Tag Archives: Baptism with the Holy Spirit

Scripture on Sunday – 1 Samuel 10:1-10

Samuel Anoints SaulI started my talk at Princeton, and my ANZATS talk this week in Melbourne, with a reference to this biblical passage. It is, perhaps, a little unusual to start an academic paper this way, but the topic allowed it, and I enjoyed it. The title of my talk was “‘Changed into Another Man’: The Meaning of ‘Baptism with the Holy Spirit’ in Karl Barth, in Conversation with the Pentecostal Doctrine.” Here is the beginning of my talk with a reflection on this passage.


The title for my paper today includes a phrase taken from 1 Samuel 10, the story of Samuel anointing Saul to be Israel’s king. The main point of the story, however, is not Samuel’s anointing Saul with oil, though that anointing is not without significance: it confirms the divine election of Saul for the service to which God has called him and affirms the same election to the young man. As such it has symbolic, confirmatory and declarative aspects. Nevertheless it is not Samuel’s oil that actually equips Saul for the service to which God has called him. Rather it will be the presence of God given him when the Spirit comes mightily upon him.

1 Samuel 10:6-7, 9-10
“Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man. It shall be when these signs come to you, do for yourself what the occasion requires, for God is with you.” … Then it happened when he turned his back to leave Samuel, God changed his heart; and all those signs came about on that day. When they came to the hill there, behold, a group of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them. (NASB)

As a young Pentecostal pastor I preached from this passage emphasising those aspects of the passage which highlighted the central doctrinal Pentecostal distinctives: the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as an experience of the Holy Spirit to empower Christians for witness and ministry. This experience was separate from and subsequent to conversion, and was accompanied with the gift of tongues as the initial evidence that one had received ‘the Baptism.’ This was a transformative experience by which we ‘are changed into another person.’

These verses and others like them spoke clearly to the condition of our lives and the experience of God that we had received. Like Saul we had been wandering through life looking for ‘donkeys’ that could never be found, all kinds of donkeys which could never satisfy; when suddenly, inexplicably, we were turned aside from our path, thrown off our course, encountered by the reality of the divine call and presence that opened up a whole new world to us, a ‘strange, new world’ we might say, the world of God. Like Saul, we were called into God’s service; like Saul, we were called to inherit a kingdom. And like Saul we too experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit mightily into our lives, a transformative power such that we too, like Saul, were given a new heart, and we too, like Saul, were ‘changed into another man.’

Some may say that our exegesis was poor and our hermeneutics poorer still. Certainly we were pre-critical in our reading of biblical texts. Nevertheless, although we may have been hermeneutically naïve, at least we had an expectancy of the presence of God in powerful, life-transforming ways! At least we had a sense of being captured by God and called to participate in the dynamic movement of God’s kingdom at work in the world! At least we had, as James McClendon has said, a ‘shared awareness of the present Christian community as the primitive community and the eschatological community’ (Ethics: Systematic Theology Volume 1, Rev ed., 30). Although referring generally to all kinds of ‘baptistic’ groups, McClendon’s definition captures something essential concerning the ethos of classic Pentecostalism: we were the eschatological people of God identified and in continuity with the community of God’s people found in Scripture. Their story was our story. Our hermeneutic may have been more implicit and inchoate than explicit, but none the less real for all that.

Yet if I were preaching this passage today I would preach it differently in some respects. I have come to realise with many others that the Pentecostals’ experience was superior to their explanation of that experience. I would not be concerned to proclaim a strict two-stage reception of the Holy Spirit. Nor would I teach the gift of tongues as the so-called initial evidence of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit. I would, however, still speak of the experiential aspects that often accompany the Spirit’s coming, by which I mean a palpable sense of divine encounter. I would still emphasise the prophetic nature of the Spirit’s presence, including the idea that the Spirit’s coming in Scripture normally issues in inspired speech events and/or divine direction. I would seek a more expansive understanding of the Spirit’s presence, not limiting it simply to empowerment. Finally, I would emphasise even more strongly the transformative intent and nature of the Spirit’s self-gift, and link this transformative intent to the service of God’s purposes for his people and his world.

At its heart and at its best, the Pentecostal idea of Baptism with the Holy Spirit is not an explanatory model justifying an experience, but the experience and the ethos itself. Those who have been baptised in or with the Holy Spirit have been plunged into a new life with God. Their lives have been immersed in the dynamic, sanctifying, liberating and transforming presence of the Holy Spirit. They have been made participants in the divine fellowship, partakers of heavenly powers, and have been caught up in the ecstatic movement of the eschatological Spirit’s activity in the world. Their lives have been determined by this singular event, with the Spirit’s presence expressed henceforth in their lives in manifestations of spiritual gifts, in sanctification, mission and worship. At its heart and at its best, then, Pentecostalism refers to a people who have been encountered and transformed by God, whose lives are in-spirited in fruitful and dynamic ways, Spirit-filled and Spirit-directed for they have been made participants in the divine fellowship and mission.

