The question this article focusses on is: Is baptism with the Holy Spirit accompanied by speaking in tongues?  A second question that necessarily accompanies the previous one is: what is the sense of speaking in tongues?  The answer to these two questions may highlight the wonder and power of baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The question is not about: does the believer, who does not have the experience of speaking in tongues, have the Holy Spirit? By the very nature of what a believer is, all believers (they have accepted Jesus after all) have the Holy Spirit in their lives. From biblical perspective, there cannot be a person who has accepted Jesus as his personal Saviour without the working of the Holy Spirit in his life. How else would Jesus be present and active in his life? If a believer could be without the Holy Spirit, then it could also be asked whether a born-again person is without the first person in the Trinity, the Father? Indeed, it concerns the question of the triune God’s presence in a believer’s life. After all, we read: “… for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). The assumption is that in everything it is God who works through his Spirit in a born-again person.

This essay is included in the Holy Spirit study course and can be downloaded as a print-friendly PDF to be used by small groups.

Hierdie artikel is ook in Afrikaans beskikbaar: Die vervulling met die Heilige Gees en spreek in tale.

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Being baptised with the Holy Spirit is a gracious gift (charisma) that a born-again Christian receives through faith. Whether or not he submits himself to the transforming work of the gracious “gift”, the Holy Spirit, is a different question. Therefore, there may be believers who cannot testify to the baptism with the Holy Spirit and the accompanying speaking in tongues, yet who often live a more dedicated life. These are devoted people who are led and formed by the Holy Spirit. It is not a correct question to ask whether the Holy Spirit is only at work in the life of a believer who speaks in tongues. Such a question may create the perception that it is only the so-called “good Christians” who have received the baptism with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues, and that such people are “super” Christians. The questions give the further impression that people who are not baptised with the Holy Spirit, as per Acts 2, are kind of second-rate Christians. This is by no means true.

1. A few magnificent promises Jesus made about baptism with, or being filled with, the Holy Spirit:

John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11, Luke 3:17). In Mark it is slightly shorter: “… but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8). John wrote that the One who sent him told him: “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33). It is important to note that Jesus was firstly announced as “the one who baptize with the Holy Spirit”, this was a primary task in His coming to the world. Of course, salvation must take place before a person can be baptised with the Holy Spirit, but a believer’s experience with Jesus does not stop after being born again. Rather, it is followed by being filled with the Holy Spirit. This “filled” we may think of in terms of to surrender or to place ourselves in the hands of God, as will become clear later.

He told His disciples that He would not leave them as orphans and that it would be to their advantage if He went away, because they would then be filled with the Holy Spirit. The question is: Do we really know the benefit of what Jesus was talking about when He told them, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you … My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:20, 23). To understand and experience the “benefit” that Jesus referred to, namely the fullness of God in us, will require an infinite journey with the Holy Spirit and then Paul writes we will still not understand everything (see his two prayers Eph.1 and 3).

Our problem may be that we underestimate the “totally new” Jesus spoke of; the greatness and closeness of the coming of the creator Spirit who brings God’s glory through the risen Christ. Understandably, this can happen easily, but we should not allow for this to happen. At the same time, we would not be able to overestimate this miracle.

In the context of the promise of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said: “He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you” (John 16:14,15). Peter linked the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Acts 2 events, to the prophecy of Joel 2 in which God promises to bring his Spirit very tangible on all people in the last days.

2. Three comments from the conversations between Jesus and his disciples – already believers – regarding the promise of being filled with the Holy Spirit

2.1 The promise of God regarding the Holy Spirit entails more for believers

If we were to ask the question: is the born-again person not at the same time also baptised with the Holy Spirit? Then we may also ask the question: what was the experience of the believer in the Old Testament with regards to the Holy Spirit? Especially when we consider the pronounced effect of the Holy Spirit upon judges, kings, and prophets. In Luke 2, we find a beautiful example of the Holy Spirit in the life of an ordinary believer, Simeon.

