The title of this essay about the Holy Spirit can be confusing. Yet being “full” and getting “filled” are fundamental Biblical concepts that need to be investigated with an open mind in order to understand their distinctions (however minor the differences may be). My take is that to be full of the Spirit is a desirable state of mind a believer can achieve and maintain through dedication, effort and a willingness to be led. Two exemplary examples among many in Scripture would be the Apostles Peter and Paul who were “full of the Spirit” 24/7. Nonetheless, even they needed special fillings from time to time because certain situations arose requiring an extra “empowering” or “anointing” to be administered for the task they faced. I’ve noticed in the New Testament that when God gave some of the saints a particular job to perform on His behalf it’s implied they became adequately “filled with the Spirit.” What that indicates to me is their filling was a temporary endowment because no human being could handle that kind of supernatural power flowing through their veins day in and day out. It would be too much to contain, way too intense to bear. What Billy Graham wrote is very true: “I believe God gives us the strength of the Holy Spirit commensurate with the tasks he gives us.”
With tongue firmly in cheek I’ll offer a somewhat crude corollary. Superman spent most of his time being a mild-mannered, unremarkable nerd named Clark Kent for a practical reason. Life was a lot easier and much calmer that way. He didn’t need to reverse the earth’s spin, thwart alien invasions or divert mankind-killing asteroids once a week in order to function effectively as a reporter for the Daily Planet and be a law-abiding, responsible citizen. He only changed into his leotard, knee boots and flashy cape when the situation called for it. That’s kinda how it is with the Holy Ghost and us. When God assigns one of His children a particular endeavor to take on and complete He also supplies the power needed to get it done. The rest of the time it’s okay for us to enjoy life as a regular-but-redeemed guy or gal.
To say that’s oversimplifying a complex subject is an understatement. To be a faithful Christian one must constantly be full of the Spirit yet to be so one must continue to seek to be filled. It’s an issue broached often in the Bible, especially in the Book of Acts where these fillings pop up with regularity. Dr. Merrill C. Tenney used an average urban home to explain what he thought is being conveyed. He pointed out that normally a house is connected to a water main that supplies it with adequate water for everyday usage. But if the home should catch fire the firemen who respond will plug their hoses into a nearby street hydrant, thereby tapping into an immensely stronger flow in order to combat the dangerous flames. Therefore, to be full of the Spirit is akin to the house that’s got a reliable source of water coming into it all the time. But to be filled on occasion, like the Apostles were in Acts 4:31, means to be supercharged with extraordinary spiritual energy and boldness for what needs to be done in service to our Lord. That verse reads, “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God courageously.” No doubt that was the last thing the religious leadership and government authorities (already freaked out and spooked over reports the troublemaker they crucified had risen from the grave and subsequently ascended into the clouds as He’d promised He would) wanted to see happen and they’d done all they could to prevent it through threats and intimidation. Thus the Apostles required a special filling of God’s power. Keep in mind they were, indeed, already “full of the Spirit” but they still needed a divine boost of sorts to overcome the formidable opposition they were intent on defying.
There’s a reason for everything in God’s creation and becoming filled with the Spirit is no exception. In the case of the Apostles in Acts 4:31 the purpose was so they could brazenly, openly proclaim the Gospel to the public. Therefore each Christian has to ask, “What’s my motivation for being filled with the living water the Holy Spirit is ever-ready to pour into me? Is it to satisfy some kind of ego-driven desire I have to possess something cool others don’t have or is it something I desire so that my Savior might be glorified?” It’s a question all believers must honestly pose to themselves. It’s not unusual to discover that a follower of Jesus who thinks they’re sincerely seeking to acquire the power of the Holy Ghost is, truth be known, striving to obtain it for all the wrong reasons. Some may be anticipating a repeat of some type of ecstatic experience or emotional release and want the fullness of the Spirit to overtake them solely so they can trip out on another spiritual “high” that puts all physical ones to shame. Some are looking to embrace a particularly unique sensation they’ve never felt because they’ve been around Christians who had one and they attributed it to the influence of the Holy Spirit. They might harbor some sort of misguided yearning to be spiritually on a par with their peers or, heaven forbid, to feel spiritually superior to other human beings. Yet another impetus for seeking the Spirit’s fullness is because they’ve found themselves bogged down in some sort of tragic hardship or crisis in their life and they think a generous dose of pure spiritual electricity would fix everything in an instant. What I’m saying is that folks can clamor for the Holy Spirit’s limitless power for all kinds of reasons, positive and negative.
