The Infilling of the Spirit

Dr. Brian Allison

When you think of being filled with the Holy Spirit, what comes to your mind? What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? Do you think it means being swept away with holy laughter and dancing frantically around? Or do you think about being 'slain in the spirit' and gyrating around on the floor? Or do you envisage a mystical surge of energy whereby you speak in an ecstatic language. What do you think about when you think of being filled with the Spirit? Acts 4:31 gives us the succinct teaching of the fundamental elements of that which is entailed in being filled with the Spirit. We read, "And when they [the gathered disciples] 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."

Spirit-infilling is solely a work of God

This verse teaches at least three things about being filled with the Spirit. First, to be filled with the Spirit requires a divine act and initiative. It says that these disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. They were recipients, they assumed a passive role; and God was the actor, He assumed an active role. The infilling of the Spirit is something that God does. We, as Christians, cannot determine whether we are going to be spiritually filled or not. We cannot orchestrate it; we cannot produce this kind of work. Now, we do have a responsibility to seek to be filled with the Spirit, and to prepare for the coming of the Spirit; but God must act, and He must take the initiative, if we are going to be filled. So, these disciples were acted upon; or, in other words, the Spirit was willing to manifest himself. The Spirit himself decides when He will release His power. There is no place for human say; it is not a matter of individual or personal control. One of the clearest examples of this fact pertains to the person of John the Baptist. While Zacharias, the father of John, was fulfilling his priestly ministry in the temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him announcing the birth of John. Gabriel announced to him, "And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 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" (Lu. 1:14,15). Of course, an infant cannot self-consciously direct his or her behaviour. Clearly, Spirit-infilling has nothing to do with the human will or human effort. It is something that happens to us; God is pleased to move. Thus, we read the fulfilment of that which was promised to Zacharias in the temple, "Now at this time Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb [being filled]; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit" (Lu. 1:39-41).

Accordingly, if you are to be filled with the Spirit, you must be wholly dependent upon God. You do not decide whether you will be filled. You do not 'push the buttons.' God does not cater to your whim, nor beckon to your call. Now, some have the misunderstanding that Spirit-infilling is some kind of mechanical programmed response in which one, for instance, simply has to repeat a formula, or practice a certain ritual, or simply parrot certain words, and the result will be that he or she will be filled with the Spirit. It does not work that way; that approach is all wrong. This past week I was listening to a well-known America preacher. He was sharing one of his early Christian experiences as a recent convert. Apparently, he was instructed and coached on how to receive the second blessing, the second baptism of the Spirit, by which he would 'speak in tongues.' This preacher said, "I had enough common sense to realize that according to the Scriptures, this was not something I should be coached on; something humanly orchestrated. I said to this person who was coaching me on how to receive the second blessing, 'I want to receive the Spirit the same way the early Christians did – immediate and complete.'" Again, it is wholly of God; He takes the initiative. He alone decides when one will be filled with His Spirit.

Spirit-infilling comes through prayer

Second, to be filled with the Spirit typically entails human responsibility. Although being filled with the Spirit is a divine act, we can seek for this infilling; we can prepare for it. We can move God to fill us with His Spirit – "And when they had prayed...they were filled with the Holy Spirit." Prayer is typically, not exclusively, the prelude to being filled with the Spirit. In response to our dependent petitioning, with a view to His glory, God is pleased to fill us. This fact is clearly seen in the life of our Lord. In the account of His baptism, we read, "Now it came about when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also was baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, 'Thou art my beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased'" (Lu. 3:21f.). This baptism of the Spirit entailed the infilling of the Spirit so that our Lord was full of the Spirit. So, we read further, "And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness" (Lu. 4:1). It was when our Lord prayed that the Spirit came; not only was He baptized with the Spirit, He was also filled with Him.

As an aside, what is the relationship between the baptism of the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit? The baptism of the Spirit is receiving the gift of the Spirit. God gives His Spirit as a gift to us at the time of our coming into His kingdom; that is, believers are spiritually baptized at conversion. Now, on the basis of this baptism of the Spirit (i.e., having received the Spirit as a gift) believers may then receive the infilling of the Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit is the ground for the infilling of the Spirit. Logically speaking, the baptism of the Spirit presupposes and actually precedes the infilling of the Spirit, though the two spiritual events may occur simultaneously (as we see in the life of our Lord Jesus). Now, one can be baptized with the Spirit without enjoying the infilling of the Spirit. Baptism does not automatically result in infilling. Further, there is only one baptism of the Spirit. A believer receives the gift of the Spirit once and for all at conversion, but the believer may enjoy many infillings of the Spirit. Thus, we have the exhortation in Ephesians 5:18, "Be filled with the Spirit." This is a word directed to all Christians; and what is implied is that there are times when Christians may not be filled with the Spirit, even though they have the Spirit. Incidentally, this exhortation is better translated, "Continue to be filled with the Spirit." This infilling ought to be a way of life.

