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Spirit Baptism: Before And After

By Anthony D. Palma

The idea for this article was sparked by a twofold concern shared by many Pentecostal leaders: (1) the high percentage of believers in Pentecostal churches who have not been baptized in the Holy Spirit, and (2) the inadequate understanding of some, perhaps many, concerning the purpose or purposes of Spirit baptism. I am suggesting that the remedy for these two problems is largely in the hands of the church’s leaders (pastors, evangelists, teachers), who are responsible for teaching and guiding other believers. I will not deal with the matters of subsequence and initial evidence, which are stated clearly in the Assemblies of God Statement of Fundamental Truths; this article is not a defense of the initial evidence doctrinal position. Instead, I offer suggestions that will help leaders guide believers into the experience of Spirit baptism and assist Spirit-baptized believers in realizing the potential of their experience. The leader is strategically positioned to help other believers by precept and example. A clear explication of scriptural teaching is essential, as is a demonstration of the Spirit-filled life.1

For The Not-Yet Baptized

The following suggestions are made on the assumption that the believer is not antagonistic to the experience of Spirit baptism and that he is a candidate for the experience. The Scriptures do not give a formula for receiving the initial infilling of the Spirit, but the following considerations should be helpful to the interested seeker.

All believers are candidates.

Joel predicted that the Lord would pour out His Spirit on all His people (Joel 2:28,29). Old and young, male and female, servants — with no distinction as to age, gender, or social status — are included in the promise. This echoes the fervent hope (and prophecy) of Moses that the Lord would put His Spirit on all His people (Numbers 11:29). No longer would prophetic endowment be limited to a chosen few.

Peter picked up this theme on the Day of Pentecost when, first, he quoted the Joel passage (Acts 2:17–21) and then declared that the promised gift of the Spirit was “for you [Jews] and your children [their descendants] and for all who are far off” (verses 38,39).2 “Far off” may refer to the chronologically and geographically distant, but it probably means the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:13,17). The interested believer must be assured and convinced that the experience is indeed for him.

The Spirit already indwells all believers.

It is important to stress that the Holy Spirit is not external to a believer not baptized in the Spirit. The Spirit works internally in a repentant and believing person to effect the new birth. He does not then depart from the believer, to come back again at the time of the infilling. Some are confused because of Spirit-baptism imagery that the New Testament uses, such as “baptized in,” “poured out,” “falling upon,” “coming upon.” But these are only figurative and graphic ways of portraying an overwhelming experience of the already indwelling Spirit. This is why some call it a “release” of the already indwelling Spirit.

Baptism in the Spirit is a gift.

By definition, a gift is not earned. If it were on the basis of a person’s merit, then the unanswerable question would be, “What should be the extent of a person’s worthiness?” Or, “How ‘perfect’ must one be before qualifying for the experience?” It is possible for a sincere seeker to be preoccupied with his own sense of unworthiness to the extent that the Spirit cannot flow freely through that person.

God will not permit seekers to have a counterfeit experience.

In my experience of counseling seekers, it sometimes surfaces that some are fearful that their speaking in tongues will be either self-generated or that it will come not from God but from Satan. Such persons need to be assured of Jesus’ words, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” This is in a context that says even an earthly father will not permit a requested fish to be substituted by a snake or a requested egg to be substituted by a scorpion (Luke 11:11–13). These sensitive and sometimes insecure people must be encouraged to give vocal expression to an inner prompting to speak unfamiliar sounds.

Expectancy and openness facilitate reception.

The candidate must be willing to yield to whatever the Lord prompts him to do. While genuine speaking in tongues cannot be self-generated, the recipient must cooperate with or be borne along by the Holy Spirit. The experience of the disciples on the Day of Pentecost is instructive, for Luke says that they spoke in tongues “as the Spirit was giving them utterance” (Acts 2:4). This aspect of expectancy is important; it can serve as an antidote to what some uncharitably call chronic seeking.

Prayer and praise often lead into the experience.

Jesus’ teaching on the Father’s disposition to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (Luke 11:13) follows an extended passage on prayer (verses 1–12) in which He elaborates on and illustrates the aspect of persistence. The Greek verbs for “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” are in the Greek present tense, suggesting the ideas of “keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking.” This should be distinguished from begging in desperation and frustration. Rather, it is more the principle given in the beatitude, “Blessed are those who keep hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6, my translation). We should note that prior to the Day of Pentecost the disciples “were continually devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14).

