John Piper Preached that Holy Spirit Baptism is a Distinct Work from Regeneration

Posted: December 2, 2009 by Rick Hogaboam in Baptism, Pentecost, Pentecostal/Charismatic Interests
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Here is an excerpt from Piper’s sermon:

How to Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit
April 29, 1984
Acts 2:32–42
Piper, J. (2007; 2007). Sermons from John Piper (1980-1989). Desiring God; Minneapolis, MN.

The fourth reason we should stress the experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit is that in Acts the apostles teach that it is a consequence of faith not a subconscious cause of faith. As a convinced Calvinist I believe with all my heart that the grace of God precedes and enables saving faith. We do not initiate our salvation by believing. God initiates it by enabling us to believe (Ephesians 2:8–9; 2 Timothy 2:25; John 1:13). But this regenerating work of God’s Spirit is not the limit of what Peter means by baptism in the Spirit. In Acts 11:15–17 Peter reports how the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius just as on the disciples at Pentecost. “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized in water, but you shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us, when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I should withstand God?” Notice that the gift of the Spirit, or baptism in the Spirit, is preceded by faith. The NASB correctly says in v. 17 that God gave the Holy Spirit after they believed. So the baptism of the Spirit (v. 16) or the receiving of the gift of the Spirit (v. 17) cannot be the same as the work of God before faith which enables faith (which Luke speaks of in 2:39; 5:31; 16:14; 11:18; 15:10; 14:27). The baptism in the Spirit is an experience of the Spirit given after faith to faith.

Piper later on in the sermon designates Water Baptism as a primary means to receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit:

Therefore, I invite you to experience the greatest thing in the world—Repent, trust Christ, open yourself to the power of his Spirit, be baptized in his name, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

He sounds very Sacramental, but in a balanced fashion. One must come in faith and obedience to receive that which God alone can do. I concur with Piper’s honest searching of what Peter means by the promise of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38. Peter earlier described the gift as that which is “seen” and “heard” in Acts 2:33. While Piper and I agree against classical Pentecostal doctrine that tongues is “the” initial physical evidence of this distinct work of the Spirit, we are both agreed that Spirit baptism is something that is experiential and will be made manifest.

My daughter Kira is being baptized this coming Lord’s Day and I, with Piper, anticipate a greater measure of the Spirit to be poured out upon her in the waters she will stand in. I am no traditional Baptist in this regard and adopt more of the Pentecostal Sacramentalism that I grew up, believe to be taught in Scripture, and is taught by Pastor Piper. I only mention Piper because it is so good to know that I’m not the alone “baptist” who sees a greater significance in Baptism as an ordinary means to a subsequent empowering work of the Spirit.

Here is an excerpt from another sermon of Piper’s that further clarifies his points just so you see that I am justly representing his theology:

Piper, J. (2007; 2007). You Will Be Baptized with the Holy Spirit, September 23, 1990

Paul says, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free.” The context shows that he is referring to a work of the sovereign Spirit who unites all believers to Christ. This is virtually the same as the work of conversion. When you are born again and put your faith in Christ, the Spirit of God unites you to Christ so that you are part of his body and a fellow-heir with him of eternal life.

I used to just assume that Paul and Luke were talking about the same thing when they used the word “baptism” and connected it to the Holy Spirit—in other words, that the baptism by the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and the baptism with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 were the same. Many very able scholars and teachers still make that connection. The view I am about to give you is not the only orthodox one, nor is it one you have to agree with in order to be a part of this fellowship. But it is one that I am increasingly persuaded is correct and desperately needed in the church.

Receiving Extraordinary Power for Ministry

We are trying to answer the question: What is the heart or essence of being baptized with the Holy Spirit? I have said that I do NOT think the essence is new birth or conversion or being united to the body of Christ. What then is it? And why do I not think it is the same as what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 12:13?

I think the essence of being baptized with the Holy Spirit is when a person, who is already a believer, receives extraordinary spiritual power for Christ-exalting ministry. So let me try to show you the reasons why I think this is the heart of the matter.

Jesus’ Focus on Being Clothed with Power

First, let’s start back at Luke 24:49. Keep in mind as we turn there that in Acts 1:4 Jesus said, “He charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father,” namely, the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Now in Luke 24:49 Jesus says virtually the same thing. “And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.” What is important here is to see that what Jesus focuses on, of all the things he might focus on in the baptism with the Spirit, is being clothed with power. So that is the first pointer that the heart of this matter of baptism with the Holy Spirit is a matter of empowerment. He told them in Luke 24:47 that they are to preach to all the nations. And the point of verse 49 is we cannot do that with greatest success unless we are clothed with power from God—that is, unless we are baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Pictured as Power for Witness

The second pointer that this is the essence of being baptized with the Holy Spirit is found in Acts 1:6–8. Right after Jesus says that they would be baptized with the Spirit (v. 5), the disciples say, “ ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses.’ ” So here the baptism with the Spirit is seen as a “coming upon” that gives power for witness. So that is the second pointer to empowering as the heart of being baptized with the Spirit.