So, again, as mentioned, Christians have the responsibility to be filled with the Spirit, even though God must act and take the initiative. Further, as mentioned, apart from being immersed in the Word of God, the means by which we become filled with the Spirit is prayer. Now, prayer does not automatically result in infilling, but it is the prescribed prelude to the infilling. We read, "They lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, '...And now, Lord, take note of their threats and grant that Thy bondservants might speak Thy Word with all confidence'" (Acts 4:24,29). The result of that unified, dependent petitioning was that the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were filled with the Spirit and spoke boldly. We are to seek the Spirit's infilling; and we are thus to prepare ourselves for such an infilling by treasuring up the Word of God in our hearts and by giving ourselves to prayer, only wanting to see His glory. Are you praying for the infilling?

Spirit-infilling is being under the Spirit's control

You may ask, "What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?" Third, to be filled with the Spirit is to be under the total direction, sway, and control of the Spirit. Again, Ephesians 5:18 reads, "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation [it results in immoral waste, corruption, degradation], but be filled with the Spirit [i.e., continue to be filled with the Spirit]." There is a contrast between being filled with wine, on the one hand, and being filled with the Spirit, on the other. To be filled with wine, of course, is to be drunk. It is to be under the control and influence of alcohol; and to be under the control and influence of alcohol is to be out of self-control. So, Christians are not to be under the control of wine, but rather they are to be under the control of the Spirit. That does not mean that our faculties are in any sense suspended so that there is no exercise of our personal will. It does not mean that we are mindlessly carried along in some kind of mystical trance. If you are filled with the Spirit, then you will be in complete control of all your faculties, while being under the Spirit's control (though such an interrelationship is ultimately a mystery; we simply cannot analyze and understand how the Spirit works in and through our spirits). To be filled with the Spirit is to be surrendered to Him so that you do not give in to your passions, your desires, and your personal aspirations and ambitions. You are no longer in the 'driver's seat,' wanting the Lord to respond to your whims, and to confirm your decisions. No, you are under His control, and He directs and guides you, and you are simply to respond.

In being filled with the Spirit, one experiences the infusion of grace (i.e., power). Our thinking, our behaviour, our actions take on a true spiritual character. Accordingly, we read that the result of being filled with the Spirit should be "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" (Eph. 5:19,20). The Spirit's infilling brings about a spiritual transformation of one's personality and disposition. There will be something spiritual about how you live, how you act, and how you behave. I remember listening to a well-known speaker a while ago and he spoke with crudity and crassness. I cringed while listening to him. There was a irreverence to what he had to say, and the impression that I received was that he probably was not filled with the Spirit. There are many people preaching who are not filled with the Spirit. What they say is true, but they make no impact. Conversely, I think of another preacher whom I had the privilege of hearing at the Peoples Church. When he stood to speak, there was a spiritual sheen about him (Remember, Moses had a spiritual sheen after being in the presence of the Lord). There was a real spiritual glow about him, and he made a spiritual impact upon us who listened to him. There was a witness in my spirit that this man was filled with the Spirit.

Spirit-infilling entails enhancement, boldness, and joy

So, to be filled with the Spirit entails this inner spiritual manifestation which has visible effects or results. Now, at least three specific elements are involved in being filled with the Spirit. First, if you are filled with the Spirit, there will be an enhancement of your spiritual disposition and of your gift(s). To be filled with the Spirit entails the release of spiritual energy. For example, when the gospel came to the Greeks who were at Antioch, the Church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to minister. We read, "Then when he had come and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord" (Acts 11:23). In seeing the mighty saving work of God in the hearts of these people, Barnabas, as a fellow-believer, was greatly affected. He was glad, and immediately sought to strengthen them in their faith; and he did so with determination. There was seemingly a spiritual intensity about his behaviour. He was committed to loving Christian service. Now, the reason for this kind of devotion and ministry was that "he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spiritand of faith" (Acts 11:24a). There was something spiritually peculiar about this man; with rejoicing, he dedicated himself to ministry, having seen the grace of God operative in the lives of these believers, though they were of a different racial background. Barnabas evidenced an enhancement of spiritual disposition and spiritual gift, and the result was that "considerable numbers were brought to the Lord" (Acts 4:24b).

