Being Filled With the Holy Spirit

As we study Scripture, and we see the commands and changes that we are supposed to be producing in our lives, it can feel overwhelming. As we hold ourselves up against God’s Word, we see how we fall short of God’s glory. We see our weakness, our inability, and our sin. Sometimes, we can begin to feel hopeless in our battle. We want to obey, but we feel unable.

Friend, your feelings are right. You can’t obey God by will power alone. You can’t muster up enough strength to love God. You can’t stop sinning by your own desire. Why? Because you are a weak human being still living in your sinful flesh. You need something divine if you are to live according to God’s Word—we need the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit not only gives us the ability to understand Scripture, but He is also the One who enables us to obey it. The enemy is fighting fiercely against us, throwing his best weapons of temptation our way and giving us many reasons to disobey what we have learned. Thankfully, as believers, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us. 

Today in our series on Bible Study for Heart Change, we are looking at how the Holy Spirit fills us and enables us to obey God’s Word.

The Filling of the Holy Spirit and the Word

It is understandable to be confused with receiving the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit. They may sound similar, but they are two different things.

When a person is born again (becomes a Christian), they receive the Holy Spirit to dwell in them (Romans 8:9; John 14:15-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Once the Holy Spirit indwells a believer, He comes all at once and stays forever; there is no change in consistency or amount of Him. Since the Holy Spirit is the seal of salvation for redemption (Ephesians 1:13–14), and our salvation can never be lost (Romans 8:30-39; John 3:15). 

When a believer receives the Holy Spirit, He dwells in them and He produces fruit (Galatians 5:22-23), gives the believer spiritual gifts for good works and service to the church (1 Corinthians 12:11), enables the believer to obey God (Galatians 5:16), intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26–27), and confirms our salvation (Romans 8:15–17). These are all permanent roles of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

The filling of the Holy Spirit, however, is when a believer is yielded to the Spirit and doing what is godly through Him. It does not mean you have more of the Holy Spirit at that moment, because you already have the Spirit in full. It means that you are more yielded to the Spirit. 

The confusion between receiving the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit is not the only common misconception within this doctrine. In some churches and evangelical events, the filling of the Holy Spirit may appear like the very paganism Paul was warning against when he wrote the words, “Be filled with the Spirit,” so many years ago. Some claim that being filled with the Spirit is an ecstatic experience in which a person could fall over, speak in gibberish, roar like a lion, have convulsions, laugh uncontrollably, and the like.

This is not how a person filled with God’s Spirit acts. Paul rebuked this kind of disorder of speaking out wildly and instead calls for order (1 Corinthians 14). Rather, being filled with the Holy Spirit can be defined as letting the Word dwell richly in us and being yielded to the Spirit’s working.

Let the Word Dwell Richly

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV, emphasis mine

In the passage above, Paul uses the exact words, “filled in the Spirit,” and then lists the results of it. Notice that none of them are any kind of uncontrollable experience; it includes joyful singing between believers, thanksgiving being made to God, and submission to one another. 

The next passage is a parallel from Colossians; these two books are very similar in content and have some portions that are nearly identical. The following is one of them:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:12-17 ESV, emphasis mine

What is the difference here between the two texts? In the passage from Ephesians we are told to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but in the text from Colossians we are told to let the Word of Christ (the Bible) dwell in us richly. Despite the difference in vocabulary, both actions have the same results: singing, thankfulness, and ultimately edifying the body of believers. We can conclude then that being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting Scripture dwell in us are two terms that mean the same thing. 

This is why Bible study is so important. How can we have the Word richly dwelling in us if we are not reading and studying it? Believers should be permeated with Scripture so that it controls their thoughts, speech, and actions. When the Word richly dwells in you, you are being filled with the Spirit, so that you can respond rightly to people and life circumstances.

Yielding to the Holy Spirit

Being filled with the Spirit refers to a believer who is yielded to Him. John MacArthur explains it this way:

“Paul is not speaking of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling (Rom. 8:9) or the baptism by Christ with the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13), because every Christian is indwelt and baptized by the Spirit at the time of salvation. Rather, he is giving a command for believers to live continually under the influence of the Spirit by letting the Word control them, pursuing pure lives, confessing all known sin, dying to self, surrendering to God’s will, and depend on His power in all things. Being filled with the Spirit is living in the conscious presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, letting His mind, through the Word, dominate everything that is thought and done.”¹

Another commentator describes it this way:

“Thus in this relationship, as a believer is yielded to the Lord and controlled by Him, he increasingly manifests the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). The Spirit’s indwelling (John 7:37–39; 14:17; Rom. 5:5; 8:9; 1 Cor. 2:12; 6:19–20; 1 John 3:24; 4:13), sealing (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30), and baptism (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27) occur at the time of regeneration and thus are not commanded. However, believers are commanded to be filled constantly with the Holy Spirit. Each Christian has all the Spirit, but the command here is that the Spirit have all of him. The wise walk, then, as one that is characterized by the Holy Spirit’s control.”²

To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to submit to Him. In those moments of conviction of sin, we confess and bow in humility and repentance. In those moments when we are reminded of the biblical response, we act on it. We are tempted toward sin, but we remember Scripture’s call to obedience and choose righteousness. 

Being filled with the Holy Spirit isn’t a mystical experience, and it doesn’t require listening for a voice or waiting for a specific feeling. Rather, we are so permeated by God’s Word that we know how to act without a mystical sign. We are so filled with the Holy Spirit that we are controlled by Him and not our sinful desires. This is what a believer filled by the Holy Spirit looks like.

Dependent on the Holy Spirit

When you read the Word of God and study it, you will quickly conclude that our Holy and Perfect God has given us a high standard that we are incapable of meeting on our own. However, do not let this discourage you! By convicting us of the sins presented in Scripture, bringing to mind what we learned in the Bible, and empowering us to be obedient to God, we are enabled to live out God’s commands. The Holy Spirit not only teaches us, but He also gives us the ability to do to what it says. 

Though we are sinful, fallible, imperfect creatures, our gracious God has given us the resources to obey Him.

QUESTIONS FOR HEART CHANGE

  1. Have I sought an ecstatic experience from the Holy Spirit, rather than looking to what Scripture says about the Holy Spirit?

  2. Have I been trying to defeat sin on my own in my own power? Or have I relied on other people or things to change me rather than the Holy Spirit?

  3. In what ways can I begin to depend on the Holy Spirit for my needed heart change rather than myself or others?

  4. Am I filling myself with the Word of God, or with worldly things? I am being more filled with things of this world, how can I begin to change that?


  1. John MacArthur, Dr., The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 1700.

  2. H. W. Hoehner, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. R. B. Zuck and J. F. Walvoord, vol. 2 (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1985), 640.