The Baptism, Filling, and Continual Filling of the Holy Spirit

Baptism of the Holy Spirit

First, I must say, this is a difficult question as there is much disagreement and misunderstanding on the topic. However, it is a very practical and important question.

“Pentecostal and charismatic theology generally maintains that baptism with the Holy Spirit is a second blessing, an experience of God’s grace subsequent to conversion.”[1] However, Allison demonstrates that “the New Testament vividly portrays the initial work involving the Spirit with several interchangeable expressions.”[2] To understand what our term, “baptized in the Spirit,” means we have to look at the extended context in which it is used. We also have to determine if Jesus’ followers were regenerate or not. If we believe that they were already regenerate then our term refers to a second or subsequent work of the Spirit. If they were not already regenerate then it does not refer to a subsequent work but to the conversion work of the Spirit. I believe that Allison has demonstrated that it refers to the conversion work of the Spirit and not to a subsequent work.[3]

If this is true then “baptized in the Spirit” means something akin to regenerated by the Spirit or the initial giving of the Spirit. However, I think this term brings in more meaning.[4] I believe that “baptized in the Spirit” (Matt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16) means something close to immersed in the Spirit. It has to do with being engulfed in the glory and wonder of God by the Spirit. “Baptized” (Gk. baptizo) means dip, submerge, or plunge. So, the baptism of the Spirit, like the one at Pentecost, is an overwhelming experience (So, the LXX reading of Isaiah 21:4: “My heart wanders, and transgression ‘overwhelms’ [Gk. baptizo] me”).

It also seems that the baptism of the Holy Spirit, in Scripture, has partly to do with being incorporated into the people of God. We see this for example through Paul’s use of a similar phrase. He says, “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). Yet, we also saw this at Pentecost: Jew and Gentile, together, we’re baptized in the Spirit. They were brought together through the overwhelming experience of the Spirit.

In Scripture, I think baptism of the Spirit is used to refer to the initial giving and overwhelming effect of the Spirit. The Spirit was poured out and overwhelmed God’s people in accord with Joel 2. However, in popular parlance it has come to mean something else. This is not surprising since many believe that the baptism of the Spirit was and is a subsequent work and not a converting work. It is also not surprising since the term in many ways is synonymous with filled with the Spirit. The term does perhaps especially emphasize the overwhelming effect of the Spirit. So, for instance, I think it would be okay to say, the Great Awakening that Princeton’s Jonathan Edwards was involved in was a type of immersion of the Holy Spirit. People were dipped, as it were, into the reality of God and His truth; they were “baptized by the Spirit.”

Sinclair B. Ferguson has said,

“Revival is the unstopping of the pent-up energies of the Spirit of God breaking down the dams which have been erected against his convicting and converting ministry in whole communities of individuals, as happened at Pentecost and in the ‘awakenings’ which have followed.”[5]

I also believe that Pentecost was unique in some ways. Unique in that it may have been the first time that believers were indwelt by God the Spirit (there is much debate and necessary caveats regarding this statement). There were also prophecies that were fulfilled through Pentecost (Joel 2). It was also a very turbulent time and there was an especially significant need for God to demonstrate that He was behind the New Covenant and the inclusion of the Gentiles (cf. Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-18; 15:8-11). This is not to say, that God does not still work in significant and similar ways. I believe He does at times. I do not believe that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit have seized. This is only to say that we must see the special uniqueness of that time in the life of the Church.

I believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is closely related to the filling of the Holy Spirit and may or may not result in the sign gifts of the Spirit. That, briefly, is how I understand the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I would, however, like to further study this subject.

Filling of the Holy Spirit

From the point of our new birth we are filled with the Holy Spirit. We are, amazingly, temples of the Living God (e.g. 1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 1:13). However, we can still be filled with the Spirit. We need this filling for instance to be powerful witnesses, to put to death the wicked deeds of the body, and to know and love God as we should.

Paul wrote to the saints (who thus were indwelt by the Spirit) at Ephesus (Eph. 1:1) and yet he prayed that they would be filled with all the fullness of God (notice “filled,” “all,” and “fullness”) (Eph. 3:19). He prayed that they would have strength to comprehend the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, this happens through the Spirit’s power (Eph. 3:16). So, I think the filling of the Spirit has to do with tasting the reality of God’s truth. It is more than cognitive consent.

So, for instance, I think Jonathan Edwards is getting at this when he says, “There is such a thing as a spiritual and divine light immediately imparted to the soul by God, of a different nature from any that is obtained by natural means… There is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness.”[6]

Yet, being filled with the Holy Spirit is not just about having this “sense.” It is also about being prepared for significant ministry. However, I think the two tend to go hand in hand. We see this in Scripture; it’s clear in the book of Acts. Many earlier church leaders were “filled with the Holy Spirit” before or as they carried out the Lord’s work (cf. Acts 4:8; 4:31; 7:55; 13:9; 13:52). “Furthermore, the same vocabulary is sometimes used to describe an honorable Christian lifestyle. The table servers (Acts 6:3), as exemplified by Stephan (Acts 6:5), and Barnabas (Acts 11:24) were characterized as being ‘full of the Holy Spirit.’”[7]

So I agree with Allison, I think “the sense of the filling or fullness of the Spirit is being thoroughly and regularly pervaded by or permeated with the Spirit resulting in fruitfulness, seen in productive ministry and proven godly character.”[8] We should all greatly desire, pray for, and seek this filling of the Spirit. We want to both have a sense of the great sweetness of God and His truth (cf. Ps. 34:8; 1 Pet. 2:3) and be empowered for significant ministry to God’s glory.

