Many mistakingly believe that to be filled with the Spirit is like filling a glass with water. They think it starts in our toes runs up and down our spine and finally makes our hair stand on end. Once we’ve experienced such emotional euphoria, which inevitably leads to us turning cartwheels or swinging on chandeliers, then we’ll know that we’re filled with the Spirit.
Although I’m all for emotion in the Christian experience, it should never be the gauge by which we measure spirituality. Feelings are fickle and cannot be trusted as true barometers of our spiritual condition. It is possible to be right with God and not feel a thing. It is equally possible to be out of God’s will and have goose pimples.
The pagan religions of biblical times put a high premium on “ecstasy.” They believed that you communed with the divine when you experienced the height of sensual or emotional ecstasy. This explains the presence of temple prostitutes at pagan shrines in biblical days. Unfortunately, many of these former idolaters brought this pagan baggage into the church when they converted to Christ. As a result, they would purposely attempt to work themselves up into an emotional lather, believing that the sure sign of spirituality was to be beside oneself emotionally.
In 1 Corinthians 12:1-3, the Apostle Paul addresses this problem in the Corinthian church. He explains to the Corinthians that the true sign of spirituality is not being emotionally out of control, but being under the Spirit’s control. Anywhere the Spirit is in control, things will be done decently and in order, never indecently and in disorder (1 Corinthians 14:40).
To be filled with the Holy Spirit means to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. When the Bible says that people were “filled with fear” or “filled with anger” it does not mean that they were filled with fear or anger like a glass is filled with water (Luke 5:26; 6:11). Instead, it means that they were so seized by fear or anger as to be controlled by them. Likewise, when the Bible speaks of being filled with the Holy Spirit it simply means to be controlled by the Holy Spirit.
Contrary to popular opinion, the filling of the Holy Spirit is not a matter of how much of the Spirit you have, but of how much of you the Spirit has. If you are totally yielded to the Spirit’s control—submitting yourself to the Lordship of Christ by doing His will rather than your own—then you are filled with the Holy Spirit. You can trust the Spirit to empower and enable you to do whatever He bids you to do. However, the moment you take back the reins of your life and slip yourself back into the driver’s seat, you’re no longer filled with the Holy Spirit. Also, you’ll find yourself left to your own devices and operating in your own strength, since the Spirit will not empower or enable you to do what you want to do, but only what Christ wants you to do.
The filling of the Holy Spirit is not, as many mistakingly believe, a once in a lifetime experience. For instance, in the Book of Acts we are told that the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4). Yet, just two short chapters later and we read of them being filled again (Acts 4:31). Like the disciples of old, you and I need to be refilled with the Holy Spirit from time to time; in particularly, every time we step outside of the parameters of God’s will or the precepts of God’s Word.
Whenever we sin by taking back control of our lives, we grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30). The Spirit's enabling power ceases to flow in our lives, since we've put ourselves back in the driver's seat and are now operating in our own strength. Until we confess our sin and give control back to the Spirit, the Holy Spirit’s enabling power will be short-circuited in our lives. Nevertheless, the instant we acknowledge our sin and allow the Spirit back under the steering wheel of our life, we’ll once again be filled with the Spirit and enabled by His mighty enabling power to live as God wants us to live.
In Ephesians 5:18, the Apostle Paul contrast being filled with the Holy Spirit to being drunk with wine. While the Christian should never be drunk on an intoxicating beverage, he or she should always be intoxicated with the Holy Spirit of God. Have you ever noticed how people under the control of an intoxicating beverage act different than they normally would? For instance, a bashful person filled with wine can become a blabbermouth and a loudmouth filled with wine can become mealymouthed. Likewise, Christians will always act differently when they are filled with the Holy Spirit.
Under the Spirit’s control we will act like Christ instead of like ourselves. We will be loving, joyful, peaceable, long-suffering, gentle, good, faithful, meek and temperate (Galatians 5:22-23). Consequently, we will find ourselves effortlessly living within the confines of God’s Word and consistently living in the center of God’s will. When we do, we’ll know that we’re filled with the Holy Spirit!
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