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Filled with the Spirit

Ephesians 5:18 - Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

"Spirit-filled" terminology and labeling have so penetrated the Christian church today that division between the "haves" and the "have nots" is taking place. "Haves" are Christians who believe that they have experienced a "filling of the Holy Spirit" on a special occasion subsequent to their conversion. Christians who have not had this type of special experience are the "have nots." Many of those who believe they are "haves" tend to look down on and sometimes even despise the "have nots." On the other hand, many of those who are labeled as "have nots" tend to judge the "haves" as too emotional--or unbiblical--or worse! This sad commentary on the lack of oneness of the body of Christ reflects a failure on both sides to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3).

Ephesians 5:18 is a command to all believers to be "filled with the Spirit." What exactly is the filling of the Spirit? How do Christians know if and when they are Spirit-filled? These are certainly important and valid questions which should be answered, because Ephesians 5:18 is acommand, not just a suggestion. In the interest of "endeavoring to keep the unity of the body in the bond of peace" by bringing greater understanding on this topic, let's examine the Scriptures to see what the filling of the Spirit is, and what it is not. Hopefully, more understanding of what the Bible defines as "Spirit-filled" will result in more love and harmony in the body of Christ. First we'll look at what the filling of the Spirit is not.

Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

The filling of the Spirit is not the same as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The indwelling of the Spirit takes place at conversion, when the believer's body becomes the "temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:19). In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit did not permanently indwell the body of the believer. The Holy Spirit was with Old Testament believers and came upon them at various times, to fill them and empower them for acts of service to God. (For example, see Exodus 31:1-5; Judges 15:14-15; 2 Chronicles 15:1.) The Old Testament also mentions that the Holy Spirit would depart, depending on the situation or the lifestyle of the individual. (See Judges 16:20; Psalm 51:11.) But a wonderful change took place with the coming of Christ. Now the Holy Spirit immediately indwells the believer at the time of conversion. In John 7:38-39 the Lord Jesus foretold this blessed change: "Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. 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 youforever--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 in Christ with the indwelling Holy Spirit the moment they believe. Notice that the sealing with the Holy Spirit of the Ephesian believers did not take place at some time after their conversion, but when they believed the gospel. Notice also that the apostle Paul was not writing to just a select few of the believers at Ephesus (1:1). The Holy Spirit did not seal only some of the 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 and pledge, He will never leave the believer. God's sealing and pledging are not subject to a believer's imperfect walk or lifestyle. The Holy Spirit dwells in us to enable and empower the believer's new life in Christ. 2 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." How thankful we can be for the continual help of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God who is available at all times to enable us and empower us to guard--and to live out--the gospel. So every Christian is the permanent dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, however, every Christian is not necessarily always filled with the Spirit!

Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Furthermore, the filling of the Holy Spirit is not the same as the baptismof the Holy Spirit. And the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not something that happens to the individual believer on a specific occasion some time after salvation. The baptism of the Holy Spirit took place at Pentecost, when the body of Christ, the Church, was born. At that time the Holy Spirit baptized all believers into the one body of Christ. 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 ..." Perhaps it could be said that a believer is baptized "by" or "in" or "of" the Holy Spirit at conversion, but it is probably more scripturally correct to realize that at conversion believers are brought into (or incorporated into) the already-baptized body of Christ. The following illustration may be helpful. When a new employee joins a corporation, he or she is "brought into" the corporation--but the corporation was formed (or incorporated) long before the new individual employee was "incorporated" into the company. In the same way, when new converts are brought into the body of Christ we can speak of them as being baptized into the body by the Holy Spirit, but in actuality thebaptism of the Holy Spirit took place when the Church was formed. John the Baptist foretold this baptism of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 3:11: "I baptize you with water for repentance. But...He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit..." (See also Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33.) The Lord 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).

Now it is true that when the baptism of the Holy Spirit took place at Pentecost the disciples were filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4). However, theirexperience of being filled with the Holy Spirit was not synonymous with the event of the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Even Bezelel, an Old Testament believer, was filled with the Spirit long before the baptism of the Spirit was predicted (Exodus 31:3). So the filling of the Spirit is not to be equated with the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit

What about the gifts of the Spirit? Is this what the filling of the Spirit is all about? No! The spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit are not the same as the filling of the Holy Spirit. Some Christians emphasize that the display of certain spiritual gifts such as speaking in "tongues," or a language unknown to the speaker, is the sign of a Spirit-filled believer. It's true that at Pentecost the spiritual gift of "tongues" accompanied the filling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). Those tongues were known foreign languages and the purpose for that spiritual gift on that day was evangelistic. People from many different countries were gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, and the gift of languages permitted these people to hear the gospel in their own native languages (Acts 2:5-11)! But the gift of speaking in unknown languages did not always accompany the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Acts. (See Acts 8:14-17, for example.)

More to the point, the mere possession of spiritual gifts is not an indication of the filling of the Spirit! All the Corinthian believers were described as being baptized by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), and 1 Corinthians 12:30 says that many of them (although not all of them)--spoke in "tongues." Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 1:7 tells us that all the spiritual gifts were represented in the local church at Corinth. However, all of the believers were certainly not filled with the Spirit because Paul described them as carnal--not spiritual--in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3! So let's not confuse the possession of spiritual gifts with the filling of the Spirit. All Christians have at least one spiritual gift (1 Peter 4:10), but not all Christians are necessarily filled with the Holy Spirit!

