Be Filled With The Spirit

In the letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul commanded, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Many believe that a Christian being filled with the Spirit is wholly dependent upon some direct action by God. This is puzzling, considering that Paul phrases this as a command. A commandment implies a responsibility to obey. Therefore, we are responsible for being “filled with the Spirit.” So how are we to do this?

Interestingly, the results of one being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-6:9) directly parallel the results of one having the “word of Christ richly dwell within” him (Colossians 3:16-4:1). This should come as no surprise to us, knowing that the “sword of the Spirit…is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). The word of God was given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10, 12).

So Paul’s command here is simple. If we are to “be filled with the Spirit,” we must be filled with God’s word (Hebrews 8:10) and act according the instructions that are contained in it (James 1:22).

Knowing this, there is also significance in the word “filled.” To be filled with the Spirit and, therefore, filled with the word of God and the practice of it implies certain things.

  • Completeness – The word revealed by the Spirit gives us all we need to be faithful to God. Paul said that the inspired Scriptures equip us “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). As the Spirit equips us for every good work, we must be busy doing these works. When Jesus gave His apostles the Great Commission, He told them that the baptized disciples were to be taught “to observe all that I commanded” (Matthew 28:20). Paul wrote, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). These verses describe a complete and total obedience and submission to the will of Christ. Nowhere does the New Testament imply that we are at liberty to pick and choose which commands we wish to obey. We must render complete obedience according to the word.
  • Purity – In being filled with the Spirit, we must not allow the teachings of the Spirit to become diluted or mixed with anything else. We are to be filled with the truth, leaving no room for error. This is why gospel preaching demands “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God… taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We are obligated to teach “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27) without changing it in any way (Galatians 1:6-9).
  • Contentment – When it comes to truth, we must fight the urge to look for something “more.” Paul acknowledged that there were some who were not content with the word (1 Corinthians 1:22), but he did not give them what they were seeking. Paul simply preached “Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Gentiles foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Why did he limit his message in this way? That is what the Spirit revealed (1 Corinthians 2:10, 12). People today look for all kinds of different things to supplement or “improve” the truth of the Bible – signs, visions, modern day “revelations,” creeds, etc. We must be content with what the Spirit has revealed – “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3).

Be filled with the Spirit.” Let the word dwell within you and be your guide for this life. Follow it completely, exclusively, and with the full assurance that it contains all that you need to believe and practice in order to please God and obtain eternal life.

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  1. Steve Quillian says

    It would be a command if it said, “fill yourself with the Spirit”, but it doesn’t. It says “be filled”, which is passive. Sorry Andy, don’t agree with you on your initial premise.

  2. Thanks for the comment Steve. The fact that Paul instructs them to “be filled with the Spirit” implies some responsibility on their part (and on our part), especially when coupled with the first part of that verse which certainly is a command.

    So how is it that we can be filled with the Spirit? I think comparing this with the parallel passage in Colossians 3 makes it pretty clear. We need to fill ourselves with the word (the inspired teachings revealed by the Spirit) and live our lives according to its teachings.

    So whether we classify this as a command or not, our responsibility remains the same — we must believe and follow the instructions found in God’s word.

  3. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…”

    Paul is contrasting the physical with the spiritual in this verse. We are to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16-17;24-25) and not the flesh.

    Who has control over what course I’m following? I do!

    Just as we cannot be passively drunk (filled) with wine, we cannot be passively “filled with the Spirit!” We choose what we are going to be filled with. God isn’t going to make up our minds for us.

    “Choose this day whom you will serve!” (Joshua 24:15)

  4. Steve Meyer says

    I agree that we must be filled with the Spirit and it is our responsibility. However, how it is our responsibility is what I think is missing here. 1 John 1:6-9 tells us the answer…true confession and repentance of sin. Light cannot dwell with darkness(2 Cor 6:14). Although completeness, purity and contentment are results of being “filled with the Spirit”, it is not the cause of it. Sin must be reconciled to be “filled with the Spirit”!

    “Sin is what hinders the filling of the Holy Spirit, and obedience to God is how the filling of the Spirit is maintained. Ephesians 5:18 commands that we be filled with the Spirit; however, it is not praying for the filling of the Holy Spirit that accomplishes the filling. Only our obedience to God’s commands allows the Spirit freedom to work within us. Because we are still infected with sin, it is impossible to be filled with the Spirit all of the time. When we sin, we should immediately confess it to God and renew our commitment to being Spirit-filled and Spirit-led.”

  5. Steve, that passage in 1 John 1:6-9 is talking about fellowship with God, not being filled with the Spirit. They may be related, but they’re not the same thing.

    To be filled with and led by the Spirit, we must be filled with and led by the word which the Spirit has revealed. It’s no more complicated than that.

  6. I agree with a lot of what you’ve written here, especially that the Spirit-inspired Word of God is one of the main ways that the Spirit speaks to us and leads us.

