It’s been my great pleasure and privilege to have stood in some of the most beautiful places in the United States. And none of them are more stunning than those I visited on the island of Kauai. The sights there are breathtaking and one of the most memorable is Wailua Falls. There the water cascades 113 feet into a lush lagoon that continually drains into the peaceful Wailua River. The flow never lets up and hardly varies in volume because on Nounou Mountain (the peak above it) it rains an average of 364 days a year, making it one of the wettest spots on earth. For centuries the ancient natives of Hawaii drew fresh water from the pond as needed and they were able to depend on it because it never ran dry. In much the same way we Christians are the reservoir the Holy Spirit is able to pour His living water into constantly. Allowing ourselves to be drenched in the Spirit is God’s plan for every believer and that’s what the Bible means when it speaks of our accepting “the fullness of the Holy Spirit.” More explicitly, it refers to our choosing to be controlled by His presence and power.
Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit…” The mental image he presents is intentionally easy to grasp. A man or woman who’s imbibed too much booze is dominated by alcohol. Its presence and power have taken over his/her normal abilities and bodily functions. Often we say that a person so impaired is “under the influence.” It’s obvious to everyone. The Apostle was trying to convey that to be filled with the Spirit can be likened, in principle, to being inebriated. We believers are capable of living and behaving “under the influence” of the Holy Ghost who resides in us 24/7. When we relinquish our will to that of God’s He empowers us to accomplish things far beyond what we can accomplish on our own. That’s because instead of being guided by our ego, sinful desires and animal instincts we are then led by the great I AM. Unfortunately, few of us (me included) stand long enough under the Spirit’s waterfall to be filled to the brim.
I don’t think anyone would argue the fact that the lives of too many Christians reflect the morals and standards of modern society more than those of their Lord and Savior. Yes, they’ve been baptized with the Holy Spirit, their membership in the body of Christ is confirmed and their names have been inscribed in the heavenly Book of Life. But they’re nonetheless missing out on a trainload of what God wants them to have and enjoy in this life. Consciously or otherwise they’re preoccupied with fitting into Satan’s corrupt world that swirls around them instead of trying to be, as Jesus was, “in this world but not of it”. I’m intrigued by words, especially those having double meanings as does “egregious.” While in modern usage it connotes a loathsome personality trait, its Latin root actually means “outside the herd” and I think that’s where Christ-followers should attempt to position themselves. We should strive to be different from the norm in a positive manner but too many of us yearn to be considered “one of the guys.” In the process many of our spiritual gifts are wasted and the good news of the Gospel lies dormant in our throats. Bit by bit our initial zeal to walk in obedience to Christ’s commands grows anemic. Our time spent in the Holy Word decreases to the point where our local team’s three-hour game takes precedence. And praying? Fuggitaboudit. We’re much too busy. As it did with Lot in Sodom, sin loses some of its sinfulness and we become blinded to its ugliness. We know we’re sinners but, increasingly, we fail to seek forgiveness for our daily transgressions. We take grace for granted.
While the Christian message has more tools of dissemination at its disposal for evangelizing these days a real danger lies in our counting on the internet, radio or television to spread the word about our merciful Master instead of us communicating it one-on-one to our lost neighbors. We don’t fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit for boldness and courage because we don’t think we need to. We expect God to get the job done but that’s a cop out. If that was the prevailing attitude in the first century Christianity might never have exploded upon civilization as exponentially as it did. In Acts 17:6 we read where Paul and Silas were so filled with the Spirit and enthusiastic about preaching they were accused of “stirring up trouble throughout the world.” Maybe it would do the cause of Christ well for us to be considered “troublemakers” due to our fearless broadcasting of the redemptive power of Jesus to those who need to hear it. I surmise if we were “filled with the Spirit” we wouldn’t hesitate to shout the Gospel from our rooftops. Can you imagine what could be accomplished on this planet if the full power of the Holy Spirit were unleashed upon the population at large? The difference we’d make would be astounding!
