Filled With The Holy Spirit: What, When, and How

Posted by Pastor J.D. on March 21, 2012

Sunday’s message was on being filled by the Spirit. We looked at Eph 5:18-20 to see the what, when and how of being filled by the Spirit:

What is the filling of the Spirit?

Being filled with the Spirit means being absolutely saturated with and under the control of the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 5:18, Paul contrasts being filled by the Spirit with being filled with alcohol. “Don’t be filled with wine,” he says, “but do be filled with the Spirit.” In some ways, being filled with the Spirit is similar to being filled with alcohol: when filled with alcohol, everything in a person is affected—how he thinks, how he reacts, what he feels. Inhibitions are removed. In the same way, being filled with the Spirit affects everything in a person’s life. People filled with the Spirit were given an uncanny, astonishing boldness (Acts 4:13, 31; 7:55-56).

But there’s a crucial difference between being filled with alcohol and being filled with the Spirit. Alcohol changes a person’s perception by deadening him to reality; the Spirit changes a person’s perception by awakening him to reality. When we are filled with the Spirit, we are not numbed to the pains of the world, but our eyes are opened to God’s beauty and power. When Elisha’s servant’s eyes were opened, he did not see a smaller Syrian army, but angels with swords in chariots of fire that dwarfed the Syrian force  (2 Kings 6:17). When Paul was filled with the Spirit the pain did not go away, his eyes were opened to comfort and joy greater than his pain (2 Corinthians 6:9-10).

When are we filled with the Spirit?

There are two “fillings” of the Holy Spirit that people often get confused. The first is the “baptism of the Spirit,” which happens once—at salvation (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:13; Romans 8:9–you can hear more on this and work through some of the controversy by listening to the actual message). Throughout our lives, we are to be continually re-filled with the Spirit for mission and to walk with God. That’s what Ephesians 5:18 tells us. “Be filled” is a present imperative, meaning literally “be being filled.” Always. Continually.

If you are a Christian, you have the Spirit! The question now is, Does He have you?

How are we filled with the Spirit?

This is the million-dollar question. We are filled with the Spirit by dwelling on the gospel and by not quenching or grieving Him. Paul connects filling with the Spirit to “speaking to one another in hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord” (Eph 5:19-20). This does not mean that whenever we see a friend we burst into “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” “Speaking in hymns and making melody in your hearts to the Lord” is indicative of the fact that you are dwelling on the gospel. Believing the gospel is how Paul said we first received the Spirit; re-believing the gospel is how we continue to be filled by him (Gal 3:1-5).

Perhaps the greatest enemy to our being filled with the Spirit is we so enjoy being filled with ourselves. Rather than dwelling on our need (our wickedness, our powerlessness) and God’s grace, we’d rather boast in our accomplishments and merits. We cannot be filled with ourselves and the Spirit at the same time. Believing the gospel points us away from the strength of our merits and onto the largeness of God’s grace. Such an awareness is the evidence of being filled by the Spirit, and the catalyst for being re-filled.  Dwell on the gospel! As we often say, the gospel is not just how we begin our lives with Christ, it is how we grow as well.

Quenching the Spirit means saying “no” to Him. Grieving the Spirit is entertaining in our hearts those things that put Jesus on the cross. We cannot be filled with the Spirit and the lusts of the flesh. As Josh Harris says, “Lust is entertaining yourself with what Jesus died to free you from.” If we are to be filled by the Spirit, we must go to war against the lusts of the flesh. John Owen, the Puritan used to say it like this: “You must be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”

How can we be filled with the Spirit? Say “yes” to the gospel and “no” to sin.

Pastor J.D.


J.D. Greear is pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, NC and author of Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (2011) and Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (2013). More

12 responses to Filled With The Holy Spirit: What, When, and How

  1. Great topic, but I would respectfully disagree regarding your take on what “grieving the Spirit” is. It has really helped me to ask the question – What grieved Jesus on this earth? – since the Holy Spirit is also called the Spirit of Christ (To be clear – I believe in the Trinity!). Jesus was not grieved by the disciples sin – think of it – he did not “break fellowship” when they argued about who is greatest – or on Easter Sunday afternoon when they were cowering in unbelief (i.e. – anything not of faith is sin) – recall, He walked in the room and asked for something to eat! No grieving there in the midst of a room of sinful unbelief! Jesus did not require them to ask for forgiveness in order to get over his “grief.” Nope, it is not in the text. Rather, He was grieved at Nazareth at their unbelief – He was grieved when the pharisees had no heart for healing broken people on the sabbath (it made him angry). He was grieved when they did not believe Him and he wept over Jerusalem – not weeping over their general sin – but over their refusal to receive His grace visitation. What grieves the Spirit is when we do not believe the good news – the gospel – the new covenant – that “our sins and lawless deeds he remembers no more” – that we are sanctified forever by one offering (Heb. 10:10). If sin grieves the Holy Spirit – then, he is remembering EXACTLY what he promised NOT TO REMEMBER and he is violating the New Covenant. Could it be that we are mis-teaching what the New Covenant means? Can the good news really be that good? How can God impute Righteousness to Us and Unrighteousness AT THE SAME TIME? I thought we were justified by faith (not by performance)? So, how can my sin grieve him – when I have been made righteous? We have been made righteousness as a gift – and it is Real. No religious games that give with one hand – but then take away with another. I would love to discuss this with you sometime – Love your Gospel Revolution Book – thank you for your strong leadership. Blessings.

