The New Testament employs a variety of terms to refer to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Most frequently used in contemporary terminology is the term “Christian” (Gk. Christianos). However, this name appears in Scripture on only three occasions (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16). The originally intended connotation (positive or negative) remains uncertain; however, it applies only to those who have believed in and followed the way of Christ Jesus.
A favorite term in the Gospels and Acts was “disciple” (Gk. mathētēs), which appears over 250 times, most often used of those who followed Christ. From its connection to “Christians” in Acts 11:26, it can be concluded that the use of “disciple” preceded that of “Christian” and, more important, defined a Christian as an authentic disciple of Christ.
Throughout the New Testament, spiritual family imagery of the new birth is suggested by the frequent use of “brother” (Gk. adelphos) and the rare appearance of “sister” (Gk. adelphē, Philem. 2; 2 John 13) in reference to a spiritual relationship in Christ. Another striking expression is “slave” (Gk. doulos) in contrast to Christ as “Lord” (Gk. kyrios).
Each of the above five terms seems rather appropriate and obvious. However, one additional reference to a believer is not—“saint” (Gk. hagios). It is the most surprising, the most intriguing, and the least deserved. Used sparsely in the Gospels and Acts, “saint” is the preferred terminology in the Epistles and Revelation.
Why are Christians, disciples, brothers, sisters, and slaves called “saints” or “holy ones”? They were not holy before salvation; they are not holy during their lives on earth, as God alone is holy; and they will not be without sin until after death in heaven. But Scripture clearly, frequently, and emphatically declares believers to be “saints” or “sanctified ones.”
The concept of being holy or sanctified serves as bookends in the canon: “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Gen. 2:3); “Let … the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy” (Rev. 22:11). More to the point, God commanded Moses, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2), and Peter repeated the mandate, “But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’ ” (1 Pet. 1:15–16). This idea of being “separated out,” “devoted to,” or “holy” permeates all Scripture—both the Old Testament and the New. While not limited to the work of the Holy Spirit, sanctification is often directly associated with the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Thess. 4:7–8; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet. 1:2).
Why “saint”? It is the one name of the six designations mentioned previously that focuses on God’s attribute of holiness (cf. Isa. 6:1–8) and his design that all true believers in Christ increasingly demonstrate and emulate this quality as their mark of Christian authenticity (cf. Heb. 12:10). The Spirit of holiness (Rom. 1:4), elsewhere referred to as the Holy Spirit (Ps. 51:11; Isa. 63:11; Matt. 1:18; Jude 20), personifies this preeminent attribute. By focusing on this title for believers, the discussion that follows will explore the salvific implications of sanctification and holiness as they appear in such familiar biblical texts as the following:
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:48)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Rom. 8:28–30)
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1:6)
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:2–3)
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24–25)
Three distinct word groups in the New Testament synonymously describe salvation in terms of that which is past, present, and future. Table 5.6 illustrates this pattern with representative passages from Scripture, and the data there can best be summarized with these ten observations:
Table 5.6 Word Groups Describing Salvation
|Completion/Perfection (Gk. teleioō, teleios)||Salvation (Gk. sōzō, sōtēria, sōtērion)||Sanctification (Gk. hagiazō, hagiasmos, hagios)|
|Past||“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Heb. 10:14)||“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5)||“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11)|
|Present||“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Cor. 7:1)||“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12)||“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor.… For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” (1 Thess. 4:3–4, 7)|
|Future||“But you have come … to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” (Heb. 12:22–23)||“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” (Rom. 13:11)||“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess. 5:23)|
1. “Salvation,” “sanctification,” and “completion”/“perfection” can be used synonymously in Scripture as word groups with significant salvific importance.
2. Salvation is part of sanctification in its broadest sense, and sanctification is part of salvation in its fullest sense.
3. Therefore, salvation and sanctification are inseparable. You cannot have one without the other.
4. Each of these three word groups can describe the past, the present, or the future.
5. Each of these three word groups can describe inauguration, continuation, or culmination in the context of redemption.
6. Each of these three word groups can describe the part or the whole of salvation.
7. Unless one accepts this biblical tension, erroneous conclusions will most certainly be reached in developing soteriology.
8. A person is said by Scripture to already be what a person is actually becoming.
9. A person is commanded in the Bible to now be what one cannot completely be until eternity.
10. The key to maintaining clarity in the midst of possible interpretive confusion is to correctly identify the individual parts in each biblical text.
These introductory thoughts deal with sanctification in its several parts and as a whole to provide a context for what follows. By design, the subsequent discussion will focus primarily on progressive sanctification, namely, that which occurs in a Christian’s life following salvation. Without moving to progressive sanctification too hastily, though, table 5.7 introduces several aspects of sanctification to highlight its complexity.
