…Be filled with the Spirit.


When we think of the Person of the Holy Spirit, we should think of Him as gracious, loving, kind and gentle—just like our Lord Jesus Christ Himself!

When the Scripture says, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God,” it is telling us that He loves us so much that when we insult Him, He is grieved; when we ignore Him, He is grieved; when we resist Him, He is grieved; and when we doubt Him, He is grieved.

Thankfully, we can please Him by obeying and believing. When we please Him, He responds to us just like a pleased father or loving mother responds. He responds to us because He loves us!

Think of the tragedy and the woe of this hour—that we neglect the most important One who could possibly be in our midst! He is the Holy Spirit of God—yet many are guilty of ignoring and neglecting Him!

Let me assure you that this is the most important thing in the world—that this blessed Holy Spirit is waiting now and can be present with you this minute. Jesus, in His body, is at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, interceding for us. He will be there until He comes again.

But He said He would send another Comforter, the Holy Ghost, His Spirit. We cannot be all that we ought to be for God if we do not believe the Comforter, the Holy Spirit has been sent to be to us all that Jesus would be if He were here now![1]

5:18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation. In our North American culture, such a command seems almost shocking and unnecessary, since total abstinence is the rule among so many Christians. But we must remember that the Bible was written for believers in all cultures, and in many countries wine is still a fairly common beverage on the table. The Scriptures do not condemn the use of wine, but they do condemn its abuse. The use of wine as a medicine is recommended (Prov. 31:6; 1 Tim. 5:23). The Lord Jesus made wine for use as a beverage at the wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1–11).

But the use of wine becomes abuse under the following circumstances and is then forbidden:

  1. When it leads to excess (Prov. 23:29–35).
  2. When it becomes habit-forming (1 Cor. 6:12b).
  3. When it offends the weak conscience of another believer (Rom. 14:13; 1 Cor. 8:9).
  4. When it hurts a Christian’s testimony in the community and is therefore not to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
  5. When there is any doubt in the Christian’s mind about it (Rom. 14:23).

Paul’s recommended alternative to being drunk with wine is being filled with the Spirit. This connection too may startle us at first, but when we compare and contrast the two states, we see why the apostle links them in this way.

First, there are certain similarities:

  1. In both conditions, the person is under a power outside himself. In one case it is the power of intoxicating liquor (sometimes called “spirits”); in the other case it is the power of the Spirit.
  2. In both conditions, the person is fervent. On the Day of Pentecost, the fervency produced by the Spirit was mistaken for that produced by new wine (Acts 2:13).
  3. In both conditions, the person’s walk is affected—his physical walk in the case of drunkenness and his moral behavior in the other instance.

But there are two ways in which the two conditions present sharp contrasts:

  1. In the case of drunkenness, there is dissipation and debauchery. The Spirit’s filling never produces these.
  2. In the case of drunkenness, there is loss of self-control. But the fruit of the Spirit is self-control (Gal. 5:23). A believer who is filled with the Spirit is never transported outside himself where he can no longer control his actions; the spirit of a prophet is always subject to the prophet (1 Cor. 14:32).

Sometimes in the Bible, the filling with the Spirit seems to be presented as a sovereign gift of God. For instance, John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15). In such a case, the person receives it without any prior conditions to be met. It is not something for which he works or prays; the Lord gives it as He pleases. Here in Ephesians 5:18 the believer is commanded to be filled with the Spirit. It involves action on his part. He must meet certain conditions. It is not automatic but the result of obedience.

For this reason the Spirit’s filling should be distinguished from certain other of His ministries. It is not the same as any of the following functions:

  1. The baptism by the Holy Spirit. This is the work of the Spirit which incorporates the believer in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13).
  2. The indwelling. By this ministry the Comforter takes up His residence in the body of the Christian and empowers him for holiness, worship, and service (John 14:16).
  3. The anointing. The Spirit Himself is the anointing who teaches the child of God the things of the Lord (1 John 2:27).
  4. The earnest and the seal. We have already seen that the Holy Spirit as the earnest guarantees the inheritance for the saint, and as the seal He guarantees the saint for the inheritance (Eph. 1:13, 14).

These are some of the ministries of the Spirit which are realized in a person the moment he is saved. Everyone who is in Christ automatically has the baptism, the indwelling, the anointing, the earnest, and the seal.

