An Abundance of the Holy Spirit
Part 1 - Baptism with the Holy Spirit
What the Bible says about being ‘baptized’ and being ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit.
1. Longing for More
You hear stories about fascinating experiences that other Christians have. They have experienced that God’s Spirit filled them. It is an overwhelming experience of the love of God. It is almost a physical feeling that the love of God was poured out into their hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5).
That can make you envious. For you are a Christian too. You have been baptized. You have made public profession of your faith. And you are active within your congregation. And yet, you often really long for more enthusiasm, more happiness, more dedication.
Is it not truly Scriptural to long for these things? For doesn’t Jesus promise that he will baptize us with the Holy Spirit. And doesn’t the New Testament not speak often about being ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit? In fact, it is a command: ‘be filled with the Spirit’ (Eph 5:18). And would that not all have to do with enthusiasm and happiness?
Reformed Christians tend to be very traditional. Do they really take that promise and that command to heart?
In this Part 1 I pay attention to what the Bible says about being ‘baptized’ with the Holy Spirit and being ‘filled’ with the Spirit. In Part 2 I shall discuss these Scriptural givens in greater detail and consider the questions: If you long for more happiness, more dedication, more enthusiasm for the Lord, what can you do about it. And, how can you respond to Paul’s command, ‘be filled with Spirit’? (Eph 5:18).
2. Abundance and Impact of the Spirit
Being ‘Full’ Means Being Led
What does it mean that a person is ‘filled with’ or ‘full of’ the Holy Spirit? We read that Jesus himself was full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1). And Luke writes the same of Barnabas: ‘He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith’ (Acts 11:24).
You cannot literally be ‘made full’ of the Spirit. For the Spirit is not a liquid or some other substance. So the word ‘full’ has a figurative meaning.
Luke uses the expression ‘being full of’ also in another context. Thus, in Luke 5:12 he speaks of a man who was ‘full of leprosy’ (KJV, ESV), that is, he was covered with leprosy (NIV). And Paul describes the sorcerer, Elymas, as being ‘full of all kinds of deceit and trickery’ (Acts 13:10). That was his character, it had the upper hand in him.
In the same way, you can say that someone is ‘full of’ the Holy Spirit. Being ‘filled with’ or ‘full of’ the Holy Spirit means that God’s Spirit governs you, that he leads you and inspires you.
That is also what Paul means with the command of Ephesians 5:18: ‘be filled with the Spirit’. Paul uses that verb ‘to fill’ (or ‘to make full’) more often in his letter to the Ephesians. For example, he writes that Christ ‘fills’ (‘makes full’) everything in every way (Eph 1:23).
The verb that Paul uses here also means something like ‘to govern’ or ‘to lead’. Compare Jeremiah 23:24 which, in the Greek translation, uses the same verb as that used in Ephesians: ‘“Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.’ The meaning is clear. God’s omnipotence extends to the farthest reaches of the universe. He rules all things and therefore no one can hide from him.
Christ wants to ‘fill’ or ‘rule’ all things. That is why Paul calls on all his readers to let themselves be ‘filled’ with the Spirit, to be ruled by the Spirit. To be ‘filled’ with the Spirit is another way of saying ‘walk by the Spirit’ (Gal 5:16 KJV, ESV), or ‘live by the Spirit’ (Gal 5:25).
It is, or course, also possible that Satan, rather than the Spirit, ‘fills’ someone’s heart. That is what Peter says to Ananias: ‘how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?’ (Acts 5:3). And Luke uses the same verb here as Paul does in Eph. 5:18!
John the Baptist and Jesus the ‘Baptist’
John the Baptist declared that Jesus will ‘baptize’ with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8; cf. Matt 3:11; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). Why did John express himself in this way and what did he mean by it?
John compared what he was doing to what Jesus will do. John baptized. The verb ‘to baptize’ means ‘to immerse’. John immersed people in the water of the Jordan. This was a symbolic act that signified the ‘washing away’ of sins and the renewal of life. It was a sign. John could administer the sign, but he could not accomplish that to which the sign pointed. Only the Holy Spirit can do that and John could not give him to the people.
But what John was unable to do, Jesus, who was ‘more powerful’, who came after John, could do. John immersed people in water, but Jesus will ‘immerse’ people in the Holy Spirit!
Actually you can’t say it that way at all. You can immerse someone in a liquid (water), but not in the Holy Spirit. That shows that John used the verb ‘immerse’ in a figurative sense. To make that clear, you can use quotation marks around the verb, as I have done. ‘I baptize you with water, but he will “baptize” (“immerse”) you with the Holy Spirit’ (Mark 1:8). John was literally a baptizer; Jesus is a baptizer in a figurative sense. John the Baptist baptized with water; Jesus the ‘Baptist’ baptizes with the Holy Spirit.
Being ‘Baptized’: Abundantly
What does John mean with this expression? He says: I cannot give the Holy Spirit to you. But Jesus can! And he will do it in an abundant manner (by ‘immersion’). That is what the word ‘immersion’ adds beyond the more neutral verb ‘give’. It indicates that Jesus will give the Spirit in an abundant manner.
This expression makes a connection to the prophecy of Joel, that God will ‘pour out’ his Spirit (Joel 2:28), that is, he will do so in abundance. Jesus himself later also drew this connection when he exclaimed: ‘“Whoever believes in me . . . streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. . .’ (John 7:38, 39).
The Spirit and Baptism by Water
What does ‘baptism’ by the Spirit have to do with baptism by water? A great deal!
Paul describes the work of the Spirit a couple of times as ‘washing’. That reminds us of the symbolism of baptism. What baptism symbolizes (the washing away of sins and the renewal of life), the Spirit does in fact!
In Titus 3:5 Paul speaks about ‘the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit’. Thereby Paul depicts the work of the Holy Spirit as a bath. The Spirit, ‘whom he poured out on us generously’ (v. 6), washes us clean, just as a bath or a shower does.
1 Corinthians 6:11 uses similar language: ‘But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.’ Here too Paul describes the work of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the Spirit of God as a washing away.
Describing the work of the Spirit as ‘washing away’, conforms with Old Testament usage. God promised to cleanse his people with water from all their impurities and uncleannesses by his Spirit (cf. Ezek 36:25-27; and see §4 below). When people are ‘baptized’ with the Spirit, their sins are washed away. And that means forgiveness and renewal.
