“Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:17-18).
Of late the question of being baptized with the Holy Spirit has been one of the major points of discussion among many Christians. Of all that which pertains to the work of the Spirit in our lives nothing has been discussed more thoroughly in preaching and press than this subject.
Possibly the chief reason for this is that there are those who teach that a person can be a Christian without being filled with the Spirit. These people insist that there is a great difference between a Christian and a Spirit-filled Christian; they teach that the former lives in the pre-Pentecost and the latter in the post-Pentecost age.
That there can be such a difference of opinion in a question as important as this one must give rise to much serious thinking among earnest Christians. The Word of God admonishes us to try all things and to hold fast to that which is good.
There are, as we know, those who say of themselves that for a long time they merely puttered around with Christianity as many Christians do. Then one day they were favored with a great and entirely new experience; they were baptized with the Holy Spirit. They hold that by this experience they were lifted up into a higher sphere of spirituality than other Christians reach. They look upon those who have not had this experience as pre-Pentecost Christians.
Instead of being struggling Christians they intimate that they have now reached the Christian’s rest. Where there formerly was lamentation because of sin that still clung to them, tears, and prayers for forgiveness, there is now nothing but praise and thanksgiving all the day long. Instead of striving against sin they have now risen above sin and strife. They say that not only have they been released from the power, judgment, and punishment of sin, but they have also been delivered from all sinful desires and from the flesh which wars against the Spirit. Those who struggle along in the old way are slavish and unspiritual Christians; they have neither been baptized nor filled with the Spirit.
When such Christians then who have not come into possession of this new form of spirituality begin to believe what is taught in these new doctrines they are bound to be disturbed in their faith. However, if these teachings are not true, the disturbance is not from God. The doubt in the heart does not stem from a faulty relationship of the soul to God, but is rather an attempt on the part of the enemy of the soul to bring Christians into paths of error; it is not the Spirit of God who disturbs Christians. Under such conditions some Christians are led astray. The perplexing questions that rise in the soul are used by Satan to deceive people.
“Just pause to consider,” says the father of lies. “Now for the first time you get to hear the whole truth. You are afraid now; that you would never have been if your spiritual affairs were in order. If you now refuse to follow the new light that you have received, you are not obedient to the Spirit, and you are in danger of being completely lost.” The temptation is to follow the advice of Satan, and the temptation is especially strong because there is no talk of committing a direct sin. The devil comes to people as if on his stocking-feet to deceive them with this as bait that they are going to become better Christians. Many a Christian has suffered shipwreck right here.
Facts speak so loudly and so clearly on this point that no one needs to be in doubt. Under the influence and direction of this spirit some people have torn down their churches, burned their best books, thrown the Bible away, and have forsaken their prayer-chamber. To go to church, to read and to pray, this they have considered to be evil. Others have landed in the asylum for the insane, or have thrown themselves into a life of sin and immorality. But at the time that they turned in upon this new and glorified road they wanted to be more pious and more spiritual than other people.
Do not misunderstand me to say that all fear and anxiety in the heart of a child of God is caused by Satan. The Holy Spirit can also strike fear into the heart of a Christian. But there is this to be noted about the discipline of the Holy Spirit that He does not proceed in a hit-and-miss fashion. The Holy Spirit points out to us our failures, our weaknesses and sin; he reproves us for that which we see is wrong in our lives. When God disciplines, new light is shed upon the Christian’s life, and he has a clear case of choosing to retain his sin or to bow before God in humility and to seek the grace of God.
This is the way of the Holy Spirit.
When I now attempt to point out what the Word of God has to say about being baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit—as I understand God’s Word — it is my desire to be obedient to the truth in love. I know that much of what I am about to say will be diametrically opposed to the opinions of those who claim to possess a baptism of the Spirit which other Christians do not have. Much as I might desire to avoid further controversy over this subject, I find that I cannot be silent.
I have a right to speak, because I believe.
I also claim to have the Spirit of God.
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Before we enter upon the question of being baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, it is well to clinch the fact that every person who by repentance and faith has received Jesus into the heart has the Spirit of God. All who have life in God have also the Spirit of God. To be a child of God and not have the Holy Spirit is impossible.
