As a young boy, I was baptized into the Disciples of Christ Church in Marion, Kentucky.
Sometimes I wonder why I recall things so vividly in my past but I truly remember my baptism. It was a full immersion baptism inside the church. I don’t even know if the font is still in the church; the church building does still exist. I think what caught my attention about this event is how I felt when the baptism was over. Later in the day, I had a horrible backache. A young kid does not normally have backaches but something in the dunking and pulling me from the water must have wrenched my body. Today, I wonder if a backache is what people should remember about their baptism.
Here is what I did not feel at that baptism. I did not really feel like I knew Jesus Christ.
Like so many Christians [especially kids], baptism was just an outward sign that I was ready to be a member of a church. Sometimes children are baptized to please their parents or their pastor. It is not bad to do this but when Pastor Billy Graham writes about “baptism of the Spirit,” he is not describing my childhood baptism that was done primarily for the benefit of others. He is describing something that happened to me about twenty-five years ago. He is describing the moment I received Jesus Christ as my Savior.
That was a moment of great need. To that moment, I had lived my life on my own power so to speak. I had several trying times in my life but I “toughed them out” [to use a cliché]. I had no relationship with a higher power to help me through my situations. I knew about God. I knew about God’s Word. I had been to church but I did not really believe that God was there to help me on a daily basis. Then I had the biggest crisis of my life and I absolutely did not know what to do, but I knew I needed to do something. I did not know the next step, so I cried out to God for the first time in my life and simply said “Please Lord, just tell me what to do next!”
I have often wondered if God looked down on me that morning and said “finally.”
That morning is the moment I received Jesus Christ as my Savior.
Not everyone comes to Christ in a moment of crisis. For some that is not necessary. They accept Christ without all the drama. They know they need Him and they dedicate their life to Him without all the fanfare. They don’t have to be “brought low.” But for some it takes dramatic circumstances to make a solid impression.
Some may believe we receive Jesus at the moment we are baptized. Others see the altar rail conversion as the moment. Still others see the Spirit coming after conversion; if you don’t have the Spirit, God can’t use you and when He does, you have It. Others think that some outward sign or gift accompanies the arrival of the Spirit. I had a good friend who told me she agonized a bit because she could not speak in tongues. “Everyone else in church did; why not me?”
The main thing is that you become a member of God’s holy people because you realize the need to have Jesus Christ in your life and you receive Him as your Savior.
Pastor Graham writes about baptism of the Spirit: “This [moment of conversion] is the only Spirit baptism. At this time, we can and should be filled with the Holy Spirit, and afterward be refilled, and even filled unto all fullness. As has been said, ‘One baptism, but many fillings.”
Too often we focus on differences of interpretation. Some churches baptize babies, others do not. Some sprinkle or pour while others only immerse. These concerns are ok and they should not divide Christians trying to live their lives for Christ. What is solid is this: when a person realizes they need to be saved and they give their life to Christ, they receive the Holy Spirit. That does not mean that they are filled with it or they are controlled by it. The most important, most central thing is that when we come to Christ, God gives His Spirit to us.
Pastor Graham (credited with inviting 3.2 million people to have a personal relationship with Christ) tells of an encounter with an old-fashioned southern revival preacher in Florida. Graham described him as “The speaker [who] made up in thunder what he lacked in logic.” Graham says this man probably knew many in his audience because he stopped his message many times and asked people directly “Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit?” They would reply, “Yes pastor, by the grace of God” or some other affirmation. Finally the pastor turned to Graham and asked him a different question: “When were you baptized with the Holy Spirit?” Graham replied back “The moment I received Jesus Christ as my Savior.”
The pastor had a puzzled expression: he said “That couldn’t be.”
Graham writes about the thought he had but did not say to that pastor: “But it could! It was.”
That moment of conversion: a new man, a new life…born again.