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The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit Series


Filled With the Spirit - Part 4

Wed, 14 Apr 2010 - 11:14 AM CST

PART 4: Indications and Reception of Spirit baptism/Inclusive Meaning of “Filled with/Full of the Spirit”

By Anthony D. Palma

This series has dealt with several key issues related to the Pentecostal doctrine of the baptism in the Holy Spirit: basic hermeneutical principles to be observed, the pan-biblical basis of the doctrine, the separability and theological subsequence of Spirit baptism from the Spirit’s work in regeneration, and glossolalia as an essential component of the experience. This article will cover the following topics: the indications of Spirit baptism, the reception of Spirit baptism, and the New Testament’s inclusive use of the terminology “filled with/full of the Holy Spirit.”

The Indications Of Spirit Baptism

Speaking in tongues

The idea that glossolalia is the “initial, physical evidence” of the baptism in the Spirit stresses that tongues will occur at the time of the infilling and that this phenomenon is observable. Speaking in tongues is therefore the immediate, empirical, and external indication that the infilling has taken place. It is not the sum total of the experience. In addition to this on-the-spot phenomenon, the Scriptures speak of continuing and internal evidences of the Spirit’s fullness. It is profitable to explore further the implications of glossolalia at the time of Spirit baptism.

The events of the Pentecostal outpouring recorded in Acts 2 must be seen in a historical-redemptive context. Pentecost is the climactic event in the institution of the new covenant. On Pentecost, God gave His gift of the Spirit to the Church. But others also experienced the gift—even more than 20 years afterward (Acts 19:1–6). This outpouring on the Church, then, is both corporate and personal in nature. Even today Christians can experience what some call “a personal Pentecost.”

I suggest three reasons why God ordained glossolalia for the Day of Pentecost. The first is historical; the other two are applicable to all believers.

(1) The final step in the inauguration of the new covenant was signaled by meteorological and atmospheric phenomena reminiscent of the institution of the old covenant at Sinai. In addition, the Lord chose to add a new element—speaking in tongues—something that had not occurred prior to Pentecost in recorded biblical history,1 perhaps to indicate that it was indeed the new covenant.

(2) The occurrence of glossolalia on the Day of Pentecost highlighted the missiological imperative Jesus had previously given the disciples. The various languages the Spirit-inspired disciples spoke would indirectly remind the disciples of the many language groups who needed the gospel. Some early leaders of the Pentecostal movement mistakenly thought that the bestowal of tongues was the equipping of believers with languages to be used in evangelization. But we should observe that the content of the disciples’ glossolalic utterances was not a preaching of the gospel but a recital of “the mighty deeds of God”2 (Acts 2:11). They were apparently recounting manifestations of God’s power in the Old Testament. Yet the speaking in tongues did arrest the attention of the nonbelievers to the point where they listened to Peter’s preaching (verses 14–39).

(3) There is also a personal dimension to glossolalia. Paul said that “one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God” (1 Corinthians 14:2) and that “one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” (verse 4). This is one reason why he wrote, “I wish that you all spoke in tongues” (verse 5).3 Some call glossolalia a “prayer language,” a designation that highlights its personal and devotional nature. Paul would agree (verses 16,17). Some responsible exegetes also see glossolalia in Paul’s statement: “The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

Openness to spiritual manifestations

The initial experience of speaking in tongues indicates that the recipients are submitting themselves to something that is suprarational. They are willing to “let go” and to allow themselves to be immersed/overwhelmed by the Spirit of God to the point where their mind does not contribute to what they say (1 Corinthians 14:14). But the baptism in the Holy Spirit is more than speaking in tongues. God also uses believers through the spiritual gifts He has given to His church.

The baptism in the Spirit opens up the receivers to the full range of spiritual gifts. A look at the major lists of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:8–10, 28–30; Romans 2:6–8; Ephesians 4:11) will reveal that most of those gifts had already been manifested in some way both in the Old Testament and in the Gospels. The pre-Pentecost disciples themselves were instrumental in healings and demon expulsions (Luke 10:9,17; see also Matthew 10:8). Furthermore, a study of Church history demonstrates that spiritual gifts in their many forms were manifested by Christians in all ages.

