Back in the 60s, a man named Dr. Timothy Leary was a cornerstone figure of the hippie movement. He advocated drug use as a method for having religious experiences. But he was far from the only or first person to draw a connection between altered mental states and religion. Certain mystical religions use hypnosis or drugs in an attempt to commune with deities. And as far back as Paul’s day, pagan worshipers often believed that drunkenness was a state of religious euphoria that translated them into the presence of their gods.
To believers coming out of this cultural background, Paul wrote this: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
The first step in God’s will for your life is that you be saved. After that, the next thing He wills is that you be filled with the Spirit, as Paul makes clear in this verse. Paul wants believers to know exactly what God’s will is for how they should commune with Him — not through alcohol, but through the Spirit.
The natural next question is, “What does it mean to be Spirit-filled?”
What it doesn’t mean is that the Spirit is absent and must be sought. If you’re a Christian, the Holy Spirit lives in you (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 6:19). Everyone who is a Christian possesses the Holy Spirit. However, that doesn’t mean that every Christian is filled with the Spirit.
The Greek word for “filled” is plēroō, and it has the idea of a dominating influence. For example, in the New Testament you very often read about someone being filled with a certain feeling, whether it’s anger, fear or wonder. To be filled with something is to be overwhelmed and controlled by it.
That’s what it means to be filled with the Spirit. It means to be dominated by the force of the power of the Holy Spirit in your life so that there’s not, “Well, I know how I want to live my little Christian life: a little for You, Spirit, and a little for me. I’ll do my little deal a couple of hours, and then You do Your deal on Sunday, and maybe a few days during the week; and we’ll work this thing out and we’ll kind of keep this thing balanced.” That’s sadly to say what most Christians do. Being filled with the Spirit means the scale tips totally in favor of the Holy Spirit, He becomes the controlling influence.
In the Gospels, the word plēroō is also used to describe a wind that fills the sail of a ship. And this is an appropriate image for what it means to be filled with the Spirit. When you become totally influenced by the Holy Spirit, He becomes the moving force in your life. He begins to propel you in the right direction. He becomes the force that fills the sails that move the ship.
It’s sort of like an Alka-Seltzer, in a sense, to give you another analogy. If you want to take an Alka-Seltzer, you drop it in a glass of water. As long as it sits in the bottom it doesn’t do anything. All the power is there, all the force is there, all the value is there, it’s all contained in that little tablet; but until it is defused into the rest of the glass and it puts equal parts in all the water, it’s not going to have its proper impact.
It’s the same with the Holy Spirit. The power compact in the Spirit of God resides within the life of the believer; but in order to be effective, it has to be defused through the whole life of the believer. And that’s essentially the issue.
So understand this: As a Christian, you possess the Holy Spirit, even though you are not necessarily under the dominating influence of the Holy Spirit at all times. Don’t let anybody tell you that you need to pray to receive the Spirit. He is already living in you. But you need to be totally controlled and influenced by His power.
Next time we’re going to see what this controlling influence looked like in the life of Peter, and we’ll see what significance that has for our own lives.
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