One of the most referenced Bible verses on the topic of being filled with the spirit is Ephesians 5:18 which says "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit".
Being filled with the Spirit is not only a single event, but it is a continual process, and it bears fruit in growth and spiritual maturity while serving the body of Christ and ultimately glorifying God.
When you hear the phrase “filled with the Spirit,” what comes to mind? For some, being filled with the Spirit is associated with a particular point in time with the evidence of speaking in tongues and the continuation of a private prayer language. For others, it is a focus on the joy of the Lord or cultivating spiritual maturity in Christ. The best place to gain a clear understanding of being filled with the Spirit is in the confines of Scripture and to recognize first the difference between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Indwelling of the Holy Spirit vs. Being Filled with the Spirit
When looking at Scripture, the indwelling of the Spirit appears to be different than being filled with the Spirit. The Bible sheds light on promises concerning believers in Christ, and one of those promises is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ told His disciples in John 14:16 that He would ask the Father to give them another Advocate who would never leave them.
That Advocate is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. He is our Advocate, and He never leaves us. Ephesians 4:30 assures us that we are sealed for the day of redemption by the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13 says,
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.
There are other scriptures attesting to these truths, and the Bible encourages us as believers in Christ that the Holy Spirit indwells us at the moment of salvation. This indwelling is permanent because He (the Holy Spirit) seals us.
What it Means to be Filled with the Spirit
When studying Scripture for the biblical understanding of being Spirit-filled, there are two different words used to describe this action in the New Testament. The Greek word pimplemi is used several times in the Acts of the Apostles when referring to being filled with the Spirit. The Complete Word Study Dictionary defines this word, “to be filled, to accomplish, persons to be filled, wholly imbued, affected, and influenced.” This word implies a single event taking place and empowering believers for a work of service.
The filling of the Spirit seen in the first-century church empowered them for the work of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We find this filling first taking place in Acts 2:4 on the day of Pentecost when believers were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke in tongues, which were known languages in the earth but unknown to those speaking them, and they told of the mighty works of God.
Those who heard them speaking recognized their own language being spoken by Galileans. This was a work of service in priming the first message from the Apostle Peter who would explain what was taking place in accordance with Scripture. He went on to minister to those who listened, and three thousand souls were added that day to the fellowship of the believers (Acts 2:14-41).
When addressing the rulers and the elders concerning the healing of a crippled man, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit before speaking to them. He was empowered for preaching and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:8).
In Acts 4:31, the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the Word of God with boldness. In Acts 9:17-20, Paul regained his sight and was filled with the Holy Spirit so that he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues.
In each of these instances, the filling of the Spirit was in the context of a single event for a work of service in the lives of these believers to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Spirit-Filled for Growth and Maturity
The other Greek word in the New Testament applicable to being Spirit-filled is the word pleroo. The Complete Word Study Dictionary defines this as “to make full.” This type of filling is seen in Ephesians 5:18-20: Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit is a continual process of growth and maturity, and this type of maturity comes from being molded by the Word of God. This maturity of to be led by the Spirit and walk by the Spirit is displayed by the fruit of the Spirit as seen in Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
As believers, we are filled as we seek His guidance in all areas of life. When we yield to the instruction of the Word of God, we yield to the continual filling of the Holy Spirit. This type of filling relinquishes control. To experience being filled with the Spirit means allowing Him unrestricted access to every aspect of our existence, where He can lead and govern us. Regarding Ephesians 5:18, The MacArthur Bible Commentary says, “Being filled with the Spirit is living in the conscious presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, letting His mind, through the Word, dominate everything that is thought and done.”
When we are filled with the Holy Spirit in this way, we will do as Ephesians 5:19,20 says. We will praise and worship the Lord in song. We will overflow with thanksgiving to God. Colossians 3:16 says: Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
We can certainly quench the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19), and sin can hinder the filling of the Spirit, affecting our fruitfulness for God. We can also grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) when our actions and words displease God. The answer to this as believers in Christ is obedience to God and to His written Word. This is a daily submission as we walk with the Lord in progressive sanctification, yielding to the Holy Spirit in being filled for His glory and being empowered for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Being Spirit-filled is centered upon a continual process of spiritual growth and maturity that can only be found and cultivated by the Spirit of God. By submitting to this process, we glorify the Lord Jesus Christ in word and deed while being conformed to His image through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within and filling us continually.
A Prayer to Be Filled with the Spirit
Heavenly Father, I come before you with an open heart and a humble spirit, recognizing my need for the Holy Spirit in my life. I desire to be filled with Your presence, to experience Your guidance, and to be empowered by Your love.
I surrender all aspects of my life to You, Lord. Please cleanse me of any sin, doubt, or hindrance that may be blocking the flow of Your Spirit in me. I repent of my shortcomings and ask for Your forgiveness.
Holy Spirit, I invite You to come and fill me completely. Take control of my thoughts, my words, my actions, and my desires. Lead me in Your ways, and help me to walk in obedience to Your will.
I long to experience the fullness of Your presence, to receive Your gifts, and to bear the fruits of Your Spirit in my life. Use me for Your glory and the advancement of Your kingdom.
I trust in Your promises, and I believe that as I seek You, You will fill me with Your Spirit according to Your perfect plan. Thank you, Lord, for your indwelling presence. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen."
Remember that being filled with the Holy Spirit is not a one-time event but an ongoing journey of faith and surrender. Keep seeking God and inviting the Holy Spirit into your life as you continue to grow in your relationship with Him.
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Dawn Hill is a Christian blogger known as The Lovesick Scribe and the host of The Lovesick Scribe Podcast. She is passionate about sharing the truth and pointing others back to Jesus Christ through the written Word as the standard of authority for Christian living and instruction while being led by the Holy Spirit into maturity. She is the author of NonProphet Woke: The Reformation of a Modern-Day Disciple. She is a wife to Nicholas and a mother to Anabel and Ephraim. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.