What does it mean to be "filled with the Spirit"?
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The new spiritual condition of the regenerated individual is not an end in itself. Regeneration is a punctiliar event with a view to the process of allowing the divine character now indwelling the spirit of the Christian to be expressed behaviorally. The "personal resource of life," the presence of the Spirit of Christ, must now be allowed to exhibit the "prevailing ramifications" of His life, the "life of Jesus manifested in our mortal bodies" (II Cor. 4:10,11).
In terms of our spiritual condition, it can be said that the Christian is "complete in Christ" (Col. 2:10). "All things have been made new" (II Cor. 5:17) in our spirit because the Spirit of Christ dwells therein constituting us a "new man" (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). We have "every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3); "all things pertaining to life and godliness" (II Peter 1:3). "Of His fullness we have all received" (John 1:16), the "fullness of the blessing of Christ" (Rom. 15:29), whereby we are "full of goodness" (Rom. 15:14) and "full of the gladness of His presence" (Acts 2:28).
Though every Christian is spiritually full of the presence of the Spirit of Christ, for "He gives the Spirit without measure" (John 3:34), the process of allowing the life and character of Christ to fill and pervade our mental, emotional and volitional activities in order to be expressed in the behavior of our bodies continues as a constant necessity for the remainder of our lives here on earth. Paul's prayer for the Ephesians, though they participated in "the fullness of Him who fills all in all" (Eph. 1:23), was that they might "be filled up to all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19), "to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). Such is the basis of our consideration of the fullness of God in man.
Consideration of the release of the Spirit of Christ into behavioral expression using the figure of being "filled with the Spirit" has long been clouded with misunderstandings and extremisms, controversy and confusion. Biblical phraseology utilizes metaphors that portray the action of the Spirit in liquid terms such as "rivers of living water" (John 7:38) and the Spirit being "poured out" (Acts 2:17) upon mankind. Some have conceived of an external application of the Spirit's activity such as filling their tank with a liquid petroleum product in order to provide power for locomotion. Others have conceptualized God as a "cosmic waiter" with a big pitcher of liquid Holy Spirit, and they are petitioning God to "fill their cup." These conceptions err in representing an additional external application of the Spirit subsequent to the Christian's receiving the Spirit of Christ at regeneration. Since "all spiritual things belong to us in Christ" (I Cor. 3:21,22), to suggest that the Christian needs something more is to suggest that Jesus Christ is insufficient. A more adequate and accurate picture is to recognize that the Christian has received the Spirit of Christ in his spirit at regeneration (Rom. 8:9) and is "complete in Christ" (Col. 2:10). Internally, from the inside out, the Spirit of Christ functions like an artesian well "springing up to eternal life" (John 4:14), to fill our behavior with His character and to overflow in ministry unto others.
Paul's command to the Ephesians will serve as a primary text for the study of the filling of the Spirit unto the fullness of God in man. "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18).
The context in which Paul's command is stated within the epistle to the Ephesians has to do with practical behavior. Referring to the conduct of daily life, Paul admonishes the Ephesian Christians to "be careful how you walk" (Eph. 5:15) so as to be "wise" and "make the most of your time" (Eph. 5:16). It is important, Paul says, to "understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17), which is always the expression of the character of Jesus Christ. The context of the filling of the Spirit is not an ecstatic or esoteric experience wherein one is zapped by God, nor is it a mystical mood-altering manifestation. Rather, the filling of the Spirit relates to intensely practical behavior.
In like manner as the foregoing context, the context which follows Paul's command in Ephesians 5:18 also relates to practical behavior. The results of being thus filled with the Spirit will be a "song in your heart" (Eph. 5:19), a thankful attitude (Eph. 5:20), and deference to one another in interpersonal relationships (Eph. 5:21). Can anything be more practical than behavior which exhibits the character of Christ within husband and wife relationships (Eph. 5:22-33), parent and child relationships (Eph. 6:1-4), and employer and employee relationships (Eph. 6:5-9)? In such relationships God wants to see the fullness of his character expressed in the behavior of Christians.
When Paul commands the Ephesian Christians to "be filled with the Spirit," the verb is in an imperative mood. This is not something that is an optional extra in the Christian life, but is to be regarded as obligatory. It is not something that we can pick or choose, take or leave, in terms of Christian obedience. It is a mandate.