Table 5.7 Aspects of Sanctification
|Primary divine agents||father||son||holy spirit|
|“For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” (1 Thess. 4:7)||“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours …” (1 Cor. 1:2)||“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” (2 Thess. 2:13)|
|“And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)||“… that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor …” (1 Thess. 4:4)||“… so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” (1 Thess. 3:13)|
|“… that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word …” (Eph. 5:26)||“And we all, … beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor. 3:18) “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)||“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom. 8:23)|
|“And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb. 10:10)||“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Cor. 7:1)||“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” (Rev. 22:11)|
|“… to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:18)||“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (Rom. 6:22)||“… so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” (1 Thess. 3:13)|
|“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11)||“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” (1 Thess. 4:3)||“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Rom. 8:28–30)|
|Spiritual realities||forensic declaration||obedient submission||supernatural completion|
|“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Heb. 10:14)||“I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” (Rom. 6:19)||“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess. 5:23)|
Though one might be tempted to think this discussion of sanctification impractical, just the opposite is true. Systematic theology yields God’s plan for spiritual theology. Christian doctrine translates into Christian living. In a very real sense, all theology and all Christian living can be discussed, developed, and discerned by studying and applying what the Bible says about sanctification.
The following lists allow Scripture to speak for itself concerning the three time perspectives of sanctification—positional, progressive, and perfective.
INAUGURATION: POSITIONAL (DEFINITIVE) SANCTIFICATION
And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)
… to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. (Acts 26:18)
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours … (1 Cor. 1:2)
And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:30)
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:11)
… that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word … (Eph. 5:26)
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (2 Thess. 2:13)
And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb. 10:10)
… according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (1 Pet. 1:2)
CONTINUATION: PROGRESSIVE SANCTIFICATION
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)
I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. (Rom. 6:19)
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. (Rom. 6:22)
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. (2 Cor. 3:18)
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 7:1)
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality. (1 Thess. 4:3)
… that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor … (1 Thess. 4:4)
For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thess. 4:7–8)
Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. (2 Tim. 2:21)
CULMINATION: PERFECTED SANCTIFICATION
… so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thess. 3:13)
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess. 5:23)
The following eight descriptions summarize the essentials of what sanctification is as taught in Scripture:
1. A salvific work inaugurated by God and in which all three members of the Godhead participate
2. A salvific work that is continued by God in this life unto completion in heaven
3. A salvific work that cannot be separated from justification or glorification
4. A salvific work of God that is empowered by God’s Word and God’s Spirit
5. A salvific work of God that, once begun, cannot be lost, stopped, or undone
6. A salvific work of God that prompts a holy response of biblical obedience to the work of the Holy Spirit from those who are genuine saints
7. A salvific work of God that does not eradicate sin from the believer until glorification
8. A salvific work that provides confident hope in this life because of a certain eternal hope for the next life
One encounters two extreme conclusions when studying the Holy Spirit. First, a radical continuity supposes that whatever the Holy Spirit did in the New Testament was also surely done in the Old Testament. In contrast, a radical discontinuity avers that whatever the Holy Spirit did in the New Testament was essentially different from anything done in the Old Testament. These extreme conclusions follow the same pattern as another set of polar-opposite extremes: the idea that the Holy Spirit was essentially dormant in the Old Testament but hyperactive in the New Testament versus the idea that the Holy Spirit was equally and identically active in both Testaments.
Polarized positions are particularly common when discussing the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit. While it is accurate to state that the Holy Spirit indwelt believers in both Testaments, that is essentially where the agreement ends. Christian scholars differ here. One side promotes indwelling in the Old Testament as being the same as in the New Testament. The other side supports the view that the Spirit’s indwelling ministry, which began at Pentecost in Acts 2, differed significantly from the Old Testament.
Before the issue can be adequately understood, a look at what the Old Testament and the New Testament say about indwelling is in order. After the evidence has been gathered, then a sound conclusion may be reached.
On at least four occasions, several Old Testament believers are said to have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit. First, Joshua is described as “a man in whom is the Spirit” (Num. 27:18) because of the future leadership role that he will play as Moses’s successor. Second, Scripture reveals that the Spirit entered into Ezekiel in preparation for him to confront the exceedingly rebellious nation of Israel (Ezek. 2:2; 3:24). Interestingly, this appears to have happened on two separate occasions, which means that the Holy Spirit departed after the first indwelling and returned for the second—thus, the first was not a permanent indwelling. Third, the New Testament comments on an Old Testament time of prophetic activity when the Spirit of Christ was actively indwelling the prophets (1 Pet. 1:10–11). The phrase “Spirit of Christ” refers to the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:7; Rom. 8:9; Gal. 4:6; Phil. 1:19), as does the phrase “Spirit of God” in Romans 8:9, where the two are used interchangeably.
It has been claimed that Joseph and Daniel were also indwelt (Gen. 41:38; Dan. 4:8–9, 18; 5:11–14; 6:3). However, this testimony came from several pagan rulers (Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar’s queen, Belshazzar, and Darius) who knew nothing about God’s Holy Spirit and thus are not qualified to be expert witnesses. To their credit, however, they were trying to explain the extraordinary ministries of these two special men of God. Whether Joseph and Daniel were indwelt cannot be determined in these instances.
