Holy Spirit: What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?
At first glance one might think this is a reference to being indwelt by the Spirit, but that is not the case. Every believer in our time is already completely indwelt of the Holy Spirit, not just some. Even the Corinthian believers, where there were so many who were living disobediently to God, were all indwelt by the Spirit.
I Corinthians 6:19-20
19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple [NAOS – shrine or sanctuary] of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. [Emphasis added]
We are told toward the beginning of this epistle that these saved people were not living obediently to God’s Word.
I Corinthians 3:1-3
1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men [meaning they were living like unbelievers]? [Emphasis added]
Being indwelt by the Spirit and being “filled” with the Holy Spirit are two different things. Believers are never commanded to be indwelt by the Spirit, but they are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. It is in the writings of the apostle Paul that there’s a command specifically addressed to believers for them to be filled with the Spirit.
18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; [Emphasis added]
What are we to make of this command? What is its meaning? How is it obeyed? These are all good questions believers have asked. Even though there’s a simple answer, this command, and the means to carrying it out, have often been misunderstood.
To understand any passage of Scripture, it is always important to see the context in which it is written. First, we need to realize that this is a command to believers, not unbelievers. The whole book of Ephesians is addressed to believers. As with any letter, it is important to see to whom it is addressed. In this case we are told that this writing was addressed to “the saints” [believers] in Ephesus.
1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: [Emphasis added]
Please don’t misunderstand the meaning of the word, saints. That word just tells us they were believers, nothing more and nothing less. They were God’s people, but, as this epistle clearly shows, they were certainly not without sin in their lives.
Even though this passage was specifically addressed to believers in Ephesus, it applies to believers anywhere and anytime in this present age of grace. The same is true for all Paul’s epistles.
It is also important to realize that the apostle Paul is our apostle.
13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: [Emphasis added]
God used the apostle Paul to set forth the manner for our salvation today. Some other writers like Simon Peter touch on it, but not at all like what we have in Paul’s writings. In other words, it is in Paul’s writings that we find specifically how one can be saved to end up in Heaven. We find there that it is not about doing something, but rather believing something. It is not at all a matter of earning it through some system of works.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. [Emphasis added]
What must be believed is that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, but arose from the grave for our justification.
I Corinthians 15:3-4
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: [Emphasis added]
It is at the point of salvation that we are made alive spiritually. Up to that point we are said to be dead spiritually, having no spiritual life with God at all.
Ephesians 2:1 [and V. 5]
1 And you hath he quickened [SUZOOPOIEO = made alive (spiritually)], who were dead in trespasses and sins; [Emphasis added]
Up to that point we had no ability whatsoever to have fellowship with God and to understand spiritual truth.
I Corinthians 2:14
14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. [Emphasis added]
But from the moment of salvation on, we all have the potential to grow in our relationship with God. It is by the work of the Spirit of God combined with the Word of God in us that this can occur. The objective is to willfully allow God to have full influence over our lives. This occurs as we allow God’s Word to influence our decision-making. And that is precisely what the command to be filled with the Spirit is about. It is about allowing His thinking, His knowledge, His norms, and His standards to become at the heart of our thinking. The command to be “filled” with the Spirit is a command to let Him live through us.
The Greek word for “filled” in Ephesians 5:18 is the word PLEROO. It means to make full, to completely fill. A simple way for us to enhance our understanding of this is to look at Paul’s words about this same 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]
In the words that follow in that same passage, areas of life are mentioned where this can and should happen. We are to grow in our understanding of God’s Word so that we’re in a position to make the right applications in all these stated areas of life and more.
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 [pretending obedience], 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; [Emphasis added]
This tells us that every area of our lives is to be influenced by the directives we find in the Scriptures. Growing in our understanding and application of these things is the process of spiritual growth. The objective is what we speak of as spiritual maturity and being filled with the Spirit.
In the Ephesians 5 passage where we began this study, we see some of the same areas of practical application listed. That’s a way, comparing Scripture with Scripture, for us to understand clearly what he’s talking about when he speaks of being “filled” with the Spirit. It is to be fully influenced by the Spirit of God in every area of our life. Note what follows right after Ephesians 5:18.
19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
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;
26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, [Emphasis added]
Obedience to these things is often resisted by believers. But if we’re to grow spiritually and reach maturity, these are the kind of things that must be complied with. Obedience to such things needs to become our way of life for this is the Christian way of life. Sometimes this function is spoken of in Scripture as “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 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]
In Ephesians another command for this is to be “followers of God.”
1 Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;
2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.
3 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; [Emphasis added]
So, being filled with the Spirit is living the life God would have us live. We’re to work toward living by norms and standards that are derived from our study of His Word. These principles for life are gained over an extended period where we are fully engaged in learning God’s Word, being serious students of His Word.
What a pleasure it has been over the years to find people sitting in places like coffee shops or bookstores with their Bibles open and taking notes from what they were learning. Whatever time and place you can, you need to invest time as often as possible seriously studying God’s Word with a view toward living a Spirit-filled life. Because life is full of distractions, that will be a challenge. It always is. But if you have this priority in place, it’ll be something you can cause to happen. As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way for you to accomplish this and be very glad you did.