According to the Gospels, Jesus had spoken extensively to his disciples about his Father’s truth and about the meaning of his coming to the world. They believed it, but very likely did not understand the full extent of it. Jesus had, among other things, told them: “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. … I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:3 &15). Still, they had to wait for the fulfilment of the Holy Spirit for an even further revelation and experience of God’s truth and the coming of Jesus, namely: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come(John 16:13). The promised coming of the Holy Spirit, the baptism with the Holy Spirit as per Acts 2, would entail more for the disciples (who were already believers), more than what they had experienced up until then. The four aspects, namely, the baptism with the Holy Spirit; the “more” for the disciples; the victory through Jesus’ resurrection; and taking of his position of power at God the Father’s right hand, are all directly related.

In John 7, we read that Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them”. The verbs used in this metaphor have a continuous aspect and also the image of streams of living water flowing correlates with the promise of the Spirit permanently residing within the believer. John, the author, considered it necessary to give us further information: “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given since Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:38-39). The New International Version (NIV) translation is more correct “By this he meant the Spirit whom those who believed in him were later to receive …” (John 7:37). The NIV also more correctly use the past tense verb, “who believed” that support the fact: they were already believers.

Möller calls to attention many scriptures in the gospels that infer to the fact the disciples were already believers before the day of Pentecost when they were baptised in the Holy Spirit.  He writes: “we also find in John 7:38,39 that the gift of the Holy Spirit was intended for those who had already come to faith” (1994:240).

2.2 The disciples were explicitly told that they had to wait before they could begin preaching

At Jesus’ appearance the night after his resurrection, he breathed over them, saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). This was after He sent his disciples as his Father had sent him. They were not filled with the Holy Spirit that night, as is clear from the fact that twice, after His resurrection, He told them to go and wait in Jerusalem for baptism in the Holy Spirit. It comes to pass on the day of Pentecost, ten days after his ascension.

His command was very clear that the commissioned disciples were first to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of baptism in the Holy Spirit: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit … you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:4,5,8).

In the foregoing it is clear that for Jesus the Acts 2 events were an additional experience for the “already believing” disciples.  It is also clear that Jesus did not allow them to begin the proclamation of his kingdom until they were filled with the Holy Spirit, or put another way, experienced baptism in the Holy Spirit. The assertion of the Head of the church was, that there is no other way for the coming of God’s kingdom to an indescribably broken world.

2.3 The Holy Spirit has been at work in believers for a long time

The command to first wait for the baptism with the Holy Spirit before they could begin preaching is significant, especially in the light that the work of the Holy Spirit in God’s people did not only occur after the outpouring as depicted in Acts 2 (viz. the Holy Spirit upon judges, kings, and prophets).  It is therefore important that we understand what “baptism in the Holy Spirit” is all about.

When God created the heavens and earth, we read that the Holy Spirit hovered over the dark formless body of water. Then God said, “Let there be light! And there was light” (Gen. 1:3). Paul links to this when he writes: “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Regarding the baptism in the Holy Spirit, we need to consider that it is the almighty creator God in action in our lives.

In Numbers 11, seventy elders prophesied when the Spirit of the Lord rested upon them, but did not do so again.  However, afterwards Eldad and Medad continued to prophesy. Joshua wanted to put a stop to them, but Moses said, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (v. 29). Moses’ wish, yearning, was important, but premature.

In Joel 2:28 God promised that in the last days He would bring His Spirit upon all people and that they would prophesy old people, young people, slaves, and handmaidens. On the day of Pentecost, Peter linked exactly this prophecy to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised. Interesting, Möller (1994:259) quotes Howard Erwin using the Septuaginta to illustrate a connection between prophesying (Joel 2) and speaking in tongues as on the Day of Pentecost. He points out that hearing the great deeds of God was prophecy to the bystanders; and for the believers it was to speak in tongues. We can understand something similar with Paul’s writing: “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified(1 Cor. 14:5). In this argument he petitions that the work of the Holy Spirit should be for the proliferation of the congregation, and, as such, speaking in tongues with the interpretation thereof is equated with prophecy, so that the congregation may understand it and be built up by it. In contrast, speaking in tongues without the interpretation thereof will only build up the speaking believer. The content of the message, however, is most probable the same, namely: “ we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!(Acts 2:11). In addition, speaking in tongues and prophesying can both also be in the form of prayer.

