The Filling of the Holy Spirit was written as a study in support of a statement within the We Believe statement of the Association of Messianic Congregations, and was first published in its email magazine, the Shofar. Cultural sensitivity to Jewish readers has been retained in the use of names and terms.
We believe that the filling of the Holy Spirit is the ongoing process of God to which we yield whereby He
sanctifies us (sets apart) and brings forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 8:13-14; Galatians 5:22-23) *(Full AMC Statement)
There are many ministries of the Holy Spirit toward the believer. Each is distinct from the others and has its own specific name and function in conformity with scriptural use. These differences and distinctions must, of course, be maintained and honored in our thinking and in our speech.
There are two categories of ministries of the Spirit toward believers in the Church Age: those ministered to the believer at the moment of salvation, and those available to him during the entirety of his Christian walk. Two ministries of the Spirit that are often confused are Spirit baptism (baptism by the Holy Spirit) and Spirit-filling, both of which are often thought of as identical: as that ministry by which the Spirit especially empowers some, whether it be at the moment of their salvation or subsequent to it. We'll distinguish between the two, first by defining Spirit baptism, and then by focusing on the subject of our study, Spirit-filling.
Spirit baptism is that ministry of the Spirit which places the believer into Messiah and His body at the moment of salvation: 1 Corinthians 12:13: For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. By that declaration, Paul indicated that everyone in the Corinthian congregation from babes in the faith to the most mature were baptized by the Spirit into Messiah's body. Of necessity, then, every believer is thus baptized by the Spirit at the moment of salvation, which is why there is no exhortation in Scripture to seek Spirit baptism. Galatians 3:27-28 shows that this baptism is not only into Messiah's body of believers, but into Messiah Himself, and that it makes us one in Him. 27: For all of you who were baptized into Messiah have clothed yourselves with Messiah. 28. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua. It is also a permanent baptism: We are sealed into His body for the day of redemption, which is the resurrection or translation of the body at the rapture (Ephesians 4:30). It is the one baptism of Ephesians 4:5, of which water baptism is a picture in Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:12. Furthermore, inasmuch as this baptism determines our permanent position in relation to Messiah and His body, it cannot increase or decrease. In addition, it is strictly a Church Age phenomenon as Messiah's body began to form on the Day of Pentecost.
In contrast, Spirit-filling has to do with empowerment and growth, is available to the believer throughout his walk, and may be gained, lost, regained and increased. Therefore, Spirit-filling is encouraged in Scripture. In addition, Spirit-filling occurred prior to, as well as during, the Church Age.
One other ministry of the Spirit needs to be addressed, that of indwelling. Like Spirit baptism, indwelling is a ministry of the Spirit toward the believer at the moment of salvation (as are also regeneration, sealing and anointing).
Jesus told His disciples,
16. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another
Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17. that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He
abides with you and will be in you.
The Spirit was with them, but not yet in them. According to John 7:38-39, the indwelling of the Spirit was to begin after the Son was glorified, that is, ascended into Heaven:
38. "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" 39. But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
The indwelling began at Pentecost, ten days after His ascension, and has been a ministry of the Spirit toward all
believers from that day.
The indwelling Spirit may be compared to the fountains of the great deep in the days of Noah which, when broken up by God, in combination with the floodgates of the sky flooded the earth (Genesis 7:11); and the Spirit-filled believer may be compared to the flooded earth. All believers have the "fountains of the great deep" within them and are urged to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) unto full flooding.
In preparation for answering that question, we'll make brief comments on the Hebrew and the Greek, look at all passages having to do with being filled by the Spirit, and then make some observations.
The Hebrew word used specifically in reference to Spirit-filling is מַלֵּא, maw-lay, a verb. Strong renders it as "to fill" or "to be full of." It appears in:
1. Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2. "See, I have called by name
Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3. "I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of
craftsmanship, 4. to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, 5. and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work
in all kinds of craftsmanship.
Then Moses said to the sons of Israel, "See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 31. "And He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship;
"Three different Greek words are used, and all translated by the English word 'to fill' or 'to be
filled.'"1 They appear in:
Luke 1:15: For he [John the Baptizer] will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb.
Luke 1:41, in which Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit to pronounce a great blessing upon Mary.
