When looking at Scripture, the indwelling of the Spirit appears to be different than being filled with the Spirit.
If we look at specific passages, we can see that being filled with the Spirit is not only a single event, but it is a continual process, and it bears fruit in growth and spiritual maturity while serving the body of Christ and ultimately glorifying God.
When you hear the phrase “filled with the Spirit,” what comes to mind? For some, being filled with the Spirit is associated with a particular point in time with the evidence of speaking in tongues and the continuation of a private prayer language.
For others, it is a focus on the joy of the Lord or cultivating spiritual maturity in Christ. The best place to gain a clear understanding of being filled with the Spirit is in the confines of Scripture and to recognize first the difference between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Every Believer Is Indwelt by the Holy Spirit
The Bible sheds light on promises concerning believers in Christ, and one of those promises is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ told His disciples in John 14:16 that He would ask the Father to give them another Advocate who would never leave them.
That Advocate is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. He is our Advocate, and He never leaves us. Ephesians 4:30 assures us that we are sealed for the day of redemption by the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13 says,
There are other scriptures attesting to these truths, and the Bible encourages us as believers in Christ that the Holy Spirit indwells us at the moment of salvation. This indwelling is permanent because He (the Holy Spirit) seals us.
Spirit-Filled for a Work of Service
When studying Scripture for the biblical understanding of being Spirit-filled, there are two different words used to describe this action in the New Testament. The Greek word pimplemi is used several times in the Acts of the Apostles when referring to being filled.
The Complete Word Study Dictionary defines this word, “to be filled, to accomplish, persons to be filled, wholly imbued, affected, and influenced.” This word implies a single event taking place and empowering believers for a work of service.
The filling of the Spirit seen in the first-century church empowered them for the work of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We find this filling first taking place in Acts 2:4 on the day of Pentecost when believers were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke in tongues, which were known languages in the earth but unknown to those speaking them, and they told of the mighty works of God.
Those who heard them speaking recognized their own language being spoken by Galileans. This was a work of service in priming the first message from the Apostle Peter who would explain what was taking place in accordance with Scripture.
When addressing the rulers and the elders concerning the healing of a crippled man, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit before speaking to them. He was empowered for preaching and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:8).
In Acts 4:31, the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the Word of God with boldness. In Acts 9:17-20, Paul regained his sight and was filled with the Holy Spirit so that he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues.
In each of these instances, the filling of the Spirit was in the context of a single event for a work of service in the lives of these believers to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Spirit-Filled for Growth and Maturity
The other Greek word in the New Testament applicable to being Spirit-filled is the word pleroo. The Complete Word Study Dictionary defines this as “to make full.” This type of filling is seen in Ephesians 5:18-20,
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from 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.
This is a continual process of growth and maturity, and this type of maturity comes from being molded by the Word of God. Colossians 3:16 says,
When we yield to the instruction of the Word of God, we yield to the continual filling of the Holy Spirit. This type of filling relinquishes control, “To be filled with the Spirit implies freedom for Him to occupy every part of our lives, guiding and controlling us.”
Regarding Ephesians 5:18, The MacArthur Bible Commentary says, “Being filled with the Spirit is living in the conscious presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, letting His mind, through the Word, dominate everything that is thought and done.”
When we are filled with the Holy Spirit in this way, we will do as Ephesians 5:19,20 says. We will praise and worship the Lord in song. We will overflow with thanksgiving to God.
We will submit ourselves to other believers. We will be concerned for the needs of those around us. We will cultivate the fruit of the Spirit as seen in Galatians 5:22-23,
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
What Does This Mean?
Being Spirit-filled is centered upon a continual process of spiritual growth and maturity that can only be found and cultivated by the Spirit of God.
By submitting to this process, we glorify the Lord Jesus Christ in word and deed while being conformed to His image through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within and filling us continually.
We can certainly quench the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19), and sin can hinder the filling of the Spirit, affecting our fruitfulness for God. The answer to this as believers in Christ is obedience to God and to His written Word.
This is a daily submission as we walk with the Lord in progressive sanctification, yielding to the Holy Spirit in being filled for His glory and being empowered for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.