For a Bible college assignment, I was asked to write about my own theological understanding of what it means to be “filled with the Spirit” and what it means to be “baptised in the Spirit”. I looked carefully at all the New Testament narratives and verses that contain these two phrases, plus I drew upon my own experiences for this assignment. This is what I came up with.
Baptised in the Spirit
There are only a few references in the New Testament where the word “baptise” is used in association with the Holy Spirit. These few references are where John the Baptist, in making a clear distinction between himself and Jesus Christ, stated that while he baptised with water, Jesus Christ would baptise with the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself echoed John’s statement. [The references to these verses are cited in footnote 1.]
The Greek word for “baptise” means immerse, so a person experiencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit is experiencing something like being immersed in the Holy Spirit.
The terms “baptised in the Holy Spirit” and “being filled with the Holy Spirit” probably refer to the same experience. Both terms are trying to describe a spiritual event that is difficult to put into words.
Filled with the Spirit
With a couple of exceptions, Luke is the only New Testament author to use the expression “filled with the Spirit”, or the very similar “full of the Spirit”, and he often used these expressions when something special or significant was happening, or just about to happen. Luke did not connect being filled with the Spirit to the conversion experience. In fact, Luke used the term “being filled with the Spirit” in a similar way to that of several Old Testament authors.
The Old Testament records many instances where the Holy Spirit would “come upon” someone, be “poured out” on someone, or “fill” someone who was about to engage in some special feat or ministry. I believe that each of these Old Testament expressions are describing someone being filled with the Spirit for a task, without any reference to the salvation or redemption of that person.
The Gift of the Spirit
All true believers and followers of Jesus Christ have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the evidence of belonging to Christ is having the Holy Spirit within and among us (1 John 4:13).
- The Holy Spirit is given as a pledge, or seal, of our promised salvation, and as a guarantee of our status as children of God and heirs of eternal life (Rom 8:15-17; 2 Cor 1:22, 5:5; Eph 1:13-14; 4:30).
- The Holy Spirit regenerates our spirits and gives us new life (John 3:3-8; Rom 8:10; Titus 3:5-6; cf. 1 John 5:1).
- The Holy Spirit sanctifies us and sets us apart as especially belonging to God (1 Cor 6:11; 1 Pet 1:2).
- The Holy Spirit cleanses us (Titus 3:5).
- The Holy Spirit connects us with God the Father (Rom 8:26-27; Eph 2:18; 6:18) and unites us with Christ (1 Cor 6:17).
- Moreover, Jesus Christ lives in us through the Holy Spirit (John 14:20 & 23; Rom 8:9-10; 2 Cor 13:5; Gal 2:20; Eph 2:22; 3:16-17).
These blessings are all part of the salvation experience, and we receive them through the gift of the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit, however, is not the same as the baptism or fullness of the Spirit.
Some Christian denominations hold the view that the gift of the Holy Spirit is conferred on a person during the religious rituals of confirmation or water baptism, and they regard the person as “being filled with the Spirit” from then on. I believe, however, that the gift of the Spirit is bestowed by God the moment a person comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ and cannot be bestowed by any person or religious ritual. Only God can give his Spirit, even if it might happen to occur during a religious ritual such as confirmation or water baptism.
Gift or Fullness?
As already mentioned, the gift of the Spirit, which all believers receive directly from God at the initial moment of salvation, is not the same as experiencing the fullness of the Spirit.
In the Gospel of John, it says that Jesus, after his resurrection, breathed on his disciples and that they received the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). This was prior to Pentecost. It may be that the disciples were “saved” at that moment by the giving of the Holy Spirit, but that they had yet to be empowered with the fullness of the Holy Spirit. They would experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit for the first time on the Day of Pentecost.
I believe many Christians receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the salvific blessings that it entails, without receiving the blessings of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit brings joy (Luke 10:21; Acts 13:53; Rom 14:17), vitality (Acts 18:25; Rom 12:11) and empowerment for ministry (Acts 1:8). Furthermore, the New Testament shows that when someone is filled with the Spirit there is demonstrable evidence of that fact! (Acts 2:1ff; 8:17-19).
Receiving the Fullness of the Spirit
The experience of being filled, or baptised, with the Holy Spirit may coincide with the conversion experience of receiving the gift of the Spirit, or it may happen sometime after conversion. Like the gift of the Spirit, receiving the baptism and fullness of the Spirit is not dependent on religious rituals, including the “laying on of hands.” But it may occur at those times (Acts 8:16-18; 19:6).
Some people experience being filled with the Spirit many times. Some verses in Acts seem to show people being re-filled with the Holy Spirit subsequent to an initial infilling. Or perhaps these verses show people receiving an additional special blessing of the fullness of the Spirit for a special task (e.g. Acts 4:31 and Acts 13:52). Many Pentecostals call a subsequent spiritual blessing a “fresh anointing of the Spirit.”
