Many people earnestly hold to conflicting beliefs regarding the question: “How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?” Let’s evaluate two of these ideas:
The Bible does not command us to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Some Christian leaders do not emphasize the filling of the Holy Spirit. In fact, some even say that to talk about ourselves as being Spirit-filled is a form of spiritual pride. They acknowledge that in the book of Acts the apostles are sometimes described as “filled with the Spirit” or “full of the Holy Spirit.” But they say that the Bible nowhere commands us to be filled with the Holy Spirit. To support their claim, they say that Ephesians 5:18 is talking about the human spirit. But we have ample additional biblical evidence for the importance of a Spirit-filled life.
In Romans 8:1–11, we learn that freedom from the power of sin comes to those who walk “according to the Spirit.” Here the Spirit is referred to as the indwelling “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” (v. 9). In Galatians 5:16–26, Paul commanded us to “walk in the Spirit” and told us that such a life will produce the “fruit of the Spirit.”
So the teaching that every believer should be filled with the Holy Spirit does not stand or fall on our interpretation of Ephesians 5:18. However, we are convinced that this verse does command every Christian to let the Holy Spirit keep filling them.
We need to seek a second blessing. Many Christians believe that the filling of the Holy Spirit is a dramatic experience that takes place sometime after salvation. Some speak of it as “entire sanctification,” viewing it as a second work of grace in which the sin nature is removed and the Holy Spirit takes control. Others refer to it as a baptism of the Spirit, claiming that it is usually accompanied by speaking in tongues.
The problem with this view is that the New Testament never tells us to seek or anticipate a dramatic, post-salvation experience. We are justified the moment we believe (romans 5:1). We receive the new birth and the permanent in-dwelling Spirit at salvation (1 corinthians 6:19; 1 peter 1:22–23). True, we may have many wonderful experiences after salvation. We may even have an encounter with the Lord that revolutionizes our way of life. But we have no biblical basis for expecting a second work of grace or a baptism of power that brings instant holiness. Rather, Paul called on us to keep presenting our bodies “a living sacrifice” (romans 12:1) and to permit the Holy Spirit to keep filling us.
What Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the act of the Holy Spirit by which He places a person into the church, the body of Christ. The first baptism of the Holy Spirit took place in the upper room at Pentecost when the church began (acts 2:1–13). Today it occurs when a person receives Jesus Christ as his or her Savior. Paul wrote, “By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 corinthians 12:13).
Some Christians disagree. They maintain that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the same as the filling of the Spirit. They say that it takes place at a point after salvation, and that it is accompanied by the sign of speaking in tongues. Those who hold this view say that their teaching is found in the book of Acts. But the phrase “baptized with the Holy Spirit” appears only twice in Acts (1:5; 11:16). In neither place are we told that it is something we should seek any time after salvation.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit was first announced by John the Baptist (matthew 3:11). And the Lord Jesus promised the baptism of the Holy Spirit before He ascended to heaven (acts 1:4–5). That promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, the day the church was born (acts 2:1–13, 32–33). When Peter preached later that day, some three thousand people believed (2:41–42). Then we are told: “The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (v. 47).
The book of Acts records three additional instances when the Holy Spirit descended on believers. They took place with three different groups: the Samaritan believers, whose religion and ancestry were part Jewish (acts 8:14–25); the Gentile family of Cornelius (10:44–48); and twelve people who had believed in Christ and received John’s baptism but knew nothing about what happened at Pentecost (19:1–7).
When Peter saw that the Holy Spirit had come upon the Gentiles, he remembered the Spirit-baptism promised by Christ. He wrote, “Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (acts 11:16–17). By giving visible signs in these three instances, the Holy Spirit confirmed the fact that Jesus Christ was building His church. These signs were given during the transition from the Jewish beginnings of the church to the full inclusion of the Gentiles.
When the transition was over, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was no longer accompanied by visible signs. When a person trusts Christ today, he or she is placed into the church, the body of Christ, that very moment. Paul wrote, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 corinthians 12:13). The words translated “we were all baptized” speak of an action that took place in one instant of time. The baptism of the Spirit takes place at the moment of salvation, is not repeated, and is not to be sought after salvation. The baptism of the Holy Spirit, therefore, is the placing of the believer into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation.