We know from Romans 8:9 that, “If you don’t have the Spirit of Christ, you don’t belong to Him.” Notice it doesn’t say a touch of the Holy Spirit or some partial impartation of the Holy Spirit. No, the context both from the scriptural framing of that verse and the context of how the early readers of this letter would have understood it is, the person of the Holy Spirit, completely and fully must abide within every true believer. So, is this then the same as being filled with the Holy Spirit? The best answer I can give is yes and no, depending on particular definitions and terminology that certain groups, denominations or individuals employ.
Is a Christian indwelt fully by the Holy Spirit at conversion? The answer is yes. Is that Spirit filling which occurs at conversion the same as the filling of the Spirit referenced in Ephesians 5:18? The answer is no. The initial indwelling or filling by the Spirit at conversion is an introductory, non-repeatable (if you will) transactional event. I don’t believe in getting saved and re-saved because I don’t believe scripture teaches this. I do however believe in being filled (initially) with the Holy Spirit and being filled (subsequently) repeatedly and continually with the Holy Spirit. This is the picture that Ephesians 5:18 paints for us.
Remember, Paul is writing to, “…the saints who are at Ephesus, and who are faithful in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 1:1) Therefore, he is certainly not encouraging some first time event to transpire in their lives. It is assumed that these believers have already been fully indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Paul’s encouragement and exhortation to them is, as Dr. Wayne Grudem’s translation from the Greek so clearly and wonderfully articulates, “Be continually being filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Grudem’s Systematic Theology)
This then begs the question, can a person be indwelt by the Holy Spirit but not filled with the Holy Spirit? Depending on how you understand and use the terminology the answer is yes. This is an area where I received a couple concerned opinions from some pastor friends who felt there needed to be a little clearer understanding of the terminology regarding indwelt and/or filled. I agree, greatly appreciated their input and thus am attempting to give further understanding which I hope will be helpful to us all. I realize a lot of what we’re discussing is to a large extent a review of what we’ve already discussed. However, I feel this topic centered on the Holy Spirit is so important that it needs further and fuller discussion. My prayer is that this will all be most helpful to us in our growth in Christ. Thus, back to our question as to whether or not a Christian can be indwelt but not filled with the Holy Spirit. Let’s keep in mind that when a person is converted, they are indwelt in full by the Holy Spirit. However, in the same way that a person can be fully saved but not continue in spiritual growth, is it not possible for a Christian to be indwelt fully by the Spirit but not be living a Spirit filled life as defined in Ephesians 5:18?
I believe the answer is yes. Paul addresses all his letters to the churches, the saints, the faithful, the brethren, to spiritual children and the beloved of God. Yet, much of Paul’s writing in all his letters is to correct sinful behavior, promote unity among the brethren, encourage spiritual growth and maturity and instruct clearly in regards to obedience and righteousness. He doesn’t discount their salvation or standing in Christ, but he clearly encourages, challenges and exhorts them to grow and mature in Christ.
There is therefore an initial point of conversion and also a subsequent living out or demonstration of the reality of that conversion experience through growth, obedience and holiness. These terms (and there are others) define and express the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
I believe sanctification is both an initial setting apart unto Christ and an ongoing conforming to the image of Christ. I like what Oswald Chambers says: “We must work out that which He has worked in.” The same can be said of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. He has come to indwell us (initially) but also to continually fill us (subsequently) from day to day throughout our lives. Unfortunately, some groups, denominations and individuals have hijacked terms like “Spirit filled” and have explained them only within the context of their denominationally oriented doctrinal distinctives. I don’t say this with any malice or antagonism necessarily toward the aforementioned, but I do believe it’s helpful if not necessary to make sure our terminology clearly and consistently aligns with scripture. To some, “Spirit filled” means a person has experienced an event or a moment whereby the Holy Spirit has suddenly filled a Christian with His presence and this is validated or confirmed by an accompanying manifestation of speaking in tongues. To another, “Spirit filled” means that a person, group or denomination believes that all the “manifestation gifts” mentioned in I Corinthians are still in operation today. Let me say here, I agree that that which was available to the early church is still available to us today but I think it’s inaccurate to say or believe that’s all that “Spirit filled” means. I don’t discount that many Christians have had an encounter with the Holy Spirit that may or may not have been accompanied by a spiritual gift or gifts. To say that such an experience was a Holy Spirit infilling would be accurate, but I think it would be inaccurate to suggest that that’s all “Spirit filled” means.
I hope you see how terminology, even right terminology has often been misrepresented, misappropriated and thus misunderstood. I believe the Bible’s idea of Spirit filled living is allowing the indwelling Spirit of God to continually fill, control, guide, empower and evidence the reality of a risen Christ within us. It seems obvious to me and clear from scripture that His gifts will be necessary and most helpful in accomplishing this. And then there’s “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” I know we discussed this in the last Praiseletter but I believe we may briefly revisit it again for further understanding and clarity in our next letter. Indwelt, filled and baptized are all clearly valid and intentional descriptives of truth regarding the Holy Spirit. However, there is sometimes a kind of cross-pollination of these words that causes confusion if not trepidation. It is my hope and prayer that as we further explore these things from a biblical perspective, we will thus gain knowledge, diminish divisiveness and promote true spiritual hunger for all that the Holy Spirit would desire to accomplish in and through us. In the next Praiseletter I believe we’ll also discuss this aspect of whether or not those spiritual giftings, common to the New Testament age are to be expected and embraced presently. I think consideration of what is termed “The Apostolic Age” will be helpful to us in our understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Please contact us by Facebook, email or letter and let us know if these teachings are helpful. As I was writing this letter I kept thinking of and singing a song from long ago entitled “Spirit of the Living God”.
Spirit of the Living God fall fresh on me
Spirit of the Living God fall fresh on me
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me
Spirit of the Living God fall fresh on me.