In this final article we will consider what the New Testament means by being filled with the Holy Spirit. Unlike new birth and baptism in the Holy Spirit, which are one-off experiences that we live in the good of constantly throughout our lives, being filled is both a lifestyle and moments when the Holy Spirit does something in us. Let’s examine them further.
Living filled with the Spirit
…Be filled with the Spirit by speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making music to the Lord in your heart, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-21)
Let’s repeat something we looked at in the previous article. The Holy Spirit is not like fuel that fills us and then empties out of us as petrol does in a car. We don’t get ‘topped up’ with him. He is described as a ‘river’ that flows all the time from within us; he isn’t a reservoir that runs dry. He doesn’t come and go; he lives his life in us. We must understand being filled with him in the light of that. The word ‘filled’ here means to be controlled by, or even dominated by. The question, then, is not how much of the Holy Spirit I have, but how much of me does the Holy Spirit have? Who is the controlling force in me? How much do I allow the Holy Spirit to guide me, determine my decisions and attitudes, my habits and thoughts, my morals and relationships, my time and how I use my money? This is what the New Testament means when it tells us to live filled with the Spirit. He is not my mentor or life coach; he is the God of the universe who has come to live his life in me. He is good and kind and full of grace and mercy. He is patient and loves me. But first, he is God, he is the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ to whom I have submitted my life. He calls the tune!
Look at the verses quoted above from Ephesians; you will notice that we live filled with the Holy Spirit by doing certain things too: speaking, singing, giving thanks to God in everything and submitting our lives to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. These are very practical things which affect our spiritual health and determine how much freedom the Holy Spirit has in our lives. We don’t have the space to go into each of these in detail; let me encourage you to take a good look at each of them and begin to put them into practice if you’re not doing so already. I guarantee your life will change and your relationship with the Holy Spirit will deepen immensely.
Moments of filling
Our final experience might sound strange and even contradictory to what we have just seen! However, the New Testament mentions occasions where believers, who were already living filled or controlled by the Spirit, were also ‘filled with the Spirit’. Here are three examples:
The first is found in Acts 4:31; after the release of Peter and John from prison, the church gathered to pray. Then this happened:
When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.
The second example comes from Acts 7:55; here Stephen was about to be martyred. Just before he was attacked and killed:
Stephen, filled by the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw God’s glory, with Jesus standing at the right hand of God…
We find the third example in Acts 13:9-11. Paul and Barnabas are in Paphos, preaching the Gospel; they are opposed by a man called Elymas, a sorcerer, who was trying to prevent the local proconsul from believing in Jesus. Something happened to Paul:
Saul – also called Paul – filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at the sorcerer and said… ‘the Lord’s hand is against you; you are going to be blind and will not see the sun for a time.’ Suddenly a mist and darkness fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.
The result was that the proconsul believed! Now, admittedly these are ‘extreme’ examples; nevertheless they show that there are times when those who are filled with the Spirit in the way we saw in the previous point, have experiences when the Holy Spirit takes hold of them – fills them – to do something. We should expect and experience the same fillings – perhaps not as dramatic as these – but I don’t want to put any limitations of the Spirit of God. He is the God of signs and wonders, and the God of the impossible. We must acknowledge that there are sovereign moments when the Holy Spirit can take hold of any believer to do something through them. Some people call it ‘the anointing’ in order to explain it; that is fine. Have you ever had times when you know the Holy Spirit has taken hold of you above and beyond your normal fellowship with him and he has used you in a specific way? Sometimes that can happen in certain manifestations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit – exercising the gift of faith or healing and working of miracles. You don’t need this extra ‘filling’ to use the gifts, but sometimes you might find the Holy Spirit takes hold of you in such a way when you move in them. Don’t put confining limits on the Holy Spirit; give him the freedom to be himself and act in the way he wants.
In these three articles we have explored some aspects of who the Holy Spirit is and how we experience him in our lives. It’s not exhaustive, but I hope it’s given you a taste and some idea of what it means to know him and how he operates in your life. Let me give you a few ways in which you can strengthen your fellowship with the Holy Spirit:
Build a strong relationship with the Word of God. It was written by him (2Timothy 3:16); when you read the Bible you will always encounter the Holy Spirit in some way. So, when you read, ask him to talk to you. Try reading it aloud; there is real power in hearing yourself read what the Holy Spirit wrote.
Speak in tongues regularly. We could devote an entire article to this! Speaking in your heavenly language to God is one of the best ways to keep yourself spiritually sharp. It’s not something you just do when you’re baptised in the Spirit, tongues are meant to be used as part of your prayers, praise and worship. When you speak in tongues to God, the Holy Spirit is helping you communicate with your Father from the very depths of your being. It’s an incredibly powerful tool and weapon; try it and see what happens.
Obey the Holy Spirit and do what he tells you. This is key; learn to listen to him and do what he tells you when he tells you. The more you listen and obey the more you get to recognise his voice. Don’t let your mind get in the way; don’t second guess the Holy Spirit. He knows what he’s doing and just wants you to obey him. He will take care of the consequences; he will give you the power and all the resources necessary to do what he tells you. You just need to listen and obey.
Thank you for taking the time to read these articles. I pray that you will know the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and that he will lead you into a greater and more intimate relationship with your heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Be blessed.