The filling of the Holy Spirit can be described as the influence the Spirit exercises over us when we yield ourselves to Him. The Spirit of God, who has given us new life and has taken up residence within us, wants to fill our lives with His goodness and power. He wants us to let Him take control of our lives. Even so, He does not use His power as God to overwhelm us; rather, He fills us only as we submit to Him.
In this sense, then, being filled with the Spirit means we have placed ourselves under His influence and control. We have yielded to Him, letting Him direct our lives. We often speak of something that so fills a person’s mind that it strangely influences everything he thinks and does. We can be filled with anger, fear, sorrow, pride, love, anxiety, and other feelings and emotions. The Bible uses the word filled in the same way (see luke 6:11; acts 5:17; 13:45). To be filled with something means to be under its control.
This truth is stated clearly in Ephesians 5:18: “Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.” Paul used this analogy because a person who gets drunk places himself under the influence or control of the alcohol. Similarly, a Christian who submits to the indwelling Holy Spirit puts herself under His influence or control. Both the person who consumes enough alcohol to get drunk and the Christian who yields to the Holy Spirit have placed themselves under the control of something or someone else.
On the day of Pentecost, people who heard the apostles speak in languages they had never learned accused them of being drunk. In the pagan ceremonies of Paul’s day, worshipers did sometimes get drunk as part of their religious experience. The analogy, therefore, had some background in Paul’s thinking. If we think about it, a group of Spirit-filled Christians singing with great enthusiasm may have had a superficial resemblance to a band of pagan worshipers drunk with wine, singing to their gods. But the similarity is on the surface only. People who are drunk with wine suffer impaired judgment. They say and do things they normally wouldn’t do and often can’t remember what they did.
On the other hand, a person filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore under His control enjoys improved judgment, acts in a responsible manner, and rejoices in the memory of what he says and does under the control of the Holy Spirit.
We are greatly influenced by whatever fills us. If we are filled with anger, we will be influenced to such an extent that we will say and do things we may later regret. People filled with anger against God may become so controlled by hatred that they become defiant and rebellious. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be so influenced by, controlled by, or permeated by Him that we will reflect God’s moral character and be strengthened by His power.
Who Can Be Filled with the Holy Spirit?
The filling of the Holy Spirit should be the desire of every Christian. But we may have the mistaken idea that it is reserved only for privileged, spiritually sensitive, special people. Thankfully, the filling of the Holy Spirit is for everyone, with two important prerequisites.
First, to experience the filling of the Holy Spirit, a person must be a Christian—he or she must be born again. This new birth is given by the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be born again, He referred to that experience as being “born of the Spirit” (john 3:6). He later told His disciples, “It is the Spirit who gives life” (6:63). When the Spirit gives this new life, He also enters into the new Christian to live within him or her permanently—to indwell us. Paul tells us in Romans 8:9 that anyone who does not have the indwelling Holy Spirit is not a Christian. Even though the indwelling of the Spirit is not the same as the filling of the Spirit, only someone who is indwelt can be filled. So the first prerequisite to being Spirit-filled is to be a Christian.
Second, the filling of the Holy Spirit is only for those Christians who want to be filled. Although He dwells within all Christians, He does not fill them just because He is present. To be obedient to the command to be filled with the Spirit (ephesians 5:18), a person must want the Spirit’s filling and then be willing to yield to His control.
How Can I Be Filled with the Holy Spirit?
Paul commanded the believers at Ephesus—and every Christian—to be “filled with the Spirit.” This clause could be literally translated, “Let the Holy Spirit keep filling you,” or “Keep letting the Holy Spirit fill you.” But just how do we obey this command?
We know what it means to be filled with excitement or happiness. Those emotions so permeate our thoughts and feelings that they dominate us. When Paul told us to be filled with the Spirit, he was telling us to let Him so fill us that everything we think and do is influenced or controlled by Him.
But the crucial question is still “How?” God’s part is clear: He will fill us. But what is our part? Here are some practical aspects to consider. We must be (1) Christ-centered, (2) reading Scripture, (3)submissive, and (4) confident.
The first essential for being Spirit-filled is to center our lives on Jesus Christ. He must be the focal point of our thoughts and aspirations. In all we do, we must be conscious of following His example and doing His will. Jesus said, “He [the Holy Spirit] will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (john 16:14).