Closer examination reveals two commands in Ephesians 5:18. The first command is "Do not get drunk." If the number of messages and treatises on a particular text reveals the priority of such, then I would venture to presume that the majority of expositors and preachers have regarded this command as the one of predominant importance in this verse, for the inculcations of temperance have been most abundant. Far fewer have been the practical instructions concerning what it means to "be filled with the Spirit." It seems to be the propensity of man to focus and fixate on the negative admonitions rather than the positive admonitions, failing to recognize that the positive admonitions usually encompass the negative. For example, if we are "being transformed by the renewing of our mind" this will inclusively forestall our "being conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:2). Likewise, if the Christian is being "filled with the Spirit," such will serve to forestall his "being drunk with wine." To over-emphasize the behavioral modifications of nonconformity or abstinence in these verses is to evade the grace of God which is to be found in the divine empowering of mental renewal and the control of the Spirit. In both of these instances the positive and negative commands must be held together.
Many Christians seem to be quite adamant in their insistence on abstinence or temperance concerning wine and alcoholic beverages. Are they as adamant in their insistence upon being filled with the Spirit? If not, then why the inconsistency? It should be as inappropriate for you to not be filled with the Spirit right now, as it would be for you to be getting drunk right now!
To whom does this command extend? Is this command to "be filled with the Spirit" meant for every Christian? Some seem to think that to "be filled with the Spirit" is an experience that is reserved for a privileged few in the Church, that it is a deluxe edition of the Christian life meant for super-Christians, perhaps those involved as missionaries, pastors or church leaders. This is not the case.
When Paul commands the Ephesian Christians to "be filled with the Spirit," there is an implied subject that must be ascertained from the verb. The verb "be filled" is second-person plural in number, which means that we can supply the subject as "you all." "You all be filled with the Spirit," commands Paul, or if he were in the southern part of the United States he might say, "Y'all be filled with the Spirit." The filling of the Spirit is meant for all Christians. Every Christian is responsible to individually allow for this activity of the Spirit of Christ in their lives. The plural subject does not allow for a corporate application, as some have suggested, any more than the correlative command "not to get drunk" allows for a corporate application.
To be filled with the Spirit is the birthright of every Christian. Having been "born of the Spirit" (John 3:5,6), we are to be "filled with the Spirit." Many Christians, like Esau (Gen. 25:34), seem to be despising their birthright, willing to sell it for a mess of pottage and temporary indulgence. God intends for every Christian to "be filled with the Spirit," for such is the normal Christian life wherein man functions as God intended man to function.
When Paul uses the concepts of "getting drunk with wine" and "being filled with the Spirit" in the same sentence, he is obviously making some kind of comparison by way of contrast. This is not the only occasion in Scripture where these two concepts are used in conjunction with one another. Luke records that Zacharias heard an angel indicate that his son, John the Baptist, "would drink no wine or liquor, but would be filled with the Holy Spirit" (Luke 1:15). Later Luke would record that on Pentecost the apostles were "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:4), and observers mocked them, saying, "They are full of sweet wine" (Acts 2:13).
What do these two concepts have in common that would cause Paul to employ them in contrastual comparison? When a person is drunk it is usually obvious from the way he behaves. He does not need a sign hanging around his neck which reads, "I am drunk!" His drunkenness is evident from the way he walks, thinks, talks and relates to other people. The alcohol affects his feet, his mind, his tongue, and his relationships. Interestingly enough, in the immediate context of his command, Paul refers to being "careful how you walk" (Eph. 5:15), being "wise" and "understanding" (Eph. 5:15,17), indicating that "being filled with the Spirit" will affect your "speaking to one another" (Eph. 5:19) and your relationships (Eph. 5:22-6:9). The effects of being filled with the Spirit, like those of getting drunk, will affect one's walk, thought, talk and relationships.
The process of getting drunk and being filled with the Spirit also have some similarities. There is nothing mysterious or mystical about getting drunk. A person simply consumes enough alcohol until they are captivated, motivated and activated by the alcoholic "spirits." In a similar manner the Christian makes a choice to allow himself to be captivated, motivated and activated by the Holy Spirit. The comparison that Paul is making then becomes obvious: "Do not be captivated, motivated and activated by the alcoholic spirits, but be captivated, motivated and activated by the Holy Spirit." Alcohol has often been identified with "spirits" that are in contrast to the Spirit of God, even referred to as "the demon in the bottle." There are many forms of intoxication, though, which can captivate, motivate and activate human behavior. People can be intoxicated with politics, business, entertainment, even their "wife's breasts" (Prov. 5:19) and sexuality. Christians are not to abandon themselves in excess, dissipation or debauchery to any object or activity, but are to submit to the personal activity of the Spirit of Christ.