  2. Robert, challenging thoughts, and I believe you have some real insights there. However, I wonder if perhaps you have “over-applied” the doctrine of imputed righteousness and thereby unduly ‘flattened’ our relationship with our heavenly father.

    Gift righteousness does not preclude God being grieved by our sin. In context (Eph 4:30), Paul specifically seems to refer to the ways we treat one another as “grievous” to the Spirit: He follows up the command to not grieve with: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

    Beyond that, certainly “unbelief,” and apathy are sins that are covered by Christ’s righteousness as well! So if Christ’s righteousness precludes God being grieved over our sin, that would include those things as well!

    Thanks again for your thoughts, and hope that helps.

  3. Dear Pastor

    I agree with the biblical fact that being filled with the Spirit of God will result in one singing and speaking with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Col 3 and Eph 5

    I do however wonder why in your message there no mention of what happens when one receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, in terms of speaking in tongues or languages.

    In Acts 2:3-4; Acts 10:43-47; Acts 19:6 scripture establishes the fact that when the Spirit comes upon the believer He also fills the believer who then begins to speak with tongues/languages as the Spirit gives utterance.

    Apostle Paul also filled with the Holy Spirit and bears testimony in 1 Cor that “I speak in tongues more than ye all” 1 Co 14:18

    Some have however disputed whether the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. But it is rather clear that there was a definite experience so powerful that Simon the sorcerer was tried to buy the grace of laying hands to impart the gift. I believe the Samaritans did speak in tongues.

    In a nutshell there are 3 definite clear witnesses that receiving the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit includes speaking in tongues or languages

    Be Blessed


    Together In Christ


  4. Paul, thanks for the thought. I understand where you’re coming from, but the primary problem with your interpretation, as I see it, is that the Apostle Paul says very clearly in 1 Cor 12:30 that “not all speak with tongues.” If the necessary sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit was speaking in tongues, then Paul’s statement would be incorrect. By your account all who are filled with the Spirit should speak in tongues, which Paul says is not true.

    A better interpretation, I believe, is that speaking in tongues was one of the many “signs” that God gave of the inbreaking of the new Kingdom, a Kingdom that included multiple nationalities (signified by the new ‘tongues’–1 Cor 14:20-22). The sign (tongues) is not essential to the gift (salvation and baptism of the Spirit). Sometimes it is present, other times it is not.

  5. JD- thanks for this series on the Holy Spirit. It has sparked some great questions and discussions within our small group and even with a co-worker who attends the Summit. Most of all, it has been insightful and helpful to me as I meditate on my relationship with the Holy Spirit and how here-to-fore I have often overlooked his role in my access to and relationship with God and Jesus Christ. May God continue to use you as his messenger to the Summit body.

  6. I just wanted to say thanks for this series which has been such a great one thus far. As I’ve heard before, the Holy Spirit is like that weird uncle that no one ever talks about, and it’s a shame because when we do utilize what He offers us, we have so much more power and life than we ever knew possible. I appreciate the life that this brings to our church as the theme prayer you’ve always preached, for us to pray and believe that He is able to do much more than we could think or imagine, pairs perfectly to surrendering to the power of the Spirit as it is in Him alone that we are able to be used for good works. I’ve appreciated at the Summit the spirit that pervades continually in people who hunger and thirst for God. I have been encouraged to meet many young people, and some older too, who are open to and seeking God’s will for them especially concerning international missions, as that is also where my hubby and I are headed. Thank you for pushing this so much; our experience at Summit has been an encouraging one on our “road to missions” and we are grateful for the time we’ve had here to continually foster the “call” and desire to see global missions take off as it is from our church. I hope we take with us the passionate prayer to believe that God will do way more than we could ever think or imagine as we are headed to the post Christian society of Europe. I believe, as you quoted Matt Papa to say, that our church may be on the brink of some sort of revival and pray that it is so. I also pray the discipleship and teachings of the Word go ever deeper at the Summit so that we continually see lives changed by the work of the Holy Spirit’s teaching us through your sermons, Equip and of course small groups filled with men and women who have been given wisdom from God and who are able to know the difference between truth and what this world has to offer.
    Thanks again!