In addition, the New Testament shows that among the early disciples there was a higher incidence of spiritual gifts after Pentecost than before. For instance, miracles were wrought through nonapostles like Stephen (Acts 6:8) and Philip (8:6–7), as well as through apostles. Both Peter and Paul were instrumental in healing hopeless cases and in raising the dead. Peter certainly experienced the gift of faith in telling the lame man to walk (3:6), as well as the gift of a word of knowledge in exposing the sin of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1–10).

Those who have championed and experienced Spirit baptism have no reservations about the continuation of all the gifts. This is largely attributable to their own experience of Spirit baptism whereby they have opened themselves up to the unusual working of the Spirit.

As with this and the two points that follow, Pentecostals must resist the temptation to be elitist in these matters. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is not a matter of the “haves” against the “have-nots.” Rather, it should induce greater humility among those whom the Lord is using in a greater way.

Righteous living

Spirit baptism cannot be divorced from its implications for righteous living. It is, after all, an immersion in Him who is the Holy Spirit. One who is filled with the Holy Spirit will not live an unrighteous life. Pentecostals must be careful not to only identify Spirit baptism with speaking in tongues. To do so restricts the work of the Spirit in other aspects of a believer’s life.

A basic problem with some of the Corinthian believers was that they continued speaking in tongues (whose genuineness Paul did not question), but did not allow the Spirit in whom they had been immersed to work internally in their lives. Article 7 of the Assemblies of God “Statement of Fundamental Truths” states, in part, that with the baptism in the Holy Spirit “comes the enduement of power for life and service.” I understand “for life” to mean “for righteous living.” If people who profess to have been baptized in the Holy Spirit are not living a God-pleasing life, the reason is this: they have not allowed the experience to manifest itself in their lifestyle.

Empowerment for service

In Pentecostal circles, no aspect of Spirit baptism’s purpose has received more attention than the fact Spirit baptism is for the evangelization of the world. This is firmly based in Acts 1:8, “You shall receive power…and you shall be My witnesses…even to the remotest part of the earth.” The association of power (Greek, dunamis) with the Holy Spirit was evident in the earthly ministry of Jesus (Luke 4:14; Acts 10:38) and continued in the ministry of the New Testament disciples. It is the impetus and the enabling for the evangelization of the world. The Book of Acts is a commentary on the two related themes that the disciples would receive power when the Spirit came upon them and that they would be Jesus’ witnesses to all the world. The tremendous impact that the Pentecostal movement has had on the spread of the gospel in the 20th century is testimony to the reality of the Pentecostal experience.

Reception of Spirit baptism

If, as Pentecostals believe, Spirit baptism is not synonymous with regeneration or necessarily contemporaneous with it, what is required for one to receive this fullness of the Spirit? The Scriptures do not give a formula, but the following considerations will be helpful.

(1) The Universality of the Experience. Joel’s prophecy, repeated by Peter on the Day of Pentecost, stresses that this outpouring of the Spirit is for all believers. This is sometimes called “the democratization” of the Spirit, in distinction from the Old Testament in which the Spirit was for a select few. The Lord now desires to put His Spirit on all His people (Numbers 11:29; Joel 2:28,29). Parallel to this is the idea that the promised outpouring of the Spirit on individual believers transcends time and race, “For the promise is for you [Jews] and your children [descendants], and for all who are far off [Gentiles]” (Acts 2:39).4 The individual seeker must be convinced that the experience is indeed for him or her.

(2) Spirit Baptism as a Gift. A gift, by definition, is not given on the basis of merit. We do not become “worthy” to receive the fullness of the Spirit. What we receive from God is on the basis of His grace, not our works. If one could be baptized in the Spirit on the basis of personal merit, then the troublesome and unanswerable questions are: “What constitutes worthiness?” and “What degree of spiritual perfection is requisite to qualify one for the experience?” Needless introspection and a sense of unworthiness can be a barrier to being filled with the Spirit. If we must speak of a human requirement, then that requirement is faith.

