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What’s the difference between a water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit?

Baptism means a full immersion, to be drenched completely, to be covered.

Before Jesus arrived on the scene, John the Baptist was baptizing in the Jordan River so people could repent of their sins. They heard that the Messiah was coming and they wanted to prepare themselves, like an important guest coming to town. They symbolically asked for the sins to be fully washed away.

John (the Baptist) answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Luke 3:16

According to John, Jesus was going to baptize them differently – with the Holy Spirit and fire. What was he talking about? The tongues of fire that would appear over the new believers when they received Jesus as their savior in Acts. During their salvation, a phenomena occurred that was spiritual, miraculous and part of their salvation. That was a unique occurrence that happened only once.

Jesus, after his resurrection, reminded them again of a new baptism that was coming.

(Jesus) “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 1:5

So far all they received was information about Jesus Christ that would lead to their salvation. The Holy Spirit was coming to all believers in just a few days. This was a new step in the way God worked with his people. From the inside out.

Peter, during Pentecost, spoke a sermon that led thousands to Christ.

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Acts 2:38

Notice he told them to be baptized (with water) and you will receive the Holy Spirit. This is not two different baptisms.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into[c] the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Acts 8:14-17

A man named Simon began telling people about Jesus Christ. He didn’t have all the information, but just enough to accept the word of God and what he knew about Jesus. Peter and John showed up to complete the salvation by making sure they had the full revelation that comes with the Holy Spirit.

This was a unique incident that only happened once.

“Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” Acts 10:47

Later we see that people have received the Holy Spirit, but had not been baptized with water. So these are separate incidents, signifying different things.

When we accept a relationship with our savior Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes and lives inside of us. We are fully immersed (baptized) into that relationship. When we are baptized in water, it is more than just repentance, but a symbol of our full immersion to follow God.  Usually the water baptism happens after the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Today people pray for a baptism of the Holy Spirit in a separate ceremony, which is fine, but they’ve already received all the Holy Spirit they will ever get.

If the prayer is to say to God that you want to acknowledge more of the Holy Spirit in your life, then that’s more biblical correct.

But the Holy Spirit is not like a gas tank that God has to refuel you on a regular basis. We just need to obey Him more often.