Pickled in the Spirit?


Our pastor started a sermon series on topics that can be controversial among Christians. The first was baptism in the Holy Spirit, which the pastor asked me to teach on.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit is something I, admittedly, haven’t spent much time thinking about. I believe the Spirit would rather focus us on Jesus than Himself. There is certainly a place for teaching about the Spirit since Jesus did. But I had no settled opinion on the subject.

I started with John the Baptist’s statement–“I baptize you with water for repentance, but the One who is coming after me…will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11). This verse posits water baptism for repentance and baptism in the Holy Spirit (which only Jesus can do).

From here, Christians fall into essentially two camps: 1) baptism in the Holy Spirit occurs at conversion. We are saved and receive the Spirit all at once; 2) baptism in the Holy Spirit is a second experience. Charismatics and pentecostals administer this through the laying on of hands and prayer. Catholics see this happening through the sacrament of confirmation.

We find both models in the New Testament. People at Cornelius’s house are filled with the Spirit while hearing the gospel for the first time (Acts 10). Salvation and baptism in the Spirit happen concurrently. Paul, however, finds disciples in Acts 19 that know of Jesus but haven’t heard about the Holy Spirit. Paul lays his hands on these believers and prays. They are filled with the Spirit and begin speaking in tongues or prophesying.

There are other examples of these models in scripture. Being dogmatic about only one model requires that we ignore parts of scripture.

After surveying these things, I asked the Lord how He regards baptism in the Holy Spirit. The Lord reminded me of something a friend shared from one of his Greek lexicons about baptizo, the Greek word baptism comes from.

Lexical definitions of baptizo include “submerge,” “immerse,” “soak,” and “overwhelm.” My friend’s lexicon adds, “The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles…. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be dipped into boiling water and then ‘baptised’ (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. […] The act of baptising the vegetable produces a permanent change.”

So we are immersed, soaked in the Spirit, and this causes a permanent change within. This is baptism in the Holy Spirit as I now think of it.

The usual views of baptism in the Spirit focus on experiences at conversion or after conversion, experiences we label “baptism in the Holy Spirit.”

The “pickling” analogy lifts our focus from experiences to the overall process of growth as we remain in Christ. This view also encompasses the other two. We receive the Spirit at new birth and change as we remain immersed in Him. But this doesn’t prevent people from laying hands on us and praying. The fact that we are submerged/baptised in the Spirit can manifest at conversion and multiple points throughout our walk. The greater reality is that we are in Christ, who has the Spirit without measure (John 3:34).

What evidence is there of this change caused by immersion in the Spirit? This was the question I ended my teaching with. To answer it, we looked at passages dealing with gifts of the Spirit. I don’t limit spiritual gifts to those listed in 1 Corinthians 12. Scripture lists many: metal working, composing poems, administration, hospitality…and many others. In short, the Spirit empowers us to bless and benefit others.

We also looked at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. As we are submerged in the Spirit, we take on Jesus’s character traits: love, joy, peace, patience, and the rest. We are not only empowered to live and minister; we do so according to the nature of Christ.

For me, this was a new way of looking at baptism in the Holy Spirit. I hope it sparks further thoughts for others as well. Please comment if the Lord lays anything on your heart!

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