The Baptism of the Holy Spirit and Fire

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Image of a dove, symboling the Holy Spirit

In today’s Bible reading* we read of John the Baptizer’s prophecy that One would come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

All four Gospels present this encounter between John and his audience. He describes Jesus’ baptism with fire as being a baptism of judgment, where God’s people would be separated for eternity in heaven from everyone else for judgment in hell.

John contrasted his baptism from Jesus’ baptism. John’s baptism was one of water for repentance. People came to him confessing their sins. But Jesus would come and baptize them with the Holy Spirit.

So what is the baptism of the Holy Spirit?

Let’s look at that phrase word-by-word. Baptism is an Anglicized word from Greek. In other words, when the early English translators came to this phrase, instead of translating the word (conveying the meaning from Greek into English), they transliterated it (changed the letters from Greek to English). By transliterating the word — instead of translating it — they avoided the obvious conflict between the word John used and the practice of the Anglican church. At the time the Church of England — and for hundreds of years previously, the Roman Catholic Church — “baptized” by “affusion”. When dedicating babies or when new converts came to faith, the church would sprinkle or pour water on the head of the one being “baptized”.

So why did I put the word baptize in quotes? Because what they were doing wasn’t baptism! The word transliterated as baptism actually means to immerse. To dip.

The result of dipping a piece of cloth into a bowl of dye was to change the cloth. It was to change its identity. When a piece of white cloth was baptized in blue dye, the white cloth ceased to be white. It was now blue. Regardless of how one might try, the cloth would forever be blue and never again be white.

So when John baptized with water for repentance, the people were confessing their sinfulness and their need to be immersed/identified as repenting of (turning from) their sin. When John described Jesus as the One Who would baptize with fire, he said that those baptized would be immersed/identified with judgment.

So when John said that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit, he said that those baptized with the Holy Spirit would be immersed/identified with God’s Spirit of holiness. Note that he describes the Spirit of God as the Holy Spirit, not the Weird Spirit.

Later in the book of Acts, Luke quotes Jesus saying that just as John had baptized with water, He would baptize His Disciples with the Holy Spirit in just a few days. (Acts 1:5) When we come to Acts 2:4, Luke uses the phrase filled with the Holy Spirit to describe the Disciples’ experience on the Day of Pentecost. Obviously, Luke saw baptized and filled as the same thing: the Disciples were immersed/identified and filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

Paul tells the Believers in Ephesus to keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18) Paul saw being filled with the Holy Spirit as a not-only-one-time experience. Being filled with the Holy Spirit was to be a continual experience.


One of the reasons for Jesus’ coming to earth — in addition to serving as our atoning sacrifice — was to bring a new identity to His Disciples: to immerse/identify them with God’s Spirit of holiness. Paul tells them to continue to be identified with the Holy Spirit.

Whether you use the word baptize or fill, Paul would tell you to be continually identified with the holiness of God. Holiness isn’t something that you and I can manufacture on our own. It is a work of God to transform us from the inside out.

Paul says that as we walk by the Spirit, we won’t carry out the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16) He continues discussing walking by the Spirit by giving examples of the desires of the flesh:

For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I am warning you about these things—as I warned you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:17–21 (CSB)

Are you walking by the Holy Spirit every day?

* Chapters covered in today’s reading:
Matthew 3
Mark 1:1-11
Luke 3
John 1:15-34

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