Reading Karl Barth

Church Dogmatics Study EditionSelection: The Church Dogmatics IV/4:23-30, Baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Barth now drills more deeply into the primary question he is discussing in this section: how is it that something which took place in the history of Jesus Christ becomes an event in us? He does so by exploring two presuppositions associated with his “event” language:

The divine change in which the Christian life is founded has been described as an event. Viewed from above, this means that the history of Jesus Christ becomes once in time the origin and commencement of the reorientation and refashioning of the life of a specific man liberated therein. Seen from below, it means that once in time a specific man is liberated for the reorientation and refashioning of his life in the history of Jesus Christ as his origin and commencement (p. 23)

In these pages Barth explains how the ‘event’ of Christian faithfulness takes place in the lives of particular individuals. Two things are necessary, which Barth refers to as his two presuppositions.

The first presupposition, which he calls ‘viewing this event from above’ has to do with God’s faithfulness to humanity generally in the person and history of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus Christ is the Representative of every person, what takes place in him – back there, back then – takes place for every person and in their stead. On their behalf Jesus Christ is faithful to God and his faithfulness is theirs. His death includes them, and so too does his resurrection. In him, they have been faithful to God, have received forgiveness of sins, and been reconciled to God. Thus Barth says,

We presuppose that the history of Jesus Christ which took place in time pro nobis, His birth, His being as a preacher of the imminent kingdom of God, and finally His crucifixion, which fulfils the purpose of His birth and being, contains the power to become the factor which posits a new beginning in nobis, in the temporal life of man (23).

How does this history—then and there—become the factor which posits a new beginning in our life—here and now? How is the power of this history communicated to each person? Barth’s answer is simple and profound: the resurrection of Jesus Christ means that the power of his history is no longer limited to his historical existence, but has broken the banks and overflowed the borders of that historical existence, such that the risen Lord Jesus Christ himself is now present to every person in every time, and further, is in every person. His resurrection is the manifestation of his perfect work for every person, a divine pledge and promise pledged and given to every person.

In Jesus Christ God has taken up the cause of every person and been faithful to them. This divine faithfulness is the ground and foundation of Christian life, because this history of Jesus’ perfect obedience as our Representative and Liberator is made fruitful, efficacious and immediately present to every person through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In other words, Jesus’ death and resurrection has changed the situation of every person with respect to God. God has been faithful to them and has taken away the sins of the world.

Barth’s second presupposition, which he calls ‘viewing the event from below,’ has to do with human faithfulness to God in response to God’s faithfulness to them. Whereas God’s faithfulness to humanity in Jesus Christ concerns humanity as a whole, now God’s work in the Holy Spirit is concerned with particular individuals. Once more Barth elucidates his presupposition:

In the life of these men, certainly not apart from the awakening, quickening and enlightening power of the history of Jesus Christ demonstrated in his resurrection, a power is at work which makes these men free, able, willing and ready to give this event a place, the central place, in their willing and thinking, a place where it may exercise a force and authority which are seriously and ultimately decisive. We presuppose that this power enables, permits and orders them, that through the history of Jesus Christ it both commands and liberates them, to become responsible subjects of their own human history, which, renewed by the presence of the living Jesus Christ, has become a history of salvation rather than perdition (26-27).

That this divine change which has occurred in the history of Jesus Christ for all and in all may then actually take place in the life of a particular person is the work of the Holy Spirit:

In the work of the Holy Spirit this man ceases to be a man who is closed and blind and deaf and uncomprehending in relation to this disclosure effected for him too. He becomes a man who is open, seeing, hearing, comprehending. Its disclosure to all, and consequently to him too, becomes his own opening up to it. In the work of the Holy Spirit it comes about that the man who with the same organs could once say No thereto, again with the same organs, in so far as they can be used for this purpose, may and can and must say Yes. In the work of the Holy Spirit that which was truth for all, and hence for him too, even without his acceptance, becomes truth which is affirmed by him. The pledge which was previously given to him and to all becomes the pledge which is received by him. The promise which was good for him and for all becomes the promise which is grasped by him. By him! Inasmuch as he himself affirms, receives and grasps! … The point is that the man on and in whom the work of the Holy Spirit is done has to put himself seriously at God’s disposal in his creatureliness. … Moved by the Holy Spirit, he is opened up to the history of Jesus Christ as his own salvation history, and he thus begins to cry ‘Abba, Father’ (28-29).