“No man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit.”
“But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.”
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.”
Those who believe without having received the Holy Spirit are not born of God.
At this point it might be well to take up for examination the much discussed instance in Acts 8, the section concerning the awakening in Samaria by Philip. It is said concerning those who received the Word and were baptized that the Spirit had fallen on none of them. This seems to be quite the contrary of what we said above, namely that all who have received Jesus have also received the Spirit. There are therefore some people who interpret the passage to mean that these in Samaria had indeed received the Holy Spirit, but they had not been baptized by the Holy Spirit. Therefore it was necessary for Peter and John to lay their hands on them.
As a slap in the face of such a view — which indeed cannot be proved by a single passage of Scripture — comes the statement concerning Simon, the sorcerer. Of him also it is said that he believed and had been baptized. It will not do to say that he had received the Spirit, for it is said that his heart was not right before God.
Attempts are made to solve this problem by insisting that Simon did not believe, though it is clearly stated in verse 13 that Simon believed and was baptized. But such is the interpretation those make who search the Scriptures for a proof of thefr doctrine that to receive the Holy Spirit for salvation is not the same as to be baptized with the Spirit. What a remarkable proof this is! To try to establish a contention by a passage that declares directly the opposite of that which is to be proved is to misuse and misinterpret Scripture.
But how are we to interpret this passage?
According to my view of the matter there is an interpretation that is neither contrary to God’s Word nor the observations we have made in practical life. That which happened in Samaria was very likely the same thing as that which happens today wherever God’s Word is preached, especially in heathen lands. Heathen people usually believe in more than one God, but they do not believe in Christ at all; they have not known Him until the missionary comes. When the gospel is proclaimed in Spirit and power the heathen is convinced of its truth; he might even be gripped by the message. Many are ready to give up their old faith and embrace the new; they come to the missionary and request baptism.
Now the question arises which has caused a good deal of anxiety for the missionary. Are these people ready for baptism? Are they sincere before God? Has the Spirit of God really gripped their hearts!
It has often been revealed later that many of those who believed and were baptized had not been gripped by Christ at all. They had not received the Spirit; they were still heathen; they were still outside of communion with God, even though they believed and were baptized. If it should happen later, as it fortunately does in many instances, that they receive the Spirit, they become new creatures. So it happens on the mission field today; such was also the case in Samaria.
If there happens to be a Simon among the converts, one who in his heart is not honest before God but on the contrary is bound by sin, he will remain the same as he was before. He is possibly worse than before if he does not turn his back upon sin.
We have similar situations in Christian countries. An awakening may come upon a city or a community and people are gripped by it; a spirit of awakening is in the air, and it seems that everyone will be converted. But after some time it is seen that a great majority did not get any further than to be awakened, and scarcely that. They did not enter into any living fellowship with God at least. They believed the message which was preached, but for some reason or another they did not let the Holy Spirit into their hearts. Consequently, they did not get any further than to be awakened.
It has often happened among us that the revival preacher has been unable to bring the people further than to an awakening. But after him has come a Peter or a John who has brought the awakened souls into living fellowship with God. The events of Samaria have repeated themselves many times until today.
We have also a word from Jesus which shows us the same kind of faith as that which is spoken of in Acts 8. In John 2:23-25 we read: “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed on his name, beholding the signs which he did. But Jesus did not trust himself unto them, for that he knew all men, and because he needed not that any one should bear witness concerning man; for he himself knew what was in man.”
They believed on His name, but Jesus did not trust Himself to them; He knew what was in them. Here we have another example of a faith that does not come from the heart. There is more than enough of this kind among us today.
We have in addition the passage in Acts 19 concerning the twelve men in Ephesus who also had begun to believe, but who had not heard of the Spirit. When Paul asked them with what baptism they had been baptized they replied that it was with John’s baptism. Those who have not even heard of the Holy Spirit cannot very well have been born of God. This is supported by the further statement: “And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them; and they spoke with other tongues, and prophesied.” Now the problem was solved; they had received the Holy Spirit.
