In Psalm 51, David is in spiritual anguish. He is buckling under the weight of his sin, both the guilt of it and the stain of it. And he says something incredibly insightful, something that cuts to the heart. The worst thing David can think of happening to him is not "getting caught." It’s not having his reputation ruined. It’s not even feeling guilty or being punished. The worst thing David can conceive of happening to him is that he would not have the Holy Spirit.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
We may suppose that, theologically speaking, David knew this was not a possibility. In fact, we know from another of David’s ditties (Psalm 139), that he is a firm believer in both the omnipresence of God’s Spirit and the immanence of God’s Spirit. But in his anguished state, desperate for grace and restoration, he is stripped down to the most fundamental human desire: to know and be known by God intimately, personally. We long for God to come near and fellowship with us. We all want, deep down, to be friends with God. And David’s worst nightmare is to live one second apart from the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit.
It ought to be ours as well.
But if you are a Christian—if you’ve repented of your sin and placed your faith in Jesus Christ to receive his sinless life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection for your own—you are forgiven and free and fellowshipping with God. Like, right now. Right this very second, you are enjoying the presence of God, closer than the hair on your head and the skin on your bones.
And this is what the Holy Spirit is committed to doing in your life: making you more and more aware of your closeness with God through union with Christ and making you more and more holy as the outworking of that union. In his Dynamics of Spiritual Life, Richard Lovelace writes, “The apprehension of God’s presence is the ultimate core of genuine Christian experience."
So: do you apprehend his presence?
The promise of his presence has been sounded loud and clear. Jesus said he would send you his Spirit. And to anyone who believes in him, he has granted this promise.
He has even promised that we would be baptized by the Holy Spirit. What on earth can that mean?
Well, it’s not really something on earth, but rather something in heaven. I believe the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the believer’s immersion into the life of the Spirit. It is a subsuming of our spirit by the Spirit of heaven, making us in fact citizens of heaven as we live and breathe today! It is because of the baptism of the Holy Spirit that you are not just sitting in that chair right now reading this blog post, but also “seated with him in the heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6). It is because of the baptism of the Holy Spirit that you are not just tucked into your bed right now reading this blog post, but also “tucked into” God with his Son Christ Jesus (Col. 3:3).
Does the baptism of the Holy Spirit happen at conversion or is it something secondary? Yes.
You don’t have to speak in tongues to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, and you don’t have to have some religious spokesperson lay his hands on you to get it, and you don’t have to go into a trance or pray yourself into convulsions or “let go and let God” or any other of that kind of weirdness. You simply have to surrender your will to God’s. You fire the board members at that conference table in your soul, knock down all the cubicle walls, and open yourself up to the fullness of Christ’s love for every square inch of your life.
You take up your cross and follow Jesus.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the indwelling, outworking, all-impacting presence of God’s Spirit in your life. Craig Keener writes:
"Aside from debates about how much of God’s empowerment occurs at what point in a believer’s life, the baptism in the Holy Spirit includes God’s empowerment for the mission he has given us, his church . . . God has made us new by his Spirit and now enables us to live holy lives and build up our fellow believers by the Spirit’s fruit and gifts (Paul). God has washed us, causing us to be born from him with a new character (John). Through the empowerment of God’s Spirit, we are called to take Jesus’ message both to those around us and to the ends of the earth (Acts). Through the empowerment of God’s Spirit, Jesus prepares us to face the conflicts involved in our mission, confronting and defeating the devil at the point of human need (Mark). The Spirit transforms us when we come to Christ; from that point forward we must continue to depend on his power to carry out the mission Jesus gave us."
Keener is making the case that, given the all the ways the baptism of the Holy Spirit is described in the New Testament, it is shortsighted to relegate the experience to one particular instance. More likely, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is given to the believer at the new birth, where the Spirit remakes our heart, one that desires and trusts in Jesus. But we know that the Spirit does not stop his ministry to us there. He continues to convict us, counsel us, comfort us, and consecrate us, that we might become more and more surrendered to his leading and more and more reflective of our Savior. This process can be seen as a deeper and deeper immersion in the depths of grace.
We don’t get any more “saved”—at least, not in the sense that when we are first converted our salvation is in some kind of jeopardy of not “sticking.” There is no justification 2.0. But those whom the Lord justifies he sanctifies and will glorify. So you are every day as a believer experiencing more of the Spirit’s baptizing. In fact, every day you get out of bed and yawn, you’re receiving those gifts from the Spirit (Job 33:4).
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)
(This post is adapted from my book Supernatural Power for Everday People: Experiencing God's Extraordinary Spirit in Your Ordinary Life)