This is a controversial question. 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 answer more than Scripture. I include myself in this category, because for a period of time I believed being filled with the Spirit looked more like what I’d been told than what the Bible taught.
In explaining this phrase, first we’ll talk about what it’s not referring to, and then we’ll talk about what it means.
Outline for the post
Being filled with the Spirit isn’t referring to:
- Speaking in tongues
- Him indwelling us
- Having more of Him
- Being baptized by Him
- An emotional experience
Being filled with the Spirit means:
- He influences us
- Submitting to Him
- Exhibiting godly speech
- Producing the fruit of the Spirit
- Not producing the works of the flesh
- Looking like Jesus
1. Being filled with the Spirit isn’t referring to speaking in tongues
Consider the theme in Luke 1 of four different people being filled with the Spirit: (John the Baptist in v. 15, Mary in v. 35, Elizabeth in v. 41, and Zacharias in v. 67), but there’s no record of any of them speaking in tongues. Were they grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit? Of course not. Even though two of them were moved to make dramatic declarations (Mary’s Magnificat in vv. 46-55 and Zacharias’ prophecy in vv. 68-79), they weren’t spoken in tongues.
The fifth Person filled with the Spirit is Jesus Himself in Luke 4:1. While the previous four people were filled with the Spirit, Jesus was “FULL OF the Holy Spirit.” Colossians 1:19 & 2:9 says:
For it pleased the Father in [Jesus] all the fullness should dwell…in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
Even though Jesus was the most Spirit-filled Person to walk the earth, there’s no instance of Him speaking in tongues. Some would say there’s no verse saying He didn’t speak in tongues, but that’s called “arguing from silence.” We stand on what God’s Word says, not on what it doesn’t say.
2. Being filled with the Spirit isn’t referring to Him indwelling us
The Holy Spirit indwells us a the moment of conversion. It is a one-time, instantaneous event when we put our faith in Christ and are regenerated, born again, brought to life spiritually, etc.
3. Being filled with the Spirit isn’t referring to having more of Him
In Luke 11:13 Jesus said:
“How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.”
This looked forward to the availability of the Holy Spirit at conversion. The Holy Spirit is not reserved for Christians who are more mature than others. God is pleased to seal each believer with His Spirit (Ephesians 1:13, 4:30, 2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5). As a result, you can never have more or less of the Holy Spirit than you have at the moment of conversion. When you’re saved the Holy Spirit indwells you and you receive all of Him:
1 Corinthians 6:19 Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you.
John the Baptist said, “God does not give the Spirit by measure” (John 3:34). 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. You either have the Holy Spirit or you don’t. Eddie Rasnake says:
There is no place in Scripture that indicates we can receive more of the Holy Spirit. The real issue is the release of the already present Spirit to have free reign in our hearts. It isn’t about us having more of Him, but of Him having more of us.
4. Being filled with the Spirit isn’t referring to being baptized by Him
Some teach that there’s a supposed experience that takes place with the Holy Spirit after conversion. The idea is you’re indwelt by the Spirit when you’re saved, but baptized with Him later. While the word baptism makes us think of water, it means “immerse” It can refer to baptism in water, but it can also refer to:
- Immersion in suffering: Mark 10:39 They said to Him, “We are able.” So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized” (Mark 10:39).
- Immersion in Moses, because of Israel’s unity with him in the wilderness: All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Corinthians 10:2).
Paul’s crucial words are found in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13:
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
Paul isn’t referring to being baptized – or immersed – in water, but being baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ – or the church – at the moment of conversion.
Paul’s favorite way of referring to believers’ relationships with Jesus is that we’re “in Christ.” When Paul says we’re “baptized into Christ Jesus” in Romans 6:1-4 he means we’re spiritually immersed in Him. Galatians 3:27 says:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
This should make sense because we don’t become part of the body of Christ through water baptism, but through faith in Christ. Water baptism is simply a physical demonstration of what has taken place spiritually as we identify with Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection when we go under the water and come back up.
Paul’s emphasis in 1 Corinthians 12:12 and 13 is on oneness (the word “one” occurs six times). There can be “one body” because we’re all baptized by the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion and placed into the body of Christ. If there was a later baptism that some received, but others didn’t, there would have to be two bodies: one for believers who have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and one for those who haven’t received that baptism. Ephesians 4:4-5 says:
There is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
Paul couldn’t say this if some believers were baptized at conversion, but others were baptized later. The clear understanding is all believers receive one baptism by the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion.
The big problem with this view
When I believed the baptism with the Holy Spirit was an experience taking place after conversion I prayed for it numerous times, had people lay hands on me to receive it, and was left asking, “How do I know if I received it? Have I really received it? If not, why not?”
People feel like they aren’t receiving something that God supposedly has for others. This can be very discouraging. They’re left asking, “Is something wrong with me? Do I not have enough faith? Have I done something wrong? Does God not love me ? Maybe I’m not really saved?”
