Gordon E. Johnson


The «How» of the Fullness of the Spirit --the Believer's Inheritance

Romans 8: 1-4

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute


In our last study Paul sets before us the role of the Holy Spirit as he becomes the indwelling presence of Christ introducing us in an ever increasing way into our vital union with the crucified Savior. Paul now freed from moral condemnation for his personal failure to live the victorious life (Rom. 7: 7-24) has found the source of constant victory. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me (us) free from the law of sin and death." (8:2) Paul has given us a new name for the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.  Jesus had spoken of him as Helper or Advocate and the Spirit of Truth. (John 14: 16, 17) The Holy Spirit is now the « law» or the dynamic, the motivation of the believer.  His aggrieved presence supplies us with all we can ever need for a life of fullness in Christ.

The Holy Spirit, the New Dynamic, Given Graciously to Us as God's Gift.   Rom. 8: 2, 3

Paul then proceeds to tell us how the law utterly failed as God's sanctifying agent.  In brief, it was never meant to be that. "For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God «DID» by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh." The profound problem was not the law, as it was never intended to either save us or sanctify us. Its sole purpose was to reveal sin to us as God sees it. Through the law God condemns our best efforts and thus lead us to Christ as Savior and Sanctifier. "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (Rom. 10:4)

Paul states this vital truth carefully.  The problem was not the law that God had given but the flesh, the sin principle that God was to deal with once and for all at the Cross; he DID it in his condemnation acted out at the Cross when Christ died for us and when we died in Him. Here again we see the two fold Gospel. This is the truth of Romans 6:6:"Knowing this that the old man-- the flesh--was crucified with Him . . . ." Do you see how the Spirit returns as always to the work of the Cross? There can be no effective work of the Holy Spirit--who always remains a person--unless the Cross operates by faith in us.

Now Paul is in a position to make the application of how this new law of life in Christ Jesus, a dynamic or motivation, will operate. Our co- crucifixion with Christ was established so clearly in Romans 6:1-14. Such a union in death to sin frees us to walk in newness of life. In Romans 6 he outlined for us the liberating truth of the Cross --our Map--that leads us to our destination, victory in Christ. The Guide has entered the control room of our hearts and he will lead us into victory. Such a walk of faith will be an ever growing process as we appropriate by faith the Spirit's work in us.

The Fullness of the Holy Spirit Is Grounded in our Union with the Crucified     Rom. 8: 4

Paul now tells us the Spirit's specific work and its result in our union with the Crucified. "That the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (8: 4) This is the very first and most crucial mention of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. To be filled to the full is the measure of the work of the Spirit grounded in our death to sin (Rom.6:6), our death to the law and our marriage relationship to Christ (Rom. 7:1-6). Paul speaks of the fullness, not as something to be sought but something that proceeds from our walk of faith, our union with Christ at the cross. The filling of the Spirit, or the fullness of the Spirit --there are other terms used for the same --is not an experience to be sought, prayed for, fasted for or defined in some experiential way, but rather it is the expression of the risen life of Christ as expressed in us by the Spirit.

If the fullness of the Spirit were something other than our daily walk, Romans 8:1-4 would be the ideal time to define it and describe it. Rather Paul bluntly says that the righteous requirements of the law of God are seen in our sanctification, our holiness, our Christ-likeness.  I have often paraphrased it thus: the truly Crucified life becomes the truly Spirit-filled life.  You cannot have one without the other.

This removes the pseudo spiritual complex often associated with the fullness of the Spirit. It is Christ living his life in you and me. There may be flashes of power, signs of his gracious presence, but the essence is a Christ controlled life in both ministry and daily living. These two aspects can never be divorced the one from the other.  We are never more filled in one than in the other.

His holiness becomes the mark of the Spirit's indwelling. His love, his humility his discernment, his forgiveness, in brief, the fruit of the Spirit will be seen is us, not by our manipulation and presentation but by the simplicity of his presence and power.

Above all else, the fullness of the Spirit is seen as a continuation of our walk of faith rooted in our obedience to Romans 6:1-14. The truths of Romans 6:1-14 and 7:1-6 are a seamless robe of righteousness and the Holy Spirit is the presence, power and person who in grace makes it possible.  He zealously guards the glory and cause of Christ and never promotes our ego.

