The Spirit and Filling

Not all Christians live at the same spiritual level according to the apostle John. He sees fathers, young men and little children as stages of spiritual development.

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you have come to know the One who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have had victory over the evil one (1 John 2:13).

The writer of Hebrews sees two levels of growth—infant and mature.

Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14)

Paul sees Christians living like ordinary people or worthy of the Lord.

Because you are still fleshly. For since there is envy and strife among you, are you not fleshly and living like ordinary people? (1 Corinthians 3:3).

For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10).

There is an obvious difference in the thinking and behavior of believers. Many people in churches would like to think that they are filled with the Holy Spirit even though they do not know it. It is impossible to be filled with the Spirit and not know it! Furthermore, not everyone desires to be filled with the Spirit! There is nothing strange or abnormal about the Spirit-filled life; it is the norm!

Must one reach a certain stage of development and level of growth to be filled with the Spirit? The biblical answer is “No!” All the believers were filled and they received boldness for witness in the infant church—the fear of man was removed.

When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness (Acts 4:31).

The new convert, Saul of Tarsus, was filled with the Spirit and was moved to preach Jesus as the Son of God (Acts 9:17). Fifteen years later, at Pisidan Antioch, Paul with the disciples were filled with joy and with the Spirit (Acts 13:52). Therefore, we surmise that the Holy Spirit fills believers at whatever stage or level they have reached. One does not need to be “super” mature to be filled with the Spirit; a babe in the faith can be filled. The first Christians were filled with the Spirit and they were mere babes in Christ at the time of Pentecost.

Maturity has to do with development and growth and requires time and accumulation of knowledge. The filling of the Spirit is divine control, power, or influence of the believer’s faculties, however much or little those faculties may be developed. A newborn babe in Christ might be spirited filled, knowing only the basics of the Gospel. While a Christian of many years of training in the Bible, with a good grasp of spiritual and moral principles, and long years of labors for the cause of Christ, may be unfilled.

Regrettably, Satan has bitterly opposed the doctrine of being filled with the Spirit with great success. He has confused it, opposed it, and surrounded it with false notions and fears.

It is common among Pentecostals and Charismatics to identify the baptism of the Spirit with the filling of the Spirit.

To be Pentecostal is to identify oneself with experience that came to Christ’s followers on the day of Pentecost, that is, to be filled with the holy Spirit in the same manner as those who were filled with the Holy Spirit on that occasion (Ernest Williams, “Your Questions,” Pentecostal Evangel 49 (January 1961).

To the contrary, positional fullness of the Spirit is the ground of experiential filling, which is repeatable with the Spirit filling (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9). Believers who habitually live the Spirit-filled life are described as “full” (plhrhv pleres an adjective) of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3; 7:55; 11:24). “Filled” is the verb plhyw pletho, which indicates to be entirely under the Spirit’s influence and power, such as when Peter was filled with the Spirit to speak God’s Word.

Then Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders (Acts 4:8).

The Greek tote (tote “then”) points to a fresh filling with the Spirit for that particular time. Thus, “filled with the Spirit” was a separate event from Peter being filled with the Spirit on Pentecost; it was a repeated event. Apparently, Peter did nothing for this filling; the power of the Spirit influenced or carried him along as he courageously spoke the Gospel (Acts 4:8-13). Yet, Paul commands believers to be filled with the Spirit.

And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

Since this exhortation is addressed to Christians, it can mean only that they are expected to seek a fuller manifestation of the Sprit than they have already experienced. Therefore, we must understand that sometimes the Spirit fills the believer on His own and sometimes the believer brings about the filling of the Spirit. The filling of the Spirit is obviously different from the indwelling of the Spirit and being full of the Spirit.

The verb “be filled” (plhrousye (plerousthe”) is a present passive imperative. The present tense indicates a durative idea, and can be translated, “keep being filled.” The passive voice means the subject is acted upon. Here a person is being acted upon, controlled by a power outside himself— the Holy Spirit. The imperative mood is a command, a mandate. Keep in mind this command or mandate is for all Christians, whatever their stage of development or level of growth.

The parallel passages of Ephesians 5:18-21 and Colossians 3:15-17 connect “keep being filled with the Spirit” with “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” It is no accident that we find the results of the Spirit-filled life and the Word-filled life to be the same.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:18-21 NIV).

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:15-17 NIV).

