What does John the Baptist mean when he says that Jesus "will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Matt 3:11 NET)?
John the Baptist undoubtedly preached a message of repentance. He was different. He would make us uncomfortable if he attended our churches today and most likely would never be invited to speak. He lived away from others, wore different clothes, and ate a weird diet. His mission was unique, and so he lived a unique life. His purpose was to "prepare the way for the Lord" (Matt. 3:3 NET).
In his preaching, he once spoke of Jesus as one who was powerful and that he was not worthy of. Jesus would baptized in the Holy Spirit and Fire. But what exactly does it mean to be baptized with. or in "fire"? I have heard this phrase used in repeatedly preaching throughout my life. "Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Ghost and fire!" To me, the inference of fire has always been emphasized as you will experience something, perhaps tongues or some other outward manifestation. Maybe you will dance, shout, fall out, or just get excited? Most often, I believe the interpretation is that you will experience speaking in tongues as a result of Jesus' baptism in the Holy Spirit
But is this what John the Baptist was talking about?
The short answer is no. This is not at all what John the Baptist meant when he said Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. What John meant by fire is the fire of judgment and repentance. Speaking of Jesus in Matthew 3:12, John says, "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clean out his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire!" Wow! This baptism is one where God burns away the chaff in your life, the things you need to repent of so that you will be acceptable to Him. It is a baptism of repentance, much like the water baptism symbolizes.
A life marked by the Holy Spirit's power is not someone who shouts in church or is more excited than the next person (although these are great things). It is a life that resembles the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control) and repentance. When someone talks a lot about the Holy Spirit and His great deeds of power, but their life does not resemble the fruit of the Spirit, they only give lip service where Good wants life service (repentance).