Jesus explained being born again to Nicodemus and said: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit (John 3:8). Rebirth is a miracle that the Holy Spirit brings about in the spirit of a believer. These miraculous events, the new creation that occurs with salvation, are often underestimated.

We find a special work of the Holy Spirit in Simeon’s life, a believer in the time before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts…” (Luke 2:25-27). He then prophesied to Joseph and Mary.

The Old Testament has similar accounts of God’s Spirit on the judges, kings, and prophets that changed their lives and empowered them.

Unlike these examples of how the Holy Spirit are already working in believers’ lives, the promise of baptism with the Holy Spirit has to do with the newness of the proclamation and experience of the risen Christ who is at the right hand of God and crowned with power and glory. That which was prophesied in the Old Testament, that which they were waiting for and came into fulfilment in Jesus. God’s great redemption plan that came true, not only for the benefit of salvation, but also became an experienced truth through the Creator Spirit.

3. The Holy Spirit in Jesus’ Ministry

In Jesus’ ministry on earth, the work of the Holy Spirit was remarkable. There is however also a distinct correlation between Jesus’ ministry through the power of the Holy Spirit and the promise of baptism with the Holy Spirit for His followers in the execution of their calling. John the Baptist said that God who sent him, told him: “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33). We then read that on the night after his resurrection, Jesus said: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”. And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).

The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus at his baptism, and it was abiding on him without measure. Luke who had “an eye” for the work of the Holy Spirit wrote: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside”.

There must have been a way that Luke could have recognised, not only that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit, but also that He was full of the power of the Spirit.  Other comments in the gospel of Luke are: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.” (Refer to Luke 4:1,14,18; 5:17; 10:21).

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the recording of Jesus’ temptation is situated between the two comments of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life (led by the Spirit into the wilderness and returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit).

Peter told Cornelius and his people: “You know… how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:37).

The classic comment of Paul in Romans 1 should not be overlooked, namely: “and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (v. 4 NKJV).

These records of the working of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life should tell us, who were sent like him, something about our task and our equipping. We fight the same battle against evil and sin, the same miracles must take place in people’s lives, therefore the same equipping by the Holy Spirit must constantly guide the believer. The baptism with the Holy Spirit, as in the time of the early church, must be the present-day believer’s urgent desire. All objections such as “streepteologie” (the view that the certain truths are not for today but rather only for Biblical times); a humility that makes us not to receive the Gift by faith; deeming the Baptism as optional; or a feeling of outlandishness towards the baptism with the Holy Spirit (as introduced in Acts 2) may be treason against the coming of the kingdom of God and a total overestimation of ourselves rendering our efforts for Him, futile.

4. The big questions remain: What does baptism with the Holy Spirit entail? And what is the meaning of the “speaking in tongues” that accompanied baptism with the Holy Spirit?

We should probably admit that how the early Acts Church thought about the baptism with the Holy Spirit differs completely from how we think about it. We who have only been confronted with it anew in recent years, after centuries of little or no evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  There is nowadays a foreignness regarding the baptism with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues (as recorded in the Bible) amongst many of the church of Jesus Christ. This is an unheard-of strangeness, especially when we consider the vast peculiarity associated with all the great Biblical truths, such as faith that God created everything out of nothing; that He maintains everything; the virgin birth of Jesus; His resurrection from the dead; the miracle of rebirth; and the second coming of Christ.

The whole gospel is vested in the “strangeness” of faith in an all-powerful Creator God who became man in Jesus to save humanity. The emergent of a theology, which limited the events of Acts 2 to a one-off event similar to the incarnation of Jesus, most likely contributed to this strangeness. Also, the argument for a once-off event in Acts 2 which is motivated as to having had the purpose of spreading the Gospel to many peoples. Then there were those who saw baptism with the Holy Spirit as an event that takes place with rebirth. Others again, that it coincided with sanctification, which they understood as a second work of grace after rebirth. Believers did not want to be without the baptism in the Spirit but were nevertheless afraid to experience the “strange” events of Acts 2 as a modern-day experience, called people speaking in tongues. Therefore, baptism with the Holy Spirit was woefully reduced to the “property” of Pentecostal people and often further narrowed down to speaking in tongues and a few other Holy Spirit experiences. This was done at the expense of the truth of the Creator God in action in us and the presence of the risen Christ in us.

