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Holy Spirit Baptism: Seven Easy Steps? by Donald Macleod

By April 9, 2011April 12th, 2016Charismatic Movement

We are indebted to Christian Focus Publications for their generous permission to reprint these two chapters from the book The Spirit of Promise by Donald Macleod.

What are we to make of the claim that Holy Spirit baptism is given only to believers who fulfill certain conditions? The famous American evangelist, R.A. Torrey, devoted two whole chapters of his book The Holy Spirit: Who He Is and What He Does to expounding these conditions and stated categorically: ‘There is a plain path, consisting of seven very easy steps, which any one here can take today, and it is absolutely certain that any one who takes those seven steps will enter into the blessing.’

Step 1: Accept Jesus As Saviour

The first step towards receiving the Spirit is, we are told, accept Jesus as Saviour. We must be right with God. The one objection to this is that it is proposed only as a first step. Torrey’s definition of it is that ‘we rest upon the finished work of Christ on the cross of Calvary, upon his atoning death for us, as the sole ground of our acceptance before God.’ This is a fine statement of the nature of saving faith and it is certainly absolutely essential to our receiving Holy Spirit baptism. But according to Torrey and his disciples it is not sufficient. Faith alone does not secure the fulness of the Spirit. This strikes at the very heart of the evangelical emphasis of sola fide. It means that a man may be justified from all sin and yet Spirit baptism be withheld, that he may be righteous with the righteousness of Christ and yet be denied the fulness of the Spirit; and even that he may be a son of God and yet go without the seal of that sonship – an heir on whom the earnest of the inheritance is not conferred. This is no mere modification of evangelical theology – an advance consistent with its genius. It is its destruction.

The effect, from another point of view, is an intolerable disjunction of Christ from the Spirit. Faith alone receives Christ. But it does not, we are told, receive the Spirit. Yet, according to Paul, to be born in Christ is to be ‘complete’ (Col. 2:10). The Lord is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:17) and it is precisely because Christ and the Spirit are one that the Saviour can identify the coming of the Comforter with his own coming (Jn. 16:16ff.). If Christ is present wherever the Spirit is present surely the corollary is also true that the Comforter is present wherever Christ is present?

Step 2: Renounce All Sin

The second step towards the baptism of the spirit is to renounce all sin. We must, says Torrey, ‘make a clear-cut choice between the Holy Spirit and unholy sin.’

The exegetical basis for this is slender. Torrey argues that it is implicit in the word repent in Acts 2:38 and slides gratuitously from defining repentance as ‘a change of mind about sin’ to defining it as ‘renouncing all sin.’ The command to repent can no more bear this meaning than it can the Roman Catholic, ‘Do penance.’

Furthermore, it is curious in the extreme that the renouncing of all sin could be deemed possible prior to baptism in the Spirit. Whatever hope there might be of such a victory once the Spirit in his fulness had come into our lives there could surely be no hope of it before. Indeed, it is difficult to see why Spirit baptism should ever be deemed necessary in such a case. If we can dispense with the services of the Holy Spirit in the struggle against sin we can surely dispense with them altogether.

What is emerging here is a full-blown perfectionist theology. ‘If there is any measure of rebellion against him,’ writes Ralph M. Riggs, ‘that issue will have to be settled with a perfect surrender to him.’ The question is: Is such a state possible to the Christian? Experience-and observation-suggests that it is not; and scripture confirms it. The post-Pentecost, Spirit-filled Peter has to be rebuked to his face because he is blameworthy (Gal. 2:11). Paul laments the presence of a law of sin in his members (Rom. 7:23). And John, already weary with perfectionists, roundly declares that if we say that we have no sin we are simply deceiving ourselves (1 Jn. 1:8). How, in the presence of these facts, can we say to struggling believers that if only they will take the simple step of eliminating every vestige of rebellion from their lives, surrendering fully to God and renouncing all sin, they will then receive the blessing of Spirit baptism? That may comfort the deluded. But it will drive the realist to despair.

Step 3: Open Confession Before The World

The next step laid down by Torrey is open confession before the world of [both] our renunciation of sin and of our acceptance of Christ. This invites three comments.