In a good marriage, the wife or husband enjoys seeing the other receive honor. Similarly, the Holy Spirit derives great pleasure from seeing us cooperate with Him in glorifying Christ. He Himself wants to remain hidden so that nothing diverts our gaze from Jesus. Whenever we focus our attention on Christ, the Holy Spirit is in close partnership with us. The Spirit is pleased when we glorify the Lord. We can do this by:
• Making Jesus our example (john 13:15; philippians 2:5–8; 1 peter 2:21–24).
• Longing to know Jesus better, so that we may be more like Him (philippians 3:10–14).
• Not fearing death because we look forward to being with Jesus (2 corinthians 5:8; philippians 1:21–23; 2 timothy 4:6–8).
• Finding comfort in Christ’s intercession for us (hebrews 4:14–16).
• Purifying ourselves from sin as we live in expectation of Jesus’s return (1 john 3:2–3).
• Looking forward to Christ’s rule over the earth (isaiah 2:1–4; jeremiah 23:5–6; revelation 20:1–4).
The Holy Spirit keeps Himself out of the limelight so that Christ may be honored. He is pleased when we praise and adore the Lord Jesus. He views us as partners with Him in glorifying Christ. Being Jesus-centered, therefore, is essential to being filled with the Spirit.
Just before Paul gave the command not to get drunk but to be filled with the Spirit, he wrote, “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (ephesians 5:17).
The importance of the Bible in the Spirit-filled life was demonstrated by Jesus in His encounter with Satan at the beginning of His public ministry. Luke told us that Jesus was “filled with the Holy Spirit” when He entered the wilderness for testing (luke 4:1–2).
In response to each of Satan’s temptations, our Lord answered by quoting Scripture—specifically Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:13, and 6:16.
Jesus’s familiarity with the Bible was vital to His being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Paul made this connection in Colossians 3:16, which says: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” The last part of this verse is almost identical to Ephesians 5:19–20 where Paul described the characteristics of a Spirit‑filled Christian. Letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly is an essential in letting the Holy Spirit keep filling us.
If we want to be Spirit-filled Christians, we must be in the Bible. We must read it, study it, reflect on it, and let it correct us. Scripture has been given to make us complete, well‑equipped Christians. We cannot be Spirit-filled without it.
A third essential for a Spirit-filled life is to submit to God. Paul indicated this attitude of submission by the language he used when he wrote Ephesians 5:18. We must continuously allow the Holy Spirit to fill us. We can do this only when we possess a submissive attitude toward Him. The analogy Paul used of being drunk carries the idea of submission. Paul wrote: “Do not get drunk with wine . . . but keep letting the Holy Spirit fill you” (literal translation). A person who keeps letting the Holy Spirit fill him will consciously, continuously, and voluntarily place himself under God’s influence or control. That person doesn’t lose self-control; in fact, he or she exercises far more self-control than a person who does not possess the Holy Spirit. When a Christian submits to God, the Holy Spirit frees him from the ownership of the sinful habits and drives that once controlled him, and gives him the self-control and courage to leave that way of living behind.
This attitude of submission is also present in Colossians 3:15–4:10, a passage that parallels Ephesians 5:18–6:9. When Paul told the believers in Colosse to place themselves under the rule of Christ’s peace and to give Christ’s words a dominant place in their lives (colossians 3:16), he urged them to have a submissive attitude. We place ourselves under God’s control when we do these things.
The result of letting the Holy Spirit continually fill us and allowing the peace of Christ and His words to have dominance in our lives is joy, mutual encouragement, praise, and gratitude. Also essential is the confession of our sins so that we will experience God’s fellowship and cleansing (1 john 1:9). The outcome is that others will see the expression of our love for God as we become better citizens, marriage partners, co-workers, and representatives of Christ (ephesians 5:2–33; 1 peter 2:11–3:17).
A fourth key aspect of being filled with the Spirit is to be confident. When we have based our lives on Jesus Christ, when we are in the Bible and it is in us, and when we have submitted to the Holy Spirit’s leading, we are doing our part. And we can be absolutely certain that God has done His part. He has responded to us by filling us with His Spirit. We don’t need to wonder if we are sufficiently spiritual to be filled with the Spirit. We don’t need to compare ourselves with other believers. We don’t need to keep looking for a spectacular sign from heaven. We don’t need to wait for a great feeling of excitement to sweep over us.
