The Fork in the Road: On Imperfect Baptisms, Part 5.1

JMF asked,

1) Jay—

Functionally, how would we go about asking if one had received the Spirit? As you said in your book, there are atheists that blow us away in ways that look like Spirit fruit.


That’s a very good question. I’ve thought a lot about it over the years. Here’s how I see it.

Evidence 1: Faith

(Gal 3:2-6 ESV) 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith — 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

If the condition for the receipt of the Spirit is faith in Jesus, then the presence of faith in Jesus is assurance of the Spirit. And even more obviously, the absence of faith is a guaranty that the Spirit is missing.

Evidence 2. Love

(Rom 5:5 ESV) 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Those with the Spirit love others (see also 1 Cor 13 and 1 John).

Evidence 3. Hope.

(Rom 15:13 ESV) 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Now “hope” is the confident expectation of a resurrection in the new heavens and new earth.

Evidence 4. Peace and joy. And the other fruit of the Spirit

Of course, Paul credits peace and joy to God’s gifts in the preceding verse. In fact, joy is perhaps the one gift most frequently associated with the Spirit in the New Testament.

(Gal 5:22-23 ESV) 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Now, we should see that the gifts/fruit of the Spirit are very Trinitarian. It’s not just faith. It’s faith in Jesus. It’s not just love. It’s the love of God poured into us by the Spirit. It’s not just hope — in the sense of confidence and optimism — but the new heavens and earth to be re-created by God for our benefit.

Thus, the peace and joy experienced by Christians is not what atheists experience.

(Phi 4:7 ESV) 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Christian peace is deeper and richer than a peace that might come from our own efforts and understanding. It’s a supernatural peace.

Just so, joy is a gift —

(1Th 1:6 ESV) 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,

I could go on … but the point should be clear. We don’t need tongues to see the Spirit in our brothers and sisters. Rather, we need the eyes of faith.

But we sometimes teach such a parched, Spirit-less Christianity that our members don’t evidence these things. We don’t see the joy, peace, and love in our worship because it’s barely there.

I think of the Spirit’s work as like the embers of charcoal. Sometimes it burns so brightly it could melt iron and be seen from great distances. Other times, the ember is nearly burned down to a flicker. Sometimes the Spirit isn’t quenched, but it’s grieved and struggling to survive in that place. Indeed, sometimes the coals are so cold we think they’re dead, when they’re really not. And so it can sometimes be hard to tell who has the Spirit.

But it can also be hard to deny the presence of the Spirit. I mean, who can read C. S. Lewis — an Anglican — and conclude that he’s an enemy of God, devoid of the Spirit?

And so, when I meet with a Methodist, and see that his prayer life is better than mine, that his faith is stronger than mine, that his love is much more in evidence than mine, that he has a more intense hope than I, and that his life is filled with fruit of the Spirit, I have no problem seeing the Spirit in him.

He may have a friend at the Methodist Church whose possession of the Spirit is much weaker than my own and much harder to see. But there are certainly many among the improperly baptized who evidence the Spirit intensely.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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27 Responses to The Fork in the Road: On Imperfect Baptisms, Part 5.1

  1. Wendy says:

    I have my list of them.. William Wilberforce. John Newton. Tom Wright. CS Lewis. are just a few on it.

  2. Bruce Morton says:

    I know a Wiccan priestess who would resounding, enthusiastically support all you have written in the last few paragraphs of Part 5.1. She would be uncomfortable reading the Bible. However… depend on the Spirit? Look for love, joy, peace? Believe in Jesus (but she does not mean the same thing by the phrase that Christians typically mean)? She is fine with all of that.

    Similarly, I expect that we are seeing evidence in the U.S. these days of exactly the situation described in Ephesians 4:1ff. Folks mingling their faith in Jesus with their faith in the Asian cults. Were the Ephesians "fine?" They likely thought they were and that they were living Spirit-filled lives. Paul sees otherwise. Indeed, 1 Corinthians 11-14 is likely showing us Dionysiac influence in the Corinthian congregation.