First, confession is a perfectly normal and indeed indispensable part of the Christian life. It is neither the evidence of, nor the gateway into, a higher stage of discipleship, but something God expects of every Christian. In its most basic form the evangelistic message lays down that ‘if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus thou shalt be saved’ (Rom. 10:9). If this is so, Torrey’s argument will not suit his case. If Spirit baptism is given to all who confess Christ then it is given to all Christians because all are confessors.

Second, Torrey’s argument is an inversion of biblical order. Confession of Christ is not the meritorious cause of Spirit baptism but its result. It was so at Pentecost: they were first filled with the Spirit and then began to proclaim the wonderful works of God (Acts 2:4, 11). It was so also in the household of Cornelius: as Peter preached, the Spirit fell on his hearers and they began to magnify God (Acts 10:44, 46). And this was precisely the way Christ said it would be. He did not promise that, if they witnessed, the Holy Spirit would come upon them, but that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and that they would be witnesses (Acts 1:8).

Third, in Torrey’s statement there is a subtle distortion of the biblical idea of confession. It has become a confession about ourselves: we have renounced sin; we have accepted Christ. These are claims about our own spiritual state (and at least one of them is false). In the New Testament, confession is Christ-centered: He is great (Heb. 4:14). The testimony is not that we have renounced sin but that Christ saves from it.

Step 4: Obedience

The perfectionist strain already referred to appears even more clearly in the fourth step: obedience. The biblical basis alleged for this is Acts 5:32, ‘The Holy Spirit whom God has given to them that obey him.’ One’s instinctive attitude to this verse is to relate it to I John 3:23, ‘This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another.’ The gift of the Spirit is given to all those who obey God’s imperious evangelistic summons. Riggs and Torrey see it quite differently. To the former, it means perfect surrender. Torrey is even more stringent: ‘Obedience is not merely doing one, two, or three things that God commands, but doing everything that he commands.This is one of the most fundamental things in receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit, the unconditional surrender of the will to God.’

We must ask again: Why should such a person need the baptism with the Holy Spirit? Has he not already, by his own strength, done everything for which the Spirit’s help might be desired?

But then, anyone who has reached this spiritual level is living on a plane which scripture never contemplates as possible for the Christian. Only a seared conscience or a benighted theology could persuade any man that he had made an absolute surrender of his will to God and was obeying all his commands. Conversely, the Pentecostal scheme is as if the way to the Holy Spirit baptism were guarded, even from the Christian, by the flaming sword that turns every way (Gn. 3:24). If the condition of receiving the Holy Spirit in his fulness is perfect obedience then God is mocking us: Whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all (Jas. 2:10).

Step 5: Thirst

The fifth condition is thirst and for this, too, a text is offered: ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him were to receive’ (Jn. 7:37ff.).

In Torrey’s use of this passage there is clear desire to relate Spirit baptism to something meritorious on the human side. In the text itself, thirst is clearly equivalent to faith and it is stated, quite categorically, that Spirit baptism will be given to those who believe. Like justification, the only qualification is faith alone. But this will not suffice for the perfectionist, conditionalist theology of Pentecostalism. It is engaged in a search for something we must do to receive baptism in the Spirit; and if all it can find is thirst then the thirst itself must be defined in strenuous terms, so that one can look at it with satisfaction. It secures Spirit baptism not as simple thirst but as special thirst; as thirst plus. It must be sustained, sincere, and intense. Whether, even as such, it is meritorious, is another question. But the attempt to make it is valiant enough: ‘When a man really thirsts,’ writes Torrey, ‘it seems as if every pore in his body had just one cry, ‘Water, water, water.’ When a man thirsts spiritually, his whole being has just one cry, ‘The Holy Spirit, The Holy Spirit, The Holy Spirit, O God, give me the Holy Spirit.” Furthermore, the desire must be a pure one: ‘You must desire the baptism with the Holy Spirit for the glory of God and not for your own glory. You must desire the baptism with the Holy Spirit in order that you may honour God with more effective service and not merely that you may get a new power or a new influence or it may be a larger salary.’

The whole effect is to shift the emphasis form God’s promise and from Christ’s work as Surety to some meritorious human quality. We are reminded of the story of Naaman, expecting something spectacular as the condition of having his leprosy cured and given instead the devastatingly simple instruction, ‘Go and wash in Jordan seven times’ (2 Kgs. 5:10). Naaman ‘was angry’; and many Christians seem to find it equally offensive that so glorious a promise as baptism in the Spirit requires for its fulfillment only faith in Christ.

