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11. The Filling of the Holy Spirit

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Definition of the Filling of the Spirit

Christians are distinguished from non-Christians as those who have been born again, who have received eternal life, who are baptized into the body of Christ, who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and who are sealed by the Holy Spirit. These works of the Spirit are evident in any true Christian.

It is obvious, however, that all Christians do not have the same degree of spirituality, or wisdom, or yieldedness to the Lord. Accordingly, the Scriptures speak of those who are spiritual and those who are fleshly, living in the power and direction of the sin nature. The Corinthians who were addressed in 1 Corinthians 1:2 as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours” are nevertheless classified as either spiritual or worldly. First Corinthians 3:1 states, “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ.” How can one define the difference between a Christian who is spiritual and one who is not?

The difference is related to the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart. Every Christian is indwelt by the Spirit, but every Christian does not heed the direction and instruction of the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, those who listen to the world rather than to the Holy Spirit are worldly, or fleshly, and those who are guided by the Holy Spirit can be spiritually minded and enjoy the things of God. Those who are spiritual “live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16), that is, they walk, or live their life, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Christians who have been saved for a long period of time often achieve spiritual maturity when they have grown in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18). Spiritual growth toward maturity is revealed in Ephesians 4:11-16:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Spiritual maturity, however, is not measured by the length of time that one is a Christian, but rather by the extent a Christian grows in the knowledge and fellowship of the Lord. It is possible even for a new Christian to be filled with the Spirit, as illustrated a number of times in Scripture.

In the Old Testament the filling of the Spirit was rare and was usually related to the ability to serve in some particular area. Sinning against God was defined in the Old Testament as grieving the Spirit (Isa. 63:10-11; cf. Eph. 4:30). Undoubtedly, the Spirit of God was behind the work of the inspiration of the Old Testament, and those who wrote Scripture were guided infallibly in what they wrote. The Spirit of God in the Old Testament gave men wisdom (Gen. 41:38-40; Num. 27:18; Judg. 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 1 Sam. 10:10; 16:13). The Holy Spirit also gave men special skills in the Old Testament, such as the tailors for the priestly garments (Ex. 28:3) and the workmen who built the tabernacle (Ex. 31:3; cf. 35:30-35). In the case of Samson, the Holy Spirit’s filling gave him superhuman strength (Judg. 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14). It is probable that the Holy Spirit was involved in the miracles of the Old Testament, though they are not attributed to the Holy Spirit specifically.

In the New Testament the filling of the Spirit takes on more of a work of God on behalf of the spirituality of the individual Christian. In the Old Testament the filling of the Spirit seems to be sovereignly given, while in the New Testament the Holy Spirit was given to those who were spiritually yielded to God. The filling of the Holy Spirit is frequently attached to some utterance in which the Spirit of God used individuals to express the truth of God. Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was said to have been filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41). Zechariah also was filled with the Spirit at the time of John’s birth (Luke 1:67).

Most of the references concerning the filling of the Spirit occur in the New Testament. In Acts 2:2-4 those assembled were filled with the Spirit. When Peter was called before the Sanhedrin concerning his testimony for Christ, Scripture states that he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8). The group of Christians who met together for prayer following this incident were filled with the Spirit (Acts 4:31). In Acts 9:17 shortly after his conversion, Paul was said to be filled with the Spirit. Paul again was filled with the Spirit according to Acts 13:9. From these many instances it is obvious that a person is filled with the Spirit when he is under the control and is empowered by the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament this was sovereignly given and was not available for everyone.

In the New Testament Christians are challenged and commanded to be filled with the Spirit, as it states in Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” The illustration of a person whose whole body has been affected by wine is used to describe how the Spirit of God, who indwells every believer, can extend His ministry and His power to all aspects of an individual Christian’s life. The filling of the Spirit is not getting more of the Spirit, but it is a question of the Holy Spirit empowering and getting control. In contrast to the permanence of the new birth and the indwelling Holy Spirit, the filling of the Spirit is a repeated experience. That is why Ephesians 5:18 translated literally is “keep being filled.” Peter, who was filled on the day of Pentecost, was said to be filled again in Acts 4:8. The martyr Stephen was filled with the Spirit before he was killed (Acts 7:55). Paul and Barnabas were filled with the Spirit a number of times (Acts 9:17; 11:24; 13:8-52).