The feeling of strangeness hinders the acceptance of a biblical truth, that:

  • were foretold in the Old Testament
  • is promised by Jesus in the Gospels
  • is an experience of the first Christians as per the Book of Acts
  • is confirmed in the New Testament and in many well-meaning modern-day Christians’ lives.

The wonder and scope of the baptism with the Holy Spirit is largely another truth to be fully discovered. Could it be that the Spirit-baptised believer’s obvious, subjective, and experiential exper ience of God through the Holy Spirit can be the cause for the strangeness, among other believers? Or maybe for our own secular orientation, God gets too close to people through the Spirit. This would be a shame, because Holy Spirit baptism confirms the very truth of Christ’s resurrection and all that goes with it; it is about God’s infinite power and love in us.

4.1 Speaking in tongues is not evidence of baptism with the Holy Spirit, but accompanies it.

If the speaking in tongues that accompanies the baptism with the Holy Spirit was to serve as proof that someone was baptised with the Holy Spirit, we will have many questions about the speaking in tongues and this can lead to a cult of tongues. However, speaking in tongues as proof, is not what is presented to us in the Bible. Nevertheless, the New Testament is very clear about the importance of speaking in tongues that accompanies the baptism in, or filling with, the Holy Spirit. Should it have been mentioned as a sign in the Bible, we would have lost the significance of speaking in tongues.

Möller discusses whether “glossolalia” (speaking in tongues) is a sign of baptism with the Holy Spirit or not. According to him, even in the cases in the Bible where the speaking in tongues were not explicitly mentioned, it can nevertheless be inferred. Furthermore, what happened on the day of Pentecost was used by the early church as an example and norm to determine later on whether people also had the same Holy Spirit experience. “Following the above matters, speaking in tongues can be seen as the immediate sign or indication that such a person has been filled with the Holy Spirit” (1994: 244). He further writes: “If a person has been baptised in the Holy Spirit, according to biblical examples, he should also have spoken in tongues. If tongues did not occur, then such a person should strive for it” (1994:246).

4.2 What is the meaning of the baptism with the Holy Spirit

We have already said that according to the Bible the baptism in the Holy Spirit is not rebirth, and it is also an event that is to be distinguished from the work of the Holy Spirit that takes place in all believers, it is an additional experience to the preceding one.

Möller’s definition of Holy Spirit baptism is: “the baptism with or being filled with the Holy Spirit is the event, based on the promise of Acts 1:5,8, whereby God graciously reveals Himself to the believer in a personal, immediate, intimate, and lasting way, by placing him under the control and in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, whereby such a person is in a special way made aware of the risen and glorified Christ in his life, and as a result of which he is equipped with spiritual strength to lead a life in which he can be a greater witness for Christ and practice a fuller dimension of worship (1994:218).

4.2.1 Baptism with the Holy Spirit is through and through a “risen Christ” event

The risen Christ in us is a new and continuous experience for the believer.

The promise could only be fulfilled after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and his glorification that accompanied taking his position of power beside his Father’s throne: “for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39). Peter preached on the day of Pentecost: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:32,33). The “seeing” and “hearing” were testimony to the truth of the risen Christ. Paul summarised the gospel he preached in his Romans letter: “… and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:4). This relates to what he writes elsewhere in Ephesians of Christ being exalted to the right hand of God and placed above all authority and power, He is made Lord (curios). This is the same Spirit who works in a similar way in the Spirit-filled believer (cf. Eph. 1:21). It is an event that is nothing less than an encounter with Christ himself, an experience of or participation in the truth of the risen Christ, seated at the right hand of God the Father. It is a continued presence and empowerment.

