August 22, 2016

By water and by fire . . .

Baptism, according to most Protestant creeds, is a declaration to the world that I have decided to follow Jesus. This is water baptism. Since the Greek word means ‘to immerse or plunge into’ and the biblical narratives describe it that way, many are convinced that water baptism is in a tank or a river, not by sprinkling.

Whatever a person believes about how a person should be baptized, there is another baptism that Christians cannot do. It is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Since the word used for this baptism is the same word used for what we are supposed to do, the baptism of the Spirit is about being ‘immersed or plunged’ into Him. This illustrates a life that is completely engulfed in the person and power of God’s Spirit, a radical and wonderful experience.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

The speaker is John and he is talking about Jesus. John is also living that humble attitude that true repentance brings — and the attitude that happens when spiritual baptism takes place.

Some associate the baptism of the Holy Spirit with a lot of noise and rejoicing, with actions like falling down or speaking unknown languages. Here, John’s words associate it with a sense of being unworthy, a humility that does not draw attention to self. This is a humility that realizes that I have no worth in myself; only because of Jesus can I stand before God, a forgiven sinner.

Yes, John could baptize repentant sinners with water. Yes, I can obey God with certain actions — but only the Lord Jesus Christ can fill a person with the Spirit of God and with fire.

In the Bible, fire is a judgment metaphor that points to the destruction of all that is unclean. Fire speaks about purity and refinement. Because the Holy Spirit baptizes with fire, no one can claim to be filled with the Spirit of God and have blatant unconfessed sin in their life. The fire of God cannot be there without blasting through the human heart and exhuming all that is defiling it.

Chambers uses words like, “When He comes am I prepared for Him to drag into the light every wrong thing I have done? It is just there that He comes. Wherever I know I am unclean, He will put His feet; wherever I think I am clean, He will withdraw them.”

Jesus is not interested in any exalted thoughts I have of myself. His Spirit will show me my unworthiness and utter helplessness. Like John, I know I am not worthy to carry His shoes. It is only by His grace and the power of the Holy Spirit that anyone can serve Him. To get there, He must baptize me. Being immersed in a tank or a river indicates that I have yielded myself to Him, but it does not change my life. Only the power of God can do that.

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