Conditions for Being Filled with the Spirit

Though all Christians are equally saved, not all Christians are equally filled with the Spirit. The epistles of Paul contain exhortations to us to meet the conditions of the filling of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Thessalonians 5:19 the command is given, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” Speaking of the Holy Spirit as a fire within us, Christians are exhorted not to quench Him or suffocate Him. In the King James Version it is translated “quench not the Spirit.”

When we are saved we recognize that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that God is saving us. However, the full implications of putting our faith in God usually come later when we face the issue of whether Christ is really the Lord of our life. As Christ expressed it in the Sermon on the Mount, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). This is true as Christ stated, “You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24). Accordingly, a number of times Christians are exhorted in the Scriptures to yield themselves wholly to God. In Romans 6:13 the exhortation is given, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” The concept is that of offering our bodies as a living sacrifice in contrast to offering a sacrifice of something dead. The two options before Christians are whether we should serve God or whether we should serve wickedness. The verb translated “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin” (Rom. 6:13) is in the present tense. In other words, we should not keep on doing this as Christians, but, as he states, “rather offer yourselves to God.” Here the verb is in the aorist tense, which has the thought of doing it once and for all. Accordingly, the exhortation is to stop doing what we are doing wrong and to take a decisive step in allowing our members to be used for righteousness.

A similar truth is stated in Romans 12:1-2. There Paul writes, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” In this passage, as in Romans 6:13, the thought is to present ourselves to God once and for all as a specific act. Presenting or offering ourselves to God takes the form of a living sacrifice. Because we are saved, we have been prepared to do this because God has declared that such a sacrifice is “holy and pleasing to God.”

Having taken this step, Christians are to continue in their spiritual lives by being transformed in their minds, enabling them to detect what God’s will is for their lives. The secret of determining God’s will for our lives is to yield to God wholly first, and then God is free to reveal what He wants us to do.

Therefore, we should not put out the Spirit’s fire or quench the Spirit, but we must present our bodies as a living sacrifice to the Lord. This is viewed as a once-for-all act of committing one’s self to the Lord.

A second command, however, is given in Ephesians 4:30. There Christians are commanded, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Unfortunately, in human experience it is difficult to be holy and to continue at all times in situations entirely surrendered to the Lord. When sin enters the life of a Christian, the Holy Spirit is hindered in His ministry and He is “grieved.”

The remedy for this situation is confession as stated in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Because a Christian has already been saved, justified, and promised fellowship with Christ in eternity, when sin enters his experience, confession is the secret of cleansing from this sin. Unfortunately, few Christians have faced these important doctrinal distinctives; they have not fully yielded themselves to God and have not fully confessed their sins to the Lord. In forgiving a Christian, God is not simply acting mercifully, He is acting justly because Christ has paid the price for our sins and has made it possible for God to restore those to fellowship who have fallen short.

Scriptures warn, however, that if a Christian continues in sin and continues to grieve the Holy Spirit he can experience God’s chastening judgment. This is introduced in connection with the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:31-32 : “If we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” In the previous context (1 Cor. 11:27-30), Paul reveals that if one continues to sin against God, it can result in physical illness or even death. It is, therefore, a dangerous thing for a Christian to live outside the will of God. God is gracious, however, and in many cases does not immediately deal with the matter. But eventually the Christian has to face his departure from God and adjust his relationship to the Lord.

Another passage dealing with this is Hebrews 12:5-6, “You have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.’ “ As Hebrews makes clear, God may discipline a Christian who has wandered from the path of righteousness. Christians are assured that if they do not confess their sin, God will move in and discipline them for their shortcomings. Through this entire process, however, it is clear that the Christian remains saved because he is saved by grace and not by works; but he will not enjoy his salvation to the full if he is not yielded to God’s Spirit, and he will lose fruit in eternity.

