Being Filled with the Holy Spirit
By Charles F. Stanley
The phrases "filled with the Holy Spirit" and "Spirit filled" in every case but one (see Ephesians 5:18) refer to the initial entry of the Holy Spirit into a person's life. Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit. When He arrived, Luke records that the people in the Upper Room were "filled with the Holy Spirit." The Holy Spirit came to indwell them.
After the book of Acts, the filling of the Holy Spirit is not mentioned again except for the one instance in Paul's letter to the Ephesians. There, however, his grammar and word order indicate that he has something in mind other than the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit. As pointed out, he is talking about surrendering to the influence of the Spirit.
Now all of this raises two questions. First, why aren't there any more references to the filling of the Spirit in the New Testament? Surely in application-oriented books such as Romans and James, there should be some mention of the believer's responsibility to be filled with the Spirit! But there isn't. After the book of Acts, the whole concept of being filled with the Spirit drops out of sight except for once in Ephesians.
In light of that, the second question that begs to be asked is, what does the remainder of the New Testament have to say about the believer's relationship with the Holy Spirit? If being filled with the Holy Spirit is not emphasized, what is?
These are two very important questions. Much confusion has stemmed from people's refusal to deal with the implications of the biblical data or their ignorance of that data. But there is no cause for confusion.
A Time of Transition
When the Holy Spirit arrived on the day of Pentecost, there was tremendous excitement. Keep in mind, the focus of that excitement was His arrival and the manifestations of His presence through those He had come to indwell. The first manifestations were not character oriented. They were sign oriented. The Bible doesn't say that after being filled with the Holy Spirit, those in the Upper Room went out with great patience, kindness, gentleness, and so on. It says they immediately began talking in other tongues. In that way, the unbelievers in the city knew that something supernatural had taken place.
Initially, it appeared that He came to indwell only those gathered in the Upper Room (see Acts 2:3-4). Soon, however, other believers were filled with the Holy Spirit (see Acts 4:31; 9:17). Everybody was not filled with the Holy Spirit at the same time. It happened in stages. Some have described it as a wave that slowly swept over the Christian community. During that time, some had Him, and some didn't. That is why the author of Acts described some people as full of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 7:55). He wasn't talking about their yielding to the Spirit. How would he know that? He was talking about the fact that the Holy Spirit had definitely come to dwell in them.
At some point, not too long after the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to indwell all believers. Two things lead us to this conclusion.
1. There are no other recorded instances of individuals being filled with or receiving the Holy Spirit—apart from salvation—after Acts 19.
Paul encountered some believers who had never heard of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 19:2). He asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" Why did he ask them that? Because apparently by that time the Holy Spirit was filling people when they believed. The waiting was over!
When the fellows informed Paul that they didn't know anything about the Holy Spirit, Paul was a little confused. The men were clearly an exception to what had become the rule by that time. He asked, "Into what then were you baptized?" It was his way of saying, "How in the world could you not know there was a Holy Spirit?"
The men had come to faith under the teaching of John the Baptist. After John was taken off the scene, those faithful men continued preaching his message: The Messiah is coming! Don't you know they were amazed to hear all that had transpired in their absence?
The book of Acts continues for nine more chapters. But there are no other recorded instances of people being filled with the Spirit. Within a few years following the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit had swept through the world, filling those who had put their faith in Christ.
2. The New Testament authors specifically state that all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
In an open letter to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:13)
Paul felt free to use the term all because he believed every believer had by that time been indwelt or filled by the Holy Spirit. He used two figures of speech to describe the filling of the Spirit. We have all been baptized into the body by the Spirit, and we have all been made to drink of the Spirit.
In an open letter to Christians everywhere, the apostle John wrote, "By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit" (1 John 4:13).Like Paul, John believed that believers everywhere were filled with the Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit is a source of assurance. We know we belong to Christ because His Spirit dwells in us. Without Him, there is no assurance.
Functions of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is not as mysterious and illusive as some would have us believe. The Holy Spirit is an integral part of our Christian experience. But because we are so unfamiliar with His ways, we miss Him. As long as we miss Him, we certainly can't follow Him. And, you guessed it, as long as we can't follow Him, we can't experience the wonderful Spirit-filled life.
To get you thinking in the right direction, here is a list of a few tasks the Holy Spirit endeavors to accomplish in your life on a daily basis. Take a minute now to familiarize yourself with this list. Next time you experience one of these things, stop and thank the Holy Spirit. In doing so, you will develop a heightened awareness of His activity in your life. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the greater your awareness, the easier it will be to recognize Him and follow Him.
The Holy Spirit . . .