But the filling is different. It is not a once-for-all crisis experience in the life of a disciple; rather it is a continuous process. The literal translation of the command is “Be being filled with the Spirit.” It may begin as a crisis experience, but it must continue thereafter as a moment-by-moment process. Today’s filling will not do for tomorrow. And certainly it is a state greatly to be desired. In fact, it is the ideal condition of the believer on earth. It means that the Holy Spirit is having His way relatively ungrieved in the life of the Christian, and that the believer is therefore fulfilling his role in the plan of God for that time.

How then can a believer be filled with the Spirit? The Apostle Paul does not tell us here in Ephesians; he merely commands us to be filled. But from other parts of the word, we know that in order to be filled with the Spirit we must:

  1. Confess and put away all known sin in our lives (1 John 1:5–9). It is obvious that such a holy Person cannot work freely in a life where sin is condoned.
  2. Yield ourselves completely to His control (Rom. 12:1, 2). This involves the surrender of our will, our intellect, our body, our time, our talents, and our treasures. Every area of life must be thrown open to His dominion.
  3. Let the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). This involves reading the word, studying it, and obeying it. When the word of Christ dwells in us richly, the same results follow (Col. 3:16) as follow the filling of the Spirit (Eph. 5:19).
  4. Finally, we must be emptied of self (Gal. 2:20). To be filled with a new ingredient a cup must first be emptied of the old. To be filled with Him, we must first be emptied of us.

An unknown author writes:

Just as you have left the whole burden of your sin, and have rested on the finished work of Christ, so leave the whole burden of your life and service, and rest upon the present inworking of the Holy Spirit. Give yourself up, morning by morning, to be led by the Holy Spirit and go forth praising and at rest, leaving Him to manage you and your day. Cultivate the habit all through the day, of joyfully depending upon and obeying Him, expecting Him to guide, to enlighten, to reprove, to teach, to use, and to do in and with you what He wills. Count upon His working as a fact, altogether apart from sight or feeling. Only let us believe in and obey the Holy Spirit as the Ruler of our lives, and cease from the burden of trying to manage ourselves; then shall the fruit of the Spirit appear in us as He wills to the glory of God.

Does a person know it when he is filled with the Spirit? Actually, the closer we are to the Lord, the more we are conscious of our own complete unworthiness and sinfulness (Isa. 6:1–5). In His presence, we find nothing in ourselves to be proud of (Luke 5:8). We are not aware of any spiritual superiority over others, any sense of “having arrived.” The believer who is filled with the Spirit is occupied with Christ and not with self.

At the same time, he may have a realization that God is working in and through his life. He sees things happen in a supernatural way. Circumstances click miraculously. Lives are touched for God. Events move according to a divine timetable. Even forces of nature are on his side; they seem chained to the chariot wheels of the Lord. He sees all this; he realizes that God is working for and through him; and yet he feels strangely detached from it all as far as taking any credit is concerned. In his inmost being, he realizes it is all of the Lord.[2]

  1. And do not get drunk on wine, which is associated with unrestrained living, but be filled with the Spirit. There are times when exhilaration of heart and mind is entirely proper. Scripture makes mention of shouting for joy (Ps. 5:11; 32:11; 35:27; etc.), fulness of joy (Ps. 16:11), good tidings of great joy (Luke 2:10), joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8). Exhilaration is wrong, however, when the method of inducing it is wrong. Thus it is improper to seek excitement from the excessive use of wine. It is the abuse of wine that is forbidden, not the use (1 Tim. 5:23). That such abuse was a real danger in the early church, as it certainly is also today, appears from such restrictions as the following: “The overseer therefore must be above reproach … not (one who lingers) beside (his) wine” (1 Tim. 3:3; cf. Titus 1:7); “Deacons similarly (must be) dignified, not … addicted to much wine” (1 Tim. 3:8); and “Urge aged women similarly (to be) reverent in demeanor … not enslaved to much wine” (Titus 2:3).

