Maybe you feel like me at times: inadequate in my Christian faith. I look around and see other people who appear to have greater spiritual maturity. They’re more productive, more exuberant, more “on fire” for God. Some even appear to be emotionally “giddy” about their faith.
As I compare myself to others, doubt creeps in. Am I missing something that these other Christians have?
While we should all expect our Christian lives to have ups and downs—times of spiritual strength and spiritual fatigue—the Bible tells us that every one of Jesus’ followers will experience the Holy Spirit’s leading and power.
For those who don’t regularly experience the Holy Spirit’s power, perhaps it’s because they don’t understand the Bible’s teaching on being filled with the Spirit.
As we take a closer look at what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, we hope you will learn about how believers relate to the Holy Spirit, and how to more regularly experience the Spirit’s filling.
Relating to the Spirit
Before we look at some verses, let’s set a few things straight about the Holy Spirit.
First, the Holy Spirit is a “he” not an “it.” We must think of the Holy Spirit as a person, not as a force or commodity. If you think of the Spirit as a force or commodity, you will wrongly think of the Spirit in terms of quantity (e.g., this person has more of the Spirit than another person).
We should rather think in terms of a relationship with the Spirit—more on that later.
Second, we must recognize that everyone who has genuine saving faith is equally indwelled by God’s Spirit (John 14:16-17; 2 Corinthians 1:22). All believers are “sealed” by the Spirit (Ephesians 1:13 ESV). Again, we shouldn’t think of the Spirit in terms of quantity, as if some Christians have more of the Spirit than others. Every single believer is equally indwelled by God’s Spirit.
Third, the original Greek for our English translation “filled” has the sense of being controlled or influenced by something. In fact, the Greek verb tense can be translated as “keep on being filled by the Spirit.” Being filled with the Spirit is not a one-time event. It should be a continual experience for those who follow Jesus.
So, what does it mean to be filled by God’s Spirit?
How Does the Bible Define Being Filled with the Spirit?
There are several places in the Bible where the “filling” of the Spirit is mentioned (e.g., Acts 4:8, 31; Acts 13:52), but the classic New Testament verse is Ephesians 5:18 (ESV): “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”
In order to properly understand what it means to be “filled with the Spirit,” we need to see this phrase in its context, rather than just in a single verse:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV, emphasis added)
Do you see those five verbs—addressing, singing, making, giving, and submitting? They’re all qualifying the original command to be filled.
As is often the case with Scripture, there is no need for guesswork. The passage tells us precisely what it means to be filled with the Spirit. We can summarize those five verbs by saying that being filled with the Spirit means living a life that is full of joy, thankfulness, and submission to others. Notice also that these things are happening in fellowship and community with other believers. This is because the Holy Spirit indwells every believer in Jesus; thus, where God’s people are gathered, his Spirit is there.
If we expand our analysis to the preceding verses, we gain a little more insight into prerequisites for being filled. Paul tells the Ephesians to conduct themselves wisely, not foolishly. This means making the most of their time by doing God’s will as revealed in his Word, not just whatever they feel like. Specifically, he says they should pay attention to how they “walk.”
Because we have a relationship with the Holy Spirit, we submit to his leading as he guides us with God’s Word (John 16:13). We’re commanded to be “led by the Spirit” (Romans 8:14 ESV), “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16 ESV), and to be “taught by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:13 ESV).
On the other hand, God warns us against “grieving the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30 ESV) and “quenching the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19 ESV) by doing things that are contrary to God’s will for our lives.
How Does this Relate to Being Baptized by the Spirit?
Let’s briefly note that being filled with the Spirit isn’t the same thing as being baptized by the Spirit. Every Christian is baptized by God’s Spirit when they become believers. Those who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins are given God’s Holy Spirit as a permanent “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14 NIV).
This is why the Apostle Paul writes, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13 NIV). All Christians are baptized by God’s Spirit.
While being baptized in the Spirit is a one-time event at a person’s conversion to Christ, being filled by God’s Spirit is an ongoing occurrence as the believer lives in obedience to Christ.
Why Don’t I Feel Spiritual Power or Vitality in My Life?
I know I’m repeating myself, but I need to stress this point. You and I don’t feel a lack of vigor or spiritual power because we don’t have “enough” of the Spirit. Again, don’t think in terms of quantity. Think in terms of a relationship.
Some Christians describe this distinction by saying believers have all of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit may not have all of them.
Consider this analogy. Whose marriage is going to be stronger—a couple who only speak to each other once a month, or spouses who daily interact and communicate?
Similarly, who do you think will be more empowered by the Spirit? Someone who is daily reading God’s Word and talking to him through prayer? Or someone who is only occasionally doing so?
Evidence of the Spirit’s Filling
Now let’s take an honest look at ourselves before we move to personal application. Remember that being filled with the Spirit means living a life that’s full of joy, thankfulness, and submission to others.
Are you filled with the Spirit? Consider the following questions:
- Can you say that your life is characterized by rejoicing? Would others describe you as someone whose heart is filled with laughter and song?
- Similarly, are you a grateful, thankful person? Or are you someone who is characterized by constant grumbling and what I like to call a “spirit of complaining?”
- Lastly, are you someone who, like Jesus, serves others (Mark 10:45) and puts their needs before your own (Philippians 2:4)? Or are you someone who is constantly demanding your own way? Do you see others as there to serve you?
How Can I Be Filled by the Spirit?
Perhaps you were unsatisfied with your answers to those questions. But let’s not stay stuck there! We want to be filled with the Spirit, right? Let’s discover how.
Although the Holy Spirit will fill us, we’re commanded to “be filled,” so that he might fill us up. Here are ways that the Bible gives us for how to be filled with the Spirit and experience more of his leading in our lives:
- Read the Bible: The more we read God’s Word, which was inspired by the Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), the more we will be transformed by him. As we read the Bible, we become acquainted with God and fill our minds with his thoughts.
- Pray More: The more we speak to God through prayer, the more our thinking is transformed so that we can discern God’s “good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2 NIV). Prayer is also a way of submitting to the Lord, giving him our anxieties, desires, and plans (Philippians 4:6-7).
- Confess & Repent of Sin: Regular confession of sin in our lives (1 John 1:9) and striving to live holy lives pleasing to God are ways that we learn to submit to the Spirit’s leading and maintain close fellowship with him (1 Peter 1:14-16; 1 John 1:6-7).
- Serve Others and Be A Member of a Local Church: God’s Spirit indwells all God’s people. If we want to be filled by the Spirit, we should spend time with other Spirit-filled people in worship and church ministry. In ministry, we see the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). These are exercised for the good of others as we build each other up in Christian maturity (Ephesians 4:15-16).
So, do you want to experience more of the Spirit’s power and fellowship in your life?
Why don’t you start by reading Galatians 5:22-23? This passage tells us about the Holy Spirit’s character and the fruit that he bears in every life he fills. Take some time in this portion of God’s Word and pray for God to fill you with the qualities listed there—to fill you with himself.
“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13 NIV)