The contrasted comparison of "getting drunk" and "being filled with the Spirit" provides us with a basic concept of what it means to "be filled with the Spirit." The basic concept is that of an individual being controlled by a substance or another being. Paul is commanding us, "Do not be controlled by alcoholic spirits, but be controlled by the Holy Spirit. Do not be under the influence of the alcoholic spirits, but be under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Do not abandon your personality to the alcoholic substance, but voluntarily surrender your behavior to the Lordship of the Spirit of Christ."
As dependent, contingent and derivative creatures, we will always be controlled by a spirit-being other than ourselves. Man never operates in a spiritual vacuum. God's intent is that Christians who have received the Spirit of Christ into their spirit (Rom. 8:9) should allow "the Lord who is the Spirit" (II Cor. 3:17,18; Rom. 1:4) to control their behavior at each moment in time so as to allow the divine character to be expressed in their behavior to the glory of God (I Cor. 10:31).
Since we are derivative beings, the controlling activity of "being filled with the Spirit" is not something that is autonomous and self-generated. It is not the activity of self-effort coming from within ourselves. "Not that we are adequate to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is of God" (II Cor. 3:5). There is a divine consignor who supplies, conveys, dispatches, delivers and imparts this controlling activity within the Christian. It is not an attainment, but an obtainment derived from the ontological presence of God within the spirit of the Christian.
When Paul commands that we "be filled with the Spirit," the Greek verb that he employs is in the passive voice. This does not mean that the Christian is a passive object, unengaged in the process of "being filled with the Spirit." It is not a process of being passively controlled by another, as in a hypnotic trance. A person does not get drunk passively, but by actively partaking of the alcoholic beverage. The Christian, exercising his faculties of choice, voluntarily surrenders to the control of God's Spirit, receptive to God's activity in his behavior. The passive voice in the Greek language indicates that the subject of the verb is being acted upon. The understood subject is "you all," and the One who is to be allowed to act upon the freely chosen behavior of all Christians is God.
God is not only the supplier of the activity of the filling of the Spirit, but that which He supplies is the ontological activity of His own Being, expressive of His own character. The Spirit of God is both the Giver and the Gift. This is why the Greek preposition en which Paul uses when he commands us to "be filled with the Spirit" is alternately translated both as "be filled by the Spirit" and "be filled with the Spirit." The Holy Spirit enacts the process of the filling, and in so doing fills us with Himself.
Many of the misunderstandings of what is involved in the "filling of the Spirit," stem from a truncated theological understanding of the triune Godhead. The ontological content of the filling of the Spirit involves the divine activity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They function only in their triunity as the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Attempts to force separated function within the trinity of the Godhead will inevitably lead to perverted understanding of God's activity within the Christian.
Reiteratively, it should also be noted that the content of this filling activity does not imply or involve the supplying of any additional divine substance. God and His activity are a unity that cannot be fragmented. "He gives the Spirit without measure" (John 3:34). The Christian is "complete in Christ" (Col. 2:10) having "every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 1:3). To be filled with the Spirit is not our receiving more of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit being allowed to have more control of our behavior.
The activity of being filled or controlled by the Spirit of God is not a singular, static, once-and-for-all experience. It is not an existential event that we forever look back on, remembering its impact on our life. It is not a "filling" of yesteryear that imparts to the Christian a level of spirituality, never to be diminished or forsaken.
Previously we noted that regeneration is the punctiliar crisis that is designed to lead to the process of allowing the risen Lord Jesus to control our behavioral expression as Christians. When Paul commanded that we "be filled with the Spirit," the verb that he used was in the present tense. This can be translated and interpreted as a continuous present tense wherein we are to "be continuously being filled with the Spirit." To the woman at the well in Samaria, Jesus explained that, "The water I shall give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14). There is nothing static about a spring of water. It is ever-active. The dynamic of Christ's life operative in the behavior of the Christian is to be continuously allowed to function. How does a person who is drunk stay drunk? He must continue to partake of the alcohol. Likewise, the Christian must continue to be receptive to the activity of the Spirit of God.