Intoxication is not the effective remedy for the cares and worries of this life. The so-called “uplift” it provides is not real. It is the devil’s poor substitute for the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” which God provides. Satan is ever substituting the bad for the good. Has he not been called “the ape of God”? Getting drunk on wine is “associated with unrestrained living” or “dissolute behavior,” “recklessness” (Titus 1:6; 1 Peter 4:4). It marks the person who, if he so continues, cannot be saved. But he need not so continue. The prodigal son of the unforgettable parable lived recklessly (an adverb cognate with the noun recklessness or unrestrained living occurring here in Eph. 5:18). Extravagance and lack of self-control were combined in his behavior, just as in all likelihood they are combined in the meaning of the word “unrestrained living” used in this passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Nevertheless, there was salvation for him when he repented. Let anyone who may read this take courage (Isa. 1:18; Ezek. 33:11; 1 John 1:9).

The real remedy for sinful inebriation is pointed out by Paul. The Ephesians are urged to seek a higher, far better, source of exhilaration. Instead of getting drunk let them be filled. Instead of getting drunk on wine let them be filled with the Spirit. Note the double contrast. Although it is true that the apostle makes use of a word, namely, pneúma, which in the translation should at times be spelled with, at other times without, a capital letter (hence “Spirit” or “spirit”), it should be capitalized in this instance, as is often the case. Paul was undoubtedly thinking of the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Evidence in support of this view: a. the expression “filled with” or “full of” the pneúma, when the reference is to the Holy Spirit, is very common in Scripture (Luke 1:15, 41, 67; 4:1; Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 6:3; 7:55; 9:17; 13:9); and b. the very contrast here in 5:18 between getting drunk on wine and being filled with the pneúma occurs also, though in a slightly different form, in Acts 2:4, 13, where the reference can only be to the Holy Spirit.

By the ancients, moreover, an overdose of wine was often used not only to rid oneself of care and to gain a sense of mirth but also to induce communion with the gods and, by means of this communion, to receive ecstatic knowledge, not otherwise obtainable. Such foolishness, often associated with Dionysiac orgies, is by the apostle contrasted with the serene ecstasy and sweet fellowship with Christ which he himself was experiencing in the Spirit when he wrote this letter to the Ephesians (see on 1:3; 3:20). What he is saying therefore is this: getting drunk on wine leads to nothing better than debauchery, will not place you in possession of worthwhile pleasure, usable knowledge, and perfect contentment. It will not help you but hurt you. It leaves a bad taste and produces no end of woe (cf. Prov. 23:29–32). On the other hand, being filled with the Spirit will enrich you with the precious treasures of lasting joy, deep insight, and inner satisfaction. It will sharpen your faculties for the perception of the divine will. Note the immediate context, verse 17. So, “do not get drunk on wine, but be filled with the Spirit.”

Being thus filled with the Spirit believers will not only be enlightened and joyful but will also give jubilant expression to their refreshing knowledge of the will of God. They will reveal their discoveries and their feelings of gratitude.[3]

The Command

but be filled with the Spirit, (5:18b)

Although Paul was not present when the Holy Spirit manifested Himself so powerfully at Pentecost, he must have had that event in mind as he wrote be filled with the Spirit. Pentecost obviously occurred while he was still an unbeliever and before he began persecuting the church. But without Pentecost he and other unbelievers would have had no reason to persecute the church, because it would have been too weak and powerless to threaten Satan’s domain. It was there that the other apostles heard the heavenly “noise like a violent, rushing wind,” saw “tongues as of fire distributing themselves” and resting “each one of them,” and were “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance” (Acts 2:2–4). It was also there that some of the crowd accused the apostles of being “full of sweet wine” (v. 13), probably expecting them to break out into the typical frenzied antics of mystical pagan worship.

Though others (such as Moses, Ex. 31:3; 35:31) had been filled with the Spirit for special purposes, it was at Pentecost that all believers in the church were first filled with the Holy Spirit. Every promise that Jesus gave to His disciples on the last night He was with them was fulfilled in some sense by the coming the Holy Spirit on that day. In fact, it was the coming of the Holy Spirit that made real all the promises of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you” (John 14:16–17). The Holy Spirit’s permanently indwelling all believers—rather than only being with some of them, as was true before Pentecost—is one of the great dispensational truths of the New Testament. In the new age, the church age, the Spirit of God would not be just be alongside His people but in them all (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). It is this residence of the Holy Spirit in believers that makes possible the fulfillment of all Jesus’ other promises to His people, and in Ephesians 1:13 He is called “the Holy Spirit of promise.”

