a series of essays on the Spirit-filled life
by Del McKenzie
The bottom line of all that is said about the Holy Spirit in the Bible seems to be this instruction to “be filled with the Spirit.” It is the culmination of a number of descriptive terms such as came upon, anointed, and baptized. In Ephesians 5:18 it is set in contrast to being filled with something else, wine.
An important question to be asked is, “What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?” That question can be answered more accurately when we understand that the Holy Spirit is a person. To be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with another person. If we perceive the Holy Spirit to be an object, or a force, or an influence it will cause us to respond differently than when we see Him as a person.
The evidence is overwhelming to support the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is a person. He has personal names. Jesus called Him the Paraclete, “the One called alongside to help.” It has been translated Comforter, Counselor, Helper. The idea is that of a Companion with the special task of representing us. Lawyer is a concept inherent in the word. But it is a name ascribed specifically to Him. He also has the name of Holy Spirit. These names distinguish Him for who He is and apply to only one person.
He is treated as a person. He can be lied to, insulted, resisted, squelched, hurt, tested and blasphemed. These are responses to a person, not to an object, force or influence.
The Holy Spirit also does things that only a person can do. Among them we find that he prays, teaches and speaks.
All of this is important for us to understand that being filled with the Spirit is a relationship of two people. I am filled with another person, my wife. She controls my life because there is nothing that I will knowingly, deliberately and continually do that will hurt or displease her. No, she does not henpeck me! It is love for her that allows that control. What she would think or want is never far from the surface of my mind. Integrity means that I will not do or say something that I would not want her to see or hear. The ideal marriage is when two people have a mutual love and respect that will not let them harm or hinder each other. In that way they control each other’s lives. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is to be in such a love relationship with Him that He possesses, controls and fills our lives.
To think of the Holy Spirit as a power to get hold of is far different from thinking of Him as Someone that I can respect and trust. It isn’t a matter of getting more of His power but of Him getting more of a relationship with me. Power is often ascribed to the Holy Spirit in the Bible but it is the product of a relationship and so the focus needs to be on the Person of power rather than on obtaining the power. We should want power, the ability to do what God wants done, but if we seek it instead of the Holy Spirit’s fullness we leave ourselves wide open to trouble. He wants us to have His power flowing through us but it must be through a relationship.
In the statements in Ephesians 5 the picture is of wine being a substance which, when filling a person, controls that person. The problem is that when a person is filled with wine the drunkenness makes them less of what a person should be. The contrast drawn out by the “but” is that the filling of the Holy Spirit makes a person more of what they can and should be. God created us to be a reflection of His love. Rebellion against Him has turned us into selfish people. But through the redemptive work of Jesus, God has planned and provided for us to once again become loving people. As we walk in a relationship with the Holy Spirit filling us, we become more of a person transformed into God’s likeness.
How do we develop this relationship? Respect is a key ingredient. Any good and growing relationship must be built on respect. This is especially true with the Holy Spirit. He is worthy of our respect. He is God. But we have the ability to respect Him as God or treat Him with indifference of disdain. Respecting Him is a choice that is always before us and when we choose it our relationship with Him grows. Communication is also a key element in any relationship. A relationship begins with communication and it grows with communication. Do we pray to the Holy Spirit? Of course, because He is God. Yes, because prayer is communication with God. We can be speaking to Him and listening to His voice. He speaks in various ways and as we share our thoughts with Him and hear Him our relationship will grow. Communication is always built on dialogue and we can assume the Holy Spirit wants us to express ourselves to Him. Honesty is a key factor in communication and, as the Spirit of Truth, it is important for us to express our questions, doubts, fears and other things like them openly and fully with Him. Transparence is also crucial to communication. A relationship can go no deeper than our willingness to be vulnerable. Trying to hide something from the Holy Spirit is useless but often attempted. We can’t let shame or pride keep us from being fully open with Him. There certainly are more factors in building a relationship but we must always keep in mind that that is what we are doing with the Holy Spirit. Two people, one human and one divine who are walking life together with the human consumed with knowing the Divine.
The idea of “full” is interesting and challenging because it is used in various ways. In this context it means that my whole life is absorbing His presence. I am not free to allow Him into certain areas of my life but not others. It isn’t enough to let Him control my church life. He must also control my thought life. He has to have access to my desires and motives, my values and priorities. To keep Him out of any area of my life is not to be filled with Him. Half filled does not meet the definition. There can be no hedging with this Person. His companionship must take in every aspect of my life.
The statement in Ephesians 5 is literally, “Be being filled with the Spirit.” This addresses the need to be in this companionship all of the time. It can’t be relegated to Sunday or Thursday night Bible study. He is not like a child that we leave out of certain times in our lives. To be filled with Him is to live in the reality that He is with us all the time and is to be honored all of the time. We don’t leave Him out in the car when we are finalizing a business deal or when we watch some program. He is constantly there for us to be grateful for His assistance or to call for more help. We invite Him to hear what we say and watch what we watch.
We can have many friends and companions in life but there is no relationship that can be as deep and fulfilling as this one called the filling of the Holy Spirit. We can share the deepest part of our life with Him and experience His life and power as we walk with Him.