There are several additional Old Testament texts that speak about God putting his Spirit within the heart of the nation of Israel (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26–27; 37:14). This divine promise will be fulfilled in the millennial reign of Christ after his second advent.
Table 5.8 Cases of Holy Spirit Empowerment
|Bezalel||Ex. 31:3; 35:30–31|
|Seventy elders||Num. 11:25|
|Samson||Judg. 14:6, 19; 15:14|
|Saul||1 Sam. 10:10; 11:6; 19:23|
|David||1 Sam. 16:13|
|Messengers of Saul||1 Sam. 19:20|
|Amasai||1 Chron. 12:18|
|Azariah||2 Chron. 15:1|
|Jahaziel||2 Chron. 20:14|
|Zechariah||2 Chron. 24:20|
|Ezekiel||Ezek. 3:24; 11:5|
On far more numerous occasions than indwelling, the Old Testament speaks of the Holy Spirit coming “upon” particular leaders of Israel as an act of empowerment. This was also the language used of Simeon, who held Christ as an infant in the temple (Luke 2:25–35). This language, which precludes indwelling, appears in the Old Testament from Exodus to Joel (see table 5.8).
The Spirit also on rare occasions physically relocated people (1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:16; Ezek. 3:12, 14; 8:3; 11:1, 24; 37:1; 43:5). This also occurred in the post-Pentecost era with Philip and John (Acts 8:39–40; Rev. 21:10).
The major characteristics of indwelling in the Old Testament can be summarized as follows:
2. Involving selected leaders in Israel only
4. An empowerment for service
The closely related Greek terms oikeō, enoikeō, and katoikētērion describe the Holy Spirit “dwelling within” true believers. Without the indwelling Holy Spirit, a person is not a true believer (Rom. 8:9; Jude 19). The six key passages discussing the Spirit’s indwelling believers include Romans 8:9, 11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; Ephesians 2:22; and 2 Timothy 1:14. Taken in context, every use but one refers to believers as individuals. Ephesians 2:22, however, seems to speak of indwelling both in an individual sense and in a collective sense, referring to the body of Christ, the church. God dwelt in a physical temple in Old Testament Jerusalem; the Spirit of God dwells individually in each member of the New Testament body as well as collectively in them altogether.
The major characteristics of indwelling in the New Testament can be summarized as follows:
1. Always at salvation
2. Inclusive of all believers individually
4. Cohesive in the collective sense of the universal church
5. An empowerment for holy living and fruitful service
By comparing the qualities of Old Testament indwelling with the hallmarks of New Testament indwelling, one can observe some very distinct contrasts. This then raises the question, were Old Testament and Gospel believers indwelt by the Holy Spirit in the same manner as believers at Pentecost (Acts 2) and beyond?
OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT BELIEVERS INDWELT IDENTICALLY?
The Spirit’s work in the Old Testament was not exactly the same as what the New Testament presents. Pentecost marked the beginning of certain distinctive differences. When one examines the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost and beyond, it does not mean that the Spirit was absent from the scene before then. However, the situation was significantly different in that the Spirit took up permanent residency in believers at Pentecost.
For the following reasons, it seems certain that Old Testament believers were not indwelt by the Holy Spirit in the same manner as believers at Pentecost and beyond:
1. The seriously differing major characteristics mentioned above show a dramatic contrast between Old Testament and New Testament indwelling.
2. While all Old Testament believers, like New Testament believers, were regenerated by the power of God’s Spirit, nowhere does Scripture teach that indwelling was a necessary component of salvation in the Old Testament.
3. In John 7:39, Jesus explicitly said that the Holy Spirit had not yet been given in the sense of Spirit baptism, Spirit indwelling, and Spirit filling for all believers.
4. In John 14:17, Christ said of the Holy Spirit, “He dwells with you and will be in you.” The Greek verb menō, here translated “dwells,” would be more appropriately rendered “abides,” since neither oikeō, enoikeō, nor katoikētērion is used. Furthermore, while the future tense of the verb “to be” has a textual variant in the present tense, the manuscript evidence is far superior in supporting the future tense. Thus, Christ was teaching about a future indwelling (post-Pentecost) that was different from the abiding Jesus was describing to his disciples at that time.
5. In John 13–17, Jesus told the apostles to expect something significant to occur, because when he departed, the Holy Spirit would be sent in his place. The old covenant was being replaced by the new covenant (Hebrews 8). Indwelling of the Holy Spirit would be a part of the new.
6. There would be no need for Scripture to speak explicitly of the few indwellings in the Old Testament if all Old Testament saints had been indwelt.
7. First Samuel 16:14 records that the Holy Spirit departed from Saul, and in Psalm 51:11, David prays that God would not take the Holy Spirit from him. These passages make the best sense if they are understood to speak of Holy Spirit empowerment and not salvation since indwelling would have been irreversible otherwise.
