[Let me preface this post with a disclaimer that the views expressed below are my own and do not represent the views of Late Night Theology’s other authors.]
Is there a difference between the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and the Filling of the Holy Spirit? The simple answer is yes. The much more elaborate and theological answer is what I’m laboring in this post to explain.
Baptism of the Spirit: What it is, isn’t and when it occurred
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is a divinely unique outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is when God fills a person with the Spirit and the person begins to speak in other tongues. However, contrary to popular Pentecostal theology, it has ceased. It stopped being. It is no more. In John 20:22 Jesus breathes on the disciples and tells them to “receive the Holy Spirit”. This, I believe to be prophetic of Pentecost.
At Pentecost the believers received the Holy Spirit. What does “receive” indicate? That they did not already have the Spirit. Now, you might say “But every believer has the Spirit today!” and you would be right, you just proved my point! The Baptism of the Holy Spirit ceased sometime during the writing of the NT because in Ephesians 5 Paul commands us to be filled with the Holy Spirit (we’ll handle this in a few minutes).
Why is this distinction important? Because baptism happens once, but a filling happens repeatedly. Take Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:13, which was written around AD 53-55, “For in one πνεῦμα (Spirit) we were all βαπτίζω (baptized) into one body… and all were made to drink of one πνεῦμα (Spirit)” [Emphasis mine].
The key to understanding this position is to understand that believers pre-Pentecost did not have the Holy Spirit. We see this in passages like Acts 19 where Paul is at Ephesus (the same church to whom he would pen the Epistle to the Ephesians) and he comes across a group of disciples. He asks them if they had yet received the Holy Spirit (19:2), to which they responded “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Quite odd, right? You see, John’s baptism wasn’t the same baptism that Jesus commanded us to do in Matthew 28. It was a baptism of repentance (19:4) so Paul baptized them in the name of Jesus and that is when they received the Spirit (19:5).
Now, one might note that these disciples, along with the many at Pentecost, all spoke in tongues. My brothers and sisters in the Pentecostal denominations see this as evidence that tongues should then follow this baptism of the Spirt. However, I would like you to remember that these people did not have the Spirit to begin with. You’ll remember that Pentecost happened after the ascension of Christ, and this is by no coincidence. In order for the Spirit to come Jesus had to leave. So the Baptism of the Spirit was the way in which God poured out His Spirit on the first believers who took the Gospel and began doing the Great Commission (which included baptizing in the Trinitarian form).
Filling with the Spirit: What it is, isn’t and when it happens
Since I have (hopefully) persuaded you from Scripture that the disciples and early believers did not have the Holy Spirit because Christ was yet to ascend and make way for the Spirit, I want us now to look at the filling of the Spirit. I said earlier that baptism happens once but a filling happens multiple times. Our primary text for examination will be Ephesians 5:15-21.
The context of this verse is that of a holy life of walking in love. In verse 18 Paul gives us very unique contrast:
|Do not get drunk with wine||But||Be filled with the Spirit|
|μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ||μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ|
|Lit: Never be drunk with wine||Lit: Nevertheless, be filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit|
Often times the baptism of the Spirit is equated with the ability to live a holy life. I believe this is simply a misunderstanding of terms. You no doubt struggle with sin, as I do, on a daily basis. I daily need to be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to overcome the temptations that I face. So rightly Paul drew a connection between being drunk (i.e. being controlled by alcohol) to being filled with the Spirit (i.e. controlled by the Spirit).
This filling is repetitive, it happens more than once. It is something every believer should seek because they already have the Spirit living inside of them. It does enable one to fight against sin, and it does cause one to live a more holy life.
The question is then: “why, if I already have the Spirit, do I need to be baptized in and then filled with the Spirit?” And the answer is, you don’t have to be baptized and filled. You already have the Spirit, but you have access to more of the Spirit. You have access granted to you for you to grow closer to God your Savior. The commandment is to be filled with the Spirit.
In conclusion I want to reiterate what I have already said and hopefully drive home the winning run, so to speak. John baptized with a baptism of repentance, this is what the early disciples had been baptized into while Jesus was still present. Jesus ascended, thus making a way for the Holy Spirit to come as He had prophesied in John 20:22. In Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost God poured out His Spirit on the believers (who did not already have the Holy Spirit), thus baptizing them in the Spirit. After that they were commissioned to do what Jesus had commanded them to do in the Great Commission, namely to make disciples and to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
After the Gospel began to spread and disciples were being made by the dozens, we transition from God pouring out His Spirit on to people who had not yet heard of nor received the Spirit, to God filling Spirit-dwelt believers with more of His Spirit so that they could walk closer to Him and could be bold witness for Him.
I hope that after reading this you are encouraged and challenged. If you are like I was and are curious about what all the fuss is about, I hope that this cleared it up! I hope that now you can see the distinction between the two often confused terms. I also hope that you see that Acts is not so much prescriptive as it is descriptive. In the end, no matter if you side with me, or you side with the brothers and sisters in the Pentecostal tribe, I hope that this is a conversation that we can have for many years to come without letting it hinder our Gospel influence in the world.