This summer I’m teaching a sermon series on the Holy Spirit called Flood. This blog series discusses aspects of the Holy Spirit I don’t get to in the sermon. Today I want to focus on what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Contemplate this question: Would you like to be filled with the Holy Spirit?
Notice your response. If you’re answer is “Oh yes, please!”, then you long for more of him because you know what it’s like to be filled with his life-giving presence. But if the question triggers some resistance in you, notice it. You may be resisting a beautiful gift God wants to give you.
What do I mean by “being filled with the Holy Spirit”? It can mean dancing happily in worship, speaking in tongues, or feeling emotional ecstasy in private prayer. Those are natural responses to filling by the Spirit, as natural as shouting when your team scores a touchdown or hugging someone you love when they return from a long trip. Wouldn’t it be odd if you didn’t respond emotionally in those circumstances? When we are flooded by the presence of our wonderful God, joy is orthodox. It was orthodox when David danced half-naked in front of the ark of the covenant in 2 Kings 6. Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth! says Psalm 100.
But being filled with the Holy Spirit takes other forms as well. Being absorbed in bible study or a sermon; successfully resisting a favorite sin; boldly sharing truth among unbelievers; repenting from a behavior that gets in the way of a love relationship; or fending off the evil one’s lies. The Spirit is active in all these situations and many more.
Often our experience of being filled with the Spirit is limited by our own Christian tradition. Roman Catholics cherish the sacred presence of the Spirit in the Lord’s Supper; Pentecostals enjoy charismatic gifts such as prophesying and worshipping “in the Spirit”; Methodists and pietists see the Spirit’s work in the forming of Christlike character; evangelicals emphasize the flood of Spirit whereby we are born again and regenerated by grace; and Reformed Christians value the Spirit’s revelatory work in teaching and illuminating us. I’m oversimplifying these traditions, I know – but my point is that every Christian should long for all of these works of the Spirit.
The essential work of the Holy Spirit is to transmit the life of Jesus into a believer. That’s mind-stretching! Think of it: the life of Jesus can get inside you, giving you new abilities. Scripture reveals five categories of the Spirit’s work. The theological terms for these are regeneration, revelation, sanctification, vocation, and manifestation. Here’s how I describe them:
- the FAMILY of Jesus (You can find the Father’s love)
- the MIND of Jesus (You can understand God)
- the CHARACTER of Jesus (You can become Christ-like)
- the POWER of Jesus (You can do God’s work)
- the PRESENCE of Jesus (You can commune with God)
Different teachers use different words to describe the Spirit’s work, but we should desire all these works.
Another thing that limits our being filled with the Holy Spirit is our culture. At the congregational level, Christians sometimes take their cues from pastors and elders about what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Learn from the example of your leaders’ giftings, but remember to take your cues from the teaching of scripture and the prompting of the Spirit. God wants you to the you he created, so sometimes you must be willing to explore new roads that the Spirit shows you.
As to how to be filled with the Spirit, that’s simple: ask. Jesus teaches in Luke 11:13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heave give the Holy Spirit to those who ask!