Issues, Etc.

Articles and book excerpts used in and referred to on Issues, Etc.
Click here to see our Article Archive.

Be Filled with the Spirit
by Don Matzat

What does the Bible mean when it directs us to be "filled with the Holy Spirit" or describes a person as "full of the Spirit." In the Book of Acts, the company of the Apostles was filled with the Holy Spirit (2: 4; 4: 31). Peter was filled (4: 8). On the first missionary journey, Paul is described as being filled with the Holy Spirit (13: 9). One of the requirements for the deacons chosen in chapter six was to be full of the Holy Spirit (6: 3). Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit (7: 55), as also was Barnabas (11: 24). In Ephesians 5: 18, we are directed to be "filled with the Spirit."

It is God's desire for us to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The life and vitality of the church is the result of God's people being filled with the Holy Spirit. Pastors and church leaders need to be filled with the Spirit so that they might be led and empowered by the Spirit. Christian men, filled with the Spirit, would be more effective, loving, and patient husbands and fathers. Many of the conflicts that we deal with in our churches and homes are caused by the fact that we are not filled with the Holy Spirit!

What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit and how does one become that way?

Qualitative, not Quantitative

The phrase "filled with the Holy Spirit" is often thought of as a quantitative phrase, describing how much of the Holy Spirit a person happens to possess, I heard one Bible teacher declare, III need to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit, because I leak." In other words, he believed that he used up the Holy Spirit in the same manner in which his car used up gasoline. As he went to the gas station to "fill it up," so he needed to continually pray that God would "fill him up" with the Holy Spirit, This is a false teaching that produces confusion.

The Holy Spirit is a person not an ephemeral, nebulous force that is somehow able to leak out of us. When you receive Holy Spirit, you receive the entire person, Therefore, when the Bible speaks of being "filled with" or "full of" the Holy Spirit it is a qualitative statement defining the quality of a Christian's life, not a quantitative statement defining the amount of the Spirit they possess.

There are people today who oddly define themselves as "Spirit-filled Christians." What they are really saying is that they are kind, loving, patient, gentle people. The problem is, some who describe themselves as "Spirit-filled" are often anything but that. The Bible never speaks of anyone defining himself as "Spirit-filled." It is a designation that is applied to others who manifest the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

A Second Experience?

Charismatics think of being filled with the Holy Spirit as a second experience or event communicated by prayer and the laying on of hands. They teach that when you are saved you receive the Holy Spirit, the second experience is to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Some Charismatics believe that their noted evangelists and teachers actually dispense the Holy Spirit. If, for example, you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit, they might suggest that you go to Orlando Florida and have Benny Hinn lay hands on you and pray for you. As a result, you will be filled with the Spirit. Popular "holy laughter" promoter Rodney Howard-Browne describes himself as a Holy Ghost bartender. In his crusade gatherings he pokes people in the belly and declares them to be "filled." This is ludicrous!

The person of the Holy Spirit is not imparted through human mediation. It is true that the Holy Spirit was imparted by the laying on of hands of the first-century Apostles (Acts 8: 18) because they were the bearers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Today, the Holy Spirit comes to us through the Holy Spirit-inspired words of those same first-century Apostles, not through actions or antics of modern big-name evangelists or self-proclaimed apostles and prophets.

Is Every Christian Filled with the Holy Spirit?

In their desire to avoid making distinctions between Christians, some teach that every Christian is a Spirit-filled Christian. This is not true. In Acts 6:3, the deacons chosen to minister to the widows were to be men who "were known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom." There must have been Christian men who did not fulfill that requirement or else it would not have been a requirement. Since those who did not fill the bill were still Christians, they must have had the Holy Spirit, but they were not known to be full of the Holy Spirit.

Since the sinful nature still clings to the Christian, being filled with the Spirit is not a constant condition. The Lutheran confessional document the Formula of Concord states:

Again, there is not only a great difference between Christians, one being weak and the other strong in the Spirit, but even the individual Christian in his own life discovers that at one moment he is joyful in the Spirit and at another moment fearful and terrified, at one time ardent in love, strong in faith and in hope, and at another time cold and weak. (1)

What is the variable?

Since no believer in Jesus Christ is lacking anything from God, the variable has to be the result of Christian growth and maturity and learning how to put off the sinful nature and be filled with the Holy Spirit. The deacons were men who were "known" to be filled with the Spirit. Their lives, conversations, actions and attitudes manifested more of the fruit of the Spirit that the works of the flesh.

Alternative Fillings

In order to understand what it means to be filled with the Spirit, consider the manner in which we might use the terms filled or full of to describe the life-style or mind-set of a person.

