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Filled With The Holy Spirit: What, When, and How

Sunday’s message was on being filled by the Spirit. We looked at Eph 5:18-20 to see the what, when and how of being filled by the Spirit:

What is the filling of the Spirit?

Being filled with the Spirit means being absolutely saturated with and under the control of the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 5:18, Paul contrasts being filled by the Spirit with being filled with alcohol. “Don’t be filled with wine,” he says, “but do be filled with the Spirit.” In some ways, being filled with the Spirit is similar to being filled with alcohol: when filled with alcohol, everything in a person is affected—how he thinks, how he reacts, what he feels. Inhibitions are removed. In the same way, being filled with the Spirit affects everything in a person’s life. People filled with the Spirit were given an uncanny, astonishing boldness (Acts 4:13, 31; 7:55-56).

But there’s a crucial difference between being filled with alcohol and being filled with the Spirit. Alcohol changes a person’s perception by deadening him to reality; the Spirit changes a person’s perception by awakening him to reality. When we are filled with the Spirit, we are not numbed to the pains of the world, but our eyes are opened to God’s beauty and power. When Elisha’s servant’s eyes were opened, he did not see a smaller Syrian army, but angels with swords in chariots of fire that dwarfed the Syrian force  (2 Kings 6:17). When Paul was filled with the Spirit the pain did not go away, his eyes were opened to comfort and joy greater than his pain (2 Corinthians 6:9-10).

When are we filled with the Spirit?

There are two “fillings” of the Holy Spirit that people often get confused. The first is the “baptism of the Spirit,” which happens once—at salvation (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:13; Romans 8:9-you can hear more on this and work through some of the controversy by listening to the actual message). Throughout our lives, we are to be continually re-filled with the Spirit for mission and to walk with God. That’s what Ephesians 5:18 tells us. “Be filled” is a present imperative, meaning literally “be being filled.” Always. Continually.

If you are a Christian, you have the Spirit! The question now is, Does He have you?

How are we filled with the Spirit?

This is the million-dollar question. We are filled with the Spirit by dwelling on the gospel and by not quenching or grieving Him. Paul connects filling with the Spirit to “speaking to one another in hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord” (Eph 5:19-20). This does not mean that whenever we see a friend we burst into “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” “Speaking in hymns and making melody in your hearts to the Lord” is indicative of the fact that you are dwelling on the gospel. Believing the gospel is how Paul said we first received the Spirit; re-believing the gospel is how we continue to be filled by him (Gal 3:1-5).

Perhaps the greatest enemy to our being filled with the Spirit is we so enjoy being filled with ourselves. Rather than dwelling on our need (our wickedness, our powerlessness) and God’s grace, we’d rather boast in our accomplishments and merits. We cannot be filled with ourselves and the Spirit at the same time. Believing the gospel points us away from the strength of our merits and onto the largeness of God’s grace. Such an awareness is the evidence of being filled by the Spirit, and the catalyst for being re-filled.  Dwell on the gospel! As we often say, the gospel is not just how we begin our lives with Christ, it is how we grow as well.

Quenching the Spirit means saying “no” to Him. Grieving the Spirit is entertaining in our hearts those things that put Jesus on the cross. We cannot be filled with the Spirit and the lusts of the flesh. As Josh Harris says, “Lust is entertaining yourself with what Jesus died to free you from.” If we are to be filled by the Spirit, we must go to war against the lusts of the flesh. John Owen, the Puritan used to say it like this: “You must be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”

How can we be filled with the Spirit? Say “yes” to the gospel and “no” to sin.