(3) The Already Indwelling Spirit. New Testament imagery for the baptism in the Spirit, if pressed literally, will give the impression that the Spirit is at first external to the individual (“poured out,” “baptized in”) or that we must think of Him in quantitative terms (“filled with”). But the Spirit indwells all believers. Therefore Spirit baptism is an additional work of the already indwelling Holy Spirit.

(4) Openness and Receptivity. God does not baptize in the Spirit against a person’s will. Yieldedness to the Lord and a willingness to entirely submit to Him will facilitate one’s being filled with the Spirit. This is especially true with regard to the glossolalic aspect of Spirit baptism. The recipient must cooperate with, or be borne along by the Holy Spirit, for the disciples spoke in tongues “as the Spirit was giving them utterance” (Acts 2:4). They did not generate the tongues-speaking; they responded to the prompting of the Spirit.

(5) Prayer and Praise. Luke, the foremost New Testament writer on Spirit baptism, records the words of Jesus: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask [keep asking] Him?” (Luke 11:13). This promise is in the context of Jesus’ teaching on persistence in prayer (verse 8). In verse 9, Jesus continued: “keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking” (the meaning of the Greek present tense in all three instances). Jesus said that our Heavenly Father will give the Spirit to those who ask, and the Father will not give a counterfeit or substitute in response to their petition. This ought to be an encouragement to unsure and overly sensitive believers who fear that what will happen to them will not be genuine.

Glossolalia is an expression of praise for the mighty deeds of God (Acts 2:11; 10:46) and is connected with giving thanks to God (1 Corinthians 14:16,17). It is appropriate, during times of prayer in expectation of the infilling of the Spirit, for a person to praise God as well as petition Him. While it cannot be proved, or disproved, from Scripture, experience shows that praising God in the language at one’s command facilitates the transition to praising Him in tongues.

(6) Divine Sovereignty. Since the baptism in the Spirit is a gift, the timing of its giving is in the hands of the Giver. The Lord responds to believing prayer when the object of the prayer is in accordance with His will. But for reasons He does not disclose, sometimes the Lord’s timing differs from ours. It is evident from the Book of Acts and from church history that outpourings of the Spirit sometimes occur at unexpected times. Consequently, a person who wishes to be baptized in the Spirit must not condemn himself or herself if the experience does not take place when he or she thinks it should. There may be times of special visitation by the Lord during which many people are filled with the Spirit. It is during those times that conditions may be optimum for a prospective recipient.

Inclusive Meaning Of “Filled With/Full Of The Spirit”

The baptism in the Spirit is not a once-for-all experience; the New Testament does not teach “once filled, always filled.” A review of passages containing the expressions “filled with” and “full of” will demonstrate this.

Filled with the Spirit

We have already noted that the expressions “baptized in the Holy Spirit” and “filled with the Holy Spirit” are interchangeable (Acts 1:8; 2:4). But “filled with the Holy Spirit” is used in two additional ways:

(1) Episodic Enduements in Time of Need. Three instances in the Book of Acts bear this out. First, Peter experienced a fresh enablement of the Spirit when he and John were brought before the religious authorities following the healing of the lame man at the temple gate. When they were challenged as to the power by which the miracle was performed, Luke records: “Then Peter, filled [literally, having been filled] with the Holy Spirit, said to them.…” (4:8). He was given precisely the right thing to say. This was a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would give believers appropriate words during such times (Matthew 10:17–20; Mark 13:9–11; Luke 12:11,12).

Second, Paul had a similar experience of special enduement when he confronted Elymas the sorcerer. Luke recorded: “Paul, filled [again, literally, having been filled] with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze upon him” (Acts 13:9). In this power encounter, the Spirit came upon Paul to enable him to combat one who was a “son of the devil” (verse 10).

