What Does It Mean To Be Filled With the Holy Spirit?


The New Testament contains numerous descriptions of the Holy Spirit’s work. People like John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus teach and give instructions to people regarding the third member of the Trinity. The Gospel writers, especially Luke in the book of Acts, also narrate the Holy Spirit’s work in history. One description many readers want to know more about is being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit can describe (1) Jesus’ baptism of new Christians, (2) a post-conversion blessing for ministry empowerment and individual growth, or (3) a believer’s devotion to God in Jesus Christ. Christians debate whether these are one-time events or ongoing opportunities for believers.

What does the New Testament say about being filled with the Holy Spirit? What is the disagreement among Christians about the Spirit’s filling? Is being filled with the Holy Spirit a second blessing? Is the baptism of the Holy Spirit synonymous with being filled with the Holy Spirit? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Also see What Is Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit? to learn more.

Holy Spirit
Why is Ephesians 5:18 important in this discussion? See below

What does the New Testament say about the Spirit’s filling?

In the New Testament, the phrase “filled with the Holy Spirit” refers to Jesus (Luke 1:15), Zechariah (Luke 1:67), Peter (Acts 4:8), Paul (Acts 13:9), and other believers in the early church (e.g. Acts 4:31). The term generally describes a unique work or blessing God does in a person’s life to carry out a special task or promote ongoing growth and maturity in godliness.

Greek phraseπληροῦσθε ἐν Πνεύματι
Transliterationplērousthe en Pneumati
Verb meaningbe filled
Preposition meaningin, with, or by
Noun meaningthe Spirit

Ephesians 5:18 is an important verse in this discussion because it implies that being filled with the Holy Spirit isn’t a one-time event for Christians. The verse reads, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (ESV, emphasis added). The phrase “be filled with the Spirit” is translated the same way in the NIV, KJV, and NASB.

The Greek verb translated as “filled” is a present tense imperative, which implies an ongoing action. This means the verb literally means to be continually filled. This “filling” isn’t for salvation; it’s for people that God has already saved through Jesus Christ. Its purpose is for ministry empowerment, overcoming sin and temptation, and ongoing growth in the Christian life.

Translation Option 1: With the Holy Spirit

Some Ephesians commentators argue that the preposition should be translated “with the Holy Spirit.” For example, Clint Arnold writes, “The content of the filling is the Holy Spirit, which is here expressed with a prepositional phrase (ἐν Πνεύματι) that should be translated ‘with the Holy Spirit’ (as found in most English versions.)” As Arnold says, the NIV, NLT, ESV, KJV, and NASB translate the preposition “with.” [1]

Translation Option 2: In the Holy Spirit

Commentator S.M. Baugh believes the phrase should be translated “in the Spirit.” He writes, “The Ephesian Christians have already been told that they have been ‘filled to the fullness of God’ (3:19) as his holy temple on earth ‘in the Spirit.’ So now they are to live according to that constant presence of God by being filled in (not with) the Spirit, just as their new-creation existence is in Christ” (emphasis Baugh’s). [2]

The debate about being filled with the Holy Spirit

As readers will discover below, Christian scholars generally agree that Paul encourages believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit in an ongoing manner. Yet there is disagreement about related matters:

  • Some say being “filled with the Holy Spirit” is the same thing as being “baptized with the Holy Spirit”; others argue that the New Testament distinguishes between the terms.
  • Some say being “filled with the Holy Spirit” is continuous in the Christian life; others say it occurs once at conversion, and believers experience the ever-increasing fruit of the Spirit’s filling.
  • Some say being “filled with the Holy Spirit” results in speaking in tongues for everyone; others contend that it only results in tongues for some; another view says it doesn’t result in tongues at all.

Also see What Are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit? to learn more.

Holy Spirit
What is a “second work” of the Holy Spirit? See below

Is being filled with the Holy Spirit a second blessing?

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is a much-discussed topic among scholars, pastors, and Bible-believing Christians. Scholars debate what the exact translation of the preposition should be — with, by, or in — and the implications for each option. Many Christians wrestle with knowing if the Spirit’s filling was a one-time event or if it’s a blessing they should constantly pursue.

The Pentecostal perspective

Pentecostalism is the largest and most well-known tradition that champions being filled with the Holy Spirit after conversion. The Wesleyan and Holiness traditions also share this perspective. However, they don’t necessarily believe that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the Spirit’s filling, as do Pentecostal traditions, like the Assemblies of God denomination.

Advocates of this perspective believe that being filled with the Holy Spirit is a “second work” or “second blessing” that builds upon the initial filling that occurred at conversion. The second work isn’t for salvation. Instead, it’s for ministry empowerment, overcoming sin and temptation, and growing and maturing in Christlikeness.

What sometimes complicates matters for people trying to understand the discussion is that some Pentecostal denominations, churches, traditions, and individuals who hold to the second-work definition of “being filled with the Holy Spirit” use other terms interchangeably with it. For example, some use terms like “being baptized in the Holy Spirit” and “receiving the Holy Spirit” without making distinctions between them.

Pentecostal scholar Craig Keener suggests that “most Christians might, in fact, agree on the basic issues if we could get past semantics: the Spirit transforms us at conversion, but God can subsequently fill Christians with the Spirit in special ways and for special tasks.” [3]

Also see What Is Spiritual Warfare? to learn more.

Christian church
Is baptism in the Holy Spirit a continuous event in the Reformed perspective? See below

Baptism of the Holy Spirit vs Being Filled with the Holy Spirit

A point that non-Pentecostals stress in the discussion regards the importance of making a distinction between terms like “baptism in the Holy Spirit, “being filled with the Holy Spirit,” and other related phrases. They don’t believe the New Testament uses those terms interchangeably, and it only confuses the discussion not to understand the difference between them.

For example, many non-Pentecostals believe that the New Testament teaches that “being baptized with the Holy Spirit” is a one-time event at conversion. However, many non-Pentecostals would agree that the New Testament encourages Christians to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” on an ongoing basis.

Baptist theologian Wayne Grudem writes, “‘Baptism of the Holy Spirit’ refers to all that the Holy Spirit does at the beginning of our Christian lives. But this means that it cannot refer to an experience after conversion, as the Pentecostal interpretation would have it.” [4] He adds that “being filled with the Holy Spirit” is “not a one-time event but an event that can occur over and over again in a Christian’s life.” [5]

Many Reformed scholars also disagree with the Pentecostal perspective. For example, Robert Reymond argues that being filled with the Holy Spirit refers to the actions Paul mentions in Ephesians 5:19-21, which are speaking, singing, giving thanks, and being submissive.

He adds, “The Christian who evidences these things in his life is ‘being filled with the Spirit,’ that is is ‘letting the word of Christ dwell in him richly.’ He does not need to practice certain sectarian techniques or to recite certain sectarian incantations or ‘Christian mantras’ in order to receive the Spirit’s filling. He needs only to cultivate these things by remaining humbly and believingly open to the Spirit who works by and with the word of Christ in his heart.” [6]

Also see What Is a Familiar Spirit? to learn more.

References:
[1] Ephesians by Clint Arnold. ZECNT. 349.
[2] Ephesians by S.M. Baugh. EEC. p. 453.
[3] 3 Crucial Questions About the Holy Spirit by Craig Keener. p. 46.
[4] Systematic Theology, 2nd Edition, by Wayne Grudem. p. 948.
[5] Grudem, p. 963.
[6] A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith by Robert Reymond. p. 767.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.

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