What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit and what does it entail? Pastor Kong Hee unpacked this Pentecostal experience at City Harvest Church last weekend.
“The baptism in the Holy Spirit is more than just power. It is the outpouring of God Himself in love,” said Kong Hee, the senior pastor of CHC as he opened his sermon on the baptism in the Holy Spirit, or “spirit baptism”. He drew the church’s attention to the Pentecostal Triangle of love, holiness and power, reminding the congregation that love is always the foundation.
“As we turn the tide and steer our ship back on course, let us not forget that the greatest is love,” he urged, referring to CHC’s efforts to rebuild the church. He further emphasised that love determines the direction of the church and in the pursuit of God, love is paramount.
Referencing the central thesis of a 14th-century Christian classic The Cloud Of Unknowing, Pastor Kong stated that “love is more important than intellectual knowledge and rational understanding.”
“To experience deep encounters with God, you must realise that He transcends human cleverness, human thoughts and understanding,” he explained. While human intelligence is important, it is limited, especially when it comes to experiencing and knowing God (Eph 3:19). The book also noted that if one turns knowledge into an idol, they will become proud (1 Cor 8:1, 13:2).
“The presence of God is in the cloud of unknowing and the only way into this cloud—to grasp it, to experience it—is to put aside all your intellectualism and all your human cleverness and come humbly before God in love,” Pastor Kong said. “Come with detachment from all concerns and worries.”
He added that when one fails to make sense of their circumstances, it is love that will keep them close to the flame of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecostals love to speak in tongues because it is the “language of love, not reason”, transcending conventional wisdom and understanding. Yet for those who are unwilling to let go of their intellectual faculty, speaking in tongues troubles them.
THE WHATS AND HOWS OF SPIRIT BAPTISM
Pastor Kong went on to explain what spirit baptism—”the crown jewel of Pentecostal spiritually”—really is. Beyond the outpouring of power, tongues, healing, prophecy, signs and wonders, spirit baptism is the outpouring of divine love upon God’s people.
While Luke described Acts in their outward forms of healings, deliverances and miracles, Paul described it inwardly in Rom 5:5—to be baptised in the Holy Spirit is to be filled with the Spirit of God, to receive the outpouring of God’s love into their hearts.
“That love opens up your heart fully for God to cleanse and purify you,” said Pastor Kong, “and you become a vessel for His power to work through.”
This is how revivals happen. Pastor Kong gave the example of the revivals he had experienced in CHC, from the early days in 1986 at 41A Amber Road to the Crossover Project in 2002.
“Revival is more than having a great vision,” he explained. “It’s more than just soul-winning or the gathering of a lot of people or church growth. The fire of revival at its best, is the flame of love rekindled and enhanced in us, both for the Lord and for the world!”
Revival causes one to be so overwhelmed by God’s love that a believer’s life is radically changed. He becomes open to God in prayer, worship and discipleship. In turn, the divine love overflows with an intense enjoyment not just for loving God, but also for loving one another. As a result of the intense outpouring of love, the congregation supports and serves others with joy and excitement, ultimately defining true revival.
“If spirit baptism doesn’t have love at the centre, then the power you get is just energy without substance,” Pastor Kong taught. Baptism in the Spirit is receiving divine love and coming into union with the Triune God—an experience will powerfully change a person.
The pastor explained that it was through the encounter of God’s loving embrace that he learned to forgive constantly and have unlimited patience and zero anger. It is this divine love that will radically and positively change the congregation’s lives and rebuild the church.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LOVE
Quoting his professor Dr Frank Macchia from Vanguard University (where Pastor Kong is pursuing theological studies), he said, “Love is God’s supreme gift, for it transcends all emotion, conceptuality and action only to inspire all three.”
He explained that God’s love is the supreme gift, better than any financial blessing or success. It transcends all emotions, healing hearts and giving joy. It inspires the believer to develop great concepts and moves him to make a difference. Yet, this love goes beyond all these things and gives life more abundantly (Jn 10:10).
The abundant life is not having an abundance of material possessions or wealth, which can only provide a temporary sense of happiness and security. The divine love of God, however, is the inner joy and peace that people need.
Pastor Kong quoted theologian Karl Barth: “The Christian life begins with love, and it also ends with love. There is nothing beyond love.”
