Tuesday, November 25, 2008

John Piper on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

In these exciting thrilling days of signs and wonders and miracles and outpourings of the Spirit that are occuring all over the world - it's important that certain fundamental truths are not forgotten. Hebrews calls one of those fundamental truths; "The Doctrine of Baptisms". Water baptism isn't one that I've ever had problems arguing or felt the need to defend. I was brought and raised up in a Baptist church - so adult believers baptism has never been a problem for me. Whereas most who have followed my blog for some time will know that I had need to work through what the Baptism of the Holy Spirit meant biblically due to a drastic change in doctrine and practice at my home church.

I was interested therefore to read John Piper's sermon of the week that was sent to my email. He brings a larger and wholler perspective - refusing to immediately jump into the "What" and "When" questions. Here are some of the more important points he raises:

What Does Jesus’ Baptism with the Holy Spirit Mean?

So what does it mean? What does John the Gospel-writer have in mind when he tells us what John the Baptist says in verse 33, “This is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit”? What does baptism with the Holy Spirit mean?

1) The Holy Spirit Comes Through Jesus

First, it means that from now on—now that God has come in the flesh—the Holy Spirit will come to people through Jesus Christ. The Spirit came upon Jesus and remains upon Jesus, and therefore Jesus is the one who gives the Spirit (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit will not do his redemptive work apart from Jesus. Jesus will be the means by which anyone receives the Spirit. Whatever saving work the Spirit does, he does because of Jesus. The Spirit does not flow like a fluid through the world unattached to Jesus. Everywhere he moves he moves with Jesus and for Jesus. That’s the first thing it means to say that “Jesus baptizes with the Spirit.”

2) Jesus Immerses People in the Spirit

Second, it means that Jesus immerses people in the Spirit. That’s what the word baptize means. There are pictures in the Bible of the Spirit being poured out. But when the idea of baptism (that is, dipping or immersion) is brought in, the point is that the Spirit is poured over us to such an extent that we are enveloped in him.

The point of this image is that the Spirit becomes profoundly and pervasively influential in our lives. When you are immersed in something, it touches you everywhere.

So when John says that Jesus is going to baptize with the Spirit, he means that the day is coming when the lives of God’s people will be plunged into the life of the Spirit with profound and pervasive effects.

3) Baptism Signifies All That the Spirit Does for Us

Third, what are those effects? Now here we could let ourselves go straight to the debate about whether the term “baptism with the Spirit” refers to a second blessing in the Christian life sometime after conversion marked by speaking in tongues, or whether it refers to the point of conversion. But I don’t think the way that question is posed will help us yet.

As I have tried to let John define for us what he means by baptism with the Spirit, it seems to me that the term is a broad, overarching one that includes the whole great saving, sanctifying, and empowering work of the Spirit in this age. I don’t think it is a technical term that refers to one part of the Christian life—say conversion, or speaking in tongues, or a bold act of witness. It is the continual, and sometimes extraordinary, outpouring of the Holy Spirit on God’s people. It immerses them not just in one or two, but in hundreds of his powerful influences.

In other words, if you are not born again, one way to describe your need is that you need to be baptized with the Spirit. That is, you need to be plunged into God’s Spirit with the effect that you will be born again and come to faith in Christ. If you are born again, but you are languishing in a season of weakness and fear and defeat, one way to describe what you need is to be baptized in the Spirit. That is, you need a fresh outpouring of his Christ-revealing, heart-awakening, sin-defeating, boldness-producing power. Every spiritual need that we have before and after conversion is supplied by Christ immersing us in greater and lesser degrees in the Holy Spirit.

So I don’t take baptism with the Spirit in John as a technical term for one experience of the Christian life, but as a general term for all that the Holy Spirit does for us because of Christ.

There are some points that even a great like John Piper doesn't quite persuade me on. I am familiar with the argument to try and "unify" the baptism of the Holy Spirit into one great Christian experience that all believers are by necessity automatically included in. I'm not sure that's how the Bible sees it. There's enough in the Gospels, Acts and the Epistles to suggest to me that the Baptism of the Spirit brings particular graces from God that should be sought and asked for from the "Father who gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask".

Nevertheless John Piper's conclusions still bring a vital perspective to correct what many traditional Charismatics and Pentecostals may have been guilty of in promoting "a second blessing".

Jesus: The Ground and Goal of Baptism in the Spirit

So back to John the Baptist. John says that Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. Now we see why that is a great tribute to the greatness of Jesus. It’s not just because Jesus is the ground of all the good that the Spirit does in us and for us. If Jesus were not first the Lamb of God who takes away sin by dying, he could never be the baptizer who gives the Spirit by rising. But he is not just the ground of the Spirit’s work.

Jesus is also the goal of all that the Spirit does in us and for us. He immerses us in the Spirit, and no one else can do it. And then the one in whom he immerses us witnesses back to Jesus and glorifies Jesus. Jesus is the ground and goal of the baptism in the Spirit.

All Things from Jesus and for Jesus

So the ultimate point of John’s testimony is that, under God the Father, all things are from Christ and all things are for Christ, including even the Holy Spirit.

The main reason we need the baptism of the Holy Spirit—the great outpouring of the Spirit, the great immersion of every part of our lives in the Spirit—is because God’s aim in every part of our lives is the glory of Jesus Christ. Is your life magnifying Christ in every part? If not, pray, as I do so often, for a fresh, fuller baptism in the Holy Spirit. O Holy Spirit, come. O risen Christ, for your great name’s sake, grant us a fresh baptism in your Holy Spirit.

Whatever your view about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit - surely anyone who truly has a heart aflame for God can't help but utter "Amen" to that!

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