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QUESTION: Re Being Filled with the Spirit

In two separate comments, following one of the posts in my recent Baptism in the Holy Spirit series one reader asked the following questions:

My question involves being “filled with the Spirit.” I have lots of thoughts circling my head about this, so I’ll try to put them down in a reasonable way.

To my understanding, we are filled with the HS at baptism. So that leads me to two thoughts:

1) I was baptized at 10yrs old, and no noticeable change occurred in my desires. In fact, it has only been recently to where I TRULY feel like the HS guides me in what I do.

2) I know/have several friends that aren’t baptized (as we are). Yet the seem to be (and claim) to be very Spirit-led in what they are doing. Passionate about serving God and loving their fellow man.

So this really makes me think. Is it possible that the Spirit begins to come upon us during our faith and repentance stage? If so, this would seem to give credence to the “Word only” position, as someone would be able to have the Spirit working in them as they study the Word.

Yet the scriptures seem so clear about receiving the Spirit at baptism.

And then I think about a younger 23 yr old friend of mine I was speaking with this morning–not baptized, yet spends lots of time in study and has a strong, penitent desire to do God’s Will.

Can you offer any guidance on this?

The reader followed immediately with this question:

This is a bit of a continuation of my earlier post.

One could say, “well, those people feel compelled to seek a relationship with Christ since God’s Laws have been written on our hearts.”

Those verses (“..written on our hearts”) also cause me to really think. Does this mean:

1) We have a general nature to know there is something bigger than us, and to look for it or,

2) We’ve been given the basic natural rules of “love”…we know not to hurt, we desire to procreate, we put children ahead of ourselves, etc. or,

3) We truly have the desires of God written on our hearts. Meaning, if you tell me someone is hell-bound for playing IM, I can discern that that isn’t a Christ-like attitude to condemn someone that wants to please God. I don’t need to find a proof text. That nature to know what is Christ-like is on my heart.

These are just a few of the options I can think of. To me, they all make sense. But I imagine #3 would be an issue to many.

What are your thoughts on this?

Whew! I’m not sure I’m capable of answering these questions to anyone’s satisfaction – not even my own! Maybe I need to see if the person who changed the wording of the second verse of the hymn, I Know Whom I have Believed to answer this for us all.

That verse originally read:

I know not how the Spirit moves, convicting men of sin;
Revealing Jesus in the Word, creating faith in Him.

The change in the first line reads:

I know just how the Spirit moves, convicting men of sin….

I never could sing that version of this great old hymn! Any man who can say he knows just how the Spirit moves is either far wiser and more knowledgeable than any man I have ever met – or is delusional. He may be deluded by some theology, but he is still delusional. For a mortal man to claim he knows just how God does anything is delusional or arrogant – or both.

I can make a few observations, however.

Change At Baptism

One reason many people experience little “change” when they are baptized is that they do not expect great change. In the Church of Christ, little is said (traditionally) about the Holy Spirit – and even less about how our lives change as the Spirit does His work in us.

We are not passive as the Spirit does His work. We must cooperate with Him. If we can resist the Spirit (see Acts 7:51), it stands to reason that we can cooperate with the Spirit as well. If we are not taught how to cooperate with the Spirit in what Dallas Willard calls The Renovation of the Heart in his book of that name, it is not likely that we will be very proficient at it. The surprising thing is not that some do not change, but that many do change and begin to seriously develop the character of Christ. This may take much longer than it would – if we received good instruction about the work of the Holy Spirit within us.

Work of the Spirit Prior to Baptism

Jesus explicitly said that the Holy Spirit is active in us before we come to have a penitent faith:

When He [the Holy Spirit] comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to son, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. – John 16:8-11

Now, I fully believe that the Holy Spirit uses the revealed Word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), to do these things in the unbeliever. But I also believe that He uses the circumstances of life to convict men as well – just as He uses the efforts of men in preaching the Word and in showing the love of God in their own lives to influence others.

Whatever the Spirit does before we are fully new-born children of God, He does even more once we are God’s children.