I’m not implying the Holy Spirit doesn’t bless us with world-shaking epiphanies or perform bona fide miracles in people’s lives on occasion. Remember, nothing is impossible with God and the Holy Spirit is part of the Triune Deity. There may be acts of grace where the Spirit gives us a deeply-imbedded, unshakable sense of His presence, or gift us with moments of inexplicable happiness, or assist us in overcoming a worrisome or disturbing problem we’ve encountered. We must trust God always has our best interests at heart so we should be on our guard against seeking His fullness for selfish purposes. We must be mindful that He lives in us and His principal aim is that we might better glorify Christ. All other potentialities are secondary because the purpose of all fillings is that those who are thus filled can magnify the brilliant magnificence of the King of kings. This is why the Holy Spirit dwells within every believer. In John 16:14 Jesus says, “He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.” Thus the Holy Spirit doesn’t draw attention to Himself, only to the Son. Jesus informs us in John 15:26, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father – he will testify about me…” Because of this fact we can use it as a litmus test of whether or not we’re Spirit-filled. Are we becoming more Christ-like every day? Can the people around us tell we’re followers of Jesus before we even open our mouths? If we’re full of the Spirit it should be obvious to them. Or are we the type who tosses the term “Holy Spirit” into conversations as if it were some kind of good luck charm. You know, as in “The Holy Spirit did this for me” or “I attribute my rich blessings to the Holy Spirit.” Look, the Holy Ghost doesn’t glorify Himself. Ever. He’s inside us to reveal the life-altering truth about our Lord and no one else.
It’s possible that a filled person isn’t even aware he/she is. There’s no instance where a character in the Bible stated, “I’m filled with the Spirit.” That’s something other folks said to describe them. It’s because the most righteous of Godly Christians are also the most humble and grateful among us. They know what their sins really deserve. One old saying goes: “The nearer we get to heaven the more aware of hell we become.” They’ve also come to realize that to be cognizant of just how much power is involved in becoming filled is to tempt their pride into wanting to abuse that power. One example of someone desiring it for self-aggrandizing gain is found in Acts 8. Simon the sorcerer joined the local Jesus club and got baptized, most likely as a result of being blown away witnessing the miracles the Apostles were able to perform. Plus, he noticed with fascination the transformation that happened inside everyday Janes and Joes when they received the Holy Spirit. He even tried to bribe Peter and other disciples with cold, hard cash, demanding, “Give me this power too, so that everyone I place my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:19) But Peter detected the jealous magician’s true motive and said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could acquire God’s gift with money! You have no share or part in this matter because your heart is not right before God!” (Acts 8:20-21) The power of the Holy Ghost has a purpose – but that purpose is only to glorify God Almighty, not to give humans bragging rights.
So it comes down to this: We Christians need fillings of the Holy Spirit so we can more effectively steer our fellow man toward accepting the saving grace of the Son of God. In doing so we glorify Him. You may inquire, “Sounds great! Sign me up. How do I get in on this ‘filling’ stuff, anyway?” Simple. You do it by living solely for God. That means trusting Him, loving Him and obeying Him. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus instructed us, “…Let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.” Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Notice he didn’t say some things we do, but everything. It’s a tall order, for sure. And if you think you can’t possibly do that on your own initiative you’re 100% right! That’s why we need the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Dr. Graham emphasized, “Only in the power of the Spirit can we live a life that glorifies God.” He hit the nail squarely on the head. On our own we don’t stand a chance of glorifying our merciful Creator as He deserves to be glorified. Paul knew that all too well. In Romans 7 he lamented, “For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate. …I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want!” How many of us can identify with those self-incriminating statements? Me and millions more, I suspect. It’s the power the Holy Spirit provides that can allow us to live lives that increasingly glorify God. Only His divine power can give our existence the profound purpose and deep meaning we ache to know and reflect.
