Baptism With Fire and the Holy Spirit

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Written by Jerry Porter – General Superintendent, Church of the Nazarene, Lenexa, Kansas, USA

Text: Matthew 3:17

Let’s travel to the Jordan River to investigate the curious prophet John the Baptist. He wears rustic clothes and eats a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet. Let’s find a comfortable place on the banks of the Jordan to listen to this dynamic 30-year-old messenger for God:

In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’” John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire. I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?” But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him. After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on Him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy” (Matthew 3:1-17, NLT).

What is water baptism? It’s a sacrament, a means of grace, and a public testimony. Grace is imparted to our lives as we bear witness to our faith in Jesus Christ. Water baptism should not take place in some hidden corner with only a handful of saints watching. Baptism should be done in public places where everybody can see who is being baptized—maybe by scrolling the list of the newly baptized on the evening news!

A young woman came to Christ in Arizona. She was a barmaid, and she told her Nazarene pastor that she must now find new employment. The pastor responded by telling her not to resign for two weeks.

At a local print shop elegant invitations to her Christian baptism were printed, and she passed out hundreds of them to family, friends, and customers. More than a hundred people came to witness her step of obedience. In front of those gathered she shared a beautiful testimony of God’s grace at work in her life, and the pastor preached a simple gospel message. The altar was lined with people who embraced faith in Jesus! Baptism is a means-of-grace sacrament that allows a new believer to give public testimony to his or her new life in Christ.

In Matthew 3 John the Baptist gives three conditions for water baptism: repentance (v. 2), confession of sins (v. 6), and producing fruit in keeping with repentance (v. 8).

John cried out, “Repent…for the kingdom of heaven is near” (v. 2, NLT). The simplest definition of repentance is to make an about-face. Before repentance we walked in sin and darkness away from the Lord. By God’s prevenient grace we saw the light and turned around to follow Christ.

One man testified, “When I became a Christian, I made a 360-degree turn.” Well, that’s a bit too enthusiastic! That would mean that he was walking in darkness and then made a 360-degree turn and kept right on going in the same, original direction! His heart was right, but his math was wrong. What he meant to say was, “When I came to Jesus, I made a 180-degree turn.” We realize that we’re going in the wrong direction, becoming the person we never intended to be. To repent is to make an about-face away from a life of sin!

The people came to the Jordan confessing their sins, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). The key is to confess our sins. There’s no grace for us if we confess what’s wrong with someone else. Minimal skill is required in determining what’s wrong with those around us. On the other hand, it takes a humble and courageous heart not to defend, justify, or cover up our own sin. God’s saving grace flows into our humbled, contrite hearts when we repent and take full responsibility for our sin. Under John the Baptist’s ministry, people from all walks of life repented, confessed their sins, and were baptized.

John also desired that these disciples bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The Jews were shocked when this upstart prophet baptized sons and daughters of Abraham. Water baptism was part of the ritual used to receive Gentiles into the faith of the Jews as God-fearers.  John, however, was baptizing Jews as if they were Gentiles.

As the touted their Jewish lineage and complained about this scandalous insult to their race and nationality, John informed them that God could raise up children of Abraham from the nearby boulders! “I’m not impressed with the fact that your grandfather was a great Holiness preacher. I just want to know if you have repented and confessed your sins! Have you taken personal responsibility for your sinfulness, and are you living a life worthy of repentance? He wanted more than lip service to the kingdom of God. He wanted heart and life transformation to be the real testimony and evidence of new life.  Ministers around the world today still use these same conditions for water baptism: repentance, confession of sin, and a life worthy of the repentance we profess.

John prophesied about the ministry of his cousin, Jesus: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11).

You know about John the Baptist. Did you know about Jesus the Baptist? John baptized in water unto repentance. Jesus wants to baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John said that he was so small compared with the other Baptizer that he didn’t measure up to the privilege of even loosening His sandals. In a Jewish home the servant with the least seniority had this humbling assignment. When company came, the servant dropped whatever he was doing, rushed to the door, loosened the sandals, and washed the person’s feet. If the family was too poor to have a servant, then the youngest child who was physically capable scurried to the door to wash feet. Is this why Jewish families were so large? The youngest child may have prayed for Mama to have another baby so someone else could enjoy this assignment.

John the Baptist preached that the other Baptizer comes with a winnowing fork in His hand. The winnowing fork was the instrument used for threshing. When we lived in Guatemala as missionaries, on the side of the road we would see huge piles of harvested wheat. As we drove by, we watched the farmers threshing—breaking  open the wheat kernel.  One step is harvesting, but the subsequent process is threshing.