For Barth, the work of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit are not two separate works, but the one work of God, commencing in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and continuing as a movement in the Holy Spirit which reaches its goal with the concrete awakening of specific individuals (29). Together, these two presuppositions elucidate the one work of God by whose power a divine change may take place in a person’s life that they may become faithful to God, that they may be and live as Christians. Barth calls this one work of God by which specific persons become Christians, their “Baptism with the Holy Ghost” (30).

It is clear that Barth wants to ground Christian life and salvation wholly in the grace of God while also ensuring that the human agent is not rendered passive in the process. The individual must choose, must decide, must trust, and must act; that they can do so, however, is because they have been freed for this through the ministry of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Equally clear is Barth’s contention that the term “Baptism with the Holy Spirit” refers not to an experience separate and subsequent to conversion, but refers specifically to the individual’s conversion itself.

Reading Karl Barth

Church Dogmatics Study EditionSelection: The Church Dogmatics IV/4:17-23, Baptism with the Holy Spirit.

The mystery of the Christian life is that it is grounded in the history of Jesus Christ, a divine event which occurred in him rather than anything which occurs in us. Yet—and this is Barth’s central concern in the entire section—how is it that an event which occurred in his history can be the ground of the Christian life as it unfolds in our lives?

What has this Other, who there and then was born in Bethlehem and died on Golgotha, what has He to do with me? What has the freedom of His life as very Son of God and Son of Man to do with my necessary liberation to be a child of God, and consequently with the humanity which is true because it corresponds to the will of this Father? And what have I to do with Him? How can it be that, as I grow out of Him as out of a root, He can be one with me and I with him, and in unity with Him my own life can begin as a Christian life, the life of a man who is faithful to God? How can that which He was and did extra nos become an event in nobis? (p. 18)

Barth rejects one-sided, ‘artifical’ responses to this question. That is, he refuses to attribute the decision to the sole agency of God, thereby rendering humanity passive in their own salvation. He likewise refuses to attribute the saving decision to humanity alone, as though each person were their own “reconciler, teacher and master in relation to God” (19-20). Both these approaches dismiss the ethical problem of the genesis of the Christian life as irrelevant, and “conjure away the mystery which confronts us.”

Instead, Barth would “allow the matter to be its own interpreter … to see how the matter interprets itself, how the riddle is solved from within” (20). This is discovered by following the “singular movement of New Testament thinking” which in reality is a double-sided movement, “from above downwards, but also from below upwards” (20-22). In this twofold but single movement we find both, that in Jesus Christ God is faithful to humanity, and also that humanity is faithful is God.

As this individual history it is thus cosmic in origin and goal. As such it is not sterile. It is a fruitful history which newly shapes every human life. Having taken place extra nos, it also works in nobis, introducing a new being of every man. … He was faithful to us by being ready to give Himself, and by giving Himself, to fulfil the covenant between God and man in His own person, i.e., by being faithful to God in our place, in the place of those who previously were unfaithful to Him. In our place—even as He was there and then what only He could be, He was this in our here and now, in the weakness, ungodliness and enmity, the heart, the personal centre of the existence of every man. But if he acts extra nos pro nobis, and to that extent also in nobis, this necessarily implies that in spite of the unfaithfulness of every man He creates in the history of every man the beginning of his new history, the history of a man who has become faithful to God. All this is because it is God himself who has taken man’s cause in hand in His person. It was not a man who posited or made this new beginning. Not of himself did man become another man, faithful to God instead of unfaithful. Nevertheless, on the path from Bethlehem to Golgotha which Jesus Christ traversed for him as very Son of God and therefore as very Son of Man, the new beginning of his life was posited and made as that of a man who is faithful to God. On the ground of this beginning of his in the history of Jesus Christ he here and today can and should live his new Christian life which corresponds to, because it follows, the divine transformation of his heart and person which took place there and then (21).

By taking our place in his work outside of us and for us, Jesus Christ liberates and transforms us for a new faithfulness to God. The history of Jesus Christ is a fruitful history, and efficacious, and so does not remain simply external to humanity but is also in nobis here and now.