At one moment in time we might be filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit, and at the next moment in time we might fail to be so filled. As we respond to the circumstances of life, there is always the temptation to act and react in ways that do not evidence the control of the Spirit and the conveyance of divine character. The toilet stops up and runs over. A child drops a piece of china or knocks over an expensive lamp. We lock our keys in the car, or discover we have a flat tire. Our spouse does something we do not appreciate. At those moments in time are we receptive to the control of God's Spirit in our behavior? Being filled with the Spirit involves the continuous, moment-by-moment availability to the dynamic activity of God expressing His character through our behavior in every situation.
A study of the New Testament usages where the action of "filling" is used in reference to the Spirit, reveals that there are various connotations of the manner in which Christians are controlled by the Spirit and the results of such. The different connotations can be ascertained by the three different Greek words that are used, even though they are all derived from a common root.
By utilizing Ephesians 5:18 as our primary text so far in this study, we have been considering what might be called "the filling of progressive possession." The Greek word used in this verse is the verb pleroo, which refers to the general action of filling up. When used in reference to the activity of the Holy Spirit, it implies the moment-by-moment control of the Spirit in Christian behavior. The same Greek verb is used in Acts 13:52 where it is reported that "the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit."
The "filling of progressive possession" is intended to become a "predominant pattern" of fullness in the Christian life. When such Spirit-control of one's behavior becomes an abiding pattern in one's life, that individual might be referred to as a "Spirit-filled person." Thus it is that the New Testament uses the Greek adjective pleres to refer to an individual whose lifestyle was characterized by such control. Jesus was obviously "full of the Holy Spirit" (Luke 4:1), even in the wilderness when being tempted by the devil. The seven servers selected by the early Church were to be "full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom" (Acts 6:3). Stephen was one of the seven who was "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 6:5), and he remained so when being martyred (Acts 7:55). Barnabas is also characterized as being "a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith" (Acts 11:24). Their lifestyle was characterized by a predominating pattern of allowing the Spirit of Christ to be in control of their behavior. This does not mean that these individuals, with the exception of Jesus, were being filled in an absolute sense so as to be without sin. The use of this adjective described their overall behavior as having the governing disposition and abiding characteristic of the Spirit's control. Only Jesus Himself was totally controlled by God the Father in the man, so as to function perfectly for every moment in time for thirty-three years "without sin" (Heb. 4:15).
On several occasions throughout the New Testament the Holy Spirit is reported to have controlled a person's behavior in the sense of a "productive power" for an assignment of divine service. Whenever this sense of the Spirit's filling control is mentioned, the Greek verb pimplemi is employed. This refers to a specific action of filling for a particular result. In every case the particular ministry involves a verbal witness of God's action in Jesus Christ. John the Baptist, the "voice crying in the wilderness" (Luke 3:4), was to be "filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15), set apart for a particular ministry of witness as a forerunner to foretell of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. John's mother, Elizabeth was "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Luke 1:41) and cried out with a loud voice exclaiming the blessing of the One who was yet in the womb of Mary. John's father, Zacharias, "was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied" (Luke 1:67) of the salvation that was to come in Jesus Christ. After Jesus had come and had ascended, the Holy Spirit was "poured out" on Pentecost, and the disciples were "filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance" (Acts 2:4), which allowed foreigners to "hear in the language to which they were born" (Acts 2:8). Peter was "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 4:8) in order to speak before Annas, Caiaphas and those of high-priestly descent. Paul was "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 9:17) for a particular ministry of productive power as an apostle to the Gentiles, and spoke boldly before Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:9). Many Christians were "filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:31) after Peter and John were released from prison. Notice how all of these references explain the control of the Spirit for a productive power of verbal witness.
Each of the connotations of the filling of the Spirit pertain to the control of God's Spirit whether moment-by-moment, habitually, or for a particular ministry. The moment-by-moment filling of "progressive possession" should become the "predominant pattern" of fullness in every Christian, and we might all have particular fillings of "productive power" for witnessing in particular circumstances. The continuous Christocentric control of the Spirit should issue forth in consistent character which will lend credence to the circumstantial competency of controlled ministry.
What keeps Christians from being filled or controlled by the Spirit of Christ? Several phrases are used throughout the Scriptures to refer to actions which contradict the intended control of the Spirit
Resisting the Spirit. When Stephen was making his defense before the Jerusalem Council, he says to the religious leaders, "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51). Those to whom Stephen was speaking were unregenerate Jewish leaders, but the action of resisting the Spirit's activity in our lives is of sufficient breadth to apply to Christians also.
