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Be Filled with the Spirit

Dove

by Dennis Pollock

After Peter and John had been threatened by the Jewish authorities not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus they returned to their companions and had a prayer meeting. Not wanting the gospel of Jesus to be blunted by intimidation, they prayed, "Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word…" God's response to this prayer was swift and dynamic. The Scriptures tell us, "And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness." They prayed for boldness to witness of Christ and God had responded by filling them with the Holy Spirit. They received exactly what they needed, and they continued to share Christ boldly and without hesitation.

The book of Acts is filled with men who were full of God. Over and over again we read of God's people being filled with or full of the Holy Spirit:

  1. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit... (Acts 2:4)
  2. Then Saul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him … (Acts 13:9)
  3. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit... (Acts 6:5)
  4. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:52)


Questions about the filling

The experience of being filled with the Spirit is both mysterious and confusing to many believers. Just what does it mean? What can we do to make it happen? Is this experience something that comes automatically with salvation, or do Christian need to seek a further empowering of the Spirit after their new birth? As is always the case, it is helpful to go to the Word of God for the answers.

There are three terms used synonymously for the same experience in the book of Acts. In the first chapter of Acts Jesus promised a baptism with the Spirit to His disciples, saying, "John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1:5). Three verses later He repeats the promise but uses another term, saying, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me…  (Acts 1:8). Finally, when the event actually happens, Luke tells us, "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit." Of these three terms: "Baptized with the Spirit," the Spirit coming upon you," and being "filled with the Holy Spirit," only one is unique to the New Testament. You can find clear references to Old Testament believers having the Spirit come upon them. In the story of Gideon in the book of Judges, we read, "But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon; then he blew the trumpet, and the Abiezrites gathered behind him" (Judges 6:34). When a lion attacked Samson, the Bible tells us, "And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he tore the lion apart…" (Judges 14:6).

Filled with the Spirit of God

Day of Pentecost

The term filled with the Spirit is likewise found in the Old Testament, although it is less common. As God instructed Moses to build the tabernacle in the wilderness, he spoke of Spirit-filled craftsmen and artisans who would do the work. He told Moses to select a man named Bezalel to oversee the building of the tabernacle, saying, "And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works… (Exodus 31:3,4). For the creation of the clothes for Aaron in his high priestly service, God said, "So you shall speak to all who are gifted artisans, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron's garments" (Exodus 28:3).

It is only the term "baptized with the Spirit" that is unique to the New Testament. Clearly when the 120 disciples in the upper room experienced the Holy Spirit, all three terms could have been used interchangeably. They were baptized with the Spirit, the Spirit came upon them, and they were filled with the Spirit. The concept of being filled with the Spirit is common in the New Testament. We read of the disciples being filled with the Spirit again in Acts 4, and Paul tells Christians to "be filled with the Spirit" in Ephesians 5. But the only other reference to a baptism with the Spirit is in Acts 10-11 when Cornelius and his family hear the gospel through Peter and start to speak in tongues. Peter says, "Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, 'John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 11:16). It would seem that the baptism with the Spirit speaks of that first, initial filling of the Spirit. All future experiences with the Spirit may be fillings, but they would not properly be called baptisms. The baptism with the Spirit is our immersion into the realm of the Spirit. To baptized with the Holy Spirit is to be immersed in Him and to be filled to overflowing with His power and love. This is that for which our Lord Jesus commanded the disciples to wait. Until this baptism they were inadequate for the huge task that lay before them – that of preaching Christ to a world steeped in sin, false religion, and bondage.

Is there more?

Some have suggested that there is no filling with the Spirit beyond what happens at the new birth. They love to say that we received all that we will ever receive when we were saved, and that it is foolish and unbiblical to expect anything more. But in truth it is neither foolish nor unbiblical. In the eighth chapter of Acts, we read of a wonderful evangelistic campaign in Samaria in which Philip was the primary instrument used by the Lord. Miracles and healings took place, and the Bible tells us "there was much joy in that city." The end result was that "When they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized" (Acts 8:12). Jesus had declared that "he who believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16). These folks believed and were baptized, and must have been saved. And yet in the eyes of the apostles something wasn't quite right. We read, "Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them" (Acts 8:14-16). The Bible goes on to tell us, "Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:17).