The God at work in that history, while He does not find and confirm a direct relation between Himself and us, does create and adopt this relation, which we could not create or adopt for ourselves, but which we cannot evade when He does so. Interceding for us in Jesus Christ, He is now present to us, not at a distance, but in the closest proximity, confronting us in our own being, thought and reflection. … What takes place is thus quite simply that in nobis, in our heart, at the centre of our existence, there is set a contradiction of our unfaithfulness, a contradiction which we cannot escape, which we have to endorse, in face of which we cannot cling to our unfaithfulness, by which it is not merely forbidden but prevented and rendered impossible. … What then? We can will and do only one thing—the thing which is positively prefigured for us in the action of the true Son of God and Son of Man at work within us. The only possibility is to be faithful to God. … The divine change in whose accomplishment a man becomes a Christian is an event of true intercourse between God and man. If it undoubtedly has its origin in God’s initiative, no less indisputably man is not ignored or passed over in it. He is taken seriously as an independent creature of God. He is not run down and overpowered, but set on his own feet. He is not put under tutelage, but addressed and treated as an adult. The history of Jesus Christ, then, does not destroy a man’s own history. In virtue of it this history becomes a new history, but it is still his own new history. The faithfulness to God to which he is summoned is not, then, an emanation of God’s faithfulness. It is truly his own faithfulness, decision and act (22-23).

It is clear in these pages that Barth wrestles to secure the genuine agency of the human person vis-à-vis God, although it is an agency which is strictly ordered to the prior work of divine grace by which the person is liberated for precisely this kind of agency. Thus, Barth’s interest is not so much soteriological or even sacramental though he does address these topics. Rather, as befits the ‘ethics of reconciliation,’ Barth is interested in the divine-human relation in its ethical dimension. Thus he speaks of the “ethical problem of the genesis of the Christian life,” and is concerned with the divine-human relation being one of “the genuine intercourse between God and man as two different partners.” The genesis of the Christian life is grounded in the divine work fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Yet this work includes humanity, and thereby liberates and transforms humanity, so that the human person might freely and faithfully respond to the divine address which encounters them.

At the heart of Barth’s exposition, then, is the ethical concern of faithful human response to the reconciling God. But this response must in its genesis be consonant with the whole character of the Christian life, and the response of the Christian to the divine summons in the whole of life must be consonant with its genesis.

Reading Karl Barth

Church Dogmatics Study EditionSelection: The Church Dogmatics IV/4:10-17, Baptism with the Holy Spirit.

In this section Barth pauses to ask whether Christian experience, that is, the experience of renewal that characterises Christian life, is simply one (quite poor) variety of a more general and common human experience. Is it simply another manifestation of the endless parade of philosophies and panaceas, religions and spiritualities that characterise human life? (10-11)

Barth rejects the possibility: All kinds of religious and non-religious experiences and renewals may occur to people, and may in their own way be very significant. Nevertheless they are not this event. Rather, they presuppose a general concept of deity and a direct relation of this presupposed deity with the human agent. This, of course, is precisely what Barth rejects. For Barth, the decisive event which constitutes the ground of Christian life is the very particular history of Jesus Christ.

The freedom of God in which is grounded man’s becoming free to be faithful to God as God is faithful to him, the freedom in which the Christian life thus has its absolutely unique origin, is the freedom of which He, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has made use in supreme majesty and condescension in the history of Jesus Christ. This history is the change, impossible with men but possible with God, and indeed possibly only by God’s actual judgment, in which a man becomes God’s friend instead of His enemy, a man who lives for Him instead of being dead for Him. It is the divine change which has been made for every man and which is valid for every man, but which is thankfully acknowledged, recognised and confessed by Christians. It is so as Jesus Christ is the One elected from eternity to be the Head and Saviour of all men, who in time responded to God’s faithfulness with human faithfulness as the Representative of all men. As and because He was this, as and because, in the name and stead of all, He was born and suffered and died as the Man of God, as and because He was manifested for all in His resurrection as the One who did this for all, the change which took place in His history took place for all. In it the turning of all from unfaithfulness to faithfulness took place. In this history of His the Christian life became an event as the life of all. A Christian, however, is a man from whom it is not hidden that his own history took place along with the history of Jesus Christ. As a word spoken to him and received by him in the living power of the Holy Spirit, this has been disclosed to him. … The Christian is a man whose life Jesus Christ has entered as the subject of that history of His. … He is a man to whom Jesus Christ has given not just a potential but an actual share in that history of His. Thus Jesus Christ, His history, became and is the foundation of Christian existence; this and this alone (13-14).

Thus Barth affirms the utter uniqueness of Christian life, distinguishing it from all other experiences of human renewal, while simultaneously rejecting any and all approaches from natural theology. Jesus Christ as the Elect Human, as the Saviour and Representative of all humanity and of every person, is the ground and origin of human faithfulness to God. It is clear that Barth views this history as constituting an ontological alteration of the human condition. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed the situation of every person whereby humanity is now God’s friend rather than God’s enemy; in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians are those who know this. More, Jesus Christ has entered their lives as the subject of this history in their life.

