by Roel Velema
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself’” (Acts 2:38,39).
What is the meaning of Peter’s words and the gift, the promise, of the Holy Spirit? Should we be baptized in water before we receive this gift? In order to answer these questions, we have to keep in mind that there are TWO ministries or aspects of the Spirit relative to Christians.
The inward aspect of the Spirit
The first aspect, which is INWARD, is the Spirit we receive when we are born again This birth from above historically started in John 20:22: “… He (Jesus) BREATHED on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’”. This verse has to be compared with Genesis 2:7: “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and BREATHED into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
The Greek verb in John 20:22 for ‘breathed’ (Greek: emphusaoo) is unique and only used once in the New Testament. We see the verb in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, in Genesis 2:7 and Ezekiel 37 (where new life in breathed in dry bones). There can be no doubt that John 20:22 points to the historical starting point of the new life in Christ, while Genesis 2:7 starts with the natural life of man. The new man comes into existence through our resurrection with Christ.
The outward aspect of the Spirit
The second aspect, which is OUTWARD, is not the ministry of the Spirit within, but “… the promise of my Father UPON you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49; cp. Acts 1:4). This promise of the Spirit became effective at Pentecost, also to those who were born again from John 20:22 on. This ministry is related to power and the spread of the gospel (Acts 1:8).
A person who is baptized in water, testifies what happened before, and testifies about the new birth, the move from death to life in Christ. So it is obvious that in Acts 2:38, following the water baptism, the Spirit UPON is in view. Luke says that the believer will receive the PROMISE of the Spirit. Paul deals with in Ephesians 1:13: “In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with THE PROMISED HOLY SPIRIT.” We are in Him (1 Cor. 1:30), and in Him we have received both aspects of the Holy Spirit. In Him we have received ALL spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3; Col. 2:9,10).
Of course, the question arises whether we have received the gift of the Spirit when we have not (yet) been baptized in water, though born from above and being in in Christ. Well, Jesus said of the Spirit: “The wind blows where it wishes” (John 3:8). The Wind of the Spirit blows wherever He wants. For example, the great revivalist Charles Finney received a mighty baptism of the Spirit UPON him, while he didn’t know there was a Spirit at all. But to Luke it was beyond dispute that every believer should be baptized soon after conversion and not to be postponed. God does something for us in baptism, we do nothing for Him. Our acceptance of baptism is only acceptance of God’s gift.
The gift of the Spirit Himself
The expression “the gift of the Holy Spirit” has been constructed with a genitive which points to the Holy Spirit HIMSELF. The gift is bestowed upon each and every repentant and baptized person and cannot, therefore, refer only to charismatic gifts of the Spirit, speaking with tongues, healing, etc. We do not read that any of the 3,000 spoke in tongues, yet all received the gift of the Spirit. There is no doubt that many at Pentecost received both aspects of the Spirit at once when they came to Christ.
The basis upon which the Spirit has been given
The birth from above has been given on basis of the resurrection of Christ, while the baptism of the Holy Spirit has been given on basis of the ascension of Christ. Both had their unique historical start at the resurrection day and at Pentecost.