Luke 1:67: And his [John's] father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit to prophesy of the ministry of Yeshua, pronounce a blessing upon Him and worship God.
Luke 4:1: Yeshua, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for the purpose of overcoming Satan's temptations.
Acts 2:4: On the Day of Pentecost, 4. they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
Acts 4:8: Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke boldly of Yeshua and the culpability in Yeshua's crucifixion of his listeners, who had recently arrested him and were now challenging him.
Acts 4:31: And when they [Peter and his companions] had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.
Acts 6:3: Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task [of fairly administering the
daily serving of food].
Acts 6:5, in which Stephen, one of the seven men chosen in verse 3, is described as being full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 7:55: But being full of the Holy Spirit, he
[Stephen] gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Yeshua standing at the right hand of God;
Acts 9:17: So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Yeshua, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
22. The news about them reached the ears of the
church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. 23. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; 24. for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit
and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. 25. And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26. and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an
entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers. . . . 29. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a
contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. 30. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.
~ Acts 11:22-30 ~
Acts 13:9-11: 10. But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him [Elymas], 10. and said, "You who are full of all deceit and fraud. . . . 11. you will be blind and not see the sun for a time."
Acts 13:52: And the disciples were continually filled with
joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 5:18: And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.
1. The most striking observation is that being filled with the Spirit is to be empowered, equipped and guided by God for service unto him. Ephesians 2:10 says, For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. It is the filling of the Spirit that equips us for the accomplishment of these good works.
Gleaning from the above, individuals are variously shown to have been equipped by the filling of the Spirit with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, boldness, and power - for the following tasks and privileges: artistry, craftsmanship, pronouncing blessings, prophesying, overcoming temptations, testifying and evangelizing in languages unknown to the speakers, testifying and evangelizing in the face of opposition, reporting on spiritual matters, administering practical matters, being entrusted with the delivery of contributions, seeing heavenly visions, encouraging the brethren, calling others into ministry, the working of miracles, being filled with joy, and worshiping God.
2. Not all believers are filled with the Spirit. This is seen in Ephesians 5:18, where Paul exhorted the Ephesians to
be filled with the Spirit, and also in Acts 6:3, where the brethren were exhorted to select seven men who were full of the Spirit.
3. Ephesians 5:18 makes it plain that God desires for all believers to be filled with the Spirit, and urges them to do so through Paul.
4. Being filled with the Spirit can be an abiding state for New Testament believers, as is seen clearly in Acts 6:3 and 5, 11:24, 13:52, and Ephesians 5:18. This does not mean that the state of fullness was never lost due to sin, which is common to all believers, but that being filled was the normal state of those mentioned.
5. Filling was a phenomenon that occurred under the Dispensation of the Law as well as under the Dispensation of Grace, which began at Pentecost. Bezalel, Elizabeth, Zacharias and John the Baptizer were filled under the Dispensation of the Law.
6. Nowhere were Israelites under the Law encouraged to be filled with the Spirit. God sovereignly chose and filled a small handful of them to be filled for special tasks.
7. Scripture emphasizes the sovereign filling of certain individuals for the carrying out of particular tasks or the meeting of certain challenges in both Testaments. In the Old Testament, Bezalel was filled with the Spirit and thereby equipped with artistic design and craftsmanship for the construction of the tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-5). In the New, Ryrie notes that the Greek phrase used in certain passages "highlights the event of being filled rather than the resultant state of fullness"2. These "event" passages and others that emphasize the filling of certain chosen individuals for special purposes show the following: John was filled to serve as a prophet and be the forerunner and identifier of Messiah (Luke 1:15-16); Elizabeth was filled to bless Mary (Luke 1:41); Zacharias, to prophesy of Yeshua's ministry and bless God (Luke 1:67); the apostles, to preach to the multitude on the Day of Pentecost and be equipped for their foundational ministries (Acts 1:26; 2:4); Peter, to speak to the rulers, elders and scribes who challenged him (Acts 4:8); Peter and his companions, that God would grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence. . . and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness (4:29-31); Paul, for his pioneering role as "apostle to the Gentiles" and providing much of the New Testament (Acts 9:17), and again in Acts 13:9, for his judgment of Elymas.