The Holy Spirit is our divine pledge and security that Jesus’ promises are fulfilled (2 Cor. 5:5). Among many other things, He guarantees and gives assurance that we will have a heavenly dwelling place in the Father’s house (John 14:2–3); that we will do greater works, not in kind but in extent, even than He did (14:12; cf. Matt. 28:18–20; Acts 1:8); that whatever we ask in His name he will do (John 14:13–14); that we will have Christ’s own peace (14:27); that the fullness of His joy will be in us (15:11). The Holy Spirit assures us that Jesus Christ and the Father are one (14:20); that we are indeed God’s children (Rom. 8:16); that he will intercede for us, making our prayers effective (Rom. 8:26); and that He will bear fruit in our lives (Gal. 5:22–23).

But the work of the Holy Spirit in us and on our behalf can be appropriated only as He fills us. Every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and has the potential of receiving the fulfillment of all Christ’s promises to those who belong to Him. But no Christian will have those promises fulfilled who is not under the full control of the Holy Spirit. We have just claim to all Christ’s promises the moment we believe in Him, but we cannot have their fulfillment until we allow His Spirit to fill us and control us. Unless we know what it is to be directed by the Holy Spirit, we will never know the bliss of the assurance of heaven, or the joy of effective work for the Lord, of having our prayers answered constantly, or of indulging in the fullness of God’s own love, joy, and peace within us.

The Meaning of Being Filled

Before we look specifically at what the filling of the Spirit is, we should clarify some of the things it is not. First, being filled with the Holy Spirit is not a dramatic, esoteric experience of suddenly being energized and spiritualized into a permanent state of advanced spirituality by a second act of blessing subsequent to salvation. Nor is it some temporary “zap” that results in ecstatic speech or unearthly visions.

Second, being filled with the Spirit is not the notion at the other extreme—simply stoically trying to do what God wants us to do, with the Holy Spirit’s blessing but basically in our own power. It is not an act of the flesh which has God’s approval.

Third, being filled is not the same as possessing, or being indwelt by, the Holy Spirit, because He indwell-s every believer at the moment of salvation. As Paul plainly states in the book of Romans, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (8:9; cf. John 7:38–39). A person who does not have the Holy Spirit does not have Christ. Even to the immature, worldly Corinthian believers, Paul said, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, … and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). Unlike believers before Pentecost, on whom the Holy Spirit would come temporarily (Judg. 13:25; 16:20; 1 Sam. 16:14; Ps. 51:11), all Christians are permanently indwelt by the Spirit.

Fourth, being filled with the Spirit does not describe a process of progressively receiving Him by degrees or in doses. Every Christian not only possesses the Holy Spirit but possesses Him in His fullness. God does not parcel out the Spirit, as if He could somehow be divided into various segments or parts. “He gives the Spirit without measure,” Jesus said (John 3:34).

Fifth, it is also clear from 1 Corinthians 12:13 that the filling with the Spirit is not the same as the baptism of the Spirit, because every believer has been baptized with and received the Spirit. Although its results are experienced and enjoyed, baptism by and reception of the Spirit are not realities we can feel, and are certainly not experiences reserved only for specially–blessed believers. This miracle is a spiritual reality—whether realized or not—that occurs in every believer the moment he becomes a Christian and is placed by Christ into His Body by the Holy Spirit, who then takes up residence in that life.

Paul did not accuse the Corinthians of being immature and sinful because they did not yet have the Holy Spirit or the baptism in the Body and then exhort them to seek the Spirit in order to remedy the situation. Rather he reminded them that each one of them already possessed the Holy Spirit. Earlier in the letter he had pleaded with them to “flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (6:18–19). They were not sinning because of the Holy Spirit’s absence but in spite of the Holy Spirit’s presence. Even when a Christian sins he is still indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and it is that very fact that makes his sin even worse. When a Christian grieves the Spirit (Eph. 4:30) or quenches the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19), he grieves or quenches the Spirit who resides within himself.

Finally, the filling with Spirit is not the same as being sealed, or secured, by Him. That is an accomplished fact (see on 1:13). Nowhere are believers commanded or exhorted to be indwelt, baptized, or sealed by the Holy Spirit. The only command is to be filled.