However, we should never take our power source for granted. Keep in mind the Holy Spirit isn’t just some kind of inanimate, Star Wars-like “force” floating around in the universe. The Bible teaches that He is a person, possessing all the characteristics that come with that designation. And, as Holy Spirit the person, He indwells every Christian and fills him/her with the fullness of His power. Since that power is purposeful the believer has an obligation to use it. His unrestricted resources are available to all followers of Jesus but He only permits us to have what we need. But our self-centered will too often blocks the road and keeps us from following through with our obligations. We pray for His power but then we don’t wield it properly when we get it. We seek an improved prayer life and then fail to get on our knees. We ask for courage to witness our faith to others and then don’t bother to offer our testimony. We beg for strength to live a holier life and then use it to run away when it’s our turn to bear our cross and suffer. To waste the power of the Holy Spirit has to be considered a shameful slap in the face of God. So we must become ever more determined to consider every filling of the Spirit we receive as a golden opportunity to thank the Heavenly Father, via our servitude, for every blessing He’s bestowed upon us and for every breath we take.
As I mentioned earlier, we glorify God by living lives that honor Him and that can only be accomplished by drawing on the power of the Holy Spirit who resides within us. That exclusive power only He can supply enables us to serve God effectively and efficiently. And there’s no finer way to serve God than to tell others about our marvelous Savior. It’s only because the Apostle Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit that he, a mere human being, was able to save, according to Acts 4:4, “about five thousand” souls in one day at Pentecost. We then read that, in response to this spectacular feat, he and John were arrested pronto and hauled before an indignant council of religious rulers to give an accounting for their rebellious behavior. To their shock and dismay Peter, still “filled with the Holy Spirit,” gallantly preached to their faces the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ without a hint of fear or apprehension. Recall that this is the same dude who, just a few weeks earlier, flatly denied his Master with curses! Therefore his change in attitude must be attributed to his becoming energized and ignited by the Holy Ghost. Not long afterward Peter presided over a prayer meeting with other believers. The same power that gave him the courage to stand up to the outraged Pharisees came rushing into all the attendees so they, too, could fearlessly proclaim the Gospel. This demonstrates that the Holy Spirit “filled” Peter and his associates as the situation necessitated.
But we’d be amiss to think the filling of the Spirit is only for preachers. As we read on from that point forward in Acts we find the apostles eventually got so overwhelmed with administrative duties as they got Christ’s church off the ground they had to start delegating responsibilities. They established three qualifications for the officeholders. Acts 6:3 indicates they were to be “well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom…” What this tells us is that candidates embodying all these qualities were the exception, not the rule. Not much, if anything, has changed over the centuries. No one should be considered for assuming a leadership position in the body of Christ unless they demonstrate these traits. Yet we mustn’t limit it to the church realm. All who’ve surrendered their hearts to Jesus should maintain an exemplary reputation, be constantly full of the Spirit and conduct themselves wisely. No matter our occupation – be it housewife, mechanic, taxi driver, CEO of a huge company or whatnot – the Holy Spirit plays a central and irreplaceable role in our ability to perform our everyday jobs for the glory of God.
Thus to be filled with the Spirit is not an option for Christians. It’s a vital requirement. Without it we can’t have the abundant life that comes to us through faithful and selfless service to our Father in heaven. For a believer there’s nothing to be deemed abnormal about leading a Spirit-filled life. As a matter of fact, anything less is subnormal. Christ expects us to long to be filled to overflowing with the living water only the Holy Spirit can spill into us. To be so filled is not a condition restricted to only a select few in the church. On the contrary, God intends that all His children be full of the Spirit all the time. We need it so desperately He makes it available non-stop courtesy of the Holy Ghost. Think of it this way; God wouldn’t command us to “be filled with the Spirit” if it was something impossible to do. That’s not the kind of God Jesus revealed to us. So go ahead. Drink your fill.