I knew a woman who was filled with bitterness and resentment. Her daughter-in-law had offended her many years before, and she refused to forgive. Her conversation would invariably end up in bad-mouthing her daughter-in-law, She was filled with resentment. How did she get that way? Obviously, she made herself that way.

In describing a selfish, self-centered person, we might say, "She is really full of herself," If the topic of conversation is not revolving around her and her problems and successes, she appears totally disinterested. Every element of her life is self-directed and self-motivated. The question is, how did she get that way? Obviously, she made herself that way by focusing her thoughts and desires upon herself.

I knew a man filled with the world. He owned a jewelry store and was fairly wealthy. When I was with him the conversation always centered upon the things of the world. His life was totally motivated by what he owned, what he was planning to buy, how it much his cars, toys" and jewelry were worth etc. He was filled up to the top with the world. How did he get that way? Obviously, he continually focused his thoughts and desires upon the things of the world.

In the light of these alternatives, what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and how do we get that way? Is it God who sovereignly "fills us with the Spirit" or does God give us the Holy Spirit and we, as a result of using the gifts that he has given whereby the Holy Spirit works, are "filled with the Spirit?"

Monergism and Synergism

Theologically, when considering the ministry of the Holy Spirit, it is very important to make clear distinction between the two categories of justification and sanctification. Justification defines how we come to faith in Jesus Christ. Sanctification defines how we live the Christian life after we have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Our relationship with the Holy Spirit in, sanctification is not the same as it is in justification.

It is the singular work of the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith in Jesus Christ. We do not cooperate. We are acted upon by the Spirit as we hear the message of the Gospel. This is called "monergism," or "one work." It means that the Holy Spirit works alone in bringing us to faith, as opposed to the heresy of "synergism," which means "working with." Synergists teach that we work with the Holy Spirit in order to be saved. The heresy of synergism is based upon the denial of the total corruption of the human nature.

When defining the realm of sanctification, there is a legitimate "synergism." We are expected by God, since we are born-again and our wills have been quickened, to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in being filled with the Spirit. Perhaps some of you are put off by the theological terms. Why should you be? Isn't it interesting that when we speak about medical procedure or learn computer jargon that we readily become comfortable with technical terms. If this is true, should not this comfort level also apply to the most important discipline, the study of theology?

Being filled with the Spirit has nothing to do with the forgiveness of our sins, our righteousness before God, and our eternal life in heaven. These are settled issues. Being filled with the Spirit has to do with sanctification or how we live the Christian life. God commands us to be filled with the Spirit, not so that we might be saved and go to heaven, but that we might manifest the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and demonstrate God's love to others.

Since being filled with the Holy Spirit is in the realm of sanctification in which God expects us to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, what is it that we do in order to be filled with the Spirit? What does the Bible tell us?

Be Filled with the Spirit!

The Bible commands us "to be filled with the Spirit." Read carefully the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5: 18-21.

Do not get drunk on wine which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

While I generally appreciate the New International Version of the Bible, the above translation of the original Greek leaves a great deal to be desired. The words "which leads to debauchery" easily give the impression that the one causes the other so that in the next phrase, being filled with the Spirit causes or leads to speaking psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Is this what the text is saying? The question is, is the speaking and singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs the result of being filled with the Spirit or is it a part of a singular process?

In the original Greek text, the phrase "which leads to debauchery" is more accurately translated "in which is excess." (en o estin asotia) It does not mean that drunkenness causes excess. Rather it means that in drunkenness is excess. It is not a result clause. The King James Version translated the phrase "Do not get drunk . . . in which is debauchery."

In the second part of the verse the Apostle commands us to be "filled with the Spirit." The Greek word for "filled" is in the passive voice indicating that it is an action that is done to us. (plerousthe) However, and this is very important, the word translated "speak" is not the first word of a new sentence as indicated in the above NIV translation. It is a present participle (lalountes) translated "speaking," relating back to the verb "be filled " The text says, "Be filled . . . speaking. "

Therefore, we are dealing with a singular action, not a cause and effect.

In these verses, not only is the Apostle Paul commanding us to be filled with the Spirit, but he is teaching us how to do it: "Be filled . . . speaking psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, music in your heart, and giving thanks to the Father for everything. "

The Apostle expresses the same thoughts in Colossians 3: 16:

Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and Spiritual songs with gratitude in Your hearts to God- And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The Apostle is describing , Spirit-filled life. Being thankful, having the Word of Christ dwelling in our hearts, singing spiritual songs unto the Lord, and consciously doing everything in the name of our Lord Jesus causes us to be filled with the Spirit.