Be filled translates the present passive imperative of plēroō, and is more literally rendered as “be being kept filled.” It is a command that includes the idea of conscious continuation. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not an option for believers but a mandate. No Christian can fulfill God’s will for his life apart from being filled with His Spirit. If we do not obey this command, we cannot obey any other—simply because we cannot do any of God’s will apart from God’s Spirit. Outside of the command for unbelievers to trust in Christ for salvation, there is no more practical and necessary command in Scripture than the one for believers to be filled with the Spirit.

Commands such as this one remind us of the fact that believers are subject to divine authority and are called to obedience as the most basic element of Christian living. In some Christian circles, the manner of living, and even the actual teaching, reflects the notion that just being in the kingdom is all that really matters. Anything one might do in obedience to the Lord after that is considered to be simply a kind of spiritual “extra credit.” Some would say that in Christ there is safety from hell, and that even if all works are burned up and no rewards are given, one will still go to heaven. Even the most obscure corner of heaven will still be heaven, it is argued, and all believers will live there in eternal bliss.

That sort of thinking is totally out of harmony with the teaching of the New Testament. It comes from spiritual hardness of heart and tends to produce a life that is careless and indifferent, and often immoral and idolatrous. The person with such an unscriptural attitude toward the things of God is either walking in direct opposition to the Spirit or else does not possess the Spirit at all—in which case he is not a Christian. Submission to the will of God, to Christ’s lordship, and to the guiding of the Spirit is an essential, not an optional, part of saving faith. A new, untaught believer will understand little of the full implications of such obedience, but the spiritual orientation of his new nature in Christ will bring the desire for submission to God’s Word and God’s Spirit. A person who does not have that desire has no legitimate claim on salvation.

To resist the filling and control of the Holy Spirit is flagrant disobedience, and to deny or minimize its importance is to stand rebelliously against the clear teaching of God’s own Word. Every Christian falls short of God’s standards and will sometimes fall into sin and indifference. But he cannot be continually content in such a state, because the experience of sin and indifference will be in a constant struggle with his new nature (see Rom. 7:14–25). He knows they cannot be justified or in any way reconciled with God’s will.

As we learn from Paul’s dealing with the Christians at Corinth, it is possible that for a time a believer may become and even remain carnal, or fleshly, to some extent (1 Cor. 3:1), but that will never be a true believer’s basic orientation. The terms carnal or fleshly are most often used in the New Testament of unbelievers. “The mind set on the flesh is death,” Paul said, “but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Rom. 8:6–7). A person whose mind is regularly set on the things of the flesh cannot be a Christian, because a Christian is “not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwell-s in [him]” (v. 9). A professed Christian who continually longs for the things of the world and the flesh needs to examine his heart carefully to see whether his carnality is that described in 1 Corinthians 3:1–3 or in Romans 8:6–8 (cf. 1 John 2:15–17; James 4:4).

Although every Christian is indwelt, baptized, and sealed by the Spirit, unless he is also filled with the Spirit, he will live in spiritual weakness, retardation, frustration and defeat.

The continuous aspect of being filled (“be being kept filled”) involves day–by–day, moment–by–moment submission to the Spirit’s control. The passive aspect indicates that it is not something we do but that we allow to be done in us. The filling is entirely the work of the Spirit Himself, but He works only through our willing submission. The present aspect of the command indicates that we cannot rely on a past filling nor live in expectation of future filling. We can rejoice in past fillings and hope for future fillings, but we can live only in present filling.

The mark of a good marriage relationship is not the love and devotion the husband and wife have had in the past—as meaningful and lovely as that may have been—nor is it the love and devotion they hope to have in the future. The strength of their marriage is in the love and devotion they have for each other in the present.

Plēroō connotes more than filling something up, as when someone pours water in a glass up the rim. The term was used in three additional senses that have great significance for Paul’s use of it here. First, it was often used of the wind filling a sail and thereby carrying the ship along. To be filled with the Spirit is to be moved along in our Christian life by God Himself, by the same dynamic by which the writers of Scripture were “moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21).

Second, plēroō carries the idea of permeation, and was used of salt’s permeating meat in order to flavor and preserve it. God wants His Holy Spirit to so permeate the lives of His children that everything they think, say, and do will reflect His divine presence.

