This article is about the baptism with the Spirit and whether this happens some time after conversion (second blessing). The author looks at Acts 2 and Ephesians 1:13-14 for answers. He also talks about the Holy Spirit as a deposit.

Source: Clarion, 2008. 3 pages.

Two Tier Christianity?

In our interaction with confessors of Christ from different church backgrounds, sooner or later we will come across something called “the baptism with the Holy Spirit.” Other terms used are “sealing with the Spirit” and “the second blessing.” This experience is seen as an event distinct from and subsequent to conversion. The initial evidence of this baptism with the Spirit is said to be speaking in tongues. 1 This suggests that there are actually two tiers of Christians, with some only being converted by the Spirit while others have a second experience of the Spirit.

As we are at that time of the year that we remember the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, it is a good time to give some thought to this. Talk of baptism with the Holy Spirit is always linked to Pentecost. This baptism with the Holy Spirit is an issue that has a habit of causing confusion both among old and young members alike, even undermining confidence in the Reformed understanding of the faith.

Scriptural Basis🔗

The primary scriptural basis given for the idea that every believer should expect a baptism with the Holy Spirit is found in the book of Acts. In chapter 1 we read about the way the Lord Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Spirit. In Acts 2 we read how when the Spirit came upon the disciples, in fulfilment of this promise, the disciples spoke in tongues.

Another key passage brought in to support the idea of being baptized by the Spirit after believing is Ephesians 1:13, 14. We read there,

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.

Emphasis is placed on the way Paul speaks of “having believed” and then speaking of being sealed with the Holy Spirit.

The scriptural basis provided for “baptism with the Holy Spirit,” however, is not as solid as it may appear at first glance. In fact, it soon breaks down when one considers the passages in some detail within their context.


With respect to the book of Acts, it is important to keep in mind that it is not a book that lays out a pattern of religious experience for individual believers. It is a book filled with narratives describing how our Lord Jesus continued his ministry from heaven through the apostles. The book is descriptive and not prescriptive. This does not mean that the Spirit has nothing to say to us in this book. He tells us very much but He does it in the same way as He does through the narratives in the books of Samuel or the gospels. This means it is too much to take our Lord’s promise to his disciples that they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” as a promise that is to be personally expected or sought after by each believer. That particular promise was fulfilled on Pentecost. We do not read of such an outpouring of the Spirit every time people believed. To be sure, we read it at transitional points such as when the gospel came to the Samaritans and to Cornelius. The point to highlight, however, is that they were transitional points as the gospel moved beyond the Jews.


With respect to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, a number of aspects need to be mentioned. First, there is a technical but important point. It is not easy to see this in our English translation but it can be figured out if one’s mind is not predisposed to the sealing of the Spirit being subsequent to believing. Paul’s choice of verb tenses does not point to a sequence. Rather, the words used speak of indefinite action. Human logic may wish to speak of faith before sealing, but God’s gifts ultimately are one.

Second, we should note that Paul is speaking collectively, not individually. In particular he seems to have the Gentile believers in mind. This is a major theme in his letter to the Ephesians. Especially in chapters 2 and 3 he speaks about the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ. When we keep these things in mind we will get away from thinking he is speaking of a sequence where sealing with the Holy Spirit is a separate event from becoming a Christian. Such thinking leads to a two tier church, consisting of the sealed and unsealed Christians. If you read through the whole letter you will quickly see that Paul is vigorously opposing a two tier church. The issue among the Ephesians, which was the main issue in the early church, was the status of the Gentiles as compared to the Jews. Already in his opening words he gave praise to God for having blessed the believers with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). Their equality is shown in that all who believe were marked with a seal, namely, the Holy Spirit.

Third, we should note how Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” He uses similar language in his second letter to the Corinthians. We read in 2 Corinthians 1:22,

He anointed us, set us seal of ownership on us and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come.

A little further, in chapter 5:5, we read, Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

The Spirit as Deposit🔗

The way the Spirit is described as a “deposit” requires careful attention. It is a commercial term that we still use in daily life. For example, when a person plans to buy a house or a car, he or she will need to put down a deposit. We also use the term “down payment.” Other synonyms that come to mind are “earnest” and “pledge.” In the case of someone buying a house, the deposit or down payment is both the first payment and the promise that the rest will be paid. With this everyday language Paul described the Spirit. That he is thinking of Pentecost comes out in the way he wrote of the “promised Holy Spirit” as the deposit. That is the language we find in Acts 1 in anticipation of the sending of the Spirit on Pentecost.

The term “deposit” reinforces the unique character of the baptism with the Spirit on Pentecost. After all, you give a deposit only once. This deposit was not given to the believers individually but to the church collectively. The gift of the Spirit on Pentecost was both God’s promise that He will give the inheritance secured by Christ and the first instalment of that inheritance. By that first instalment the church received a foretaste of what that inheritance will be like. If we think of how elsewhere Paul writes about the gifts of the Spirit, how He dwells in the church which is called the “temple of the Holy Spirit,” how the Spirit renews our lives, or how the Spirit emboldens the believers to speak about Christ, the deposit is not some bare minimum. The deposit is very rich already. The experience of that first instalment should stir up a deep longing to receive the whole inheritance, that is, life in the resurrection body in the new heaven and new earth where we will live in full fellowship with God and our neighbour.

The church, therefore, is not waiting for another baptism with the Spirit. It was baptized with the Spirit on Pentecost. That means that in the church there are not two tiers of Christians, those without and those with a Pentecost experience. The church has had its Pentecost experience and all who believe in Jesus Christ share in that experience, just as much as they share in his death and resurrection. Those in Christ have been blessed “with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). God’s gracious deposit of the Holy Spirit is a lasting gift, shared by all those who belong to his church, rich enough to tide us through to the end when we will receive the inheritance in full.


  1. ^ For example, the Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada states, “The baptism in the Holy Spirit is an experience in which the believer yields control of himself to the Holy Spirit. Through this he comes to know Christ in a more intimate way and receives power to witness and grow spiritually. Believers should earnestly seek the baptism in the Holy Spirit according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. The initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance. This experience is distinct from and subsequent to the experience of the new birth.” Among the key Bible passages used to support this are Acts 1:4, 8.

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