Quenching the Spirit. Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul admonishes the Christians there, "Do not quench the Spirit" (I Thess. 5:19). The imagery used here is that of putting out the fire of the Spirit. It is a sin of omission when the Christian disallows the Spirit of Christ to provide the impulse and the energizing of His activity in our behavior. Oftentimes the Christian selectively determines which areas of His life the Spirit of God will be allowed to control, and quenches divine activity in other areas.
Grieving the Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God is personally grieved when a Christian chooses to engage in behavior which is contrary to the character of God. Such a sin of commission makes the Spirit sorrowful. God's people of the old covenant "rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit" (Isa. 63:10), whereupon He became their enemy. Paul warns Christians, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30). The context of Paul's remarks indicate that the commission of the sins of bitterness, wrath, anger, clamoring, slander, malice, etc. which are contrary to God's character, are representative of the sins which grieve the Spirit.
Lying to the Spirit. When Ananias and Sapphira conspired to withhold some of the sale of their property, and misrepresent themselves as having given everything, Peter confronted Ananias, saying, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit...?" (Acts 5:3). God is omniscient, and knows our hearts. Whenever Christians attempt to give the false impression that they have a "spirituality" that exceeds that of others, and are "holier than thou," they are likely to be exposed in their masquerade.
Testing the Spirit. In the same narrative referred to above, Peter confronts Sapphira, who was not aware of what had happened to her husband, saying, "Why is it that you have agreed together to put the spirit of the Lord to the test?" (Acts 5:9). Though the King James Version translates this verse as "tempting the Spirit," James has written that "God cannot be tempted" (James 1:13), so it is advisable to translate this as "testing the Spirit." Christians test the Holy Spirit whenever they engage in activity that is not derived from the energizing of the Spirit, and question whether the Spirit really knows their hearts.
Defiling the temple of the Spirit. When an individual is regenerated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, his body serves as the exterior temple in which God dwells. Paul argues that immorality and impurity expressed in the body are misrepresentative of the character of the One who lives within, and is thus a defilement of the instrument or house in which God dwells. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body" (I Cor. 6:19,20).
Insulting the Spirit. When a Christian stands against the Savior he has received and apostatizes from faith in Jesus Christ, he is obviously not controlled by the Spirit, and such is an "insult to the Spirit of grace" (Heb. 10:29).
Blaspheming the Spirit. Attributing Christ's activity to that of Satan (Mark 3:22-30) is never the controlling activity of the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit always glorifies Christ (John 16:14). To speak against the Spirit of God and blaspheme Him is unforgivable (Matt. 12:32).
All of the foregoing contradictions to being filled with the Spirit of Christ are failures to allow for the receptivity of the Spirit's activity in human lives, apart from which man cannot be man as God intended.
It is instructive to consider and compare the other Biblical phrases which refer to the activity of the Holy Spirit with the action of the Spirit's filling and controlling the Christian individual. The differences between the intended meaning of the other phrases and that of the "filling of the Spirit" will serve to better describe and define what is meant by the Spirit's filling.
Born of the Spirit. When Jesus advised Nicodemus of the necessity of being "born of the Spirit" (John 3:4,5,8), He was speaking of the need of mankind to be "brought into being again" with spiritual life. The "Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:2) comes to dwell in the spirit of an individual who is receptive by faith. "If any man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (Rom. 8:9). "By the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5), we are constituted a Christian.
Receiving the Spirit. The receiving of the Spirit of Christ (Acts 2:38) into the spirit of a man at regeneration is the necessary spiritual reality of becoming a Christian. Without such an individual is not yet considered a Christian (Acts 19:2). John explained that Jesus had referred to "the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive" (John 7:39).
Indwelling of the Spirit. Jesus told His disciples that in His physical absence, "the Spirit of Truth will be in you" (John 14:17). Jesus Christ "abides in us, by the Spirit which He has given us" (I John 3:24). When we are regenerated the "Spirit indwells us" (Rom. 8:11), and we must "guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to us" (II Tim. 1:14).
Gift of the Spirit. In the first sermon of the early church Peter explained that by responding to Jesus Christ "you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). That gift is the presence of the Holy Spirit Himself "who was given to us" (Rom. 5:5) at regeneration.