That is precisely what baptism is all about. For baptism, that symbolic washing away of the ‘impurities of our souls’, does not address only the forgiveness of our sins, but also the renewal of our lives by the Holy Spirit (see the classic Reformed Form for the Baptism of Children, as well as the Heidelberg Catechism, Answ. 70). Therefore, baptism is the sign of ‘baptism’ with the Holy Spirit.
Being ‘Baptized’ means Being ‘Filled’
Is being ‘baptized’ with the Holy Spirit something different from being ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit’? No. Both expressions speak about the same truth. They are two metaphors for the fact that Christ gives his Spirit and that we receive that Spirit. The one image alternates with the other.
This is clearly evident in Acts 1 and 2. Jesus announces: ‘. . . John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 1:5). When that happens a few days later, Luke writes: ‘All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit . . .’ (Acts 2:4).
In Acts 1 Jesus compares what he is going to do with the work of John the Baptist. That is why he uses the figurative expression ‘baptized’. The comparison is absent in Acts 2. Then it no longer makes sense to use the word ‘baptized’ in that figurative sense. That is why Luke uses the word ‘filled’ in that chapter.
The only place in the New Testament where the word ‘baptized’ in the Holy Spirit (ESV; not by the Holy Spirit KJV, NIV) is used without a comparison to the work of John the Baptist, is 1 Corinthians 12:13. Paul probably used the word ‘baptized’ in its figurative sense in that text because all Corinthians were baptized with water and that baptism (which all Christians have in common) points to the work of the Spirit – we are ‘baptized’ in him. Baptism as outward sign of unity points to the Spirit who makes the unity of the congregation a reality.
Both words (‘baptized’ and ‘filled’) express the same thought, namely, that Jesus Christ gives his Spirit to his church since Pentecost. The characteristic significance of the word ‘baptize’ is that it happens in abundance. The characteristic significance of the word ‘fill’ is that people to whom the Spirit is given are led entirely by that Spirit. To put it another way, ‘baptize’ points to the abundance of the Spirit; ‘fill’ points to the influence of the Spirit.
3. Jesus Fulfills God’s Old Promise!
What can you expect from being ‘baptized’, or being ‘filled’ with the Spirit? What does God intend with this gift?
For an answer to this question we shall go back to the Old Testament first. For the gift of the Spirit was already announced during the old covenant. We can put it even more strongly: ‘baptism’ or being ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit fulfills what God always intended for the covenant with his people.
It is important to take this step back into the Old Testament. Otherwise we run the risk of giving our own meaning to the expressions ‘baptized’ and being ‘filled’ with the Spirit. You probably already have some ideas about it (having been nurtured by the manner in which the topic is discussed, particularly in charismatic circles). And then you easily read those ideas into the relevant Scriptural passages. To prevent that, it is important that we look at the New Testament from the perspective of the Old Testament. And then we need to ask the question: What did the Lord intend with the gift of the Spirit?
What was God’s purpose when he entered into a covenant with Abram and his descendants? Genesis 17:7 says: ‘I will establish my covenant . . . between me and you and your descendants after you . . . to be your God and the God of your descendants after you’. God desired a mutual relationship between himself as the God of Abraham and his descendants on the one hand, and Abraham and his descendants, his special people, on the other hand. Of course, for that relationship it was necessary that Abram (and his descendants) lived a blameless life: ‘. . . walk before me and be blameless’ (Gen 17:1).
That covenant enters a new phase when Abraham’s descendants arrived at Mount Sinai. God again makes it plain that this is his people and that he demands that they be obedient to him. ‘Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. . . ’ (Exod 19:5)
But on the other hand, God wants to be the God of this people. That is how he presents himself: ‘I am the Lord your God . . .’ (Exod 20:2).
A Downward Spiral
The entire history of the old covenant (the covenant that the Lord established at Sinai) is an attempt to make it a reality: the Lord as God of Israel; Israel as the people of the Lord that lives a life that matches the covenant relationship.
But the reality was often otherwise. There are a few positive exceptions, such as the time of David and Solomon, and the time under king Hezekiah. And there were always true believers, ‘righteous’ persons. But the general trend of the history of the old covenant is a downward spiral. This is clear, for example, of the time of the Judges and also of most of the period of the kings.
God always had to send prophets to call the people back: Give up your evil practices and turn to your God. Show that you are his people, just as he wants to be your God!
It seems that the great mass of people are not touched by this call. The majority do not change inwardly. They have been circumcised physically, but not inwardly, although that was always God’s intention. He wanted their hearts to be circumcised (Deut 10:16; Jer 4:4; cf. Rom 2:29). That means that he didn’t want their religion to be only an external matter; he wanted his people to serve him from the heart.
End of Story?
After all those centuries, only one conclusion is possible. Israel failed to be God’s people. What God intended ended in failure. That was not God’s fault. It was the fault of the people.
And so the Lord has no choice but to exile his people. Jerusalem falls. The temple is destroyed. The people are deported. End of story.
But no! There is a surprising ending to the Sinaitic covenant, to the exile. Ezekiel, a prophet during the exilic period is allowed to announce it:
‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God’ (Ezek 36:24-28)
Note carefully what is says!
God will reach the goal of his covenant: ‘you will be my people, and I will be your God’.
God achieves this goal by cleansing them from their sins: ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean’. (This is the metaphor of baptism that we spoke of in §2.)
This ‘cleansing’ is not just something external: ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh’.
How can this happen? During the entire history of the old covenant God’s people did not receive a new heart. But it will happen because God is going to deploy his Spirit: ‘I will put my Spirit in you’.
What is the consequence of that? That the people will finally begin to live as God’s people: ‘I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws’.
The Promise of the Old Covenant
What Ezekiel announces is the promise of the old covenant: God will give his Spirit to his people.
In that way God will nullify the failure of the old covenant. Unexpectedly there will be a new beginning, a new covenant.
Jeremiah prophesied this too:
The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.Jeremiah 31:31-34
A new covenant. Sins are forgiven and people are inwardly renewed. God’s law is not something that is only external. In their inmost being, people want to live according to that law. And the result is: ‘I will be their God, and they will be my people’. This was God’s ‘ideal’, already since Abram! God’s Spirit guarantees that this goal will be achieved and that the new covenant will not fail like the old.
John the Baptist Exclaimed: ‘This is He’!
What a suspenseful anticipation is raised by this promise of the old covenant! And what a breakthrough it is when John the Baptist is able to present Jesus to the people. He on whom the Spirit descended and on whom it remains. He will fulfill that old promise! ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit’ (John 1:33)!
