Spirit-filled terminology has so penetrated the Church today that a division is taking place. The “haves” believe they experienced a special filling of the Spirit after conversion. The “have nots” haven’t, so the “haves” tend to look down on them. On the other hand, the “have nots” tend to judge the “haves” as emotional, unbiblical – or worse! This lack of oneness in the body of Christ reflects a failure to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3 NIV). Ephesians 5:18 commands all believers to be “filled with the Spirit.” What is this filling, and how do Christians know when they are Spirit-filled? These are valid questions, since Ephesians 5:18 is a command, not a suggestion. Since the Bible tells us to “make every effort” to keep the unity of the Spirit, let’s examine the Scriptures to see what this filling is, and what it is not. Hopefully, this will result in more unity in the body of Christ. But first we’ll look at what the filling of the Spirit is not.
Indwelling Of The Spirit
The “filling” of the Spirit is not the same as the “indwelling.” The indwelling takes place at conversion, when the believer’s body becomes the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19). In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit did not permanently indwell the believer. The Spirit came upon Old Testament believers at various times, to empower them for service (Ex. 31:1-5; Jud. 15:14-15; 2 Chr. 15:1). The Old Testament also says that the Spirit would depart, depending on the situation or the lifestyle of the individual. (Jud. 16:20; Ps. 51:11).
But a wonderful change took place with the coming of Christ. Now the Spirit indwells the believer at conversion. In John 7:38-39 Jesus foretold this blessed change: “Whoever believes in Me … streams of living water will flow from within him. By this He meant the Spirit … Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” And in John 14:16-17 the Lord promised, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him … but you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you.”
Ephesians 1:13 says, “You also were included in Christ when you heard the Word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” All true believers are sealed with the indwelling Holy Spirit the moment they believe. Notice that this sealing of the Ephesian believers did not take place after their conversion, but when they believed. Notice also that Paul was not writing to a select few believers (Eph. 1:1). The Spirit did not seal only some Ephesian believers, but all of them. According to Ephesians 1:14, the Holy Spirit is given to all believers as a pledge of our coming inheritance. What better guarantee could we have of our salvation and eternal security?
If the Holy Spirit is truly “a seal,” He will never leave the believer. God’s seal is not subject to our imperfect walk. The Spirit dwells in us to empower our new life in Christ. Second Timothy 1:14 encourages us to “guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” We can be thankful for the continual help of the indwelling Spirit who is available at all times to empower us to live out the gospel. So every true Christian is the permanent dwelling place of the Spirit. However, every Christian is not always filled with the Spirit.
Baptism Of The Spirit
The “filling” of the Spirit is not the same as the “baptism” of the Spirit. And the baptism of the Spirit is not something that happens to a believer on a specific occasion after salvation. The baptism of the Spirit took place at Pentecost, when the body of Christ, the Church, was born. At that time the Holy Spirit baptized all believers into one body. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 we read, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body … For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.” It could be said that a believer is baptized “by” or “in” or “of” the Spirit at conversion, but it is more scripturally correct to realize that at conversion believers are actually brought into (or incorporated into) the already-baptized body of Christ.
The following illustration may help. A new employee joins, or is brought into, the corporation. But the corporation was formed (or incorporated) long before the new employee was brought into the company. In the same way, when new converts are brought into the body of Christ we may say they are baptized into the body, but in actuality the baptism of the Spirit took place when the Church was formed. John the Baptist foretold this baptism of the Spirit: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33). Jesus referred to this baptism of the Holy Spirit when He told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem after He ascended (Acts 1:4-5).
It is true that at Pentecost the disciples were filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4). However, their experience of being filled with the Spirit was not synonymous with the baptism of the Spirit at Pentecost. Even Bezalel, an Old Testament believer, was filled with the Spirit long before the baptism of the Spirit was predicted (Ex. 31:3). The filling should not be equated with the baptism of the Spirit.
Gifts Of The Spirit
What about the gifts of the Spirit? Is this what filling is all about? The spiritual gifts are not the same as the filling of the Holy Spirit. Some Christians emphasize that the display of certain gifts, such as speaking in an unknown tongue, is the sign of a Spirit-filled believer. While it’s true that at Pentecost the gift of tongues accompanied the filling of the Spirit (Acts 2:4), those tongues were known foreign languages for the purpose of evangelism. People from many different countries were gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost, and the gift of languages permitted them to hear the gospel in their own tongue (Acts 2:5-11). But the gift of speaking in unknown languages did not always accompany the gifts (Acts 8:14-17).
