By Randall Fox
“Be filled with the Spirit” Ephesians 5:18
The command to be Spirit-filled is one of the most vital imperatives for the Christian life. Yet one of the most misunderstood and neglected. The meaning of the command to be filled with the Spirit further unfolds as we look at other usages of the word “filled.” In John 12:3, the word “fill” is used to describe a permeating fragrance when Mary anointed the feet of the Lord: the house was “filled with the fragrance of the oil.” Being filled means to allow the Spirit to pervade every area of our lives. He must have the whole. Anyone who has the mentality that he can be filled with the Spirit yet keep some areas of his life closed to Him will never experience this. This word “filled” is often associated with human emotions. The New Testament speaks of being filled with sorrow (John 16:6), fear (Luke 5:26), or anger (Luke 6:11). Just as an immaterial emotion can dominate (“fill”) a material human body, the immaterial Spirit of God can govern a physical human being.
What does the Spirit-filling look like? Scripture gives us examples of people who were filled with the Spirit. When the Holy Spirit came at Pentacost, the ensuing preaching is attributed to being filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4). Peter, who denied Christ before a servant girl only weeks earlier, is now bold as a lion before the Sanhedrin because he was filled with the Spirit (Acts 4:8). Stephen’s fidelity to Jesus Christ and his disregard for his own life are attributed to being filled with the Spirit (Acts 7:55). That supernatural quality that characterised the early church is explained as being filled with the Spirit. The reason the early church’s courage, dedication, and love seem supernatural is because they were.
The helpful parallel passage in Colossians 3:16 replaces the phrase “Be filled with the Spirit” with “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” When you let the Word of God have its home (dwell) in your heart, you are letting the Spirit of God control you. The will of the World and the will of the Spirit are not two distinct things but one, since the Spirit wrote the Word.
Finally, it is important to distinguish the filling of the Spirit from spiritual maturity. Spiritual growth is part of the Christian life (Eph. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:2), but it must not be confused with Spirit-filling. Spirit-filling is immediate. Spiritual growth is a long process. This distinction explains the wide variety of spiritual levels that exist among Christians.
There are times when a newborn Christian may seem more spiritual than one who has been a Christian for a long time. This does not mean that he is more mature, but just that at the present time he is Spirit-filled. There is great danger in confusing Spirit-filling with spiritual maturity. A church might be tempted to put a Spirit-filled novice, who lacks spiritual maturity, into a position of leadership to help energise a lethargic congregation. Paul warns that this could be disastrous (12 Tim. 3:6).
On the other hand, you may have a mature believer who at the present is not Spirit-filled. His life may be spiritually dry, his motivation for service gone, and his loving obedience waning. He needs to be filled with the Spirit. Perhaps it is a common mistake for the mature to think they can live the Christian life because of their maturity level rather than accepting the constant, immediate need for the Holy Spirit. Paul begins listing areas that both demonstrate and necessitate Spirit-filling. The areas of music (5:19), gratitude (5:20), and relationship between believers (5:21), between husbands and wives (5:22-23), between parents and children (6:1-3), and between employers and employees (6:5-9) are all connected to Spirit-filling. Those who depend on their past growth alone will fail.
Just as physical health is no substitute for physical growth, spiritual maturity is no substitute for Spirit-filling. A child may be healthy but not yet mature physically–just as a newborn Christian can be Spirit-filled but not yet mature. On the other hand , a grown adult can be ill at the moment, as a mature believer may not be filled with the Spirit. We must be careful, though , not to think of these as mutually exclusive, A child will grow best if he is healthy and a Christian will grow best if he is Spirit-filled. Surely the best route to spiritual growth is to focus on the more immediate spiritual health of being filled with the Spirit.
Being filled with the Spirit is, in essensse, all about conscious submission to Him. Perhaps the best explanation for being filled with the Spirit is, in the words of Cyrus Nubaum’s hymn, to “let Him have His way with thee.”
Randall Fox is pastor at Faith Baptist Church, Orange, California and is a state representative for the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship. Copied by permission from FrontLine magazine.