Harvesting could well be each-one-win-one personal evangelism as people embrace saving faith in Christ. We celebrate the wonderful news of multitudes that are born into the Kingdom. We celebrate the wonderful harvest!  But now Jesus comes with a winnowing fork to separate the chaff from the grain. It was fascinating to watch the Guatemalan farmers toss the broken wheat into the air for the wind to blow away the chaff so that the precious grain could be gathered. John said that the chaff is thrown into the fire—an unquenchable fire.

What does it mean that Jesus will baptize us in fire? This is the fire of God’s blessed Holy Spirit purifying our hearts by faith. The fire of God cleanses us from every anti-Christ attitude and spirit in our lives, every aspect of rebellion against God, every sin that stands in opposition to God. The chaff in our lives is cleansed with the baptism of fire. Paul writes, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition dissensions.  Factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like” (Galatians 5:19-21).

John the Baptist prophesied that Jesus would baptize us in fire. This was fulfilled at Pentecost with the tongues of fire over each believer. Visible fire was never again seen in Scripture associated with believers being filled with the Holy Spirit. Today, of course, we don’t pray with a seeker until we see fire on his or her forehead as evidence that the person has been filled with the Spirit. We will, however, pray with the seeker until he or she has the witness of the Spirit that his or her heart has been purified by faith.

Jesus gave His life on the Cross to set us free from the power of sin. We’re not slaves to the sin nature, but by the grace of God we can have victory in Jesus!

This cleansing fire is unquenchable. It keeps on burning. When Jesus baptizes us with fire, our hearts are filled with God’s perfect love. The enemy of our souls, however, will tempt us to allow a root of bitterness, self-will, envy, or jealousy to spring up in our sanctified hearts. When we discover anything that’s not pleasing to God in our lives, we humbly ask for fresh fire to cleanse and continue to cleanse us. When we’re sanctified, our heart is cleansed from pride. But the very pride we kick out the front door comes back in the side window as we begin to see ourselves as superior to others because we pray more, give more, or worship better!

One hundred twenty believers were filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. A few days later they were all filled with the Spirit again. “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). We need fresh, unquenchable fire that continues to cleanse and transform us evermore into the likeness of Jesus.

Some people talk about holiness as the destination. Have we arrived at the ultimate goal when we’re sanctified? Entire sanctification is more like an access ramp that thrusts us onto the highway of holiness. No one denies that the access ramp is a crisis experience, as we speed up, look over our shoulder, and lunge onto the freeway. We don’t live our lives, however, hoping someday to get on the access ramp. We want to get on the highway of holiness and chase after our God’s heart forever. By the grace of God there’s a moment when we surrender and we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Our cleansed, sanctified heart now lives in continuous surrender as we’re sanctified and are being sanctified.

Is sanctification instantaneous, or is it a lifelong process of growth and maturation? The answer is yes. As you study theology, you’ll discover that many great theological doctrines are two truths in constant tension. Is God sovereign, or is humanity responsible and free? The proper theological response is yes. Is God three, or is God one? Yes. Is Jesus Christ fully God or fully man? Yes. That’s good theology. Is entire sanctification a God-moment of divine cleansing and empowering grace, or is it a lifetime of continuous surrender, cleansing, and growth in grace? Yes. We experience the sanctifying holy fire of God, and at the same time we live every day in continual hot pursuit of God and holiness. Thus, I’m sanctified and being sanctified! I have a lot of maturing to do to become ever more like Christ.

John the Baptist taught that Jesus would baptize us with fire and the Holy Spirit. This baptism is more than cleansing. We’re filled with the very Spirit of Jesus. What is the Holy Spirit like? Look into the face Jesus, and you’ll know characteristics of the Holy Spirit. What is God the Father like? Look into the face of Jesus, and you’ll know the Father’s character. In Jesus we have the full and complete revelation of the Godhead. When I’m baptized with the Holy Spirit, my life is transformed to reflect the character of Jesus.

What is the manifestation that we’re Spirit-filled? The Spirit is evidenced in us when our hearts are filled with perfect love. To be filled with the Spirit is to manifest the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Jesus baptizes us with fire and the Holy Spirit. The holy fire cleanses our hearts from all sin, and the Holy Spirit takes full possession of our lives. Jesus told His disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17, emphasis added). This becomes our prayer: Lord, I yearn for you to be in me. I want to become the tabernacle of Jesus. I desire to become the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Little Johnny was always misbehaving, pulling pigtails and getting into trouble.  Because of his conduct he often lost his recess privileges.  Many a day his classmates would run out to the playground while Johnny was condemned to remain in the classroom.  On one such day he was forlorn and sad as he watched his friends playing outside.  He walked over to his teacher and said, “Miss Jones, you’re so nice and kind and patient.  Would you do me a favor, please?”