Issues of New Birth/Conversion Not in View

Notice that neither of these texts suggests that what is happening in the baptism of the Spirit is rebirth or conversion or union with Christ. There are good reasons for believing that these disciples were already born again and converted and had the Holy Spirit dwelling in them (John 13:10; 15:3; Romans 8:9; John 3:5). But even more important than that is the fact that the issue of the new birth and conversion of the disciples are simply not in view at all in Acts 1 and 2.

Jesus doesn’t say, wait in Jerusalem until you are born again or converted or put into the body of Christ. He says wait until you are clothed with power. He doesn’t say, You shall receive membership in the body of Christ when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. He says, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”

And notice, in the third place, that when Peter explains what promise of the Father is being fulfilled in the baptism of the Spirit, he focuses on the promise in Joel 2. There are promises that might have stressed the promise of the Spirit to bring new birth (like Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26f.). But that is not what Peter or Luke focuses on. Peter says that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a fulfillment of Joel 2; and what Joel 2 promises explicitly is not new birth or conversion or membership in the body of Christ, but a new power to prophesy. “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (2:17).

And Piper offers this Pastoral appeal at the end of another sermon on the same topic of receiving the Spirit:

Did You Receive the Holy Spirit When You Believed?

But however it comes, it is an experience of divine reality. It is not just an idea about our spiritual condition that we infer from a decision we have made. It is supernatural. You can use it to answer the question, “Did you receive the Spirit when you believed?”

You can say,

•   Yes, I have seen the Spirit of obedience at work in my life subduing sin and inclining me to acts of love.

•   Yes, I have seen the Spirit of praise in my life filling my heart and mouth with worship to Jesus and God the Father.

•   Yes, I have seen the Spirit of courage at work in my life overcoming fear and giving me a will to risk things for the cause of Christ.

•   And yes, even though I know that speaking in tongues and the gift of prophecy are no sure sign of God’s grace, yet together with other evidences they too are a precious evidence that the power of God is on me.

But if you can’t answer the question this morning, “Did you receive the Spirit when you believed?” then it may be that you have not believed and need to as we close this service. Or it may be that for some reason there has been a delay or a blockage in the manifestation of God’s power in your life, and you need to seek his fullness in prayer. Or it may be that he is doing more in your life than you realize because you have never been taught how to recognize what is the work of God.

In any of these three cases, I urge you to pray as this service closes. Declare your faith to the Lord; ask for the release and outpouring of the Holy Spirit in your life; ask for the ability to discern his work. Amen.[1]

[1] Piper, J. (2007; 2007). What Does It Mean to Receive the Holy Spirit? May 19, 1991

Sermons from John Piper (1990-1999). Desiring God; Minneapolis, MN.

  1. R. A. Torrey taught the same thing. It’s great to hear it articulated from someone like Piper who can’t simply be written off as a “charismaniac.” Thanks for the post.

    • Yeah, I appreciate Piper’s exegetical integrity and willingness to declare things as he seems them in Scripture, even if it is against the ethos of his denomination and Church.

  2. Andrew McIntyre says:

    For me, Piper’s distinction is artificial and forgets that Acts 2 is the dawning of the new age of the Spirit – which necessarily makes the Apostle’s experience unique. He also forgets that Peter’s comment about the Cornelius event is that the event brought home the fact that “salvation” had come to the Gentiles.

    What is more at stake in this whole discussion is the idea that conversion is a mere assent to the right ideas. Conversion is a revolutionary encounter – likened to being born again by the Holy Spirit by Jesus – in which the Living God begin to live within a believer – Christ/Spirit in me!

    I find that I agree more with John R. W. Stott’s comment: “The whole Christian life is life in the Spirit, following birth of the Spirit.” (Baptism & Fullness)

    Finally, the visible aspects of Baptism in the Holy Spirit found in Acts had more to do with convincing a rather hard-headed Church in Jerusalem that the Gospel must go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. Note how Luke records this progression, and how at each step of the way it is accompanied by confirmation by God.

    Thanks for the article.

  3. enemoi says:

    Thank you for your kind response; I am completely new to blogging. I am trying my hand at a fledgling site ( However, I do miss intelligent conversation – haven’t had much since grad school!

    I do find a lot in Dunn’s “conversion-initiation” explanation that I agree with, in spite of my Pentecostal background. While I am unfamiliar with Kaiser’s view, I totally agree with this sentence from your blog: “Kaiser, however, is not advocating a classical Pentecostal view, but instead sees Spirit baptism as that work of regeneration which places us within the body of Christ.” I too am no longer advocating a classical Pentecostal view, but am advocating that regeneration launches a believer into the wonderful, powerful experience of Christ/Spirit living in them.

    I guess that instead of looking for a separate and subsequent experience beyond conversion, I look for many experiences that are the outgrowth of this radical infusion of the Spirit/life of Christ. Life in the Spirit opens one to many experiences like powerful witness, miracles, tongues, prophecy, gifts for service, etc.

    Anyway, I really do appreciate the dialogue (especially when I know you are extremely busy), and would also love to have coffee sometime. My email address is

    Again, thanks for being so gracious,

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