What does it mean to “be filled with the Spirit”?

This might be one of the most controversial questions in the church. Ask one hundred people what it means to “be filled with the Spirit” and you’ll probably receive almost as many different answers. Unfortunately, for some people church background determines their response more than Scripture. For a period of time I believed being Spirit filled looked more like what I’d been told than what the Bible actually taught.

So what does the Bible say it means to be filled with the Spirit?

Being filled with the Spirit means producing the fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22-23 The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

These two verses identify what the Holy Spirit produces in a person’s life. If people claim to be filled with the Spirit, there should be plenty of these fruit evident.

Unfortunately, when some people claim to be filled with the Spirit there are manifestations that look more like the works of the flesh. Disorderly occurrences such as laughing in the Spirit, being slain or drunk in the Spirit, excessive crying, screaming, dancing, or violent shaking are a few of the supposed evidences of the Spirit’s work in a person’s life. What these demonstrations do is make people ask, “Are [they] of [their] mind?” (1 Corinthians 14:23).

Being filled with the Spirit means looking like Jesus

Colossians 1:19 & 2:9 For it pleased the Father in [Jesus] all the fullness should dwell…in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.

Jesus possessed the fullness of the Holy Spirit. He was the most Spirit-filled Person to walk the earth. He reveals what it looks like to be filled with the Spirit. Conversely, it would seem to be impossible for someone to engage in behavior or activity unseen in Christ’s life and claim it’s part of being filled with the Spirit.

Being filled with the Spirit means yielding to the Holy Spirit

Ephesians 5:18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.

It might sound odd to compare drunkenness with being filled with the Spirit, but Paul’s point can be summed up with the word “influence.” People who are driving drunk are “driving under the influence.” Just as alcohol has the potential to influence, so does the Holy Spirit. People filled with the Spirit should be those most yielded to, or submitted to, the Holy Spirit’s influence.

Two closing thoughts…

  1. John the Baptist said, “God does not give the Spirit by measure” (John 3:34). This means no believer receives more or less of the Holy Spirit than other believers. God isn’t stingy with some and extra generous with others. When people claim to have more of the Holy Spirit than others they’re showing a pride and ignorance of Scripture.
  2. Jesus said, “How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (Luke 11:13). This looked forward to the availability of the Holy Spirit at conversion, simply by asking in faith to be saved. The Holy Spirit is not reserved only for the ultra-spiritual or mature Christians. God is pleased to seal each believer with His Spirit (Ephesians 1:13, 4:30, 2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5).

Discuss: 

  • What comes to mind when you hear the words “filled with the Spirit”?
  • Have you had bad experiences with people teaching – or demonstrating – something contrary to Scripture?

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20 thoughts on “What does it mean to “be filled with the Spirit”?

  1. Two things that you mentioned above are exactly what I needed to see (read). First, your scripture reference to Galatians 5:22-23, and second, the analogy of the “driving under the influence.” My husband and I both believe in God giving and people receiving the Spiritual Gifts that are mentioned in 1Corinthians 12. My husband, also a pastor, was “filled” with the Holy Spirit several years ago. Now, let me explain what he describes as being filled with the Holy Spirit. Just as you mentioned above, he thinks a person is NOT filled with the Holy Spirit unless they, as you also described above, performs the manifestations such as shaking, moving, or flopping around. He does know and preach that all saved Christians having the Holy Spirit living in them, but that they need to ask for the “Filling of the Holy Spirit” where they perform the shaking and moving acts. I was also praying for that, but about 6 months ago, I was led by the Holy Spirit that I AM FILLED with the Holy Spirit. I see not only my husband shake and move around, but others in the church as well. There was (died 3 months ago) an elderly lady in our church whom advised me to watch as some people are “filled” with the Holy Spirit are not praising God, but just outwardly performing. Recently, the Holy Spirit revealed to me the difference. My husband keeps telling me that I will be filled with the Holy Spirit when I do not care what others think. He, along with a few other men in our church, believe that a person is not truly filled with the Holy Spirit unless they “perform” the moving, shaking, or running. I believe those acts are real if truly led by the Holy Spirit and they are praising God.

