This article is part 12 of an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit. For previous posts in this series, click here.
Baptism is described as the moment when someone is put into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Baptism is what puts one “in Christ” in a way that can be described as having “put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). To be more specific, baptism is centered on the cross, producing union with Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5).
While baptism was clearly centered on Christ, it is also closely connected with the Spirit. The book of Acts continually describes a close connection between the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and the necessity of baptism (Part 11). But it is in the writings of Paul where the find the clearest doctrinal explanations of the role of the Holy Spirit in baptism.
Here it will be observed from the writings of Paul that there is a sense in which all Christians are baptized in the Spirit. The next part of this study will examine the writings of Paul further with a focus on what the Spirit is said to do in baptism. Once we consider everything Paul says about the role of the Holy Spirit in baptism, we can return to the book of Acts with a greater understanding of why the spectacular outpouring of the Spirit was followed with a command to be baptized (Acts 2:38; 10:47) or otherwise closely connected with the act of baptism (Acts 8:16-17; 19:5-6).
The Corinthians Were All Baptized in the Spirit
Paul speaks of baptism as the moment when one is initiated into the body of Christ.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.1 Corinthians 12:12-13
In this text, baptism is clearly associated with the Spirit. It is stressed that all Christians were baptized in the Spirit. It does not matter one’s ethnicity (Jew or Greek) or one’s position in life (slave or free). All Christians were made to drink of the same Spirit. All of them. This is the foundation of Paul’s discourse on the importance of Christian unity.
The Galatians Were All Baptized in the Spirit
Paul makes a very similar statement in his letter to the Galatians.
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.Galatians 3:26-29
Just as in 1 Corinthians 12:13, here Paul points to baptism as the basis of Christian unity. Jews, Greeks, slaves, free, males, and females are all one in Christ, because they were all baptized into Christ. Baptism is the means by which a person becomes “in Christ.” Because they are all in Christ, they are all considered as Abraham’s offspring.
While Paul does not explicitly state that that the Galatians were baptized “in one Spirit” as he does in 1 Corinthians, there are several indications that this was the case.
A few verses earlier, Paul asked the Galatians a pointed question:
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by work of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?Galatians 3:2-3
This question implies that the Galatians had all received the Spirit at some point in the past. What’s more, Paul specifically refers to them as having “begun by the Spirit”, indicating that they received the Spirit at the beginning on their Christian walk, that is, at the time of their conversion. This of course would have been the time of their baptism. Paul goes on to say that the Spirit was supplied to the Galatians by faith, which is why they can be identified sons of Abraham.
Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith – just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?Galatians 3:5-7
Know then that it is those who are of faith who are the sons of Abraham.
Paul goes on to write:
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! Father!”Galatians 4:6
Paul says the Spirit is sent from God to all those who are sons of Abraham. Who did Paul just identify as the sons of Abraham? Those who were baptized into Christ:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ… And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.Galatians 3:27-28
All the Galatians, both Jews and Gentiles, who were baptized into Christ, were now to be considered as sons. All those who were sons had received the Spirit at the beginning of their life in Christ. Paul goes on to speak of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23) and to encourage to Galatians to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25), both of which assume the presence of the Spirit in the lives of all those in the churches of Galatia.
So while the exact wording “baptized in the Spirit” is not used in the book of Galatians, baptism is described the means by which a person becomes “in Christ.” And throughout the book of Galatians, it is assumed that all those who are “in Christ” received the Holy Spirit at the time of their conversion, which would have been the time of their baptism.
The Romans Were All Baptized in the Spirit
As with Galatians, the book of Romans nowhere explicitly states that the Holy Spirit is received at the moment of baptism. However, there are several passages that demonstrate a close connection between baptism and the Spirit.
For example, Paul writes that baptism is what unifies someone with the death and resurrection of Christ and gives new life in him.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.Romans 6:3-5
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
From here, Paul goes on to write:
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.Romans 8:9-11
The presence of the Spirit described as a necessary and defining characteristic all those who are “in Christ.” Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. From his previous statement, we know that baptism is what put them “in Christ”. That means that the Spirit is a defining characteristic for all those who are baptized. It was baptism that gave the Roman Christians hope of resurrection, and it was the presence of the Spirit which is necessary for that resurrection. Reading these passages in unison demonstrates that the Romans, like the Corinthians and the Galatians, were all baptized in the Spirit.
Furthermore, just as in Galatians 4:6, Paul says the Holy Spirit plays a key role in the Roman’s adoption as sons of God.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the Spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.Romans 8:14-17
In the book of Romans, Paul describes baptism as the moment when we are united with Christ’s death and resurrection and begin our new life in Christ. Paul also teaches that we have hope in the resurrection because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is a necessary and defining characteristic of all those who belong to Christ. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that just as in the church at Corinth, and just as in the churches of Galatia, all of the Roman Christians had also been baptized in the Spirit.
All Christians are Baptized in the Spirit
From these Pauline passages we can conclude that there is a sense in which all Christians are baptized in the Spirit. This truth harmonizes nicely with the teachings of Jesus, who said:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.John 3:5
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive.John 7:38-39
These passages also harmonize with the words of Peter on Pentecost:
Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.Acts 2:38
Keep in mind that the sense in which all Christians are baptized in the Spirit must not be confused with those unique and miraculous outpouring of the Spirit, which is described only on a few special occasions in the book of Acts (See Part 11). The role of the Spirit in baptism is however closely related to these miraculous outpourings. This close connection will be explored further in the next part of this study.