I'd like to share an illustration with you to help explain the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Picture a vast sea, filled with sinners who need to hear about Jesus and accept Him as their Savior. There is a single river, leading from that sea, to the headwaters of Heaven. You begin swimming up God's river when you are saved and begin your Christian swim toward your final destination. All other rivers leading from the sea lead to canneries and destruction so it is critical to pick God's river. There's only one path to heaven, regardless of what some high profile politicians might proclaim in the spirit of religion's chapter on political correctness.
Let's think of a Christian as an Atlantic salmon and trace its journey up God's own river. Supposedly the Atlantic salmon can live after reproducing - they don't die in the act. Therefore, they are a much more appropriate analogy than Pacific salmon.
The waters the salmon are traversing represent where that person is at in their spiritual walk with God and has both a physical and a spiritual element that is important. There are many lakes between the headwaters of heaven and the sea of the lost. The lakes represent Christian denominations and churches. As a new Christian salmon swims upstream, it passes many hurdles and gets tired. There is a continual struggle between seeking fresher water where it will be able to reproduce and feeling exhaustion from life's struggles and the search itself.
Eventually, the salmon reaches some lake. The waters are peaceful and it doesn't have to work any longer. If it wants, it can choose to swim, eat, grow fat, and die in that lake, never pressing forward and never reproducing. It can enjoy the presence of other salmon who have also chosen to swim in that lake. This is where the majority of the Christian church is at today, and in fact where most of the Christian church has always been. You can live out your life in peace in any of the lakes of God's river that you encounter.
The War of Attrition
Satan, like a bear, eagle, or fisherman, is always fishing along the way. Some fish are eaten by bears before they reach even the first lake. These represent those taken to their eternal reward early due to accident, disease, or a similar unnatural event. They are still saved, but are taken before they can reproduce as God intended.
Some are taken by eagles even after they reach a large body of water where they feel invincible - where they've "made it". These represent those whose love for God grows cold and distant. Eventually, they give up on God and backslide due to a lack of fresh water and are taken before they get a chance to accept Christ again.
Some are lured to their deaths by fisherman with crafty lures. Satan can't take anyone that doesn't decide to be taken. But many are lured toward a path of destruction and eventual eternal loss by shiny things of the world. Generally speaking, though, you are safe in the lakes. Most of the risk comes when you try to find fresher water. You're more exposed when you are out on your own rather than in a deep lake.
God's Final Catch
When the Great Fisherman returns, He will take all that remain in His lakes, rivers, and streams as His catch. He'll also gather all of His Christian missionaries (professional or just plain folks) who are actively out in the sea of the lost trying to lead people back to the proper river of God's salvation. In that day, you will be saved whether you have just turned into His river, have been living your life in the most stagnant of lakes, have been moving from lake to lake, have been living your life in the freshest of lakes, or have just been baptized in the Holy Spirit and are looking forward to spreading the Good News yourself in lakes or the sea itself. The quality of the water you are swimming in has nothing to do with your salvation. It just needs to be God's river (or a bubble of that river you've taken out into the sea with you while witnessing).
The Spawning Ground
The spawning grounds where the equipping for evangelism and great growth take place are at the headwaters where the water is running shallow and fast. There is little reproduction being done in the lakes. In the stagnant lakes, Christians are getting dispirited. Some move to fresher lakes, but some give up and drop out all together. I can't be more serious about that. There are exceptions to every rule, including this one. Many Christians in some lakes never invite anyone to come with them to Church. They aren't bearing fruit. Other denominations seem to do this easily and continually. If you aren't proud of the lake you are in, you aren't likely to show it off to others. Clean up your lakes with new fresh water.
The new baby fish remain in a state of grace for a while. Eventually though, they must make a decision to either stay put in one of the lakes between heaven and the sea, or go on out to the sea - perhaps never to return. Until the new fish grow up and reach the age of accountability, they are still in the streams and lakes of God's grace. At some point, they must make that conscious choice to accept salvation through Christ or not. They will either be reached by some denomination as they swim downstream and be convinced of their need to be saved, or will be lost. The choice is theirs to make. The pull of the sea is strong. The pull of the lakes needs to be strengthened.