It is Jesus who ensures the new beginning of God’s covenant with his people. He provides the basis for it by the forgiveness of sins. And he ‘baptizes’ and ‘fills’ with the Holy Spirit—he who ensures that God’s people want to live according to God’s will.
The Reality of the New Covenant
In the New Testament you read about the actualization of the prophesies made in Old Testament. Thus, for example, Paul says to the Romans:
For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit’ (Rom 8:3, 4).
‘For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature. . .’. That is a summary of the entire history of the old covenant. The law did not manage to ensure that the people indeed obeyed the law. That was not the fault of the law, but of the sinful people (‘sinful nature’). The law was not a match for the sinful nature (it was ‘weakened’). But what the law was unable to do, God’s Spirit can do. What the law was unable to do (to meet ‘the righteous requirements of the law’), we do because we live ‘according to the Spirit’.
That is how the Spirit makes it possible that God and his people are for all time joined to each other and will live together eternally: ‘I your God, you my people’. Thus, ‘baptism’ or being ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit dovetails with what God always intended with his covenant.
4. ‘Baptism by the Spirit’: A Continuous Reality
A Beginning Without End
When does that actually happen, the church’s ‘baptism by the Spirit’? Did it already happen (on the first Pentecost)? Or can everyone individually expect to experience it in his or her life?
On the first Pentecost Jesus began to ‘immerse’ people in, to ‘fill’ them with his Spirit. Peter explains it as follows: ‘Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear’ (Acts 2:33). And he points back to the promise of the old covenant: ‘The promise (i.e., of the Holy Spirit) is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call’ (Acts 2:39).
Does that conclude the ‘baptism’, the being ‘filled’, the ‘outpouring’ of the Spirit? No. It is not something that Jesus did only on that first Pentecost. And receiving the Spirit, or being filled with him is not something that happened only on that day and never again.
It is true that there were a number of accompanying signs that happened only on that day: tongues of fire, sound of a blowing wind, Jesus disciples speaking in other tongues about the great acts of God.
But Christ continues to ‘baptize’ his church in his Spirit since that first Pentecost. Everyone who accepts the gospel of Jesus Christ in faith receives the promised Spirit (Gal 3:2-5, 14). The story of Cornelius confirms it. When this Gentile accepts Jesus as his Saviour, the Spirit ‘came on’ him and all who heard the message (Acts 10:44).
In the case of Cornelius and those who were gathered with him, the gift of the Spirit is accompanied by a speaking in tongues. And that reminds Peter about what happened on the first Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 11:15). Peter needed to be reminded of that, for this is the first time that a Gentile is being added to God’s people. As a Jew, it cost Peter a great deal to accept that salvation can also be given to a Roman! The baptism of the Spirit with the accompanying speaking in tongues convinces him. And so later he explains his actions to the believers in Jerusalem: ‘So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?’ (Acts 11:17).
Believing in Jesus and Being ‘Baptized’ with His Spirit
It is impossible to believe in Jesus and not receive the Spirit: ‘if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ’ (Rom 8:9). That is why Peter mentions both together in his sermon on Pentecost: ‘. . . be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ . . . and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:38).
The story that Luke relates in Acts 19 confirms this rule. In Ephesus Paul meets people who have received the baptism of John the Baptist. They had not yet heard that the Holy Spirit has already been given to the church. Paul explains to them that John pointed to someone who was to come after him and that people had to believe in him. When these Ephesians accepted Paul’s preaching and let themselves be baptized, the Holy Spirit was poured out on them too. Thus, believing in Jesus Christ, who ‘baptizes’ in the Holy Spirit, and receiving the Holy Spirit belong together. That is the background to Peter’s question: ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ That question presupposes that ‘believing in Jesus’ goes together with ‘receiving the Holy Spirit’.
Believing in Jesus and being ‘baptized’ with his Spirit belong together. So far as we know, the only exception to this rule is what happened in Samaria, as described in Acts 8:14-17. There were people in Samaria who had begun to believe in Jesus Christ and were baptized in his name, but they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. Him they received only when Peter and John arrived from Jerusalem.
What is the reason for this delay? Several explanations have been advanced. The following seems to me to be the most plausible: The gospel was preached first in Jerusalem and now it was Samaria’s turn (cf. Acts 1:8, which describes a unique salvific transition). But Jews and Samaritans had been separated for centuries by a wall of enmity (‘Jews do not associate with Samaritans’, John 4:9). If the Holy Spirit had been poured out immediately on the Samaritans, there would have been a great risk that the centuries-old schism would have continued. That was prevented because the church at Jerusalem sent representatives, who showed solidarity with the Samaritans and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. In that way, ‘in one Spirit’ Jews and Samaritans ‘were . . . baptized into one body’ (1 Cor 12:13 ESV).
To be Full and to be Filled
‘To be full of the Holy Spirit’ can be a general characteristic of people (just as it was a general characteristic of Jesus). It was true of Stephen (Acts 6:5) and Barnabas (Acts 11:24).
But we read that also after the first Pentecost people were (also again) filled with the Spirit. The book of Acts gives five examples (Acts 4:8; 4:31; 9:17-22; 13:9-12, and 13:52). In all those situations persons were ‘filled’ with the Spirit as they testified about Jesus and about the gospel, in the face of direct opposition.
Paul calls upon the Christians in Ephesus to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). From the Greek verb you can deduce that this is something that we must do continuously: ‘Be filled with the Spirit (again and again)’. That text also shows that ‘to be filled with’, or ‘being full of’ the Holy Spirit is not something that happened only once.
That Christ ‘baptizes’ the church in, or ‘fills’ it with the Spirit is, since Pentecost, a continuous reality. And that is why we can also speak about being ‘filled’ anew.
Why do we read about new cases of being ‘filled’ with the Spirit, but not of new ‘baptisms’ with the Spirit? In the first place this has to do with the fact that the expression ‘baptize with the Spirit’ derives its meaning from the comparison with the work of John the Baptist, as we saw. Second, the term ‘baptize’ does not lend itself well to describe repeated events, since ‘baptize’ (especially because of that connection to the baptism of John the Baptist) strongly suggests a one-time event. Consequently, ‘baptize with the Holy Spirit’ is an appropriate expression to identify the totality of Christ’s work since Pentecost, but not to describe separate events within that totality.