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I should like to speak a bit further about the Scriptural words, “baptized” and “filled” with the Spirit.
The word baptized by the Holy Spirit does not occur often in the Bible; let us hear the passages that speak of this matter.
“I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire.” (Matt. 3: 11).
“And being assembled together with them, he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, ye heard from me: For John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence.” (Acts 1:4-5).
“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, even as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, John, indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 11:15-16).
“For by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body” (I Cor.12:13).
The statement in Matthew 3:11 shows us the great difference that there is between the Old and the New Covenants. It tells us what John gives, and what Jesus in His new Kingdom will give.
In Acts 1:5 Jesus reminds the disciples of what He had formerly taught them, namely that they shall shortly be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
When Peter preached in Cornelius’ house, and the Spirit fell on those who heard the Word, then Peter remembered the words which Jesus had spoken: “Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
I Corinthians 12: 13 comes to seal this promise. “For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body.”
The promise that we are to be baptized with the Spirit stands as a star in the evening sky of the Old Covenant and shines over the border into the Kingdom of God in the New Testament. The declaration that we are all baptized in one Spirit into one body records the fulfillment of this promise in the lives of those who believe unto salvation.
After a consideration of these words it seems impossible to arrive at any other conclusion than that all true Christians in the New Testament age are baptized with the Holy Spirit. That is one of the advantages of the New Covenant over the Old; it belongs to the foundation upon which the new Kingdom is built. It is the unifying force in the Body of Christ. It is the light in the heart and the light upon the way.
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When it is a question of being filled with the Holy Spirit, we must remember that this word comes to us as an admonition. It does not follow as a matter-of-course result of our union with God, but rather as a result of our growth in grace. To be filled with the Spirit is something that we are to seek more and more.
Let us also examine the passages of Scripture in which we find the expression, “filled with the Spirit.” They are these:
“And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:3-4).
“And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, By what power, or in what name, have ye done this? Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit said unto them—” (Acts 4:7-8).
“And when they had prayed, the place was shaken wherein they were gathered together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the Word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31).
“Look ye out therefore, Brethren, from among you seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will continue steadfastly in prayer and in the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit—” (Acts 6:3-5).
“For he (Barnabas) was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.” (Acts 11:24).
“And the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52).
“And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Eph. 5: i8).
After reading these passages one must draw the conclusion that to be filled with the Spirit is a promise to God’s people, a promise that He has fulfilled time and again since Pentecost. Furthermore, it is an admonition to us who are Christians to be filled with the Spirit. God’s Word shows us that those who once were filled with the Spirit are filled again. It is this admonition that is contained in these words:
“Be zealous in the Spirit!”
“Walk in the Spirit!”
“Be renewed in the spirit of your mind!”
Stand fast in the Spirit!
The Christians to whom the letter to the Ephesians was written were possibly in need of this admonition more than many others. It may be that they were given to excessive use of wine, and such is not in harmony with godliness. Paul therefore uses strong admonition to the effect they ought not to be filled with wine; rather they ought to be filled with the Spirit.
It is a gross misuse of Scripture to use the admonition in Ephesians 5:18 to disturb humble and sincere Christians by giving them to believe that they must in a special way, after being saved, also be filled with the Spirit. This is frequently done by that small clique of people who believe of themselves that they have progressed so far that they no longer sin.
All who read the New Testament with an open mind and honest purpose will find that many of the Christians that are mentioned had very little to boast of. Their morality was none too good; in Christian experience they were children when they ought to have been adults. Some of them had made considerable progress, and others less; no one had progressed far enough. One of those who had made the greatest advance in godliness says of himself, “Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect; but I press on, if so be that I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:12).
There seems to have been a difference among the members of the Christian Church shortly after Pentecost also. From the whole congregation they were to choose seven men of good report and full of the Spirit. From this it is evident that not every person enjoyed an equally good reputation, and all were not equally spiritual. When these seven had been chosen it was said of Stephen that he was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. What the spiritual status for the rest of them was we are not told; one is inclined to think that they had less faith, and less of the Holy Spirit, even though they were of the very best in the congregation.