Infillings of the Holy Spirit may come as an unexpected blessing, or it can be sought after and asked for. Jesus said:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:9-13 (NIV 2011)
My Own Experiences
One very real problem in describing what it is to be filled with the Spirit, is that words are inadequate in describing or explaining what is a spiritual phenomenon. Even the words used in the Biblical accounts of people being filled with the Spirit offer almost no description or explanation about what being full of the Spirit actually is, or means, or feels like.
I have experienced two very powerful spiritual experiences which I can only describe as “being filled with the Spirit”. Both of these occurred before I had any experience or knowledge of Pentecostal or charismatic churches. In fact I belonged to a staid Reformed church at the time these two experiences occurred. Both occurred when I was alone and were very unexpected.
The first experience coincided with my decision, at the age of about 10, to become a Christian. The second happened when I was about 17 years old and I had just prayed for wisdom after reading James 1:5-7. In both episodes, I experienced a very strong and overwhelming sense of euphoria, bliss, peace, and joy. The feelings were intense for perhaps an hour or two, and then, gradually, over the next few days, the feelings slowly faded.
Over the years I have experienced many other, less strong, spiritual sensations. Were these also episodes of being filled with the Spirit? Perhaps. The episode when I received the ability to speak in tongues, when I was 22 years old, was during one of these, supposedly less strong, spiritual episodes.
The workings of the Holy Spirit are difficult to predict, difficult to describe, and difficult to explain. Because of this, I believe we should not be too dogmatic about our theology of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, nor dogmatic about Pneumatology in general.
The Spirit blows where ever he pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where he comes from or where he is going. John 3:8a
All these [spiritual manifestations] are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. 1 Corinthians 12:11
 Comparing John the Baptist and Jesus: Matt 3:11; cf. Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:31-33; and Acts 1:5; cf. 11:16.
Paul used the expression “baptised” in reference to the Spirit, once. In 1 Corinthians 12:13 he wrote: “For we were all baptised into one body by one Spirit — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”
 The Greek word for baptise, baptizo, means “to dip, immerse; to cleanse or purify by washing . . .” Wesley J. Perschbacher, The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1990), 66.
 In Ephesians 5:18, Paul compared being drunk with wine to being filled with the Spirit: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Jesus described the words he was speaking as being full of the Spirit and life (John 6:53).
 Verses in Luke’s Gospel and in Acts that mention being filled or full of the Holy Spirit:
Luke 1:15 – For [John the Baptist] will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.
Luke 1:41 – When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Luke 1:67 – His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied . . .
Luke 4:1 – Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness . . .
Luke 10:21 – At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
Acts 2:4 – All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Acts 4:8 – Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!
Acts 4:31 – After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Acts 6:3 – Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them . . .
Acts 6:5 – This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
Acts 7:55 – But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
Acts 9:17 – Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 11:24 – He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Acts 13:9 – Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said . . .
Acts 13:52 – And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
 Bezalel (Deut 31:2-4; cf. Exod 35:30-32), Joshua (Deut 34:9) and Micah (Micah 3:8) were filled with the Spirit and thus equipped for their various ministries. The Spirit of the Lord came upon many of the Judges (Judg 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14). The Spirit of the Lord, or Spirit of God, came upon King Saul and King David and others (1 Sam 10:6, 10; 16:13; 19:20, 23; 1 Chron 12:18; 2 Chron 15:1; 20:14; 24:20). The Holy Spirit is upon God’s “servant”; this is described in various ways (Isaiah 11:2; 42:1; 44:3; 48:16; 59:21; 61:1ff). The Spirit came into, and on, Ezekiel many times (Ezek 2:2; 3:24; 11:5, etc). It was recognised that Daniel had “the spirit of the holy gods” (Dan 4:8, 9, 18; 5:11, 14).
 In the early days and months of the church, water baptism took place immediately after conversion, so conversion and water baptism were practically seen as the one saving event (Acts 2:38). Some people in the New Testament were filled with the Holy Spirit prior to water baptism: Saul/Paul (Acts 9:17-18); Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:44-48). Some people, such as the believers in Samaria, were baptised in the Holy Spirit after their water baptism (Acts 8:14-17).
 This episode in John 20:22 is sometimes called the Johannine Pentecost.
 Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel writes: “Emotion is inseparable from being filled with the Spirit, which is above all a state of being moved.” The Prophets, Volume Two (Harper Colophon Books, 1962), 97.
 I am genuinely puzzled that so many Christians have never “felt” the Holy Spirit operating in their lives, or have never had a spiritual experience, whereas the New Testament seems to indicate that being filled with the Spirit does come with a noticeable, often powerful, manifestation (e.g., Acts 6:14-19; 10:44ff; Gal 3:2-5).
 It is a good thing to seek God for the fullness of the Holy Spirit. It is also a good thing to desire spiritual, ministry gifts (1 Cor 14:1-5).
 I heard no voice, I saw no vision, and I received no guidance during those episodes.
 Pneumatology is the study of the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
© 30th of November 2010, Margaret Mowczko
This article was adapted from an assignment for a BTh award, submitted to ACOM on the 3rd of December, 2010.