Third, the early believers who faced persecution if they continued to proclaim Christ prayed, “Grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence” (Acts 4:29). The Lord’s response: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit (the Greek is identical with that of 2:4) and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (verse 31).

There may be special infillings of the Holy Spirit after one has been baptized in the Spirit, to enable a believer to cope with a special problem. These additional experiences are sometimes called “anointings,” though the New Testament nowhere uses that word when it records them.

(2) A Continuing, Perhaps Continuous, Experience. Paul encouraged believers to “be filled [literally, keep on being filled] with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). The verses that follow (19–21) give several examples of the elements in a Spirit-filled life: (a) speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with one’s heart to the Lord; (b) always giving thanks for all things in the name of the Lord; (c) being subject to one another in the fear of Christ.5 Following this last item is an extended treatment of husband-wife relations, parent-children relations, and master-slave (employer-employee) relations. The truly Spirit-filled life includes proper interpersonal relations.

This ongoing aspect of the Spirit’s infilling is also mentioned by Luke when he wrote that “the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52).6

Full of the Spirit.

The expression “full (pleres) of the Spirit” is used only by Luke (Luke 4:1, of Jesus; Acts 6:3, of a qualification for the seven “deacons”; 6:5 and 7:55, specifically of Stephen; 11:24, of Barnabas). It suggests a state of Spirit fullness and may not be distinguishable from being continually filled with the Spirit (Acts 13:52; Ephesians 5:18). But the completion of the phrase “full of” also includes, from a positive standpoint, wisdom (Acts 6:3), faith (6:5; 11:24), grace and power (6:8), deeds of kindness and charity (9:36).

A rundown of “filled with” clauses, apart from those that mention only the Holy Spirit, are those that are followed by wisdom (Luke 2:40, Jesus); gladness (Acts 2:28); wonder and amazement (3:10); joy (13:52). Negatively, “filled with” is followed by rage (Luke 4:28); fear/awe (5:26); rage (literally, folly, 6:11); jealousy (Acts 5:17; 13:45); confusion (19:19). In addition, we have the statement that Satan had filled Ananias’ heart to lie to the Holy Spirit (5:3). In all these instances where Luke completes “filled with” or “full of” with positive characteristics and virtues, he is making a connection between them and being filled with, or full of, the Holy Spirit. And conversely, the negative words that complete the two expressions highlight the antithesis between the Spirit-filled life and the life that is dominated by a spirit other than the Spirit of Christ.

Concluding Remarks

The Pentecostal understanding and experience of Spirit baptism are firmly grounded in Scripture. Yet a word of admonition is in order. Pentecostals must not, and indeed cannot, rely upon a past, initial experience of having been filled with the Spirit. The decisive question is not, “When were you filled with the Spirit?” but rather, “Are you now filled with the Spirit?”

Anthony D. Palma, Th.D., a longtime Assemblies of God educator, lives in Springfield, Missouri.


1. Some Old Testament scholars identify the babblings of some Old Testament prophets with glossolalia, but such a position cannot be sustained if one takes seriously the New Testament teaching that glossolalia is speaking in languages and is not the utterance of nonsense syllables.

2. Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.

3. The Greek present tense suggests the translation, “I wish that you all would continue to speak in tongues.”

4. The expression “far off” is often understood in a geographical sense, which the Book of Acts certainly indicates. But Peter very likely had in mind Gentiles, in distinction from Jews, as the Book of Acts also indicates. This latter view is supported by a similar phrase Paul uses when he distinguishes Gentiles from Jews (Ephesians 2:13,17).

5. Translations often obscure the connection of this last clause to being filled with the Spirit, but its grammatical construction (a participial clause) is parallel to that of the preceding clauses.

6. For the student of Greek: Luke shows a decided preference for pimplemi when it relates to the Holy Spirit, though he does uses pleroo in Acts 13:52. Paul, in Ephesians 5:18, uses pleroo. I do not see any difference in meaning between the two since they both utilize the ple stem.

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