The Filling of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is sometimes called the third person of the triune God. We do not have a great deal of trouble acknowledging the position and work of God the Father. We somewhat understand Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate and lived and died and rose again on this earth; witnesses attest to that. But we do not always know how to relate to the Holy Spirit. Some ignore Him as though He hardly exists. Others emphasize Him almost to the exclusion of the other members of the Godhead. Still others attempt to feminize the Holy Spirit as though He were the wife of God the Father.

My purpose here is certainly not to present exhaustively what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit, but, with that resource at hand, I do intend to set forth at least some of His present ministry to Christians, especially those parts which often occasion discussion and disagreement. If you wish to read a book which seeks to give a more exhaustive treatment, I recommend The Holy Spirit: Lord and Life-giver by John Williams, published by Loizeaux Brothers, 1980. It is the finest work I have seen.

My special purpose is to expose the Biblical teaching concerning the filling of the Holy Spirit. And in the process of doing that several other doctrines need also to be briefly addressed. The treatment of these will necessitate some practical applications.

Spirit Baptism

Spirit baptism as such is not mentioned in many places. It was promised by John the Baptizer and by Jesus.

John answered and said to them all, "As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (all Scriptural quotations will be from the NASB unless otherwise noted). (Luke 3:16) (see also Matt. 3:11 and Mark 1:8.)

And gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, "Which," He said, "you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." (Acts 1:4-5)

Its fulfilment was then reported by the Apostle Paul.

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:13)

Translators curiously have not been helpful to us in the matter of seeing the connection between these passages. All of these verses speaking of Spirit baptism have an identical phrase which has been translated variously even in the same version of the Bible! Regardless of whether the version says "with" or "by," the most normal rendering of the Greek original is to say in each case "in the Holy Spirit" or "in one Spirit." When we recognize that, then understanding comes more easily.

The exact terminology follows that of water baptism. Baptism language is technically: "I baptize you in water," as John said in Luke 3:16. In 1 Cor. 12:13 Jesus is analogous, as far as the terminology goes, to John in water baptism, and the Holy Spirit is analogous to the water. Jesus, in effect, is saying, "I baptize you in the Holy Spirit." Since Jesus baptizes every believer in Him in the Holy Spirit, the result is that all those so baptized comprise one body, the Church of Jesus Christ. They have the unity of the medium of this baptism, the Holy Spirit, and therefore they constitute one organism.

The name of this baptism could be misleading. It is actually a baptism which Jesus spiritually performs, so in a sense it is Jesus' baptism. But we certainly can leave the name as it is, as long as we understand the significance.

The recognition that Jesus performs this baptism helps, then, to understand that this spiritual act becomes reality at the point of trusting Jesus Christ for salvation. It is a mistake to think that at some point one might put his trust in Christ, and later he might be baptized in the Spirit. Salvation in Christ and being a member of His body, the Church, are features of one package. Earthly church membership is wholly a different issue. That has its earthly benefits and responsibilities, but our concern here is the membership which truly counts for eternity, that of being part of the body of Christ because of Jesus Christ having baptized us in the Spirit.

Spirit Indwelling

Life is fellowship with God. The twelve apostles experienced life in a unique way when Jesus was here on earth. However, when He left, He gave us His substitute, the Holy Spirit. He explained it to the disciples at the last supper.

"And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you. "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." (John 14:16-18)

So the Holy Spirit is given to the believer in Christ to indwell him from the point of conversion until the time of being in the presence of Christ forever. This gift is received at the same time Spirit baptism occurs, but its significance is different. We must note, however, that the Bible emphasizes the presence of the Holy Spirit in every believer's life in another place.

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. (Rom. 8:9)

To question the presence of the Holy Spirit is, then, to question the possession of salvation. The Holy Spirit indwells every true believer. This is a fact that be must accepted by faith in the Word of God, but also over time it should become evident; it will become evident where salvation is genuinely present.


The members of the triune God are frequently seen in Scripture to be involved in various ways in the same phenomena. The Bible contains many promises of new, abundant, resurrection life received through faith in Christ. And the Holy Spirit is also involved here.

