Acts 4:31 – And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?
Being filled with the Holy Spirit means experiencing a fresh awareness of and joy in our union with Christ and all of the riches that we have in him. Let’s unpack:
A fresh awareness – To realize anew that we are permanently united with Christ. This is a reality that we tend to forget or overlook. In the words of Bob Dylan, the role of the Spirit is to: “show you something you seen before, but overlooked a hundred times or more.”
Joy in Christ – Spirit-filledness is likened to drunkenness more than once in the New Testament. Why? Drunkenness is characterized by fearlessness, joy, lack of inhibition, and the ability to be yourself. So it is with Spirit-filledness. When filled with the Spirit we become fearless, lacking inhibition, joyful, and comfortable in our own skin. The difference is that drunkenness causes this state by temporarily disconnecting us from reality. The Spirit puts us into deeper touch with reality – the reality that we have in Jesus. Because of Jesus we become joyful and fearless.
Union with Christ – The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. Spirit filling is always a move toward and into Jesus. If “Spirit filling” ever distracts or leads away from Jesus to something else, even to the Holy Spirit himself, we cannot understand it as genuine Spirit filling.
All of the riches that we have in him – In Christ we have been given every spiritual blessing that God has to give to us. If we have Jesus we have everything. We have justification, sanctification, adoption, future inheritance, the hope of resurrection, access to God in prayer, and authority to reign with Christ.
Let’s explore two parallel passages from Paul that help us understand what this means and how we become filled with the Spirit.
Colossians 2:6 – Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him…
Galatians 6:16, 25 – But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh… If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
In both of these texts Paul says that the Christian life begins and continues by repentance and faith. Look at the Colossians passage. We are admonished to proceed in the Christian life in the same way that we entered in. What does this mean? Consider this question: how did we receive Christ? By hearing the word of the gospel and responding with repentance from sin and faith in him. Repentance from sin and faith in Jesus is the doorway into the kingdom of God. But once we enter in, how do we proceed? In the same way. This means that the Christian life is a daily cycle of repentance and faith. A constant returning to Jesus and all of the resources that we have in him. Every step forward in Christian life is actually a step back. John Calvin referred to it as “progress in penitence”. Progress in regression! Because all of the resources for holiness have been given to us in our conversion, growing in holiness is a constant return to who we already are in Christ.
Now look at Galatians. Paul says that we live by the Spirit – meaning that we have been made alive and united with Christ by the Spirit of God. Repentance and faith are gifts of the Spirit – the most important gifts that he distributes. If we are alive by him, let us also continue to live by him. This means that as we repent of sin and receive Christ by faith we are, at the same time, living by the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit.
So a few practical points:
1. We must receive Christ and be filled with his Spirit everyday. In our conversion we become married to Jesus and we receive all of his resources. We become filled with his Spirit. The scriptures admonish us to continually receive him and to continually be filled with his Spirit.
2. We are filled with his Spirit by repentance and faith. As we grow in penitence, recognizing sin more frequently and more quickly in our lives and turning from it, and continually embrace Jesus by faith we are filled with his Spirit (a fresh awareness and joy in our union with him) and empowered to live like him. Spirit-filledness is to Christian life as sex is to marriage. It should be frequent and regular.
3. Our initial Spirit filling and our continual Spirit filling are signified by the sacraments. Baptism is the sign of our initial union with Christ. It is our marriage ceremony. The Eucharist is the sign of our continual union with Christ. It is our intimate and regular reception of him. In Christian baptism we are filled with God’s Spirit as a seal. In the Eucharist we are continually filled with his Spirit. Both sacraments are a response to hearing the word of the gospel with faith.
Want to be filled with the Spirit?
1. Hear the word of the gospel with faith – read the Bible, listen to preaching, have conversations about Jesus.
2. Repent of sin and embrace Jesus – Sin quenches the spirit. Jesus fills us with his Spirit.
3. Be baptized once and celebrate the Lord ’s Supper as often as you can – Think marriage. Have one marriage ceremony with your spouse. Have sex as often as possible.