    Jay, before you think me harsh… or extreme… or whatever for mentioning the above, what I am trying to show is that we underestimate a spiritual war. Many people with kind hearts, deep love for the Lord (or 'a' Lord), are living spiritual lies. A Wiccan priestess I know being one example. Anyone have anything to say to her? And what of the Methodists I know who are giving up "Jesus Christ" for a New Age-like Christian faith? Jay, are you ready to loving challenge a Wiccan priestess' understanding of and belief that she is living a "Spirit-filled" life?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  3. Wendy says:

    Bruce, have you considered that condemning those with "imperfect baptisms" is a spiritual lie. You are using extreme examples in an attempt to discredit Jay's argument. Consider that this discussion is part of a spiritual war – that Satan is rejoicing when Christians condemn other Christians and keep people from Christ by extreme fundamentalist judgmentalism.

  4. Jay,

    The three things you name as how to determine if a person has a spirit filled life are the same things I discussed in my series on Traits of the New Testament Church.

    Same question, applied to the church instead of the individual Christian.


  5. Bruce,

    Satan imitates everything God gives that is good. There is pseudo-love, pseudo-faith, and pseudo-hope. A clever imitation looks like the real thing.

    You have talked about imitations, some clever and looking much like the real thing – but still imitations.

    Jay's argument seems, to me, to be that a perfect baptism is not how you tell. The details of the ritual of baptism (or the Lord's Supper, or the organization of the church, or a myriad of other things) cannot be equated with the marks of the spirit-filled life. It was not so in the Old Testament when ritual was spelled out clearly – and it certainly is not so today when we live with the grace and truth that are in Jesus.


  6. Bruce Morton says:

    You highlight part of the challenge in melting-pot America, Please note that I did not condemn — and I will not; I said people are living a spiritual lie. An important difference exists there — and that is part of the spiritual deception we face. Paul's letter to the Ephesians highlights this distinction.

    Let me offer that construction of the "perfect belief/understanding" or condemnation" alternatives is at the heart of much skewed religious thought and teaching in our day — making it difficult for any of us to "land" on what we should believe or urge others to believe as we read the Word with them.

    The idea behind the deception: since none of us can know everything regarding baptism, and we know we should not condemn, then everything about people's views of baptism must be okay to believe and teach. Really? Is that what we see in apostolic teaching in Ephesians, for example. Let me highlight that Paul does not condemn Ephesus, but neither does he accept what they have believed at every point. He calls them to change; they are in danger of losing their way spiritually.

    And no, I regret that my example is not as extreme as you suggest. I can tell you of other acquaintances who are certain they are "mainstream" who have similar belief systems.

    And yes, by the definition of Jennifer Geddes' Evil After Postmodernism, I accept that I am a "fundamentalist" (I would have avoided the word earlier this year). But she makes a strong point. We are now living in a country which has largely embraced a great irony: believing that a religious belief can be "evil" is judged harshly (Geddes believes it should; she believes "evil" is an outmoded religious concept and that all who take issue with her are "fundamentalists").

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  7. K. Rex Butts says:

    As I said elsewhere…do some (perhaps many?) in the CoC even hear Jesus when he speaks about trying to separate weeds from wheat?

    Seems to me that some are sure of their confidence to decide who is a true disciple of Jesus and who is not based on what they believe/practice regarding baptism, (instrumental) worship, the role of women, etc… that in doing so they often uproot actual wheat God is trying to cultivate for his great harvest.

    Stop, stop, stop! Preach Jesus and the gospel but don't confuse that noble calling with the unnecessary task of weeding the garden – especially when Jesus warned us against such business.

    Grace and peace,


  8. Bruce Morton says:

    Do you believe Paul was 'weeding the garden' when he wrote the letter to the Ephesians… or Colossians? How would you draw the distinction between early disciples' loving rebukes (e.g Paul's counsel to Timothy, 1 Ti. 1:3ff.; 2 Ti. 3;16) and 'weeding the garden?' Yes, to confirm, I believe a distinction exists.