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5)

The regeneration is the new birth or the being "born again" Jesus related to Nicodemus in John 3. In the verse quoted above the Holy Spirit is said to bring to the believer a "renewing." He applies to the believer this new life received in the new birth.


The indwelling Holy Spirit brings to the believer a variety of benefits.

And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom. 8:26-17)

Prayer is a continual mystery and a sort of battle for the believer. It is a great comfort to know that the third Person of the Triune God who indwells the believer is praying on that believer's behalf according to the mind of God. Such a prayer cannot help but be answered. And, in the context, this is the practical outworking of God doing good for every believer through every circumstance in the sense that every believer is brought eventually to glory, fit to enjoy the presence of God forever.

Spirit Fillings

With that background, then, let us come to the great subject of the filling. Much that has been said and written about the filling is good but incomplete. Much that has been said and written about the filling upon closer examination is a contradiction. This writer is amazed at how many will let contradictions stand and not consider them problematic, because, after all, this is religion. Religion, to some, does not need to make sense!

However, if we are dealing with truth, it must make sense in the highest degree. And the Bible is the framework which determines that sense.

Spirit Fillings: Special Task

For some, the filling of the Holy Spirit is the influx of power. It may be power for witnessing, power to perform miracles, or simply power to live the Christian life. Some truth does lie here, because in Old and New Testaments we observe the Holy Spirit coming upon individuals to do great exploits. The big question is: Does the Holy Spirit fill every believer so that these same great exploits become the norm for all Christians? And, further, if so, what are the preconditions for this to occur?

The Bible's record is clear that there were certain periods in the past when miracles were abundant. These are the times of Moses, of Elijah and Elisha, and of Jesus and His apostles. It is the paucity of these miracles which makes them stand out as particular signs. Not every believer was so equipped to perform miracles.

Some individuals prophesied as a result of the Holy Spirit filling them. But not everyone prophesied, even though that ability was considered highly desirable. And, we may go so far as to say, that some were filled by the Holy Spirit independently of the question of their personal salvation.

For example, did Saul desire to prophesy in 1 Samuel 10? As far as he knew, he was merely on a mission to find his lost donkeys. He prophesied as a result of the divine word proclaimed by the prophet Samuel. This was a preparation and a sign regarding his role as king of Israel. It was a sovereign act of God for a particular purpose. Otherwise Saul was not known as a prophet. And his personal salvation certainly may be questioned.

Interestingly, in the New Testament two different Greek words are used to indicate filling by the Holy Spirit. And each appears to be used consistently with a particular meaning. Each of the following verses refers to the filling of the Holy Spirit, and in each the same Greek verb is used. It is "pimplemi." After each verse I have placed in parentheses the particular ability received from the filling.

"For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother's womb." (a ministry of repentance in preparation for the Messiah) (Luke 1:15)

And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (a one-time prophecy) (Luke 1:41)

And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying... (a one-time prophecy) (Luke 1:67)

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. (an utterance in unlearned foreign languages) (Acts 2:4)

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers and elders of the people..." (a message of the Gospel of Christ as a defense to the religious, ruling hierarchy) (Acts 4:8)

And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness. (a ministry of proclaiming the Gospel) (Acts 4:31)

And Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit." (an apostolic and prophetic ministry) (Acts 9:17)

But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze upon him... (a curse of blindness upon the deceitful magician) (Acts 13:9)

In each of these cases, the filling of the Holy Spirit was something not sought by those affected. Instead, each was the sovereign enablement for an individual or individuals to perform a specific task. The task may have been momentary, or it may have spanned years of time. But it was the sovereign act of God.

To seek such enablement will result only in frustration. God may so enable individuals today, and He may not. It is His choice, and no amount of seeking it will be successful.

Spirit Fillings: Spiritual Growth

There is also another kind of filling. This understanding will help to inform experience, especially that experience which hopes for the filling which has miraculous effects and remains unfulfilled. We might even say, at least in some cases, that experience which hopes for the filling which has miraculous effects should remain unfulfilled.

The one verse that quickly comes to mind when the subject of filling arises is Ephesians 5:18.

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.

This verse does not contain the same Greek word as the above discussion. The word that is used here, pleroo, can be synonymous with the word used above, but when used with reference to Holy Spirit filling here it obviously carries a different sense than the other word used. So it is in order to ask, What kind of filling is this? An examination of the context, near and far, will help in answering the question.

