makes us in right standing before God.

But renewal is a different process. Renewal by the Spirit is a process of sanctification. One of the things that can happen in this renewal process of the Holy Spirit is a flooding of the Spirit often referred to as baptism of the Holy Spirit.

There’s been a lot of confusion and misinformation about the baptism of the Spirit in the Church. What is it, exactly?

I had been a Christian since I was 9, called into ministry at 17, I had a degree in Biblical Studies, a Masters of Divinity from seminary, and had been a pastor of a church for a decade. And while I had experienced the gradual process of sanctification in my life over those years, I had not experienced the baptism of the Spirit. And then I did.

The baptism of the Spirit is not when you get more of the Spirit, but when He gets more of you. And because He floods your life in ways that are new, it feels like you have more of Him.

What is the baptism of the Spirit like?

For me it was like walking out into the ocean of the Spirit. At first, the water levels rose gradually the further I went. But then I got far enough out that a wave crashed over me and overwhelmed me. Many people identify this moment when a wave of the Spirit crashes over them as their baptism in the Spirit. I tend to think it was the whole process (the walking out, the gradual increase and then the crash of the wave). That process started in June of 2014 and the wave crashing happened March 4 & 5 of 2016.

So what happened?

When the Spirit flooded my life, a few different things happened:

  1. I experienced what are called “manifestations of the Spirit.” This is the tangible presence of the Spirit in or on your body that causes physical reactions in your body. Some traditions believe that, for one to truly be baptized in the Spirit, you have to experience the manifestation of speaking in tongues (like what we see in Acts 2 and Acts 10), but that is not true. I did not start praying in tongues until 6 months later. But I did start experiencing different manifestations of the Spirit.
  2. I experienced a massive increase in intimacy with the Lord. He felt close all the time, tangibly close. He still does.
  3. I experienced a renewal of the mind. Unbelief, cynicism, and skepticism were washed away in the flood and uprooted from my thinking. I now had a greater understanding of God as the loving Father that He really is.
  4. I experienced deliverance. I had some demonic attachments in my life that were removed. Victory over sin was no longer hypothetical but became a reality in my daily life.
  5. I experienced a massive increase in hunger for the Lord. I couldn’t get enough time in worship, time in prayer, time reading His word. I craved more and more time with Him. I still do. God’s word came alive to me in ways that it hadn’t in decades.
  6. I experienced brand new gifts of the Holy Spirit. I began to experience the seedling form of a few different gifts (gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12) that up until that point I had never experienced. I also knew that I had to grow in these new gifts to see these seedlings become trees that bear fruit.
  7. I experienced the power of the Spirit. I began to see the power of God flow through me, especially as I spoke and as I prayed for people. I began to see people get healed instantly, right in front of me. I began to see demons leave people at the name of Jesus.
  8. I experienced the authority of Christ. As I began to understand who I really was in Christ, my sonship to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, I began to walk in greater authority. This means my confidence in seeing God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven was greatly increased.
  9. I experienced the love of the Father. I began to have encounters with the Lord where I would actually feel God’s love for me. This was not just the knowledge that God loved me unconditionally. This was way beyond that! This was an experience of His love. It was, and still is, completely captivating and overwhelming.

So, yes, baptism of the Spirit is a real thing. It often is a secondary event (after salvation), but I believe it was never meant to be that way. I believe God always intended the baptism of the Spirit to happen with our baptism in water, but for so many of us that is not the case. Baptism of the Spirit, like most parts of the renewal process, must be pursued. It doesn’t just happen by accident. We must pursue it, seek it, and ask for it.

And the flooding of the Spirit is not a one time event. I believe that the first of these floodings (or fillings) can be called our baptism of the Spirit. But there are more available to us after that and so we must continue to pursue Him.