    What about Paul's clear comment about "one baptism," (Ephesians 4:5) suggesting that the Christians in Ephesus were becoming confused about baptism too.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  9. K. Rex Butts says:


    I can preach and affirm my belief that scripture teaches water immersion for the confessing believer in regards to baptism. That does not mean I must condemn, anathematize, or disfellowship those professing Christians who believe/practice differently because they have a different understanding of scripture on an issue that has 2,000 years of Christian history attached to it (for better and worse). After all, we are not living in the first century that Paul did. We are living in the 21st century where our understanding of scripture has been shaped and clouded by 2,000 years of history.

    For heavens sake, what if you/the CoC are wrong? Do we want God to hold us by the same standards we hold others too?

    Let's not be so presumptious to assume that our condemning, etc…is the same thing Paul was doing when all we know about what Paul was doing comes from the letter he wrote which require some historical , grammatical, and theological reconstruction in order to make an attempt at faithfully reconstructing what Paul was actually doing and why he was doing.

    Instead, let's just hear the wisdom of Jesus…stop trying to weed the garden and let God do that in his own time.

    Grace and peace,


  10. Guy says:

    John gave a criterion for determining who was in and out that did not include the fruit of the Spirit (1John 4:1-3; 2John 9-11). Paul also used criteria other than the fruit of the Spirit to assess the status of individuals (Gal 5:4; 2Tim 2:18). Even if the fruit of the Spirit is a necessary condition for determining who is saved, it doesn't follow that it's a sufficient condition.


  11. Guy says:


    If our view of scripture is so shaped by history such that we can't know what it originally meant since we aren't there in that time, then our ability to "just hear the wisdom of Jesus" is equally tainted by that same problem.


  12. K. Rex Butts says:


    I never said that we cannot know what scripture originally meant. I would want to suggest that our knowledge claims about scripture need to be accompanied with a large dose of humility since such claims do require a bit of exegesis. And besides, it is one thing to tell who is a Christian based upon whether they confess the name of Jesus or deny that he has come in the flesh, or say they are trusting their salvation to keeping the law (illuding to some of the passages you mentioned earlier). It is quite another thing to be deciding who is in and who is out based upon an issue (baptism) that has regretably become very confused throughout 2,000 years of Christian history.

    Again, I ask…what if we are the ones in the wrong? What if we are wrong about our understanding of "household baptisms"? What if we are wrong about the exclusion of Christian tradition from discerning what should be the normative practice for baptism? What if we are wrong about the grammatical decisions we must make regarding all those prepositional phrases in the scriptures that speak of baptism? What if… Do we want God to hold us to the same standards of judgment that some have held every other professing Christian to as they pronounced judgment upon them for their belief/practice of baptism?

    I am not suggesting that we don't teach what we believe to be the truth about baptism. I am simply asking that it be done in humility. I would much rather face God in judgment having included some people as belonging to him only to find out that they are not rather than having excluded some people who actually belonged to God.

    Grace and peace,


  13. Bruce Morton says:

    If you are correct, then Israel had no hope of understanding and honoring the Lord in the eighth century… in a world different from when the Law was given. And Amos should have been quiet! The Jews had no hope in the first century, centuries after Malachi.

    And we have no hope that the wisdom and power of the risen Lord can guide His people by His Word in our day. If that is true Satan has won.

    I do not accept that Satan has won. I am certain that the risen Lord intends for His people to lean on His Word with all of their weight. He guided its writing so that all can understand… in unity. And what keeps people from such? Yes, misunderstanding can, supported by the suggestion that people try to build unity on 2000 years of clouded church history. And rebellion can hinder unity. I cannot know hearts; that is why I do not try to know. That is probably why "disfellowship" is rarely talked about in Scripture among the Lord's people — and only as discipline, not condemnation.

    What I do know is that we can understand the Word — all of us — because I do believe in the power and wisdom of the risen Lord. And
    yes, I know that may sound "judgmental" in our day and in our country. And yes, do want people to "test" my understanding. That is one of the reasons I listen and pray as people discuss Scripture in OneinJesus. Berea was spoken of with honor because they opened themselves to the Word of God. We should expect no less openness from every person on this globe. Otherwise, we may be seeing rebellion. Time and dark pressure reveals.

