“The average church member’s understanding of the Holy Spirit is so vague it is nearly nonexistent” (source unknown).

It is important for Christians to understand the person and work of the Holy Spirit and how they can follow Scripture’s command to be filled with the Spirit. Not only is the Holy Spirit an equal person of the triune Godhead, worthy of our worship and obedience, but also His ministry is of utmost importance in our lives. In fact, Jesus told His disciples that it was good for them that He go away so that He could send the Spirit (John 16:7). What an incredible thought this must have been to the disciples, who were fearful and full of grief because Jesus was talking about leaving them. But obviously, He meant what He said.

The Holy Spirit is instrumental in the process of salvation. The Spirit brings conviction to our hearts and shows us our need of a Savior. Jesus describes the new birth as being born of the Spirit (John 3:6). At salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in the believer and is the defining characteristic that he is truly a believer. In fact, Paul writes that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them are not Christians at all (Romans 8:9). By contrast, Paul says that those who truly are Christians are marked with a seal, who is the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). John echoes this thought when he writes, “We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” (I John 4:13)

However, the work of the Spirit is not limited to our initial conversion experience. Scripture emphasizes the importance for every believer to be filled with the Spirit. Our entire Christian life should be characterized by a continual reliance on the Spirit. “Walk in the Spirit” is a constant refrain of the New Testament epistles, letters that were written to give instruction to the early Christians. Alternate phrases such as “living by faith,” “drawing near to God,” and “submitting to God,” relate to this same idea of being filled with the Spirit.

In Scripture the phrase “filling of the Spirit” is used to describe the empowering, wisdom, and guidance the Spirit brings into a believer’s life. Just before returning to heaven, Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would soon come and give them power — power that would enable them to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). When the Holy Spirit did come upon the believers on the day of Pentecost, He filled them with power, with the result that they lived holy lives and impacted the community.

Take Peter, for example, the disciple who had three times denied knowing Jesus the night before He was crucified. In Acts chapter two, we see Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit, standing up and addressing the crowd that gathered to see what all the excitement was about. Through the power of the Spirit, Peter boldly spoke words of truth and conviction, such that several thousand became followers of Christ that day. Throughout the rest of the New Testament and throughout the history of the church, we witness the transformation that takes place when the Holy Spirit fills and controls a person.

In this lesson we will discuss more about what it means to be filled with the Spirit, but there is a mysterious aspect of being filled that cannot be explained. In the third chapter of his gospel account, John captures a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, who was a religious leader of the Jews. Jesus was discussing the necessity of the new birth and, in this context, He said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) Just as there is a mystical element to the Spirit’s work in salvation, so too there is a mysterious element to the Spirit’s ongoing work in our lives that cannot be fully explained. However, we can begin to understand how a person is filled with the Spirit by understanding two biblical explanations.

A Helpful Analogy

The apostle Paul’s instruction recorded in Ephesians 5:18 provides important information about the filling of the Spirit. This verse reads as follows: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

There is a comparison and a contrast between the verbs in this verse. Being filled with the Spirit is compared to getting drunk with wine. The gist is: “Don’t allow yourself to be controlled by wine. Instead, allow yourself to be controlled by the Spirit.” Just as habitual drunkards become known for being controlled by alcohol, so Christians who live spirit-filled lives develop a good reputation. Nineteenth-century American evangelist Dwight Moody was to have a campaign in England. An elderly English pastor protested, “Why do we need this ‘Mr. Moody’? He’s uneducated and inexperienced. Who does he think he is anyway? Does he think he has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?” A younger, wiser pastor rose and responded, “No, but the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on Mr. Moody.” Such is the reputation of one who lives under the control of the Spirit.

Being filled with the Spirit is also contrasted with getting drunk with wine. Wine depresses, while the Spirit stimulates and inspires. Being filled with alcohol causes a person to become sluggish, confused, and out of control. By contrast, being filled with the Spirit leads to a person being alert, engaged, and ready for action.