    1. Hi Melissa,
      Thank you for reading my post and then sharing your thoughts. Also, I want to let you know I truly appreciate the way you expressed yourself. It’s clear you disagree with me on some points, and it blesses me that you didn’t come across contentiously. As you probably know, this is a topic that – unfortunately and unnecessarily – often leads to heated arguments.

      You mentioned the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 that the God gives through the Holy Spirit. We can definitely agree on those gifts, and I’d say we agree because they are in Scripture. So that leads me to the question I have for you: what verses support the behavior you’re describing, i.e. the shaking and similar movements?

      If your response is that we don’t need verses to support that behavior, then my next question would be: how do you argue against a person like Todd Bentley who “was known to forcefully kick, hit, smack, or knock over participants“? When Todd claims, “the Holy Spirit led him to such actions,” how would you respond?

    2. Scott,

      To my knowledge there are no scriptures to back up the sporadic movements such as kicking, flipping and flopping of arms and legs, and shaking. In the book of Acts, Paul writes about the Day of Pentecost when the people were filled with the Holy Ghost, but I do not recall the movements. I am not sure what we disagree on, but I am just trying to get further insight on the receiving of the Holy Spirit (being filled with the Holy Ghost). So, I guess I have a question… Must a person be slain in spirit, have the movements as we both have mentioned in order to be “Filled with the Holy Spirit? The reason I ask is because my husband claims those things must happen in order to say a person has been filled with the Holy Spirit.

    3. Hi Melissa,
      I appreciate your sincerity in trying to learn the truth. I was raised Catholic, then I became a Christian in a Calvary Chapel, then I went into ministry as a youth pastor at a Baptist church, and finally I moved on to WCC, a non-denominational conservative, Bible-teaching church. The point in mentioning this is I’ve learned we don’t often see the errors of our churches and their theology while we’re in those churches…or at least it’s very difficult to see!

      I suspect if you were outside the culture you’re in you’d more readily see the unbiblical nature of these beliefs and practices. I’m sorry to have to say that, but it’s true. Can we agree Jesus was the most Spirit-filled Man to walk the earth? So can we agree that what we see from Him would most clearly demonstrate what it looks like to be Spirit-filled? Do we ever see Him act like that (kicking, flipping, flopping, etc)? Do we see that behavior from any other godly men? Paul, Peter, etc?

      There’s no verse describing behavior like that at Pentecost. If we were expected to act like that wouldn’t we see it prescribed in the epistles, which are the letters of instruction for New Testament living?

      You asked:

      Must a person be slain in spirit, have the movements as we both have mentioned in order to be “Filled with the Holy Spirit?

      In answer to your question I would definitely say no! In fact, I think that type of behavior seems more influenced by a demon than the Holy Spirit. When you see people acting this way it looks like the descriptions in Scripture of people who are possessed by demons…as opposed to influenced by – or filled with – the Holy Spirit.

      If you want to know what it looks like to be filled with the Spirit, read about the fruit of the Spirit. That fruit is what the Holy Spirit produces in a Spirit-filled person.

      Thank you for your learning attitude!

    4. It’s not very often that you come across two people discussing such a controversial issue in such a cordial and hospitable way! Thank you, Melissa and Scott, for your example!

      If I may, I would like to offer an answer to the question, “how are filled with the Spirit?”

      It is clear from Scripture that all believers have the Holy Spirit, but how do we follow the command in Ephesians 5:18 to “be filled with the Spirit”? I think Colossians 3:16 provides some interesting insight

      It has been said by scholars that Ephesians 5:18-19 and Colossians 3:16 are “sister passages.” In other words, Paul is trying to say the same thing. In Ephesians 5:18, the command is to “be filled with the Spirit.” In Colossians 3:16, the command is to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” In both passages, the result of obeying this command is identical: teaching, admonishing, singing and thankfulness.

