Filled? Baptized? Clothed with the Holy Spirit? What does all this mean?
So what’s the big deal about how much of the Holy Spirit we have at any given time?
What do we call it when we ask God for “more” of the Holy Spirit? Should we be asking to be baptized again - what about full? Can that even happen?
There is so much controversy regarding this topic. In fact, you might as well stick a wick in this and light it. I’m going to do the best I can to quickly and succinctly describe what it means to “have”, be “full”, be “clothed”, and be “baptized” in the Holy Spirit. This is a massive topic and I will most certainly err on the side of being too brief here so comment or email if you need more clarity.
Being “Baptized” in the Holy Spirit
There’s a classic error that comes from teachers/preachers insisting that the Day of Pentecost described in Acts 2 become a repeatable model or formula for all Christians today. Many incorrectly refuse to see that this moment has overarching significance. What I mean is, many Christians (millions) believe that once a person becomes a Christian, they only receive a deposit or down payment of the Holy Spirit to be completed once we develop more faith. This is taught to occur when one is more mature and has more faith, often with speaking in tongues as a proof that it truly occurred. This view ignores that Pentecost was a unique transition in God’s brilliant plan and reduces it to a mere formula or a code to be cracked by Christians to get more of something supernatural.
“Are you a Christian? Have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit? Did you speak in tongues” These questions and this type of teaching renders a culture that segregates the “haves” from the “have not’s” in the Church. I’ve been in that madness before on both ends of the table, and it’s debilitating, wondering what’s wrong with you and why God isn’t approving you as much as He is others. This builds a harmful caste system that rewards performance and quantifies the Holy Spirit where the Bible does not. In many cases it also assumes wrongly that all believers have an identical gift, which is tongues.
To be blunt and direct: The Holy Spirit comes in fullness and baptizes us upon salvation. There is no second occurrence that completes salvation for us. There are no “haves” and “have not’s”. There is no uber Christian, only an uber King who rescues us all from our gutters and madness.
One text that leads us to this conclusion is 1 Corinthians 12:13. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. The “body” is what we enter as we become Christians and is described in great detail in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians. If you are in the “body” of Christ, then you are a Christian. It is into this body that we are baptized by God’s Holy Spirit. Sounds pretty obvious doesn’t it.
Wayne Grudem comments that the baptism of the Holy Spirit must mean, “the activity of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the Christian life when he gives us new spiritual life (in regeneration) and cleanses us and gives us clear break with the power and love of sin...it cannot refer to an experience after conversion.”
Why is Acts 2 a momentous and non-repeatable day then? Why all the theatrics in Acts 2 on that unique Day of Pentecost? So the world would know. So we would know. God has come, lived, died, lived again, and is now gathering a scattered globe into a single body and he is sending that single body into a scattered globe on mission with interlocking gifts and adequate power to get the job done, enjoy life, and glorify God. It was a “point of transition between the old covenant work and ministry of the Holy Spirit and the new covenant work and ministry of the Holy Spirit.” This new work will equip and power us to be the joyful witnesses (Acts 1:8) our great commission calls us to (Matthew 28:19).
Being “Full” of the Holy Spirit
Another common and much more accurate phrase for us today to describe the experiences we have with the Holy Spirit is to be “filled” or “full”. It’s a unique fullness where we can never be too full. Don’t think glass of water as much as big balloon with air. We see the imperative to desire and ask for this fullness in Ephesians 5:18-20: And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, and we see the disciples enjoy this in Acts 4:8 and many other places.
This is definitely repeatable and can and should occur over and over again in our lives. This brings us both fresh joy and new empowering. It allows us to both enjoy our King and glorify Him well. Later in Ephesians we see the result of this “filling” on the church…
19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Being full of the Holy Spirit allows us to be clothed with His power, but what does that mean?
Having the “Power” of the Holy Spirit
I think there is an undue burden on many who relegate this to simply having signs and wonders. Walking in the power of the Holy Spirit doesn’t just mean being heavily laden with signs and wonders or even being highly skilled to evangelize. Sure there might be signs and wonders, and I have seen things like that, but we aren’t limited to that in our witness. It also means leading and ministering out of deep deep joy.
Galatians 5:22–23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Martin Lloyd Jones gives a great example in his book Joy Unspeakable. “He says it is like a child walking along holding his father's hand. All is well. The child is happy. He feels secure. His father loves him. He believes that his father loves him but there is no unusual urge to talk about this or sing about it. It is true and it is pleasant. Then suddenly the father startles the child by reaching down and sweeping him up into his arms and hugging him tightly and kissing him on the neck and whispering, "I love you so much!" And then holding the stunned child back so that he can look into his face and saying with all his heart, "I am so glad you are mine." Then hugging him once more with unspeakable warmth and affection. Then he puts the child down and they continue their walk. This, Lloyd-Jones says, is what happens when a person is baptized with the Holy Spirit.
A pleasant and happy walk with God is swept up into an unspeakable new level of joy and love and assurance and reality that leaves the Christian so utterly certain of the immediate reality of Jesus that he is overflowing in praise and more free and bold in witness than he ever imagined he could be.
The child is simply stunned. He doesn't know whether to cry or shout or fall down or run, he is so happy. The fuses of love are so overloaded they almost blow out. The subconscious doubts—that he wasn't thinking about at the time, but that pop up every now and then—are gone! And in their place is utter and indestructible assurance, so that you know that you know that you know that God is real and that Jesus lives and that you are loved, and that to be saved is the greatest thing in the world. And as you walk on down the street you can scarcely contain yourself, and you want to cry out, "My father loves me! My father loves me! O, what a great father I have! What a father! What a father!"
God does this according to His own design and from His deep love for us. But we should always be praying and asking often for the Spirit’s power to enable you to be a good witness. A question you may be asking yourself right now is, “Is it possible to be a good Christian and not have these moments all the time?” John Piper comments,
“It is not either-or. It is both-and. In the history of the church the steady-state, obedient, faithful, persevering years of life have preserved and nurtured the fruit of the times of extraordinary power. And, to put it the other way around, the times of steady-state, faithful, obedient life have prepared the soil, and extraordinary outpourings of God's Spirit have taken the work of the kingdom forward in a quantum leap, accomplishing overnight, as it were, what people have been laboring years to see.” JP
Sometimes God gives us grace to persevere when we have no deep experience of being clothed with unbelievable power, and sometimes we get grace to enjoy those moments - but it’s all God’s grace. In my experience this is exactly how it happens. I have seasons of hard labor punctuated with brief moments of unexplainable and uncontainable joy and ability. Some years there seems to be little fruit - just plowing, and some weeks there seems to be a ton of fruit. Some months where I love my King steadily and some times where I am enraptured recklessly with love for Him. God will build through eventful and uneventful moments. God uses both and we should pray for power and fullness often, acknowledging it only comes from Him.