Step 6: Just Ask Him

The sixth condition is ‘just ask him;’ or, more specifically, definite prayer for this blessing. The proof-text offered here is Luke 11:13, ‘If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirt to them that ask him?’

It is difficult to see how this can lend any support to the Pentecostal case. It does not refer to baptism in the Spirit but to the mere giving of the Spirit so that, so far as the language is concerned, it amounts to no more than the experience which Torrey describes contemptuously as ‘having the Holy Spirit dwelling in us way back in some hidden corner of our being where we are not distinctly conscious of his presence.’ It is Torrey himself who distinguishes between the giving and the baptism and on his own terms Luke 11:13 is quite irrelevant to his argument.

What is happening is that once again the idea of merit – of complying with certain prescribed conditions – is thrown into prominence. Baptism in the Spirit is for those who are worthy, and Riggs does not even have the caution to avoid the use of the term. Referring to James 4:2 (‘Ye have not because ye ask not’) he writes: ‘This is God’s elimination test to determine whom he considers worthy to receive this priceless gift. It is without money and without price, but he will give it only to those who ask for it.’

Torrey begins with ‘Just ask,’ which so far as we can see, is no different from faith alone. But his exposition shows that in his view no ordinary asking will suffice. The prayer must be very special, so that once again the focus moves from the divine promises and the divine Surety to the quality of our own asking. Looking back on a typical example of what he has in mind, Torrey writes, ‘About midnight God gave us complete victory. And oh! what praying there was from that time on up to a little after two in the morning. I think I had never heard such praying before and have seldom heard such praying since.’ That the Spirit is promised to prayer is one thing. That he is promised to such prayer as one has never heard before is quite another.

The whole thrust of the passage in Luke is against Torrey’s argument. For one thing, the child’s need for bread cannot be met by any once-for-all experience. It is a recurring thing, and so, by analogy, is our need of the Holy Spirit, for whom we have to pray constantly. Again, the child’s need is not for some luxury or extra, but for bread – for the staff of life. By analogy, again, the Holy Spirit is someone whom every believer needs indispensably and whom God can no more withhold from his children than a human father can withhold bread from his family. Yet again, it is inconceivable that an earthly father would give food to his children only if they asked for it in a special way; or subject them to some ‘elimination test’ to make sure they really wanted it – wanted it urgently, fervently, importunately, and purely.

The Holy Spirit’s ministry, in all its fulness, is for the Christian, a matter of survival; and while he is certainly to ask for it he expects to receive it not because of the special quality of his asking but because of the urgency of his need and the certainty of his Father’s promise.

Step 7: Faith

The last step towards receiving Holy Spirit baptism is faith. We may read this with astonishment. How can faith be last? But our astonishment would be misplaced. The definition of faith at this point is peculiar. It no longer means trusting Christ crucified, but expecting God to give you whatever you ask. This, according to Torrey, is where many fail, including ‘a countless multitude of earnest seekers for the baptism with the Holy Spirit. They meet the other conditions, they pray definitely and earnestly, but they do not confidently expect and therefore they do not get.’

But this either means too little or it means too much. If Torrey is saying that every believer, simply because he is a believer, has a right to expect baptism in the Holy Spirit, he is giving away his own case. On the other hand, to say that absolutely any one who expects Spirit baptism will receive it is saying too much. For example, there are many people who confidently expect to go to heaven who will be sorely disappointed (Mt. 7:21ff.). We have to ask: Who has the right to expect a blessing? To say, ‘On the confidence itself,’ is no answer. The only reasonable ground for confidence, in any of our prayers, is the fact that God has made a certain, definite promise to someone in our circumstances. So far as Holy Spirit baptism is concerned, the ground of confidence is that God has promised the fulness of his Spirit to all believers; and only to believers.


Recently, some preachers within the Reformed community have begun to suggest that Calvinists and Charismatics should draw closer together and even unite organically, forming local churches incorporating both traditions. Such proposals can come only from men who regard Charismatic churches as nothing more than typical evangelical churches with tongue-speaking tied on. The truth is far different. Long before we get to discussing tongue-speaking, the theology of these churches differs radically from that of the Reformation.

