Paul’s command to be filled with the Holy Spirit should not be confused with the unbiblical Charismatic teaching on the baptism of the Holy Spirit subsequent to salvation. That erroneous teaching divides the people of God into two camps: the haves, and have-nots. All Christians are baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ at salvation according to 1 Corinthians 12:13:
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
Baptism in the Spirit is a one-time, unrepeatable, historic event for Christians. Yet, Paul gives an ongoing imperative to all Christians to be filled with the Spirit. So if it is a command for all believers, then it is something that we must seek continually.
Paul commands believers to be filled with the Spirit:
“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.” (Eph 5:18–21).
For Paul, the result of being filled with the Spirit is not speaking in tongues, falling down, performing signs and wonders, or having a personal Charismatic experience. But rather, it is being filled with joy, thankfulness, obedience, humility, and reverence.
Paul also tells believers to be filled with the word of Christ:
“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.” (Col 3:16–17)
For Paul, being filled with the word of Christ results in teaching, admonition, wisdom, joyful singing, praise, and thankfulness in all that we do and say. In other words, when a believer is filled with the Spirit and the word of Christ, the natural result is a life characterized by wisdom, joy, thankfulness, humility and a reverence for Christ. And without the power of the Spirit working in us we would “bite and devour one another” (Galatians 5:15). In these passages, Paul’s emphasis on being filled with the Spirit and the word of Christ is not for the purpose of having a personal “Charismatic” experience. In other words, it is not self-centered, but other-centered. The Spirit empowers us to live in harmony with other sinners who, like us, are difficult, impatient, self-centered, arrogant, etc.
When Paul gives the following commands to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), and “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16), he does so for the purpose of enabling believers to live a God-glorifying lifestyle within the context of community. In both passages mentioned above, Paul specifically targets the following six areas of personal relationships: wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves, and masters:
1. Wives submit to your husbands (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18)
2. Husbands love your wives (Ephesians 5:25; Colossians 3:19)
3. Children obey your parents (Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20)
4. Fathers do not provoke your children (Ephesians 5:4; Colossians 3:21)
5. Slaves obey your earthly masters (Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22)
6. Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly (Ephesians 5:9; Colossians 4:1)
Are you seeking the “manifestations of the Spirit”? Well, here they are; submission, love, obedience, humility, esteeming others higher than yourself, etc. These are the manifestations of the Spirit that Paul is concerned with and that we should be concerned with too. Being filled with the Spirit and the word of God enables us to live in harmony with others. If we miss the fact that Paul is showing us what a life filled with the Spirit and the Word actually looks like, we might fall into the trap of self-effort. We might think it is our job to muster up enough strength to produce this kind of life. But we can never produce such a life apart from the grace of God. The goal of a Spirit-filled, Word-saturated life is not for the purpose empowering ourselves to fall down on the floor in ecstasy, speak in tongues, boast of great visions, or perform miracles, signs, and wonders, but to love, serve, and live in harmony with one another.
For Paul, being filled with the Spirit is directly related to being filled with the word of Christ. This is different from the Charismatic teaching on being filled with the Spirit, which is completely detached from the word of Christ. The Charismatic approach to being filled with the Spirit is usually sought after in prayer meetings and altar calls. The believer is told to “let go and let God” and receive the second blessing. But many, try as they might, never experience this. No matter how much they pray, fast, beg, and plead, it never happens. And when they ask why, they are often told they lack the faith or have unconfessed sin in their lives. But the real reason they never receive it iis simple. It’s not true! The Bible never teaches us to seek a “second blessing”. Instead, the Bible teaches us to be filled with the Holy Spirit and the with word of Christ. These are inseparable and there is no filling of the Spirit apart from Scripture. Herein lurks the danger of Charismatic theology: It seeks to obtain the power of God apart from the Word of God. It pits the Spirit against the word of God. It creates confusion and chaos in the lives of believers who seek to walk in truth. The fruit of this teaching includes fanaticism, heresies, false teachings, chaos, and all kinds of devastations.
There is a disregard for doctrine in many Charismatic churches today. Oh, they might have an excellent doctrinal statement posted on their website, but what is practiced is something completely different from what is stated. Many who claim to adhere to sound doctrine, disregard the clear teachings of Scripture and embrace all kinds of false teachings. Many in these churches claim that we need a move of the Spirit. And I agree, but before we will ever see a move of the Spirit, we need a move back to the Bible. A move back to sound, orthodox, Bible-based, gospel preaching. The church doesn’t need more dramas, choirs, or special guest singers. The church needs to be filled with the Spirit and the means by which God has provided this to happen is through the Word of Christ, not through entertainment. Much of the preaching in America is therapeutic in nature and seeks to meet the “felt need” of the church. But true biblical preaching proclaims the truth of God’s word with uncompromised boldness. Paul told Timothy to “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). Are you in a Bible preaching church? Does your pastor preach through whole books of the Bible on a consistent basis? Is Christ the focus of the sermon, or are you the focus of the sermon? We must have Christ-centered preaching in order to have Spirit-filled churches!
The words of the prophet Amos ring true in our churches today:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.: (Amos 8:11-12)
I once knew a brother who encouraged me to visit a church in Montclair New Jersey. He told me that the pastor had the gift of prophecy and could give me a word. Why would I need to drive to New Jersey to get a “word” when I have God’s written word, the Bible, in my hand? Why should any of us expect God to give us “a word” from some misguided pastor in Montclair New Jersey when we have repeatedly neglected to hear what God is saying to us in the clear teachings of Scripture? Too many are taught that a “word from God” can be found outside the Bible. In order for the church to experience the filling of the Spirit, we first must be filled with God’s Word.
In his book “Let God and Let God”, Andy Naselli writes
“The subjects of Spirit-filling: all believers. Are all believers filled by the Spirit? Some say No. The assumption for some is that believers are either completely filled or empty. It seems more accurate to say that every believer is influenced by the Spirit (i.e., letting the word of Christ dwell in him) to some degree—some more strongly than others. It is not all or nothing. The issue is not whether a believer has all of the Spirit because a believer received the indivisible person of the Spirit at regeneration. The issue is whether the Spirit has all of the believer. Being Spirit-filled is not like turning on a light by flipping a toggle switch. Rather, it is like a dimmer switch that is always on; sometimes the light is bright, and sometimes it is not so bright. The degree to which believers are filled with God’s words is the degree to which the Spirit is influencing them. Spirit-filling is not a mystical experience limited to an elite group of believers who have experienced a crisis of consecration. Spirit-filling occurs in all believers to some degree as Christ fills them by means of the Spirit with God’s moral attributes (cf. John 3:34). The more a believer lets Christ’s word richly dwell in him, the more Christ influences him by the Spirit.” Naselli, A. D. (2010). Let Go and Let God? A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology (p. 257). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.”
Let’s be done with all the man-centered gimmicks and get back to the Word of God. Then we will see the manifestations of the Spirit in the lives of God’s people.