Full Bath or Feet Washed? The Difference between the Spirit's Indwelling and Filling
In this Sunday’s sermon we took an in-depth look at the significance of water baptism. Water baptism signifies Spirit baptism, which happens at the moment of salvation when we trust Christ as Savior. However, whenever the subject of the work of the Spirit comes up, I feel it is necessary to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the two different works of the Spirit: indwelling and filling. What is the difference? How can Paul urge us to be “filled” with the Spirit if He is already in us (Eph. 5:18)? This can be a difficult concept to grasp at first, but it is incredibly important for every believer to get a handle on. I believe that as a new Christian and in any discipleship program, this is one of the first things one should learn. Thankfully, in John 13, Jesus gave us a perfect illustration for understanding the difference!
During the last supper there is a dramatic scene where Jesus gets up, humbly takes a towel, and girds Himself with it to wash the disciples’ feet. He pours water into a basin and starts washing the disciples’ feet – yes, the same disciples who keep arguing about who is the greatest! Right now, the Greatest One is teaching them how to be great in the Kingdom of God. The greatest are the servants!
When Jesus came to the feet of Peter, who was still living according to the world’s value system (the idea that to be served is to be great), he pulls his feet away! “Never shall You wash my feet!” Peter said. But Jesus responded, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter then said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and head.”
You’ve got to love Peter, going from one extreme to the other! “Then give me a whole bath!” Jesus replied, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean.” Jesus is teaching here on the difference between the Spirit’s work of baptism, coming to indwell, and the Spirit’s work of filling, a repeated process.
Spirit baptism is like a full bath that you only need to take once. From the moment you believe, you are washed clean, indwelt by God, and sealed by God for eternity (Titus 3:4-7; Eph. 1:13-14). You are God’s own possession for His eternal glory by grace through faith in Christ. Because the Spirit never leaves you, you will always be clean. When He looks at you, He sees you with the righteousness of Christ. That is your position, or standing, before God. These terms denote something fixed and permanent. Positionally, we are saved and have a right standing on a judicial basis before God.
However, the filling work of the Spirit deals with our condition or state before God as a Christian, which fluctuates from moment to moment. It is a matter of fellowship and harmony with God. When we grieve the Spirit by sin or quench the Spirit by a sin of omission (not doing what we know we should do), that causes a break in our intimacy similar to the way a child’s disobedience might cause a break in their relationship with their parents. The disobedience brings discipline, but it does not mean that they aren’t still that parent’s child or out of the family. Neither does it mean that parents don’t love them. The discipline is proof they do love them (Heb. 12:6-11)!
This is what Jesus is saying to Peter. If you’ve believed in Christ, you are clean. However, there will be times when you will sin and grieve the Spirit of God and when you do, that sin needs to be “cleaned up” in the sense that you need your feet washed. It doesn’t mean you need to take another full bath to be rebaptized by the Holy Spirit, getting saved all over again. It just means you need to have your feet washed that have stumbled in the muck of sin. Memorize this verse for your day to day Christian life. 1 John 1:9,
“For if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
When we sin, we don’t need to think in terms of loss of salvation but of the fact that in order to have an intimate, flowing relationship with God, that sin needs to be dealt with by confession and repentance. We just pray in our hearts to God, saying something like, “Lord, what I just did was not walking in the Spirit and I confess it as sin. Thank you for Your forgiveness and filling me with the Holy Spirit again.”
This is very simple and should be something that begins to be as natural as breathing for the Christian. One man many years ago popularized it that way – he called it spiritual breathing! Have you lost your cool and said something you shouldn’t have? Let your mind wander into lust? When that happens, we need to breathe out the junk, confessing the sin. But don’t stop there! Remember God’s promise in 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse. Breathe out, but then breathe in by faith God’s promise to forgive and refill and restore our fellowship and our joy (1 John 1:3-4).
When you do this, you are breaking down a sin-barrier wall that keep us from connecting closely. The same is true for any relationship – wrongs must be dealt with in order for there to be intimacy, for hearts to heal, and for each to be open to receive love again.
Ephesians 4:30 says,
“And do not grieve [cause sorrow to] the Holy Spirit of God,
Also, 1 Thessalonians 5:19 says,
“Do not quench the Spirit”
Rather than quenching or grieving the Holy Spirit, causing His power and comforting presence and fruit (Gal. 5:22) to be drained out of our lives, we are to yield to Him and be filled! But remember, too, that when we are filled, it’s not that we get more of His infinite Spirit, but that He gets more of us!
Here are some key distinctions between Spirit baptism’s indwelling and the Spirit’s filling. (1)
Did you recognize here any sort of patterns that reflect the two ordinances of baptism and communion that Christ gave us in the Church? Water baptism is a one-time act of identification & symbolizing salvation. Communion is a repeated act of rededication (2). Our Lord sure knew what He was doing when He gave us these ordinances us to teach us how to relate to Him in our daily lives! Believe and be filled!
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