The Filling of the Holy Spirit

The term "filled" (Greek: pleroo) means to be "characterized by."  In this sense, the New Testament uses the term to describe other characteristics.[1]  Generally speaking, then, to be filled with the Holy Spirit means to be characterized by the Holy Spirit.  In the following passages, several truths concerning this important ministry of the Spirit emerge.

  1. Whereas Christians receive the baptism by the Spirit only once (1 Cor 12:13), it is possible for us to receive repeated "in-fillings."  This was the case with the early church, and Luke is careful to note that this was the key to their vitality and effectiveness (see Acts 1:8; 4:8,31; 7:55; 9:17; 13:9,52).
  2. The "filling of the Spirit" is connected with our free will.  An individual Christian can choose to be or not to be filled (Eph. 5:l8 - "do not get drunk with wine. . .but be filled with the Spirit").  Therefore, it is helpful to consider the filling of the Holy Spirit as the result of a Christian's openness to the Spirit's influence.
  3. The term "filled with the Spirit" should therefore probably be connected with the terms "walking by/according to the Spirit" or "keeping in step with the Spirit" (see Rom. 8:l-ll and  Gal. 5:l6,l8,25).  These terms describe the Christian's role in being filled with the Spirit.
    1. According to Paul, "walking according to the Spirit" primarily involves "setting (your) mind on the things of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:5).  Conversely, "walking according to the flesh" primarily involves "setting (your) mind on the things of the flesh."  The "things of the Spirit" refer to all of the spiritual blessings that have been given to us through our union with Christ (1 Cor. 2:12).  Therefore, to "set your mind on the things of the Spirit" is to choose to maintain a mental focus on your new identity in Christ (Col. 3:1-3).
    2. In addition, "walking according to the Spirit" involves maintaining an attitude of dependence on God (Jn. 15:4,5) and a willingness to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:18).
  4. "Grieving the Holy Spirit" (Eph. 4:30) and "quenching the Spirit" (1 Thes. 5:19) apparently refer to two different ways in which Christians resist the filling of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  In a sense, then, they refer to the opposite of being filled with the Spirit.
    1. Although "grieving the Spirit" is not clearly defined, the context (Eph. 4:25-32) makes it clear that it involves willfully disregarding the Holy Spirit's moral guidance.
    2. Although "quenching the Spirit" is not clearly defined, the context (1 Thes. 5:20-22) indicates that it involves disregarding the Holy Spirit's efforts to direct and edify the church through various gifted members.
  5. The New Testament teaches that the filling of the Spirit can be experienced.  An important distinction should be made between normative and non-normative experiences of this ministry of the Spirit.
    1. Luke records several fillings that were very dramatic (see Acts 2:3-6; 4:31; 7:55; 9:17; 13:9).  Like other dramatic spiritual experiences in the Bible, these were evidently granted by God according to his sovereign wisdom.  Such experiences are certainly to be welcomed, but they are not normative.  In other words, there is no scriptural correlation between such dramatic experiences and spiritual maturity.  On the one hand, one can be both a "Spirit-filled" Christian and/or a spiritually mature Christian without having such experiences.  On the other hand, those who have dramatic spiritual gifts or experiences may be spiritually carnal (e.g., the Corinthian church).  We should also resist the idea that such experiences should be sought, since there is no command to do this in the New Testament.
    2. On the other hand, Paul indicates that being filled with the Spirit will normatively result in bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-23; see also Rom. 14:17; 15:13), and some of this fruit is experiential (hope, peace, joy).  Therefore, it is proper to expect to experience such fruit on a more or less regular basis, even though this in no way precludes the experience of pain and suffering since we live in a fallen world and we are engaged in a great spiritual battle.  The chronic absence of this fruit indicates a need to resume walking according to the Spirit.

[1] See Acts 6:3 where persons are said to be "full of" both the Spirit and wisdom, and Acts 6:5 where Stephen is said to be "full of faith," and 9:36 "full of good deeds"