Here’s how Charles G. Finney told about his experience of receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit: “As I went in and shut the door after me, it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It seemed to me that I saw him as I would see any other man. He said nothing, but looked at me in such a manner as to break me right down at his feet. It seemed to me that a reality that he stood right before me, and I fell down at his feet and poured out my soul to him. I wept aloud like a child and made such confessions as I could make with my choked words. It seemed to me that I bathed his feet with my tears, and yet I have no distinct impression that I touched him . . . as I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Spirit . . . the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner which seemed to go through me, body and soul . . . it seemed to come in waves of liquid love, for I could not express it in any other way . . .”
Finney’s experience illustrates the truth, that the risen and exalted Lord Jesus Christ is the one who gives the gift and fullness of the Holy Spirit. The accounts of the gospels, though, show that he had to be baptized, receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit and continue on in ministry until his crucifixion and ascension, before he could confer the gift of the Holy Spirit upon others.
Some time during the ministry of John the Baptist, about 27 AD or so, before Herod Antipas imprisoned and later beheaded him, John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. This is mentioned in all four gospels, and was the momentous event that marked the beginning of the ministry of Jesus and the fulfillment of his Messianic mission.
But the occasion of the baptism of Jesus is means much for us also in our lives as well as his followers, if we have put our faith in him as our Lord and Savior. It has huge implications for two often needlessly controversial issues for believers in Jesus Christ, those of water baptism and the enduement of the Holy Spirit. The Lord himself fulfilled the commands that he later addressed to his followers, in two versions of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20 and Luke 24:46-49). As we look further into what these meant, what happened in the baptism of Jesus addresses these issues decisively. For all the arguments that anyone can make who would claim to have put his or her faith in Jesus Christ that he or she does not need to be baptized, all of them would apply most of all to Jesus. If there ever lived anyone that did not need to be baptized, it was Jesus – and he went in obedience to the will of the Father to be baptized. For all the arguments that anyone can make that he or she is a follower of Jesus Christ but does not need to be filled with the Holy Spirit and minister and witness in the power of the Spirit, again, each one of those arguments would apply even more to Jesus. If there lived anyone who did not need the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit for ministry, it was Jesus – and he received the fullness of the Holy Spirit at his baptism and went forth to his earthly ministry. The gospel of Luke especially emphasizes that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, wholly God, was yet wholly man as well and fulfilled his ministry through his sinless humanity as a Spirit filled man.
But there’s even more in the baptism of Jesus that is significant for the believer in Jesus Christ. At the occasion of the baptism, the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, the revelation of the triune nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, shines through brilliantly. This truth later becomes more unfolded through the teaching of Jesus and then the apostles, and has been the firm conviction of the church since then, that God is one God who exists and who expresses himself in the three Persons of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Here is how the gospel of Luke describes the baptism of Jesus: “And it came about that while the whole nation was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized, and while he was praying heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down upon him in bodily form like a dove, and there was voice from heaven that said, ‘You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:21-22).
The baptism of Jesus was the sign of the beginning of his Messianic ministry. This was his own act of self dedication and consecration to the ministry that he came to fulfill as the Son of God. It was a unique sign of the unique person who had come as the kingdom of God in person, the Messianic King.
First of all, Jesus’s baptism was unique among all the baptisms that took place before his. He submitted to baptism as the one who would be the one who would later baptize with the Holy Spirit. He went in obedience to the will of the Father, even though John the Baptist himself recognized who Jesus was and felt reluctant to baptize him in water (Matthew 3:13-14). Though the others before Jesus who had been baptized had done so as an act of repentance and confessed their sins as part of being baptized (Mark 1:5). But Jesus did not let any possible misunderstandings of his baptism, such as it being a possible denial of his own sinlessness by submitting to a baptism which for others was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, stop him from submitting to baptism. Rather, he went forward in obedience to the will of the Father, and then received the witness of the voice of the Father of his entire approval of his Son.
This shows us the proper approach to baptism, as an act of obedience, in submission and obedience to the word of God. For us as well as Jesus, it is an act of personal consecration. It is something for those who have put their faith in Christ as Lord and Savior to do despite what the traditions, opinions and possible misunderstandings of others. The New Testament, from the gospels to the book of Acts to the letters of Paul and Peter, consider baptism the normal outcome of genuine conversion. The normal mode would be by immersion, as shown by the descriptions of Jesus coming up out of the water (Matthew 3:15), and its treatment as an enactment of being buried and raised with Christ (Romans 6:1-13), as an identification with him in his death and resurrection. Certainly if there was anyone who could have been baptized as an infant by sprinkling, it would have been Jesus, but he was baptized as an adult, by immersion in water, with a full understanding of what he was doing.
