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Is there a difference between ‘being filled with the spirit’ and being 'Baptized in the Spirit?'


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Overall, the only difference was that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was a significant start to the life of the church at Pentecost. After such historical moments, the two terms are basically synonymous. Thus, there is no real difference between the two in the Scriptures.


NO ONE - Not one Theologian or Pastor prior to the year 1900 ever taught that Tongues was the initial evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. This matters because it is this teaching that offers a big distinction between being baptized and being filled.

If interested: It was not till Charles Fox Parham was teaching a class on the book of Acts, where he asked the class “What was the sign that the disciples in Acts 2 were Baptized in the Spirit?” Then, William Seymour, attended these classes, albeit in a segregated way, listening outside of the actual classroom, and brought the teaching to his home church. From here the idea/practice spread like wildfire. This is where the Pentecostals trace their theological genealogy from.

◦ This should tell us that Pentecostals have added something to the Faith that was not always there and neither seems to be a legitimate development.

◦ This also should tell us that there are other, more historical ways of reading the Pentecost passages.

Different Era’s in Christianity emphasized the blessing of Pentecost in different ways. John Wesley for one, emphasized that to be truly Baptized/filled with the Holy Spirit meant that you were baptized into Holy Love. If you had neither holiness or love, you were not Baptized in the Holy Spirit.

**See J.I. Packer’s “Keep in Step with the Spirit” if interested in more.


NO CLEAR DIFFERENCE – In the book of Acts, there is no clear difference between being Baptized in the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit; at least as it effects our practice today.

o If there would be a difference in the text of Scripture, it would have to be connected to welcoming a new people group into the church (more on that later) and not with any difference for the life of the believer.

The phrase “Baptized (with, in, by) the Holy Spirit” shows up only three times (once in Mark and twice in Acts). Similar phrases don’t turn up more instances.

o The phrase is never once mentioned outside of the Gospels or Acts. In other words, the Epistles say nothing of a teaching by the Apostles requiring the same experience as they themselves experienced in Acts 2. This is telling! Acts 2 should be looked at as unique experience that was beginning the fulfillment of the Prophecy of Joel 2.

The phrase “filled with/by/in the Spirit” brings up many more instances.

  • John the Baptist was said to be filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15)

  • Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit after having Mary’s greeting and then she edified Mary and praised God (Luke 1:41).

  • Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied (Luke 1:67)

  • The Apostles and all those in the upper room were said to have been “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4).

  • Peter was filled (not his first time) with the Holy Spirit and began to speak to the rulers about Jesus (Acts 4:8).

  • After praying the whole group was filled with the Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31).

  • After Ananias laid hands on Paul (who was then Saul) so he could regain his sight, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17).

  • Paul dealing with a magician or sorcerer; then it says Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit and fixed his gaze upon the person and as a result of overcoming this person, could have a word with the proconsul (Acts 13:9).

  • It is said that the disciples were continually filled with Joy and with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52).

  • “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” Ephesians 5:18-20


1. The book of Acts offers no real distinction between being Baptized in the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit. Really late thinkers, such as the early Pentecostals of 1901 onward, invented a distinction that could hardly be pressed from a New Testament perspective.

2. The New Testament displays many different demonstrations of the Spirit working in lives of believers, most usually with them speaking the word of the Lord with boldness. Tongues (in the book of Acts) is singularly connected with another person or group being brought into the faith that was previously not.

a. Acts 2 – Pentecost and the nations hearing the word of God in their own languages (known languages).

b. Acts 10 – The Gentiles being welcomed into the church. After they were heard to speak in tongues (very explicitly this meant understood languages), Peter could no longer hold off from allowing Gentiles into the Church.

c. Acts 19 - Paul met a group of John the Baptist believers, but who had not had a fuller faith, and therefore God graces them to speak with other languages to turn the final corner into the fuller faith (and this included prophesying as well).

**All three instances of tongues in the book of Acts have two important facts grounding them.

1) They were known languages, and not ‘angelic tongues’ or a ‘personal prayer language.’

2) Tongues (other actual languages) is directly connected with a fresh mission field, a people group that would not likely have been accepted without it by the Jewish Christians, or those whose faith lacked specifics about Jesus Christ.

Prescription and Description

Most of the above were descriptions of various experiences of people in the book of Acts. However, did the Apostles give a prescription of what we are to expect in our practice? This is not our experience, but rather the rule for the Church. The answer is YES! Now, before I get there, I want to mention how important the words in bold are. There is this very clear difference between such things, that if we are not careful, we can make a mess of Christian practice. It all comes down to the IS/OUGHT FALLACY.

The point, just because something is (description) does not mean it ought (prescription) to be. IS has everything to do with an event or many events happening. Example: “A lot of people sin.” Well, just because a lot of people sin (description), does not mean that they should sin (prescription).

Let’s show this with Scripture now too.

MOSES went up on a mountain to hear God (description). Does that mean that is a rule for all of us (prescription)? Obviously not. There is no rule for all people to hear God on mountains, even if Moses heard God on a mountain.