      If you harmonize these two passages, they seem to say that “being filled with the Spirit” is synonymous with letting “the Word of Christ dwell in your richly,” since they both produce identical results. I believe that to be Spirit-filled is to be Word-filled. The more we live in God’s Word, the more God’s Spirit will influence our lives.

      Thought, Scott or Melissa?

    5. Hi Aaron,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yes, Colossians 3:16 looks like a great complement to Ephesians 5:18-19.

      Along with the fruit the Holy Spirit produces in our lives, it looks like those verses reveal other behaviors a Spirit-filled person will exhibit! I also agree with you that being Spirit-filled is synonymous with being Word-filled. You harmonized those verses and summarized the question very well.

  2. This is good! I love the point about being influenced. I often times tell people the reason I don’t drink is because I don’t want anything in my spirit that would interfere with the Holy Spirit. This includes what I watch, listen to and the conversations I entertain. They have the potential if not checked to interfere with my witness.

    1. Great thoughts Tiffani. Yes, most of what we introduce into our lives – whether through our mouths or eyes – is going to influence our relationships with the Lord.

      By the way, the reason I said “most” instead of all, is Paul discussed some things being permissible, but not beneficial; therefore, they might not influence negatively, but they also don’t influence negatively.

  3. I LOVE THIS POST! I always enjoy reading your posts because it is from such a different perspective than most of the blogs I read. I had a similar conversation with my father when I was younger. See, I was told at a young age that I wasn’t reverent enough when I prayed, didn’t show enough passion when I worshipped, and didn’t know how to “act” in church. I remember being in a theological class with my dad (I was homeschooled, and I got to go to class with him every Tuesday). Anyway, they were discussing this very same idea and how people worship so differently in various denominations but are in the same religion. So, because it was a great class and an amazing doctor teaching, I got to answer. I remember saying that it seemed like an over-complicated question because we are told to live like Christ, and he worshipped among others, sometimes alone, never boastfully, and he used his gifts to glorify God. Musicians can worship through music, dancers through dance, speakers through preaching, and so on… but my point was with your thoughts. Being filled with the spirit should look like Christ, and I don’t remember him handling a snake, or in my case, I was always called out for not participating in holding my hands to heaven and swaying to worship music. And as far as bearing fruit… I think loving all people, showing kindness, and helping the down-trodden is bearing the fruit… I don’t think you have to manifest anything in the flesh as prove for others to see. Sorry for the long reply! I just really like your content! Great post!!!

    1. Thank you Rachael!

      It’s interesting (and sad) that you were told that at a young age for a number of reasons.

      First, worship takes place in the heart. Plenty of people can look outwardly like they’re worshiping when their hearts are elsewhere. Conversely, others might look like they’re not worshiping and who knows the great work God might be doing in their hearts.

      Second, young people should be encouraged, not criticized.

      Yes, snake handling could’ve been added to the list; doing some foolish in the name of the Lord isn’t evidence of being Spirit filled.

  4. Scott, good points, but you forgot to mentioned among the “manifestations” to “surf in the spirit” 😉. Not to be prideful, but from the beginning of my encounter with The Lord, I knew that this was real, and I never fell for all the fake stuff that people were doing including speaking in tongues(languages). The gift was given for a purpose and for a period of time that The Lord used in a mighty way among His people. Praise God that there aren’t these so called “super saints”. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Gal.5:16.

    1. Thanks Ricardo :).

      Yes, I felt like tongues (known languages) went outside the scope of this post.

      I wasn’t as discerning early on, believing in a charismatic view that wasn’t biblical.

  5. Filled with the spirit is one of those terms veiled with mystery – only so because such diverse teachings permeate the Church. I tend to land where you do, the Spirit fills us with inner renewal, prompts toward growth and wisdom, and gives us power. I don’t believe that miraculous signs and wonders, like tongues, are the only way to know if someone is filled with the Spirit. In my opinion, heart renewal is an even more astounding miracle!

Do you have a question or thought? If so, please share!