First, the single command in Ephesians, “be filled with the Spirit,” is followed five present participles: “speaking,” “singing,” “making melody,” “giving thanks,” and “submitting,” which are descriptive consequences of the Holy Spirit’s filling. We can group the consequences of being filled with the Spirit from two passages into four characteristics.

1. The Spirit-filled believer will adore and worship God with a glad heart.
2. The Spirit-filled believer will be thankful at all times under all circumstances.
3. The Spirit-filled believer will submit to others out of reverence for Christ.
4. The Spirit-filled believer will admonish others with all wisdom.

The believer can expect the above when filled with the Spirit plus more.

1. The nine traits of the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-23
2. The power to witness for Christ, Acts 1:8
3. The bringing of glory to Christ, cf. John 16:14

Second, the believer who wants to be filled with the Spirit needs to let the Word of Christ dwell in him or her richly. Salvation starts with the Word being sowed into the heart by Christ (Matthew 13:18-23) and the filling of the Spirit begins with the Word of Christ dwelling richly in the believer. Unquestionably, a believer who meditates day and night on God’s Word will experience the riches of the indwelling Word and Spirit as they yield their fruit in due season (cf. Psalm 1).

Taking the two contexts of both passages together, the indwelling Spirit and Word of Christ will have a similar effect as a person drunk on wine. The drunkard is controlled by alcohol and the believer is under the influence of the Spirit and the Word. Drunkenness produces debauchery and the filling of the Spirit produces godliness and spiritual worship.

These two passages from Ephesians and Colossians define “spiritual worship”—what it means to worship in Spirit and Truth (John 4:23-24). Believers are filled with the Spirit as the Word of Christ dwells in them richly. The peace of Christ in the heart spans gratitude and spiritual worship— reverence for Christ that is manifested in everything that is said and done. Undoubtedly, the six actions steps of Romans 6 are involved with the filling of the Spirit along with the seventh step of dedication.

Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2).

We can glean from these two passages that the believer must be willing to be completely possessed with the Spirit and willing to obey the Word of God.

We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32).

And of course, there is always the necessity of prayer.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? (Luke 11:13).

I pray that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19).

If you want to be filled with the Spirit, let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, especially as set forth in the book of Romans.

1. Know your position in Christ, Romans 6
2. Be aware of your sin, Romans 7
3. Understand the lordship of the Spirit, Romans 8
4. Present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, Romans 12:1
5. No longer conform to the pattern of this world, Romans 12:2
6. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, Romans 12:2

For Spirit-filling, the believer is never to depend upon self or works of the flesh—the sin of self-confidence.

I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3).

The filling of the Spirit will not take place if one is walking in sin instead of the light or has not confessed sins of the past, since fellowship with God is broken by sin. Sin must be confessed to God for forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:5-10). The Holy Spirit will not fill or possess an impure vessel.

A popular presentation of the Spirit-filled life had been developed by Bill Bright, which he includes in his book, The Holy Spirit: The Key to Spiritual Living, on page 57.

To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be controlled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We cannot have two masters (Matthew 6:24). There is a throne, a control center, in every life either self or Christ is on that throne. This concept of Christ being on the throne is so simple that a child can understand it.

Bright’s presentation of the “spiritual man” is an oversimplification since such a state of being is nonexistent this side of heaven. There might be moments when the Holy Spirit totally controls the believer, but usually for a short period or the completion of a spiritual task.

If the Spirit of Christ is totally in control then how could anyone choose to sin after being filled? A person totally controlled by the Spirit will always think and act in unnatural ways—his thoughts, words, and actions will always be pure and godly. Even failure to be filled with the Spirit is sin. Terms like “characterized,” “taught,” influenced,” “strengthened” and “empowered” by the Spirit are
better descriptions.

In summary, how can you be filled with the Spirit?

1. Be forgiven and cleansed by confessing your sins to God
2. Present your body as a living sacrifice to God
3. Be willing to obey the Word of God
4. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you—richly walk in the light
5. Desire the Spirit to possess you—be transformed by the renewing of your mind
6. Do not seek the Spirit’s filling by works of the flesh
7. Ask God for the filling of the Spirit

Spirit-filled believers are set free from the spiritual bondage, blindness and oppression of the flesh and Satan. This is the spiritual liberty predicted by Isaiah, which Christ inaugurated through His death, resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19;
Isaiah 61:1-2).

Freedom is one of the most characteristic functions of the Spirit.

Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17; cf. James 1:19-25).

Most assuredly, no one experiences this freedom more than the Spirit-filled believer, who walks by the Spirit.

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