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Is “spirit-controlled” the same as “spirit-filled”?

With regard to the use of the term “controlled” as in “controlled by the Spirit,” the terms we use are often matters of semantics and our attempt to find words that express biblical concepts. Always, however, our terms need to be understood in the total context of the Scripture. For instance, Galatians 5:22-23 speaks of the fruit of the Spirit, i.e., that which is the product of the Spirit’s work and ministry in the life of a believer. One of these qualities that make up the fruit of the Spirit is “self-control,” but in the context, this is the result of our choosing to walk by means of the Spirit (vs. 16). We are not puppets in this. It is a matter of accepting the fact of our own inability and weakness, but we do have the choice and responsibility to choose to walk by His enablement or control (Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 5:18). The fruit of the Spirit (including self-control) is really the product of allowing Him, as yielded believers, to have charge and control, but in the sense of His strength which is really another way of looking at the same thing.

Another reason for the choice of this term by many teachers of the Word is the analogy used in Ephesians 5:18. There we are told to be not drunk, under the control of wine (or anything else for that matter, by application). Rather, we are to be filled by means of the Spirit. This does not means “filled with the Spirit” as the content, or as a bottle is filled with some substance. Greek grammar won’t allow this. Rather it means we are to be filled by means of the Spirit. In other words, He is the agent of filling.

The word “filled” may connote the concept of “control.” For instance, if one is filled with rage or with the opposite, joy and peace, such emotions have a controlling impact on the individual. Acts 5:17 speaks of the Sadducees being “filled with jealousy.” This means their jealousy was controlling their thinking and behavior so that they laid hands on the apostles and put them in jail (see Acts 13:45, 52, and 19:28-29).

A similar idea is expressed in Romans 8:4f where Paul makes the contrast between “walking according to the Spirit” and “walking according to the flesh.” “According” represents a Greek construction that may refer to the norm or standard which governs or controls something. Either we are walking according to the flesh as the governing, controlling influence, or we are walking according to the Spirit in the light of the Word, minding the things of Christ. But always this involves a choice on our behalf to submit our lives to the Spirit’s direction and to rest in His strength.

Related Topics: Pneumatology (The Holy Spirit), Spiritual Life