Third, plēroō has the connotation of total control. The person who is filled with sorrow (see John 16:6) is no longer under his own control but is totally under the control of that emotion. In the same way, someone who is filled with fear (Luke 5:26), anger (Luke 6:11), faith (Acts 6:5), or even Satan (Acts 5:3) is no longer under his own control but under the total control of that which dominates him. To be filled in this sense is to be totally dominated and controlled, and it is the most important sense for believers. As we have already seen, to be filled with the Spirit is not to have Him somehow progressively added to our life until we are full of Him. It is to be under His total domination and control. This is in direct contrast to the uncontrolled drunkenness and dissipation in the worship of Dionysius that was alluded to in the first half of the verse.

We see the controlling work of the Holy Spirit even in Jesus’ life while He ministered in the flesh. The Holy Spirit led Him “into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt. 4:1). We learn from the parallel passage in Luke that it was Jesus’ being “full of the Holy Spirit” that prepared Him to be “led about by the Spirit in the wilderness” (4:1). The account in Mark uses an even stronger term, saying that “the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness” (1:12). It was not that Jesus resisted or had to be coerced, because His greatest joy was to do His Father’s will (John 4:34), but that He submitted Himself entirely to the Spirit’s control. Because He was full of the Spirit He was controlled by the Spirit.

The Christian who is filled with the Holy Spirit can be compared to a glove. Until it is filled by a hand, a glove is powerless and useless. It is designed to do work, but it can do no work by itself. It works only as the hand controls and uses it. The glove’s only work is the hand’s work. It does not ask the hand to give it an assignment and then try to complete the assignment without the hand. Nor does it gloat or brag about what it is used to do, because it knows the hand deserves all the credit. A Christian can accomplish no more without being filled with the Holy Spirit than a glove can accomplish without being filled with a hand. Anything he manages to do is but wood, hay, and straw that amounts to nothing and will eventually be burned up (1 Cor. 3:12–15). Functioning in the flesh produces absolutely nothing of spiritual value.

When the church at Jerusalem wanted men to free the apostles for the more important work of prayer and ministering the Word, they chose men such as Stephen, who was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:4–5). Because Stephen continued in the fullness of the Spirit, “he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,” even as he was about to be stoned to death (Acts 7:55). Being filled with the Spirit detaches us from the desires, the standards, the objectives, the fears, and the very system of this world and gives us a vision of God that comes in no other way. Being filled with the Spirit makes everything else of secondary importance, and often of no importance at all.

Although Peter was first filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost along with all the other disciples, some while later he spoke to the assembled Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and it is again said that he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8).

Before God could use Saul, who later became Paul, as apostle to the Gentiles, He had Ananias lay his hands on Saul’s head and tell him, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17). Without the yieldedness that allowed the filling of the Spirit, Paul would have been of no more use to the Lord than were the worldly members at Corinth among whom he would later minister.

When the church at Jerusalem needed a man to help with the ministry to Gentiles in Antioch, “they sent Barnabas … for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 11:22, 24). We read that Paul was “filled with the Holy Spirit” as he confronted the deceitful magician named Elymas (Acts 13:9), and that “the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” while being ridiculed and persecuted (13:52).

The concern we often hear about recapturing the dedication, zeal, love, and power of the early church is commendable. But we cannot have the early church’s spiritual power simply by trying to copy its methods of operation. We can experience those believers’ spiritual power only when we are surrendered to the Holy Spirit’s control as they were. It was not their methodology but their Spirit–filled lives that empowered believers to turn the world upside down in the first century (Acts 17:6).

The Means of Being Filled

God commands nothing for which He does not provide the means to obey. And if God commands something of us, we do not need to pray for it, because it is obviously His will and intent for us to do it. It is God’s deepest desire that each of His children be filled with His Spirit. We only need to discover the resources He has provided to carry out that obedience.