The experience of the risen Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit was so real to the early church that they said: “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:32). They became witnesses to the Christ truth which is the core truth of the entire salvation history of the Bible. Möller (1994:224) wrote that the effect is “experienceable and observable” “… which ye see and hear” (Acts 2:1&3).

He writes of baptism with the Holy Spirit using concepts such as: immediate, intimate, and lasting experiences (1994: 225,226). We read that the Spirit stayed on Jesus (John 1:32) and that Jesus promised: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you…. and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:20,23). God’s presence and power cannot be described more closely and with greater impact in a Christian’s life. It is in this world of the “working of the Holy Spirit” that a believer must find confirmation of the presence of a living God.

4.2.2 The Holy Spirit creates an experience of the reality of God

In the past it was customary in theology to reflect at length on the attributes of God and also to find evidence of the existence of God. It changed later and the existence of God as solely a matter of faith was discussed for which we cannot provide evidence, and rightly so, because how would you be able to prove God “who lives in unapproachable light”. For millions of Christians, rebirth is an essential life-changing experience. An experience that has guided them through many of life’s challenges and led to great achievement. As believers, we must value the experience of rebirth as a miracle that confirms God’s existence in our own lives, yet it cannot be presented to an unbeliever as evidence for God’s existence. However, this must not detract from the believer’s testimony to unbelievers of what God has done for them. Luke writes that after Jesus returned to Galilee full of the power of the Holy Spirit: “… Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside” (Luke 4:14). This “news” were stories of what Jesus said and did, spreading from man to man, and everyone speaking highly of him.  Josutis said that the gospel of Jesus spread through “rumours” of what he did in the lives of people.

In his Gospel, John dedicated time to the visit of Jesus to Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles. During the visit and the dispute over who Jesus is, He said that his Father had sent him and that he was just doing and saying what his Father said. For the religious ears and mind of that time, it was difficult to believe that He came from God, that He knew God from eternity, that God spoke to Him, and that He was there before Abraham. As Jesus said: “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad…. before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:56,58). They could not accept him because He healed a blind man against the command of the Sabbath law, and He did not come from a region that was considered to be prophets’ world. During this dispute they wanted to grab and kill him a few times, but he evaded them each time. The dispute over Jesus is still to this day a substantial fight and foolishness of a secularised and rational world.

In the midst of this situation, on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus unexpectedly arose and cried out: “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:38). John said in his comments that he was referring to the baptism with the Holy Spirit that would only come after Jesus’ transfiguration. It was the coming of the “Spirit in us” that Jesus referred to, who would guide the believer into the whole truth of the glory of the risen Christ.

4.2.3 Speaking in tongues as part of the experience of the risen Christ, is an opportunity to surrender to God and for the fulfilment of God’s purpose in and through the Spirit filled believer.

The speaking in tongues is an important part of experiencing the impact of the Holy Spirit. An experience with a particular starting point, namely the baptism with the Holy Spirit – just as it was evident in biblical examples.

The speaking in tongues, associated with baptism in the Holy Spirit has to do with the recipient’s surrendering in faith. The continued speaking in tongues with a continual surrender by which he places himself in the hand of the Holy Spirit. The sum of which is a life in Christ, and Christ in him, the fullness of God in him. The surrender is about being at the disposal of the “immediate, intimate, and lasting presence of God” (Möller).  Jesus summarises this as “… in you” (John 14:17). The experience of the risen Christ through the Spirit.

In the context of the above, we need to jointly read what Paul wrote: “Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves.I would like every one of you to speak in tongues,  I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you…” (1 Cor. 14:4,5,18). He motivated the speaking in tongues in verse 2: “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries (musterion) by the Spirit” (1 Cor. 14:2). In the Translators Handbook musterion is translated with “secrets” (1985:268). In Colossians, Paul writes “… the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). The Spirit-filled person, when he speaks in tongues through the work of the Holy Spirit, therefore, talks about the miracle of the resurrected and glorified Christ in him.