Understanding the Language

The complex verb structure of Ephesians 5:18 needs to be explored to better understand the analogy. There are four parts to the verb structure in this verse. The English translation is unable to reflect all the facets of the original Greek, so we need to study this verb in some detail. The following four points provide further insight.

The filling is a command.

In Ephesians 5:18 Paul commands the believers at Ephesus to be filled with the Spirit. This command shows that it is God’s will for believers to be filled with the Spirit. It is not an option; it is imperative to the Christian lifestyle. A scuba instructor would never tell a student, “The oxygen tank you have strapped to your back is your source of life. When you go under water, you can open the valve if you so desire.” Rather, he would command, “You must open the valve to your tank when you go underwater. It is the only way you can survive.” For a believer to attempt to live the Christian life without the filling of the Spirit is as foolish as it would be for a scuba diver to attempt to go deep under water without opening the valve to his air tank.

The command applies to all believers.

The understood subject “you” in Ephesians 5:18 is plural. The plural subject shows that the command was written to the whole church and not just to a particular person or to a select group of individuals. This command applies to all believers, young or old, male or female, introverted or extroverted, immature or mature. Being filled with the Spirit cannot be equated with maturity in Christ; however, it is a key part of the maturing process. We could perhaps say that one can be filled with the Spirit without being mature, but no one can reach Christian maturity without the consistent work of the Spirit in his life.

The filling is not done by us.

The verb is in the passive mood. When “be filled” is translated in the passive mood, it reads, “let the Spirit fill you.” In other words, it is something God wants to do for us. It is not something that requires us to meet difficult conditions first (other than submitting to His lordship, which can be difficult indeed). We do not need to achieve a certain level of expertise, we do not need to acquire certain knowledge or to learn special techniques—we simply need to let God fill us with His Spirit.

The filling needs to be an ongoing process.

The verb is in the present tense. In the Greek language, the present tense often conveys the idea that the action of the verb is repeated again and again. Thus, the filling of the Spirit needs to continually be made a reality through conscious dependence on God.

Unlike the effects of alcohol, the filling of the Spirit does not take time to wear off. The moment we choose to resume control over our own lives (when our feelings get hurt, when we get pushed into a corner, when we decide we want something we shouldn’t have or for whatever reason), we are no longer filled by (under the control of) the Spirit.

Dual Aspect of Being Filled with the Spirit—Repentance and Trust

When a person becomes a Christian, he repents (turns from his sin) and trusts Christ (turns to Christ) to give him salvation, forgiveness, and power to overcome sin in his life. Before salvation he is heading one direction; after salvation he is going the opposite direction. As Peter explained in his address to the crowd, “Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God…then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38, New Living Translation)

When it comes right down to it, there are only two kinds of people in this world⎜those who are controlled by their own sinful nature, and those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit of God (See Romans 8:5-8). All those who have not yet believed in Jesus for salvation fall into the first category because the Spirit is given only to those who have become children of God. Christians should always fall into the second category, but the reality of life is that we continue to sin and follow our sinful nature rather than walk in the Spirit. Because we continue to struggle with sin even after we become Christians, it is necessary to confess our sins and consciously trust God to empower us to live for Christ. In other words, it is necessary to continue the pattern of repentance and trust that first brought us to salvation. We should do this whenever we become aware of sin.


In order to enjoy new life in Christ, in order to please God and to walk worthy of our calling in Christ Jesus, in order to fulfill our destiny as Christ’s ambassadors ministering His love to a needy world, we need to be filled with the Spirit. We are filled with the Spirit through repentance and trust, continually acknowledging our dependence on Him. As Paul wrote to the believers at Colosse, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to walk in Him.” (Colossians 2:6)

Application Suggestions:

• Meet with God and work through the Spiritual Growth—The Filling of the Holy Spirit section below.
• Read Romans 8:5-8. Note the difference between a person controlled by the Holy Spirit and someone controlled by his sinful nature.