God’s Law Written on Our Hearts

Since we are created in the image of God, there is something in us that resonates with the gospel, that can cause us to think, “Oh. That’s what life is all about.” When we do not respond that way, it is because we have been blinded by Satan and his lies.

Consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:1-6.

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus sake. For God, who said, “let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

What is the “therefore” in verse 1 there for? The last verse of chapter 3 reads:

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect th Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

The “renovation of heart” comes through the Holy Spirit – but it comes as we reflect or behold (as in the NIV footnote and in some translations). How can the same word be translated either behold or reflect? Think of a mirror. It reflects what it beholds. So with us. If our hearts are fixed on the Lord, we reflect Him and His glory in an ever increasing way. If our hearts are fixed on the things of the world, we become more and more like the world around us. The devil is involved the the later; the Spirit of God is involved in the former. See Tempted to Do Good for more on this thought.

These few thoughts are certainly not all that can or should be said in response to those questions. I hope, however, that they will help point us in the right direction.


4 Responses

  1. A person who thought people were not filled with the Spirit unless they “spoke in tongues”, using Acts 2 as his “proof text”, asked me how I knew I was filled with the Spirit because I had not spoken in tongues. I pointed out to him Eph 5:15-21. These are signs that people are filled with the Spirit; the Spirit influences how people relate to themselves, others and God.

    • Excellent observation. There is nothing in the Scripture that suggests speaking in tongues is a universal sign of the presence of the Spirit. To the contrary, in 1 Corinthians 12:13 Paul says we are all baptized in one Spirit into one body. I see this as our baptism in water into the name of the Trinity – so there is one baptism with two “elements.” The result is that we are all made to drink of the one Spirit. Yet at the end of the chapter in a series of rhetorical questions – all to be answered “No!” – Paul asks, “Do all speak in tongues?” No, they do not – any more than all are apostles or prophets.

      Thanks for your observation!


  2. H-m-m… Well, I can only share with you what I believe the Bible teaches about the filling of the Spirit–and it may, or may not, be connected with water baptism. Hope the following is helpful.

    “Be filled with the Spirit,” says Ephesians 5:18. But in order to grasp what the Word is saying we need to note a couple of things. First, all Christians are forever indwelt by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:9; I Cor. 6:19). We do not need to ask Him to come into our lives. And second, the Greek word for “filled” (pleroo) is more often translated fulfilled in the New Testament.

    His filling ministry is not a spatial thing. It’s not as though we need to be “topped up” with the Holy Spirit the way we fill a gas tank. What Paul is speaking of in the Ephesians text is His empowering to enable us to fulfil the will of God. (The artisans of Israel were filled with the Spirit to equip them to design the intricate furnishings of the tabernacle, Exod. 31:1-5).

    Occasionally, in Bible times, the filling of the Spirit was a sovereign act of God, seeming to require no personal qualifications or human action at all. John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit while still a babe in his mother’s womb (Lk. 1:15). But that does not seem to be the norm for Christians on this side of the cross.

    Greek scholars suggest the verb tense for “be filled” (or, if you will, be fulfilled) is more literally “be being fulfilled.” That is, be in such a condition, and have such an attitude, that the Spirit of God is able to fulfil His purpose of equipping you to serve the Lord. No Bible verse actually tells us to ask for the Spirit’s fulfilling ministry. But we are responsible, by God’s grace, to be in a condition of heart and life which allows Him to do His work unhindered in and through us.

    While not exactly synonymous with walking in the Spirit, these two are closely related. “If we live in the Spirit [through the new birth] let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). Walking requires step by step faith in God and obedience to His Word, and the confession of any known sin (I Jn. 1:9). And as we walk, the Spirit fills (and fulfils), and as He fulfils, we walk.

    It might be going too far to suggest believers should never ask for the Holy Spirit’s filling–which is tantamount to praying for His enabling grace. But more pragmatic and practical prayers, related to the specific need, can have the same result. The believers in the early church prayed, “Grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word….And when they had prayed…they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:29, 31).

    • Excellent observations! Being filled with the Spirit in the sense you describe is the opposite of resisting the Spirit (Acts 7:51) or grieving the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30, less than 1 column in my Bible prior to Ephesians 5:18!).

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