To prove his obedience, Abraham went to sacrifice his son (description of his actions), does that mean we all should do the same to prove our obedience to God (prescription)? Obviously not. In fact, we have a rule against it (thou shalt not kill)!

However, the early Pentecostals committed the is/ought fallacy. They turned in an is (description of what took place on the first Pentecost) into an ought (all people, if they are to be Baptized in the Holy Spirit must have a similar experience). Not only does this commit the is/ought fallacy, but this also messes up the very prescriptions/rules that are put in place to guide our practice. Again, just because an apostle/s experienced something, does not mean that we all will in the same way. I think this is exactly why it is confusing going into Scripture to find an answer to the question. Going in looking for a distinction between the two, tries to favor a Pentecostal distinction up front. One only finds such a distinction by straining to find it. Many people have been confused by this over the years, especially as they engage in more Pentecostal groups.

OK…now to the RULES/Prescriptions.

1. The Role of the HOLY SPIRIT is to reveal Jesus Christ to us and the world – Jesus makes it quite clear that the main role of the Holy Spirit is 1) To bring to remembrance all that Jesus said and taught (John 14:26) and 2) That he will point to Jesus and bear witness about Jesus Christ (John 15:26). Even more, he will guide the church into all truth (John 16:13).

  • I think this is why we see so many examples in the book of Acts, where the Apostles and others, who got filled or baptized in the Holy Spirit, were able to speak up with boldness and testify about Jesus Christ. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.

  • This should remind us, that the “tongues” in those passages of the book of Acts, are present in order to expand the mission of the church and give praise to God and make clear his message to other nations. That sounds exactly like what these passages in John teach.

2. How one (as a rule) receives the Holy Spirit – After Peter preached on Pentecost, he was asked by the crowd what they should do as a result of hearing the preaching. Peter’s answer has been the rule for the church ever since. He said, “Repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

  • How does one receive the Holy Spirit? It is as simple as Peter outlined above.

  • Notice here, that Peter never advocates that everyone will speak in tongues or prophesy. Rather, they will receive God the Holy Spirit by converting to Christianity. Once again, I think this is where the early Pentecostals missed it. They had their eyes on a particular gift, and not on the Holy Spirit himself who is the ultimate GIFT. This is also where they committed the Is/ought fallacy.

  • Again, this is the rule. Which means, it can cover those persons who do have some kind of significant experience as well as those who do not have a significant experience.

  • 1 Corinthians 12:3 further confirms this rule when it says, “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.”

3. The Holy Spirit Assures us of Christ’s Life (and thus salvation) in us who believe

  • Romans 5:5 / 15:13 – Love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which confirms the hope we have in Christ.

  • 1 Cor. 6:19 – Tells us our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, who continually leads us away from sin and to righteousness (context of the whole chapter as well).

  • Ephesians 1:13 that after conversion/believing, “You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.”

  • Titus 3:5 tells us that we are saved and continually being renewed by the washing and regeneration of the Holy Spirit.

  • 1 John 3:24 “And we know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”

**The New Testament has a moderately strong understanding that the Holy Spirit who lives in us, can begin to make it clear to us that we are his children and are on the path to salvation. Sometimes this teaching has been called “assurance of salvation.”

4. God decides what gifts a person gets, not human beings and not a tradition by human beings.

  • We are guaranteed of the Spirit himself at conversion…that is the true gift we all get (Acts 2:38).

  • Beyond having the Holy Spirit and being more fully assured of salvation over time by the Holy Spirit, God can freely will to give us certain extra gifts as well.

  • These are Biblically called “gifts of the spirit” or “spiritual gifts” or even “graces of the Holy Spirit.”

  • The reason for God gracing us with certain gifts of the Spirit is for the “common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).

  • All gifts are empowered by the Holy Spirit, “who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” That means, God decides.

  • I obviously do mean this to contradict the teaching of the Pentecostals who make it a rule that the ‘evidence of the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues.’ God himself has told us differently.

5. The Holy Spirit leads us in Character Development, and to God Himself, who is perfect love.

  • The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)

  • Love is the greatest (1 Corinthians 13).

Holy Spirit Realization – That our life is about realizing more of Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, as bearers of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can keep growing in realization of His work and ministry and thus, being filled one time is not enough, but rather being filled again and again, through praise, interaction with the Word, prayers from others, and much more.

Practically what does this all mean?

1. We are not trying to get people Baptized in the Holy Spirit in the sense that they have one event in their life. Instead, we are trying to get their whole lives to engage with the work of the Holy Spirit (Holy Spirit Realization).

2. We are not to look for one sign as the guarantee of being filled with the Spirit, but instead are to trust that God has done the work for those who believe.

3. Our Job then, is to keep guiding people to rely on the Holy Spirit to enable them to preach the Word and live a holy life.

Once again, check out J.I. Packer’s “Keep in Step with the Spirit” to examine these issues more.

Pastor Isaac

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