The Spirit-Filled Life
The "Spirit-filled life" -- what is it? What does it mean? Let's look at Scripture and the real lives of believers and figure this out.
First of all, being filled with the Spirit means that a believer has acknowledged the reality of the Holy Spirit, and accepted the promise of Christ. The Holy Spirit is a "gentleman" of sorts -- he will not force his way into the heart or mind of a believer, but rather awaits invitation and surrender before filling the believer. So, being filled with the Spirit means that the believer has fulfilled the prerequisites (i.e. belief, willingness, etc.) for being filled.
We have clarified the condition of the believer prior to beginning the Spirit-filled life. Let us now attempt to define what is meant by the life itself. Quite naturally, by the use of the word "life" we are referring to something other than the Spirit baptism. The baptism in the Spirit can be seen as an event, a moment when the Holy Spirit entered a believer in a radically immanent way. However, the Spirit-filled life indicates a lifestyle in accord with the Spirit's values. The Holy Spirit provides an immediate presence of God, at times even tangibly so, and an empowerment to live this lifestyle.
What lifestyle? The various streams of Christianity have differing emphases, doctrinally, on what exactly that lifestyle entails. All agree that the Holy Spirit provides power in helping to live that life, but the purpose of that power is interpreted in various ways.
In the well-known passage Acts 1:8 Jesus says, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses," and from this Scripture (and others) we get the idea of empowerment for ministry, particularly evangelism. One living the Spirit-filled life ought therefore to be something of a "soul-winner." Some Christian groups, such as the Baptists, place a heavy emphasis on this understanding of the Spirit-filled life.
Another important characteristic of the Spirit-filled life is that it produces fruit. The Spirit transforms and renews the mind, leading a Spirit-filled believer to produce in his lifestyle the "fruit of the Spirit," which Paul lists in Galations 5:22,23 as being "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law." A Spirit-filled believer is therefore seen to be motivated out of selfless love as well as the rest of the fruits (but Paul argues strongly for the primary importance of love). Some Christian groups, such as the Holiness groups, place a strong emphasis on love and manifesting the fruits of the Spirit. We might add that in addition to these fruits, the Holy Spirit brings about the fruit of hope. For Paul prays in Romans 15:13, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
We might point out that in Matthew 7:18 Jesus says "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit," a general principle in keeping with the idea that "out of the heart the mouth speaks." He goes on to say, "Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them" (vs. 20). This seems to indicate to the church that we will be able to recognize those who are living the Spirit-filled life by their demonstration of the fruit of the Spirit (of which the primary one is love).
In addition to producing fruit, a believer who is filled with the Spirit may be given gifts by the Spirit. In 1 Cor. 12:8-11 Paul lists the gifts: "To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines." Paul goes on to give guidelines in the use of these gifts. Some Christians, such as the Pentecostals, place a strong emphasis on manifesting these gifts. They place a particularly strong emphasis on glossolalia (tongues), claiming that since it is mentioned in three of the five Scriptural baptisms in the Holy Spirit, it is normative for every believer.
We have mentioned that the Holy Spirit transforms and renews the mind. Romans 12:2 indicates that this interior transformation enables the believer to understand the will of the Lord. In Ephesians 5:17,18 Paul gives us an interesting throwback to Hebraic parallelism: "Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." If this were an Old Testament author, we would identify this passage as an example of synonymous parallelism, and as Paul was learned in the law, having studied it under Gamaliel, it is not far-fetched to assume he was employing the same technique. "Being foolish" and getting "drunk on wine" are rough synonyms, which leads us to believe that being filled with the Spirit is also roughly synonymous to understanding the Lord's will. In several instances Paul's prayers for the churches in his letters indicate that through the power of the Holy Spirit, the saints will come to understand the Lord's will. Some Christians, such as the Quakers, place a strong emphasis on this sense of waiting on the Holy Spirit yielding a greater understanding of the Lord.
So which of these emphases ought we to adopt? It is the opinion of this author that each emphasis is correct so long as it does not become exclusive. Scripture provides a very thorough exposition of the Spirit's multifaceted role in the life of a believer, and all of these emphases ought to be, well, emphasized. The Spirit-filled life includes empowerment for ministry, revelation of God through waiting on Him, manifesting the gifts of the Spirit that the Spirit determines to give, and in all of this it must demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit (particularly love), or it is false.
© 1998-2018 Zach Bardon
Last modified 4.2.2013