What is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (vs. Water Baptism)?

Paul makes a major separation between the baptism of water and that of the Holy Spirit. I would cite 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 as a proof text:

12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

In my view, Paul is clearly speaking of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as the all-important means of being placed into the body of Christ. When we are baptized (identified) by the Holy Spirit, we are placed "in Christ" (identified with Him). Romans 6:3 says, "Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" This was clearly prophesied by John the Baptist in Luke 3:16: John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." This indicated that something greater than water baptism would come--the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:16, Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit, "16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever."

By contrast, water baptism is a beautiful symbol of the baptism of the Holy Spirit which occurred previously when the sinner believed the gospel. Acts 16:30-31 says, "30 He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 They replied, "believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household." John 3:16 says, "16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:36 says, "36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." The water symbolizes Jesus, with whom we are identified when we believe the gospel message.

As a proof text here, I would offer Acts 10:47-48:

"47 'Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.' 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days."

Obviously, these people had previously been baptized with the Holy Spirit and entered the body of Christ when they had believed, and now it was legitimate for them to offer a public symbol of what had happened to them through water baptism. It is through believing (repenting, or changing one's mind) through faith (and the associated baptism of the Holy Spirit) that places us into the body of Christ, not through water baptism or any other physical (work) ritual.

Some would ask then why does Paul use the allegory of washing in 1 Corinthians 6:11, "11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." He probably does so in order to stay consistent with all the other allegories in the Scriptures, such as physical circumcision being a symbol of the removal of the flesh from the heart. Romans 2:28-29 says, "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a
man's praise is not from men, but from God." Just as the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the real baptism, and water baptism is a symbol of it, so is physical circumcision a symbol of circumcision "by the Spirit."

In Galatians 6:15, Paul says, "15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation." He also said, in Philippians 3:3, that we shouldn't put confidence in these fleshly rituals: "For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh." In John 6:63, Jesus said, "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life."

In fact, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 in itself contains an allegory: "... we were all given the one Spirit to drink." Why does Paul use an allegory? To help us understand something we can't see physically by comparing it with something that we can--a normal use of allegories.

Furthermore, 1 Peter 3:21: "and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ..." What is the water? Peter plainly says it's a symbol of something that actually has saving power. What is it a symbol of? The baptism that has already occurred: the baptism of the Holy Spirit, when the sinner believed the gospel. In fact, he's emphatic to state that he's not talking about the baptism of the body into water: "not the removal of dirt from the body." This baptism (of the Holy Spirit) saves one through faith, through the power of the resurrection of Christ. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast." Galatians 2:16 says, "know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified."

Owen Weber 2009