The uniqueness of the Christian concept of God is that of the Triune nature of God – that God is One being with Three persons in the Godhead – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The church is the body of God’s work on earth. Though few people have questions about the role of God the Father and Jesus Christ in the church today, there seems to be some confusion about the role of the Holy Spirit in the church today.
One of the points of contention in some churches is that of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and its related issue - the filling of the Holy Spirit. The Pentecostal/charismatic churches believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a separate event after conversion. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the Baptist/Brethren etc. churches that believe in the complete cessation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The key then is to understand what the baptism of the Holy Spirit really is and then the meaning of what it means to be filled in the Spirit will also be revealed.
What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? What is the filling of the Holy Spirit?
Before we look at the answers to these questions, there is an important hermeneutical rule that needs to be addressed. It is the lack of knowledge of this rule that prevents an accurate exegesis and therefore the existence of wrong teaching that pervades certain churches.
Historical vs Didactic
There is a difference between historical accounts and didactic letters. Historical accounts focus on a collection of experiences. Didactical accounts focus on teachings. The New Testament contains both genres of content. The book of Acts is mainly an experiential, historical account. Even then it is not an account of ALL the things that happened historically. It is just a collection of some of the things that happened in the first century as collected by Luke the physician.
In general, we don’t formulate theology or theological principles from experiences. Instead, our experiences should be evaluated in the light of theological principles.
Hence, any argument for any doctrine should come primarily out of the letters or out of the didactic parts of the historical narratives and not out of the experiences themselves. Any doctrine that is purely formed out of inferences from experiences should be treated with suspicion.
For example. if you read the historical account in the book of Acts and then formulated your doctrine of the gift of tongues, as some churches do, then you will come to the conclusion that every time there was the expression or presence of the Holy Spirit mentioned, there was the use of the gift of tongues. But this is simply not true because when you read 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and 14 you find out that the gift of tongues has a much lesser role in the church.
At the same time, even though the Gospels are primarily historical accounts, we can obviously formulate theological doctrines from the didactical parts of it. So, for example, the majority of the doctrine of hell arises out of the teachings of Jesus in the historical accounts of the Gospels.
Only in cases where there is no guidance in the didactical accounts should anyone look at historical examples to infer doctrine.
Thus, for the questions on the baptism and filling of the Holy Spirit, we turn to the epistles and to the didactic parts of the historical books first, and then evaluate the experiences in the historical accounts based on established doctrine.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit
The charismatic churches believe that it is a separate event because of the examples in the book of Acts that seems to indicate it as a separate event.
So what is the baptism of the Holy Spirit from the didactical portions of scripture?
The term “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” occurs 7 times in the New Testament.
In the first four occurrences, John the Baptist is speaking about Jesus and predicting that he will baptize people in (or with) the Holy Spirit:
Matthew 3:11: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
Mark 1:8: “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Luke 3:16: “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
John 1:33: “He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” ’
From these verses, the conclusion that we can draw is that Jesus is the one who will baptize his followers with the Holy Spirit.
The next two passages refer directly to Pentecost:
Acts 1:5: [Here Jesus says,] “John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 11:16: [Here Peter refers back to the same words of Jesus that were quoted in the previous verse. He says,] “I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’”
From these two passages, we understand that Baptism in the Holy Spirit happened on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2 and 3000 people were converted. (Acts 2:14).
All six of these verses use almost exactly the same expression in Greek, with the only differences being some variation in word order or verb tense to fit the sentence, and with one example having the preposition understood rather than expressed explicitly.9
The only remaining reference in the New Testament is in the Pauline epistles:
1 Corinthians 12:13 (NIV): “For we were all baptized in one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”
The Greek text of this verse is similar to that of the other six verses.
Paul says ἐν ἑνὶ πνεύματι … ἐβαπτίσθημεν (“in one Spirit … we were baptized”). The only difference is that he refers to “one Spirit” rather than “the Holy Spirit” – but when you look at the context, there is no question that he is indeed referring to the Holy Spirit when he says “one spirit”. Otherwise, all the other elements are the same: the verb is βαπτίζω and the prepositional phrase contains the same words (ἐν, plus the dative noun πνεύματι from πνεῦμα).
This verse says that Baptism in the Spirit happens in order to add a person to the body of Christ.
Question: When does a person become a member of the body of Christ?
Answer: At conversion.
Baptism of the Spirit, therefore, happens when a person is added to the Body of Christ, and that is at conversion.
Now that the doctrine is established using the didactic portions of the scriptures, we can then explain the experiential in light of the didactic.
The Baptism of the Spirit occurred for the first time on the day of Pentecost (for it was still future when Jesus spoke of it in Acts 1:5, and Peter mentions it as happening first at Pentecost in Acts 11:15–16).
The Pentecost and the accounts of the works of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts reflect the transition of the old covenant and the new covenant.