Whenever you see people who want to live with and for God from the heart; people for whom God’s commandments are not a burden, but a joy; a congregation that dedicates itself, despite ups and downs, to be a congregation of the Lord; Christians who radiate love toward God, each other, and non-believers, then you realize that it is true: Jesus Christ continues to ‘fill’ his followers with his Spirit. And the church continues to be ‘baptized’ with the Spirit.
How can I personally connect with that reality? How am I filled with the Spirit? We shall speak about that in Part 2.
Questions for Discussion
- Do you recognize the envy described in §1? Not at all? If not, can you imagine that another person does feel that envy?
- To be ‘full’ of the Spirit means being ruled by the Spirit (§2). Does this explanation surprise you? In what way does this explanation differ from what you yourself believed until now?
- ‘Baptism’ with the Spirit has a lot to do with baptism with water (§2). Can you say: I am baptized and therefore I am baptized with the Holy Spirit? (cf. also Part 2, §2).
- ‘Baptism’ with the Holy Spirit is a continuous reality as §4 says. Do you observe that in the church?
Part 2 -‘Be Filled with the Spirit!’
How Am I Filled with the Spirit?
1. From Then to Now
It has always been God’s intention that his people truly be his people and that he be their God. ‘I your God, you my people’. The Holy Spirit makes that possible. He is the gift of the new covenant. Christ earned that gift and he pours it out on his church. Since Pentecost his church is baptized, or filled with the Spirit. We spoke about those things in Part 1.
How can I personally connect with this enormous reality? How am I filled with the Spirit? How can you answer the call of Paul, ‘be filled with the Spirit’ (Eph 5:18)? In this Part I shall continue along the Scriptural line of Part 1. By way of introduction, I want to point out a number of misunderstandings about the idea of a ‘baptism with the Spirit’.
2. It Is Not a One-Time Thing
In Part 1 I tried to make clear that baptism with the Spirit is a continuing reality. Many Christians think that the church’s baptism with the Spirit is a one-time event. That idea can lead you into one of two directions:
Either, baptism with the Spirit happened once and for all time on the first Pentecost. Thus, it is a unique salvation historical event that cannot be repeated.
Or, baptism with the Spirit occurs as a second experience in the life of believers, after they have come to faith. Baptism with the Spirit is then thought of as a baptism with the Holy Spirit in addition to and following after baptism with water.
Once and for All?
You find the first type of this misunderstanding sometimes in churches that adhere to Reformed confessions. People who are of this view say that baptism with the Spirit is a salvation historical event. That means that it is a one-time event and cannot be repeated. The church was baptized with the Spirit once and for all on Pentecost.
But if you say that the Spirit was given once and for all on Pentecost you run the risk that you treat this gift as of historical value only. The question then becomes: How do Christians today share in this gift? Or do I share in it automatically? Is it really necessary for a Christian still to pray for the Spirit? If everything happened on Pentecost, how do you interpret Paul’s command that we must constantly be ‘filled’ with the Spirit? (Eph 5:18).
But when you realize that the ‘baptism’ with the Spirit is not a ‘once and for all’ thing, but a continuing reality, then you will continually pray for that gift. For the Father in heaven wants to give his Holy Spirit to those who ask him for it (Luke 11:13).
See also the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 45, Q & A 116:
Q. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?
A. Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness which God requires of us. Moreover, God will give his grace and the Holy Spirit only to those who constantly and with heartfelt longing ask him for these gifts and thank him for them
A Second Experience?
You find the second type of misunderstanding (a baptism with the Spirit in addition to and following after baptism with water) in charismatic circles. People in those circles sometimes equate the so-called baptism with the Holy Spirit with being filled with the Spirit (in which case they speak of an initial filling with the Spirit and a repeated filling). Others draw a distinction between baptism and being filled. In that case the baptism is regarded as the one-time first experience of something ‘extra’ from the Spirit, while being filled with the Spirit is a repeated experience. Regardless, charismatics think of the baptism and being filled with the Spirit not as a continuing reality for the church since Pentecost, but as a separate event (that may or may not be repeated).
It is of course true that baptism with water is not the ‘baptism’ with the Spirit. Baptism with water points to the baptism with the Spirit. In the classic Reformed formulations: baptism with water is a sign and seal of baptism with the Spirit (the cleansing from our sins and the daily renewal of our lives). That cleansing and renewal does not happen automatically in the life of everyone who has been baptized with water. That happens only in the way of faith (see also §4 below).
But there is no Scriptural basis for the idea that there is a baptism with the Spirit as a separate event (experience) in addition to and after baptism with water. When John announces that Jesus will ‘baptize’ with the Holy Spirit, he is not announcing a second baptism in addition to baptism with water. What John announces is that, by giving his Spirit abundantly to his church, Jesus works in the life of everyone who believes in him. Jesus makes that to which baptism with water points a reality, namely, the cleansing of sins and renewal of life.
Acts of the Apostles
Charismatics often point to various examples in Acts to make the supposed rule that believers can be filled with the Spirit as a second experience plausible. But the examples are not convincing.
Acts 2 (the first Pentecost) certainly describes a second ‘experience’ of people who came to faith recently or some time ago. But that chapter speaks about the beginning of the period in which Christ baptized the church with his Spirit. Of course, that was a second experience to the believers at that time. But that does not mean that it is also a second experience for those who come to faith after that first Pentecost.
Acts 10 (the conversion of Cornelius) does not demonstrate that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a second experience. It ‘happened’ to Cornelius and those who were with him at the moment they came to faith (and not at a specific subsequent point in time). In fact, it happened to them before they were baptized. It is one of the situations in which the baptism with the Spirit is accompanied by speaking in tongues (which is not the rule). That was necessary to convince Peter to baptize (former) Gentiles (see Part 1, §4).
The disciples in Ephesus about whom Acts 19 speaks are also often mentioned as examples of Christians who do already believe, but have not yet been baptized with the Spirit (see, e.g., Nicky Gumbel in Questions of Life, the foundational book of the well-known Alpha course). But this is incorrect. Acts 19 speaks about people who did not yet believe in Jesus Christ. They were not yet Christians at all!
What happened in Samaria (as described in Acts 8) is the only example in the New Testament in which there is an interval of time between people coming to faith and being baptized on the one hand and receiving the Spirit on the other hand. It is difficult to ascertain with any certainty why that delay occurred. Undoubtedly it had to do with the special situation that the gospel was being preached outside Jerusalem for the first time (in accordance with the order that Jesus declared in Acts 1:8). The situation involved a people that was separated from the Jewish people by a deep chasm (see Part 1, §4). Surely one can’t base a doctrine of a baptism by the Holy Spirit as a second experience on one exceptional situation that ought most likely be explained by the extraordinary circumstances that prevailed at that time and in that place!
