Previously I presented the first of three things recommended for a Christian to become filled with the Holy Spirit: gaining understanding. That’s accomplished by admitting we aren’t on a par with God and, therefore, don’t know everything there is to know about everything. We also must stop denying we have a sinful nature and let the Holy Spirit help us subdue it. In this essay I’ll expand on the other two things, surrender and a willingness to walk in faith.
In almost any other context surrender means conceding defeat. But when it comes to God it means achieving victory. Another word for this action is submission. That’s a term that can carry negative connotations, too, but here it means the renouncing of doing things our way and seeking only to be led by our Lord Jesus Christ. Total surrender to His immaculate rule is the only way a believer can combat their sinful nature and undam the stream of living water provided by the indwelling Holy Spirit. If there was an alternative method available I suspect our Savior would’ve told us 2,000 years ago but He stated unequivocally that He is the way, the truth and the life. Period. But surrendering ain’t easy. Hence we must make a concerted effort to follow two important steps. The first being a combination of on-the-spot confession and sincere repentance. Once we’ve acknowledged the depth of our sin and understand how it infiltrates every aspect of our lives it’s up to us to summon the courage to expose our shortcomings and do something about them. It’s one thing to say to myself “I’m a sinner” and regret what I’ve done but unless I open up about my sins to God and at least one other Christian no fundamental change of heart will take place. Now, don’t get confused about what confession and repentance are. They’re basically two sides of the same coin.
Confession is simply coming clean about our sin. Our being transparent about them is proof of surrender. It’s putting our belligerent ego aside, stating we’re infected with the fatal disease known as sin and in desperate need of a cure. In most cases this admission isn’t uttered until we’ve reached the end of our rope and some compassionate soul has informed or reminded us that God is the remedy. Plus that He’s promised to forgive us and heal us if we turn to Him and accept His amazing grace. That turning is what’s symbolized through the act of confession. 1 John 1:9 says, “…if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.” Genuine repentance entails the renouncing of sin. The Greek word for “repent” employed in the New Testament means “a complete and total change of mind.” Repentance isn’t a noun, a concept or an emotion; it’s an action to be taken. It’s deliberately shutting the door in the devil’s ugly mug. Whenever we entertain evil thoughts we must repent of them in the same moment by renouncing them and praying for God to replace them with thoughts that honor and glorify Him. We must also immediately do whatever we can to make things right with anyone our selfishness might have hurt by apologizing and showing them love. Billy Graham calls repentance “a conscious turning from our sins” and Revelation 2:5 backs him up: “…remember from what high state you have fallen and repent!” (Unsure of where you can confess sins with other Christians in a safe, confidential environment? Google the Celebrate Recovery website, look up a nearby meeting and give it a try.)
The second phase of surrender is yielding to the Father in heaven and His Will. While confession and repentance can be considered the negative aspects of submission, yielding to God is most definitely a positive move. It’s a matter of releasing our vice-like grip on our own short-sighted, self-centered agendas and, as best we can, placing our entire existence in the hands of our loving Creator, trusting Him explicitly to mentor us according to His will. In the 6th chapter of Romans Paul explained this “yielding” thing in detail. He wrote vividly about how sin has held us in bondage in the past and how, since we now belong to Christ, those heavy chains have been broken. There’s no longer an irresistible compulsion goading us to give in to iniquitous urges because now we’re free to give ourselves completely over to God. Verse 13 states, “…do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness.” Is that an invigorating admonition or what? We’ve been released from the slavery of sin and allowed to choose our master. Bob Dylan once sang, “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” He was accentuating the fact that no human being is a free agent. We who are saved were formerly under Satan’s thumb but we’ve switched masters and now gladly serve the glorious Messiah. Verse 18 tells us, “…having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.” We can all agree that being indentured to someone who loves us is vastly preferable to being governed by a fallen angel who hates us with a passion.