    I’m concerned, though, that someone could mis-use this point and approach the Bible legalistically and not through faith, mistakenly thinking they are filled with the Spirit because they know the Bible and obey the Bible in their own effort. Yes, we have to choose to submit ourselves to God and to obey, but it is the Spirit that enables us to do so. And it is faith in Christ and his work on the cross that gives us the Spirit.

    God must get the glory and not our own self-effort. I’m not saying you are against this point. I just think that human pride and self-effort are too easy to fall into, so it is important to warn against legalism and to humbly acknowledge that it is God who works through us. It is grace.

    “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Gal 3:3.

  7. Steve Meyer says

    If you are in sin, you are seperated from God. You cannot be filled (see 2 Cor 6:14).

    Why do you think Jesus said,”Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matt 27:56; Psalm 22:1)

    If Jesus is God, why would He say this? “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21). When Christ became sin for us, the Father turned His back upon Him. It says in Habakkuk 1:13, God is too pure to look upon evil. When Jesus bore our sins on that cross (1 Pet. 2:24), the Father, spiritually, had to turn away.

    If one gives up quenching (1 Thess 5:19) and grieving the Spirit (Eph 4:30), they will be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) and walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:16), which produces the fruit of the Spirit(Gal 5:22-23), which is a result of fellowship with God. Once fellowship is resolved and you are filled, yes, the message of Christ will dwell among you (Col 3:16), until you sin again and break fellowship with God, and you are unfilled with the Spirit.

    The 1 John 1:6-9 and Eph 5:18 are VITALLY linked. For easy understanding purposes, substitute being “in sin” (any sin), versus just being drunk on wine in Eph 5:18. That should help you see it more clearly. Then Eph 5:19-21 will make more sense in context what those filled with the Spirit will do, and how they will act.

  8. Jason, I agree with some of what you say. Just a couple things briefly:

    You said, “the Spirit-inspired Word of God is one of the main ways that the Spirit speaks to us and leads us.” I would change that to say the Spirit-inspired word is the ONLY way the Spirit speaks to us today. Miraculous gifts relating to the revelation of God’s will were made irrelevant when the written word was completely revealed (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). Anything different than or in addition to the revealed word is false. Anything that is the same as the revealed word is redundant and unnecessary. We have all we need in the Scriptures.

    You’re absolutely right that we must approach the Bible in faith. If by approaching it “legalistically” you mean that we somehow think we can EARN our salvation, then yes, that approach is wrong. We can never earn salvation. However, if you are referring to an approach where we seek to carefully do ALL that God’s word instructs, then I disagree. In giving the Great Commission, Jesus told His apostles to teach the disciples “to observe ALL that I commanded” (Matthew 28:20). Is Jesus advocating a legalistic approach to teaching and practicing His will? Of course not. This is what faithful obedience is all about.

    I’m curious about one of your statements. You said, “Yes, we have to choose to submit ourselves to God and to obey, but it is the Spirit that enables us to do so.” What exactly does the Spirit do today – apart from the word – that enables us to make the choice to obey?

  9. Steve, the nature of Christ’s death on the cross is a whole other topic. The Bible does not teach that our sins were transferred to Christ to the point where He was infected with sin while on the cross. Nowhere does the Bible say the Father turned His back on the Son. So why would Jesus ask the question: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Short answer: to produce faith in those that witnessed His crucifixion and in us today. So as not to get this discussion too far off track, a more detailed explanation can be found here: “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” Another good article on this point can be found here.

    You try to make Ephesians 5:18 and 1 John 1:6-9 primarily linked, and the passage in Colossians 3:16 as a secondary connection. I believe these are switched. Comparing Ephesians 5:18-6:9 with Colossians 3:16-4:1, the parallel is unmistakable. To be filled with the Spirit is to have the word of Christ (which the Spirit would reveal to the apostles – John 14:26) dwell within us. This then results in fellowship with God as we follow the teachings of His word (1 John 1:6-7).

  10. Tim Haile says

    As is typically the case, rather than address the actual argument [the parallel construction of Ephesians 5:18 & Colossians 3:16], some commenters use the passages as a vehicle for propounding personal opinions.

    Andy is correct: Ephesians 5:18-19 cannot be successfully divorced from Colossians 3:16:
    Eph. 5:18-19 – Being “filled with the Spirit” results in the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
    Col. 3:16 – Letting the “word of Christ dwell in you richly” results in the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
    Things equal to the same thing are equal to each other. In this case, being filled with the Spirit is equal to being filled with the words of Christ. John 6:63 contains another example of this parallelism: Jesus affirmed that it is the “Spirit” that quickens, not the flesh. In explanation He said, “the WORDS that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” The conclusion is simply unavoidable. The Holy Spirit animates and guides us by means of His instructions. We are “led by the Spirit” (Rom. 8:14) only insofar as we follow the instructions of “the law of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:2).
    Acts 7:51-53 provides an excellent commentary on this issue. Stephen accused the Jewish fathers of “resisting the Holy Spirit” (v. 51). How did they do this? He said by their rejection of the words of the prophets and of the Law of Moses (vs. 52-53). People like to believe in some type of miraculous, direct divine guidance by the Holy Spirit, but the New Testament teaches no such thing. As Andy explained, 1 Cor. 13:8-ff cites the end of miraculous revelation. We now have the Scriptures, and they are fully sufficient in their provision of spiritual guidance and instruction (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).