“Well Johnny, I’ll try.”

“Would you get itsy-bitsy little and get inside of me – so I can be nice like you?”

That’s similar to the prayer of every genuine Christian.  Every believer looks into the face of Almighty God and says in effect, Loving Father, would you become itsy-bitsy little? Would you become so small that you would tabernacle in my life? Would you literally fill me with yourself so that I might become the temple of the Holy Spirit? Jesus, please fill me with you so I can become like you.

Jesus wants to baptize each of us with holy, cleansing fire.  Jesus also desires to baptize and fill our hearts and lives with His Holy Spirit.

One day Jesus came to the Jordan and got in line with the sinners.  One by one they were baptized.  Suddenly John looked up and saw Jesus, the Lamb of God, humbly waiting to be baptized.  John said, “No! I can’t baptize You!” John got in line with us, the sinners, and gently pushed Jesus forward and said, “You must baptize me.”

Jesus quietly got back in our line and insisted, “John, it’s correct and proper for you to baptize me.” I don’t think John was by nature compliant or docile. I envision a little merry-go-round between the cousins.  John wanted Jesus’ baptism, and Jesus wanted John’s.

So which baptism do we need in the Church today? Which baptism is more important – water baptism or fire baptism? Yes!

We need water baptism.  Jesus commanded, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, emphasis added). Water baptism is a sacrament, a means of grace, and a public testimony of new life in Christ.

But if water baptism is important, would the Lord’s baptism be less important? Some denominations emphasize water baptism but seldom teach fire baptism, while others minimize water baptism and focus on Holy Spirit fire baptism.  The Church needs both.

If you’re a believer and have not yet been baptized in water, please talk to a minister and ask for the blessed privilege of participating in this sacrament.

For those of us who have been baptized as adults, what are our memories?  Do we remember the minister, the temperature of the water? From our experience as missionaries, we have some humorous baptismal memories. We recall a sweet lady who was being baptized where the river current was so strong that she slipped out of the pastor’s hands and was carried downstream. She swam back to finish the baptism.

Another time a pastor asked if I would use our pickup truck to transport his people to the river. In our ministry practice class I had taught him how to baptize, but I had no idea how he would do so in the deep river were (“where”) it was planned.  It was no problem for him.  He held on to a branch that extended out over the water and slipped into the river, digging his toes into the mud bank under the water.  Then with his free hand he called for the first candidate.  A brave soul came forward.  While the candidate was on the bank, the pastor said, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…” and with a quick reach the pastor pulled the candidate in, who then disappeared under the water.  We quickly rescued the perishing, and then he called for the next candidate.

What are your memories of this sacrament? Do you have special gratitude in our (your) heart for the one who baptized you?  Don’t you thank God for the memory of that minister?

Jesus has come, and He is far greater than the one who baptized us.  He has a winnowing fork in His hand, and He wants to sanctify the Church.  Jesus has come to thresh the wheat and sanctify our lives and the Church.  He’s weary of Christians whose hearts are filled with jealousy, pride, envy, divisiveness, and bitterness.  He wants to sanctify His Church, and He has every right to do it – He bought the Church with His own blood!

Jesus yearns to fulfill the prophesy of John the Baptist in our lives today, baptizing us with fire to cleanse every anti-Christ spirit and attitude, and baptizing us with the Holy Spirit – filling our hearts with perfect love and granting us the very character of Jesus.  So what should we do? It’s obvious.

It’s time for us to simply say, “Lord, while you’re baptizing others, baptize me too! I’m getting in line with believers throughout the ages and around the world.  I’m one more believer asking you, Lord, to baptize me with your fire and with your Holy Spirit!”

You may be reading this message and can bear witness to a glorious time and place when Jesus baptized you. Today you might want to get in line again. You may need a fresh wind and fresh fire in your life every day.

To all believers, hurry to Jesus and pray, Lord, give me a fresh dose of your holy fire to burn up any chaff in my life.  Fill my heart and life anew with the blessed fullness of your spirit to make me like you.  In Jesus’ precious name I pray.  Amen!


Reprinted with permission from Nazarene Publishing House from “BLAMELESS AT HIS COMING AND OTHER SERMONS, By the Board of General Superintendents, Church of the Nazarene (2005-2009), 2009.

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