8. New Testament indwelling refers not only to individuals but also corporately to the church. Since the church did not begin until Pentecost, the Old Testament would have had no indwelling like that in the New Testament.
9. Second Corinthians 6:16, quoting Exodus 29:45 and Leviticus 26:12, records God saying, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them.” None of these three texts state that God by his Spirit will dwell “in” them either nationally or individually but rather that he will dwell “among” them externally.
The Holy Spirit’s filling ministry occurred in both the Old and New Testaments. If one were reading the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, references to the Spirit’s filling would be encountered first in Exodus 31:3 and last in Colossians 1:9. Three periods will be used to discuss variations of emphasis and manifestation: (1) pre-Pentecost (Genesis to John, ca. 1440 BC–AD 30), (2) Pentecost (Acts 1–2, AD 30), and (3) post-Pentecost (Acts 3 until the rapture, AD 30 until the rapture). Being filled produced the effects of Spirit-enhanced capabilities or Spirit-produced character.
The Hebrew word male’ (Gk. empimplēmi [Septuagint]) is used in the Old Testament. The New Testament employs three Greek terms that are different but very similar in meaning: (1) pimplēmi, (2) plērēs, and (3) plēroō. All these words carry the basic idea of domination or total control. When describing the work of the Holy Spirit, they convey the general idea of divine sovereignty as the cause and human submission as the effect.
Old Testament. The pre-Pentecost era can be split into two broad periods. The first encompasses the Old Testament, which describes a handful of Spirit fillings.
Occasions. Five mentions of “filling” occurred during (1) the building of the tabernacle (ca. 1444 BC), (2) the leadership of Joshua (ca. 1405 BC), (3) the building of Solomon’s temple (ca. 966 BC), and (4) the ministry of Micah (ca. 700 BC). They specifically include the following:
1. Bezalel was (explicitly) equipped by the Holy Spirit to construct the tabernacle and its contents (Ex. 31:2–3).
2. Bezalel and Oholiab were (explicitly) equipped by the Holy Spirit with special artistic skills to work on the contents of the tabernacle (Ex. 35:31–35).
3. Joshua was (implicitly) equipped by the Holy Spirit with wisdom to lead Israel as the successor to Moses (Deut. 34:9).
4. Hiram was (implicitly) equipped by the Holy Spirit to help Solomon build the original temple in Israel (1 Kings 7:14, 40, 45).
5. Micah was (implicitly) equipped by the Holy Spirit to function as a confrontational prophet (Micah 3:8; see Zech. 4:6).
Observations. The occasions of filling in the Old Testament were noticeably infrequent, although it is possible that the Spirit filled others without Scripture mentioning such occasions. Old Testament filling involved only the Holy Spirit equipping or enabling selected leaders to carry out God’s plans at special times in Israel’s history. None of the filling events involved Spirit-produced character. In terms of cause and effect, Holy Spirit filling seems very much like these other Old Testament descriptions: “the Spirit rested on them” (Num. 11:26), God “put his Spirit on them” (Num. 11:29), and “the Spirit of God came upon him” (Num. 24:2).
Gospels. The second period prior to Pentecost is the time of Jesus’s ministry, which also featured only a few instances of Spirit filling.
Occasions. “Filling” is mentioned explicitly only four times in the Gospels—all by Luke. These and two implicit fillings occurred during an approximately thirty-year span of time, involving four different people:
1. John the Baptist was (explicitly) “filled” from the time of his conception (Luke 1:15).
2. Elizabeth was (explicitly) “filled” during the time she carried John (Luke 1:41).
3. Zechariah was (explicitly) “filled” in order to prophesy (Luke 1:67).
4. Jesus was (implicitly) “filled” as a child (Luke 2:40).
5. Christ was (explicitly) “filled” at the outset of his adult ministry (Luke 4:1; see Luke 3:22).
6. Very possibly, Christ (implicitly) caused a filling when he breathed on the disciples, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). This act can be understood as Christ’s pledge that the Holy Spirit would be coming at Pentecost, just as he promised (John 14:26–27; Acts 1:4; 2:4).
Observations. As with the Old Testament, filling in the Gospels involved only selected individuals for very unique, not-to-be-repeated ministries. The fillings involved Spirit enablement. From the first Old Testament mention of “filling” until the final Gospel mention—the entire pre-Pentecost period, lasting about 1,475 years—only nine individuals (not including the eleven disciples) are cited as having been filled by the Holy Spirit. Spirit fillings prior to Pentecost were rare, limited, and very exceptional.
Occasion. Acts 1–2 records the transition from a primary focus on the nation of Israel to a primary focus on the church. This transition took place on the day of Pentecost, after Christ’s resurrection and ascension to heaven (Acts 1:1–11). The eleven (later joined by Matthias, Acts 1:13, 15–26), close family members (Acts 1:14), and the remainder of believers (Acts 1:15) gathered in Jerusalem to wait and pray for what Christ promised in the upper room (John 13–17) and in Acts 1:4–5 regarding the imminent ministry of the Holy Spirit.