3. What Happens?
What can you expect when the Holy Spirit fills (governs) you?
In the report of the early years of the church in Acts we read that being filled with the Spirit is sometimes accompanied by special signs. That is true of the first Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), of the congregation being filled after her prayer in connection with the interrogation of Peter and John (Acts 4:31, of the ‘falling’ of the Spirit on Cornelius and those who were with him (Acts 10:44-46), and of the ‘coming’ of the Spirit on a few converts in Ephesus (Acts 19:6).
In very many other situations we do not get the impression that being filled with the Spirit is accompanied by special signs or experiences (see, e.g., Acts 4:8; 9:17; 13:7). Being filled with the Spirit is accompanied with joy and thankfulness (cf. Acts 13:52), but those emotions do not lie at the core of being filled with the Spirit as the Bible speaks of it. Nor are special events and experiences necessary aspects of being filled with the Spirit.
That being led by the Spirit does not per se involve a special experience is clear from the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament. That you are being led by the Spirit is not so much an experience. Rather, it is something that becomes evident by its effects.
That began already on Pentecost. On that day men, who only a few weeks earlier were terrified and fled when their Lord was arrested and who could hardly be convinced of the fact that he was risen, testified frankly and powerfully! It was a powerful witness and it is particularly for that reason that followers of Jesus are renewed when they are filled with the Spirit.
You observe this also in the life of the congregation: the members persevere in being taught by the apostles, in maintaining the community, and in celebrating the Lord ’s Supper and in communal prayers (Acts 2:42; 4:32-34). The Spirit ensures unity (Eph 2:18; 4:3; 1 Cor 12:13).
People who are led by the Spirit are truly and fundamentally changed. They are given a new identity, for they put on a new self (although their ‘old self’ remains present) (Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:9-10). ‘Christ lives in me’, writes Paul (Gal 2:20). And that is apparent! The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control grows in the life of people who are led by the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). People who allow themselves to be led by the Spirit (Eph 5:18), are involved in the communal worship of God. They praise the Lord with their whole heart, give thanks for everything, and submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:19:21).
And in that way a people that lives for the Lord, that obeys his law, begins to come into being. It is just as the Lord always wanted and as he announced it by his prophets in the old covenant. Jesus continues to fulfill the promise of the old covenant that the Spirit is given and received without restriction and that he renews people and ensures that they live according to God’s law. That is how Christ makes communion between God and people possible by the Spirit: ‘I your God, you my people’.
In addition to these effects, there are, especially in the beginning of the church, remarkable accompanying signs. Sometimes people speak in other tongues. There are gifts of prophesy and healing, and of (other) miracles. I shall not speak of these signs in this Part. They are dealt with elsewhere.
It is characteristic of charismatic views about a baptism with the Holy Spirit to describe that baptism as a specific experience. This notion (already present in rudimentary form in John Wesley’s writings, in the sanctification movement of the nineteenth century, and in the Pentecostal movement of the twentieth century) has had so much influence that it is often an unexpressed presupposition: being filled with the Spirit is an experience.
I shall give a few quotations from Nicky Gumbel’s Questions of Life as examples. ‘Being filled with the Spirit is almost always accompanied by a physical sign.’ ‘ Some people shudder like a leaf in the wind when they are being filled. Others begin to breathe deeply as if they are physically breathing in the Spirit’. ‘Sometimes being filled with the Spirit is accompanied by bodily warmth. The person in question experiences this warmth in his hands or in another part of his body’. ‘Some experience being filled with the Spirit as an overwhelming encounter of the love of God’. Gumbel had previously given an example of the latter. A bishop had preached on Romans 5:5, ‘God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us’. Gumbel says: ‘After the service he went home, drank a cup of coffee, and read the newspaper. At that moment he realized that the Lord told him to go and pray. He went to his chapel, kneeled in silence and felt God say to him, “I want your body”. He did not know why. Yet he gave every part of himself to God. “Then”, he said, “ what I preached about, happened. I felt electric shocks of love”. He fell flat on his face and heard the Lord say, “You are my son”. When he arose, he knew for certain that something had happened. It became a turning point in his life and work. Since then, through his work, many others have experienced being a child of God through the testimony of the Holy Spirit’.
The New Testament does not speak in this way about being baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit. Scripture does not at all suggest that being led by the Spirit involves an emotional or physical experience. Of course, the effect of the Spirit’s work in believers and in the church is joy and peace. But that concerns the fruit of the Spirit and not a special experience of receiving the Spirit.
We have seen (in Part 1, §2) that being filled with the Spirit means being led by the Spirit. And you can observe that a person is led by the Spirit by its effects. A person who is ‘full’ of the Spirit is not someone who has undergone a particular experience, but someone in whom the love of God dwells (Rom 5:5), someone who lives according to God’s law by loving God and his neighbour.
You can deduce that also from the opposite of being ‘filled’ with the Spirit, namely, being filled with Satan. That’s what Peter says of Ananias (Acts 5:3). That doesn’t mean that Ananias underwent a particular experience, but that he let himself be led by Satan and does his will.
Experience is particularly important in charismatic circles (and in that respect the charismatic movement is a successor to the tradition of Methodism and Pentecostalism). Charismatics maintain that despite all the differences in doctrine between different Christians and churches, their experience unites Christians. And that is why membership in a particular church is not so important. For example, the Alpha course is equally at home in a Reformed and in a Roman Catholic environment. Questions of Life says: ‘In a certain sense it is immaterial whether you are a member of a Roman Catholic or a Protestant church community, whether you are Reformed of various stripes, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Anglican, Evangelical, or Pentecostal. What’s much more important is whether you have received the Holy Spirit. The latter point is undoubtedly true. But doesn’t that make the fact that, for example in the Roman Catholic Church, unscriptural things are taught, of lesser importance? Is it really about how we believe (the experience) and less about what we believe?
4. Believing in Christ and Being Led by the Spirit
The One is the Obverse of the Other
Should you then say that being filled with the Spirit is something that happens as a kind of sequel to believing in Christ?
You could put it that way in a certain sense. But only if you mean the following: By means of faith what baptism speaks about, becomes a reality in our life. For baptism by water does not work anything automatically (as we saw in §2). Baptism is about a promise of forgiveness and renewal and those become a reality in our life because we believe. By faith we receive forgiveness of sins and renewal of our life through the Spirit. And so, in your faith, you may reach out to be led more and more by the Spirit.
