Is There a Difference Between ‘Being Filled With The Spirit’ and Being Baptized In The Spirit?
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When we search the Scriptures to find a distinction between being ‘filled’ and being ‘baptized’ in the Holy Spirit, we will not find one that matters for our practical living today. Pentecost was a unique event, fulfilling a prophecy in Joel 2. The meaning of Pentecost was to help start the mission of Jesus Christ to all the nations of the world. Therefore, the only distinction that can be made between the two has to do with what has already taken place.
Reading Scripture, we find numerous Bible verses that tell us about being filled with the Spirit. These verses a
re to be taken as the same thing as being baptized in the Holy Spirit for all practical purposes. What is most interesting in the Scriptures, is that none of the Epistles speak about being baptized in the Holy Spirit. The only usage is about being filled or having the Holy Spirit. This too, is a great clue for how the author of Acts has intended his narrative about Pentecost to be read. Namely, as a unique event which added nations to the church!
The point for us? Being filled or being baptized effectively mean the same thing. A fact that illustrates this, is that we can trace when a belief came about in church history. The idea that being baptized in the Holy Spirit was distinctive from being filled with the Holy Spirit (in the way I outlined above) was never taught in the life of the church for 1900 years. That’s a long time!
It was not until the early Pentecostals of 1901 and onward that this teaching took off and spread like wildfire. This offers us a strong reason to reject such a distinction. No one from the apostles onward taught it. The early Pentecostals also added the idea that “tongues” was the evidence of being b
aptized in the Holy Spirit. This too was invention. There were many external signs that could convey a believer had the Holy Spirit.
What readers of the Bible must avoid doing, is taking an experience of a person in Scripture, and hold it up as an example that we all must live by. We should of course be inspired by such examples, at least the good ones! But, when we take a documented experience, such as the experience of the Apostles in Acts 2 and make the experience the rule for all subsequent believers, we have committed a serious error of thought (the is/ought fallacy). Instead, we should search for a rule that the early Christians gave about the matter and not their direct experience.
The good news is, we have such a rule! In Acts 2:38, Peter tells everyone they will receive the Holy Spirit if they repent and are baptized. He does not say they had to have the same experience he just had. Rather, they would receive the same objective Holy Spirit, regardless of whatever experience came about. The rule for us is that trust in Christ brings the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Moreover, we notice through the book of Acts that we can keep being ‘filled’ even after we already have been. Which is to say, a great sense of the awareness of God’s presence in acts of praise, evangelism, and more is to keep filling us. Therefore, our whole lives should be a further realization of the work of the Holy Spirit, and not just one moment.