    An illustration: Not long ago a friend and I were discussing Scripture and he said simply, "I understand what Peter was teaching, but I do not agree with him." Is that faith in the risen Lord or rebellion? To confirm he knew what he was saying, and he meant it. He did not believe the Bible. Period.

    Rex, please consider and pray about what our nation is facing.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  14. Bruce Morton says:

    Is the basis for growing in the Lord deciding to let ourselves be shaped by "what if?"

    Give Everett Ferguson's new survey of baptism in the first 400 years a close read. The "what if's" will vanish. It is not important that "the Restoration Movement has been right." That should not be the focus of our discussion or our confidence. Our focus should be on the risen Lord, including His speaking through His apostles.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  15. Guy says:


    i agree it should all be done in humility. But i'm having a difficult time understanding what that means. You say that we should teach what we believe to be the truth about baptism. Okay. How have the CoC's not been doing that very thing?

    Perhaps, they lack humility because they're willing to treat as unbaptized people who disagree/do not practice that same view of baptism? Is this accurate? If so, then it is humble to teach what you believe to be the truth about baptism, but it is not humble to act like you believe it? It is not humble to accept and behave according to the consequences of your belief?

    i assume (correct me if i'm wrong) that you believe that people who deny that Jesus is the Christ are lost and/or not in brethren and/or not in fellowship with you in the same manner as those who believe that Jesus is the Christ. Are you lacking humility by not fellowshipping atheists? After all, you could be wrong on the issue. Perhaps the God of the Bible being the one true God or Jesus being the Messiah isn't as clear as you think. Plenty of people have studied the NT documents and not come to the conclusion you have about Jesus. And there's two thousand years between you and those documents. So perhaps you're wrong about Jesus being the Christ. Therefore, you can't take a "hard" stance that those who don't agree with you are lost–no?

    If "you could be wrong" means i can't behave as though my position on baptism and its consequences are correct, then the "you-could-be-wrong" trick also applies to those who are accepting people with baptismal views/practices different from their own. Perhaps they are wrong in their stance of being more accepting.

    If you don't mean to imply any of this, then i apologize for ascribing it to you. My point isn't that it's what you're personally espousing. What bothers me is that all this "humility" or "you could be wrong" talk just sounds like latent relativism or agnosticism to me. –as though i can't believe and behave as though there is such a thing as truth and error and a difference between the two.

    i see the Jesus in the gospels taking lots of hard stances and not apologizing for them.


  16. JMF says:

    Guy said:

    "If you don’t mean to imply any of this, then i apologize for ascribing it to you. My point isn’t that it’s what you’re personally espousing. What bothers me is that all this “humility” or “you could be wrong” talk just sounds like latent relativism or agnosticism to me."


    And Guy,

    Yours sounds like a Contending For The Faith lectureship! It sounds like all of the Modernist 20th century COC teaching most of us grew up with. "God isn't the author of confusion", so get every doctrine perfect, then condemn all others that disagree. "Somebody is right, and somebody is wrong! And we aren't wrong. So you are going to hell."

    So, as usual, we are back to, "What does grace cover?"

  17. Terry says:

    It's important to keep trying to be both correct and kind. It's not an easy task at times.

  18. Guy says:


    i hold that relativism and agnosticism as worldviews are flatly false. Thus my fear when people take positions that seem to imply one or the other.

    Do you hold that any and all "Modernist 20th Century COC teaching" is flatly false?


  19. K. Rex Butts says:

    Bruce, Guy,

    Respectfully, you can keep trying to spin my comments into something they really are not saying but I guess that makes for a good ad hominem argument. Regardless, at the end of the day the point of Jesus still remains…stop trying to separate the weeds from the wheat because you just may be uprooting actual wheat.