Seal of the Spirit. In Biblical times a "seal" represented a mark of ownership, a seal of security, a finished transaction. All of these figures become true for us spiritually when we receive the Spirit of Christ in regeneration. "Having believed, we were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13), "the Holy Spirit of God in whom we were sealed for the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30). "God has sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge" (II Cor. 1:21,22).
Anointing of the Spirit. Throughout the old covenant priests and kings were anointed to express their place of service among God's people. A spiritual anointing is predicated of all regenerated believers in the new covenant, for we are a "kingdom of priests" (Rev. 1:6) in the "royal priesthood" (I Peter 2:9) of God's new people. "He who establishes us in Christ and anointed us is God" (II Cor. 1:21). "We have an anointing from the Holy One" (I John 2:20); the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and...His anointing teaches you about all things" (I John 2:27), just as Jesus said the Spirit would do (John 14:26).
Baptism in the Spirit. In each of the four gospel narratives John the Baptist points to Jesus as the One who will not only baptize with water, but will "baptize in the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). Just prior to His ascension Jesus reiterated John's prophecy, saying to His disciples, "John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1:5), the fulfillment of which transpired on Pentecost. When Peter was called to report to the Council at Jerusalem and justify what happened at the house of Cornelius when Gentiles were first regenerated, he explains that "the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as He did upon us at the beginning (i.e. at Pentecost), and I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, 'John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 11:15,16). The uniqueness of the Spirit of God overwhelming the spirit of an individual in regeneration was regarded as the mark of God's spiritual activity in the new covenant era, and the universality of such was illustrated both for Jews at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13) and for Gentiles in Caesarea (Acts 10:34-48). To the Corinthians Paul writes, "For we were all baptized into one body by one Spirit, whether Jews or Greeks, ...and were all made to drink of one Spirit" (I Cor. 12:13). In the context of emphasizing the universality of the new covenant spiritual reality, Paul notes that every Christian whose spirit has been baptized or overwhelmed by the Spirit of God in regeneration has been made to partake of the Holy Spirit and is a part of the spiritual Body of Christ, the Church.
Filling of the Spirit. What, then, is the difference between these foregoing activities of the Holy Spirit, and the "filling of the Spirit?" While the foregoing activities all relate in some manner to the receipt of the Holy Spirit at regeneration, the "filling of the Spirit" pertains to the subsequent activity of the Spirit in the Christian's life as he allows the Spirit of Christ to control his behavioral expression. It might be said that the foregoing activities of the Spirit refer to that time when the Spirit of God becomes resident in our lives, but the "filling of the Spirit" refers to that process of allowing the Spirit to become president of our lives, i.e. to allow Jesus Christ to exercise His Lordship in our lives.
At regeneration the Spirit of God comes to indwell our spirit, making us "partakers of His divine nature" (II Peter 1:4), and causing us to become "new men" (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10) with a new identity as "Christ-ones," Christians. The Spirit must then be allowed to move out and influence and control our behavior in every area of our lives.
This diagram attempts to illustrate how the Holy Spirit must be allowed to move out and influence our Christian behavior psychologically and physically. From the inside out the Spirit of Christ desires to control our thinking, our affections, our decisions, and the actions of our bodies in order to manifest His character in all that we do. In some areas of our lives we might be allowing this to happen more than in other areas of our lives. If the circle were divided in slices like a pie, the shaded area might extend further in some areas than in others, whether it be our family life, social life, personal relationships, business, health, education, recreation, sports, sexuality, driving habits, etc. To what extent is the Spirit of Christ being allowed to control our thinking, affections, decisions and actions in each of these areas? The "battle-front" in the spiritual warfare of our Christian lives could be represented as the outer line of the shaded area. It is there that the struggle continues as to whether we will allow Christ to fill and control our behavior with His life and character, or whether we will be filled with behavior contrary to the character of Christ, i.e. sin. John reminds us that, "Greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world" (I John 4:4).
One person observed that the shaded area of this illustration is like a "sanctification blob," meaning that it is ever-changing as we allow the holy character of God to be evidenced in our behavior. The outside of the shaded area might also be referred to as "the growing edge" of our Christian lives as we seek to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18). As with every two-dimensional illustration, this one also has its limitations in representing the complexities of human function.
