Sunday, September 16, 2007


How To Be Filled With The Holy Spirit.

In his famous sermon 'The Wind of the Spirit', James Stewart notes that one of the marks of the Spirit's moving amongst us is that 'we hear the sound thereof'. 'This is the indisputable evidence of the Spirit. When the wind is blowing, it makes its presence felt. You hear its sound... When the Spirit of God stirs up a church or an individual or a community, there are palpable evidences of his working. Even the unbeliever becomes aware that something is going on.' The effects can be seen. The sound can be heard... 'The hard supercilious pagan world of Greece and Rome professed itself indifferent to the gospel; but it could not deny that wherever Christ's people went strange things kept happening... The world, says the Book of Acts, saw the evidences: it "took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus".'

It is easy for a church to settle down into a comfortable orthodoxy, with decision-making structures in place, constitutions formulated, activities planned for this or that purpose, and all we are doing is rearranging old wine-skins. Or we reduce salvation to justification by faith and forget that, as Moltmann pointed out so powerfully, 'Through justification the unjust person is led into the history of the Spirit... becomes obedient in hope and the practice of divine righteousness... Liberation leads to the liberated life. Justification leads to the new creation.'

Luke equates being 'filled with the Spirit' with moral qualities, goodness and faith (Acts 11:23-24). Being 'Spirit-filled' does not refer to a special experience as such, although we ought to be open to whatever experiences of the Spirit the Lord has for us. Sometimes, in Acts, people spoke in tongues when 'filled with the Spirit'; but Acts often speaks of people filled with the Spirit with no reference, explicit or implicit, to tongues (4:8,31; 6:3,5; 7:55; 9:17; 11:24; 13:9,52). 'If being Spirit-filled without glossolalia was the lot of some, then, it may be God's path for some now' (11) However, you can't be 'Spirit-filled' without exhibiting fruits of the Spirit such as goodness and faith. They are the inevitable proofs of the Spirit's presence in our lives. So the term 'Spirit-filled' ought to be used to describe Christian character rather than a spiritual experience. Remember being 'Spirit-filled' is to be filled with God Himself! He is the 'Spirit of holiness'.

'Do not get drunk with wine, which will only ruin you; instead, be filled with the Spirit' (Ephesians 5:18). How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit? Paul in this text notes three things: first a comparison: being filled with the Holy Spirit is something like being drunk with wine. When intoxicated you lose your inhibitions, you can talk more freely; so the Holy Spirit removes our fear and gives us a new freedom, boldness and power. Then by way of contrast whereas drunkenness makes us lose control the Spirit helps us to be self-controlled; the drunken person is undisciplined, the spiritual person disciplined; drunkenness makes us foolish, the Spirit makes us wise. And note Paul's command: 'Go on being filled with the Spirit' the Greek language has it, literally. It's not an option, but a command.

So being filled with the Spirit is something you choose to ask God to do: it's a matter of the will. God does this work in you (Philippians 1:11) but you are not merely passive: your human personality is actively yielding to the Divine Personality (Philippians 2:12,13). You must want above anything else to surrender to the Spirit - hungering and thirsting to do what God wants (Matthew 5:6) ie. to be filled with the Spirit rather than be filled with self. Confess your sins, so that you can be forgiven and cleansed (1 John 1:7). If a vessel is to be filled with something it must be emptied of what is already there: so if there is anything in your life which displaces the Spirit you must be willing for God to empty you of these things, so you can become 'poor in spirit' (Matthew 5:3). You must renounce the 'world, the flesh and the devil'. And all this is done with the same faith by which you received the Spirit in the first place, when you became a Christian (Mark 11:24).

For some, the Spirit comes upon them in an experience of power, love and deep emotion. With others, it is a quiet, determined, almost matter-of-fact transaction. The great saints in the past experienced the Spirit in many and varied ways. The reality of the Spirit's fullness is a matter of faith, and then discipline. Derek Prince tells of two neighbours, one with a beautiful garden, the next overgrown with weeds. The first watered his flowers with a watering-can, laboriously and regularly. The other had a hose, and a powerful water supply, but was slack, undisciplined. The question is not your experience of the Spirit in the past, but are you living a disciplined, Spirit-controlled life in the present?

Should I ask someone to lay hands on me to receive the fullness of the Spirit? Why not? Such 'laying on of hands' to receive God's gifts happened in the biblical stories. Just make sure the hands laid on you belong to someone filled with goodness and faith. Being filled with the Spirit is not a sideshow act!

As we read the book of Acts, being filled with the Spirit was a very definite experience (see 2:4, 4:8, 31, 6:3-5, 9:17, 11:24). It wasn't just for leaders but for everyone (Acts 2:4, cf. 2:39; 13:52). Being filled with the Spirit enables us to live a God-honouring life rather than one serving our own desires (Galatians 5:16). Being filled with the Spirit gives us power for service and witness (Acts 1:8). Jesus said ask, seek, knock; the Father wants to give the Holy Spirit to all who ask him (Luke 11:13).

Spirit of the living God,
fall afresh on me:
break me, melt me, mould me, fill me...

Rowland Croucher

Further Reading: David Watson, One in the Spirit, I Believe in the Church.

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