If a Christian isn’t Spirit-filled then there’s no way they can “be all they can be” for the sake of our Lord. Paul’s exhortation to “be filled with the Spirit” wasn’t limited to just the members of the church in Ephesus – it’s aimed at all of us. Therefore logic implies that to not be thus filled constitutes a sin. And since it’s somewhat of an affront to the divine Holy Spirit living in us it must rank right up there with the worst of iniquities. Going back to the original Greek Paul wrote that lofty admonition in, we find the “filling” he speaks of is to be a continuous one on our part. It’s not supposed to be like gassing up the Toyota and driving around on it till the gauge shows we’re nearly out. Not at all. It means we need to top off the tank every single day. Some have suggested we translate Paul’s phrase to read: “Be filled and keep on being filled.” Going back to the illustration of the Wailua waterfall, God rains down the life-affirming water that is His Spirit morning, noon and night. It’s our duty to figuratively soak ourselves in it non-stop. The blessings of abundant life God promised to send are included in that ever-flowing stream of living water. So if we feel we’re not getting the joy and fulfillment from above we expected it’s probably because we’ve left the pool to sun on the bank. Jesus said that won’t do squat for us. In John 4:13-14 he told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, “…Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” In John 7:37-38 our Savior spoke of the indwelling Holy Spirit in the same way: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.’” It stands to reason that if I still get spiritually thirsty after getting saved it’s not because God is denying me water, it’s because I’m refusing to meet the conditions the Lord set up for me to receive it.
Stop for a moment and re-read what Jesus said in John 37, keeping in mind that this is the Creator of the Universe talking. He wasn’t referring to a light sprinkle or a few stray drops of living water, he spoke of rivers of it. Rivers on the scale of the mighty Mississippi, the Amazon, the Nile or the Yangtze! Rivers so massive that no matter how much water is drawn from them they’ll never run dry because their sources are so constant. The life of the Spirit-filled Christian is like those potent rivers. Their supply of inspiration and spiritual energy is endless because the Holy Spirit who feeds and nourishes them is indefatigable and eternal. In other words, we have all the blessing-saturated water we could ever need available to us. And then some.
It would seem there’s obviously a breakdown in the process somewhere and we all know what side it’s on – Ours. We’re not influencing the world as we should because we’re not as full of the Spirit as we should be. If we were, more folks would want what we have in Christ. Heck, they’d form a line around the block to get it! Sadly, too many believers are like the church members Paul wrote to in Corinth. They’d been baptized with the Spirit and they’d been given many of the unique gifts of the Spirit yet the Apostle had to chastise them for being material-minded and lazy. “Brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready, for you are still influenced by the flesh.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3) Unless we’ve matured and are striving to be “filled with the Spirit” it’s fair to say we’re still not ready for the big leagues, either. We might be teaching kiddos in Sunday School. Or leading a small group at Celebrate Recovery. Or pastoring a congregation. But none of those God-given talents is proof we have the “fullness of the Spirit.” Billy Graham wrote, “Furthermore, any gift we may have will never be used to its fullest potential for God unless it’s brought under the control of, and empowered by, the Holy Spirit.”
Some believers think they must wait on what they call a “second baptism” or “second blessing” to occur and automatically refill them with the Spirit. Yet neither of those terms appear in Scripture. On the contrary, the Bible teaches there’s only one baptism in the Spirit and it’s the one that happens when we completely surrender our soul to Christ. The Bible also indicates it’s our duty to fill ourselves up with the Spirit continually. As the saying goes, “one baptism – many fillings.” Reason tells us that, since the Holy Spirit is already in us, He doesn’t need to enter us again so perhaps we need to reverse our thinking on the subject. How much He has of our essence has to be more important than how much of Him we possess. We have all of Him all the time whether we exhibit His goodness, tolerance and forgiveness in our behavior or not. When we became Christians Jesus sent the total package of the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, not just a fragment or a sample taste. Therefore the more we acknowledge His presence and try to follow His leading the more of His divine peace and serenity we can experience in the here and now.