The speaking of “mystery” (musterion) that Paul explains here in terms of speaking in tongues, is not the making of strange sounds to prove something.  Rather, it is a real conversation and events of Christ in us, which edifies the believer. Paul thanks God that this is happening so plentiful in his life and he also wishes that everyone would do the same. In Acts 2, we read that the “speaking in tongues” was about the great works of God. We can conclude that it is about God who is Spirit (see John. 4:24) who himself is speaking, about who he is, what his will is, and he does this in an immediate, intimate, and continuing way.

Assuming this, then we have a huge argument for the significance of the speaking in tongues accompanying the baptism with the Holy Spirit, and also the significance of the believer regularly speaking in tongues.

(a) Let us look at some scriptures about the working of the Holy Spirit in the believer when speaking, praying, and singing in tongues:

With the following passages, an attempt is made to understand the concealed matters of the conversation/communication between us and God, that the Holy Spirit brings.

In Romans 8, Paul writes of our struggles in the broken and sinful world. We are extremely weak, so much so, that we do not even know what and how to pray. The wrestle and weakness of us are not just about the prayer opportunity, but about the entire struggle in this world.  A struggle that leaves us speechless and without understanding, to the extent that we do not know what and how to pray. We must realise the extent of our own weakness in this overwhelming battle, and it is then that the Spirit comes to our aid in our weakness: “… but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (26,27). This “pleading” of the Spirit in us, is with regard to helping us.  

With the plea, in us and for us, a synergy takes place between the Spirit who pleads for us, and the sighs of our heart that we cannot put into words. During this experience we are brought in line with the will of God, because we read that God who searches the hearts sees it. The result is: God hears us and his eternal good plan is realised in us who he has chosen and loves. Paul wrote in this passage about the wonderful answering of the prayer of those who could not even pray: “... in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). The “pleading” of the Spirit, which is written in Greek in the present tense, indicates an ongoing event.

This is one of the most touching passages in the Bible that deals with the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer while he/she is in a desperate situation. We are dealing here with concrete groans that come from the heart of a weary and weak believer’s groans according to God’s will; all this is achieved through the mediation of the Holy Spirit. Murray wrote of Romans 8:26: “While far from being devoid of content, meaning, and intent, they nevertheless transcended articulated formulation” (John Murray, 1975:312). Paul wrote: “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding” (1 Cor. 14:14,15). We are dealing here with praying and singing in a language that is our participation in God’s mystery, or put differently, in the glory of the resurrected Christ on the throne.

We are probably dealing with something similar in Romans 8 from verse 15: “… the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father”. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…” (v15-17). It is a conversation, a conversation between the Holy Spirit and our spirit that takes us on a long road, from a world of slavery into the world of childhood and participation in Christ’s glory. On this long road – to the new world of Christ in us, the realisation of God as our Father and being heirs with Christ, – there is much to be “talked” about and “sung” together. This truth the Holy Spirit works in all born-again Christians; and yet speaking in tongues has to do with our surrender to the Holy Spirit. The occasion when we are brought to speak about God’s truth, that is when we talk together and sing together in a duet, until we share in God’s glory.

We must think along thes e lines when we try to understand Paul’s two prayers in Ephesians 1 and 3 about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The content of the two prayers is discussed in another article “The Holy Spirit in a challenging world” and is therefore not done here. The content of the two prayers is a magnificent core but comprehensive summary of what the Holy Spirit works in a Spirit-filled person.

He writes in the two prayers among others:

  • The Spirit reveals who God truly is in such a way that the believer comes to real knowledge, and importantly experiences God. This is much more than cognitive knowledge. This can only happen if the Holy Spirit reveals God to us and do so continuously in a world with a lot of trouble and that is vulnerable to the devil’s deception.
  • Together the Spirit prays concerning God’s calling and plan for the believer; a plan that originates from faraway, from before the creation of the universe and extends into the far future, to a new heaven and earth. This is the calling and plan that need to become part of the Spirit-filled person’s daily life.
  • The Spirit tells us what power is at work in the believer. It is the same power who raised Jesus from the dead, and who has placed Him in a position of power above all else, and now the Spirit is taking a believer with him. This power must make the believer strong internally, where the believer has to be victorious in this great battle between light and darkness.
  • The power at work in a believer is immeasurably more than all we can ask for or imagine.
  • The Spirit prays together about the love of God in which the believer is planted like a tree and built upon as a house. The Spirit must take the believer on a journey to understand and experience, this love of God, but then again it will always be greater than what he will be able to comprehend.
  • And so gradually the believer is being filled with all God’s fullness.
  • By way of believers who live through the Spirit as described above, that the church becomes the instrument of the coming of God’s kingdom, of revival.