First, it is perfectionist: consciously and deliberately so. ‘The Pentecostal child,’ writes the well-known Anglican Charismatic, Michael Harper, ‘was brought up in the nursery of the Holiness Movement, from which it acquired so much of its teaching – and also, strangely enough, a great deal of its persecution. Methodism, and its various ancestors in the Moravian sects, had always taught both the decisiveness of the conversion experience and also of a further experience, variously called ‘entire sanctification,’ ‘holiness,’ ‘perfect love’ ‘the second blessing,’ and later ‘the baptism in the Spirit.’ It was largely from this rock that the Pentecostal stone was hewn.’ This pedigree explains why Pentecostalism believes in the possibility of renouncing all sin, obeying all God’s commands, and surrendering our wills absolutely to his. How can any hope to reconcile such an outlook with the sin-conscious Augustianism of the Reformers and the Puritans?

Second, Pentecostal theology is conditionalist. If we wish to enjoy all the blessings of the covenant, faith alone is not enough. One must, in addition, renounce all sin, obey all God’s commands, really thirst for the Spirit, really ask, and really expect. The departure from sola fide is radical and the road to spiritual fulness beset with problems so intimidating that they can be overcome only in the imagination.

One final comment: How skilfully does the Pentecostal/Holiness preacher hedge his bets! The promise is glorious. The steps to it are easy. But if the hearer does not secure it there can be no come-back on the preacher. He can always say: Ah! But you have not renounced all sin. You are not fully surrendered. You do not really thirst. You do not ask purely. You do not confidently expect. The resulting agony to the spiritually desperate is no different in principle from Luther’s self-flagellations.

So What Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

Until the 20th century, theologians paid little attention to the phrase ‘the baptism of the Holy Spirit’, and the relative neglect could claim some biblical justification. The precise wording ‘the baptism of the Holy Spirit’ does not occur anywhere else in the New Testament and the idea itself occurs very infrequently. There are in fact only three references: In Mt. 3:11 (and parallels) where John the Baptist proclaims that Christ will baptize in the Holy Spirit; in Acts 1:5 where our Lord Himself promises that the disciples will be baptized in the Holy Spirit; and in I Cor. 12:13 where Paul affirms that all Christians were baptized in one Spirit.

The importance of a doctrine cannot be measured, however, by the frequency with which a precise wording occurs in Scripture. Otherwise the doctrine of the Trinity would have to be dismissed as quite secondary. Holy Spirit baptism is only one of several designations for that all-important initiatory experience by which the Holy Spirit comes to take up residence in the believer. Its importance has been further enhanced by the exigencies of controversy and particularly by the construction put upon it by Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal theology. This has raised questions so radical and so far reaching that none of us can afford to ignore them.

The most fundamental of these questions is that of the relation of Holy Spirit baptism to regeneration and conversion. Pentecostal theology insists that the two are quite distinct; that the baptism is frequently, if not indeed normally, subsequent to conversion; that it is therefore perfectly possible for a man to have been born again and yet not have received Holy Spirit baptism; and indeed that some Christians never receive this blessing.

One of the most articulate advocates of this point of view was R. A. Torrey, whom F. D. Bruner has described as ‘after Wesley and Finney, the most important figure in the pre-history of Pentecostalism.’ ‘The baptism with the Spirit,’ writes Torrey, ‘is a work of the Holy Spirit distinct from and additional to His regenerating work. In other words, it is one thing to be born again by the Holy Spirit and quite another thing to be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Ralph M. Riggs, a contemporary Pentecostal theologian, is equally emphatic: ‘Although all believers have the Holy Spirit, yet it still remains that all believers, in addition to having the Holy Spirit may be filled with or baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ The disciples before Pentecost ‘had received the Holy Spirit already, but they yet needed the baptism in the Holy Spirit.’

Receiving, Being Filled, Being Baptized

One major difficulty which immediately faces this doctrine is that the language of the New Testament simply will not allow us to distinguish in this way between being baptized in the Spirit and receiving the Spirit. These – and other terms – are used quite interchangeably. For example, in Acts 1:5 Luke foretells the day of Pentecost as an experience of being baptized in the Spirit. In Acts 2:4 he describes it as being filled with the Spirit. We cannot, in the face of these statements, go on to say that being filled and being baptized are two different experiences. On the other hand, the same experience is foretold in Acts 1:8 as the Holy Spirit coming upon them; and described in Acts 2:38 as receiving the Spirit. Putting all these together, we have to conclude that having the Spirit come upon us, receiving the Spirit, being filled with the Spirit and being baptized in the Spirit are one and the same experience.

