Confession: Is this the means to the filling of the Holy Spirit?
Many years ago, I was taught that it was, believed it, and even taught it myself for some years. The teaching was that to fulfill the command to be filled with the Spirit a believer needed to confess his sins for the forgiveness of those sins. 1 John 1:9 and Ephesians 5:18 were presented as the basis for this practice. Let’s first look at those passages as we consider this belief.
1 John 1:9
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [Emphasis added]
Confessing one’s personal sins was presented as the means to fulfilling the following command.
18 And be not drunk with wine [functioning under the influence of wine], wherein is excess; but be filled [PLEROO = made full] with the Spirit;
I highly respected the pastor that explained this, believing that he surely had a correct understanding of it. Who was I as a young new pastor to question someone who had far more experience than I did with the study and teaching of the Scriptures. At the time, what he taught about it seemed to make sense, but the more I studied, trying to be objective about it, I began to wonder about some things concerning this teaching that clearly did not make sense. For instance, we have Scriptures that teach us that all our sins, past, present, and future, have already been forgiven.
7 In whom [speaking of Jesus Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; [Emphasis added]
14 In whom [speaking of Jesus Christ] we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: [Emphasis added]
Please note that the first of those two passages is in the same book that tells us to be filled with the Spirit. The second is also written by the same author, the apostle Paul. One would think that if either of these passages necessitated confession of sins, there’d be something in the context about it. But there’s nothing anywhere in either of these epistles that tells us that. There’s not even anything about it in any of Paul’s thirteen epistles [Romans to Philemon]. The belief that confession of sins produces the filling of the Spirit is solely based on someone’s assumption, not Scripture! But the teaching was also that those passages [Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14] are talking about our positional forgiveness, not our experiential forgiveness. I then began to wonder where that was taught in the Bible. It sounded reasonable, but I needed some biblical documentation for it. What I found was that there isn’t any. There’s not one word about such a thing! So, why would that be? For one thing, only Paul is spoken of as the apostle to us, the Gentiles. John, Peter, and the others were all apostles to “the lost sheep of Israel,” not the Gentiles.
13 For I [the apostle Paul] speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: [Emphasis added]
[You’ll find more information on our website about this verse in my articles entitled, Paul: Do we make too much of him? and Paul: What is special about his teaching?]
Does this fact about Paul’s ministry make a difference? Of course, it does! This is never said about the twelve apostles. Their ministry was focused on Israel exclusively.
But what exactly does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? My thoughts at the time were that perhaps there are other things Paul said about this that would be a help to us on that. I found that very thing in his letter to the Colossians.
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. [Emphasis added]
The phrase, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly answers our question. You’ll then see that the next thing Paul deals with in this passage is like what he deals with in the Ephesians passage. Let’s look at them.
18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.
20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.
21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.
22 Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God;
23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
Then note what follows in the Ephesians passage. It is the same line of thought.
20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;
21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
The Ephesians passage is very similar to the Colossians passage with basically a lot of the same train of thought. If you compare the two, you’ll see that they’re quite similar. But in the Colossians passage he addresses our subject with some different words that prove to be extremely helpful in understanding what he’s saying in Ephesians 5:18. Instead of speaking of being filled with the Spirit, he talks about being filled or fully influenced by the Word of God. Could these be the same but with different words? That they are! But again, where is there anything that connects the filling of the Spirit to confessing one’s sins to gain the forgiveness of one’s sins? Nothing! There’s not one word about it or even something related to it anywhere. This principle has obviously been pulled out of thin air. The Scripture nowhere teaches that confession of one’s sins produces or results in the filling of the Spirit.
Still other passages speak of walking in the Spirit.
16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
17 For the flesh [our sinful nature that we still have as believers] lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. [Emphasis added]
Our flesh, that is, our sinful nature works against this new nature we gained at the point of our salvation. The goal God has for us is to learn to function in a manner that pleases Him. That demands the influence of the Spirit of God in our lives. It is in this manner that the righteous principles set forth in the Mosaic Law come to be manifested in how we choose to conduct our lives.
4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. [Emphasis added]
The way to “walk in the Spirit” is to learn and apply God’s Word as one walks through life. If we’ll choose to focus on doing this and working to make a habit of it, we won’t always be finding ourselves walking in the flesh.
16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. [Emphasis added]
What came natural to us in the past is not to now be our way of life. We need to learn to choose otherwise.
2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. [Emphasis added]
Because we are now God’s people, we need to choose to think like it and act like it. And this demands that we take the initiative to become familiar with and apply those statements of the Bible that are to us and for us.