We must note that there exists a different shade of meaning between the two Greek words when we examine how they are used in the New Testament. Dictionary definition is important, but the final test is usage. The term used in the "Special Task" section above, pimplemi, is usually not associated with process. The term of focus in this discussion of "Spiritual Growth," pleroo, usually does involve process. That difference contributes significantly.

Let's look first at the context of Ephesians 5:18.

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. (Eph. 5:15-21)

Notice the items of process indicated in that paragraph. There is the matter of how one lives. Then there is the matter of understanding God's will. Finally, there is the matter of influence.

We would be out of order if we did not compare the text of Colossians 3:16. Colossians is recognized to be in many ways a parallel epistle to that of Ephesians. Here is a text which produces the same phenomena as being filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18, but the production of it is described differently. It comes about through saturation by God's Word.

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16)

The Apostle Paul could have written to the Ephesians as he did to the Colossians, but under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he wrote differently. The Ephesians passage describes what happens in this process internally. The Colossians passage describes what happens in this process externally. As you take time to read, study, meditate, and memorize the Scriptures, if you do so receptively, treating them as the very Word of God which they are, then the Holy Spirit will without a doubt be influencing your life. And you will be a person whose being exhibits the behaviors listed as results in these two passages.

Having said that, the two passages are not as different as they appear at first reading. It is actually doubtful that Ephesians 5:18 names the Holy Spirit. In the Greek the article "the" is absent, as, of course, is the word "Holy." Because of that, one cannot be dogmatic that "Spirit" is the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, even though our English versions have capitalized "Spirit," in the Greek it is not. Normally words are not capitalized in Greek unless they begin a new paragraph or unless they are certain proper nouns among which "God" and "Spirit" are not included.

So a literal translation would read something like this: "keep on being filled in spirit." It could refer to your human spirit which is the part of you which relates to God. Or it could be paraphrased as the realm of the spiritual, which substantially has the same effect. Coupled with the previous imperative to understand what the will of the Lord is, we again come around to the Bible, the Scriptures as that which should be dwelling richly within the believer.

Interestingly, the New Testament also gives us another kind of filling that can be set in direct opposition to that of the Holy Spirit, and it uses the same verb.

But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land?" (Acts 5:3)

Satan did not sovereignly overpower Ananias and force him to lie on this occasion. There was a background which led up to this. Ananias allowed greed to operate in his life. He certainly cooperated in the process which culminated in this act. Peter expected Ananias to explain the act and treated him as accountable. But Satan certainly did provide an influence which helped direct the actions of Ananias.

So the filling which appears in Ephesians 5:18 is not a sovereign equipping by the Holy Spirit for the accomplishment of a specific task. It is rather a process of spiritual growth in which a believer's ordinary life is impacted more and more by the spiritual realm through the ingestion and application of Scripture. There may be ebb and flow. There is definitely an element of the believer's activity involved.

Effects of being so filled in spirit will include singing to God, to others, and to yourself, teaching and admonishing others in the Church, being thankful, and being properly subject to others in the various relationships of life.

Every believer is commanded--these are imperatives--to continue being filled in this way. Every believer is accountable to make it happen, and it will when that thorough immersion in the Word of God becomes your experience.

Gifts Connection

The Bible explains how God equips the Church for its functioning under Christ its Head through the bestowal and use of spiritual gifts or gifts of the Holy Spirit. The four key passages addressing the subject are Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4:7-16, and 1 Peter 4:10-11. Each of these appears in a different context and has its own purpose under the sovereign inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Gifts Connection: In General-All

The fullest treatment appears in 1 Corinthians 12-14 in order to address the problems found in the Corinthian church. And that discussion is of great benefit to us.

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1Cor. 12:7 )

Every believer is blessed with some spiritual gift received from the Spirit. Since that is true, it is likely that the giftedness is communicated to the believer at the point of the Spirit's indwelling the believer, that is, at the point of trusting Christ for salvation, at the point of entering a relationship with God through Christ. The gift will need to be developed through faithful practice, and it may not always be obvious, but it is there.