When the day of Pentecost arrived, so did the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–4). All 120 believers were baptized by Christ with the Holy Spirit into the church (see “Baptism” [p. 353]; 1 Cor. 12:13) and were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3–4). All 120 were Spirit-enabled to speak other existing languages that they did not previously know (Acts 2:4–12). Additionally, they all were filled by the Holy Spirit in the sense of Spirit-produced character, which would be explained later by Paul (Eph. 5:18–21).
Observations. Selective, special Spirit enablement continued, as had been the historical pattern in the Old Testament and the Gospels. On Pentecost, filling became the experience of all Christians, not just a few selected individuals for significantly special occasions. A new dimension involving Spirit-produced character for all Christians also commenced on Pentecost (Eph. 5:18–21).
The Holy Spirit continued to enable select individuals and several select groups of people for ministry, up to and including the first missionary journey (Acts 11:24; 13:9, 52). It can be assumed that the Holy Spirit continued to produce godly character in all Christians as begun at Pentecost and explained by Ephesians 5:18–21.
Until ca. AD 48. The period from Pentecost through Paul’s first missionary journey gives further illustrations of Spirit filling in the church age. Scripture records eight occasions of Holy Spirit enablement from AD 30 to 48:
1. Peter preached in his native tongue, as he had in Acts 2:14–40 (Acts 4:8).
2. Christians spoke God’s Word with boldness in their native tongues (Acts 4:31).
3. Seven men were chosen to assist the apostles (Acts 6:3, 5).
4. Stephen preached fearlessly (Acts 7:55; see 6:10).
5. Paul was filled shortly after his conversion (Acts 9:17).
6. Barnabas ministered at Antioch (Acts 11:24).
7. Paul rebuked Elymas the magician (Acts 13:9–11).
8. Paul, Barnabas, and their disciples ministered on the first missionary journey (Acts 13:52).
AD 48 and Beyond. From Acts 14 through Revelation 22 and beyond (at least until the rapture of the church), there are no mentions of “filling” that relate to enablement or equipping as had been the case in the Old Testament, the Gospels, Pentecost, and the period after Pentecost through the first missionary journey. It is thus assumed that the “filling” described in Ephesians 5:18–21 prevailed as the exclusive form of filling beginning with the second missionary journey, which commenced in Acts 14.
Ephesians 5:18–21. Paul wrote, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (5:18). Since the apostle began by explaining what being filled is not, it would be good to begin this discussion in like manner.
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 godliness by a second act of blessing subsequent to salvation. Nor is it some temporary effect that results in ecstatic speech or visions.
Second, being filled with the Spirit is not a notion at the other extreme—stoically trying to do what God wants us to do, with the Holy Spirit’s blessing, in our own power. It is not merely a human act that has God’s approval.
Third, being filled is not the same as possessing or being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, because he indwells every believer at the moment of salvation. Paul states in Romans 8:9, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” 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 indwelt permanently by the Spirit.
Fourth, being filled with the Spirit does not describe a process of receiving him progressively by degrees. Every Christian not only possesses the Holy Spirit but also possesses him in his fullness. God does not parcel out the Spirit, as if he could somehow be divided into various parts.
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 has received the Spirit. Although its results are experienced and enjoyed, baptism by and reception of the Spirit are not realities one can feel and are certainly not experiences reserved only for specially blessed believers. Spirit baptism is a spiritual reality that occurs in every believer the moment one becomes a Christian and is placed by Christ into his body by the Holy Spirit, who then takes up residence in that life. Filling can be interrupted by personal sin.
Paul did not accuse the Corinthians of being immature and sinful because they did not yet have the Holy Spirit or had not yet been baptized into the church, and then exhort them to seek the Spirit in order to remedy the situation (1 Cor. 1:1–8). Rather, he reminded them that each one of them already possessed the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7, 11). They were sinning not because of the Holy Spirit’s absence but in spite of the Holy Spirit’s presence. Even when a Christian sins, one is still indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and it is that very fact that makes one’s sin even worse. When a Christian grieves the Spirit (Eph. 4:30) or quenches the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19), one grieves or quenches the Spirit who resides within.
Finally, being filled with the Spirit is not the same as being sealed or secured by him. That is an accomplished fact (Eph. 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.
On the other hand, Paul uses the term “fill” in regard to salvation in Philippians 1:11 (“fruit of righteousness”; see also James 3:18). He also employs “fill” to explain sanctification here in Ephesians 5:18–21 (see Col. 1:9–10). Ephesians 1:23 and 3:19 are echoes of 5:18, while Romans 15:13–14 and Colossians 3:12–4:6 parallel the larger context in Ephesians 5:15–6:9. Paul’s focus assumes the Ephesians’ salvation, and in 5:18–21 he explains their responsibility in the sanctification process as being filled with the Spirit.
Command. Unlike all previous mentions of Spirit “filling,” in Ephesians 5:18 Paul commands believers to continue being filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit. He employs an imperative to insist that they continuously submit to the Holy Spirit’s control because it is God’s will (Eph. 5:17).
