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A Second Blessing

Into Christ, with water, by the Holy Spirit—just how many baptisms are there in a believer’s life?

I was a member of a Second Blessing church before I joined the Christian Reformed Church.

“Second Blessing” is a common term used by many Holiness, Pentecostal, and charismatic churches. It refers to a teaching that there are two or more spiritual stages (blessings) in a believer’s life. The first stage is usually understood as the person’s declaration of faith, when he or she becomes spiritually “born again.”

The second stage, or second blessing, is the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” It is usually understood as having to do with the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit in a believer’s life—especially speaking in other tongues, along with the practice of spiritual gifts such as prophecy, healing, singing in the Spirit, and other gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12.

Many times Second Blessing groups will also identify multiple blessings or “stages of salvation.” Because of a unique interpretation of several passages in the book of Acts, in particular chapters 8, 10, and 11, some of these movements believe there are two, three, or in some cases even more such baptisms in a Christian’s life.

A good example of a Scripture passage that gives rise to their view of several baptisms is Acts 8:14-17: “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 the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” Another example is Acts 1:5: “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

As Reformed Christians we believe what Paul taught in Ephesians 4:3-4—that there is only one genuine sacrament of baptism for the Christian believer. Paul writes, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

The confusion often comes from the multiple ways the word baptism is used throughout the New Testament. On the one hand, the New Testament predominately uses baptism as the traditionally understood sacrament of repentance and forgiveness of sins symbolized in the outward washing in water. On the other hand, the New Testament speaks of other baptisms as well—the baptism of fire, the baptism of repentance, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the baptism of water, and the baptism of John.

Ultimately, however, each of those baptisms flows from the one baptism of Christ’s death on the cross. Paul writes, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom. 6:3-4; see also Lord’s Days 25 and 26 of the Heidelberg Catechism).

Reformed believers view water baptism as the outward sign of the inward sealing of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. Article 34 of our Belgic Confession speaks about this as well: “So ministers, as far as their work is concerned, give us the sacrament and what is visible, but our Lord gives what the sacrament signifies—namely the invisible gifts and graces; washing, purifying, and cleansing our souls of all filth and unrighteousness; renewing our hearts and filling them with all comfort; giving us true assurance of [God’s] fatherly goodness; clothing us with the ‘new man’ and stripping off the ‘old,’ with all its works.”

My Second Blessing brothers and sisters often challenge me for believing in only one sacrament of baptism. From my present view as a Reformed believer, I think the root of our differences is that they confuse the biblical teaching of the sacrament of baptism with what all Christians should expect throughout their lives: the continual progression of spiritual growth and blessing, not multiple kinds of baptisms or second blessings. In other words, we shouldn’t expect just a “second blessing,” but a daily spiritual blessing in Christ. As Reformed believers we see all those spiritual experiences and blessings as being rooted in the one original experience of spiritual regeneration, or being born again.

When challenged by my Second Blessing brothers and sisters, I usually respond by pointing to passages from Scripture. The first is Titus 3:5-7, which reads, “[God] saved us not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” And the second is found in 2 Corinthians 4:16: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

  1. What does the Bible teach about the meaning of baptism?
  2. What is your experience of baptism in your own life or that of a family member?
  3. Do you receive spiritual blessings in Christ? Do you receive them often? Describe such a blessing.
  4. Is it important to you to experience the more charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues? Why?
  5. What conclusion do you come to as you compare how different Christian groups discern Scripture and therefore practice faith differently?

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