In keeping with this enhancement of one's spiritual disposition, when one is filled with the Spirit, there is an accompanying confidence or boldness of character. Again, Acts 4:31 reads that when the disciples were filled with the Spirit "they began to speak the word of God with boldness." One who is filled with the Spirit of God does not care about the judgements of people; he does not care about people's criticisms and objections; he does not conform to the expectations of people, nor does he cater to their whims and pleasures. He is controlled by truth; and his only concern is to glorify God. One is no longer in a state of fear and emotional bondage. He or she enters into the fullness of freedom in Christ. Are you concerned about what people think about you, about how you worship and how you live, so that you cater to their expectations, and conform to their wishes and desires; or is there a confidence, a boldness, about you? We read of the apostle Peter, "Then Peter filled with the Spirit said to them..." (Acts 4:8a). What marked Peter's speaking? We read, "Now as they observed the confidence of Peter..." (Acts 4:13a). So, to be filled with the Spirit entails a confidence, or a spiritual assurance, which sustains the soul. Are you bold at work?...in a mixed company?...in your family?

Third, if you are filled with the Spirit, you will have the experience of joy. Joy accompanies Spirit-infilling. We read, "And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52). Earlier, we made reference to John the Baptist being filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb. This spiritual act was confirmed by the fact of the presence of joy. We read that his mother Elizabeth said, "For behold, when the sound of your [Mary] greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy" (Lu. 1:44).

Now, in connection with this joy, the result of being filled with the Spirit, more generally, is that one will experience free and God-honouring worship. Joy is at the heart of true worship. Again, referring to Ephesians 5:18ff., we read that when one is filled with the Spirit, there is "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." If you are filled with the Spirit, you will praise Him with gladness and speak of His glorious works with rejoicing (recall that Barnabas rejoiced when he saw the grace of God at work). I remember a number of years ago ministering to a Chinese young peoples' group in a very drab setting; but regardless of the appearance of that setting, the worship was marvelously uplifting. The Spirit was present. Have you ever been in a meeting like that? It does not matter what the setting is, you know that there is a spiritual transaction taking place because you are in the presence of God.

Spirit-infilling is with a view to witnessing

To be filled with the Spirit primarily has in view effective Christian witnessing. Personal growth or spiritual maturity is not primarily in view when we talk about being filled with the Spirit; though personal growth or spiritual maturity may be a by-product of such infilling. Spirit-infilling has more to do with serving God and fulfilling your calling than it does with living in an ethical way and doing what is right. That is, Spirit-infilling is not so much related to sanctification and godly living as it is to effectively testifying to the saving truth of God and to the glory of Christ. Thus, concerning the day of Pentecost, we read, "And they [the disciples] were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance" (Acts 2:4). With the infilling of the Spirit, these disciples were empowered to speak "the mighty deeds of God" (Acts 2:11b). Now, in this case, the disciples spoke in languages other than their native one, but this phenomenon was according to the Spirit's preference. It was the Spirit's decision. Tongue-speaking is not necessarily associated with being filled with the Spirit. Tongue-speaking was peculiar to the early church. It was simply a form chosen by the Spirit, at this point in redemptive history, through which the disciples bore powerful witness to God and Christ; and this is the main point concerning Spirit-infilling: one is empowered by the Spirit in order to bear witness concerning the saving work of the thrice holy God. Thus, prior to receiving the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, through which the disciples were filled with the Spirit, Jesus promised, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnessesboth in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The Spirit's infilling is God's empowering; an empowering with a view to Christian witnessing.

All Christians are called to be witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot effectively fulfil this ministry without the Spirit's infilling. We are to bear witness through our lives and by our lips. We are to speak the truth and live the truth. We are to do this in the work place (when convenient), at the supermarket, on the public transit, etc. What has God called you to do in His kingdom? How does He want you to serve in His church? Regardless of your calling and ministry – whether a teacher, a helper, a giver, a leader, etc. – you will not be effective without the infilling of the Spirit. We need His power. The church of Christ needs His power. Let us pray God for such power.