The act of yielding ourselves to God is perhaps the noblest, most respectful thing we can do to worship our Creator as He deserves to be worshiped. Different translations express yielding differently but it still comes down to placing ourselves at the disposal of the Heavenly Father. What it doesn’t mean is simply sitting back to relax in our salvation, expecting God to manipulate us like a puppeteer into doing His will. No, we figuratively enlist in His army and voluntarily obey His commands. We should consider it a wonderful privilege to be His “instruments to be used for righteousness.” The same exhortation shows up in Romans 12:1; “Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service.” Your “body” encompasses more than flesh and bone. It’s everything you are. Your abilities, your possessions, your family ties and your career are included along with your eternal soul! Nothing is to be left out. Being a servant means going “all in” with every chip you have on the table. Like the sacrifices required in Old Testament days, everything we have is to be consumed on the altar. If our sacrifice isn’t of value to us then it’s not of any value to God. That’s why it must be a deliberate gesture on our part. In a perfect world our complete surrender would be a done deal when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior. But for many the surrender of our will coincides with some kind of dramatic life crisis we encounter down the road apiece. That’s how it was for me.
Let’s go back a few paces and take a closer look at this “slavery” business. Few words in the English language conjure up more repulsion and disgust because of what was allowed to go unchallenged in America far too long. We must keep in mind, though, that slavery as it existed two millenniums ago was usually something a person entered into on purpose as a means of survival. It wasn’t something forced upon them. Becoming a full-time servant to another was, more often than not, a welcome respite from scrounging for crumbs in a dumpster. In the context of what Paul was expressing, being “slaves to Christ” actually designates us as being the freest people on the planet! Out of gratitude we should be chomping at the bit to do His will! Titus 2:14 reads, “He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good.” Yet since “slavery” carries such a stigma it might be better to liken our relationship with Christ to marriage between a man and a woman.
The solemn commitment a bride and groom pronounce to each other creates a new situation. In time both will realize their lives have to be constantly surrendered to their union or the covenant they joined in won’t solidify and endure. Differences of opinion and normal life stresses will inevitably arise but they don’t become “less married” because of them. These problems help them to grow and learn more about what it means to truly love each other unconditionally. It’s the same in our relationship with God in that we’ll inevitably commit sins that adversely affect the relationship but beneath it all is a firm foundation. A bedrock commitment to cement an ever-strengthening trust based on our wholehearted surrender to the Lord of all. Some say submission can be accomplished more efficiently by praying that God will come into our hearts but I don’t find that suggestion anywhere in Scripture. Since we already have the Holy Spirit residing inside us (thanks to Christ) it’d be more expedient to pray for the power to empty us of ourselves so there’s room for the Spirit to expand into every cell of our being. That’s the gist of total surrender in the spiritual realm of God’s kingdom. Only then will we be of maximum use to our Father in heaven.
Here’s the third step in becoming filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit: cultivating an unshakable willingness to walk in faith. Once we gain a clear understanding of our sinful nature and surrender all we are to the completion of God’s plan we must then learn the secret of walking in faith. In other words, once we yield to God’s will He fills us with the Holy Spirit and we dutifully promote Him to CEO of our life. God’s truth is in us. Now it’s up to us to act on that truth and walk the demanding walk of faith. We must come alive! As Paul wrote in Romans 6:11; “So consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” If you take all of this lightly or merely “go through the motions” then the exhilarating transformation of your heart and mind you yearn for won’t happen. You’ll still be the same old mammal. On the other hand, if you fully surrender your life to Christ you’ll know without a doubt that big changes are occurring inside you. You’ll be convinced the Holy Spirit has stepped in to guide and empower you in the ways of the Lord. Your strongest desire will be to live in the light of the miraculous truth that you’re a forgiven, cherished and immensely loved child of God Almighty and nothing can change that! There’ll be family members, friends and even other Christians who’ll tell you you’re living in a fantasy world of make-believe if you presume to live by faith alone but you should gently but firmly advise them to re-read Romans 6. God does provide but He expects complete submission to His Word and steadfast trust in His promises. Does it take diligence and daily commitment to obedience and fidelity to walk in faith? You bet your boots! But faith is golden. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “We see only by faith. But by faith we do see.”
