When we put our previous discussions of “spirit” together we begin to get a sense of why the image of wind is so important in Acts 2. The text says, “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting” (v. 2). That sounds very much like the story of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters of the earth at creation. So the suggestion is that here, in Acts, we have a new creation as important (more important in many ways) than the original creation of the heavens and the earth. That heaven and earth are destined to pass away, but what is done by the Spirit at Pentecost is eternal and will thereafter last forever.
Again, the account in Acts sounds like Genesis 2 where God breathes life into man. Pentecost is a life-breathing experience.
The account is also like John 3, where Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.”
Obviously the coming of the Holy Spirit as a “violent wind” was meant to symbolize the coming of the creative power of God to inaugurate a new era in which men and women should be brought to spiritual life.
We need to look at another term in this account, the word “filled.” It occurs twice. First, the house in which the disciples were was filled. And then, they themselves were filled by the Holy Spirit. I call attention to this because, if we are to understand what is said about the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, we must see that there is a distinction between being baptized with the Holy Spirit, which we hear a great deal about today, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, which we hear about much less.
People talk about the baptism of the Holy Spirit as if that is what Pentecost was about. Usually they mean that Pentecost “baptism” is a special experience which involves the gift of being able to speak in tongues. They would say that the ability to speak in tongues is the only sure evidence that a person has been baptized with the Spirit—or even, perhaps, is a Christian.
The Bible does talk about a baptism of the Holy Spirit, of course, but not in those terms. The baptism of the Holy Spirit has to do with regeneration or being born again. It results in the regenerated person being identified with Jesus Christ, spiritually in the sight of God and publicly before other men and women. Significantly, that is what the sacrament of water baptism also signifies. It does not have anything to do with imparting some kind of special blessing. It is an identification of the baptized individual with Christ. It is done once, because a person is only saved once. To be baptized by the Holy Spirit is to be a Christian.
John R. W. Stott wrote correctly, “Water baptism is the initiatory Christian rite, because Spirit-baptism is the initiatory Christian experience.”1
To be filled with the Holy Spirit is different, and it is this that is being talked about here. The early believers did not become Christians at Pentecost. They already were believers. They believed in Jesus. They were meeting together. They were praying. They were studying the Bible. But now the Holy Spirit came upon them in a special way to empower them for their task. The word used to describe this experience is “filling.”
It is interesting to study the use of this word in Acts. The words “fullness” or “filled with the Holy Spirit” occur fourteen times in the New Testament, but four of them concern the period before Pentecost and are therefore more in line with Old Testament than with New Testament experiences. There is one isolated reference in Ephesians. The other nine references are in Acts.2 The interesting thing is that in every case, the circumstance that is common to them is that whenever Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit they immediately begin to testify forcefully and effectively to Jesus Christ.
It is not that they speak in tongues, though this did occur at Pentecost and possibly elsewhere. It is not that they do miracles, though occasionally miracles were performed. The only thing that ties these references together is that, when the Holy Spirit comes upon His people in a special way, filling them, they immediately began to testify verbally about Jesus.
Someone might say, “Yes, but at Pentecost they did it in tongues.” True enough. But that is not the emphasis, nor is it part of the other examples of “filling” given. In Acts 2 the emphasis is upon the fact that everyone heard about Jesus.
So if you ask whether a person is “Spirit-filled,” the only way to answer the question is by determining whether or not he or she speaks often and effectively about Jesus. It is not by whether he or she speaks in an unintelligible language or does miracles. The question is, “Does he or she testify to Jesus Christ, and does God bless that testimony in the conversion of men and women?”
1John R. W. Stott, The Baptism and Fullness of the Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1964), 28.
2The references are: 2:4; 4:8, 31; 6:3; 7:55; 9:17; 11:24; 13:6, 52. The other New Testament references are Luke 1:15, 41, 67; 4:1; and Ephesians 5:18.