  7. Julia, thanks! I have been particularly inspired about Montreal as an unreached place… over 150K college students and less than .3% evangelical. Most Muslim countries have a higher percentage of evangelicals!

  8. My joy, I have found the following words of Saint Seraphim of Sarov helpful regarding this topic. He was born in 1759, in city of Kursk. He is very highly regarded by millions who share the Christian faith in the East.

    “However prayer, fasting, vigil and all the other Christian practices may be, they do not constitute the aim of our Christian life. Although it is true that they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end, the true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, are the only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. Mark my words, only good deeds done for Christ’s sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit. All that is not done for Christ’s sake, even though it be good, brings neither reward in the future life nor the grace of God in this life. That is why our Lord Jesus Christ said: “He who does not gather with Me scatters” (Luke 11:23). Not that a good deed can be called anything but gathering, even though a deed is not done for Christ’s sake, it is still considered good. The Scriptures say: “In every nation he who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:35).

    I would also like to ask you, Dr. Greear and all, to please forgive me for something I said a couple of years ago at this board. You may not even remember it, but I do. I made a remark concerning the topic of the blog entry above this one (homosexuality and the Church) that was highly offensive, and I knew it would offend. Nonetheless, even though the topic is not central to the Christian faith, I offended many while expressing myself. For that, please forgive me. I of course stand by my motives (which were to heal the church), but I certainly should not have made the comment.

    In Christ,

  9. Thank you for this down to earth posting. I am studying the Holy Spirit and how to grow in him. This article was written is such a fashion that anyone can comprehend what you are saying. I found many excellent teachings here
    Thanks again
    Bonnie (Canada)

  10. Hello,

    You are very much mistaken about the meaning of being filled with the Spirit which is the Holy Ghost. One is not automatically filled with the Holy Ghost when they make the decision that Jesus Christ is Lord. This is the reason why Paul asked the believers at Ephesus “Have ye received the Holy Ghost SINCE ye believed.
    Acts 19:1-6
    1. And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, 2. He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. 3. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. 4. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. 5. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.

  11. I think I would have to partially agree with Valerie. Although I’ve heard it said that the Ephesus gentlemen that she is referring to were only unfamiliar to the spirit because they were not yet truly “saved” – I find my personal experience a factor that supports this her belief as well. I grew up in a baptist church where the Holy Spirit was not really talked about. Even setting tongues aside – no one ever spoke of His power or the gifts He offers. (healing, prophecy, wisdom, discernment, etc) I moved to a different city and started visiting different churches. I attended an event at an Assembly of God church where they spoke on the Holy Spirit. I didn’t agree with what they were saying because it went against everything I had been taught (or not taught) so far. I did however ‘want’ what they were talking about. I loved (still do) Christ with everything I had – so the thought of not having everything He had to offer (if the filling of the Holy Spirit were in fact true) really bothered me. I went home an began reading through Acts. I read everything that’s been discussed on this board. About people speaking in tongues and prophesying…healing people with just a shadow…discerning spirits. I was blown away…but also confused. If I was a Christian who loved the LORD – and I was ‘already’ filled – then why was I not seeing any of these things in my life? I was heavily dwelling on the gospel for many years, as you suggested earlier – btw. So I went back to that church. I told God that this was my fleece. I wanted ALL of Him – so if this were real, let it come to pass. I asked them to pray for me to be filled with the Holy Spirit. There was no ‘special’ method to their madness. They prayed for me, and I began hearing words in my soul (not my mind) that I had never heard before. I felt like my spirit was urging me to speak them. There was only one or two words that I heard – but when I spoke them, it flooded into MANY. Entire sentences worth. As I spoke them, I began to weep and feel everything in me change – in a good way. I’ve been exercising that gift ever since – using it to allow the Spirit to pray for me when I don’t know what to pray. Many other gifts were included as well. I received boldness, discernment, wisdom and the gift of teaching. Things I was never good at before. The same exact thing happened to my wife 1 year later. So – in short – why was I never ‘filled’ with these things until that day – when I actually requested the LORD to do so? I was a God fearing Christian who studied scripture and even relied on God’s Spirit to heal me of cancer. (which He did – 17 yrs remission, praise God!) But I never new this side of Him until I asked Him to fill me with His Holy Spirit. Neither did my wife. Can you explain? I’m at a loss for understanding. Thanks!

  12. I believe the Holy Spirit is purely a gift from God least any man boast and is in no way earned by man. We must live our lives according to the commands of God and his leading of our lives, always choose carefully what we do in our lives as to not greive him. If we greive him we may loose the filling of his spirit not his spirit itself. Even our best deeds are considered as filthy rags to our Holy father and our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you all

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