Billy Graham says if you’ve met the Biblical requirements for being filled then you’ve earned the right to say to yourself, “By faith I know I’m filled with the Holy Spirit.” However, this is to be stated privately because anyone who brags or seeks to draw attention to themselves over it is filled with something but it ain’t the Holy Spirit, that’s for sure. A soul filled with the Spirit attracts others to it like moths to a candle without even trying due to the desirable things their actions and overall attitude produce. As Jesus said, “You will recognize them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:16) It’s important to remember that the “filling of the Spirit” is not a matter of experiencing a feeling or an epiphany. It’s a matter of faith. We may feel closer to God when we’re filled but not necessarily. Therefore, instead of trusting our five animal senses we must trust in the unbreakable promises of the great I AM. James McConkey said, “Nothing is more harmful than to be constantly inspecting our own inner lives to see if God is fulfilling His promise. It’s like a child constantly digging up a seed to see if it has sprouted.” Hope and faith are possessions to cherish. As the Christian band Addison Road sang, “Everything rides on hope now/Everything rides on faith somehow.” It’s also vital to keep in mind a filling of the Spirit doesn’t mean achieving perfection or a state of sinless-ness here on Earth. On the contrary, the Holy Ghost may be driving our stagecoach but sins will shake and rattle the wagon like foot-deep potholes in the trail. Due to grace we can be found blameless in the eyes of God but that doesn’t mean we’re faultless.
You’re probably mumbling, “Say what?” over that last sentence but let me employ a revered anecdote to clarify. A preacher was far away from home on a mission tour in the late 19th century. He got a letter from his oldest daughter who was five years old at the time. It read: “Dear father, I wrote this all by myself. I send you all my love.” What was on the paper was so messy that to call it writing would’ve been a stretch. All the individual letters were huge capitals, the lines were uneven and there wasn’t a straight stroke to be found. His daughter’s missive was clearly not a “faultless” model of proper correspondence. It was as full of mistakes as it was of smeared ink yet, at the same time, he considered his daughter “blameless.” He couldn’t condemn his adolescent girl for her poor penmanship or scold her for her lack of ability, rather he judged her work by its motive. He knew it was the very best she could do and that she’d put all the love she felt for him into it. Her sole aim was to please him and she’d succeeded spectacularly in doing just that. The allegory is this: God loves us and takes into consideration our human limitations. Even though we relapse into sin from time to time, if we’re sincerely trying to do the righteous thing He knows whether or not the true intent of our heart is to bring Him praise and glory. Thus we can be at fault and blameless concurrently. God’s mercy is always more far-reaching than our sin. Never underestimate His grace.
Here’s the last truth about being filled with the Spirit: it’s not a once-and-done happening but a process to be thoroughly engaged in 24/7. It should be our personal challenge to remain permanently surrendered to Christ. Every decision we make should be based on what we think our Savior would do or say in the same circumstance. Recall that the Greek word Paul used in Ephesians 5:18 when he commanded us to “be filled with the Spirit” was intended to convey an ongoing filling on our part. It’s a truism that we’re already the temple of God indwelt by the Holy Spirit but He wants us to constantly drain our selfish pride out and drench ourselves in the cascading deluge of living water only He can provide. If that entails a frustratingly repetitious sin-then-repent routine then so be it. Never give up. As long as we’re praying continuously for Christ’s help and daily relying on the wisdom found in the Holy Word the change in us, slow to develop as it may seem, will come. Every morning we should submit our will to that of the great I AM so we may walk in confidence and unwavering faith that the Holy Spirit is continuing to fill us as promised. And every night we should get on our knees and hold ourselves accountable for our actions and thoughts, dutifully confessing and repenting of every sin we committed that day. At the same time we must offer thanks for our family, the roof over our head, the food in our stomach and all the blessings God has, in his generosity, bestowed upon us. When doing those things becomes second nature you’ll know you’ve been listening to, emboldened and filled by the Holy Spirit. And you’ll look forward to doing it all over again when you rise from your sleep and begin a new day tomorrow.