But believing in Christ is not a kind of preliminary stage to being led by the Spirit. The one is the obverse of the other. You can say that if you want to be led more forcefully by the Spirit, you have to cling more strongly in faith to Jesus Christ.
The marvelous fact that we may actually be joined to God (the goal of God’s covenant!), can be described in two ways: We believe in Christ, and Christ wants to dwell in us by his Spirit.
The following are three examples:
- The content of Paul’s striking prayer for the Christians in Ephesus: that God ‘out of his glorious riches . . . may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith’ (Eph 3:16, 17). Paul could undoubtedly have written instead ‘that you may be filled with his Spirit’. In brief this means: ‘the Spirit in us’, equals ‘Christ in us’, equals ‘believing in Christ’.
- ‘Christ lives in me’, writes Paul (Gal 2:20a). Thereby he points to the reality that Christ lives in him through his Spirit. With as much force, Paul describes the obverse of this truth as, ‘I live by faith in the Son of God’ (Gal 2:20b).
- John also describes the two aspects of this one reality: Christ in us and we in him. We in him, because we believe in him (1John 2:23, 24) and because we obey his commands (1 John 2:4-6; 3:24). We in him and that is at the same time, he in us (1John 4:15, 16), by his Spirit (1 John 3:24: ‘And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us’; and see also 1 John 4:13). In John’s language were are reminded of Jesus own words, as reported by John in his gospel (John 14:23; 15:3ff).
It Is Not ‘Believing, Plus Something Else’
Charismatics maintain that baptism or being filled with the Spirit is something ‘extra’ that a Christian can receive in addition to ‘ordinary’ faith. Thus, for them there is a distinction between ‘ordinary’ faith and the extra experience of being filled with the Spirit. The latter is referred to as ‘faith plus’. That experience is available to all Christians. Often it is accompanied by speaking in tongues. Thus, faith is not the final stage for a Christian. There is more to be had! And so, Christians are encouraged to strive for that experience.
Here is another example from what Nicky Gumbel writes in Questions of Life. First he describes ‘ordinary’ believers. ‘They already “believe’ for a long time, perhaps already for their whole life. They were baptized, did confession of faith, and also regularly attend church’. And yet, something is missing. They have not been filled with the Spirit. But you can strive to be filled with the Spirit by following a kind of step-by-step plan. And for that purpose it is important that you ‘cooperate’ with the Spirit:
- Ask God for forgiveness for everything that can stand in the way of receiving the Spirit.
- Repent of everything that you know is wrong.
- Ask God to fill you with his Spirit and to give you the gift of speaking in tongues. Keep asking until you receive it.
- Open your mouth and begin to praise and glorify God in every tongue other than your mother tongue and any other language you may know.
- Believe that what you receive comes from God. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that it comes from yourself.
- Persevere. To learn a language (also a new tongue) takes time.
The adoption of this two-phase structure (from believing to being filled with the Spirit), places charismatics in the tradition that began with Methodism and continued up to and including Pentecostalism.
But ‘believing’ is never a kind of step toward something ‘extra’ or ‘more’. Believing is and remains the way of life of the Christian. That is the constant witness of all of Scripture. Whoever believes in the Son, has eternal life (John 3:16). The gospel reveals the righteousness of God, ‘a righteousness that is by faith from first to last’, for as the prophet Habakkuk wrote, ‘The righteous will live by faith’ (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17). ‘[S]ince we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1). The Spirit in whom Christ baptizes his church, is the Spirit of faith (2 Cor 4:13). People who have received the Spirit are people who live by faith (2 Cor 5:5-7).
Christians who are filled with the Spirit are people who live by faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Gal 2:20). It is a faith that has its good and bad periods, a faith that is challenged and confirmed. In short, it is a faith that is fully engaged in the struggle between our ‘old self’ and our ‘new self’.
If you have adopted the notion of the two phases (first faith, then experience), that is likely to influence your interpretation of the Bible. For example, I have heard the following explanation of John 6 (in which Jesus calls himself ‘the bread of life’): faith is that you acknowledge that Jesus is the bread of life (first phase). But when you also eat that bread, you experience him (second phase)! But Jesus doesn’t say: believing me is insufficient; you also have to ‘eat’ me as the bread of life. Instead, he says: you must ‘eat’ me, i.e., you must believe in me. ‘He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty’ (John 6:35). To believe in him means to ‘eat and drink’ him. That is what he calls the Jews to do when he tells them: ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’ (John 6:29).
Another variation on this theme is that charismatics draw a distinction between having the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit. Someone who ‘has’ the Spirit can say ‘Jesus is Lord’. And that is certainly significant! If you ‘have’ the Spirit in that sense, you will be saved. But to be ‘filled’ with the Spirit is something more. Then many things happen in your life. It becomes joyful and full of love and expectation.
But this distinction is not Scriptural. The Bible does not know a distinction between a situation in which you (merely) ‘have’ the Spirit (although that is sufficient to be saved), and a situation in which you are in addition ‘filled with’ the Spirit. These expressions (‘having’ and ‘being filled with’) are intended to stimulate a desire for ‘more of the Spirit’. But they do not stimulate enough. People who pay no attention to Paul’s call to be filled with the Spirit, may well think that they will nonetheless be saved, because they ‘have’ the Spirit after all. But they need to ask themselves whether they in fact have the Spirit! For a person who does not heed the call to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), actually grieves the Spirit (Eph 4:30)!
Moreover, if ‘being filled with the Spirit’ is not something extra in addition to ‘believing’ then that means that someone who believes, is ‘filled with’ (should be filled with?) the Spirit. And it means that someone who ‘has’ the Spirit, is filled with (should be filled with?) the Spirit. I discuss this in the next and last section of this Part.
5. ‘Be Filled with the Spirit’
If you long for more love, more dedication, more enthusiasm for the Lord, what can you do? How can you answer Paul’s call, ‘be filled with the Spirit’ (Eph 5:8) so that you, personally, share more and more in the gift of Christ to his church, the ‘baptism’ with the Spirit?
It is remarkable that Paul expresses his call in the passive voice, ‘be filled’. He does that because he is speaking of something that we cannot do ourselves, just as we cannot baptize ourselves. It is Christ who can fill us with his Spirit. But at the same time it is in the imperative mood. It is a command: we must let ourselves be filled with the Spirit.