Living by the Spirit

In contrasting a life with God in the power of the Spirit to a life of sin, the apostle Paul establishes a simple principle when he says, “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Gal. 5:16). Literally translated, he says “walk by the Spirit.” The Christian’s life is like a walk where each step is a step of faith and each step that is taken needs to be sustained by strong limbs. Likewise, a Christian who is living by faith is walking a step at a time. In his own strength a believer cannot lead a Christian life; he needs the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit each step he takes. A Christian is warned against fulfilling the desires of the sinful nature, and the acts of the sinful nature are itemized in Galatians 5:19-21. Accordingly, the spiritual life and the life of being filled with the Spirit involve not resisting or quenching the Holy Spirit, not grieving the Holy Spirit by unconfessed sin, but walking by faith in the Holy Spirit. Because of the high standard of a Christian’s spiritual life as revealed in the New Testament, walking by the Spirit is the secret of a spiritual life that bears testimony to the reality and power of God and is effective for Him.

A Christian has to face evil on various fronts. The world and the world system constantly are attempting to choke the Christian and to divert him to things that have no eternal value. Worldliness will choke the Word and make it unfruitful (Matt. 13:22). Instead, the Christian should view sin through the cross of Christ, as Paul did, which kept him from temptations of the world (Gal. 6:14). A Christian also faces the power of Satan, and many times in the New Testament the truth of Satan’s antagonism and temptations are mentioned. As Paul states in Ephesians 6:12, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Behind the scene and not seen by the natural eye is the continued work of Satan seeking to destroy the Christian. In 1 Peter 5:8-9 Christians are exhorted, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” In the spiritual struggle, all Christians face a world system that is contrary to the things of God, the power of Satan to tempt us to sin, and a sin nature that wants to lead us back to the old life. The Holy Spirit and His power is the secret of victory as the Christian yields to Him and allows the Holy Spirit to lead and direct.

The Effect of Being Filled with the Holy Spirit

In the New Testament it is clear that the entire work of God on behalf of the believer is related to the question of whether he is filled with the Spirit. A number of important results come when a person is filled with the Spirit.

Progressive Sanctification. When a person is saved, he is set apart as holy to God, and this justifies the use of the word “saint” which means “set apart for holy use.” Even in the case of sinning Christians, they are regarded as saints in Scripture. It is God’s purpose, however, that what is true of every Christian in regard to his position as a saint be made effective in his spiritual state so that progressively he is sanctified and becomes more and more like God. The night before His crucifixion Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). The important experience of becoming a Spirit-filled Christian results in the progressive sanctification of a believer in Christ. The result will be that he will manifest the fruit of the Spirit as stated in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” The filling of the Spirit produces this character-transforming fruit which should be true of every Christian. This fruit is made possible by the filling of the Spirit and the believer’s living union with Christ (cf. John 15:5; 1 Cor. 12:12-13).

Empowering Spiritual Gifts. The effect of being filled with the Spirit not only transforms a Christian’s character but also empowers his spiritual gifts. One of these is the gift of teaching. Christ predicted that His disciples would teach the truth (John 16:12-15), using the Word of God as inspired by the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit of God serves as a teacher to the one who wants to teach, He will guide him into all truth. This is made clear in John 16:12-13, I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”

Guidance of the Spirit. Another important result of being filled with the Spirit is that the Christian can experience the guidance of God. The matter of guidance comes in where the Word of God is not specific. Christians need guidance in specific decisions that relate to their life and service. As mentioned earlier in Romans 12:1-2, once one is a living sacrifice, he then can be guided into what is God’s perfect will. An illustration of this is the servant of Abraham seeking a wife for Isaac in Genesis 24:27, which states, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.” This illustration indicates that the servant did what he could with information that was in his possession, namely, he went to the family where Rebekah lived, but he needed specific guidance concerning the selection of Isaac’s future wife. Christians who are walking with the Lord experience guidance in their decisions, and this is one of the evidences that their relationship to God is real. Romans 8:14 states, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