These new believers had put their faith in Christ. They had been baptized. But somehow the Holy Spirit had not come upon them. They did not yet have that promise of Jesus fulfilled in their lives which said: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you." Peter and John went to Samaria for the express purpose of getting these new believers filled with the Holy Spirit. This experience was apparently a big deal to the apostles. When Paul met a small band of believers in Ephesus, his first question to them was, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" When they told him they had never heard of the Holy Spirit, he had them re-baptized, laid hands on them, the Scriptures tell us, "the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied" (Acts 19:6).

Moody's Filling

D L MoodyD. L. Moody was perhaps the greatest American evangelist of the second half of the nineteenth century. As a young pastor he enjoyed the success of a growing church and had such a reputation for his outreach to poor children that newly elected Abraham Lincoln came for a visit. So when a couple of his church ladies started talking to him about his need for the filling of the Spirit, he was insulted at first. He thought surely he had all he needed. But in time he began to yearn for this mysterious filling with the Spirit of which they spoke. In his own words:

I was crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit. Well, one day in the city of New York – oh what a day! I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it. It is almost too sacred an experience to name. I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask God to stay His hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different, I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted.

Moody was a changed man. Not only did he have more power in evangelism, but he seemed to minister with more confidence. Biographer Lyle Dorsett wrote: "Inner peace, disappearance of spiritual depression, focused goals, a calmer demeanor, and preaching with new power now characterized the man." Moody's ministry was soon enlarged beyond that of a local pastor, and he carried the flames of revival to England, Scotland, and Ireland, where the grade school dropout made an impact that would be felt for a generation.

We will not all become international evangelists when we are filled with the Spirit, but we will all have our lives and ministries infinitely enhanced. Bezalel was a Spirit-filled craftsman, Samson, a Spirit-filled warrior, David, a Spirit-filled poet, and Luke, a Spirit-filled writer. The Holy Spirit is so very creative! For this reason we cannot demand that our filling be precisely like someone else's. Nor can we go before Him demanding specific gifts of our own choosing. In discussing various gifts of the Spirit Paul writes: "the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills." It is as He wills, not as we will, that gifts are given. Our job is to draw near to God, abide in Christ, and earnestly desire His gifts. His job is to give us the gifts that are appropriate for us, gifts He has determined for us before we were ever born.

Need for fresh fillings

The initial filling, or baptism with the Spirit is never sufficient for a lifetime. It is our introduction to the Spirit-filled life. But we will need continual re-fillings with the Spirit. When David was anointed with oil by the prophet Samuel, we read, "Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward" (1 Samuel 16:13). Notice the words "from that day forward." This was not a one-time event. It was a beginning. David knew many anointings and fillings with the Spirit. At the end of his days he wrote, "Now these are the last words of David. Thus says David the son of Jesse; Thus says the man raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel…" (2 Samuel 23:1). It all began for David when the old prophet poured the oil on him, and the Spirit came upon him from that day forward.

The great evangelist Charles Finney told how that, after receiving a powerful filling with the Spirit the evening after his salvation, he saw tremendous results as he witnessed of Christ. He wrote, "I immediately found myself endued with such power from on high that a few words dropped here and there to individuals were the means of their immediate conversion. My words seemed to fasten like barbed arrows in the souls of men…" Yet he would sometimes go dry. The power would seem to be absent, and results of his ministry would be meager. He would then take a day off to fast and pray, and seek God for fresh anointing. He wrote, "After humbling myself and crying out for help, the power would return upon me with all its freshness. This has been the experience of my life." We, too, need "fresh oil." You cannot meet today's needs with yesterday's anointing.

Jesus proclaimed, "If any man thirsts let him come unto Me and drink. He that believes on Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." It is our duty and our inestimable privilege to come unto Him again and again to receive fresh life and power. We are filled with the Holy Spirit, not because of our great goodness and perfect obedience, but because of Jesus' great sacrifice and free grace. Jesus is our Fountain of Living Waters.

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