Summary: Paul’s point is that the Holy Spirit is the controlling influence motivating and directing the lives of believers. As we sort through these participles, we can identify at least three results of the Holy Spirit’s influence.
The Spirit-Filled Life
Quick Discussion: What are the two most significant influences on your life?
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit.”
At the heart of this contrast is a life lived under the influence of … those influences, which become something that we rely on to make it through the day. They may be destructive like alcohol which slows the mind, and dulls the senses … or it may be considered benign, like the hyper-caffeinating by today’s teens who are chugging between 800 and 1000 milligrams of caffeine a day (3 times the adult recommended maximum dosage), relying on it to provide the energy to get them through the day (The result has been a sharp rise in teen instances of hyper-tension, and heart palpitations). Or consider that we are living in a culture that “gets drunk” on other forms of self-indulgence, like sex or risk-taking or hunger for power because it activates the same dopamine centers in the brain that taking drugs achieve.
In contrast to relinquishing of our lives to destructive influences, Paul tells us to “be filled with the Spirit.”
Possession of the Spirit is the mark of being a Christian. But if the Spirit is given to a believer at conversion and, indeed, is the agent of conversion, what does this command involve?
Paul’s point is that the Holy Spirit is the controlling influence motivating and directing the lives of believers. Paul commands us to live a life consumed even dominated by the Holy Spirit’s influence.
We can understand this command by examining other texts with this or similar ideas. If a text says people are filled with grief, joy, or knowledge, we have no difficulty understanding that the emotion or knowledge dominates and describes what they are really like. If Acts 5:3 describes Ananias by saying Satan filled his heart, clearly Satan has dominated his impulses, any countervailing tendencies have been rooted out. The Scriptures also speak specifically of people being full of the Spirit ... Jesus at his baptism, Stephen, Barnabas. The seven chosen to serve the Hellenistic widows were to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. Surely the intent is that the people chosen should be characterized by wisdom and live in tune with God’s Spirit.
Attention is here placed on the believers’ responsibility to be receptive to the Spirit. While human beings do not manipulate the movement of God’s Spirit, human responsibility is involved. We have choice in this matter, for the Spirit’s transforming work in us is not done apart from human consent. God does not force the Holy Spirit upon us to change us in ways that we refuse.
And Paul emphasizes that Christians are to be continually filled with God’s Spirit. This is the force of the Greek verb. To ask us to be filled with the Spirit does not point to repeated charismatic experiences, as some claim. It is to ask us to focus our attention on Christ and his presence in us, to open ourselves to the continual transforming work of the Spirit so that the presence of Christ empowers and shapes our lives. The Spirit is to be the dominant influence for all Christians.