Summary: What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit and how we can be filled?
What does it mean to be filled with joy? How can you tell when someone’s full of joy or happiness? It usually comes out in some way, right? It makes a difference to pretty much everything. Even phlegmatic personalities like me will express it when we’re really happy.
The question I want to explore this morning is, ’What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?’ A few weeks ago we saw that we’re baptised into Christ’s body with the Spirit - so we all have the Spirit. But does that mean we are automatically filled with the Spirit?
Ephesians 5.18 urges us, "Be filled with the Spirit". The Greek means to go on being filled with the Spirit. It’s not just a one time event but a way of living. But, if every believer has the Holy Spirit, why are we commanded to go on being filled? Is it possible for a believer to live a life that isn’t Spirit filled?
Likewise, Gal 5.16 says, "Walk by the Spirit," and talks about the battle between the Spirit and the sinful nature. Is it possible for a Christian to not walk by the Spirit? Yes!
And just as it’s possible to not walk with the Spirit, it’s possible to not be filled with the Spirit, even though we may have the Spirit and be saved.
What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?
So what does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?
Some Christians ask, ’Have you been filled with the Spirit?’ That’s a good question, but it’s not necessarily the best question. See, sometimes that question assumes that ’being filled’ is an event sometimes which involves speaking in tongues or falling down or some sort of visible manifestation.
And of course, very often being filled with the Spirit does start as an experience. That experience doesn’t always look the same. But ideally it happens when we’re saved. Whenever Acts gives us a detailed description of people turning to Christ it involves a manifestation of the Spirit.
On the day of Pentecost the Spirit’s arrival was spectacular enough for the onlookers to think that the disciples were drunk!
In Acts 8 when the Samaritans received Christ the apostles came and laid hands on them to receive the Spirit there was enough happening to pique the interest of Simon the Sorcerer so that he was willing to pay for this ability.
The household of Cornelius, the first gentile convert, and the Ephesian disciples all experience the manifestation of the Spirit when they believed.
And as you read through the New Testament you get the picture that the early churches were charismatic communities. Apart from the obvious church at Corinth, Paul writes to the Galatians about their experience of miracles, the Thessalonians are experiencing prophecy and Timothy received a gift when the elders lay hands on him.
Of course, with the passage of time this radical infilling of the Holy Spirit has become relatively rare in many traditions. We don’t expect it so we simply don’t see it. But I think that, biblically, we can’t deny it.
A WAY OF LIFE
Never-the-less, although being filled with the Spirit may start with an event, it goes much, much further than that. We’re not commanded to have a one off experience. The command is to live a Spirit-filled life. It’s altogether possible, and all too common, to have an experience of the Holy Spirit and then not continue in it.
Living the Spirit-filled life is about living in submission to the Spirit. It’s about walking in repentance - continually rejecting sin and in obedience to God. So Galatians 5.16-17 says, "So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature."
And Romans 8.5-8 says, "Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind controlled by the sinful nature is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. The sinful mind is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God."
And being filled with the Spirit means living in dependence upon the Spirit. So Romans 8.26 says, "The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans."
In Ephesians Paul prays that we’ll have the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to know God better. He prays that our hearts will be strengthened by the Spirit so we can know Christ’s love.