When is the process of being "filled with the Spirit" supposed to begin in the Christian life? Many persons have been regenerated and become Christians, but have never been advised of their birthright for allowing the life of Jesus Christ to be lived out in their behavior. In their evangelistic zeal many evangelical Christians preachers and teachers have so emphasized regeneration and being "born again" to the neglect of explaining the on-going expression of Christ's life. Because of this inadequacy of Christian instruction many Christians have proceeded down the road of their Christian lives for many years before they ever come to the realization of God's intent in their lives. Then by hearing another speaker, reading a book, or by the personal enlightenment of the Holy Spirit in reading the Scriptures, they recognize that the life of Jesus Christ which was born in them is designed to be lived out through them. What a revelation! Many explain that it was at a point of desperation when they despaired of ever being able to live the Christian life in the midst of the circumstances that confronted them, that the critical "turning point" or "crisis" came and they realized that the grace of God was sufficient to be filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit for the outliving of Christ's life.
The point of recognition for many of these Christians can be such a traumatic experience that they are more excited and exhilarated than they were when they were first regenerated. Some of them refer to this experience as "a second work of grace" subsequent to regeneration, and seek to standardize the phenomena in the lives of all Christians. Some refer to such an experience as "the baptism of the Holy Spirit," for it seems that the Holy Spirit began to overwhelm their lives from that point onward. Semantic misunderstanding and confusion of nomenclature has resulted. Despite the differing terminology utilized in fundamentalist, holiness and Pentecostal circles, our desire should be to see the life of Jesus Christ lived out in Christian behavior to the glory of God, no matter how it is labeled.
Yes, the commencement of the filling of the Spirit should immediately follow the regeneration of the Spirit. Having come to live in us spiritually, Christ wants to live His life out through us behaviorally. By the filling-control of the Spirit, Jesus wants to function as Lord in our lives. New Christians should be instructed and advised of the grace and sufficiency of Jesus Christ, so that they can enter into the Spirit-filled lifestyle as soon as possible after regeneration, and glorify God thereby.
How does the Christian allow for the filling of the Holy Spirit so that Christ can control the conduct and behavior of his life? Is there anything that we have to do in order to effect this result? Are there procedures and techniques and formulas that will cause this to take place in our lives, as the abundance of "how to" books available today seem to advocate?
Paul simply tells the Colossians, "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted, built up in Him and established in your faith" (Col. 2:6). How did we receive Christ Jesus initially? By faith, our receptivity of His remedial, redemptive and restorative activity on our behalf. How then are we to continue to walk in the Christian life? By faith, our receptivity of His activity of expressing His life through our behavior. Everything in the Christian life is "by grace through faith" (Eph. 2:8), not a result of human "works" of which we might boast (Eph. 2:9). Paul chides and chastises the Galatians, asking, "Did you receive the Spirit by works... or by hearing with faith? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal. 3:2,3). "We receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:14), and in like manner we receive everything necessary for the living of the Christian life by grace through faith. The Christian life is not lived by the works of human effort, by going through various motions and rituals, by keeping certain rules and regulations, by mustering up more commitment and dedication. The Christian life is lived only by Jesus Christ as He is allowed to fill and control our behavior. Jesus said, "Apart from Me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Paul further explains that "God is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). By faith we are receptive to His activity of filling and control in our behavior.
In similar manner as we responded in faith for regeneration, the Christian believes that this is what Christ wants to do in living His life out through us. His emotions have godly sorrow for any misrepresentations of sin in his life. There is an ongoing decision of repentance as our minds are changed to receptive availability in order to allow for the changed action of the derived dynamic of divine activity. There will then be the confession of a behavioral lifestyle that evidences the life of Jesus Christ. The Christian life is not what we do, but what we allow Jesus Christ to do through us by faith.
Are there particular results of being "filled with the Spirit" that can or should be identified? Oftentimes Christians have arbitrarily determined criteria by which they seek to evaluate whether others have been, or are being, filled with the Spirit. Such man-made criteria are dangerous and divisive.
Jesus Christ will express Himself uniquely in every Christian individual. It is not for the Christian community to seek to stereotype and standardize His expressions. Our focus should be on the manifestation of Jesus Christ, not on particular behavioral manifestations such as "speaking in tongues" or having a particular "second blessing experience." We should not seek to emulate how Jesus Christ choose to express Himself in another Christian.
