Angles matter. The angle at which you look at something can influence what you see. Changing angles, then, changes what you see. In the case of the Doctrine of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, we have said that the viewed from different perspectives the doctrine has different emphases. A Triperspectival approach to the doctrine allows us to see three core emphases related to the Baptism of the Spirit: (1) Eschatological, (2) Empowerment, and (3) Initiation. Our focus in this post will be on the second emphasis. The Existential Perspective emphasizes empowerment for ministry as the result of Baptism of the Spirit.
The Existential perspective refers to our experience of God, related to His presence with us. God has a long history of relating to His people through the presence of His Spirit. We see this in the Old Testament as His Spirit dwells with Israel in cloud, fire, and eventually in the Tabernacle and Temple. We see too that on special occasions God imparts His Spirit for a season to an individual to accomplish a specific task. In the New Testament, however, this changes dramatically. God imparts His Spirit uniquely and permanently with all those who are His children. We will talk more about this dynamic when we discuss the final perspective. Yet, even within the New Testament there is a recognition that the children of God are empowered at times differently by this same Spirit. The New Testament can speak of faithful believers being regularly “filled with the Holy Spirit.” This is something distinct, then, from their being indwelt by the Holy Spirit at conversion. So, Paul can write the Ephesians saying that they should not get drunk but be continually “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). On another occasion Peter, who has been a faithful witness for the Lord, is “filled with the Holy Spirit” as he stands before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8). The implication is that though a believer, Peter needed a fresh empowerment from the Spirit to speak boldly before these religious leaders. A little later when Peter returns to the community of believers to relate what happened they whole group prayed and was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:31). There is, then, an experience of the Holy Spirit post-conversion for empowerment to minister, that may rightly be called a “second” experience – and a third, fourth, fifth, etc. experience. We need to regularly be filled afresh with the Spirit of God in order that we may serve Him and His church faithfully.
This idea seems to characterize well what is taking place at Pentecost. The second series of verses that address the “baptism of the Spirit” refer directly to Pentecost. So, Acts 1:5, and 11:16 use this phrase to refer to those events specifically. Whatever may be said, then, about this doctrine it clearly took place at Pentecost. So, what, then, was happening at this event? It was not the conversion of the disciples. They were already believers before the events of Pentecost took place (John 20:22). The language of Pentecost even reveals that this outpouring of the Spirit was not about conversion, but about empowerment. So Jesus tells the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they have received the Spirit which will empower them to be His witnesses. So, we read:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8)
Earlier, in verse 5, He calls this being “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Luke has in mind, then, an idea of empowerment post-conversion.
We may say the same thing with regard to the Samaritans in Acts 8. In verse 12 we read that the Samaritans had “believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” But, then we read that they had not received the Holy Spirit (v. 15-16). How are we to understand this text if Baptism of the Holy Spirit only refers to initiation into the body of Christ? They had believed the gospel message, which means they were saved. Their experience of the Spirit referenced here was not about conversion-initiation, but about empowerment. A perspectival approach to this doctrine allows us to make room for Luke’s own unique usage of the concept of “baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
It is true that no one who does not have the Spirit of God is saved (Rom. 8:9). Believers, all believers, are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, without exception. Yet, the New Testament recognizes a continual expanding experience of being “filled with the Spirit,” an experience open to all Christians – not just some “second-tier”believers. This idea is sometimes communicated through the phrase “Baptism of the Spirit.” Reading the Scriptures perspectivally allows us to see how both ideas can coexist in the same Canon. The existential perspective allows us to see that sometimes Baptism of the Spirit is about empowerment for ministry. It is one of three unique ways to look at this doctrine, all of which are complimentary. All believers should regularly experience the outpouring of the Spirit afresh, post-conversion, in order that we might be empowered to serve Him more faithfully, boldly, and dramatically. We need this aspect of this doctrine.