Persistent petition should be combined with praise.

The praying in the Upper Room was complemented by the disciples being “continually in the temple praising God” (Luke 24:53). Spirit baptism seekers should be encouraged to praise as well as petition, for praising God in one’s own language often facilitates the transition to praising Him in tongues. We note that the content of the disciples’ glossolalic utterance was praise for the mighty works of God (Acts 2:11; probably 10:46). This is especially interesting since the Jewish celebration of Pentecost, a harvest festival, was a time of joy and thanksgiving to God. Even on a personal basis, an individual offering to God the firstfruits of his grain harvest engaged in a recital of God’s mighty act of delivering Israel from Egyptian slavery (Deuteronomy 26:1–11).

Special blessings may occur along the way.

The experience of Spirit baptism culminates in speaking in tongues, but one may have very valid and meaningful spiritual experiences along the way. It is not really proper to refer to Spirit baptism as “a second work of grace,” for everything we receive from God is by His grace. Consequently, there may be a number of blessings between one’s regeneration and one’s Spirit baptism, and sometimes these blessings are a foreshadowing or taste of the climactic experience. With respect to the baptism in the Spirit, it is not a matter of “all or nothing at all.” Some spiritual encounters with the Lord serve to prepare for and facilitate the receiving of the Spirit’s fullness. But seekers must be counseled not to confuse those experiences with Spirit baptism itself.

God’s timing may differ from ours.

The Lord certainly responds to believing prayer and praise, but for reasons best known to himself, His timing may not coincide with our wishes. Both in the Book of Acts and in church history, outpourings of the Spirit sometimes occur in unexpected places and at unexpected times. Consequently, a seeker should not be discouraged or get under self-condemnation if the infilling of the Spirit does not take place when expected. But during times of special visitation by the Lord when numbers are filled with the Spirit, the conditions are optimum for the seeker. This was the experience of the youth group in which I was nurtured. For a long time no one had been baptized in the Spirit. Then for no discernible reason, a number of us were filled in a short period of time. My older sister was the first one baptized in the Spirit; not long after that I experienced the infilling while in the privacy of my bedroom, at a time when I was praying in general without specific reference to the baptism in the Spirit.

For The Already Baptized

Several questions are pertinent to a discussion of the post-Spirit baptism experience. Among them would be: What is the role of speaking in tongues in the experience? Is glossolalic utterance the essence of this Baptism? What are the purposes, or the divinely intended results, of the experience? Do some Spirit-baptized Christians believe, at least implicitly, that “once filled, always filled”? Is Spirit baptism a renewable experience? The leader is indispensable in teaching and leading people toward a more expansive and inclusive view of the nature and purposes of Spirit baptism. I suggest that the divinely intended results of Spirit baptism ought to include the following:

Speaking in tongues

Speaking in tongues is the immediate and empirical indication that the infilling has taken place, but it also benefits the speaker spiritually, for Paul says that “one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God” and that “one who speaks in tongues edifies himself” (1 Corinthians 14:2,4). This is the devotional aspect of tongues, which Paul associates with blessing God and giving Him thanks (verses 16,17). It is an element in praying in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18; Jude 20). Tongues is, therefore, a means by which believers edify themselves spiritually. This is why it is often called one’s prayer language. So speaking in tongues may be called a means of grace. It is not an experience that occurs only at the time of being baptized in the Spirit; it ought to be a continual, repeatable experience. This idea is implicit in Paul’s statement to the Corinthians: “I wish all of you to continue speaking in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:5, my translation).3

In addition, a number of responsible exegetes understand Paul to mean praying in tongues, or at least to include it, when he says that “the Spirit also helps our infirmities, for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

Openness to spiritual manifestations

Spirit baptism opens the receiver to the availability of the full range of spiritual gifts. This is a natural consequence of having already submitted oneself to something supernatural and suprarational by allowing himself to be overwhelmed by the Spirit. For example, Peter’s address to the crowd on the Day of Pentecost was really a prophetic utterance, as is clear from the way Luke introduces the speech with the Greek verb apophthengomai, a technical term for inspired utterance.

