Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit? You might expect that question in a Pentecostal church, but in a Presbyterian one? There has been enough confusion and misunderstanding about being baptized with the Holy Spirit that some may avoid the question or downplay its importance. But the way that John the Baptist identifies Jesus in John 1:29-34 compels you to see the baptism with the Holy Spirit as crucial to the work of Jesus Christ.
The text covers one particular day in the ministry of John the Baptizer. He begins by identifying Jesus with the title, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John uses a second title as he concludes his identification of Jesus that day: “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” Lamb of God. Son of God.
“Lamb” brings to mind many references to the animal in the Old Testament, including the lamb offered every morning and evening as a sacrifice in the Temple. The One to whom John points is the Lamb that God provides. He comes to deal with the ugly problem of sin. In a world that suggests that there are no ultimate standards, John’s Gospel reminds you that sin deserves punishment. Sin separates you from God. Only as the Lamb takes it away can you be right with God. The good news is that God does forgive. Jesus came to take away sin, not just for a few, not just for the people of Israel, but the sin of the world. His sacrifice on the cross covers all who trust in him, regardless of ancestry, nationality, or language.
Knowing that Jesus died and rose in your place as the Lamb of God is crucially important. But that is only part of his work. Sin makes you guilty before God. It makes you liable to punishment. But it also corrupts. It pollutes. It messes up your life. It leads to death. The Savior not only deals with the guilt of your sin (we sometimes call that “justification”), but he also deals with the pollution, decay, and corruption of sin (a process we call “sanctification”).
John the Baptizer compares his work to that of Jesus in terms of their baptisms. John summarizes his own work of preaching and calling people to repent in preparation for the coming of the Christ as baptizing with water (John 1:31). He then identifies Jesus as the One “who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). The Lamb of God who dies to remove the guilt of your sin also baptizes you with the Holy Spirit, breaking the enslaving power of sin in your life. He works in you a process of change, renewing you, making you actually holy before God. You cannot have half a Christ. You cannot trust him as your Savior without also experiencing the renewing work he accomplishes by his Spirit.
Abraham Kuyper understood that: “[Have] your mind thoroughly divested from the false idea that sanctification is your own embroidery, holding fast the clear doctrine that it is a gift of grace. . . . Christ did not obtain on the cross our righteousness only, leaving it for us by conflict and self-denial to obtain our sanctification; but there is One who labors, the others enter into His rest; He has trodden the wine-press alone, and of the people there was none with Him. . . . The Holy Spirit is the Worker, yet whatever He imparts to us He takes from Christ. ‘He shall receive of Mine; and He shall glorify Me.’ This is no empty phrase, but sober reality.” (The Work of the Holy Spirit, pp. 460-461, © 1900. Reprinted 1973 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.)
Baptism with the Spirit is not some secondary blessing in the Christian life (supposedly manifested by tongues or some other gift). Nor is it something desirable but optional, which only some Christians receive. Rather, it is what happens as you come to trust in Christ, as you are united with him by faith. It is his working renewal in your life.
That is why the question, “Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit?” is so relevant. You cannot separate Christ’s forgiving your sins from his work of renewing you by his Spirit. Unless you have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, you don’t really belong to Christ. But if you do trust in him he is your sanctification.
He is the complete Savior. No wonder that John concludes his testimony about him by telling you that Jesus is the Son of God!
[In preparation for a message on Jan. 15, 2012]