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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Dimensions

To summarize: the importance of the expression “being baptized in the Holy Spirit” cannot be denied. It depicts vividly the idea of being totally enveloped in the reality of the Holy Spirit. Even though this baptism in the Holy Spirit is set in contrast with John’s baptism in water (in the Gospels and Acts), the same term is used for both; so drawing upon the picture of water baptism one sees more clearly the operation of Spirit baptism. Since to be baptized in water means literally to be immersed in, plunged in, even saturated with the surrounding element,25  then to be baptized in the Holy Spirit can mean no less. No part of the body is left untouched by water baptism; everything goes under. So with Spirit baptism the whole being of man—body, soul and spirit—is enveloped in the reality of God. Likewise, the community of those who are enveloped in the divine reality is affected in its total life. Both individual and community are touched in every area by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Through being baptized in the Holy Spirit, life takes on a fresh quality of divine nearness and intimacy. Moreover, the origin of this baptism is from beyond, from Jesus Christ. It is not a kind of mystical immanence without transcendent source, but a being plunged into the sphere of the divine totality by the activity of the exalted Lord. Such is the marvelous sense of immediacy that is known by those who are thus enveloped in the reality of the divine presence.

Now to return specifically to the spiritual renewal today: there is no expression more commonly used than that of being “baptized in [or with] the Holy Spirit.” For what has been said in the preceding paragraphs about the entire being of man enveloped—immersed, saturated, imbued—in the reality of God is the testimony of countless thousands of people.26  This may have happened to a community of people or to an individual, but the situation is extraordinarily the same. If to a community, its whole existence is thereby enveloped anew in the divine glory: every aspect of its life touched by the divine presence. If to an individual, one has then been submerged in the presence and power of God—to use a common expression—”from the top of the head to the soles of the feet.”

In passing, it is significant to observe that the biblical expression of “baptized in [or with] the Spirit” has had little use in the long history of the church. Much of course has been said about baptism in (or with) water27  but little about baptism in the Holy Spirit.28  It may well be that the revival of this biblical expression is one of the key signs of the renewal of New Testament vitality in our times.

Fifth, and finally, the recipients of God’s gift are inwardly pervaded by His Holy Spirit. Man in the totality of his being is claimed by the Spirit of God. There is penetration through the level of consciousness to the subconscious depths. The Holy Spirit probes the inward regions of soul and spirit, and possesses human existence in its entirety.

The word used in the scriptural record to express this inward possession is “filled”—to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.”29 Let us note its usage first in the account of the disciples at Jerusalem.

It is interesting to observe that the first thing said about what happened to the disciples at Pentecost is that “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). Peter later speaks of this as the “outpouring of the Holy Spirit” (as we have noted before), but the primary description is their being “filled.”30  They were pervaded by God’s presence and power.

Looking in more detail at the Pentecostal picture, we find that before the disciples were filled, the house was filled. The sound from heaven came “like the rush of a mighty wind” (as we have earlier noted), and “it filled all the house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2).31  The house being filled suggests the presence of God in an intensive manner throughout the place of assembly. Those gathered know themselves to be surrounded by and enveloped in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Then what is felt outwardly in fullness becomes an inner total experience. They are all—as community and as persons—filled with the Spirit of God.

Also, just before the disciples are filled, the Scripture reads that “There appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them” (Acts 2:3). Two comments: first, this calls to mind the words that Jesus will baptize with “the Holy Spirit and fire“; second, the tongues “resting on each” contains the imagery of the Holy Spirit descending upon—as in the language of “pouring out on,” “falling on” and “coming on”—so that the movement is from heaven to earth. Hence, the disciples are filled from beyond themselves. It is not simply an intensification of an inward spiritual presence: it is a divine visitation in fullness.

Next, we turn to the account of Saul of Tarsus, and note how he was filled with the Spirit. Three days after Saul’s encounter with the glorified Jesus a disciple named Ananias goes to the blinded Saul: “So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you …has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit'” (Acts 9:17). So does Saul, later to become Paul, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2002

About the Author: J. Rodman Williams (1918-2008), Ph.D., is considered to be the father of renewal theology. He served as a chaplain in the Second World War, he was a church pastor, college professor, and key figure in the charismatic movement of the 1960s. Beginning in 1982, he taught theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and became Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus there in 2002. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

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