To be filled with the Spirit must mean to have much of the Spirit; it means, furthermore, to receive more and more and more of the Holy Spirit. It does not mean to have all that one possibly can get of the Holy Spirit, or a sufficient amount of the Spirit. If one has enough or all one can get, it would be impossible to receive more or to have room for more; the goal would have been reached, and sanctification would have come to an end.
All Christians ought to remember this, for here it is so easy to go off into error. Christians have been led astray on this point when they have begun to look for something extraordinary, something unusual. Quite frequently something extra and unusual does happen. We need not say anything here about all the strange and remarkable things that have happened; one ought rather to weep over them than to laugh.
One of the most refined forms of this new spiritual experience is to be lifted up into a spiritual cloud where spiritual living is supposed to be automatic, and where one imagines himself to have reached perfection in holiness. To work out one’s salvation with fear and trembling, and to take up arms against evil desires, is out of the question. Is it not written that we are dead, and that it is God Who works in us?
But this is not to be filled with the Spirit; it is fanaticism.
What all Christians should seek above all else is more of the Spirit of God. They should be anxious to receive more of this same Spirit which they received for the first time when they became children of God. They should earnestly desire more spiritual power to live as befits Christians and to serve the Lord with gladness. No sacrifice should be too great if through it one could receive more of this Spirit.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control.” He who has most of this has most of the Holy Spirit.
On this point many of us present day Christians do not fare so well; the reason for this is that we have so little of the Holy Spirit. Quite frequently these fruits of the Spirit are least in evidence among those who make the loudest claims to being filled with the Spirit.
Where a Christian is found who has no lofty opinions about himself and his own piety, there the fruits of the Spirit are most in evidence. Where one who is poor in spirit hungers and thirsts for righteousness, there is the greatest room for God’s Spirit and God’s grace.
The Spirit in Christian life is not a reserve power; the Holy Spirit can not be stored up for future use. The Spirit is power in operation in and through us.
Would to God that we could learn to encourage one another more and more on this point so that we could all be filled more and more with the Holy Spirit.
But is it not so, according to the Word of God, that there is a special blessing for a Christian implied in this admonition, “Be filled with the Spirit?”
Yes. When the apostles had survived their trial before the council, and had returned to their own group, they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
In trying to determine some of the ways in which God deals with people today on this point, I should like to point Out three things.
1. It seems that God, or more correctly God’s Spirit, has a definite plan with each Christian. Thus the Holy Spirit seeks by different means to bring us to the goal which has been set for our lives. Through external events and inner experiences, by pressure and persecution, in good and evil days—yes also by the weight of increasing years--He draws us ever toward new light, new projects, new decisions. Our own development, and sometimes the change in the course of the times, carries us ever onward toward a critical point and a narrow gate through which the Spirit would have us to pass. If we permit ourselves to be brought through this narrow gate, we frequently find that greater sacrifices await us on the other side; there will also be opportunities for greater service, as well as a more decisive opposition from the old Adam. Above all we are privileged to experience a greater blessing as a consequence of obedience to God. This is what it is to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Many a Christian, perhaps especially one who is engaged in preaching the Word of God, has blessed memories on this point. He remembers the first time that he was made meet for the Master’s use; he remembers also the many times later when he felt the need of being renewed if God was going to use him. At such times our little hearts may be filled with the Holy Spirit and grace to the extent that we feel we can scarcely contain any more.
2. Let us take another example. When God’s people are placed in difficult situations where they realize that they are unable to cope with the problems that face them, they appeal to God for help; they never cry to Him in vain. Then it frequently happens that they go to their appointed tasks with greater courage and confidence than at any time before.
3. Here is still another example. When one who preaches the gospel feels himself gripped by the message he has, and feels that he is carried along by invisible powers so that he merely has to distribute to the disciples that which he has received from God; when Christians in the pews appear to be shining lights; when the unconverted are so gripped by the preaching that they do not care to leave at the close of the session — then the Holy Spirit has come.
This is to be filled by the Spirit.
The Spirit falls anew on those who hear the Word.
God be praised for such times and such experiences among us also today. May we frequently experience this in the days that are to be — we and our children.