  11. Steve Meyer says

    Tim…Your statement “being filled with the Spirit is equal to being filled with the words of Christ” is EXACTLY right! I wholeheartedly agree this is what Scripture reveals!

    Only question now that remains is, Can one remaining in unrepentant sin be filled with the Spirit?

  12. Steve Meyer says

    Andy…you said, “Nowhere does the Bible say the Father turned His back on the Son. So why would Jesus ask the question: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Short answer: to produce faith in those that witnessed His crucifixion and in us today.”

    You took the literal statement of Jesus, and twisted it to mean something other then what He actually said. That is very dangerous territory you enter, reinterpreting Jesus’s actual words. That type of hermeneutical gymnastics can (and does)result in heresy. Be very careful!!!

  13. Steve, your interpretation of Jesus’ statement is based upon the faulty assumption that our sins were literally transferred to Christ and He became infected with sin on the cross.

    My interpretation of Jesus’ statement is based upon the passage that Jesus (the Word in the flesh – John 1:14) actually quotes from – Psalm 22. Was Jesus ACTUALLY forsaken, or did He just APPEAR to be forsaken? Let the psalmist answer: “For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from him; but when he cried to Him for help, He heard” (Psalm 22:24). No, I did not twist Jesus’ words. I interpreted them based on the context in which they were found, which is one of the fundamental principles of sound hermeneutics.

  14. Andy, thanks for your response. I say that the Word is one way that the Spirit leads us, because I believe that the Spirit leads us in our daily lives. For example, I think we could be led by the Spirit to have a conversation with someone or to say the right thing to open the door to the gospel. Of course, this would always have to be in line with the Word, but God has led people in the Old Testament and the New Testament by his Spirit, and I don’t see any evidence in the Bible that this model has changed.

    I agree with you that the Bible is the closed Word of God and that there is no valid additional revelation. But I don’t agree with your interpretation of 1 Cor 13:8-10. There is no indication that “when the perfect comes” speaks of the Bible. This speaks of the perfection of that comes in heaven. When we shake off our mortal sin-corrupted bodies and go to be with Christ forever, the need for faith and hope are gone due to the realization of that faith and hope.

    In regards to my legalistic concern, I’m concerned with the passage I pointed to in Galatians 3:3: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Paul makes it exceedingly clear that you are not just saved by faith, but you live by faith. You can’t accept the free gift of salvation and then begin to obey in your own effort. You have to admit that even as a Christian, you are totally dependent on God to enable you to obey and to have faith and to do anything. In this way, God gets the glory for your salvation and for your continued obeidence. I agree that it is a mystery, because our will is involved in the obedience. But the NT speaks of a supernatural work of the Spirit that changes our heart, that enables us to obey, that speaks to us through the Word.

    I agree with you completely that we have to choose to obey God’s Word. But obeying God’s Word without a heart/mind transformation is legalism and does you no spiritual value. It is only obeying the Word through your dependence on the Spirit and in Christ that can bear any real Spiritual fruit. Apart from Christ, the vine, we can do nothing. Christ told us to obey his commmands, but the NT continually stresses that we are not doing so on our own but through the power of the Spirit. We both start and end with grace/faith. And Paul himself argues in many places why this does not lead to more sin but is the source of true obedience (ex: Rom 6).

  15. Jason, it sounds like we generally agree on some things, but differ on one major point – how the Spirit operates today. That passage in 1 Corinthians 13 is key. There are different ideas about what “the perfect” is referring to – heaven, Jesus, or as I believe, the fully revealed word. Here’s what the text says:

    “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).

    Those three gifts – prophecy, tongues, knowledge – were miraculous gifts of the Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Each of these was related to the direct revelation of God’s will. During the first century, the will of God was revealed in bits and pieces, not all at once. That is why Paul says “we know in part and we prophesy in part.”

    But when the perfect – that which is complete – comes, the partial will be done away with. In the context, what is “the perfect”? The context indicates that it is the completed revelation of the will of God. Once this comes, the partial (incomplete) revelations through miraculous gifts of the Spirit would cease.

    How then would the Spirit guide us or enable us to obey apart from the word? I agree that we are dependent upon God and that works without faith are meaningless. But what exactly does God (the Spirit) do to influence our choice to obey? I can see in His word that He has given us the ability to choose, He has given us His instructions, and He has provided incentives (blessings, reward of heaven) to encourage us in our faithfulness. But I don’t know what he does to “enable” us to obey. I guess I don’t understand exactly what you mean there.


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