There are two general areas, though, where the consequences of the filling of the Spirit will be evident:
When the Spirit of Christ is allowed to control our behavior, the character of Christ will be evidenced. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, godly self-control" (Gal. 5:22,23). Jesus did seem to indicate that "by their fruit you will know them" (Matt. 7:16,20; 12:33), but this does not necessarily mean that we should set ourselves up as "fruit-inspectors" to determine whether others are being filled by the Spirit. It will eventually be obvious for all to see whether we have the practical expressions of a "song in our heart," a thankful attitude, and a deferential rapport with others (Eph. 5:19-21), and whether Christ's character is evidenced in our families and on the job (Eph. 5:22-6:9).
To the extent that we are not filled with the Spirit and evidencing the character of Christ, we will of necessity be filled with a character that is contrary to that of God. "Whatever is not of faith, is sin" (Rom. 14:23). The alternative to being filled with God's character is to have "Satan fill our hearts with lying" (Acts 5:3), rage (Acts 19:28), unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, envy, strife, deceit, malice..." (Rom. 1:29).
A second consequence of being controlled by the Spirit of Christ will be involvement in ministry to others. Christ's presence in us is not just for our own benefit and well-being. God is love (I John 4:8,16), always engaged in self-giving for the highest good of the other. Christ in the Christian will always seek to give Himself through us for others. Jesus Christ is always the Servant, and dwells in the Christian complete with all His services. He graces the Christian with spiritual giftedness (Rom. 12; I Cor. 12-14), whenever and however He sees fit to empower us for ministry. As we are filled with the Spirit, we will overflow into the lives of other people, for as the Psalmist David exclaimed, "My cup overflows" (Ps. 23:5).
How conscious will the Christian be of his being controlled by the Spirit of Christ? Should we try to ascertain how we are doing in the process of being filled with the Spirit? Is it any of our business to evaluate the process? If not, how do we maintain a sense of responsibility to obey the command to "Be filled with the Spirit." (Eph. 5:18)?
Some have suggested that the objective of the Christian life is to come to such a continual Christ-consciousness that we think of nothing else. This is not practical. The Christian should seek to maintain a consciousness of his adequacy in Christ. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). "Our adequacy is from God" (II Cor. 3:5), and "God is able to make all grace abound to us, that always having all sufficiency in everything, we may have an abundance for every good deed" (II Cor. 9:8). "We have been granted everything pertaining to life and godliness" (II Peter 1:3). There can be an assurance of the abundant spiritual provision we have in Jesus Christ.
The subjective consciousness of how well we are allowing for the filling of the Holy Spirit in our lives is somewhat like the consciousness of humility. The more conscious you are of having it, the less likely it is that you do! We must beware of all forms of spiritual pride, and the idea that we have "arrived" at some determined level of "spirituality."
It is more likely that the one being filled with the Holy Spirit will be conscious and aware of his own unworthiness and sinfulness. Like Isaiah, he will respond to the consciousness of God's holiness by crying out, "Woe is me; I am a man of unclean lips" (Isa. 6:5). Such godly sorrow will elicit repentance and the faith which is receptive to God's activity in his life.
The consciousness of what Christ is doing in our lives is sometimes hidden from our understanding. We do not have to be conscious of what He is doing, or how well we are doing. "How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable his ways" (Rom. 11:33). We can be sure, though, that He is "with us always" (Matt. 28:20), and will "never desert us, or forsake us" (Heb. 13:5).
When does the process of being filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit come to its intended consummation? Is a Christian ever entirely and completely filled with the Spirit while living on earth?
Though some Christians refer to an "entire sanctification" and a "complete fullness of the Spirit," Paul does not seem to claim such for himself. Writing to the Philippians, Paul explains, "Not that I have already obtained, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. I do not regard myself as having laid hold yet, but...I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:12-14). Paul seems to indicate that as long as he is living the Christian life here on earth, he will be involved in the process of allowing for the moment-by-moment control of the Spirit of Christ in his life. As long as we are living in the here and now of earthly existence we will not arrive at some plateau where we can put our Christian life on "automatic pilot." There is a continuous responsibility for the Christian to be receptive in faith to what God wants to do in living out the life of Jesus Christ in our behavior.
Only in the heavenly realm will there be a completion of the process of being filled with the Spirit. Heaven is a place of perfection, and perfection does not allow for progression. Glorified man will still be a derivative creature, though, and will still be receptive to the controlling activity of God through him for eternity. To the extent that we now allow for the filling of the Holy Spirit we develop appreciation for the character of Christ, and a pattern of participation therein that will allow us to thus be available to the expression of His life for all eternity, unto His glory.