What it means to be filled by the Holy Spirit

by Mike Ratliff

18 καὶ μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ, ἐν ᾧ ἐστιν ἀσωτία, ἀλλὰ πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι, (Ephesians 5:17-18 NA28)

18 And do not become drunk with wine in which is dissipation, but be filled by the Spirit, (Ephesians 5:18 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

What does it mean for a Christian to be “filled” by the Holy Spirit? In my translation above the preposition “by” renders the Greek word ἐν (en), “in, with, by, among, at, on, when, to, as, for, through, while, within, of, about, into, because, during, throughout, before, under.” Why did I render it as “by” instead of “with?” As Louis Sperry Chafer said, “It is not a matter of acquiring more of the Spirit, but rather of the Spirit of God acquiring all of the individual.”1 The believer who is Spirit-filled is influenced by the Spirit and nothing else while those who are not, are more influenced by the temporal. To be filled by the Spirit is to have our thoughts, desires, values, motives, goals, priorities, and all else set on spiritual things and spiritual growth. In the New Testament there are cases where individuals were recognized as being Spirit-filled such as the “deacons” of Acts 6:3. What was the evidence that the Church saw that made it known to them that these men were Spirit-filled? It was Christlikeness of character which is given to us in Galatians 5:22-23.

22 ὁ δὲ καρπὸς τοῦ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἀγάπη χαρὰ εἰρήνη, μακροθυμία χρηστότης ἀγαθωσύνη, πίστις 23 πραΰτης ἐγκράτεια· κατὰ τῶν τοιούτων οὐκ ἔστιν νόμος. (Galatians 5:22-23 NA28)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 meekness, self-control; against such things there is not a law. (Galatians 5:22-23 translated from the NA28 Greek text.)

When people see the evidence of such character present in a Christian’s life, they are witnessing the Holy Spirit’s control over them.

Going back to Ephesians 5:18, the construction of the Greek verb for “filled” (πληροῦσθε) tells us how to understand what the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul is teaching us here. To best understand how to become Spirit-filled let us start with the grammatical structure Paul used. The verb πληροῦσθε is in present tense, which shows a continuous action. In other words, Spirit-filling is designed to be a continuing reality. We are to be in the state of constantly being filled by the Spirit. Also, the verb is in the imperative mood, which indicates a military command and something we control. Spirit filling is not optional, but rather mandatory. As Ephesians 5:17 declares, this is the will of God. Lastly, the verb is in the passive voice. What does that mean? The Christian is the subject being acted upon. We allow the Holy Spirit to act upon us and control us. Let us each day renew our yielding to the control of the Holy Spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria. 

1Louis Sperry Chafer, Major Bible Themes (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, Revised Edition, 1974, p. 115.

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