This summer I am going to dedicate each Friday to questions that students have asked me about God, faith and such. Some of these questions come were forwarded to me from Christian students or their skeptical friends. Others are questions that I have been asked in some way, shape or form many times. I do not claim to offer the final answer on any of these questions, though I do hope to offer something helpful.
Is the baptism of the Holy Spirit an altogether separate event from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit upon conversion?
Follow up: Are the gifts of the Spirit as listed in 1 Cor. 12/14, for every believer or those whom have been baptized in the Spirit?
This is clearly a question of interest for Christians and not secular people. Christian belief in the Trinity teaches that there is one God who exists as three equal persons. The first person, God the Father, sends the second person, God the Son into the world. Jesus then is the human face of God, God in the flesh (incarnation). When Christians today put faith in Jesus and are baptized, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us (indwells).
But is there a further experience of the Holy Spirit we should expect?
Honestly, this is not an issue I’ve really ever worried about or thought about. The ways the New Testament speaks of the Holy Spirit differ. Some Christians parse out, or seek to systematize, these differences, leading to conclusions that there is a second blessing of the Spirit, a baptism of the Holy Spirit, at a time after conversion. I think such nuances are practically unnecessary, akin to splitting hairs.
So my answer to the first question above would simply be a combination of “I don’t know” and “I don’t think it matters.” When I read that question, it sounds like an attempt to mechanize the work of God in the world. It is an attempt to take the messiness of a life lived following Jesus, empowered by the Spirit, and make it a formula. Along with that, I think such debates are rooted in an over-emphasis on spiritual experiences and feelings.
Here’s what happens: A person is baptized as a Christian but does not feel any different. So, they are told, they need some further experience in which they will be baptized in the Spirit. But once that experience too comes and goes, I fear people wander through life looking for the next experience, and the one after that, and so on. The danger is that such a Christian may feel something is wrong with them, for they do not feel like they did when they were baptized in the Spirit, or at that retreat or revival. The truth is, there is nothing wrong! It is just that normal life following Jesus is filled with lots of mundane moments and spiritual highs are not the norm.
Living with God is to live in a relationship and human relationships cannot be reduced to easy formulas. Take marriage. I enjoy cooking dinner and my wife greatly appreciates this. You may even say that me cooking dinner = happy wife. For me though, cooking dinner includes a vigorous cleaning of the kitchen afterwards. I struggle to relax the rest of the evening if dishes are not cleaned or in dishwasher, table is not wiped, leftovers not put away. Most times my wife is fine with this. But there are times when my cleaning obsession irritates her. She wants me to just leave the mess for later so we can take a walk with the kids or go out for ice cream. In cases such as these my formula (cooking dinner and cleaning up = happy wife), actually fails and may lead to an upset wife.
If you allow a formula or a mechanism to replace a real relationship of love and communication, you are missing the life God desires for you.
In Jesus we have everything we need. I do not think you need some further experience or indwelling or baptism of the Spirit. You put your trust in Jesus and are charged to follow Jesus, to go into the world. So just go and do it.
The Spirit is your strength as you go, but the Spirit does not come in magical ways. The Spirit is akin to fuel for the journey and I think we experience the Spirit in a million little ways – reading some scripture in the wee morning hours, worshiping with the saints on Sunday morning, sharing a beer with the saints around a cookout on a Sunday night, serving at a soup kitchen, dropping off food for a new mother or a grieving widow, helping a neighbor repair a fence, praying on the way to work…
The Spirit is always there. We have all we need in Jesus. Let’s not over think it (though late night theological debates about the Spirit are not bad, and can also be places to meet the Spirit). Let’s just go do it.
PS. I never answered the second question. I think we are all naturally gifted in certain areas and not others but I also think you can pursue new gifts (as 1 Corinthians 12:31 says, eagerly desire greater gifts). But even here I think we ought to beware of simple formulas. Not every spiritual gift is listed here. Further, it would be a shame, though just like us living in a scientific culture, to take this beautiful poetic writing and make it a to-do list.