Even though the disciples were being drawn to God throughout the previous 3 years, they do not receive this full new covenant empowering for ministry until the Day of Pentecost, for Jesus tells them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
The Filling of the Spirit
Most of the other mentions of the interaction of the Holy Spirit and believers are about the Filling of the Spirit.
The filling of the Spirit is that fullness that a believer experience of the Holy Spirit who is already within him. At conversion, the Holy Spirit (God) enters into a human being in an inexplicable metaphysical union.
Once the Holy Spirit enters a person, He does not leave. John 14.16
This is different than in the Old Testament where the Holy Spirit would come upon a person for a specific task and then leave once that task was completed. For example. Judges 6:34 But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered after him.
However, since the example of Jesus, in whom the Holy Spirit was permanent, a similar relationship can be expected for the followers of Jesus.
John 1:33 ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him [Jesus], this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’
This entrance of the Holy Spirit in a person is seen at the baptism of the Holy Spirit, ie. at conversion, as explained above.
Having received the Holy Spirit at conversion, it is then imperative to maintain a daily relationship with the Holy Spirit who is inside of us. Essentially this is called the filling of the Spirit in which the Holy Spirit has complete control over our lives while we have zero control. However due to our humanness men do to our sin circumstances the Holy Spirit does not have complete control i.e. we are not continually filled with the fullness of the Holy Spirit who was already inside of us.
The Holy Spirit is not a prescription, such that we take a 2 mg dose of the Holy Spirit today and a 4 mg dose of the Holy Spirit tomorrow. Instead he is a person.
Therefore he is either inside us or outside us. The Filling of the Holy Spirit is not whether the Holy Spirit is in us or outside of us. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is what determines whether he is in us or outside of us.
Once He is in us, He can be stifled such that we don’t live in His fullness.
The usual example I gave is that of a red tablet in a glass of water. There is a period after which the red tablet is dropped into the glass of water where the water is not completely red. But in a few moments, the red tablet dissolves causing the entire water to turn red.
Many Christians live in the phase of having the Holy Spirit within us and yet not experiencing his fullness within us.
The characteristics of a person filled in the Spirit are:
1. Increasing Christ-likeness.
Galatians 5.22-23.The Holy Spirit desires to have extensive influence and control in a believer’s life. This continuous filling by the Spirit produces a certain character – that of Jesus – called Sanctification.
Filling of the spirit results in control by the spirit leads to maturity. Luke 4.1. With increasing maturity comes increasing revelation of further areas that need to be under the control of the Spirit. When we respond and allow the spirit to take more control of these areas, we become more mature and more spiritual. It is a slowly progressive process.
The Holy Spirit always exalts Jesus. John 16.14. Thus when you are filled constantly you will have a love for Jesus. Romans 5.5.
3. Relational Submissiveness.
Ephesians 5:21. Spirit control affects all the relationships of life so that proper harmony will be experienced between husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees. Self-control, on the contrary, will disrupt that harmony.
4. Victory over sin:
Galatians 8.5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
The desire to serve especially by spreading the message of Jesus to people. Acts 2:4—2:41; 4:31—5.14; 6.3—6.7; praying – 4.24; giving – 4.34 Passion for souls – something will burn within you.
Empowering for ministry is a sovereign act of God whereby he possesses someone for a special activity. Whenever God has needed to use somebody for his purpose, He first fills them with the Spirit. There are numerous examples in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament Luke 1.15; Acts 2.4; 4.8, 31; 13.9. On our own strength, we don’t have the power to do His work.
Without the Spirit leading worship will be a performance, sermons would be an oration, prayers would be mere eloquence, fasting would be a stoic appreciation of your sacrifice and evangelism would be a futile show of the ability to convince.
Here then are some differences between the Baptism and the Filling of the Spirit:
How can a person be baptized by the Holy Spirit?
By coming into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Rom 10:9; John 1:12
How can a person be filled by the Holy Spirit?
There is no example in all Scripture of any believer asking to be filled by the Spirit.
1. Dedication of Self. Since the filling of the Spirit involves control, we need to completely and continuously dedicate our selves to God for His use and control. It depends on submission to God’s will – Eph 5.17. If we rebel against the will of God, then the Spirit does not have control over us. The more we come under the will of God, the more the Holy Spirit fills us.
2. Spirit-filling involves not grieving the Spirit (Eph 4:30). What is it that grieves Him? Sins of any kind. The filling is from within. He is a person who is on the inside but suppressed from having complete reign by our desires/sin/lifestyle.
3. The Spirit-filled life is a life of dependence (Gal 5:16). God wants us to depend on Him for our every need. The Spirit comes with power for any life situation. The Filling of the Spirit happens the more we empty ourselves, confess our sins, and surrender our desires. It is a cycle.
My hope is that everyone gets to a Baptism of the Holy Spirit and every such person would live in the daily filling of the Holy Spirit.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1994