Humans have two choices—be filled by the flesh in unbelief (Rom. 1:29–32; see Acts 13:10, 45; 19:28–29) or be filled by the Holy Spirit in salvation and sanctification (Eph. 5:18). Being filled authenticates one’s genuine salvation by allowing God’s will to prevail in obedience to Scripture’s teaching and the Holy Spirit’s direction.
Conditions. How can a Christian comply with God’s will? By not grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30) or quenching the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19) with such sinful habits as being drunk with wine (Eph. 5:18) or lying to the Holy Spirit, like Ananias and Sapphira did (Acts 5:3, 9).
On the other hand, Christians need to walk wisely (Eph. 5:15). Elsewhere Paul admonishes believers to walk by and live in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 25). God’s Word applied by God’s Spirit energizes or empowers the Christian to do so. In Colossians 3:16, Paul urges that the Word of Christ dwell in Christians richly. Not surprisingly, the cause of Scripture produces the effect of being filled with the Spirit (cf. Col. 3:12–4:6 with Eph. 5:15–6:9).
Confirmations. The chief characteristic of one’s salvation and subsequent sanctification is an ongoing, habitual, growing obedience to God’s Word that is empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who controls the lifestyle of a true Christian. Ephesians 5:19–6:9 illustrates some primary particulars.
First, evidence of the Spirit’s filling includes the nature of one’s conversations (Eph. 5:19). They are to be outward, toward one another. They are to be inward, from the heart. And they are to be upward, to the Lord.
Second, one’s continuously grateful response to the Lord regardless of the circumstances proves the Spirit’s filling ministry (Eph. 5:20; see 1 Thess. 5:18). This reaction is to be manifested always in all events of life.
Third, the Spirit’s ministry in the life of a Christian strongly influences one’s humble relationship with others. This includes Christians with other Christians (Eph. 5:21), wives with husbands (Eph. 5:22–24), husbands with wives (Eph. 5:25–33), children with parents (Eph. 6:1–3), parents with children (Eph. 6:4), employees with employers (Eph. 6:5–8), and employers with employees (Eph. 6:9).
All the representative indicators in Ephesians 5–6 are expanded on in other New Testament texts such as 1 Corinthians 13:4–7; Galatians 5:22–23; and 2 Peter 1:5–11. It is the believer’s obligation to be filled with the Holy Spirit individually, corporately, continuously, normally, submissively, willingly, and obediently.
Isaiah prophesied that the Spirit of the Lord would enable God the Son with the fruit (Isa. 11:1) of wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge and the fear of the Lord, righteousness and faithfulness (Isa. 11:2, 5). This ministry will take place during the Messiah’s fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7:12–16) at the time of his millennial reign on earth (Isa. 11:6–16).
John the Baptist urged those claiming to be believers to bring forth good fruit in their lives appropriate to—that is, authenticating—their repentance (Matt. 3:8–10; Luke 3:8–9). According to Christ, a tree’s inherent character is made known outwardly by the kind of fruit that it produces (Matt. 7:16–20; 12:33; Luke 6:43–44). The Psalmist concurred (Ps. 1:3–6).
In John 15, Christ contrasted a branch that bears no fruit (John 15:2, 6; see Matt. 13:18–22) with one that does bear fruit (John 15:2, 5; see Matt. 13:23). The one who bears fruit will be pruned to bear more fruit (John 15:2) and eventually much fruit (John 15:5). Paul spoke of this as the fruit of righteousness (Phil. 1:11), as did James (James 3:18). The fruitless branch will eventually be set aside as useless and burned (John 15:6).
Paul wrote extensively about the work of the Spirit in Galatians. He first discussed the Holy Spirit’s work of salvation (Gal. 3:2–3, 5, 15; 4:6, 29; 5:5) and then followed with the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification (Gal. 5:16–18, 22–25). There he contrasted the spoils of the flesh (Gal. 5:19–21) with the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). Later, in Ephesians, he similarly spoke of the unfruitful deeds of the darkness (Eph. 5:3–7, 11) compared to the fruit of the light (Eph. 5:8–9).
All in all, as these varied passages from Scripture illustrate, Spirit-produced fruit can be defined as Christian thinking and living in obedience to Scripture that honors God. It can be classified using six categories:
1. Fruit of attitudes (Gal. 5:22–23; Eph. 5:9)
2. Fruit of actions (Col. 1:10; Titus 3:8, 14)
3. Fruit of worship (Heb. 13:15)
4. Fruit of gospel telling (Rom. 1:13; Col. 1:5–6)
5. Fruit of truth telling (Eph. 5:9; 1 John 4:2)
6. Fruit of abundant giving (Rom. 15:26–28; 2 Cor. 9:6–8, 13; Phil. 4:17)
THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT
The Galatians were urged to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16, 25), to be “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:18), to bear “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22–23), and in so doing to “live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). This saintly lifestyle, commended by Paul and inaugurated at salvation, which brings the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19), should then evidence being “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Paul concluded Galatians with the same thought (Gal. 6:7–16).