8. Some were filled for special tasks from the earliest possible moments. John was filled from his mother's womb (Luke 1:15-16); the apostles were filled on the Day Pentecost (Acts 1:26; 2:4); Paul was filled from the moment of his conversion ( Acts 9:17).
9. Certain individuals are shown to have already been filled, and then filled again when faithfully meeting new challenges. Peter was filled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4), again in his confrontation with the rulers, elders and scribes (Acts 4:8), and again after the prayer for boldness (4:31). Paul was filled at his conversion (Acts 9:17), again for his judgment of Elymas (Acts 13:9), and again after preaching faithfully in Antioch-Pisidia (13:52).
In consideration of the above, to be filled with the Spirit means to be controlled by the Spirit: to be led and empowered by Him. In Ephesians 5:18, Paul exhorted, And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit. According to Dr. Enns, "The meaning of 'filled' (Gk. plerousthe) is 'control.'"3 Just as alcohol imbibed to the point of drunkenness controls a person, so does the Spirit when He is allowed to fill the believer.
In the broader context of Ephesians 5:18 (verses 15-33), being filled with the Spirit is associated with living carefully, wisely,
making the most of your time, because the days are evil (verse 16); being strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man (verse 16); with understanding the Lord's will; with speaking godly things and
singing godly songs to one another and to the Lord; with thanksgiving to the Lord; with subjection to one another in the fear of the Lord; with wives being subject to their husbands as unto the
Lord; with husbands loving their wives as Messiah loved His body of believers; and with subjection of the body of believers to Messiah. Based on John 16:12-14 and 1 Corinthians 2:9 - 3:2, it may
be reasoned that Spirit-filling maximizes the degree to which the Spirit teaches one spiritual truth and enables him to apply it in life situations. In Romans 15:13, it is associated with
all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope. In Philippians 2:1-4, it is the basis for spiritual
fellowship. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, the Spirit transforms us into the Lord's image from glory to glory. Many of
these points are made, implied or illustrated in other passages, as well, such as Acts 1:8, Romans 15:19, 2 Corinthians 3:2-6, Galatians 5:22-23, Philippians 1:11 and 3:3, Colossians 1:9 and I
Thessalonians 1:5. Also in the context of the Ephesians passage, the believer who is not filled with the Spirit is vulnerable to the opposite in every point, falling into the same libertine and
destructive frame of mind as drunkenness. Some of Strong's and Thayer's definitions of the Greek word for dissipation are: excess,
riot, an abandoned, dissolute life, profligacy.
To be filled with the Spirit is to be sanctified unto progressive holiness of spirit and daily walk and for personal growth in Him in every way; and to be equipped, guided and empowered for the Lord's service and honor.
Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he
filled* it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink (Matthew 27:48). As a sponge may be soaked and dripping with a liquid, so may the believer be filled
with the Spirit.
* πλήθω, pletho, one of the Greek words used in reference to Spirit-filling.
Inasmuch as filling is associated with power for service and spiritual growth, and that Paul urged the Ephesians, be filled with the Spirit (5:18), one must do as Paul urged:
1. Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God,
to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service
of worship. 2. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and
acceptable and perfect.
Verse 1 speaks of the dedication of one's body for the Lord's service, and verse 2, the dedication of one's very spirit for the purpose of sanctification. It is a dedication of one's entire person, body and soul.
Dr. Fruchtenbaum illuminates the Greek:
Romans 12:1 encourages believers to present your bodies a living sacrifice as an act of an initial dedication. The word present is in the aorist tense, which emphasizes that there must be a one-time presentation of the body. Romans 12:2 teaches that a believer should then live a continuously separated life, allowing himself to be continuously transformed [Greek present tense], and not conformed to the world.4
The same thought is found in Romans 6:12-13:
12. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13. and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
The ultimate example of the dedicated life is presented to us in 1 Peter 2:21-24:
21. For you have been called for this purpose, since Messiah also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22. WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23. and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24. and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
When a believer so dedicates himself to the Lord for service and sanctification, he is filled by the Spirit that he may live just that kind of life.
The question is, Which Person or Persons of the Triune God fills the believer with the Spirit?