Clearly, the purpose for the gifts is stated above, "for the common good." Stated another way, the gift is for the spiritual benefit of others. That is why the Church needs to assemble. I benefit from your gifts, and you benefit from mine. If either of us abandons the assembling of the saints, some saints will hurt because the absent individuals are not exercising their gifts for the benefit of others.

I also suggest that the list of gifts in Romans 12:6-8 is the normal list, the list which should include your gift(s) and mine. I say that because the Roman Epistle was not written primarily to correct errors as was 1 Corinthians. It is rather an exposition of the gospel of Christ for people who had not met the Apostle Paul personally yet. So you should look for your area of giftedness there.

The gift of prophecy, strictly defined, is not for today, as 1 Corinthians 13:8 indicates. All the other gift categories-service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and showing mercy-will somehow include yours.

Gifts Connection: In Specific-Tongues

I suppose any discussion of spiritual gifts must include commentary on the gift of tongues. I mention it here only because it is reckoned by some as THE indicator of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Let us simply dispose of that by referring to 1 Corinthians 12:30.

All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?

Even apart from the question of the legitimacy of the gift of tongues for all time, the Apostle indicates that during the time when the gift certainly was valid not all genuine believers experienced it. Some claim that the gift required as an indicator of the Spirit's presence is a different tongues gift than that mentioned in the above verse. If so, then it is a gift not addressed Scripturally and certainly cannot in any way be considered a requirement; in fact, it should then be considered a dangerous exercise.

Fruit Connection

If the Holy Spirit is not filling the believer so as to perform miracles, various acts of power, then what influence is He having? There is to be definite demonstration of the Holy Spirit's presence in the believer's life. And it is shown in the production of spiritual fruit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)

That many well-meaning people demean these qualities is a terrible misfortune. Some think these too small for their attention; they would rather be involved in great ventures. Do not let the greatness of this venture be underestimated. To give evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit by producing this fruit is the greatest of goals, of accomplishments. This fruit is exactly what the world cannot produce, but you can, if you belong to God's family.

Mysticism Connection

There is a temptation to mystify the subject of the Holy Spirit, and we might even quote the words of Jesus in support of such an approach.

"The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8)

It is true that we do not see the Spirit, because of His nature. It is true that we often do not understand how He works, because He is God. That should not encourage us to fabricate our own understanding based upon the supposed experiences of individuals. The Bible says enough so that we can confidently know about the third Person of the triune God who indwells the believer. We need not resort to fancy and feeling.

Word Connection

We saw above that there is a close connection between the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. We really should place the emphasis on ingesting regularly, faithfully, and receptively the Bible. When we do that, we can be sure that we are inviting the Holy Spirit to go about His proper business in our lives.

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:17)

You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit... (1Th. 1:6)

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Heb. 4:12-13)

The Word of God, the Bible, is the weapon the Spirit uses. Receiving the Word of God is related to experiencing the joy of the Holy Spirit. The operation of the Word of God on the inner being of an individual is given personal dimensions; could it be because the Holy Spirit works with the Word?

Obedience Connection

In practical terms, what does it mean to be making progress in that process of being filled in spirit according to Ephesians 5:18? Isuggest it is as simple as living in obedience to God.

"And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances." (Ezek. 36:27)

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. (Rom. 8:3-5)

The Spirit-filled life is an obedient life, a life lived in obedience to Christ according to His written Word. If obedience to His revealed will is your concern, then you need not doubt the influence of the Holy Spirit in your life. Obedience to His will should be your first priority.


There are two fillings of the Holy Spirit represented by two different Greek words for filling. One is a sovereign unsought filling equipping and enabling the individual to perform a divinely appointed task which is not normal for everyone. This filling is determined by God alone and does not invite your seeking.

The other is a process of taking on the influence of the Holy Spirit as you receptively involve yourself in God's Word, the Bible. This is a life-long involvement for the believer and demonstrates itself in the results indicated in Ephesians 5:19-21 and Colossians 3:16. This one does invite your desire and your involvement to be realized. Perhaps even stronger, it is commanded and asks for your obedient response. It will affect the little things of life, and it involves that which is of great value in the sight of God.

For answers to specific questions about the material discussed in this article, you may contact the writer at