The two prayers are about the infinite greatness and love of God and God’s plan for the believer, and this is exactly what the Holy Spirit works in the spirit of the believer. In order to begin to grasp the infinity, let alone experience it, there need to be considerable and extensive prayer and singing by the Spirit. In summary: The risen Christ with the fullness of God in us.

The “mystery”, according to Paul, where the individual communicates with God while speaking in tongues and that “builds him up” (for which Paul thanks God that it takes place so abundant in his life), can be nothing else than the magnificent content of these two prayers concerning the work of the Holy Spirit. It connects fully and is confirmed with words from the two prayers such as: “and his incomparably great power for us who believe That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, …” (Eph. 1:19,20, 3:19,20). This is the sum total of the “mystery” that the Spirit brings during my speaking in tongues under His anointing.

The “mystery” that the Spirit brings is the reality of the risen Christ, the fullness of God who is in Christ: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness… (Col. 2:9,10). Jesus said of baptism in the Spirit: “All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you” (John 16:15). “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:20).

A statement by Paul in Ephesians chapter five about being filled with the Holy Spirit can easily be overlooked. The background for this verse is the “the days are evil” (v16), the battle between light and darkness, and therefore we must make the best use of every opportunity. We need to be wise and find out what is God’s will for us. His advice is: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:18-20). It doesn’t take much imagination to find a synergy between the content of the above verses: “be filled with the Spirit Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord Lord,always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. And with Paul’s statement to the Corinthians: “I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding” (1 Cor. 14:15).

We find something similar in Ephesians chapter six. Paul writes about the armour God gives us in our battle against the world rulers and evil forces in the sky. An enemy who is not flesh and blood and who we can only overcome through the weapons that God gives. He concludes the section about the armour with: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Eph. 6:18). The continued prayer at every opportunity in the Spirit is again in synergy with: “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding …(1 Cor. 14:15).

The continuing aspect of the verbs in both of the above scriptures is an indication of the importance for the continuous practice of the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. There must be a lot of praying and singing by the Spirit, especially when the days are evil and the enemy becomes too immense for us. This also echoes Romans 8:18-30, namely when suffering becomes so great that we do not know how and what to pray for.  Then with the help of the creator Spirit, a constant plea to God becomes possible, with the end result namely that his creative purpose is realised in our lives.

(b)       The superlative impact of the wonder of the baptism with the Holy Spirit for/on a Spirit-filled believer:

It is often difficult for us to apply certain scriptures about the Holy Spirit to our own lives because of the inconceivability of the content. For example, Jesus received the Holy Spirit and He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and equipped to do His work and wonders on earth (refer to Luke). And then John, who writes that Jesus said the night after his resurrection to his frightened disciples behind closed doors “Peace be with you! (Something like: My kingdom has come) … Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21,22). We struggle with understanding the correlation of Jesus being filled with the Holy Spirit in light of his ministry and us, who, like him, are sent and are equipped with the same Holy Spirit. Can it be, Jesus and we with the same command and the same empowerment?

If not, we will certainly make a huge mistake if we overestimate our own abilities and think we can do it on our own, and at the same time if we underestimate the serious battle between light and darkness. We have a constant need for participation in the work of the Holy Spirit.

We also find the inconceivability with regard to the working of the Holy Spirit when Paul extensively writes in 2 Corinthians 3 about the ministry of the Spirit. Among other things, he wrote: We are letters written by the Holy Spirit. The ministry of the Spirit is an event that creates in us an all-surpassing glory. So much so, that the glory of the meeting between God and Moses on the smoking and trembling Mount Sinai is no longer glory. He wrote we: “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

(c)        The words used for baptism in the Holy Spirit.