The issue: The Greek phrase en pneumati, which is found in be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and other passages, is variously translated "in, with, by, or through the Spirit," depending on context and translation. Dr. Ryrie notes these other verses in which en pneumati appears:
Ephesians 2:22: in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit;
Ephesians 3:5: it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;
Ephesians 6:18: pray at all times in the Spirit;
Colossians 1:8: he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.
He then asks, "Does it mean [filled] with the Spirit or by the Spirit?" and concludes, "The case can mean either or both." He then proceeds to answer our question: "The Spirit is the Agent who fills us with Himself."5
The literal meaning of be filled with the Spirit is "keep on being filled with the Spirit." The tense in the Greek "emphasizes continuous and repeated action."6 This, in turn, means that the believer must continually and repeatedly exercise his will to do those things that the Lord requires of him both inwardly and outwardly. He must respond positively as the Lord shows him attitudes, viewpoints and activities he is to drop, new areas of sanctification he is walk in, and new ministerial challenges he is to meet. In so responding, his capacity for filling expands as new areas of his life open up for the Lord, and the Spirit fills Him afresh to the level of his increased capacity. Inversely, if a believer slacks in his dedication or otherwise gives in to sin, he will become less than full of the Spirit; but if he repents, fullness will be restored.
Scripture provides three terse exhortations, two negative and one positive, which, if followed, enable the believer to continually be filled with the
1. The Two Negative Exhortations
a. Ephesians 4:30: Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God. This is not to be taken figuratively: The Spirit is a Person, and can literally be grieved. The Ephesians 4 context makes it clear that grieving the Spirit is caused by sinning. Some of the specific sins mentioned are lying, anger, stealing, sloth, speaking unwholesome words. If one is to retain his filling, he must not sin.
b. 1 Thessalonians 5:19: Do not quench the Spirit. Quenching the Spirit is a specific kind of sin; and inasmuch as it is a sin, quenching the Spirit also grieves Him.
"Quench" is used of quenching a fire in Matthew 12:20, Ephesians 6:16 and Hebrews 11:34; and inasmuch as fire is a symbol of the Spirit (Exodus 3:2 and 13:21, Matthew 3:11, Acts 2:3), and 1 Thessalonians 5:20 exhorts, do not despise prophetic utterances, one may conclude that quenching the Spirit refers to the stifling or suppression of one's own spiritual gift or the gifts of others. If one is to be filled with the Spirit, he must not stifle or suppress his own spiritual gift or the gifts of others: he must not quench the Spirit.
The exhortation to not quench the spirit is addressed to all of the members of the church at Thessalonica (1:1-2), and is in the plural. All the members of the congregation were to be careful to heed the exhortation when they gathered together for worship. In application, pastors, the entire eldership, and other spiritual leaders must be especially careful here: They can either stifle the spiritual flames in their congregations, evangelistic teams, or other ministry groups, or fan them.
2. The One Positive
Galatians 5:16: Walk in the Spirit (pneuma), and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. The majority of translators and commentators hold that pneuma refers to the Holy Spirit; a minority, the saved human spirit.
If one walks in the Spirit (or spirit), he will neither quench nor grieve Him. To walk in the Spirit (or spirit) is to avoid all that Scripture exhorts us to avoid and to embrace all that it exhorts us to embrace. Chafer points out, "Walking in the Spirit is a command in the present tense, that is, a Christian should keep on walking by the Spirit."7 It follows plainly that if one keeps on walking in the Spirit (or spirit) he will keep on being filled.
Being Spirit-filled is not the same as being spiritually mature. A newborn baby may be perfectly healthy, yet physically immature. Proper nutrition and exercise over a period of years will bring him into physical maturity. Similarly, a brand new believer might be Spirit-filled, but he is certainly not spiritually mature no matter how refined his personality or accomplished he may be in other areas of life. He needs to feed on the Word of God (1 Corinthians 3:2, 1 Peter 2:2, 1 Corinthians 10:3, Hebrews 5:14), apply his Bible knowledge to his daily walk (Ephesians 4:1, Colossians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 2:12), and be led by the Spirit (Galatians 5:18) in order to mature.