Fruit (Gk. karpos) in Galatians 5:22 is singular, not plural, in that true believers can manifest all these elements simultaneously. Paul later described this sanctifying work as “the fruit of righteousness” (Phil. 1:11). So the nine representative qualities (Gal. 5:23, “such things”) refer to the whole work of the Spirit’s sanctifying labor in the life of one who has been justified, that is, declared righteous by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This picture is similar in kind to the fifteen facets of the diamond called “love” in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7, the qualities of an elder (1 Tim. 3:1–7; Titus 1:6–9), and the qualities commended to and commanded of believers in Christ (Col. 3:12–17; 2 Pet. 1:5–11).
During the upper room meal the night before his crucifixion, Christ said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35; see 15:8). Not surprisingly, Paul begins his discussion of spiritual fruit with the characteristic of love.
Love. Christ’s substitutionary death provided the ultimate example of love (Gk. agapē). He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Paul called for this supreme love to be characteristic of a husband’s love for his wife: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). First Corinthians 13:8 promises that “love never fails” (NASB).
Thus, love is a communicable, divine attribute that is central to the Father’s character (1 John 4:8), put on display by Christ at the cross, and enabled in believers by the Holy Spirit. Love can be defined broadly as the conscious, sacrificial, and volitional commitment to the welfare of another person, in obedience to God’s Word (2 John 6), regardless of that person’s response or what one does or does not receive from him or her, or what love costs one to give. This love of Christians toward other Christians (Col. 1:8), as might be expected, is the most often commended “one-another” response in the New Testament.
Joy. Joy (Gk. chara) is a happiness based on unchanging divine promises and eternal spiritual realities. It is the sense of well-being experienced by one who knows that all is well between oneself and the Lord (1 Pet. 1:8). Joy is not the result of favorable circumstances but occurs even when those circumstances are the most painful and severe (John 16:20–22; 1 Thess. 1:6). Joy is a gift from God, and as such, believers are not to manufacture it but to delight in the blessings they already possess (Phil. 4:4).
Produced by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17), joy is appropriate both in the good times (3 John 4) and in the times of testing (James 1:2–4). Joy is a deep, abiding inner thankfulness to God for his goodness that is not diminished or interrupted when less-than-desirable circumstances intrude on one’s life.
Peace. Peace (Gk. eirēnē) results in an ordered, settled, and undisturbed response to whatever life brings one’s way. Peace produced by the Holy Spirit is beyond human understanding (Phil. 4:6), an inner calm that results from confidence in one’s saving relationship with Christ. The verb form of the Greek term denotes binding together and is reflected in the expression “having it all together.” Like joy, peace is not determined by one’s circumstances (John 14:27; Rom. 8:28; Phil. 4:7, 9). Peace during the storms of life involves a heartfelt tranquility and trust that are anchored in the overwhelming consciousness that one’s life is in the hands of the sovereignly powerful God.
Patience. Patience (Gk. makrothymia) involves self-restraint that does not retaliate reactively. It endures injuries inflicted by others without the need for revenge and willingly accepts irritating or painful situations. Longsuffering captures the essential sense in one word.
Paul displayed his own patience in ministry to the Corinthians, attributing his longsuffering to the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 6:1–10, esp. 6:6). James extolled patience in times of suffering for the faith (James 5:7–11). Peter reminded his readers of God’s patience before their salvation (1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 3:15). Patience is an element of love (1 Cor. 13:4) and, in the end, is to be demonstrated toward everyone (Eph. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:14).
Kindness. Kindness (Gk. chrēstotēs) is expressed as a tender, gentle concern for others that actively seeks out ways to serve them. The Father (Rom. 2:4; Titus 3:4) and the Son (Matt. 11:30) displayed kindness in the act of salvation. Believers are to be kind toward one another (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12) and are to commend themselves to others through kindness (2 Cor. 6:6).
Goodness. Goodness (Gk. agathōsynē) exhibits an actively determined capacity to deal with people in the best interest of God’s glory, even when confrontation and correction are required. Goodness is associated with the “fruit of the light” (Eph. 5:9). The Greek word for “goodness” appears nowhere in Greek literature except in the Bible, where in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, “goodness” is said to be an attribute of God (Neh. 9:25).
Faithfulness. Faithfulness (Gk. pistis) is an inner commitment that consistently expresses itself as an outward loyalty that remains true to one’s spiritual convictions. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews recounts the faith and faithfulness of notable Old Testament saints. God exemplifies faithfulness in his own divine character (Rom. 3:3). And the saints in Daniel’s seventieth week are urged to be faithful in the face of possible martyrdom (Rev. 13:10; 14:12).