Though there has been much written and said about baptism since 27 A.D., most of it needs to go to parts of the New Testament which do not explicitly speak about baptism. Even the book Catholicism by Richard McBrien, certified as being compatible with the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, acknowledges that the normal mode of baptism during apostolic times was the baptism of believers by immersion. What A. T. Pierson passed on about the scriptural study and conviction of George Mueller summarizes what may be found fairly from the study of the New Testament on baptism: “. . . he records the solemn conviction that of all revealed truths, no one is more clearly revealed in the scriptures – not even the doctrine of justification by faith – and that the subject has only been obscured by men not having been willing to take the Scriptures alone to decide the point.”
But the baptism of Jesus was marked not just by the act of him being baptized. His self consecration to his Messianic ministry was marked by the gift of the full Messianic anointing of the Holy Spirit. This was his empowerment for ministry as the Son of God in person and authority but as the Spirit filled Messianic King,
In the immediately preceding context of the prophecy of John the Baptist about the coming Messiah who would answer water baptism with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, there is Jesus who is baptized and who himself receives the Holy Spirit in all his fullness. He himself was baptized in water and in the Holy Spirit so that he could be the One who would minister in the power of the Holy Spirit and then give the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was already perfect and sinless in himself, so if there was anyone who did not need the power of the Holy Spirit for ministry, it was Jesus Christ. This was the fulfillment of prophecy of the Messiah being filled with the Spirit (Isaiah 11: 2) and this enduement gave him a power, guidance and wisdom beyond that of his unfallen human nature for ministry as the Messianic King. It is noteworthy also that Jesus was praying at the time of the Holy Spirit. From our being able to hear the words of his prayers such as in John 17:5, it’s hard to see him praying for the reception of the Messianic anointing of the Spirit and willingly receiving it in prayer, so that the power of the Spirit came to him with his full consent and willingness. And even more, that the Holy Spirit came up0n him in bodily form as a dove shows that the manifestation of tongues, such as on the day of Pentecost, was not to be in all ages and in all times the normative and definitive sign of the fullness of the Holy Spirit, but rather the ministry in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:1, 4:14, Acts 1:8).
Again, this shows the importance to the believer in Jesus Christ to have the possession of the gift of the Holy Spirit and then to have the fullness of the Spirit. Even more do we need the Holy Spirit to empower, guide and transform our personalities. If Jesus, sinless as he was, ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit, we must also have the same power of the Spirit in our lives. Even more do we need his Spirit in our lives, to live in his victory over sin, to become like him, and to minister as his representatives in the power of the Spirit. Certainly if anyone of us has put his or her faith in Jesus Christ for our eternal salvation, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit as the seal of our salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14). But even so, the apostle goes on to call us to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:21), and that is something that we cannot take for granted that we are being filled with the Spirit if we do not know that we are being filled with the Spirit.
That Jesus prayed as the Holy Spirit descended upon him was fully consistent with his own encouragement for his disciples to ask for the Holy Spirit from the goodness of God the Father (Luke 11:13). The apostles then put this into practice in the days up to and including Pentecost, when they prayed for the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church as the inception of the worldwide ministry of the church, and this was at the explicit command of Jesus himself (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8). Even after the day of Pentecost, they gathered together in prayer in response to the threats in Jerusalem and received renewed power for ministry (Acts 4:29-31). And this did not not end there; for instance, John and Charles Wesley told about a time when they were joined together in prayer, and the Holy Spirit came upon them with power for ministry. And the same testimony came from Charles Finney, as previously mentioned, and Dwight L. Moody, A. B. Simpson, and A. W. Tozer, and many others who have been used by God over the years. (For more, see James Lawson, Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians).
For myself, I count myself unbelievably blessed that I experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit at the time of my baptism. For me, it happened kind of like it happened with Jesus, with the filling of the Holy Spirit with power for ministry at the same time as I went to water baptism by immersion out of submission to the Word of God and obedience to the Lord. It would have taken place about 4 PM on January 23, 1976, at the Oxford Church of Christ, in Oxford, Ohio. I didn’t speak in tongues or show any similar manifestation, but I did experience a wonderful new consciousness in Christ. I was filled with a new joy and a new aliveness in prayer and love for other believers. My own experience is a pattern for no one else, but I do count myself blessed that it did happen in kind of the same way with me as it did with Jesus.
Therefore, the baptism of Jesus Christ and his enduement of power for ministry sets a strong, unanswerable precedent for the believer in Jesus Christ. The possibility and necessity of both baptism and the power of the Spirit for ministry for the believer are ultimately shown by Jesus Christ himself. It’s quite amazing how many may consider themselves believers in Jesus and seeking to do WWJD (What Did Jesus Do?) who may be seeking to glean moral guidance from the gospels but totally missing the significance for them of the baptism of Jesus and how Jesus began and fulfilled his ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. If you are looking to the WWJD ethic for guidance, have you been baptized? Or if you talk about WWJD, have you sought to be filled with the Holy Spirit?
But even more, the baptism of Jesus revealed the nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We call God in his revelation of himself as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit as triune, and his nature as the Trinity. There was this demonstration of himself as something of the reality and relation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as one God.