To be filled with the Spirit involves confession of sin, surrender of will, intellect, body, time, talent, possessions, and desires. It requires the death of selfishness and the slaying of self–will. When we die to self, the Lord fills with His Spirit. The principle stated by John the Baptist applies to the Spirit as well as to Christ: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Paul’s command to the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you,” was followed by a series of subsequent and dependent commands (Col. 3:16–25) that exactly paralleled those Paul gave in Ephesians 5:19–33 as being results of the filling of the Spirit. In both cases we see that singing, giving thanks, and submissiveness follow being filled with the Spirit and letting the word of Christ dwell in us. It is therefore easy to conclude that the filling of the Spirit is not an esoteric, mystical experience bestowed on the spiritual elite through some secret formula or other such means. It is simply taking the Word of Christ (Scripture) and letting it indwell and infuse every part of our being. To be filled with God’s Spirit is to be filled with His Word. And as we are filled with God’s Word, it controls our thinking and action, and we thereby come more and more under the Spirit’s control. As Charles Spurgeon said, the Christian’s blood should be “bibline,” bleeding Scripture wherever he may be pricked or cut.

Peter’s strength lay in his always seeking to be near Jesus. When Jesus walked down a road, Peter was with Him. When He went up to the mountain or out in a boat, Peter went with Him. Peter got into trouble only when he got away from His Lord. When he stayed near the Lord, he did the miraculous, said the miraculous, and had miraculous courage.

When Peter saw Jesus standing on the water some distance from the boat, he stepped out on the water himself when Jesus said, “Come!” and found himself walking on the water just like the Lord—until his attention turned from Jesus to himself and his circumstances (Matt. 14:27–31). On another occasion, when Jesus asked His disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter immediately “answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven’ ” (Matt. 16:15–17). Because his mind and spirit were centered on Christ, Peter was used by God to make that great testimony to Jesus’ messiahship and divine sonship. A short while later, however, Peter pitted his own understanding against the Lord’s, and discovered that he then spoke for Satan rather than for God (16:22–23).

When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, they drew back and fell to the ground when Jesus identified Himself as the One they were seeking. Perhaps taking courage from that reaction, Peter took out his sword and cut off the right ear of Malchus, a slave of the high priest, and probably would have continued fighting to the death had not Jesus restrained him (John 18:3–11; cf. Luke 22:47–51). When he was near the Lord, he feared no one. But when a short while later he found himself separated from the Lord, he did not have the courage even to admit knowing Jesus (John 18:15–27).

After the ascended Lord sent His Holy Spirit to indwell and fill His disciples as He had promised, Peter found himself again able to say and do the miraculous and to have miraculous courage. He had the courage to fearlessly proclaim His risen Lord in the place where, a few months earlier, He had been arrested, beaten, and crucified—and found his message miraculously empowered and blessed, with some three thousand coming to salvation from that one sermon (Acts 2:14–41). When the lame man near the Temple asked Peter and John for alms, Peter replied, “ ‘I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!’ And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened” (Acts 3:1–7). When he was arrested by the Sanhedrin and questioned about the healing, Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit” and proclaimed that he had healed by the power of Jesus Christ, whom they had crucified. Because they could not deny the miracle and were afraid of the many people who glorified God because of it, the Jewish leaders simply commanded Peter and John to no longer preach in Jesus’ name. Peter responded, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:1–22).

To be filled with the Spirit is to live in the consciousness of the personal presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, as if we were standing next to Him, and to let His mind dominate our life. It is to fill ourselves with God’s Word, so that His thoughts will be our thoughts, His standards our standards, His work our work, and His will our will. As we yield to the truth of Christ, the Holy Spirit will lead us to say, do, and be what God wants us to say, do, and be. “We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). Christ consciousness leads to Christ likeness.

Perhaps the best analogy of moment–by–moment yielding to the Holy Spirit’s control is the figure of walking, the figure Paul introduced in Ephesians 4:1. Walking involves moving one step at a time, and can be done in no other way. Being filled with the Spirit is walking thought by thought, decision by decision, act by act under the Spirit’s control. The Spirit–filled life yields every step to the Spirit of God. “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:16–17). Our flesh is the beachhead of sin, the yet unredeemed part of our humanness that is exposed to and inclined toward sin. Even as Christians, as new creatures in Christ, our spiritual and moral Achilles’ heel is the flesh, the remnant of the old self that seeks to drag us down from behavior consistent with our heavenly citizenship. Paul spoke of it as “a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:23). The only way to override that residual sinfulness, our evil desires, and the temptations of Satan is to function in the Spirit.

