The group of approximately 120 of Christ’s followers who experienced the famous day of Pentecost were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). This means that each of those believers became indwelt with God the Holy Spirit at that time. After all, each of them couldn’t have been filled with the Spirit if the Spirit wasn’t inside them to do the filling. Therefore, we are right to say that Pentecost is the day when the Holy Spirit began to indwell Christ’s followers. But is there a difference between being merely indwelt with the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit? Yes, there is.
Difference #1: Whereas the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the filling of the Holy Spirit can be experienced again and again and again. The book of Acts describes how the early Christians were on multiple occasions filled with the Holy Spirit. For example, Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:4, 4:8, and 4:31. This shows us that the filling of the Holy Spirit can happen repeatedly to a person. As a matter of fact, commentators have noted that a literal translation of the original Greek of Ephesians 5:18 would read, “…but be being filled with the Spirit…” The idea is that the command is a continual, ongoing thing.
Difference #2: Whereas the baptism of the Holy Spirit is mandatory to actually being a Christian, the filling of the Holy Spirit is mandatory to living the victorious Christian life. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is God the Holy Spirit entering into your body and taking up continual residence there. This baptism creates the new birth, which Jesus said is necessary for salvation (John 3:3). In other words, you aren’t a Christian if you haven’t been baptized with the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). The filling of the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is mandatory to living the victorious Christian life. Why are our church rolls weighted down with names of Christians who don’t live much differently than the rest of the world? It’s because those Christians know the baptism of the Holy Spirit but not the filling of the Holy Spirit.
So, with these two differences understood, what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? The answer isn’t anything mystical or weird. It is actually very simple. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be controlled by the indwelling Holy Spirit. You see, being filled with the Holy Spirit has absolutely nothing to do with you receiving more of the Holy Spirit. It is all about the indwelling Holy Spirit receiving more of you.
To help you understand this, please keep in mind that the Holy Spirit is “He” rather than “it.” He is the third person of the holy Trinity. You wouldn’t think of referring to God the Father as “it,” would you? You wouldn’t think of referring to God the Son, Jesus, as “it,” would you? Well then, don’t think of referring to God the Holy Spirit as “it.” When Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit, He used the pronoun “He” (John 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:7-15).
Why is this so important to our subject? It’s because to have a person come live with you is to have that entire person come live with you. Imagine someone moving in with you and saying, “You are just getting a third of me right now. The other two-thirds are back at my old place.” Imagine that person saying, “Here is half of me. If you treat this half well, I’ll send for the other half.” That kind of talk is bizarre. Well, it doesn’t make any more sense to say, “I have some of the Holy Spirit living inside me, but I’m still waiting to receive the rest of Him so that I can be filled with Him.” Do you see what I mean?
Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not about you receiving more of the Holy Spirit. It is about the indwelling Holy Spirit receiving more of you. As I said, to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be controlled by the indwelling Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit is not content to merely dwell inside the body of the Christian, lying dormant like some kind of inactive volcano. He wants to set up a command center inside the Christian’s body, a command center from which He controls (directs, guides, prompts) the Christian.
Unfortunately, the Christian can prevent this control from happening. For one thing, the indwelling Holy Spirit can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). The Christian grieves the Spirit by doing something the Spirit doesn’t want him to do. For another thing, the indwelling Holy Spirit can be quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:19). The Christian quenches the Spirit by not doing something the Spirit wants him to do.
The Bible’s best passage on being filled with the Holy Spirit is Ephesians 5:18. That verse says:
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. (N.I.V.)
A person who is drunk on wine is under the control of the wine. The wine makes him do things he wouldn’t otherwise do and say things he wouldn’t otherwise say. Similarly, the Christian who is filled with the Holy Spirit is under the control of the Spirit. The indwelling Holy Spirit makes him do things he wouldn’t otherwise do and say things he wouldn’t otherwise say. Of course, the difference between the Spirit’s control and the wine’s control is the Spirit’s control leads to good things and the wine’s control leads to bad things.
And so what is the upshot of all this in regards to what happened to that group of approximately 120 believers on that day of Pentecost? The upshot is that those believers experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit simultaneously. The moment the Spirit entered into each of their bodies He took control of those bodies. The result of this control was each of those believers speaking in a foreign language he or she had never learned.
I’d love to conclude this post by saying that those believers all remained under the uninterrupted control of the indwelling Holy Spirit for the rest of their lives. As I’ve already mentioned, though, that’s not what happened. Allowing the Spirit to maintain 24-7 control is impossible even for the most devout Christian. At some point, every Christian will either grieve the Spirit or quench the Spirit and in so doing take back the control of his or her body.
At that point, with the Spirit no longer in control, the Christian is no longer filled with the Holy Spirit. The good news, however, is that all that is required for the Christian to be filled with the Spirit once again is for the Christian to purposefully give the indwelling Spirit the control (the reins, the steering wheel, the remote control) again. And when that Christian becomes once again filled with the Holy Spirit, will the Spirit cause that Christian to speak in tongues the way He did those Pentecost believers? Ah, that’s a good question, and I’ll answer it with my next post. So stay tuned….