Being Filled With The Spirit

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
Ephesians 5:18.


Unusual skies over Jerusalem

Here we have a direct command to be filled with the Spirit of God.  This command necessarily brings up the whole subject of Holy Spirit filling and Holy Spirit baptism.  This subject has been a most divisive one in the last century and even up to the present time.  It is utterly amazing that the subject of the Holy Spirit, who is given to bring unity in the church (Eph. 4:3), ends up by bringing some of the greatest division in church history.  What can we make of all this?  It seems that much of the problem is involved with semantics, particularly with the expression “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.”  Some of the problem is also caused by our lack of understanding regarding the historical development of this doctrine.


It is rather surprising when we search the New Testament for the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit,” that we find only seven clear references to the event.  These verses are Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; Acts 11:16; and 1 Corinthians 12:13. The interesting thing about these references is that all but one speak of the same thing, of a coming, one-time, historical event.  The one that does not speak of this, 1 Corinthians 12:13, seems to be looking back and commenting on this one-time event.  It should be pointed out that the historical event appears to have been extended in three distinct and separate stages, to Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles.

This information should help us see that the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” may not be the best expression to describe the Holy Spirit’s coming and work today. It leads to a lot of unnecessary confusion between the one-time historical event and the subsequent work of the Spirit.  Much better terminology would probably be the “filling of the Holy Spirit” as we see in Ephesians 5:18 above, or the common expression “Spirit filled.”  While being filled with the Spirit can describe our initial Holy Spirit experience, as in the case of Paul (Acts 9:17), it can also describe a common and continuing experience that happens to the Lord’s followers (Acts 4:8; 4:31; 13:9; & 13:52).


We know from the Bible that the Holy Spirit is an absolute necessity in the Christian life. In Romans 8:9 we read: “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”  Also, as we look carefully at Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus in John 3:5-7, we see that the Holy Spirit must accompany the new birth.

The Christian life cannot be lived without the Holy Spirit’s presence within.  God’s Spirit is necessary for our worship (Jn. 4:24), for our walk (Gal. 5:16), for the exercise of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:27-31), and for the production of spiritual fruit (Gal. 5:22-26).

So now we must ask, how does the Spirit come?  Does he come directly from heaven in what many have called a “second blessing,” subsequent to the salvation experience?  Or, does this heavenly gift miraculously well up from the Holy Spirit’s presence within the life of the redeemed individual?

If we say that the Spirit’s coming is subsequent to our salvation, we open ourselves up to some insurmountable theological problems. For instance, how can a person be saved without the Holy Spirit?  We also may even generate some spiritual problems for ourselves if we tend to look upon other Christians, whom we feel have not had “the baptism,” as inferior or even incomplete.  This practice disputes the clear teaching of scripture, for we are told not to consider ourselves better than others (Phil. 2:3). This is indeed a source of much tension in the church today and has caused many to show contempt for the Holy Spirit’s work.

It will also help us immensely if we realize that several instances of the Holy Spirit’s coming in scripture are occasions where special problems existed and were dealt with.  In Acts 8 we have the story of Philip and the Samaritans.  Although the Samaritans were not Jews, they were partly Jewish.  God seems to be dealing with them as a separate case, directly pouring out his Spirit upon them through the apostles.  In Acts chapters 10-11, we have the story of Peter taking the gospel to the Gentiles.  Again, this is a special situation and God pours out his Spirit on the Gentiles just as he did at Pentecost upon the Jews (11:17).  In Acts 19 we have the account of Paul and some disciples of John the Baptist.  This is also a very special case, in that these men were not actually followers of Jesus, and thus not born again.  We should be careful in using these special situations to prove that Holy Spirit baptism comes subsequent to our salvation.


To really grasp this problem and to arrive at a solution, we need to gain an understanding of what biblical interpreters mean by “the already” and “the not yet.”*  With this understanding we can see how we already have the Holy Spirit in our lives because of the new birth.  Still, we do not yet have the fullness of the Spirit that we desire and need.   The scripture makes clear that with much perseverance we can enter into the “not yet” and begin to enjoy it while here on this earth.

In the Bible there are several scriptures that seem to describe the Holy Spirit’s dwelling in us from conversion and welling up within us.  In 2 Peter 1:3-4, the apostle says: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

Paul, in his glorious introduction to Ephesians, exclaims: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).  It is thus quite true that the best of heaven was given to us with Jesus.  In Colossians 2:9-10 (NKJ), Paul even says: “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him.”

In John 4:14 Jesus says: “but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  He speaks of it again in John 7:37-38: “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’”  Verse 39 makes clear that Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit.

To sum up, the Holy Spirit was given in a one-time historical occurrence.  This was a general outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:14-21). When Jesus comes to the individual life at our conversion he apparently brings with him, in a seminal form, this heavenly treasure, along with many others. The Holy Spirit and the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit now live within us.

Thus those who are waiting and tarrying for years, hoping this gift will be poured out upon them from heaven seem mistaken.  The gift is already given and we have it available to us today because Jesus lives within the believer’s life.  What we need is a supernatural and miraculous release of the Spirit, so that the Holy Spirit deep within us may become a springing well.  We need the Spirit to overcome and break out of the fleshly prison where we have him confined.  For sure this is a glorious, miraculous and mysterious process.  For certain this is a “filling of the Spirit.”  However, since the Holy Spirit is God, we will not be able to fully understand him or his workings within us.

We must realize that the filling of the Holy Spirit is available and necessary for each of us.  In Acts 2:39, we read: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  There is no doubt today that the church is suffering a great deal of weakness and defeat because we have not understood and applied this doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit’s filling and full control of our lives will thrust us into an entirely new dimension of life and service.  So far as the spiritual gifts are concerned, we need to earnestly seek and desire the best gifts that the Lord has to offer (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1).  We must not be fearful of the spiritual gifts.  We must not be fearful even of the gift of tongues.  God desires that all these spiritual things flow in abundance from our lives.


                                                                                                      -Jim Gerrish

Publication date, 2006
*Anthony J. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans, 1979), p. 14.