The way that Luke describes the experience of Cornelius and his household is equally significant. He sees it as an exact parallel to Pentecost (Acts 11:15) and as a precise fulfillment of our Lord’s promise: ‘Ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 11:16). Yet in describing the event he does not use the language of filling or baptism. He says instead that the Holy Spirit fell on them (Acts 10:44), that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on them (Acts 10:45) and, most significantly of all, that they simply received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:47).

It is surely clear that no one can claim the authority of the New Testament for distinguishing between receiving the Spirit, on one hand, and being baptized or filled with the Spirit on the other. Equally clearly, no one can claim canonical authority for the form of words: ‘All have received the Holy Spirit, but not all have been baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit.’

All Believers Are Baptized In the Spirit

But the case does not rest on biblical vocabulary alone. There is considerable direct evidence in the New Testament that all believers experience Holy Spirit baptism.

To begin with, the universality of the gift of the Spirit was one of the main points in the prophesy of Joel (2:28-32), of which Pentecost was the fulfillment. In the old dispensation, the Spirit and His gift were distributed only to special individuals within the people of God. This limitation, says Joel, would be done away with in the last days (the Christian dispensation). The Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, their sons and their daughters would prophesy, their young men would see visions and their old men would dream dreams. The Spirit would come not only on the eminent, but on servants and maidservants. Moses’ longing (Num. 11:29) would be fulfilled: All the Lord¹s people would be prophets, speaking forth the wonderful words of God.

Luke’s account of Pentecost makes it clear that this is exactly what happened: All the believers were baptized in the Spirit (Acts 2:4). The all is so defined that it does not allow us to believe that any single disciple was excluded. The whole church described in Acts 1:13-26 were ‘all with one accord in one place,’ and when the baptism came it came on all of them. At that moment, there was not a single believer in the world who was not baptized in the Spirit. Bearing in mind also his use of Joel’s prophesy it is difficult to resist the conclusion that Luke wants to establish at the outset that this is to be the distinctive feature of the new dispensation.

The description of the experience of the 3,000 converted through Peter’s preaching is certainly in accord with this. He promised that those who responded to his message would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). But he does not portray this as something additional to the basic experience of salvation. Instead, the gift is said to be a direct and immediate effect of conversion: ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the Holy Spirit.’ Remission of sins and the gift of the Spirit go together. A few verses later, the total experience of these converts is said to be simply that they ‘gladly received his word’ (verse 41). It is fair to conclude from this that the only condition of being baptized in the Spirit is a glad reception of the Gospel. Every penitent – every forgiven sinner – has undergone Holy Spirit baptism.

It is this very same doctrine we appear to have in I Cor. 12:13, ‘For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body.’ Some have expressed reservations as to the relevance of this passage to the question of baptism in the Spirit and suggested that it refers to baptism by the Spirit rather than to baptism in the Spirit. It is difficult to see any reason for this. Grammatically, the expression is exactly the same as in Acts 1:5. Had Paul wished to express the idea of baptism by the Spirit he could have done so unambiguously by using the preposition hupo (by) rather than the preposition en (in). But had he done so, he would have been saying something the New Testament does not say anywhere else. Its uniform teaching is that it is Christ Who baptizes. In Mt. 3:11, for example, John the Baptist says, ‘He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.’ Peter speaks to the same effect in Acts 2:33. The exalted Christ has shed forth the Holy Spirit. The only alternative to this is that sometimes (e.g., Acts 1:4) the Spirit is represented as the gift of the Father. The Spirit Himself does not baptize. He is what we are baptized in or baptized with. Otherwise it would not be possible to contrast Spirit baptism with baptism in (not by) water or to relate it to baptism in (not by) fire.