Rather, if we are doing our part, we can know with absolute certainty that God is doing His part. And this confidence will help us live in the assurance that we are filled with the Holy Spirit.
If we live with a defeatist attitude, it may be that we sense we are losing the battle with sin. Our lack of confidence shows a failure to trust in the Lord’s provision for us and in His power to keep His part of the bargain.
Consider the apostle Paul. Although he was acutely aware of the ongoing battle with his flesh, he exuded confidence. With heart-wrenching honesty, he described the war between his old nature (the “law of sin”) and his new nature (the “law of my mind”). But he went on to point out that the way of victory is through “Jesus Christ our Lord.” He then said,
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. . . . For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (romans 8:1–4).
This walking “in the Spirit” occurs when we are filled with the Spirit. It includes the four essentials we’ve just looked at in a blend of divine and human activity to overcome sin. The walk in the Spirit is a walk of confidence in God.
The fourth essential in a Spirit-filled life, is confidence. When we have done our part by repenting of all known sin, confessing it, and replacing it with obedience to Christ, we can be certain that God has done His part in forgiving us and in giving us the power for spiritual victory. We can move forward with hearts filled with confidence and the knowledge that we are filled with the Holy Spirit.
How Can I Tell When I’m Spirit-Filled?
Some people say that the way we can know we are filled with the Holy Spirit is to speak in tongues or to “just feel it.”
When Paul described the results of being filled with the Holy Spirit, he didn’t mention tongues-speaking or feelings. But he did mention “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God” (ephesians 5:19–21). He also listed nine fruits of the Spirit as evidence (see galatians 5:22–23).
A person who is filled with the Holy Spirit will know it because of evidences in his life including joyful fellowship, heartfelt praise, abundant gratitude, and God-honoring submission, and the fruit of the Spirit. Let’s look briefly at each of these.
Joyful Fellowship. Paul described this joyful fellowship when he said that we speak “to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” The texts of these songs often take the form of mutual exhortation. Singing with God’s people had its roots in Hebrew worship.
Heartfelt Praise. Another result of being filled with the Holy Spirit is heartfelt praise to God: “Singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” The term “in your heart” is sometimes taken as referring to singing on the inside, singing that isn’t expressed outwardly. But it likely means singing from a sincere heart, as expressed in Colossians 3:16, “Singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
Abounding Gratitude. A third sign that someone is Spirit-filled is abounding gratitude: “Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In his letters, Paul repeatedly gave thanks to God, and he encouraged his readers to follow his example (colossians 1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15, 17 and elsewhere). He told us to give thanks to God in everything and for everything.
God-Honoring Submission. A fourth way we can know we are filled with the Holy Spirit is reverent submission: “Submitting to one another in the fear of God.” A Spirit-filled person is humble, gentle, and meek. He is not proud, aggressive, or self-assertive. His reverence for Christ is the source of his humility. As a servant of Christ, she possesses a servant’s spirit. Therefore, she does not find it difficult to submit to her fellow believers.
The Fruit of the Spirit. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul pointed out that a Spirit-filled person will exhibit nine qualities he called “the fruit of the Spirit.” He wrote, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self‑control. Against such there is no law” (5:22–23). Let’s look at each one of these characteristics:
Love: An attitude that moves us to put God and others ahead of ourselves; a spirit that impels us to give, to serve, and to forgive.
Joy: A spirit of gladness rooted in our faith, expressed through song, and accompanied by an optimistic spirit.
Peace: Inner serenity derived from God and based on the reality of our peace with God through Christ’s sacrifice.
Longsuffering: Patience in the middle of difficult circumstances and in our relationships with difficult people.
Kindness: Treating others as we want them to treat us.
Goodness: Open, honest, pure, and generous behavior.
Faithfulness: Trustworthiness and dependability in all our relationships.
Gentleness: A tenderness of spirit that enables us to lead others and discipline those we are in charge of with graciousness.
Self-control: The quality that gives us control over our desires, especially those that relate to the body.
If the Holy Spirit is producing these qualities in your life, you are Spirit-filled. Paul’s comment, “Against such there is no law,” means that nothing in the Mosaic law or any other law opposes these virtues or is needed to restrain them. In fact, when a person’s life is marked by the four evidences of Ephesians 5:18–21 and the fruit of Galatians 5:22–23, the demands of the law are being fulfilled. When they are present, they provide evidence that we are filled with the Holy Spirit.