Just before Jesus arrived to be baptized, John the Baptist was addressing the crowd including the Pharisees and Sadducees. These were the religious men whom Jesus would later call whitewashed tombs because they appeared to be holy on the outside, but they were full of the spirit of death. These were the men who had taken the law of righteousness and beat it over the people’s heads so that they just felt guilty all the time. Then John the Baptist says something absolutely profound.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
He is letting them know that there is coming one (Jesus) who is going to change everything. Baptism with water was a baptism of repentance. This is all the law was able to do. It was able to remind people of their sins. The law was given with the purpose of giving physical rituals for the people to go through in order to keep their hearts with God. The problem is that they were not able to do this. The law did not draw their hearts near to God. One reason that it didn’t is because the law did not convey to the people the love of God. And it is love that changes us from the inside out. The law just became a set of rules and nothing more. The most they could do under the law was repent.
But Jesus was going to come and change everything. Rather than being baptized to reveal their repentance heart over their sin, Jesus was going to baptize them in the Holy Spirit and fire. The Holy Spirit and fire. The Bible says the Holy Spirit is a consuming fire, but it consumes sin. The Holy Spirit burns up the sin in our heart. He guides us into all Truth so that we don’t see rules, but a Father who wants the very best for us. The Holy Spirit allows us to truly experience God. From that moment on, we do not experience God solely through obedience to the law. We begin experience Him in our spirit, in our inmost place. We begin to know Him and His love for us which creates in us a thankful heart that wants to please Him for all He had done for us.
Where does your relationship with the Lord sit? Do you sit under the baptism of water or the Holy Spirit and fire? If you are full of guilt, constantly feeling sorry for things you have done and if your relationship with God is nothing more than rules and trying not to break them, then you don’t know my Jesus. He is calling you to baptism by the Holy Spirit and fire, to have the Word of God written on your heart that you might not sin against Him. This is the difference. The best you could do before Christ was repent, but now because of the work of Christ on the cross, you can be filled with the Holy Spirit who will burn up your temptations and purify your heart.