Many people talk about the need to be filled with the Spirit. This is understandable because it is a biblical concept. What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? Some make this refer to an experience limited to a select few whereas others ignore its importance completely. What does it mean? In Ephesians 5:18 we have this straightforward command, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit“. The word “filled” in this verse means “to make full” in the sense of permeation or control. The idea is that the believer’s life is to be under the control and direction of the Holy Spirit. This control leads to conduct that is in conformity to the word of God (cf. Col. 3:16). Let us consider four features concerning the notion of being filled with the Spirit.
Unlike other references to filling (the sovereign fillings in Luke-Acts), the filling in Ephesians 5:18 is a command. The implication of this is very serious – to not be filled with the Holy Spirit is disobedience. Furthermore, because this is a command, it is clear that this ought not to be confused with the baptism (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5, 11:16; and 1 Cor. 12:13), sealing (2 Cor. 1:20-22; Eph. 1:13-14) or indwelling ministry (Rom. 8:9-11; 1 Cor. 6:19-20; 2 Tim. 1:13-14) of the Holy Spirit. All of those take place once and for all at the beginning of every believer’s salvation and then have ongoing effects. Nowhere in the Scriptures is the believer commanded to receive the baptism with the Spirit, or to be sealed with the Spirit, or indwelt by the Spirit. However, to “filled with the Sprit” is a command.
Secondly, this filling is to be ongoing. In the Greek it is in the present tense indicating that the Christian is to be continually filled. The filling with the Holy Spirit cannot be pinpointed to one super spiritual experience you had in your Christian walk – it is to be an ongoing reality. This filling is to be a daily focus and priority of the Christian.
Thirdly, this type of filling is not limited to a select few! It is not exclusive and only given for those who carry out special tasks. This command (“be filled with the Spirit“) is in the plural indicating that it is for all believers. For this reason, all Christians who read this text are commanded to obey it. Regardless of who you are, if you are a believer this command is for you!
Finally, this filling of the Holy Spirit is in the passive voice. This indicates that believers can’t fill themselves. To be filled with the Spirit does not come by means of your own abilities or achievements. It comes from the Holy Spirit.
So then, what does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? In summary here is a basic definition: the filling of the Holy Spirit refers to the Spirit of God, controlling the people of God with the purpose of obeying the word of God. This command is required of all God’s people and is to be an ongoing practice. How does a believer experience such a filling? I will answer that question in my next post.