This interpretation is confirmed by the second part of the verse: ‘We were made to drink into one Spirit.’ The Greek verb underlying our English is epotisthemen. It was frequently used with the meaning of watering (plants) and as T. C. Edwards points out, this metaphor, expressing the ideas of abundance and power, would be perfectly appropriate here, ‘Like plants, we are drenched in the Spirit. The one shower waters all the fields and soaks through to the rootlets of every particular blade of grass.’ Michael Green combines what he sees as the meaning of the two metaphors of I Cor. 12:13 in the statement: ‘All alike have been immersed in the sea of the Spirit; all alike have had His living water irrigate their parched lives.’

The purpose of this baptism Paul defines in the phrase ‘into one body.’ He uses the preposition idiomatically, in the sense of ‘with a view to’: ‘We were all baptized (immersed, drenched, irrigated) in the one Spirit with a view to our forming or becoming one body.’

This surely rules out an elitist interpretation along the lines that Spirit baptism is an experience of the few. All believers are members of the one body and as such all are baptized and all are drenched in the one Spirit. Equally, all have spiritual gifts which are essential to the proper functioning of the body so that no one should feel superior, no one should feel inferior, and above all, no one should feel redundant. It is difficult to see how Paul’s argument for recognition of their interrelatedness and interdependence could survive if the body were divided by such a radical distinction as that some had Holy Spirit baptism and some did not. Such a distinction would do exactly what Paul wants to avoid – create a schism in the body (I Cor. 12:25).

Theological Arguments

The argument that it is possible to be regenerate and yet not possess Holy Spirit baptism is as difficult to sustain on the theological level as it is on the exegetical. All Christians are united to Christ. To suggest that this can be so without a corresponding union with the Holy Spirit is to separate these two persons in a way that is quite inconsistent with historic Trinitarian theology. The Son and the Spirit are, with the Father, one God. So close is the union that each is in the other (Jn. 14:10), so that the mission of the Comforter is equally the mission of the Son (Jn. 14:18) and Paul can even say, ‘The Lord (Jesus Christ) is the Spirit’ (2 Cor. 3:17). It was upon such passages that the post-Nicene Fathers built the doctrine of the coinherence of the divine persons. We have a fine statement of the doctrine in Basil: ‘If any one truly receive the Son he will find that He brings with Him on the one hand His Father and on the other the Holy Spirit. For neither can He from the Father be severed, who is of and ever in the Father; nor again from His own Spirit disunited. For we must not conceive separation or division in any way; as if either the Son could be supposed without the Father, or the Spirit disunited with the Son.’

If this doctrine of the coinherence is true, as it surely is, there can be no relation with the one Person that is not equally and symmetrically a relation with the others. To be fully in the Son is to be fully in the Spirit. To have Christ dwell in our hearts by faith is simultaneously to have His Spirit in our inner man and to be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:16-19).

To change the perspective slightly: to be in Christ means to have communion with Him and this in turn means that we share fully in all that He has. The most precious of all His endowments, surely, is the full and overflowing indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Pentecostal argument wishes us to believe that we can be in Christ and yet not share in this; or at least, not share in it fully. But this, surely, is impossible. How can He be said to share if He withholds His Spirit, or bestows Him only ‘by measure’ (Jn. 3:34)? To be a member of His body means, if the metaphor has any significance, that we share fully in His vitality. It is His spiritual life that courses through us, enabling us to say, ‘Christ lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20). We are rooted in Him (Col. 2:7), our roots going deep in to the resources of Christ so that we effectually tap the fullness of the Spirit that is in Him.

The New Testament View of Faith

The Pentecostal position is equally inconsistent with the New Testament view of faith. Faith saves; and it is impossible to confine this to regeneration and conversion, excluding the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit is the unspeakable gift (2 Cor. 9:15). He is the paramount promise of the Father (Acts 1:4) and the invariable seal upon our sonship (Eph. 1:13). Sharing Christ’s experience of Him is the climax of the apostolic benediction (2 Cor. 13:14). Even to the Old Testament, salvation could not be defined apart from receiving the Spirit: ‘I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes’ (Ez. 36:27).