A Spirit-filled life is not a life that possesses a huge quantity of the Holy Spirit. There is no such thing. The Holy Spirit is a person. You either have him or you don't. Rather, the Spirit-filled life is a life in which our thoughts, feelings, emotions, insights, impulses, desires, and decisions are affected, controlled, influenced and motivated by the Holy Spirit. The same dynamic is true in describing the resentment-filled, self-filled and world-filled lives.

The Importance Of Music and Singing

While there is no doubt that hearing, reading and meditating upon the Word of God and gathering around the Lord's Table are the Primary ingredients in being filled with the Holy Spirit, the Bible also includes music and singing in that dynamic. The Apostle directs us to sing "hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs."

The music and singing described by Paul is not separate from the Word of God. The verbal content is another form of the application of God's Word to our lives. In his classic commentary on Ephesians, Dr. George Stoeckhardt says the following about the relationship between "spiritual singing" and being filled with the Spirit:

True, the true means of edification, the specific means of grace through which the Spirit is given, lives, and operates in us, is the Word of God. However, spiritual singing is but a specific form of the use and application of the divine Word. According to Colossians 3:16 mutual teaching and admonition by means of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are species of "let the Word of Christ dwell among you richly. . . It is in this manner also, through hymns and songs, that our spiritual life is refreshed and we are filled with the Spirit. (bold mine) (2)

Martin Luther highly exalted the role of music. Read carefully some of these beautiful statements:

We can now adduce only this one fact: Experience testifies, that after the Word of God, music alone descries to be celebrated as mistress and queen of the heart. And by these emotions men are controlled and often swept away as by their lords. A greater praise of music than this we cannot conceive. For if you want to revive the sad, startle the jovial, encourage the despairing, humble the conceited, pacify the raving, mollify the hate-filled - and who is able to enumerate all the lords of the human heart, I mean the emotions of the heart and the urges which incite a man to all virtues and vices? - what can you find that is more efficacious than music? The Holy Spirit himself honors it as an instrument of his specific office when he testifies in his Holy Scripture that his gifts came upon the prophets through its use, that is, the impulse toward all virtues, as is seen in the case of Elijah; again, that its use drives out Satan. that is, the power which impels toward all vices as the case of Saul, king of Israel, shows. Not in vain, therefore, do the fathers and the prophets want nothing more intimately linked to the Word of God than music. From this arise so many hymns and psalms in which the message and the voice act upon the heart and the hearer at the same time.

Luther further states about the effect of music:

Music is God's greatest gift. It has often so stimulated and stirred me that I felt the desire to preach. (3)

If you want to be filled with the Spirit, direct your heart and mind to the things of the Spirit and not to the things of the flesh. Hide the Word of God in your heart, meditate upon the Word and promises of God, and... cultivate the practice of singing hymns and psalms and spiritual songs. Christians who read and meditate upon God's Word and fill their hearts with hymns and songs of praise to God are Spirit-filled Christians. Their lives reflect the fruit of the Spirit. They manifest love, are filled with joy, and I've in peace.

The person who demonstrated to me most clearly what it means to be filled with the Spirit was my little Lithuanian grandmother. I will never forget her witness. Just about every time our family visited the farmhouse in Connecticut, grandma was seated in the dining room reading her Bible. As she worked around the kitchen she was always singing hymns of praise. When it was time to go home, grandma gathered all the family members in the kitchen and led us in singing Now Thank We All Our God. Of course, since they were singing in Lithuanian, we kids thought it was quite funny, especially when the dog outside responded to the singing by howling. But my grandma was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Recently I had the privilege of visiting in the home of a fellow pastor. After supper, we sat around the table and talked until late into the evening. Before going home, the pastor distributed hymnals and for the next 15 minutes we sang some of the great hymns of the church. It was a wonderful Spirit-filled experience.

Everybody is filled with something. What are you filled with? When you reflect upon the conditions in your world, are you filled with fear and worry" When you rehash some of the ways in which you have been hurt in the past, are you filled with resentment and bitterness? When you consider your plight in life, are you filled with self-pity? As a result, you have no joy and peace.

What is the solutions Set your mind upon the Word and promises of God. Reflect upon the goodness of God and give him thanks. Fill your heart with songs of praise and thanksgiving. As a result, you will be filled with the Holy Spirit.


1. Tappert, Theodore G., The Book of Concord, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959) pp. 534-568.

2. Stoeckhardt, George, Ephesians, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1952), p. 238.

3. Plass, Edward, What Luther Says, Vol. 2, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963), pp. 992-993.

Management Techniques Incorporated has provided this article archive expressly for Issues, Etc. The articles in this archive have been formatted converted for internet use, by Management Techniques, Inc.
Contact MTI webmaster