The mere possession of spiritual gifts is not an indication of the Spirit’s filling. All the Corinthian believers were baptized by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13), but 1 Corinthians 12:30 implies that not all spoke in tongues. Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 1:7 tells us that the local church at Corinth did not lack any spiritual gift. However, not all believers were filled with the Spirit, because Paul called them “worldly” (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Let’s not confuse having spiritual gifts with the filling of the Spirit. All Christians have at least one gift (1 Pet. 4:10), but not all are filled with the Spirit.
Filling Of The Spirit
If the filling of the Spirit is not the indwelling, not the baptism, and not to be confused with the gifts, then exactly what does it mean to be Spirit-filled? Simply put, it means to be under the influence and control of the Spirit. That’s why the contrasting parallel is made in Ephesians 5:18 with being filled with wine. An intoxicated person is under the control of wine and a Spirit-filled believer is under the Spirit’s control. That’s what characterized the disciples at Pentecost. Many in the crowd thought they were filled with wine (Acts 2:13), but on that historic day those early Christians were completely under the Spirit’s control.
But Scripture does not teach that they remained completely filled for the rest of their lives. Maybe some of them even went on to be definitely un-filled legalists who erected barriers to the Spirit’s work of bringing about unity in the early Church. If the filling of the Spirit was a once-for-all-time experience in the Christian life, the command to be continually filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18 would not make sense. It is written in the Greek present tense, indicating that it is not a once-for-all-time experience, but a daily lifestyle choice.
Just as a person can choose to be under the control of alcohol, so a believer can choose to be under the control of the Spirit. We can consciously choose to yield our thoughts and actions to the will of God and live under the Spirit’s control, or we can choose to “love the world” and our own selfish desires (1 Jn. 2:15-17). As we yield to the Spirit we will be empowered to use our spiritual gifts for God’s glory and not our own. And our lives will be increasingly characterized by the Word of God, thankfulness, and harmonious relationships with fellow believers. Why? Because these are the characteristics of the Spirit-filled believer as seen in the verses following Ephesians 5:18.
What are the characteristics of Spirit-filled believers? To begin, they exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in their lives: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). And in Ephesians 5:19-21 we find three more characteristics.
First, they “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music … to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). Singing is a wonderful way to worship the Lord. Spiritual songs contain words of Scripture. Gentile believers weren’t familiar with the Old Testament, so singing Scripture was a good way to learn it. The same is true today. Many of the hymns sung by the early Christians contained the apostles’ teachings (such as Col. 1:15-20; Eph. 5:14; Phil. 2:6-11). Singing spiritual songs is an outward sign of the Spirit’s inward joy (Gal. 5:22).
Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly … as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts” The Spirit-filled Christian is a Word-filled Christian. In fact, the Word of God is really the key to being Spirit-filled. As we read, meditate on and sing God’s Word, we will not only be built up in our faith, but our thoughts and actions will increasingly line up with God’s mind. We will confess our sins (1 Jn. 1:9), be more obedient to God’s Word (Jn. 15:10), yield more to His control (Rom. 12:1-2) and be increasingly emptied of self (Gal. 2:20).
Second, the Spirit-filled believer is “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything” (Eph. 5:20). He is thankful for all things, not because all of life’s circumstances are pleasant, but because God is in control. God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (Eph. 1:11), and “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Rom. 8:28). Peace of heart and mind is a fruit of the Spirit which can be seen by the believer who can give thanks for everything. Ungrateful, complaining or bitter Christians are not Spirit-filled, no matter what spiritual gifts or experiences they may have, or how much doctrinal knowledge they may have acquired!
Third, Spirit-filled believers will “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). They are unselfish and humble in their attitudes towards others. Love, patience, kindness and gentleness characterize their lives. In addition, they recognize and submit to the authority God has set up in the Church and home. Many Christians have problems submitting to one another. Some think that the local church should run their way, or that their families should revolve around them. They have trouble with authority. They want to “do their own thing” rather than regarding the needs and interests of others (Phil. 2:3-4). They have an attitude that says, “I’m the authority here, so everyone must submit to my decision.” Scripture says they are not Spirit-filled.
Are You Spirit-Filled?
Are you filled with the Spirit? The answer should be easier now that we’ve looked at the characteristics of a Spirit-filled believer found in God’s Word. Let’s not claim Spirit-filled status for ourselves if we’re not displaying the fruit as well as the characteristics of Spirit-filled believers. As we yield to the Spirit, our lives will be increasingly characterized by God’s Word, thankfulness, and harmonious relationships.
And let’s be careful not to label fellow-believers as not being Spirit-filled because they don’t meet our qualifications. Even though we may disagree on the subject, both the “haves” and the “have nots” must be careful not to despise or demean fellow believers. Let’s all “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3), and let’s all endeavor to live under the control of the Holy Spirit – that is, to be filled with the Spirit!
By David R. Reid
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org