    Grace and peace,


  20. Guy says:


    i do have an obligations to relate to other Christians in such a way, and i also have an obligation not to lie. i find practical conflicts between those two sometimes and want to determine what my obligations are in such a case so i can have confidence that i'm following Christ.

    i don't want to twist your words or make you say something you're not. Sorry if i've come across that way. i've respected and learned from a lot of your comments here over the past year that i've participated.

    i can understand a fear or aversion to being too sectarian or failing to fellowship with people we're truly obligated to. i don't want to come across as though i think that concern is anything less than legitimate.

    i just have an additional concern, and that is that i want to still respect the fact that God and Jesus have set standards and drawn lines in the sand. In some cases determining precisely where those lie can be difficult. Other times i really don't think it's very difficult. How am i doing wrong if i believe and behave as though there really is a line in the sand?

    i'm not at all saying i have all the answers or know what to do in every case. i don't. But can you at least relate to my fear at all? If we so muddy concepts until everyone's okay just as they are, then we don't really believe in much of anything at all.


  21. Jay Guin says:


    Are you telling me that your Wiccan friend has faith in Jesus? And what of your new age former Methodists? Again, do they have faith in Jesus?

    That's the first test in the post. Did you overlook it? Please re-read the post and see whether you've fairly applied what I've written.

  22. Rich W says:

    I just recently returned from Haiti where a Catholic version of voodoo is very popular. Locals say those practicing voodoo believe in Jesus as the son of God much like us. They also worship and pray to Lucifer (whom we know as Satan) and the good and evil spirits that follow him. A popluar yearly festival includes animal sacrifices to Jesus at the base of a larger than life stone crucifix.

    A theology that believes all we need is faith in Jesus means we should fully fellowship and support this additional voodoo system. I struggle with that.

  23. Jay Guin says:


    Let's consider those passages.

    (1Jo 4:1-3 ESV) 1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

    (2Ti 2:18 ESV) 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.

    (2Jo 1:9-11 ESV) 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

    These are all speaking of faith in Jesus — which I listed in my earlier comment. (I've covered 2 John 9 – 11 and 2 Tim 2:18 at length at

    (Gal 5:4 ESV) 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

    This passage, of course, condemns those who seek justification by works of the law — whereas a genuine faith looks to Jesus for salvation and grace.

    I see nothing in these verses not covered in my comment.

  24. Jay Guin says:

    Rich W,

    Are you saying that if we'll just add baptism to faith then suddenly we escape the voodoo problem? I don't see how baptism helps that concern in the least. Rather, the solution is to have a better understanding of faith.

  25. Guy says:


    John fought errors of Christology. Paul was also concerned with "doctrinal" beliefs and practices. People with erroneous Christologies, or who teach the resurrection has already happened, or who teach that you have to be circumcised to be saved–all of these people could exhibit fruit of the Spirit. They could be joyous, kind, generous, loving people with excellent prayer lives that put mine to shame.

    i don't see from scripture where it's categorically wrong for myself and my brothers to be held to certain creedal standards/tenets. Which tenets are necessarily is a fair debate–i have no problem with that. But i don't see why i have to give up the idea that i should expect myself and my brethren to hold to at least some particular propositional beliefs.


  26. Jay Guin says:

    Guy wrote,

    But i don’t see why i have to give up the idea that i should expect myself and my brethren to hold to at least some particular propositional beliefs.

    Guy, are you saying that "faith in Jesus" is devoid of particular propositional beliefs? Is there no content in that phrase?

    When Jesus asked Peter who he is and Peter responded with the Great Confession, wasn't there a propositional belief in there somewhere?

    When you confessed Jesus before your baptism, did your confession include any propositional beliefs?

    (Gal 5:6-7 ESV) 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

    (Eph 2:8-10 ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

    Why do we so struggle to believe this?

  27. Guy says:


    Fine–please correct me if i'm wrong, but i get the strong impression from your words with some frequency that to insist that anyone assent to certain propositions in order to be acceptable to God is itself wrong regardless of what that proposition is.

    i find it very unlikely that you really believe this, that's why i bring up this very point so often. It seems you criticize people *merely* for insistence on assent to certain beliefs. But that criticism bites back at anyone who's not a relativist or an agnostic.


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