Check out the new Convergence Church Network! 

Visit and join the mailing list.

All Articles



We must begin by distinguishing between baptism in the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit:


1)         Spirit-baptism is a metaphor that describes our reception of the HS at the moment of our conversion to Jesus in faith and repentance. When we believe and are justified, we are, as it were, deluged and engulfed by the HS; we are, as it were, immersed in and saturated by the Spirit. Results: a) we are made members of the body of Christ, incorporated into the spiritual organism called the church (1 Cor. 12:13); and b) the HS comes to indwell us permanently.


Spirit-baptism is


·      instantaneous (i.e., it is not a process)

·      coincident or simultaneous with conversion

·      universal (i.e., all Christians are recipients)

·      unrepeatable (one is only baptized in the Spirit once)

·      permanent (it cannot be lost or forfeited)


2)         Spirit-filling is also a metaphor describing our continuous, on-going experience and appropriation of the HS. To be filled with the Spirit is to come under progressively more intense and intimate influence of the Spirit. Results:


·      power

·      purity

·      proclamation

·      praise


Spirit-filling can be forfeited and subsequently experienced yet again, on multiple occasions, throughout the course of the Christian life.


Q: "Is it legitimate to differentiate between Spirit baptism and Spirit filling in view of what is said in Acts 2:4? Is there a cause/effect relationship between the two? Are they, in fact, synonymous?"


There are two senses in which one may be filled with the HS:


1.         Texts which describe people as being “full of the Holy Spirit” as if it were a condition or consistent quality of Christian character; a moral disposition; possessing and reflecting a maturity in Christ.


See Luke 4:1; Acts 6:3,5; 7:55; 11:24; 13:52 (lit., “they continued to be full” [imp. tense]. This is the “ideal” condition of every Christian. It emphasizes the abiding state of being filled.


2.         Texts which describe people as being “filled with the Holy Spirit” to enable them to fulfill or perform a special task or to equip them for service or ministry.


a.         either life-long; an office or particular ministry - see Luke 1:15-17; Acts 9:17; or,


b.         in a spiritual emergency; an immediate and special endowment of power to fulfill an especially important and urgent task. Thus, someone who is already filled with the HS may experience a further/additional filling. I.e., no matter “how much” of the HS one may have, there’s always room for “more”! See Acts 4:8,31; 13:9; Luke 1:41,67. Also, in Acts 7:55 Stephen, though “full of the HS”, is again “filled” with the HS to prepare him to endure persecution and eventual martyrdom, as well as to “see” the vision of Jesus.


Note especially the cause and effect relationship between being filled with the Spirit and inspired speech. See Luke 1:41 and its relation to 1:42-45; Luke 1:67 and its relation to 1:68-79.



In summary:


1)         To be filled with the Spirit is different from being baptized in the Spirit. There is one baptism, but multiple fillings.


2)         In no NT text are we commanded to be baptized in the HS. There is no appeal to do something in order to be baptized; no exhortation, no imperative.


3)         On the other hand, we are commanded to be filled with the HS (see below on Eph. 5:18).


4)         It is possible to be baptized in the HS, to experience the permanent indwelling of the HS, and yet not be filled with the HS. E.g., the Corinthian believers.


5)         To be “full of the HS” is to reflect a maturity of character; it is the ideal condition of every believer. To be “filled with the HS” is to experience an anointing for power, purity, proclamation, and praise.




A Closer Look at Ephesians 5:18


1.         Being filled with the HS is contrasted with being drunk with wine. Thus, it is a question of influence, control, or power. If you insist on getting drunk, be inebriated with the HS! Please note, however, that the force of this exhortation is not that Christians should stagger and slur their speech as those drunk with wine do. The influence of the infilling Spirit is moral in nature, the results and tangible evidence of which is the spiritual and relational fruit that Paul describes in Galatians 5. Paul envisions a community of people (the church) whose lives are so totally given over to the Spirit "that the life and deeds of the Spirit are as obvious in their case as the effects of too much wine are obvious in the other" (Fee, 721).


2.         Paul does not say, "be full of the Spirit," as though one were full of Spirit in the same way one is full of wine. He says, "be filled by/with the Spirit." The emphasis is on being filled to the full by the Spirit's presence. Cf. Eph. 3:19 where Paul speaks of being "filled unto the fullness of God," i.e., of being filled up with God himself.


There is considerable disagreement among commentators on the proper translation of the Greek preposition en. Does Paul mean we are to be filled “with” the Spirit, as if the Spirit is himself the content with which we are filled? Or does he mean we are to be filled “by” the Spirit, the content of which is not clearly specified? O’Brien takes the latter and proceeds to argue that “the earlier uses of the ‘fulness’ language in Ephesians are determinative for understanding what that fulness is here at 5:18” (392). He points to “fulness” language in 1:23; 3:19; 4:10 and concludes “that the content with which believers have been (or are being) filled is the fulness of (the triune) God or of Christ. No other text in Ephesians (or elsewhere in Paul) focuses specifically on the Holy Spirit as the content of this fulness. It is better, then, to understand 5:18 in terms of the Spirit’s mediating the fulness of God and Christ to the believers” (392). O’Brien’s view, however, is by no means certain.


3.         The verb is imperative; i.e., it is a command. This is not a suggestion or a mild recommendation or a polite piece of advice. Being filled with the HS is not optional. It is obligatory.


4.         The verb is plural. “The fullness of the Holy Spirit is emphatically not a privilege reserved for some, but a duty resting on all” (Stott/60). The exhortation has primarily to do with community life, i.e., the need for God's people to be so collectively full of God's presence that their worship is transformed, their relationships are transformed, their lives as a totality are transformed.


5.         The verb is present tense, indicating that Paul envisions a continuous, on-going experience. This is not so much a dramatic or decisive experience that settles things for good, but a daily appropriation. Says Richard Gaffin:


“This command . . . is relevant to all believers throughout the whole of their lives. No believer may presume to have experienced a definitive filling of the Spirit so that the command of verse 18 no longer applies. Short of death or the Lord’s return, it continues in effect for every believer.”


6.         The mere fact that we are commanded to be filled implies that a Christian faces the danger of being “low” (but never empty!). We are always in need of refreshing and renewal.


7.         In view of this command, we should cease speaking of the “second” blessing and begin to seek God for a “third” and a “fourth” and a “fifth” and . . .


8.         What is the consequential evidence of being filled with/by the HS? See Eph. 5:18ff.


a) Speaking to one another in ministry (“The first sign of fullness is fellowship” [Stott]). Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs can have a didactic purpose.


b) Singing to God (wholehearted worship in corporate fellowship).


c) Gratitude (for all things at all times).


d) Mutual submission (as over against being self-assertive and demanding).


It is helpful to see the structure of the passage in order to observe that the filling of the Spirit produces or results in these specified activities:


Do not get drunk on wine

But be filled by/with the Spirit,


            speaking to each other

                        with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,

            singing and making music to the Lord,

                        with your hearts

            giving thanks to God

                        for all things

                        in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

            submitting yourselves to one another

                        in the fear of Christ.


To be continued . . .