How then can you do that, letting yourself be filled (led) by the Spirit? By praying for it to the Spirit and by believing in the Son, you let yourself be filled. Those two things together ensure that you live by the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit in this way is something that can become more profound and that can be renewed. We shall see this in what follows.
Jesus once summarized his teaching about prayer (Luke 11:1-13) like this: ‘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!’ (v. 13).
Just before this, Jesus had explained to his disciples what their prayer should contain: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. [May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.] Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation’ (vv. 2-4).
How would it be possible for those things to become a reality in the lives of the disciples? That they hallow God’s name; that they begin to live as subjects of God’s kingdom; that they do God’s will? That is only possible through the Holy Spirit. The entire Lord’s Prayer can be summarized in one prayer: ‘Give us your Holy Spirit’. Jesus disciples may pray for him without ceasing and with great insistence: ‘Ask . . . seek . . . knock!’ (v. 9).
We may ask the Lord for many things, even though we do not know whether he will give them to us when we ask for them. But we can be certain of this, that when we ask him without ceasing for (to be ‘filled’ with, led by) the Holy Spirit, the Father will hear that prayer. ‘For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened’ (v. 10).
In Questions of Life, Nicky Gumbel applies Jesus’ instruction about prayer to the special experience of being filled with the Spirit (after having come to faith), as he promotes it, including the speaking in tongues. He reads the matter of ‘experience’ into what Jesus says. Jesus’ words give no reason to do that. He speaks about the gift of the Spirit (which he will give starting with Pentecost) as the means by which what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, is being realized.
You may notice in yourself that you are not being led by the Spirit as much as you would like, that you are not diligent in the hallowing of God’s name, in living as a citizen of his kingdom, and in doing his will. When that is so, consider whether you regularly ask for that great gift of the new covenant, God’s Spirit. For if you do not ask, it will not be given to you; if you do not seek, you will not find; and if you do not knock, the door will not be opened to you.
When prayer for the Spirit decreases, the reason may be the belief that the Spirit was given us once for all at Pentecost (one of the misunderstandings I pointed out above).
John preserved another important and well-known aspect of Jesus’ instruction about the gift of the Spirit (John 7:37-39). On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus exclaimed: ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him’ (vv. 37, 38). Based on his post-Pentecost knowledge, John explains: ‘By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified’ (v. 39). How do you get to the point that you are so filled with the Spirit that it overflows in you, so that you become a stream by which the Spirit, whom Christ gives, waters your surroundings? Whoever wants to overflow with the Spirit, must first be filled with him. That is possible when you come to Jesus and drink with him.
What is this ‘coming and drinking’? Jesus makes this clear by making the same point, but using different words: ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me . . .’ Thus, whoever wants to overflow with the Spirit, must believe!
This is included in the instruction that John later incorporates in his letters. Whoever desires Jesus to live in him with his Spirit must remain in him, that is, must believe in him. And he must keep his Word and do his commands (see §4).
When your spiritual life is arid, when no ‘streams of living water’ flow from within you, that is perhaps caused by a lack of faith. Then it may be that you forget to come to Jesus repeatedly and to drink, that is, to imbibe his words. Whoever does not constantly drink in his words, becomes arid!
You often meet people who say that they believe. But they do not really overflow with a spiritual life of joy, love, kindness—the fruit of the Spirit. So something does not tally. In the previous section we established that being ‘filled’ with the Spirit is not something extra in addition to ‘believing’. Rather, ‘believing’ means ‘being filled with the Spirit’. A person who is not filled with the Spirit does not believe! And a person who is ‘filled’ with the Spirit in only a limited way, has a limited faith.
In fact, sadly, it is very often true that our faith is limited . . . It is because of a want of faith that there is so often a deficiency in spiritual life (living by the Spirit) in the church. This lack of faith explains why church life is often arid. How should you combat that aridity (in yourself in the first place and then in your surroundings)? You combat it by believing (again or for the first time). You must repent, turn again to Jesus, and imbibe him (his words). ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God’ (Col 3:16). Listening in faith to God’s Word, that is the funnel through which the abundance of God’s Spirit comes into our life. And from there it streams out of our life (our inmost being) to those around us. The more you turn to him in faith and listen to his Word, the more you will see the fruit of the Spirit.
For that faith (if it is a true faith) is a faith that ‘expresses itself through love’ (Gal 5:6), that shows that your life is indeed led by the Spirit. When you believe in Jesus Christ and pray for the Holy Spirit, you begin to live by the Spirit or, to put it another way, you begin to walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16-26 ESV).
That brings us back to Paul’s call in Ephesians 5:18, ‘be filled with the Spirit’. Paul describes what this involves: ‘Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’ (Eph 5:19-21). To be sure, Paul does not intend this list to be exhaustive. It is rather a series of examples and you can add many others to it. In short, the call to be filled with the Spirit means: live in accordance with what the Lord asks of you; be obedient to his will.
It remains remarkable: ‘be filled . . .’ Only Christ can do that, and yet, at the same time, you have to do it. And actually that is how it always is between God and human beings: God does it, but at the same time you have to do it—believe; live according to his will. You can do it, because God does it. This is clear when you compare the words of Paul to the Philippians: ‘continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose’ (Phil2:12, 13). The exhortation to work out your salvation (by being obedient to God’s will) only has meaning because of the fact that God has enabled you to will and to work. So it is here. The call to be filled with (led by) the Spirit only has meaning because of the fact that Christ wants to fill you with his Spirit. ‘Walking by the Spirit’ is possible only because God allows us to walk by the Spirit.
But on the other hand, that God brings us to the point that we do his will, happens by way of our effort and not apart from it. Being led by the Spirit (Rom 8:14) happens in the way of our effort, so that by the Spirit we put to death the ‘misdeeds of the body’ (Rom 8:13). And so the Bible’s call does not mean that we may wait to see and let the Spirit do what’s necessary, or something similar. No, ‘walking by the Spirit’ is our calling (Gal 5:16). Moreover, ‘walking by the Spirit’ as opposed to gratifying ‘the desires of the sinful nature’ (Gal 5:16, 17) is a struggle to which we are called. Precisely because you begin to devote yourself to doing ‘the works of the Spirit’, the Spirit will lead you.