Our designation as “children of God” fits us perfectly. When we accept Christ as Lord our spiritual capacity to understand spiritual truths is rather miniscule but God doesn’t hold that against us. He always takes us just as we are. It’s not wrong to say that at the moment of conversion we’re genuinely filled with the Spirit but over time we all have a tendency to spring leaks. That’s why we must step out of denial, admit our shortcomings and put them under the Holy Spirit’s supervision. Then, as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, our capacity to comprehend spiritual truths will expand accordingly. Therefore, one of the first things we must come to grips with is our innate imperfect condition. Even the best of us relapse into sinful behaviors sometimes, especially sins of omission. We fail to do what we should be doing for Christ and usually it’s not until later on we recognize and address our negligence. Part of the work of the Holy Spirit is to instantly convict us of our unconscionable acts so we can repent and do better now. When we’re contrite that’s precisely the moment we need to pray to receive another “filling” of the Holy Spirit so He can spill into our overall Christian mindset and open our eyes to the opportunities right in front of us for humbly serving our Heavenly Father.
A very human mistake those new to the faith often make comes in thinking they have to depend on their own intelligence, wisdom and stamina to do battle against their sinful nature or to take on a new responsibility they feel God has given them. While they most likely savvy their salvation is based wholly upon what Christ has already done for them they might not be cognizant that, in much the same way, their spiritual growth is dependent on the Holy Spirit’s work. The result is they’ll bravely struggle against the temptations of the flesh or boldly witness to others about what Jesus did for them and yet have little to show for their efforts. It can turn into a crucial test of their faith because they’re naively trying to summon up their own energy instead of tapping into the unbound power of the Holy Spirit. If they do the latter they’ll be more capable of recognizing their own limitations while learning to trust in the Spirit’s absolute lack of limitations. Again, it’s a matter of a Christian being “filled” with the Holy Spirit or not.
Keep in mind this “filling” won’t manifest itself in every believer the same way. For some it’ll electrify them like a bolt of lightning from the sky while in others it may arrive more like a soothing, cool breeze on a hot summer day. So we should never judge the authenticity of a “filling of the Spirit” by wild rantings or of speaking in foreign tongues alone. Yes, those reactions can happen and they can be the real deal. But oftentimes no one’ll know a filling has occurred but the one involved and the great I AM. To a certain extent I’ve known both extremes in my own life. I’ve had moments when I became so aware of the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit my hair stood on end and others when it was no more than a subtle (but no less amazing) sensation of being held in my Savior’s embrace. Harbor no expectations. The “filling” will come if you let it.
Dr. Graham tells the story of a notable “filling” he experienced early in his career. In 1954 he sailed to England to lead a three-month crusade. During the voyage he became depressed. Even though he figured Satan was behind it he was nevertheless overwhelmed by an awful feeling of inadequacy for the challenge ahead. So he began to do what Paul recommended by “praying without ceasing.” One day soon after his fever of anxiety broke and he felt an undeniable assurance alight in his heart that God was in complete control of the situation. He became convinced God answered his prayer by granting him a special anointing of hope aboard that ship. The London crusade turned out to be one of his most successful in winning souls to Christ. He relates he’s had similar experiences before and since but no two have ever been the same. Some have come when he was at the peak of his confidence. Others have been more along the lines of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:3 when he confessed, “…I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling.” Graham even admits that it’s when he was under the weather or felt the delivery of his sermon was ineffective and/or unintelligible that people have claimed to have been most affected by God’s transforming power. As Paul commented in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, “My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God.” What’s implied in those verses is that those who heard Paul’s words were the ones receiving the power they carried, not necessarily the one who spoke them. We don’t have to possess the oratory skills and charisma of a Billy Graham to get the saving message across to those who are in such dire need of hearing it. God’s power supersedes our inadequacies every time. So feel free to “be filled” and courageously speak out.