Gentleness. Gentleness (Gk. prautēs), sometimes translated “meekness,” basically pictures controlled strength expressed by a humble heart. In its ancient secular sense, the Greek term meant a gentle breeze or a tamed beast, that is, strength used for good, not evil. Paul characterized Christ in this manner (2 Cor. 10:1; see Matt. 11:29). And Christ taught, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Gentleness describes three attitudes: (1) submission to the will of God (Col. 3:12); (2) teachability (James 1:21); and (3) consideration of others (Eph. 4:2).
Self-Control. Self-control (Gk. enkrateia), which literally means “in strength,” refers to an inward restraint of appetites and passions resulting in a spiritual mastery that submits consistently to the greater cause of God’s will, not man’s. This is a commended quality of godliness (2 Pet. 1:6), one with which Paul described the discipline of a winning athlete (1 Cor. 9:25). To the church in Crete pastored by Titus, Paul listed this consistently practiced quality as an identifiable trait of an elder (Titus 1:8).
Table 5.9 summarizes the Bible’s teaching on Spirit-produced fruit in terms of New Testament exhortations to fruitfulness and New Testament examples of Christlike fruit. At least six significant conclusions can be drawn from Paul’s discussion about the fruit of the Spirit:
1. This teaching is addressed to all true believers as basic to their Christian life (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
2. These qualities are commanded in the context of the charge to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16, 25).
3. These Spirit-enabled qualities represent communicable attributes of God that are authenticating marks of Christian godliness (Gal. 5:22–23).
4. Because “fruit” is singular, not plural, Paul intended it to be understood as one fruit with multiple characteristics, all of which should be reflected at any given time.
5. These fruitful traits (Gal. 5:22–23) certify the authenticity of a genuine Christian in contrast to the spoils of the flesh (Gal. 5:13, 16–17, 19–21), which condemn unbelievers (Gal. 5:21).
6. While the law was completely against the deeds of the flesh, there is no law against the work of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:23). This fruit represents true spiritual freedom for one who has been freed from the law (Gal. 5:18) and now lives in the new covenant era.
THE SPOILS OF THE FLESH
Paul preceded his discussion of “fruit” with a contrasting discussion about the “flesh” (Gal. 5:19–21). In context, he listed attitudes and actions that could be accounted for only by the unredeemed flesh of unbelievers, not by the Spirit’s sanctifying work in Christians. They cover the categories of sexual, spiritual, attitudinal, and relational sin (cf. Rom. 1:24–32; 1 Cor. 6:9–10).
The apostle spelled out fifteen specific examples to illustrate his point. The list was intended to be not exhaustive but representative. He also took an illustrative approach elsewhere, in both positive and negative contexts, by using the phrase “such things” (Rom. 1:32; 2:2; Gal. 5:21, 23).
Table 5.9 Christlike Fruit
|The Fruit||Exhortations to Christians||Examples of Christlikeness|
|Love||Matt. 22:34–40 John 13:34 1 Cor. 16:14 Eph. 5:2 Col. 3:14 1 John 4:7||John 10:11–18; 13:1; 15:9–10, 13 Eph. 5:2|
|Joy||Rom. 12:12, 15 Phil. 3:1; 4:4 James 1:2 1 Pet. 4:13||John 15:11; 17:13 Heb. 12:2|
|Peace||2 Cor. 13:11 Eph. 4:3 Phil. 4:7–8 Col. 3:15 2 Tim. 2:22 1 Pet. 3:11||John 14:27; 16:33; 20:19, 21|
|Patience||Eph. 4:2 Col. 3:12 1 Thess. 5:14 2 Tim. 4:2||1 Tim. 1:16 2 Pet. 3:15|
|Kindness||Col. 3:12 2 Tim. 2:24||Matt. 11:30 Titus 3:4|
|Goodness||Rom. 12:9, 21 Gal. 6:10 Eph. 4:28||Luke 18:18–19 John 7:12|
|Faithfulness||Rev. 2:10||Rev. 1:5|
|Gentleness||Gal. 6:1 Eph. 4:2 Col. 3:12 1 Tim. 6:11||Matt. 11:29|
|Self-control||2 Pet. 1:5–6||Isa. 53:7 1 Pet. 2:23|
Paul emphasized not an occasional sin but rather the habitual, willful practice of many sins, indicating an ongoing ungodly lifestyle. He concluded (Rom. 1:32) that these kinds of people deserve to die, by which he meant the second death of Revelation 20:11–15. In Galatians 5, Paul reasoned in the same manner that “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21; see also Matt. 5:20; John 3:5; 1 Cor. 6:10; Eph. 5:5).
In summary, the New Testament uses the imagery of fruit with two variations to contrast Christians with non-Christians, who lack the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification. First, the lack of fruit identifies an unbeliever, while abundant fruit authenticates a true believer (Matt. 13:18–23; esp. 13:23; John 15:2–6). Second, believers bear good fruit, while unbelievers produce rotten fruit (Matt. 7:16–20; 12:33; Luke 6:43–44; Gal. 5:19–23).
 MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R., eds. (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (pp. 359–379). Crossway.