5. Being filled with the Spirit isn’t referring to an emotional experience
Jesus is the actual baptizer with the Holy Spirit: In Matthew 3:11 John the Baptist said:
“I indeed baptize you with water…but He who is coming after me…will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
At Pentecost the people were confused asking, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12). Peter explained Jesus ascended to heaven and “poured” out the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:33 records his words:
“[Jesus] being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.”
Some people believe being filled with the Holy Spirit refers to an emotional or mountaintop experience that takes place at some point in time, or that comes-and-goes throughout the Christian life. You might feel it one day but not the next. This false belief leads to serious problems. First, it encourages people to pursue something that isn’t biblical. John Napier said:
The goal of the Christian life is not to gain the Spirit-filled experience; rather, the goal is to remain Spirit-filled. That should be the normal Christian life.
Second, when people’s beliefs are based on feelings and emotions more than the truth of Scripture it can lead to discouragement. People can be left asking: “Why don’t I feel like I did previously?” They might even conclude Christianity isn’t real, since they think it’s made up of supposed feelings and emotions that they aren’t experiencing.
1. Being filled with the Spirit means He influences us
Ephesians 5:18 says:
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 we can sum up Paul’s point with the word “influence.” People driving drunk are “driving under the influence.” Being filled with the Spirit is compared with wine, not because it feels like being intoxicated, but because wine has the potential to influence. Just as alcohol has the potential to influence, so does the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word for “be filled” is pleroo, which means “keep on being filled” or “stay filled” with the Spirit. Paul is talking about something that should be ongoing in the lives of believers. John MacArthur said:
The filling of the Spirit is not some ecstatic or emotional experience, but a steady controlling of the life by obedience to the truth of God’s Word.
As already stated, you can’t have more or less of the Holy Spirit. But you can have more or less of His influence over you.
2. Being filled with the Spirit means submitting to Him
How are we filled with, or influenced by, the Spirit? The answer is simple to understand, but difficult to live out: yield to Him. Obey Him. Then we won’t disobey these commands:
- Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30)
- Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19)
Being filled with the Spirit is a day-to-day, even moment-by-moment surrendering of our lives to Christ.
3. Being filled with the Spirit means exhibiting godly speech
The following verses, Ephesians 5:19-20, also reveal what Paul meant in verse 18:
Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Both verses are about our speech. And why is that? In Matthew 5:18 Jesus said:
Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart.
What we say is a reflection of our hearts. What could be a better indication of whether we’re filled with the Spirit than what comes out of our mouths.
James 3:1-12 discusses the tongue. It says we can tame everything in creation, but we can’t tame our tongues: they’re like wild fires burning out of control destroying everything in sight (vv. 6-8). This is why James says, “If someone could tame his tongue, he would be a perfect man” (v. 2).
What does it look like practically to exhibit Spirit-filled speech? Ephesians 4:29 provides the answer. The Amplified Bible says:
Let no foul or polluting language, nor evil word nor unwholesome or worthless talk [ever] come out of your mouth, but only such [speech] as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion, that it may be a blessing and give grace (God’s favor) to those who hear it.
4. Being filled with the Spirit means producing the fruit of the Spirit
Think for a moment about the word fruit: it refers to something produced. We call apples and oranges fruit, because they’re produced from trees. We call children “fruit of the womb,” because they’re produced from pregnancy. If you work hard for something, it’s called the “fruit of your labor” because it’s produced from your effort.
When we talk about the fruit of the Spirit, we’re talking about what the Holy Spirit produces in our lives. People who are truly filled with the Spirit should produce an abundance of the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 says:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
This is what the Holy Spirit produces in a person’s life. If you want to know when you’re filled with the Spirit it’s when you’re producing the fruit of the Spirit. If people claim to be filled with the Spirit, there should be plenty of these fruit evident.
Unfortunately, some people claim to be filled with the Spirit, but there manifestations 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] out of [their] mind?” (1 Corinthians 14:23).
5. Being filled with the Spirit means not producing the works of the flesh
Conversely, the flesh is the opposite of the Spirit. The HOLY Spirit allows us to live holy lives, and much of that means resisting sin. Galatians 5:16-17 says:
Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another.
If you’re walking in the Spirit you’re not walking in the flesh. Being filled with the Spirit means not producing the works of the flesh. If you meet people who say they’re filled with the Spirit, their lives should be largely absent of the works listed in Galatians 5:19-21:
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.
The opposite of exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit is exhibiting the works of the flesh. If you want to know when you’re not filled with the Spirit, it’s when you’re producing the works of the flesh.
6. Being filled with the Spirit means looking like Jesus
As already stated, Jesus possessed the fullness of the Holy Spirit. He reveals what it looks like to be filled with the Spirit. Conversely, it would be impossible for people to engage in behavior unseen in Christ’s life and claim it’s part of being filled with the Spirit.
- Do you agree or disagree with this post? Why or why not?
- What used to come to mind when you heard the words, “filled with the Spirit”” What comes to mind now?
- Have you heard teaching, or witnessed people’s actions that contradict what Scripture teaches about being filled with the Spirit?
- “Being filled with the Spirit isn’t referring to ____?” What would you put in the blank that wasn’t covered in the post?
- “Being filled with the Spirit does mean ____?” What would you put in the blank that wasn’t covered in the post?