It is almost unthinkable for us to convey in words the meaning of the baptism with the Holy Spirit, for example the truth of receiving:

  • the creator Spirit in us,
  • the risen Christ, crowned with all power and glory after his ascension into heaven, and
  • God the Father with all his fullness.

How can we convey such truths? Besides, according to Paul, we will always underestimate and never overestimate, the impact of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Yet words have been used to articulate Möller’s definition namely, “immediate, intimate, and lasting”. Words such as: “baptism in, filled with, streams of living water will flow from within”. Furthermore, it’s about: “On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:20). These are concepts that create images of being submerged in and overflowing with water, being filled from within, streams of water flowing from the believer’s spirit and all this from God in his fullness.

(d)       In conclusion

We go back to our original question namely where does “tongues speak” fit in, or indeed what is the sense of speaking in tongues in the context of the baptism with the Holy Spirit?

Speaking in tongues is not a sign of baptism in the Holy Spirit, as it has been stated already, it is more than that. Speaking in tongues is the spontaneous and accompanying response of the believer during baptism with the Holy Spirit. It is the physical expression of “being submerged”, “overflowing”, and the “streams of living water”. A continuous flow of the presence of the Creator God in action in the believer, during and after the experience of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. It is the believer’s spontaneous surrender to, his placing himself in the hand of, and the concrete and visible working in his life by, the Spirit of God. This experience and process is described in the Bible as speaking to God about his “mystery”, namely: the truth and experience of God’s indescribable omnipotence and intense close love, which is beyond human understanding or reason. A participation of the believer through and with the Spirit, who takes him on a journey from slave to child of God, to coheir with Christ.

Speaking in tongues is nothing less than a partaking in the power and glory of the risen Christ on the throne.

It is not about speaking in tongues per se, the dialect, or about speaking loud or soft. It should never become a cult, a holy sacrament, or proof of a believer’s holiness before God. It is communication with God in which the believer is inspired. A concrete communication in words and about truths, a way of meditation that can sometimes be whisper between God’s Spirit and a person’s spirit. Then again at times it is loud and clear depending on the content being communicated. It may be a battle with evil in which the intensity of the battle will become apparent in the intensity of the speaking in tongues. Sometimes it is a rapture in wonder and exuberant ecstasy when experiencing God’s greatness and love. Sometimes it is accompanied by sadness when it becomes a conversation about own shortcomings or when interceding for people in need. The believer becomes a full-fledged partner and must consciously discern the content of the communication for himself.  God and man together in the most concrete way, hand in hand, but God setting the agenda and bringing his will to pass. Speaking in tongues, just like God himself and everything God does for the believer, should not be alien to the believer, but rather be part of his everyday relationship with God. Because the “in you” is too close and the need for knowledge and experience of God and his calling is too great.

What is important is the believer’s surrender, walking together, talking together, and the resulting change that is experienced. He – although part of a secular world that is captured by a rational and sensory world view – must make himself at home in the strange world of the Spirit with an insatiable thirst for the living water that Jesus gives. The believer should never be rushed when speaking in tongues, but deliberate surrender, and thoughtful to come to understanding, to use the metaphor “… the trumpet should sound a clear call …” (with reference to 1 Cor. 14:8). Even if there is no audience present that needs an interpreter to understand the message, the believer who speaks mystery to God through the Spirit must understand and experience the message, be changed, and be built up. Speaking in tongues becomes a “private prophecy” between God and a believer but must never be privatised to one’s own interests or reduced to evidence.  It must always be about the great deeds, plan, and love of God towards all people. This is salvation history: It is part of God’s entire salvation plan in Jesus and is not a truth created by the Pentecostals, neither their property, nor a truth that may be considered optional. These are end-time events that were promised by God the Father and made possible by Jesus, and quite possibly the key to revival.

This essay is included in the Holy Spirit study course and can be downloaded as a print-friendly PDF to be used by small/cell/home groups.