Filling of the Spirit

Well, if the filling of the Spirit is not the indwelling of the Spirit, and it is not the baptism of the Spirit, and it is not to be confused with the gifts of the Spirit, then exactly what is the filling of the Spirit, and what does it mean to be Spirit-filled? To be filled with the Spirit simply means to be under the influence and control of the Holy Spirit. That's why the contrasting parallel is made in Ephesians 5:18 with being filled with wine. An intoxicated person is under the influence and control of the wine's power. A Spirit-filled believer is controlled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. That's what characterized the disciples at Pentecost. Many in the temple crowds thought that these followers of Christ were filled with wine (Acts 2:13), but they were filled with the Holy Spirit. On that historic day those early Christians were completely under the control of the Holy Spirit. But Scripture does not teach that those Christians remained completely Spirit-filled for the rest of their lives. Maybe some of them even went on to be the very definitely unfilled Jewish Christian legalists who erected all kinds of barriers to the Holy Spirit's work of bringing about oneness in the early Church. If the filling of the Spirit was a once-and-for-all event or experience in the Christian life, the command to be continually filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18 would not make sense. "Be filled with the Spirit" is written in the Greek present tense. This indicates that the filling of the Spirit is not a once-for-all-time experience, but an on-going, daily lifestyle choice.

The illustration of "being filled with wine" is used as a contrasting parallel to "being filled with the Spirit" in Ephesians 5:18. Just as an person can choose to place himself under the influence and control of alcohol, so a believer can choose to place himself under the influence and control of the Holy Spirit. Being under the influence of alcohol is a matter of choice, and being filled with the Spirit is a matter of our choice, too. We can consciously choose to yield our thoughts and actions to the will of God and live under the Spirit's influence and control, or we can choose to "love the world" and our own selfish wants and desires (1 John 2:15-17). As we yield to the control of the Spirit we will be empowered to use the spiritual gifts that the Lord has given us for His glory and not our own, and our lives will increasingly be 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 we see in the verses following Ephesians 5:18.

Spirit-Filled Characteristics

What are the characteristics of a Spirit-filled believer? The "fruits of the Spirit"--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control will certainly be seen in the lives of Spirit-filled believers (Galatians 5:22-23). And we don't have to read much farther in Ephesians 5 to find three more characteristics of the Christian who is filled with the Spirit. In fact, that's what the context (the rest of Ephesians 5) is all about.

The first characteristic is found in verse 19: "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord..." The Spirit-filled Christian sings spiritual songs. Singing psalms was (and still is!) a wonderful way to worship the Lord. Spiritual songs would contain words of Scripture. Believers from a Gentile background weren't familiar with the Old Testament, and singing Scripture was a good way to learn it. The same is true today. Many of the hymns which were learned and sung by the early Christians contained the teachings of the apostles (New Testament truths) which were not yet in writing at that time. (See Colossians 1:15-20, Ephesians 5:14 and Philippians 2:6-11 for examples of early hymns.) In addition, singing spiritual songs was then, and continues to be, an outward sign of inward joy, one of the fruits of the Spirit's filling in our lives (Galatians 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 to God." It's obvious that the Spirit-filled Christian of Ephesians 5 is same as the Word-filled Christian of Colossians 3. In fact, the Word of God is really the key to being a Spirit-filled believer. As we read and meditate on--and sing--the Word of God, we will not only be built up in our faith, but our thought-patterns and our lifestyles will increasingly line up with the mind of God. We will confess our known sins (1 John 1:9). We will be more obedient to the Word of God (John 15:10). We will yield ourselves more and more to His control (Romans 12:1-2). We will increasingly beemptied of self (Galatians 2:20)--and filled with the Spirit!

A second characteristic of the Spirit-filled believer is given in verse 20: "Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." The Spirit-filled believer is thankful for all things--not because all the circumstances of life are pleasant, but because we know that God is in control of everything. He "works all things after the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1:11), and "in all things God works for the good of those who love Him" (Romans 8:28). Peace of heart and mind is a fruit of the Spirit which can be seen in a believer who is able to give thanks for everything. Many Christians (both "haves" and "have nots") fail this important test of thankfulness. An ungrateful or complaining or bitter Christian is not a Spirit-filled Christian--no matter what spiritual gifts or experiences he or she may enjoy, or how much doctrinal knowledge he or she may have acquired!

The third characteristic of the Spirit-filled believer is given in verse 21: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit is unselfish and humble in their attitudes towards other believers. Love, patience, kindness and gentleness are fruits of the Spirit that will be seen in their lives. (See Galatians 5:22-23.) In addition, the Spirit-filled believer recognizes and submits to the authority structures that God has set up in the church and in the home. Many Christians have problems with this matter of "submitting to one another." Some Christians seem to think that the local church or fellowship group should be run theirway, or that their homes and families should revolve around them and their needs and desires. They have trouble with authority--both submitting to it or handling it wisely. They want to "do their own thing" in their Christian lives, rather than regarding the needs and interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4). They have been known to use words such as "The Lord told me...." or "My interpretation of that passage is...." or "I'm the authority here, so everyone must submit to my decisions..." According to Scripture, these Christians are not Spirit-filled.

"Am I filled with the Spirit?" We should all ask ourselves this question. The answer should be easy to determine now that we've looked at the characteristics of a Spirit-filled believer which are found in the Word of God. Let's be careful that we don't claim "Spirit-filled status" for ourselves if we're not displaying the fruit of the Holy Spirit as well as the characteristics of Spirit-filled believers which we've seen in Ephesians 5:19-21. As we yield to the control of the Spirit our lives will increasingly characterized by the Word of God, thankfulness, and harmonious relationships with fellow-believers. Let's be careful not to label fellow-believers as not Spirit-filled because they don't meet our prerequisites of certain experiences or gifts. Even though we may disagree on the subject, both "haves" and "have nots" must be careful not to despise or demean fellow-believers. Let's all endeavor to keep the "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," and let's all endeavor to live continuously under the control of the Holy Spirit--filled with the Spirit!
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