Spiritual Growth—The Filling of the Holy Spirit

Guidelines for being filled with the Spirit:

• Ask God to bring to mind any sin(s) in your life or any areas He wants you
to obey or trust Him in.
• Write down whatever God brings to mind. Confess and repent.
• Write I John 1:9 across the list of sin(s), and destroy the paper.
• Acknowledge your dependence on God, and ask Him to fill you with His
• Believe that God wants to fill you with His Spirit and that He has.

Get this Pocket Principle in Growing Spiritually, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.

Broken CisternThere are many differences between man-made religions and Christianity, but perhaps the chief one is this: only Christianity offers the believer a relationship with God. All religions devised by man are, at their core, variations on the same theme, which is man trying to reach God. Christianity, by contrast, is the story of God reaching down to man and offering a relationship with Himself.

In its essence, Christianity is a relationship with Christ. When Christ called the first disciples to come and follow Him, He was calling them into a relationship with Him. The same is true of all who follow Him today. Through the miracle of new birth into the family of God, we enter into a new relationship. The Christian life is an unfolding, a widening, and a deepening of that relationship. Everything concerning Christian growth has its foundation in this relationship. Therefore, the filling of the Holy Spirit grows out of our relationship with Jesus.

John 7:37-39 emphasizes the connection between the filling of the Spirit and our relationship with Christ.

On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If a man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. John 7:37-39

Verse 39 indicates that Jesus was preparing believers for the time after his death when the Holy Spirit would come and continue His ministry. When Jesus talks about a relationship with Himself, He is also talking about the filling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus invites believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit by relating to Him as indicated by the three action verbs recorded in John 7:37-39 (highlighted above). These actions are discussed below.


“Come to Me”

Thirst is a gift from the creator. Just as physical thirst is a signal that our body needs refreshment, so our spiritual thirst points out a need. Becoming aware of our spiritual thirst motivates us to come to Jesus. However, many go through life dissatisfied, discouraged, and despondent, but totally unaware of their thirst. It was no different in Jesus’ day. In his book Inside Out, noted Christian counselor and author Larry Crabb describes the scene in John 7 this way: “Our Lord Jesus walked into a group of people whose ritualistic practice of religion had so numbed their souls that they no longer were conscious of unsatisfied desires. To move them from lifeless ceremony toward the vitality of knowing God, He stood up and shouted, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.’ There was no thought that perhaps some were thirsty and others were not. Every fallen person created to enjoy God is thirsty. But many, perhaps most, of the people Jesus invited were unaware of their thirst. Perhaps they had given up hope of ever finding satisfaction and had successfully turned their attention away from that ache inside. By focusing on other matters, thirsty people can sometimes become oblivious to their parched souls.”

In the fourth chapter of his gospel, the apostle John relates the story of a meeting Jesus had with a Samaritan woman at the city well in Sychar. This woman had already been married five times and was now living with her current lover. She apparently came to the well in the heat of the day to avoid the stares and disdain of the other women of that village. The line to a country music song that says “looking for love in all the wrong places” pretty much describes this woman. In His conversation with her, Jesus was not interested in heaping shame on the woman or in offering simplistic answers to the obvious hurts in her life. Rather He was interested in helping her to identify her spiritual need⎜her thirst. As recorded in John 4:10 Jesus said to the woman, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”  Those who know their thirst can then turn to the source of satisfaction. Consider the following words of King David: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1). Is it any wonder that David enjoyed such an intimate, personal relationship with God? He knew deep thirst; he found deep fulfillment. Thus he could affirm the testimony offered in Psalm 107:8-9: “Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men, for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.”

In order to quench this deep thirst of our souls, we must come to Jesus. Nothing else and no one else can satisfy. The verb “come” used by Jesus in the present progressive tense means we are to come to Him again and again. Thus, spiritual thirst, like physical thirst, must be satisfied repeatedly. This truth reminds us that spiritual thirst is present both before and after salvation. Although Christians enjoy a relationship with God, this relationship is still hampered by our sinfulness and existence in a fallen world.