Many main line churches today are missing my generation. Too many people my age felt the lakes were dead and longed for the easy path to the sea. The generation of their kids are largely swimming out in the sea without any guidance. They want something, but the generation that should be training them up in the way they should go checked out a long time ago. They bought into Satan's lie that kids should be allowed to decide about religion for themselves. They abdicated their religious responsibility as parents. They accepted churches without power and didn't seek to empower them themselves. The kids are left with a view of most churches being dead without any power of God evident in the services. This was never meant to be.
The Baptism in the Spirit
There is a separation between those headwaters of heaven and every lake below, represented by a high waterfall. The initial trip downstream is cost free - perhaps some bumps and scary times for the little fish in the process, but still easy. To completely reverse the course on your own is impossible, though. The waterfall is too high for the fish to jump on their own. At death, the Holy Spirit will lift them up over that waterfall on His own and take them to heaven. But there is another way to experience heaven on earth today. The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is like God's hand, coming down and scooping you up from your lake level to higher ground beyond the waterfall. That is available to every live fish.
Each denomination, by their teaching and history have determined the height that has to be overcome. For some, the waterfall is low and pretty easy to think of jumping. They accept God's hand in Baptism easily. For others the waterfall is very high and seems an insurmountable barrier. God is capable to lift any fish any height needed at any time the fish asks. The problem is that some lake fish have been taught by their fellow fish that to enjoy the gifts of heaven on earth themselves is impossible. They never think to accept God's help.
You will still have a stream to navigate once God lifts you over the waterfall to reach the destination where you can be productive. The baptism is equipping. It doesn't do your work for you. You will also find some new ponds to rest in along your way through your closer relationship with the Father. But the end, where the spawning takes place, is where God drives you to be. How much better to let Jesus lift you up over that waterfall so you can reach the spawning grounds of God and become productive, being equipped with the ability to produce 1000 to 10000 fold fruit than to die in a lake below without ever producing fruit for the Father.
Some of that fruit that we bear will sadly swim, of its own volition, back out to sea and be lost. Some will swim out to the sea with joy to spread the news of the fresh water that is available to all who will accept Christ as their Savior. These salmon will lead many fish back to the mouth of God's river and increase God's eventual catch. Some will bring the news of fresher water to those who are in the lower lakes and encourage them to seek the fresher water that is waiting for them upstream instead of settling for the lake water they are living in. And, thinking Atlantic Salmon vs. Pacific Salmon, we are free to go back wherever the Master leads us to continue His work ourselves. Perhaps it will be teaching a school of fish in our lake. Perhaps we will be called to another lake to teach. Perhaps we will be called to return to the sea as well to spread God's word among the world as missionaries (locally or globally). But equipping for service is what the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is all about. It isn't about bringing glory to ourselves or our lake. It is about being equipped to do the Father's bidding.
An important side effect of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is that the total amount of fresh water flowing in God's river is increased with each person who makes the choice to accept God's gift of baptism in the Holy Spirit. Each person becomes a flexible pipeline, taking that fresh water with them wherever they go. The size of the pipe is dependent on how willing that person is to be used of God. God would like every one of the pipes to be huge, but frequently the individuals are happy to settle for little pipes.
The end of the pipe also has a valve. Sometimes the individual has the valve open and sometimes the individual closes the valve. God would like the valve to be always open, so He can direct the water wherever He wills, but He cannot control the valve due to the free will of the individual. The water supply generally flows from the Father according to His will, although even in the Old Testament there were records of the water continuing to flow when the person was not in God's will in special cases like Solomon's wisdom. The simple presence of Jesus in New Testament times didn't fix every person's problem. Your pipeline won't fix every problem the world or the church has today either. But Jesus did what He saw the Father doing, and everything the Father chose to water, thrived and was restored! Let us be about the Father's business as well.
It is the water flow direct from heaven that keeps the lakes, rivers, and streams alive downstream. This is true from the direct source and from the pipeline through the believer direct to the lake where the individual returns. The farther the water travels from the pure source, the farther downstream it goes, the more it evaporates and the dirtier it gets. The lakes closest to the headwaters are fresh with little pollution due to the waterfall itself and the greater number of individual salmon pipelines therein. The farther away you get from God's headwaters, the more pollution has been added to the rivers by the world and the fish themselves. Eventually, near the edge of the sea, the lakes are filled with silt, slow moving, and not really conducive to life.
