Power to Witness in the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” (#6)

Fired up by enthusiasm, the theology of “the baptism in the Holy Spirit,” is taking over the globe. But what is it exactly? (photo credit: Getty Images, Economist magazine)

Continuing on, with the sixth in a multipart blog post series

Revival: The church’s greatest need.

So reads the back cover of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic Joy Unspeakable…. and Lloyd-Jones is still right!! How can the church accomplish her God-given mission without the inward, transforming power of the Holy Spirit?

Once you observe how Old Testament prophecy works in the New Testament, regarding the Holy Spirit, such as in the narrative portions of the Book of Acts, then the whole framework of “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” falls into place. But not only does “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” in the Book of Acts fulfill prophecy from the Old Testament, it does so for a purpose, namely, that the believer might experience the power to witness for the sake of the Gospel.

Power to Witness, Yes: But Not By Confusion Over the Baptism in the Holy Spirit

This is probably what those Bible teachers have had in mind, who distinguish between the reception of the Holy Spirit at conversion, and “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” as a second experience. They may associate “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” with experiencing the “gift of tongues,” as many Pentecostals and charismatics do. Or they may associate this “Spirit Baptism” with the “sealing” of the Holy Spirit, following conversion, with no traditionally charismatic experience in view, as in the teaching of the venerable Doctor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

The problem, however, is that such views suffer from trying to look at one’s human experience, or even a desire for such a human experience, and then project that back upon one’s interpretation of the Bible. Though desirable as this might be, this method creates more problems than it actually solves.

For example, in Unspeakable Joy, his classic collection of sermons in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Martyn Lloyd-Jones pressed for the King James Version translation of Ephesians 1:13:

“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise“(Ephesians 1:13 KJV).

The problem with this translation is that it specifically places the “sealing” of the Holy Spirit “after” believing in the Gospel, referencing conversion. This fits within Martyn Lloyd-Jones premise that “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” is subsequent to becoming a believer in Christ, linking “Spirit baptism” with the “sealing” of the Spirit (Lloyd-Jones, p. 31-32). Lloyd-Jones hungered for spiritual revival in the church, and saw this as a key passage to support this desire. But if you compare this passage with most other modern translations, you will see a notable difference.

“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“(Ephesians 1:13 ESV).

Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic Joy Unspeakable is a penetrating examination of the Scriptures regarding the baptism in the Holy Spirit, cutting a path between Puritan Reformed thinking and the charismatic movement. Though not fully persuaded by the argument, I concur with Lloyd-Jones’ hunger for revival.

Notice that the verb tense is different, in something like the ESV translation, as opposed to the venerable KJV. The “sealing with the promised Holy Spirit” happens at the same moment as hearing and believing “the word of truth” concerning “him,” the Christ. The sealing does not happen “after,” as in the KJV. More recent Biblical scholarship rejects the KJV handling of the text as unwarranted, as it is inconsistent with Paul’s usage of this same grammatical construction elsewhere in Ephesians.1

Following the lead of these modern Bible translations, some 100+ years since the Azusa Street Revival, many Bible teachers in the charismatic movement are now backing away from describing the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” as a unique, one-time “second blessing” type of experience. They would argue that the “gifts of the Spirit” are not necessarily associated with “Spirit baptism,” which is quite a change from some thirty years ago, when I was in college. The emphasis today is on the continued “signs and wonders” ministry of the Holy Spirit.2

Whether or not you believe that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit are valid for today, I think this change in how “Spirit baptism” is taught, is a really good thing, as I will explain in the next, and final, blog post in this series. But before I close this blog post out, I should mention that whether someone is a charismatic, or a non-charismatic “Puritan sealer,” like Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the underlying intent behind the idea of “Spirit baptism” as a “second blessing” is in the right direction, even if the exegetical argumentation and exact application fails to convince.3

A Plea for Revival

As Jesus promised the disciples early in Acts 1:8, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples, that they might be empowered in their witness for the Gospel. Far too many Christians today do not experience a sense of power in their witness for Christ. We need the Holy Spirit to strengthen us, guide us, teach us, and give us the words to speak to proclaim His Truth. We desperately need a Holy Spirit empowered revival in the church today. If we try to do things to share the Gospel, simply based on our own energies, our own cleverness, etc., we will discover that we will run out of fuel quickly.

The Book of Ephesians offers the solution here:

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18 ESV).

The Apostle Paul teaches that being “filled with the Spirit” is not some optional thing. Rather, we are commanded to be “filled with the Spirit.” We need to seek the things of the Holy Spirit, not in search of some particular experience, that mainly benefits us, but to receive the power we need to give glory to God, for the sake of building His Kingdom. If we lack the power of the Spirit in our life, it is not because we have failed to receive some special experience from God. Rather, it is because we lack obedience, to be filled with the Spirit, to be saturated with the things of God.

As we seek clarity on what is “the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” let us keep that sense of obedience in its proper perspective. Look for the conclusion to this series in the next and final blog post.


1. Craig Keener, in Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit Today, demonstrates why the modern translations are more consistent grammatically. Keener argues that Ephesians 1:13 does not imply subsequence, as in the KJV, because if you were to apply the same grammatical logic to Paul’s usage of the same grammar a little later in Ephesians, it would introduce hopeless confusion into the text. In Ephesians 1:19-20, we read in the ESV that “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”  If you were to translate this consistently with the logic that Martyn Lloyd-Jones favors in Ephesians 1:13, “it would mean that God exerted his mighty power in Christ after resurrecting him, rather than by resurrecting him… More importantly, the text (in Ephesians 1:13-14) indicates that this seal of the Spirit is a down payment guaranteeing our future inheritance at the redemption of our bodies…. If this sealing is subsequent to conversion, then conversion is inadequate to guarantee us a place in God’s kingdom!” (Keener, p. 155). It is important to note that Keener is charismatic in his theology. The evidence favors Keener contra Lloyd-Jones.

2. Here is a case to prove this point. As of early 2017, the most influential teacher in the charismatic movement, since the Florida Brownsville Revival of the late 1990s, and champion of “signs and wonders” style revival, is probably Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California. In his 2003, When Heaven Invades Earth, Johnson’s apologetic for charismatic revival, Bill Johnson does briefly address the “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” but he believes that it is not entirely a one-time experience. He even speaks of this as “one baptism, many fillings” (p.72). This brief, one-page mention of Spirit baptism is greatly overshadowed by his emphasis on the “signs and wonders” associated with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, throughout the whole book. This is not meant to be an endorsement of Bill Johnson’s controversial ministry at Bethel Church. Rather, this is meant as a prominent example of a dramatic doctrinal shift, since the charismatic movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

3. It would be too much to go into here, but where I remain unconvinced by Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ interpretation of “Spirit baptism”,  and that of John Piper, who follows him, Lloyd-Jones excels in the matter of addressing the Christian’s need to have assurance of their salvation. Lloyd-Jones ties his understanding of the sealing of the Holy Spirit to the need to have assurance (Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable, p. 156ff). Romans 8:15-16 addresses the truth that “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,” which speaks to the importance of having the assurance that we are truly children of God. However, to limit assurance to a one-time baptism or sealing in the Spirit, does not seem to reflect the tense of Paul’s usage here. Hopefully, my sense is that Lloyd-Jones would agree. Assurance is an on-going process, throughout our Christian journey.

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

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