By: Father Boby John, C.S.C. on May 22nd, 2023
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You might be puzzled by this phrase, and I almost hear you thinking, "What on earth is 'Baptism in the Holy Spirit?'" We all understand baptism with water – we've seen it many times. Sometimes it happens when adults come to faith in Jesus and step forward to be baptized to seal their commitment to Christ. But most often, it happens to babies when parents present them to be baptized, or 'christened' as it's still often called. But what is 'Baptism in the Holy Spirit?' If you feel confused about this, you're in good company!
Apostle Paul embarked on his third missionary journey through what is present-day Turkey. He arrived in the port town of Ephesus, a bustling city in Asia Minor known for its vibrant culture and devotion to Artemis, the Greek goddess of fertility and childbirth. Ephesus was a city steeped in idolatry, where paganism and superstition held sway over the hearts and minds of the people. Paul arrives there, where he will remain for almost three years – the longest he has stayed anywhere.
He found some people there who claimed to be Christian disciples. But when he asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?" they replied, "No, forget the baptism; we have not even heard that there is such a thing called Holy Spirit" (Acts 19:2).
This reply has always struck me. With remarkable honesty, they said, "We were never informed about the existence of the Holy Spirit." Those disciples in Ephesus needed instruction in the faith on this fundamental matter of the Holy Spirit and clarification regarding the baptism of John and Christian Baptism. We all need education in the faith.
Organ transplant involves mainly two steps: removing the old organ and reception of the new one. These two steps help us understand better the difference between John's baptism and Christian baptism. John's baptism was merely the preparation for Christian baptism. It was a baptism of repentance, a rejection or removal of one's old life. On the other hand, Christian baptism is a baptism of rebirth, a reception of a new life. Just as a person receiving an organ transplant must take care of the new organ, which sometimes involves taking pills for the rest of their life, a new Christian must take care of the new life received in Christian baptism.
Imagine a person who is successful by society's standards but, deep down, feels a sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction. They have achieved their goals but need more true fulfilment.
Consider a person who attends religious services faithfully, participates in rituals, and performs acts of charity but lacks a genuine connection with God. Even if they are doing everything right externally, if their heart remains untouched by the Holy Spirit, their faith becomes a mere façade.
The Holy Spirit breathes life into our accomplishments and all that we do, infusing them with purpose and joy.
We must also ask ourselves the same question as Paul asked the disciples in Ephesus if they had received the Holy Spirit. Have we indeed received the Holy Spirit? The answer is Yes. But have we allowed the Spirit to guide our thoughts, actions, and decisions?
Let us not be content with a superficial relationship with God; instead, let us invite the Holy Spirit to penetrate the depths of our souls, transforming us from within and igniting a burning passion for God's work.
Father Boby John, C.S.C., ordained a priest in the Congregation of Holy Cross in 2008, worked as a pastor and as an educator with tribal populations in Northeast India for thirteen years. Originally from Kerala, India, Father Boby grew up with three siblings. He is a dedicated and detailed educationist with experience in educational leadership. He is currently working as an executive assistant at the world headquarters of Holy Cross Family Ministries, North Easton, Massachusetts.