In a stunning statement Barth insists that “it is true exegesis, not eisegesis, to say that the nativity of Christ is the nativity of the Christian man; Christmas day is the birthday of every Christian” (15).

What does Barth mean by this extraordinary statement? Jesus Christ as the Representative of each and every person was born, lived, died and was raised again for them, in their name and in their stead. His solidarity and identification with all humanity is so complete that his baptism includes within itself that of his disciples. So, too, his death includes within itself our death also, so that we die in him and with him:

Jesus does not drink that cup for Himself alone. He is not baptised with that baptism in isolation. This all takes place in their stead and for them. Hence they, too, will die in His death, and therewith their entry into glory will be secured. In his death, therefore, He took the place of all….Inasmuch as He died the death in our place, we have it absolutely behind us. In His death we who deserved to die as He died are already put to death (16).

Reading Karl Barth

Church Dogmatics Study Edition

Selection: The Church Dogmatics IV/4:3-10, Baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Barth’s chapter on the foundation of the Christian life (Church Dogmatics IV/4) begins with a discussion entitled, “Baptism with the Holy Spirit” in which Barth addresses the origin, beginning and initiation of human faithfulness which replies and corresponds to the faithfulness of God. How is it that one becomes a Christian, especially given that this is a human impossibility? Barth assumes that one may indeed become a Christian, yet how this occurs is both a miracle and a mystery. The Christian is a completely new person with a new name and character; despite being identical with the person that they were previous to becoming a Christian, they are now utterly new.

On pages 3-4 Barth turns to Scripture to validate his assertion that the possibility of human faith is a divine rather than human possibility. He goes on to insist that to say otherwise, or to count on something other than God himself as the foundation of Christian life is to speak ignorantly. That a person is faithful, a Christian, is the work of God; and yet, it is the person who is faithful. The human agent is the subject of their own faithfulness, yet the ground of their new subjectivity lies not in themselves but in God. This is both the mystery and the miracle of the event in which a person becomes a Christian.

Barth rejects three common approaches to understanding the question of the foundation of the Christian life. First, he rejects what he terms the view of Lutheran orthodoxy following Melanchthon, in which a favourable divine verdict has been issued concerning the person but which leaves the person unaltered by it in their inner being, so they remain a sinner rather than a faithful covenant partner. Second, he rejects the popular Roman Catholic view whereby a person is infused with supernatural grace by which, if they use it properly, they may become faithful. Third, he rejects the view he associates with Neo-Protestantism (of both liberal and Pietist varieties?) whereby the work of God is simply to catalyse inherent moral impulses in the human personality. Barth sets these approaches aside:

None of them makes it clear how there comes into being the Christian, the man who responds to God’s faithfulness with faithfulness, the man who as a free subject is God’s true partner in the covenant of grace. None of them can show in what sense the existence of this man is grounded in the great possibility of God, in this alone, but in this truly (5).

Against these three common approaches, therefore, Barth sets “the answer which Holy Scripture gives,” which he describes as

The change which comes on man himself in the freedom of the gracious God, the change in which he himself is free to become what he was not and could not be before, and consequently to do what he did not and could not do before, i.e., be faithful to God. … The Christian life has its true source in this change which God brings about in man (5-6).

Barth then concludes his opening salvo with a discussion of four primary sets of images from the New Testament which describe the ‘mystery and miracle’ of the ‘divine turning’ to particular individuals in terms of the miraculous renewal whereby the recipient of divine grace receives a new being and a new heart by which it is indicated that they have become a new person. They have been born from above as a new creation, raised from the dead and given a new existence.

The Christian life begins with a change which cannot be understood or described radically enough, which God has the possibility of effecting in a man’s life in a way which is decisive and basic for his whole being and action, and which He has in fact accomplished in the life of the man who becomes a Christian (9).


  • Barth does not reject the particular truth which each of the three approaches endeavours to set forth, but denies that they can function as the ground by which one becomes a Christian. It is evident that against the three common approaches Barth appeals to his Reformed heritage to emphasise the priority of divine grace in the event of conversion. This graces operates monergistically (my word, not Barth’s), ‘coming upon’ the person and ‘opening’ them, etc.
  • Barth refers to God’s action as a ‘divine turning’ – similar to the language used to describe the action and movement of divine grace in his discussion of the perfections of the divine loving.
  • Barth refers several times to the ‘miracle and mystery’ of this event, using the same kind of language he uses to describe the mystery and miracle of the incarnation.