You can still be a Christian in them, but you won't thrive. You certainly won't be able to convince any new Christian coming from the sea that they should stay in your water rather than seeking the fresh water they can taste elsewhere. The more fresh water that comes over the waterfall and that comes through the individual pipelines, the more pollution is pushed out to sea all along the course of the river and lakes. More volume equates to more power and less staleness in each and every lake. A little light and salt go a long way to season all of Christianity and drive everyone to seek more of God, whether there are any pipelines directly feeding that lake or not.
The Value of a Single Fish
Even a single fish in a lake can start to make a difference in that lake's water quality. It doesn't take much of a pipeline flowing for people to say "I want some of that too! That's some fresh water!" The more salmon pipelines there are, the fresher the lake is bound to get and the sooner it can happen no matter how dirty the water is now. With enough pipelines feeding the lakes in a denomination, you can even see the river itself start to be made more healthy from that point down, just like a water purification plant, just by coming in contact with that series of lakes.
God wants each church and each individual to be living that pure life so that there is no pollution in His river. The fresh water of the Holy Spirit can help with that. God wants there to be so much water flowing directly into every lake He controls that there is a flood, not only watering His dry and parched land, but extending far out into the sea! And He particularly wants what flows out in that flood to the dry land or to the sea to be crystal clean and pure. He wants the lost to see only the absolute truth from His word and the absolute love from His children. He wants each of us to imitate Christ. We can't do that if we try to muddy up the Gospel, ignore teaching the characteristics of God from the Old Testament, or worse. The world's media will be sure to pounce on everything that we do wrong. Each Christian's goals should be to have there be nothing for the world to pounce on. The Holy Spirit can help with that.
Yes, you can live a full life in your lake without the baptism in the Holy Spirit. If you've accepted Christ as your Savior, then you will go to heaven when you die. But take His gift and produce fruit for the master. His spawning streams produce many fold more fruit than we can ever imagine if we are satisfied with just the lake experience. The fruit of the Spirit is great and you can win people to Christ with only the fruit of the Spirit. The gifts, operating without the fruit will end up turning people off from Christ rather than leading people to Christ. Both need to be in operation in this day and age to be as successful as God wants His Church to be.
Are You Out in the Sea? Are You Looking for Fresher Water?
If you are still swimming in the sea, looking for the right river mouth, look no further. If you're a Christian, but are tired of your old murky water, then you have a couple of choices. One is to move to fresher lakes. You, and your family, will benefit from being around people who are bringing God's pipeline of fresh water back to their lake. If you choose this path, seek God's guidance on what you should do and where you should go.
Many denominations out there are lukewarm when it comes to the Holy Spirit and their service formats give little opportunity for the Spirit to work. Just because a denomination believes in the Bible doesn't mean they let God work. Likewise, just because a denomination accepts and encourages the Holy Spirit doesn't mean that every church of that denomination will follow suit. Although you can always hope that the pastor has his valve open all the time, it isn't necessarily so. Sometimes pastors and individuals can get their valve works clogged up and not be useful for the Holy Spirit to use anymore. Sadly it happens. Seek out God's will.
He may also be calling you to be the bearer of fresh water back to your current congregation. He may ask you to be a pipeline directly back to your fellow Christians. He may have a lake that He wants to start fixing, and you may be the conduit He wants to use. That's a harder road to follow, but Jesus, the Baptizer, wants all His churches to be on fire for Him in actual fact and not in mission statement only!
Dried Up Lakes
Sadly, it may also be just the time that He has decided to route the river around a particular lake. The lake, left completely to its own devices, will evaporate. Any fish left in it will die without fresh water. The lake is left with a choice-- die, or actually follow the directions He has given for His church and accept direct supplies of fresh water through His people pipelines. If you don't think He would ever do such a thing, you need to read the Old Testament. The days remaining for the church may be short. Make the most of them.