10 Things You Should Know about Post-Conversion Experiences of the Holy Spirit1
Do we have reason to believe that subsequent to our born-again experience we may have life-changing, empowering, and transforming encounters with the Holy Spirit? Yes. Here are ten things that we should keep in mind.
(1) Although those in the classical Pentecostal tradition would disagree with me on this, I don’t believe that any such post-conversion experience should be identified with the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Spirit-baptism occurs for all Christians at the moment of genuine conversion and saving faith in Jesus Christ.
When we believe and are justified, we are, as it were, deluged and engulfed by the Spirit; we are, as it were, immersed in and saturated by the Spirit. The result of being baptized in the Spirit is that (a) we are made members of the body of Christ, or incorporated into the spiritual organism called the church (1 Cor. 12:13); and (b) the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us permanently. Spirit-baptism is therefore instantaneous (i.e., it is not a process), coincident with conversion, universal (i.e., all Christians are recipients), unrepeatable, and permanent.
(2) There are numerous texts in the NT that speak of Christians, subsequent to their conversion, being filled with the Holy Spirit. Spirit-filling is a metaphor describing our continuous, on-going experience and appropriation of the Holy Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit is to come under progressively more intense and intimate influence of the Spirit. Spirit-filling can be forfeited and subsequently experienced yet again, on multiple occasions, throughout the course of the Christian life. See Luke 4:1; Acts 6:3,5; 7:55; 11:24; 13:52 (lit., “they continued to be full” [imperfect tense]. This is the “ideal” condition of every Christian. It emphasizes the abiding state of being filled.
(3) Another sense in which one may be filled with the Spirit is portrayed in texts that describe people as being “filled with the Holy Spirit” to enable them to fulfill or perform a special task or to equip them for service or ministry. This may be (a) either life-long; an office or particular ministry (see Luke 1:15-17; Acts 9:17) or, (b) in a spiritual emergency; an immediate and special endowment of power to fulfill an especially important and urgent task. Thus, someone who is already filled with the Spirit may experience a further/additional filling. I.e., no matter “how much” of the Holy Spirit one may have, there’s always room for “more” (see Acts 4:8,31; 13:9; Luke 1:41,67). Also, in Acts 7:55 Stephen, though “full of the Holy Spirit”, is again “filled” with the Spirit to prepare him to endure persecution and eventual martyrdom, as well as to “see” the vision of the risen Christ.
(4) There is the impartation of revelatory insight and illumination into the blessings of salvation (Eph. 1:15-23; cf. Isa. 11:2). Here Paul prays that God will impart to the Ephesian Christians the Spirit yet again, so that he might supply the wisdom to understand what he also reveals to them about God and his ways. This is something for which we must pray (both for ourselves and for others). There are dimensions of the Spirit's ministry in our lives that are suspended, so to speak, on our asking.
(5) It strikes some as odd that Paul would pray for the Spirit to be given to those who already have Him. But this hardly differs from Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3:17 that Christ might "dwell" in the hearts of people in whom Christ already dwells! Paul is referring to an experiential enlargement of what is theologically true. He prays that, through the Spirit, Jesus might exert a progressively greater and more intense personal influence in our souls. Thus, in both texts Paul is praying for an expanded and increased work of God in the believer's life.
(6) There is also the anointing of power for the performance of miracles as seen in Galatians 3:1-5 (esp. v. 5). Paul clearly refers both to their initial reception of the Spirit (v. 2) and to their present experience of the Spirit (v. 5). The unmistakable evidence that they had entered into new life was their reception of the Spirit (v. 2). Gordon Fee explains:
"The entire argument runs aground if this appeal is not also to a reception of the Spirit that was dynamically experienced. Even though Paul seldom mentions any of the visible evidences of the Spirit in such contexts as these, here is the demonstration that the experience of the Spirit in the Pauline churches was very much as that described and understood by Luke -- as visibly and experientially accompanied by phenomena that gave certain evidence of the presence of the Spirit of God" (God's Empowering Presence, 384).