In this event of the baptism of Jesus, God disclosed himself as three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit appearing simultaneously. This then became as the ministry and teaching of Jesus progressed in his earthly life and through the ministry of the apostles, a continuing revelation, and it becomes natural throughout the New Testament to speak of God revealing himself as the Father, God revealing himself as God the Son, and God revealing himself as God the Holy Spirit. It becomes constant to mention together the three Persons of the Trinity. The Word of God itself is the basis for the belief in the triune nature of God, through this constant mentioning together of the three Persons of the Trinity and the ascription of divinity and the attributes of deity to all three Persons named as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Again, this was based first in the teaching of Jesus and continued through the teaching of the apostles in the New Testament.
But the teaching that God exists in three Persons does not detract from the belief that there is one God and not three Gods. The word Trinity came to summarize the belief, drawn from careful study of the scriptures and the careful words of Jesus and the apostles, that there is one God who expresses himself in three Persons. The New Testament came from the nation of the Jews, and assumes the constant teaching of the Old Testament, which is also affirmed in the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, that there is only one God. Certainly it is a matter beyond our understanding, but not beyond our faith and experience of God. A.W. Tozer called the doctrine of the Trinity, “truth for the heart.” John Wesley said, “Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God.”
This revelation of the Trinity throughout the New Testament, in the constant mention together of the three Persons, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the description of each as a fully divine Person, yet as one God, has remained for two thousand years the constant affirmation and conviction of the church of Jesus Christ. The denial of the Triune nature of God has always been ultimately considered a mark of false teaching and a mark of teaching untrue to the faith of the apostles and the teaching of Jesus. The two departures are either the denial of the deity of any of the Three Persons, the confusion of the persons into one, or the denial or the unity of only one God, and therefore teachings which go into those directions are not to be accepted as the truth of God or the teaching of the New Testament.
The truth of scripture sets forth this wonderful yet unimaginable truth of one God who exists in three Persons. Though this truth is beyond our understanding, yet it still calls for us to receive it reverently as what God has revealed himself to be.
The revelation of God as Trinity shows us that the God of the Bible is beyond our own thoughts. He is not a figment of the imaginations of human beings, but much more than the imaginations of mankind. He is always and will always be more than we may consider or think him to be. Though there is much that we can learn from what he has revealed about himself, yet there still remains much, much more beyond our comprehension. This calls for a holy and reverent humility even in our thoughts about God, as we come to understand how much we do not comprehend about him.
But this isn’t something just to be kept as something that we recite as part of a creed. Rather, the truth of God revealing himself as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is central to the reality of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, and the experience of the believer is that of God as Trinity. In prayer the believer bows before the God whom he calls Father in consciousness of his or her new identity as a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ. In witness the believer calls Jesus the Son of God in witness to his power and authority as Lord and Savior. In consciousness of that new power to overcome sin and witness to Christ the believer calls the Holy Spirit God in the experience of his or her newness of life.
And even more, this is a truth that has for centuries been carried through into and permeated the worship of believers in Christ, where all three Persons receive worship as God. So many hymns, doxologies and other worship songs rightly include and often center in the triune nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and glorify his salvation as it came from the will of the Father, was fulfilled in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of the Son, and applied through the conviction, regeneration and sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Maybe there are some big words that are used here, but whenever we try to dumb down what we call worship by soft pedaling or even leaving out entirely the way that God has revealed himself and brought salvation to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit we miss so much of the distinctive heart and passion of worship that reflects the New Testament revelation of God.
During the time that he was baptized and endued with the Holy Spirit, then, Jesus was marked out from the Jewish nation at large as the one John the Baptist pointed to as the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Since his death for our sins, resurrection to life and ascension to glory he is the one who gives salvation, namely, eternal life, to those who believe in him as Lord and Savior, who receive and live in his salvation.
The first concern of everyone to whom the Word of God comes is then to consider the matter of whether you have personally received salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. This isn’t something to be presumed simply because you may have attended a church or become a member of a church, or having gone through any rites or rituals, but whether you have made a personal and conscious decision to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through repentance and faith in him alone. Do you have the assurance of having received his salvation, and do you experience the changes that come through having him in your life as a living and conscious presence?
If so, have you followed the Lord in water baptism? Again, don’t presume anything on any kind of previous church association or anything else but what the Word of God says about baptism. Read over and consider what the Word of God has to say, and then follow him in water baptism, as identifying him in his death and resurrection as you go down in the water in death to your old life and rise up through the water as one risen with Christ to live in newness of life.
Have you received the gift and fullness of the Holy Spirit? Consider that the will of God through Jesus Christ is that you be filled with the third Person of the Trinity, whose presence means power and guidance, who is himself the present fullness of salvation and the manifestation of the life of Jesus Christ. In the same manner as Jesus did, come before God in prayer and consecration, and ask and receive his fullness, so that you might live fully for the glory of God in all that you do.