Love also plays an integral part in theosis (union) with God, where believers are soaked in His divine love. After experiencing it, they themselves would then produce fruits of the Spirit as the substance of their union with God, which is the substance of the Christian life.
In contrast, Christianity without love becomes a dry, ritualistic religion and ministry becomes work without much meaning. It is through love that the congregation can have a personal relationship with God, subsequently helping them to serve with joy unspeakable.
UNDERSTANDING DIVINE LOVE
What then, is divine love? Pastor Kong puts it simply, “It is God Himself, in His Person, in His Presence (1 Jn 4:8).” Love is not something God possesses; it is simply who He is. It is His DNA. If one can abide in love, they are abiding in God. All aspects of His character—omnipresence, omniscient, holiness—are the result of His love.
In His omnipotence is an all-powerful love that casts out all fear (1 Jn 4:18) and strengthens unity. In His omnipresence is an all-present love where He is ever present in every situation, while in His omniscience is an all-knowing love that understands everything the believer is going through, and God responds to him or her in love as the believer seeks Him in repentance. Lastly, His holiness is an all-cleansing love which helps believers overcome every sin in their lives.
The love of God is cannot be interpreted by human definition; it must be understood in the context of His divine nature. “He defines love for you,” the pastor stated. “It’ s not us telling Him to love the way we like it.”
The only way to understand God’s love is through revelation. Yet even when God reveals how divine love should look like, mankind can only see it in parts in this lifetime. They will only understand it fully, when they see God face to face.
“God has revealed to us through His written Word, the Bible and the Living Word, Jesus,” Pastor Kong went on to explain. Divine love is us exemplified in the incarnation, where God surrendered Himself to be like one of mankind in the form of Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5). It was an irreversible change of Jesus completely giving up His divinity for the sake of mankind.
In Jesus’ preaching of the gospel, Jesus is the King, and the Holy Spirit is the Kingdom (Mt 12:28). It is this kingdom of love that gives power to the church to overcome every darkness and sin (Rom 8:37-39).
On the cross, Jesus gave Himself a love that bore all sin, death and suffering. Love gave Him to unlimited capacity to suffer for the sake of mankind so that we may know God (Rom 5:8).
On the Day of Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit gave of Himself without measure by pouring Himself on all flesh to bring salvation, healing and communion to anyone willing to call upon His name (Acts 2:17, 21). “Pentecost shows us a God who overflows with abundant life, seeking to embrace all with life-renewing love,” Pastor Kong added, spurring the congregation to give praise and thanks to God. It is through this love that they can look to be transformed into the full measure of Jesus Christ (Eph 4:13).
Pastor Kong emphasised that one’s love for God becomes credible, only when that love is extended to others as well (1 Jn 4:20). Even when a believer has great faith in God’s word and His works, that faith has no credibility when they behave and think unlovingly towards others.
Spiritual gifts are given for the purpose of building each other in love, bearing the same kind of passionate love God has for His people. “A self-giving God produces self-giving people,” the pastor said. A Spirit-filled person is easily moved with the same compassion God has for the lost and marginalised, seeking to meet their needs and restoring human dignity for them.
“The baptism in the Holy Spirit is all about love, about greater intimacy with God,” Pastor Kong summarised. “Allowing the Spirit to draw you closer and closer to the heart of God, in deeper love, and in empathy to catch a glimpse of His feeling for the whole world. It is this love that is the substance and direction of everything we do in CHC—in our cell groups, in all our ministry and all our missions. Without this love, doing church is just raw work, busyness, tiredness, and endless frustration.”
Finally, Pastor Kong states that it is love that leads to repentance. At the Global Pentecostal Summit that CHC recently hosted, he pointed to how much love the scholars had for the Word of God, for each other and for the church. They were deeply moved by how the congregation showed love to them through their hospitality and how they showed love to God through their worship. The summit became a biosphere of love as the scholars prayed for those who hungered for more of God, ultimately resulting in the purifying of hearts and transformation of lives for many.
Pastor Kong closed the service with an altar call for those who feel distant from God and are going through difficult situations. After the leaders in the church ministered to the members, Pastor Kong himself laid hands on the leaders, praying for a refreshing of the spirit and renewed strength to come upon them, exhorting the congregation to love one another.