Continual Filling of the Holy Spirit

I believe that the Spirit fills us through a collaboration of means. He works as we sing songs, and hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16). He speaks through Scripture. He works as we pray (Eph. 1:17ff; 3:16ff). We come to God as our good Father and ask Him to fill us with the Spirit (Lk. 11:5-13). “Sam Storms explains, baptism with the Spirit at salvation ‘does not preclude multiple, subsequent experiences of the Spirit’s activity… The New Testament endorses and encourages multiple subsequent experiences of the Spirit’s power and presence.’”[9] We see this in Scripture. We’ll take our example from Ephesians.

First, Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), he says it as a command, not an option. We must also realize that he says it to believers, believers that are already temples indwelt with the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 1:13 cf. Titus 3:5; Jn. 3:3, 5). So there must be a way that we can be more filled (notice Paul’s language in Eph. 3:19). Second, the tense is present, so we could say that we are called to “keep on being filled with the Spirit.” It is not simply a once and done type of thing. We continually need to pursue the filling of the Spirit. Third, it is in the passive voice, we are filled and we cannot do the filling on our own. The Spirit does the work of filling us and we cannot fabricate or conjure His presence. However, that does not mean that we are inactive in our pursuit of being filled with the Spirit. Remember, Paul says “be filled.” It’s a passive imperative. Thus we pray (Lk. 11:5-13) and we sing (Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16). We kill sin (mortification) and live towards God (vivification). We purify ourselves to be worthy vessels (Rom. 8:4-6; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19-20; Gal. 5:16-25; 2 Tim. 2:21).


[1] Gregg R. Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit,” 8.

[2] Ibid., 11. Sinclair B. Ferguson also says that “Luke-Acts speaks of being filled with or being full of the Spirit as an ongoing condition, but also describes particular occasions when individuals appear to experience distinct fillings” (The Holy Spirit, 89). 

[3] see Ibid., esp. 10-14.

[4] Max Turner gives a good and brief biblical analysis of what the term means to different authors. He says:

“The phrase, ‘baptize in (the) (Holy) Spirit (and fire)’ in the NT is found on the lips of John the Baptist, Jesus (Acts 1:5) and Peter (Acts 11:16) and, perhaps, in the writings of Paul (1 Cor 12:13). It is only just beginning to be realized (cf. Hummel, Fireplace chap. 14) that these usages are not uniform but amount to different metaphors-topic and illustration being subtly different in each case:

(a) John the Baptist uses the phrase as a metaphor for the end-time ‘deluge’ of Spirit-and-fire that will destroy and recreate the world (Mt. 3:11 f.). All will experience that. (b) Jesus uses the same language, this time as a metaphor for the deluge of Spirit experienced by the 120 at Pentecost (Jesus’ re-use of end-time language in connection with events in salvation history is characteristic: cf. his use of ‘kingdom of God’ language at Lk. 11:20 for example). At Acts 1:5 there is no suggestion that any further such mighty deluge of Spirit (before the end) is actually indicated.

(c) Peter (Acts 11:16) sees Cornelius’ experience and ‘remembers’ Jesus’ vivid metaphor. (The inference is that this was not the usual experience and ‘baptize in Spirit’ not the usual language of Peter’s circle: this surprising experience recalled that metaphor.)

In conclusion we can say that the speakers in Luke-Acts use ‘baptize in Holy Spirit’ as a metaphor for being ‘deluged’ or ‘overwhelmed’ by the Spirit (albeit in different ways). Luke, like Josephus (see Turner, ‘Spirit Endowment’ 50ff.), uses ‘baptize’ metaphorically to compare an experience of the Spirit (or wine, or sleep or whatever) with how a deluge or floodtide overcomes and engulfs a man. The phraseology is used to denote a dramatic experience which overwhelms. Few in the NT are described as having such an overwhelmingly powerful experience of the Spirit as to suggest the metaphor (Pentecost and Cornelius in Luke-Acts); and few today have such a powerful experience that this language commends itself.

(d) Paul’s use in 1 Cor. 12:13 ‘for by one Spirit we were all baptized into the one body’ means God, in spirit, ‘immerses’ us into Christ’s body. All experience this, but Paul’s metaphor is not Luke’s. He is using ‘baptize’ language to compare the Spirit’s placing of us into the body of Christ with the way a man immerses or sinks an item into a fluid. The point of comparison is ‘total incorporation’, not ‘overwhelming experience’. Stott, Dunn and Bruner are right to insist (in Pauline terms) that all Christians are baptized by the Spirit into Christ: but they wrongly read Luke’s language this way. Charismatics rightly see that Luke’s phrase denotes overwhelming experience, but wrongly assume Luke thinks it happens to all before the parousia (then, of course, it will happen to all!) and wrongly apply it to many experiences today for which the language can only charitably be called a gross exaggeration.”

[5] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 90. 

[6] “A Divine and Supernatural Light.”

[7] Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit,” 14.

[8] Ibid., 15.

[9] Ibid., 14.

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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