Sometimes the way we tend to talk about things as Pentecostals isn't all that pastorally helpful. Sometimes the way we often talk ends up heaping extra burdens on people's shoulders, rather than pointing people to the One whose 'yoke is easy' and whose 'burden is light'. And one area where this problem comes up again and again is when we talk about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and serving God. You see, so often we want to emphasise the importance of the baptism and the difference it can make to our service that we end up either making others feel reluctant to serve, or else feel guilty about serving. We love to quote verses like Luke 24:49 ('tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high') as a carrot, without realising how easily it turns into a very big stick.
Anyway, this has been on my mind a bit for a few reasons. One was a pastoral conversation over coffee in a church plant on the continent. One was a prophecy in a big city church in a European capital the other Sunday. Another was an old Welsh hymn by D.P. Williams. Yet these different thoughts from different contexts, languages, cultures and even times in history have been colliding in my mind and, I suppose, crystallizing as this blog post.
I'm not sure where's best to begin, so I suppose the furthest back in history is a good starting point. So that takes me to D.P. Williams. In the last verse of one of his Welsh hymns, Pastor Dan draws together the Cross, justification/imputation, service, and the baptism in the Holy Spirit. But his hymn doesn't tell us not to serve until we've been baptised in the Spirit. Instead he points us to the true assurance we need for Christian service. D.P. Williams makes clear that it is the blood of Jesus which clears and purifies our conscience, and it is also the blood that procures for us the baptism of the Spirit, through which we enjoy an experience of the peace we have through Christ's blood. This baptism of peace is poured out on us by the pure hands and feet which were pierced for us at Calvary.
Pastor Dan's hymn then goes on from this cleansing and peace to speak of our service for Christ. But note that: the blood comes first. We don't climb up to Jesus through our service for Him. No! First He comes down for us, down to the very depths as He pours out His blood and is buried in the Tomb for us. The dying Lord cleanses and purifies our conscience. The living Lord pours out His peace upon us. And now, because we have been cleansed by His blood and granted His peace, we serve Him as priests who stand before Him in the purity of His presence. First comes the blood, then comes our service. And we serve, not to gain access, but because we are already welcomed into His presence.
But, in case that isn't clear enough, and in case we've been confused about the role of the baptism in the Spirit for this service, Williams then closes the hymn by declaring again what it is that qualifies us for this priestly service: it's that we've been clothed with Christ's righteousness and adorned with the Truth. So our service rests, not on our experience of Spirit baptism, but on our union with Christ - because we are clothed with Christ the Truth, because He is our righteousness.
So how does the baptism in the Spirit fit in here? Well, this baptism brings us an experience of the peace that is ours in Jesus. And this baptism of peace flows from the Cross. So, in other words, the baptism of the Spirit gives us an experiential assurance that we are indeed clothed with Christ's righteousness and adorned with the Truth. It assures us that we are indeed qualified to serve our Saviour.
Now, that brings me back to the recent events that got me thinking about all this. The prophecy I mentioned spoke of the connection in Scripture between the baptism in the Spirit and the word assurance, and the point it made was that, we don't have to work up enough assurance to receive the fullness of the Spirit, but rather it's the other way round. We come to Jesus to be filled, and through that filling He gives us assurance. We already have all the assurance we need to come to Him in the gospel. As we look to the Cross we know that He is for us and so we can come before Him with confidence as we ask Him to fill us with His Spirit.
And that means that being baptised in the Spirit isn't something to be stressed and pressured about. It's not a particular level of Christian maturity we have to reach before we can serve the Lord. Rather it's an experience that assures us of what is already ours in Jesus. The Spirit's role is to glorify Jesus and so as we're filled with the Spirit He will always point us back to Jesus and what we have in Him. After all, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3).
So, don't be stressed out about being filled with the Spirit. Instead look to Jesus. Look to His Cross and see what He has done for you. Know that the Spirit flows to us from the pure hands and feet of the Crucified, and He'll always point us back in love to the Crucified.