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What are you allowing to fill your life?

Somehow, at the end of each 24 hours, our days have been filled with eating, sleeping, working, meeting, entertaining, and so forth. Some of these activities are necessary; others are voluntary. Whether we realize it or not, what we choose to fill our lives with reveals and develops our character.

So, what are you allowing to fill your life?

Here is one example. Bob began drinking alcohol every day. If asked, he would say he drank to be social, relax, or self-medicate from painful situations. He usually drank more than was good for him—he resisted the diagnosis he drank to excess.

Over time, Bob’s continuous drinking was controlling his mood and behavior. It was damaging his relationships and his health. When he looked in the mirror, he saw a face that had changed—he looked much older than his years.

We probably agree that one needs to drink alcohol continuously to be under its influence or control; otherwise, you resort to your normal self. Also, over time drinking to excess changes you.

Is there a reason why the apostle Paul uses this negative illustration to introduce the positive experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit?

Notable imperatives

Paul writes in Ephesians 5:18

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

The first issue is whether “S/spirit” refers to my human spirit or the Holy Spirit?

Most Bible students conclude that it is the Holy Spirit. I agree.

One good reason is that there are the references to en pneumati (“in S/spirit”) in Ephesians 2:22; 3:5; 5:18; and 6:18. If we set aside our verse (5:18) for the moment, the other three occurrences of this phrase refer clearly to the Holy Spirit. There is no reason to understand 5:18 differently.

Second, are the two imperatives—two commands, or at least, divine expectations for followers of Jesus. The first is the imperative “do not get drunk.” The second is to “be filled with the Spirit.” God expects us—indeed commands us—to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

This imperative is a sufficient reason to be serious about this request. You will be further motivated when you see the long-term results.

How to be filled?

There are numerous instances in which people were sovereignly filled with the Spirit for a specific activity (Luke 1:15 [John the Baptist], 41 [Elizabeth], 67 [Zacharias]; Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31 9:17; 13:9).

The language structure of Ephesians 5:18 is different. It focuses on “the extensive influence and control of the Spirit in the believer’s life” (Charles Ryrie). Similar language occurs in Luke 4:1 of the Lord Jesus; Acts 6:3, 5; 7:55 (Stephen); 11:24 (Barnabas); and 13:52 (the disciples). Can we discern from these texts how to be filled with the Spirit? Perhaps one clue is that each person was actively engaged in what God is doing.

Before we look more closely at Ephesians 5:18, we should note that we humans—even followers of Jesus—can influence the Holy Spirit. Here are three verses:

You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist [strive against] the Holy Spirit! (Acts 7:51)

Do not put out [quench] the Spirit’s fire. (1 Thessalonians 5:19)

And do not grieve [cause distress to] the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)

Our resistance or lack of cooperation with the Spirit makes a difference. So, our cooperation or willing participation with the Spirit also makes a difference.

Ephesians 5:18 invites us to “be filled with the Spirit.” On a technical note, “be filled” is in the passive voice, meaning we receive the Spirit’s activity. Again, we can resist or strive against the Spirit’s initiative. How do we do that?

We resist the Holy Spirit when we insist on some other agenda. That agenda may be our own plans, our culture’s expectations, or some course of action determined by someone or something other than the Triune-God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I recall an incident in my own life where I discerned clearly that God wanted me to go to a certain country to serve Him. My response was to say that I would finish my university degree first. The effect was to resist the Spirit with my plan.

When we do not resist the Spirit but intentionally determine to do what He wants in our life—that is the way forward to being filled with the Spirit. In other words, we invite the Spirit and yield to Him.

What are the results?

Here is what follows Ephesians 5:18 (5:19-21):

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Whether we are filled with the Spirit or not is manifest in how we speak with each other, whether we give thanks “to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and how we submit to one another. Speaking—thanking for everything—submitting.

Paul then continues with the quality of specific relationships:

  • Husbands—wives
  • Parents—children
  • Employers—employees

Another test is the expression of the fruit of the Spirit, which is Christ-like character (Galatians 5:22-23):

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

And there is much more.  

Being filled with the Spirit is an intentional invitation and yielding to the Spirit. As we do this continuously, over time, gradually we will discern that we are different than our “normal self.” We are becoming more and more like Jesus.

Here’s a link to the helpful booklet, “The Steps to Being Filled with the Holy Spirit,” by Bill Bright.

What challenges and questions has this post raised for you? You can contact me here.

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