What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? The simple definition is this: A follower of Jesus empowered to live the life God intended for them by submitting to the presence, power and purpose of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
It has been said that the Christian life is not hard, it’s impossible. For many, defeat and discouragement characterize their Christian life. And while it’s true that the Christian life is impossible to live out of your own strength, God does not want defeat and discouragement to characterize the believer’s life. Because of that, God has provided His Spirit. He has commanded believers to live the Christian life by being filled with the Spirit.
It is vital, therefore, to drill down on this definition so you can know what it means to be filled with the Spirit.
According to this definition, five key terms need to be understood in order to be filled by the Spirit. Those terms are enabled, presence, power and purpose, and submission.
Throughout the Book of Acts, when the early church was just beginning, the Holy Spirit filled many people (Acts 2:4, 4:8, 4:31 and 13:9). But Christians are only commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit in one place in the New Testament.
Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (English Standard Version).
As the apostle Paul wrote the book of Ephesians, the image that he used was not random or accidental. When a person is drunk with wine, they are controlled by and influenced by that wine, and they do things they would not normally do. Paul is saying to allow the Spirit to empower you to do things in and through you that you cannot do naturally.
Remember, Jesus calls His followers to live life in a way that is impossible to achieve in their own strength. But when you are filled with the Spirit, you find yourself loving supernaturally and experiencing joy in the midst of suffering and injustice. You start growing more deeply in love with Jesus, boldly and courageously telling others about Him. And you find yourself joyfully worshiping, among many other things.
You could say that the story of the Bible is the story of God moving nearer and nearer to His people. He created man and woman in perfect fellowship with Him. But the first sin mankind committed broke that fellowship, and they were banished from His presence.
But, as the story progresses, God seeks to bridge that gap between humanity and Himself by increasingly drawing closer and closer to His people. He did this initially by having His people set up a temporary shelter called a tabernacle and later by dwelling among them in a permanent temple.
Despite the temple being erected and God filling it with His presence, the people eventually rebelled against God, acting as if they wanted nothing to do with Him. And so God’s Spirit left the temple (Ezekiel 10:18), and God’s people were removed from His presence by being removed from their promised land. And even though God brought His people back into the promised land, His Spirit never returned.
That is, until Jesus was born of a virgin and was called “Immanuel, God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
And, as good as it was that God dwelt among His people in Jesus, God wanted to move even closer — not just among them, but in them through His Spirit.
God moved from dwelling among His people in the garden, to dwelling among them in a physical tabernacle and temple, to dwelling among them in Jesus, to now living in the followers of Jesus, declaring that the people of God are called the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
The great news for the follower of Christ is that God has done what He had never done in all of human history. He has set up permanent residence in His people through His Spirit.
Ephesians 1:13-14 says:
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (New International Version).
Notice that Paul says that when a person believes the gospel, they are sealed with the Holy Spirit. They get all of the promised Holy Spirit the moment they believe. They don’t get more of the Spirit later. The Spirit indwells His children fully.
But, while the Spirit fully indwells a follower of Jesus, as was mentioned above, believers are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. Here’s the distinction between these two verses: when believers are filled with the Spirit, they don’t get more of the Spirit, the Spirit gets more of them.
An image that is probably not accidental is found in Acts 2:2 when the Holy Spirit first came upon the followers of Jesus. It says, “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting” (ESV).
When a person is filled with the Spirit, they are allowing His presence to fill their entire life — every “room” in their life, every closet and every junk drawer.
People were never meant to live segmented lives where they give God one part and not another. To be filled with His presence means that you allow Him to fill every part of you. It’s only in giving Him access to every part that you experience the presence of His transforming grace, even in those areas that you have walled off and hidden.
Along with His presence, to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be filled with His power for specific purposes. It is impossible to separate out His power from what His power is for.
First, notice what Ephesians 3:14-19 says:
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
In other words, when a person is filled with the Spirit, they are enabled to increasingly comprehend and apprehend the overwhelming and incomparable love of Christ for them.
Second, the Spirit gives His church power to complete Christ’s mission to make followers of Jesus of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). We see this throughout the Book of Acts. After His resurrection and just before He ascended to heaven, Jesus said to His disciples in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (ESV).
If there’s one thing to know about the early followers of Christ even after His resurrection, it’s that they were scared and fearful. When the Spirit filled them, though, He turned these discouraged and frightened followers of Christ into a bold and fearless force that began to turn the world upside down.
Finally, the Spirit gives purity to the church. Remember the frustration that the apostle Paul was experiencing when he declared, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24, ESV). As he was throwing up his hands in frustration over his struggles (he even referred to himself as a “wretched man” at the beginning of that verse), he turned to the only one who could purify him.
That’s why Paul declares in Romans 8:2-4:
“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (ESV).
In other words, Paul is declaring that all the commands of God in the Old Testament couldn't change his heart. And even though these commands (the Law) demanded righteousness, even Paul’s best intentions couldn’t live up to them. But, even though the Law can’t produce purity, Paul declares that the Spirit can!
And, in Galatians 5:22-23, Paul says that the Spirit produces a fruit within that cannot be produced otherwise: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (ESV).
The Holy Spirit produces the life change that nothing else can produce. The Holy Spirit fulfills the purity of righteousness that you cannot fulfill alone.
Submission answers the “how” piece of the question, “How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?” There are two essential elements to this submission: faith and surrender.
Colossians 2:6 says, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (ESV).
How did a person receive Christ? By faith, just as Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (ESV).
The Christian life from beginning to end is a life of faith in the promises of God. Romans 1:17 says, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘the righteous shall live by faith’” (NIV).
Faith in God’s promises, purposes and will for your life is essentially giving up your own purposes, will and even resources to live life on your own terms. Faith is submitting yourself to Him.
On one hand, faith is a passive giving up of control. But, on the other hand, faith is actively holding on to God’s promises and will for your life.
It is God’s will that you be filled with His Spirit. And because it is His will, you can be sure He will fill you when you ask Him to do so. First John 5:14-15 says, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (ESV).
So you submit yourself to him when you ask to be filled with the Spirit by faith, confident that He will answer according to His will.
As you ask God to fill you with His Spirit by faith, you will not likely feel any different. You will not have a dramatic or emotional experience. But faith is not a feeling. You trust what you do not see (or feel). You simply believe that He has answered and will fill you.
The other aspect of submission is surrender. Three images come to mind on the subject of surrender:
As you seek to daily walk by the Spirit, I would encourage you to sign up for this Holy Spirit Devotional.
And for another great resource on how to be filled with the Holy Spirit, check out this page.
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