Paul speaks of God as the one who continually and liberally supplies the Spirit to men and women who in another sense have already received him. This is especially evident when one takes note of Paul's use of the present tense (i.e., "He who is supplying you with the Spirit"). Evidently there is a close, even causal, relationship between the supply of the Spirit and the resultant working of miracles. That is to say, "God is present among them by his Spirit, and the fresh supply of the Spirit finds expression in miraculous deeds of various kinds. Thus Paul is appealing once more to the visible and experiential nature of the Spirit in their midst as the ongoing evidence that life in the Spirit, predicated on faith in Christ Jesus, has no place at all for 'works of law'" (Fee, 388-9).
(7) Paul also speaks about the provision of the Spirit to face hardship with hope (Phil. 1:19). I don't believe he is thinking so much of the "help" the Spirit gives, but of the gift of the Spirit himself, whom God continually supplies to him (and to us!). In other words, the phrase "the supply/provision of the Spirit" (an objective genitive, for those of you who know a little Greek) points to the Spirit as the one who is himself being given or supplied anew to Paul by God to assist him during the course of his imprisonment.
(8) In 1 Thessalonians 4:8 the apostle speaks of the continuous exertion of strength from the Holy Spirit necessary for purity. He specifically says the Holy Spirit is given "into" (eis) you, not simply "to" you. The point is that God puts his Spirit inside us (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19). The use of the Greek present tense emphasizes the ongoing and continuous work of the Spirit in their lives. If Paul had in mind their conversion and thus their initial, past reception of the Spirit, he would probably have used that tense of the verb (aorist; cf. 1:5-6) more appropriate to that sort of emphasis. In context, Paul's point is that the call to sexual purity and holiness comes with the continuous provision of the Spirit to enable obedience. Thus the Spirit is portrayed as the ongoing divine companion, by whose power the believer lives in purity and holiness.
(9) The Spirit is also responsible for our deepened awareness of adoption as sons and increased confidence and assurance of salvation. It is the work of the Spirit to intensify our sense of the abiding and loving presence of the Father and Son (see Rom. 5:5; 8:15-17; John 14:15-23). There are times in the Christian life when the believer finds himself more than ordinarily conscious of God’s love, his presence, and power (see Eph. 3:16-19; 1 Pt. 1:8). In other words, there is a heightened, increased, or accelerated experience of the Spirit's otherwise ordinary and routine operations.
(10) In view of these many passages, it comes as no surprise that Jesus should encourage us to ask the Father for more of the Spirit's ministry in our lives, as he does in Luke 11:13. Could it be that this exhortation to pray for the Holy Spirit flows from Jesus' own experience of the Spirit? Could it be that he himself prayed for continued, repeated anointings, infillings or fresh waves of the Spirit's presence and power to sustain him for ministry, and here encourages his followers to do the same?
Where Luke (11:13) says the Father will give the "Holy Spirit" to us Matthew (7:11) says he will give "good things". Why the difference? John Nolland suggests that "it will be best to see that, since from a post-Pentecost early church perspective, the greatest gift that God can bestow is the Spirit, Luke wants it to be seen that God's parental bounty applies not just to everyday needs (already well represented in the text in [the] Lord's Prayer) but even reaches so far as to this his greatest possible gift" (Word Biblical Commentary on Luke 9:21-18:34, 632).
Since this exhortation is addressed to believers, the "children" of the "Father", the giving of the Spirit in response to prayer cannot refer to one's initial experience of salvation. The prayer is not by a lost person needing a first-time indwelling of the Spirit but by people who already have the Spirit but stand in need of a greater fullness, a more powerful anointing to equip and empower them for ministry. In fact, the petition of v. 13 is part of the instruction on persistence and perseverance in prayer that began in Luke 11:1. Thus we are repeatedly and persistently and on every needful occasion to keep on asking, seeking and knocking for fresh impartations of the Spirit's power.
These texts would appear to dispel the concept of a singular, once-for-all deposit of the Spirit that would supposedly render superfluous the need for subsequent, post-conversion anointings. The Spirit who was once given and now indwells each believer is continually given to enhance and intensify our relationship with Christ and to empower our efforts in ministry.