What Does it Mean to be Filled With the Spirit?
November 16, 1997
The 20th century has been rightly called the “Age of the Holy Spirit.” There are many reasons for this, but the greatest has to do with the rise of Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. It is no secret that many of the fastest-growing churches in the world are Pentecostal and Charismatic to one degree or another. According to church growth expert Peter Wagner, those churches comprise the “third wave” of the Christian movement.
It is therefore no surprise that more has been written on the Person and work of the Holy Spirit in this century than in the previous 1900 years. In fact, 100 years ago it was hard to find a book on the Holy Spirit. But times have changed. Every Christian bookstore carries dozens of titles relating to the Holy Spirit and his work in the world today. Earlier this week during a radio interview with a station in Buffalo the host asked me for the names of my different books. (I’ve written five books and co-authored another one.) Then he asked which one has sold the most. He was surprised when I told him that the little book Names of the Holy Spirit has sold far more than anything else I’ve written.
I’m sure there are several reasons for that, but one of them must be the contemporary interest in anything relating to the Holy Spirit. If you will pardon the image, the Holy Spirit has come out of the shadows in this century and taken center stage in Christian theology.
Questions, Questions, Questions
It therefore didn’t surprise me when the congregation turned in many questions relating to the Holy Spirit. You asked basic questions such as, Who is the Holy Spirit and how can he help me? and What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? You asked about the sign gifts of the Spirit, such as prophecy, tongues and healing. You also asked about Holy Laughter and being drunk in the Spirit. One of our junior highers asked, “What materials is the Holy Spirit made of?” That’s easy to answer: He’s a Spirit so he is not made of any materials at all.
But most of the questions were very practical and personal. I have chosen a very basic question to deal with today: What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? I believe this is one of the most important principles of the spiritual life. Learn this and you will discover a source of supernatural power that can help you every single day. As far as possible, I would therefore like to set all controversy aside and impress upon your heart your great need to be filled with the Spirit. This is our great need. Indeed, this is the need of the hour-for God’s people to discover what it means to be filled with the Spirit.
Some questions immediately rise to the surface: What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? What difference does it make? How does it happen? But preeminent above all others is this question: Am I filled with the Spirit?
What a question! What is your answer? Suppose someone asked, “Are you filled with the Spirit?” what would you say? It’s not easy to answer and therefore makes us uneasy as we think about it.
I. Three Common Misconceptions
Before you can accurately answer a question like that, we need to know what the filling of the Spirit is-and what it isn’t. Let me mention three common misconceptions.
A. It is an emotional experience.
This is probably the first thing that comes to mind for many of us. We hear of strange things happening in revival meetings. People begin to shake, tremble, fall on the floor, bark like a dog, laugh uncontrollably. Some weep, others shout, still others speak in strange tongues. All of this is done in the name of the Holy Spirit, and so many people assume that’s what the filling of the Spirit is all about. Without stopping to pass judgment, let me say clearly that the filling of the Spirit is not primarily an emotional experience. Those things I mentioned are not necessarily the mark of the Spirit’s work in a person’s life. This is not to say that some of those things might not be genuine. They might be, but what I am talking to you about this morning is not an emotional experience.
B. It is reserved for special Christians.
The second misconception flows from the first. Because we hear of these unusual things happening, and because they don’t happen to every Christian, it’s easy to think that the filling of the Holy Spirit is reserved for some special class of super-Christians. It’s not true. The Bible clearly commands every Christian to “be filled with the Spirit.”
C. It is controversial and therefore better off ignored.
Again, this follows from what I have said. Some people overreact to the excesses of others and dismiss the doctrine of the Spirit’s filling. Some even refuse the entire doctrine of the Spirit. That’s a huge mistake because the Holy Spirit is the One who brings the presence of Christ to our lives. Again, without going into controversy this morning, may I simply say to you that we desperately need the Holy Spirit today.
I remember some years ago hearing Dr. J. Vernon McGee preach a commencement address at Dallas Theological Seminary. He was then in his early 80s and near the end of a long and fruitful ministry. I’ve forgotten almost everything else he said that night, but one comment has stayed with me. He said that if he were starting his ministry over again, he would give much more attention to the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. He would preach on the Spirit more frequently and attempt to lead people to depend on his power every day.
The greatest preacher of the 19th century, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, said, “The grand thing the church wants in this time is God’s Holy Spirit.” More than anything else, we need to rediscover the Holy Spirit and learn anew to depend on him.
II. Observations From the Text
With that we turn to our text-Ephesians 5:18. Let me give it to you in several different translations: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (NIV). The New Living Translation gives a slightly different wording: “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you.” Finally, we have this paraphrase by Eugene Peterson in The Message: “Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him.” I especially like the phrase: “Drink the Spirit of God.” That’s very picturesque, isn’t it?
In order that we might have the teaching clearly in front of us, let’s think about four observations from the text.
A. Note the contrast between wine and the Spirit.
This is the most basic point of the verse. There is a direct parallel drawn between being drunk with wine and being filled with the Spirit. What precisely is the point of comparison between wine and the Holy Spirit? Doubtless the issue is influence or control. A person under the influence of wine experiences altered behavior. He may say or do things he would not ordinarily do. Emotions may be heightened for a brief period, causing the person to experience anger followed quickly by elation followed quickly by depression. If the person drinks enough wine, his mental processes will be affected and decision