Not to be filled with the Spirit is to fall back into “the deeds of the flesh … which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envyings, drunkenness, carousings, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19–21). We do not have to consciously choose to do the deeds of the flesh. If we are not living under the control of God’s Word and Spirit, the deeds of the flesh are the only things we can do, because the flesh is the only resource we have in ourselves.

The sole defense against the negative power of temptation, sin, and Satan is the positive power of the Holy Spirit. We have no power over those evils, and to try to combat them in our own strength is to try to walk on water by our own power. We win spiritual victories only when God’s Holy Spirit does battle for us.

But when we surrender to the control of God’s Spirit, we find Him producing amazing things in us, things which are entirely of His doing. Paul calls these marvelous blessings the fruit of the Spirit, and they are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self–control” (Gal. 5:22–23). The person who is Spirit–controlled and who bears the Spirit’s fruit is the person who belongs to Christ and who has “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit,” Paul continued, “let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:24–25). To walk in the Spirit is to fulfill the ultimate potential and capacity of our life on earth as God’s children.[4]

18 The NIV doesn’t translate the connective kai, which may have an emphatic function here—“Indeed.” Paul transitions from the general appeal to know God’s will to the specific instruction. It includes another contrasting negative and positive, following the contrasts in vv. 15 and 17 and reminiscent of the “put off” and “put on” of the previous section (starting at 4:22). In fact, this is the final imperative in the series of “do not … but.” Christians are not to be inebriated, a universal and consistent prohibition in the Bible; drunkenness is taboo. We cannot be certain why Paul isolates this particular sin here after he has focused on many others in the previous section. The contrast to Spirit-control probably supplies the key rather than any suggestion that Paul knew of pervasive alcoholism or that mystery religion practices were influencing his readers. Paul describes drunkenness with a word that might refer to something as simply “wasteful” or “purposeless,” but in the biblical usage asōtia (GK 861) conveys very negative meanings—“reckless abandon, debauchery, dissipation, profligacy” (BDAG, 148; cf. Tit 1:6; 1 Pe 4:4). Drunkenness represents a uniformly abhorrent, ungodly lifestyle. The Christian alternative is a life characterized by the filling of the Spirit.

As with Paul’s more common “in Christ,” only with difficulty can we arbitrate between the locative and instrumental senses here of “with the Spirit.” The Spirit is either the “content” or the “means” by which they should be continually filled. The grammar of the verb “be filled” (plērousthe, GK 4444) is present tense, imperative mood, passive voice—suggesting that Christians allow some “agent” to keep filling them with some “entity.” Does Paul intend that the readers allow God (the agent) to fill them with the Holy Spirit (the content)? This is the popular conception. Or is the Spirit the means by which the believers are to be filled with some other “content”? If the latter, then what might the content be? The immediate context suggests “the Lord’s will” (v. 17), i.e., wisdom in contrast to foolishness. But elsewhere in the letter Paul used “filling” language when he prayed that his readers might be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (3:19) and might “[attain] to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (4:13). More likely then, they need to allow God’s Spirit to transform their lives to be like God and like Christ. They must resist the culture and its values, their former selves, and certainly drunkenness—which Paul selected to epitomize their former non-Christian lifestyle. The Spirit is the instrument who fills believers with God and Christ, precisely because he builds the church into the temple in which God dwells (2:22). Since as Christians they are sealed by the Spirit (1:13; 4:30), Paul emphasizes that through the Spirit they become full of God. In other words, “Put yourselves in the place where God’s Spirit can keep filling you with all that God wishes you to have and to be.”

We would probably not think to make a point by contrasting drunkenness with the filling of the Spirit, though Schnackenburg, 236, points to a “long tradition for such a comparison.” What does Paul intend? Perhaps it is this: as excessive wine “directs” a person’s conduct into debauched behavior, so the divine Spirit can direct us to the godly conduct that fulfills God’s will. In effect, Paul urges his readers to allow God’s Spirit continually to direct their behavior; this is the path of wise living. The next section on worship suggests another possible connection. Drunkenness that led to ecstatic behaviors played a role in the mystery religions; Spirit-filling leads to truly God-honoring worship.[5]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1944–1946). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Ephesians (Vol. 7, pp. 238–240). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 246–254). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 143–144). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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