We find an example in Ephesians 5:19-21. There Paul describes the things that show you to be filled with the Spirit. But at the same time you can say that the things he mentions there form the way by which the Spirit will lead you. Therefore, if you want to answer the call to be filled with the Spirit, then you must speak to each other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; you must build each other up, also in your singing. Sing with all your heart and shout with joy for the Lord, personally, as a family, and as a congregation during the services. Be thankful and not ungrateful and dissatisfied, no matter the circumstances. And submit to each other, in your marriage, in your family, in your work, and in the church. You can expand on these examples of Paul with many others, such as the ‘fruit’ of the Spirit (Gal 5:22, but even that description is not exhaustive). Devote yourself to let that fruit ripen in your life, for it is the Spirit who lets that fruit grown!
You can let yourself be led by the Spirit by the way in which you live. But you can also resist the work of the Spirit by your way of life. In that same letter to the Ephesians, Paul warns us: ‘do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God’ by your words and deeds (Eph 4:30). In fact, you can even ‘quench’ the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19 ESV). A person who does not build up others in the faith, who never praises God, who is not thankful, who does not submit to others, and so on, such a person is in the process of grieving the Holy Spirit. And such a person should not be surprised if there is no evidence of being ‘filled’ by the Spirit in his life.
Greater Depth and Renewal
In Part 1, §4 we concluded that ‘being filled with the Holy Spirit’ can be a general characteristic of people. But you also read, even after Pentecost, that people are (again) being filled with the Spirit. Indeed, Paul calls us to be filled with the Holy Spirit continuously, again and again (Eph 5:18).
Apparently it cannot always be said of every Christian in the same way that he is filled with the Spirit. When seven men had to be chosen for a special task in the congregation at Jerusalem, one of the criteria was that they be ‘full of the Spirit’ (Acts 6:3). Clearly, you could not say that in the same way of all church members. Otherwise it would not be a distinguishing criterion. Of Stephen (one of the seven) it could be said that he was ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 6:5). And that was characteristic of Barnabas too. He was described as ‘a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith’ (Acts 11:24).
Just as one person has a greater and a stronger faith than another, so also the life of the one is led more by God’s Spirit than that of another. There are differences in the church. But this does not mean that the faith of the one always is and remains strong, or that the faith of the other cannot grow. That is true also of being filled with the Spirit. Periods in which you are led strongly by the Spirit can alternate with periods in which that is less evident. Moreover, a person who is a novice in the life in the Spirit can grow significantly in that life. The image of a fruit for what the Spirit works in your life (Gal 5:22) suggest that too. A fruit is not the same from day to day. It must ripen. It is a process. And it all begins with sowing: ‘the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life’ (Gal 6:8).
Aside from such long-term fluctuations, there can also be moments when you are strongly led by the Spirit. We mentioned some examples from the book of Acts in Part 1, §4. Witnessing about Jesus Christ is the focus of all those examples. Undoubtedly we may count on that happening also today. For example, when a minister at a certain moment preaches the gospel with inspiration and in a way that transcends his usual manner of preaching, that inspiration does not originate with him, but with the Holy Spirit. And then you may legitimately use the Biblical expression and say that he preaches the gospel ‘full of the Spirit’. Of course, this applies not only to ministers, but to everyone who speaks to others—non-believers and brothers and sisters—to encourage, admonish, or comfort them with the gospel.
Further, aside from situations involving direct witness, most believers know of moments of special inspiration—while singing during a church service, during the sermon, during Bible study, while speaking with other believers, and in many other situations. Those are not just human emotions; without question the Holy Spirit is involved, for he wants to fill, lead, and inspire Christians continually and at all times.
To be full of the Spirit — as a constant reality, as a growing fact, in moments of special inspiration—leads to a life full of the fruit of the Spirit: joy, peace, obedience, self-denial, victory over sins, victory over doubt, faithfulness to God and to people, compassion for non-Christians.
It could even be that the faith experiences of charismatic Christians and non-charismatic Christians do not differ all that much, only that they express these experiences in different ways. J.I. Packer posits this hypothesis in Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God, and it is worthy of consideration. On the one hand he points out that the theology that underpins the distinctions the charismatic movement makes (‘baptism’ with the Spirit as additional experience) is ‘deeply unbiblical’ (p. 161). But on the other hand he writes: ‘what God is doing in the lives and through the experience of “card carrying” charismatics is essentially what he is doing in the lives of all believing, regenerate people everywhere—namely, working to renew Christ’s image in each, so that trust, love, hope, patience, commitment, loyalty, self-denial and self-giving, obedience and joy, may increasingly be seen in us as we see these qualities in him’ (p. 177). To have such fruits in your life, despite an unbiblical theology, is probably preferable to a situation in which you do have a biblical theology, but have no fruit of the Spirit in your life . . .
Christ gives his Spirit in abundance. Do you want to be filled with the Spirit? Pray, believe, and devote yourself to living according to God’s will. As blessing on it we may expect we shall always truly live with God and God with us, exactly as he always intended: he our God, we his people.
Questions for Discussion
- Many Christians believe that the church’s ‘baptism with the Spirit’ was a one-time event. Do you find this idea attractive in (either of) the two forms in which it appears?
- It is characteristic of charismatic thought about a ‘baptism’ with the Spirit to describe that ‘baptism’ as a specific experience. Do you appreciate that we sometimes think that how we believe is more important than what we believe?
- Do you realize that there are moments or periods in which the Spirit does not appear to lead you strongly, but also moments or periods in which you are strongly led by the Spirit?
- Consider, either individually or together, the extent to which (a lack of) prayer, active belief, and a Christian lifestyle play a role in whether you are or are not being led by the Spirit.
- Do you have anything to add to the things mentioned in §5 in answer to the question: How can you respond to Paul’s call to ‘be filled with the Spirit’?
I learnt much of what I wrote in this section from others. The following is a list of resources that were important to me and that I recommend for further reading.
- J. van Bruggen, ‘Baptism with the Holy Spirit’, in Proceedings of the International Conference of Reformed Churches (Langley, B.C.: June 19-28, 1989). The author applied this article in ch. 6, ‘Het onzichtbare voorschot’, in Het diepe water van de doop (K
- L. Floor, Efeziërs, Eén in Christus (Kampen: 1995).
- Michael Green, I Believe in the Holy Spirit , new, revised, and updated edition (London: 1997, first published 1975).
- J.W. Maris, Geloof en ervaring. Van Wesley tot de pinksterbeweging (Leiden: 1992).
- J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God , Revised and Enlarged Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005, first published 1984).
- John Stott, Baptism and Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today (London: 1964).
- The complete biographical information about Nicky Gumbel’s book is: Nicky Gumbel, Questions of Life (1993).