The Holy Spirit’s Baptism and the Holy Spirit’s Filling: Is There a Difference?

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Two words are often confused when it comes to certain aspects of the work of God the Holy Spirit: His baptism and his filling.

In fact, people often wonder about these two activities of the Holy Spirit. They question, “If we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit at salvation, what does it mean to be ‘filled’ as well? Is that the same thing as being ‘baptized’ in the Holy Spirit? And does ‘filling’ means he comes and goes dependent on our behavior?”

First, the Holy Spirit doesn’t “come and go” at all in the life of the believer. His presence is constant, always guaranteed (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5). Without a doubt he is always with us.

This is initiated when we are born again and subsequently indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). At the moment of salvation the Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ and we are sealed by him and he lives in us until the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13; Romans 6:3). It is this Spirit baptism that occurs at the moment of conversion.

Second, and in contrast, the filling of the Spirit doesn’t concern his presence; rather, it is about his control. And though he is always with us, he may not always be in control of us. I think this is what we mean when we talk about “coming” and “going.”

Granted — when we are baptized into the body of Christ by the Spirit upon salvation, we are undoubtedly filled with the Spirit as well. (I doubt if much quenching or grieving occurs in those immediate moments after God saves us.) But, quite frankly, that filling may not stay at the same level in the ensuing days; the flesh and Spirit war (Gal. 5:16-17, 25-26), and we sin through omission (i.e., don’t do what’s right) and/or commission (we do what’s evil). Maybe not persistently, but for sure intermittently (1 John 2:1). This sinning causes the Spirit to be grieved (Eph. 4:30), which is why Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Literally, the present tense and active voice of these words allow us to render it “be being filled with the Spirit,” indicating it is an action that can be experienced to a lesser or greater degree. Paul knew that though the Holy Spirit’s presence in the believer’s life was guaranteed, his control of the believer’s life could very well be stymied.

This is why obedience matters — not because the Spirit’s presence is at stake, but because his control is. In fact, the entire context of Ephesian 4 and 5 — the two places where “grieving” the Spirit and being “filled” with the Spirit are discussed — is all about doing what’s right (the new self in 4:24) and not doing what’s wrong (the old self in 4:22). Things like telling the truth, not stealing, forgiving, living purely, speaking without corruption, using time wisely — just to name a few — are all part of “looking carefully to how we walk” (5:15) in order that we not grieve the Spirit but, instead, be controlled by him (5:18). This is precisely one of the reasons we have been given the Holy Spirit of God — to be empowered to obey now that we are saved (Gal. 5:25).

In a nutshell, the Spirit’s baptism is about his presence, which is stable, and the Spirit’s filling is about his control, which can be variable.

May we submit to God the Holy Spirit’s filling in ways that showcase the Son’s sacrifice and maximize the Father’s glory.

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