Is there a difference between being baptized with the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit?

At times when we read the New Testament record of those who are baptized in the Spirit or filled with the Spirit, it seems that these terms are used interchangeably, that they refer to the same phenomenon. At other times there’s a little distinction that is not altogether clear in the text. Sometimes it seems that to discern the difference requires a knife sharper than the one I own.

Let’s just go back and ask this question: What does the Bible mean by the term “baptized in the Holy Spirit”? In the New Testament there’s a distinction between being born of the Spirit—which is the work of the Holy Spirit to regenerate us, to change the disposition of our hearts and make us alive spiritually—and to baptize us in the Holy Spirit. We read about the baptism of the Holy Spirit principally on the Day of Pentecost and subsequent events similar to the Day of Pentecost in which those who were gathered were baptized in the Holy Spirit. We understand that the people who were baptized in the Holy Spirit were already believers and they were already regenerated. So we must distinguish between the Spirit’s work in making us spiritually alive and the Spirit’s work in baptizing us, whatever baptizing means. Most churches would affirm that the primary meaning of the concept of baptism in the Holy Spirit is the work of the Spirit upon a human being to endow that person with the power necessary to carry out their mission and vocation as a Christian.

In the Old Testament that charisma, the gift of the empowering of the Holy Spirit, was limited to certain individuals such as priests and prophets and mediators like Moses. But the point of the New Testament is that the whole body of the people of God is now being equipped and empowered from on high to carry out its task. Notice that Pentecost is tied very closely to the great commission. Jesus said, “Go into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the outermost parts of the earth, but before you go, tarry in Jerusalem. After the Holy Spirit comes upon you, then you can go and carry out this mandate.”

The “baptism of the Spirit” refers to being equipped or empowered by God’s Spirit to carry out the task that Jesus has given the church. When the Spirit equips us or baptizes us, we are immersed, as it were, in the Holy Spirit; sometimes the Scriptures refer to this as being filled with the Holy Spirit. Other times the term “being filled with the Holy Spirit” is used in the same way as being filled with love or filled with joy—there’s this sensation of superabundance of the presence of God. I think that sometimes the Scripture is speaking of something more than simply being equipped for ministry, but having an awareness, a keen awareness and consciousness, of the powerful presence of the Spirit.

©1996 by R.C. Sproul. Used by permission of Tyndale.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.