Note that Jesus invites us to come, but He does not coerce us. He does not force His way into our lives but rather offers us the opportunity to come enjoy His life. This stance is true to His nature and true to His design in creating us as moral beings. However, we should not misunderstand His approach to believe that He is disinterested in whether or not we come. He pursues us passionately and yearns for us to respond to Him. The “inviting” nature of God is woven throughout Scripture.


“Drink of Me ”

After coming to Jesus, we must “drink” of Him. This verb is also in the present progressive tense indicating an often-repeated action, a frequent or continual coming to Him to drink. Jesus’ choice of words emphasizes the force of His offer. Such is the function of His use of figurative language. Take, for example, the language a parent might use to motivate his child to learn. He might say, “I want you to learn all you can.” Or he could say, “Drink deeply of the fountain of knowledge.” The richness of the poetic language conveys a strength of conviction that goes beyond simply stating a desire. So it is with the invitation from Jesus to drink of Him. He earnestly desires that we come to Him for satisfaction, and He wants us to drink deeply from the fountain of His love.

We drink of Jesus by engaging in relational activities such as the following:

• Communing with Him⎜that is, simply dwelling in His presence and spending time with Him

• Worshipping Him⎜telling God how wonderful He is, reflecting on His marvelous deeds, expressing appreciation for who He is and all that He has done for us

• Listening to Him⎜reading His Word, being quiet before Him, trying to discern the leading of His Spirit

• Casting our cares on Him⎜being open and honest before God about our needs, our hurts, and our desires, baring our soul to Him, telling Him everything we are concerned about

• Allowing Him to minister to us⎜letting His Spirit minister to our spirit, letting Him calm our fears, salve our wounds, and encourage our hearts

As we spend time with Jesus in these ways and enjoy our relationship with Him, we find that He quenches our spiritual thirst.


“Trust [believe] in Me

The third verb⎜believe⎜is also in the present progressive tense, which expresses an action repeated over and over. We come to Jesus initially to trust Him to save us from our sins and to restore our relationship with God, which is our greatest need. Day by day, as we enjoy that restored relationship, Jesus invites us to choose to trust Him⎜to depend on Him to meet our needs.

Trust is a relational verb. As humans, we do business primarily through contracts, either oral or written. Essentially, every time we enter a contract, we are acknowledging that we do not fully trust the other person to hold up his end of the bargain. However, contracts should be unnecessary between close friends who share a healthy relationship because trust takes their place. In the same way, the more we grow in our relationship with God, the better we are able to trust Him, and the more we trust Him the more we grow and enjoy our relationship.


When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we experience and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, as described in Galatians 5:22-23. This fruit includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Not surprisingly, this fruit is described largely in relational terms. The result of coming to Jesus, drinking of Him and trusting in Him, is that we will be filled to overflowing. The overflow can be seen in the impact on others that is the result of our filling. We will be more patient with others, more gentle with others, and so on. Therefore, the result of our relationship with God is that we also enjoy healthier relationships with others as the ministry of the Spirit overflows in our lives.

Several thousand years ago God, speaking through His prophet Jeremiah, charged the people of Israel as follows: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13). The same charge can be leveled against us today if we seek to satisfy the thirst of our souls in any other way than through allowing the Holy Spirit to minister the love of God to us and through us. We need to keep coming, keep drinking, and keep trusting and thus find in Jesus the life that is truly Life.


Application Suggestions:

• Read Psalm 116. How does the Psalmist relate to God? How does he commune, cast his cares, listen, worship and allow God to minister to him?

• In your devotional time this week, concentrate on doing one or more the following:

Communing with Him

Casting your cares on Him

Listening to Him

Worshipping Him

Allowing Him to minister to you.

Get this Pocket Principle in Growing Spiritually, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.