Assurance of Salvation. Another important aspect in Christian experience is the doctrine of assurance, that is, the Spirit of God’s working in the life of a yielded Christian can bear witness to the fact that he is actually a child of God. Romans 8:16 says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” It is God’s intent to assure those who have put their trust in Christ that they are saved and that they can expect God’s salvation to carry them through into eternity. The truth of assurance of salvation is also mentioned in Galatians 4:6, 1 John 3:24, and in 1 John 4:13.

Worship. The act of worship is also a work of the Spirit in the life of a yielded believer. Following the command to be filled with the Spirit, Paul mentions that the Spirit-filled believer should exercise worship of God, “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” (Eph. 5:19-20).

Intercession of the Holy Spirit. Christians also need help in their prayer lives because often we do not know what we should pray for. In this respect, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Rom. 8:26). A major area of ministry of the Holy Spirit is to enable a Christian to serve the Lord. Though believers may have some natural gifts, to be used of God in spiritual service it is necessary for His servants to be guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Christ anticipated this when He predicted that “streams of living water will flow from within [the Spirit-filled believer]” (John 7:38). It is not too much to say that the Holy Spirit of God is the key to effective Christian life and service, and apart from His ministry to us, the Christian life is fruitless and empty.


    1. How are Christians distinguished from non-Christians?

    2. How are Christians classified according to their spiritual life?

    3. How is the spiritual life related to the indwelling Holy Spirit?

    4. How do you contrast spiritual maturity and spiritual life?

    5. What was the nature of the filling of the Spirit in the Old Testament?

    6. How does the Old Testament distinguish those who were sinning against God and those who were yielded to God?

    7. How is the Holy Spirit related to the inspiration of the Scripture?

    8. How is the Holy Spirit related to having wisdom?

    9. How is the Spirit of God related to special skills?

    10. How does the New Testament differ from the Old on the subject of the filling of the Spirit?

    11. What are some instances of the filling of the Spirit in the Gospels?

    12. What was the first time that an assembly was filled with the Spirit?

    13. What were some of the instances of the filling of the Spirit in the book of Acts?

    14. How does drinking wine serve as an illustration of the filling of the Spirit?

    15. Does a person who is filled with the Spirit get more of the Spirit?

    16. Can the Spirit of God fill a person more than once?

    17. What does the exhortation of 1 Thessalonians 5:19 mean in relation to being filled with the Spirit?

    18. Explain the option that is before Christians indicated in Matthew 6:24 and Romans 6:13.

    19. How does Romans 12:1-2 fit into the picture of the spiritual life?

    20. What are the conditions for discovering the will of God?

    21. What is meant by “grieving the Spirit of God”?

    22. What is the remedy for grieving the Spirit of God?

    23. How is spiritual life related to the Lord’s Supper?

    24. What should a Christian’s attitude be when the Lord disciplines him?

    25. What does it mean to live by the Spirit?

    26. How is living by the Spirit illustrated by walking?

    27. In view of the high standards of the Christian life, what is God’s provision for the spiritual life?

    28. How does worldliness choke the Spirit of God?

    29. How does Satan deal with a Christian?

    30. How should we deal with Satan’s temptations?

    31. How does the spiritual life relate to progressive sanctification?

    32. How is the fruit of the Spirit achieved?

    33. What is the relation of the filling of the Spirit to spiritual gifts?

    34. What is the relation of the filling of the Spirit to guidance?

    35. What is the relation of the filling of the Spirit to assurance of salvation?

    36. What is the relation of the filling of the Spirit to worship?

    37. What is the intercession of the Holy Spirit? Why is it necessary?

    38. How would you summarize the importance of the indwelling Holy Spirit in relation to the Christian’s life and service?

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