But not only does the New Testament insist that baptism in the Spirit is part of the very meaning of salvation. It also asserts explicitly that faith and the gift of the Spirit are inseparably connected. This appears clearly in Paul’s rhetorical question in Gal. 3:2: ‘Receive ye the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith?’ He lays down the same doctrine in Eph. 1:13: ‘In whom also, after ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.’ All they did was believe: having done so, they were sealed. Gal. 3:14 is clearer still. We receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Part of the interest of this passage is that it equates the promise of the Spirit with the blessing of Abraham. In other words, the gift of the Spirit was the core of the blessing promised in the Abrahamic covenant. We cannot be beneficiaries under that covenant and lack it. Indeed, we can go further still and argue that the conferring of the Spirit was the great purpose of the atonement and that we can have no share in the blessings of the atonement without having the fullness of the Spirit. The movement of Paul’s thought is quite clear: ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law…that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.’ We cannot let ourselves be put in the position where, before qualifying for the gift of the Spirit, we must have something additional to faith – some plus. Faith puts us in Christ and by doing so makes us nothing short of complete (Col. 2:10).

Christian Service

It is just as impossible to reconcile the notion that some Christians do not possess the fullness of the Spirit with the New Testament teaching on Christian service. R. A. Torrey tries to make a distinction between being saved and being ready for service and permits himself the following astonishing statement: ‘Now if a man is regenerate he is saved. If he should die he would go to heaven. But though he is saved he is not yet fitted for God’s service.’ This distinction does such violence to New Testament theology that one can only gasp. Far from arguing that because not all have the Holy Spirit not all are ready for service we should have to argue that because all are deemed to be ready for service all must be endowed with the Spirit. The Sermon on the Mount, for example, makes clear that Christ expects from every believer the highest standards of service. Every ‘blessed’ man will live in such a way as to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Mt. 5:13f). Paul’s expectations are similar. He would find the idea of a Christian who is not fitted for service absurd! To be redeemed from sin is to become at once a servant of righteousness (Rom. 6:18), bearing the fruit of the Spirit in a life characterized by love, joy, peace and all other excellencies (Gal. 5:22f). Peter is equally explicit: How could the idea of people being saved and yet not ready for service possibly fit into I Pt. 2:9: ‘Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people: that ye should show forth the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light’? The duty of proclaiming the virtues of God is laid firmly on every Christian: but only because of what they are. The imperative rests on the indicative. We are neither exempt from service nor unprepared for it.

The passage from I Peter reminds us that among all the various forms of service expected of the Christian, witnessing has a special place. We have to hold fast our profession (Heb 4:14), hold forth the word of life (Phil. 2:16), and give a reason for the hope that is in us (I Pt. 3:15). This takes us right back to the commission given to the church in Acts 1:8, :Ye shall be witnesses to Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth.’ It was precisely to prepare them for this that the promise was given. ‘Ye shall receive power’; and this was the promise fulfilled at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on each of them, enabling them to speak forth the wonderful works of God. Witness – and indeed doxology – is the business of every Christian. To suggest that some believers have been left without the resources for it is to stand the New Testament ethic on its head: as if God expected us to make bricks without straw.

Never An Apostolic Prescription

Finally, it is surely significant that none of the New Testament writers, facing the perplexing problems of the early church, ever suggested that what they needed was baptism in the Holy Spirit. Consider the churches they were writing to: Galatia, Corinth, Colossae, Ephesus, Laodicea. Their problems were surely serious enough – disunity, heresy, immorality, worldliness, lack of evangelistic concern. There was an all too evident absence of power. The classic Pentecostal analysis of the lukewarm church at Laodicea, for example, would have been that they lacked ‘the fire’, ‘the second wind’, ‘the baptism of the Holy Spirit’. But this is never the New Testament approach. Their problems are not seen as due to the lack of Spirit baptism but a failure to reckon with the implications of the deepest spiritual truth about themselves (Rom. 6:2, I Cor. 6:2, Gal. 3:3). It was the very fact that they had all received the Spirit that made their heresy, factiousness, and worldliness so appalling.

What then are we to conclude? That baptism in the Spirit is an absolutely fundamental element in the Christian doctrine of salvation; that the experience of it is what initiates us into the Christian life, so that without it we are not Christians at all; and that to have had it is to have received the Spirit in His fullness, enabling us to say, ‘I can do all things in the One who strengthens me’ (Phil. 4:13).


Dr. Donald Macleod is professor of theology in the faculty of the Free Church of Scotland, of which denomination he was the Moderator. Dr. Macleod writes extensively for Evangelicals Now, a British newspaper.