A Parallel Passage on the Fullness of the Spirit   Ephesians 5: 18-6: 20

A clearly parallel passage sheds light on this the first and foremost mention of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. That portion, Rom. 8:1-4 is the continuum of the argument that the work of the Cross is a whole unit involving our death to sin, to the law that now permits the Holy Spirit to do his work of filling and empowering. Romans 8:3, 4 is not a command to be filled, but tells us «how» and «why» the Spirit fills us and does his work of holiness in life and service. It is a purpose clause in the subjunctive mood.

Paul subsequently in Ephesians expounds the very same basic truths. He outlines that we were dead in trespasses and have been made alive (Eph. 2:5) and that God has raised us up to sit in heavenly places (2:6). Paul devotes chapter 4 to the «how» of the Christian life: "put off the old man . . . and be renewed in the spirit of your mind." (4:22, 23) He exhorts the believer to "walk worthy" (4:1), to "walk in love" (5:2), "to walk circumspectly" (5:15) and then he caps it off : "And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit."(Eph. 5:18).

The best rendering of the command to be filled is in the present aorist imperative mood of: "be being filled." It is not a command for an initial or a definite filling but rather a being continuously filled grounded in our union with Christ and his Cross work. It is a filling that leads to discretion, discipline and holiness and not to dissipation and «spiritual pride».  Immediately Paul then applies the truth to that filling now characterized by gratitude, joy and singing (19, 20). He says it will issue in submission to one another (21).Without mentioning signs, wonders, miracles, prophecies or any given experience, he says it  transforms the marital relationships (22-33), the family duties (6:1-4) and society's demands (5-9). Furthermore it fits us to do spiritual warfare and live in victory over Satan and demon forces (10-20).

Interestingly enough Colossians has an exactly parallel passage (Col. 3: 1-4: 1) that substitutes the filling of the Spirit with: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." 

(Col. 3:16) The Spirit and the Word come together to make for a life ordinary and extraordinary in love for God and service to others.

A Word of Clarification and Caution.

So much has been written about the Fullness of the Spirit, the experience of the "Baptism of the Spirit," the gifts of the Spirit, the charismatic expression of these last decades that confusion so often reigns.  A pseudo spirituality is often professed, signs and wonders are lauded, prophecies and visions have been claimed and the body of Christ often has been divided into separate camps. 

Let it be said the God is sovereign and may give to one believer or to another a personal experience that is somewhat unique. The history of God's dealing with his servants bears this fact out. But paramount to everything is the rule of the Word of God and its clear exposition. The inspired Word is the plumb line for the truth, not any experience, be it genuine or not, given in a unique way to one, but never a pattern for all.  God is free to do his work in his way, but it will never contradict the written Word of God properly understood.  The proof of the Spirit's authenticity is the marks of Christ-likeness, personal holiness as defined in character not in externals, humility, love and passion for God and his cause in this world.

The real tragedy is that this confusion has allowed Satan to deprive the church of so much of the Spirit's power.  Crucial passages  are not given their rightful place, such as, Romans 6-8; Gal. 2-6; Ephesians 4-6; Colossians 2, 3; 1 Cor. 12-14; 2. Cor. 3-6; 1 John, James. These passages give the «how,» the «why» and the «when» of the Spirit's work.

For many the book of the Acts has been made the cornerstone of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Indeed doctrine is illustrated in Acts; Luke does give us accurately what happened without generally giving us the «why,» the «how» and the «when.»  The Spirit's phenomena are generally treated historically and not theologically. The unnecessary divorce between the Acts and the Epistles has led to different emphases and conclusions.  A true rule of thumb is that the Epistles interpret for us the Acts of the Apostles. There can be no discrepancy between them. The Holy Spirit is author of both portions of the Inspired Word. In our next study we will see the role of the walk of faith, either after the Spirit or after the flesh, a possibility but surely not to be a probability.

Yours in the Message of the Cross,

Dr. G. Ernesto Johnson