One who is Spirit-filled is not necessarily spiritually mature; but being Spirit-filled hastens spiritual growth unto maturity.
One of the words translated miracles is dunamis, which Strong renders as "force; specifically miraculous power." Special power is released by God for the working of a miracle.
Some in Scripture who were filled with the Spirit performed miracles of healing and judgment; yet, it does not follow that if one is Spirit-filled he will necessarily be called of God to perform a miracle. The effecting of healings and miracles are spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12): The Spirit distributes them sovereignly as He chooses (1 Corinthians 12:11), and He distributes them at the moment of one's salvation irregardless of how mature or Spirit-filled the believer may turn out to be (Romans 12:4-6, 1 Corinthians 12:7 and 11, 1 Peter 4:10). Therefore, no dedicated, mature, Spirit-filled believer need fret if he is not used to perform a miracle.
In Charismatic congregations, members are urged to decisively dedicate themselves to the Lord's service and be empowered for that service through baptism by the Holy Spirit; and those who so dedicate themselves are so empowered. However, what really happens is that they are filled with the Spirit, not baptized by Him.
This writer knows two men who, by their testimony, lived rather lifeless Christian lives for more than twenty years and then received this filling thinking that they were being baptized by the Spirit, and their lives were permanently set on fire for the Lord. One became the pastor of a rather dead mainline church and brought it to life. Another led hundreds, perhaps thousands, to the Lord, including this writer, and has led many of them into lives of zealous discipleship and service. Sad to say, due to the confounding of the two ministries of the Spirit combined with misunderstandings of certain Bible situations involving Spirit baptism and speaking in tongues, these fillings in Charismatic settings are almost always accompanied by erroneous teaching and unbiblical practice. In addition, the emphasis is often more on power and spectacle than on the service to the Lord that the power enables, more on bedazzlement than worship: Now Herod was very glad when he saw Yeshua; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some miracle performed by Him (Luke 23:8). (Healings and miracles, yes, as the Lord wills, but with proper emphases, proportion and focus.)
So what's a little error if it causes people to be set on fire for the Lord? Truth mixed with error is like a mirror smeared with
mud - and error muddies the mirror through which we already see the Lord dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). It also corrupts the image of Yeshua we present to each other and to the world. Furthermore,
error begets error begets error ad infinitum, and aberrations in doctrine and practice are thus progressively compounded.
On the opposite extreme are congregations who do not teach on the need for dedication nor urge their members to be filled with the Spirit, and their pews are filled with relatively lifeless believers. Indeed, it is often difficult to tell who is saved among them!
There is a healthy, middle ground - the biblical ground - that many congregations have struck. They teach on the need for dedicated lives and challenge their members to decisively and once and for all dedicate themselves to the Lord for sanctification and service, and thereby be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). That is the healthy middle ground - doctrinally. However, on the practical side, all too many of these congregations do not take the works of power seriously enough, but toy with them. For example, they pray for healings because it is part of the program, but in unbelief and without fervency (James 5:16: The fervent prayer of a righteous man is powerful in its working), and see no results. The healthy doctrinal ground MUST be accompanied by healthy biblical practice: They must pray aggressively and full of faith - yes, even outside the protective walls of their sanctuaries - as Peter and John prayed for the man at the Gate Beautiful (Acts 3:1-8) - and they will see similar results.
Therefore, let congregational leaders exhort their flocks to live dedicated lives, be filled with the Spirit, and follow up with healthy, Spirit-filled, faith-filled practice. And to whom it may concern: Be filled with the Spirit. No need to wait until you are in your congregation. Dedicate yourself now - and follow up with action!
Footnotes and Recommended Reading
1. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Dr., Messianic Bible Study 066: The Ministries of the Holy Spirit, pdf, (ariel.org: Ariel Ministries Digital Press, 1985, 2005), 31-32.
2. Charles Ryrie, Dr., Basic Theology, (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1991), 376.
3. Paul P. Enns, Dr., The Moody Handbook of Theology, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), 278.
4. Fruchtenbaum, op. cit., 33.
5. Ryrie, op. cit., 377.
6. Fruchtenbaum, op. cit.
7. Louis Sperry Chafer, Dr., Major Bible Themes, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1926), 121.