A look at the major lists of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:8–10, 28–30; Romans 2:6–8; Ephesians 4:11) will reveal that most of these gifts had already been manifested in some way both in the Old Testament and in the Gospels. The pre-Pentecost disciples themselves were instrumental in healings and demon expulsions (Luke 10:9,17; see also Matthew 10:8). Furthermore, a study of Church history demonstrates that spiritual gifts in their many forms were manifested by Christians in all ages.

Since the edification of God’s people is the overarching purpose of spiritual gifts in the assembly (1 Corinthians 12:7; 14:3–6, 12), Spirit-filled believers ought to be encouraged to desire them earnestly (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1).

Righteous living

Spirit baptism must be understood as having implications for righteous living. Article 7 of the Assemblies of God Statement of Fundamental Truths states, correctly, I believe, that with the baptism in the Spirit “comes the enduement of power for life and service.” I take “for life” to mean “for righteous living.” If, indeed, Spirit baptism is an immersion in the One who is the Holy Spirit — the most frequent New Testament designation for Him — the experience must impinge on personal holiness. A very basic problem with the believers in Corinth is that they continued to speak in tongues without allowing the Spirit to work internally in their lives. It is at this point that Spirit-baptized believers need to understand that spiritual fruit, and not only spiritual gifts, should issue from the Pentecost experience.

The fire phenomenon on the Day of Pentecost must be related, in part, to the holiness of God (as is common in Scripture — the burning bush, for instance) and consequently to the matter of the recipient’s holiness. Spirit baptism does not produce instant sanctification (nothing does), but it gives the recipient an added impetus to pursue a life pleasing to God. In this connection, it is important to see the connection Paul draws between being continually filled with the Spirit and its consequences in the believer’s life — a joyful spirit, ministry to others, thanksgiving, mutual submission, and respect (Ephesians 5:18 through 6:9).

It is appropriate at this point to mention that the fullness of the Spirit must not be a one-time experience. In addition to the daily internal work of the Spirit in one’s life, there are occasions when He comes upon believers in times of crisis or to meet a special need; those times are also referred to as being “filled with the Spirit” (Acts 4:8,31; 13:9,52).

Power for witnessing

The association of power with the Holy Spirit is common in the New Testament, and at times the two terms are interchangeable (for example, Luke 1:35; 4:14; Acts 10:38; Romans 15:19; 1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:5). The ascended Jesus told the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they were “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). In Acts, He tells them “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses” (1:8). These themes of Spirit baptism and world evangelization are closely related emphases in the Book of Acts. A cause-effect relationship between the two is obvious, but we should note that Jesus did not say the sole purpose of the power was evangelization. I have indicated already that the Spirit’s work in Spirit baptism must be understood in a wider context than that which Acts emphasizes. Yet a Spirit-baptized person who is not concerned about the lost is a contradiction in terms.

Both from a biblical standpoint and from the missionary and evangelistic outreach of the Pentecostal movement, receiving this power must always be understood to include the proclamation of the gospel. This proclamation, of course, is primarily verbal, but the power Jesus promised included the performance of miracles in His name. The Book of Acts records a veritable catalog of occurrences of spiritual gifts — vocal gifts, healings, exorcisms, raisings from the dead, etc. — that the Lord used in preparing an audience for the proclamation of the gospel.

Concluding Statements

I have attempted to deal with a number of topics: the need for leaders (pastors, evangelists, teachers) to instruct God’s people concerning preparation for receiving Spirit baptism; the need to teach a more comprehensive understanding of the purposes and results of this Baptism; the need for the baptized to experience an ongoing fullness of the Spirit as well as periodic enduements in times of special need. Baptism in the Holy Spirit must be more than an enshrined doctrine; it must be a vital, productive experience in the life of believers and their personal relationship with the Lord, their interaction with other believers, and their witness to the world.


Anthony D. Palma, Th.D., a longtime Assemblies of God educator, lives in Springfield, Missouri.


1. In what follows, I have adapted, revised, and complemented some material from my monograph The Holy Spirit: A Pentecostal Perspective (Logion Press, GPH, 2001).

2. Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (Updated Edition, 1997), unless otherwise noted.

3. The verb form for “speak” is in the Greek present tense, suggesting continuing or linear action.

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