Yes, you can be filled with the Holy Spirit, but what does that mean?

If you are a follower of Jesus, you have experienced the work of the Holy Spirit, who now indwells in your heart through faith.

The Holy Spirit brought you to Jesus, made you alive in Christ, and has begun the transforming work in you to produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

So if you already have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, what does the Apostle Paul mean when he writes “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18)?

Or what does it mean when the Bible describes believers as “being filled” with the Holy Spirit (e.g., Acts 2:4)?

Filled with the Holy Spirit – Different Experiences

Our English translations of the Greek New Testament gloss over some important and helpful distinctions found in the use of two different Greek words that are translated the same.

Many Christian believers are familiar with two Greek words for time: Kronos and Kairos. We translate both as “time” but the Greek source words have two different meanings.

Many Christian believers are familiar with three Greek words for love: Agape, Phileo, and Eros. We translate all three as “love,” but the Greek source words have different nuances and shades of meaning.

We see the same effect of translation with the English word for “filled.”

  • Acts 2:4, speaks of the disciples being filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • Acts 6:3, tells of seven deacons who were full of the Holy Spirit.

Thus what is not clear in our English language is that distinct Greek words are being used, each with a different meaning.

From these two different words, we can distinguish between two different ways in which we experience being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Filled With The Holy Spirit – Within, Ongoing

1. Verb form: Pleroo (πληροω) and Noun form: pleres (πληρες):

In Acts 6:3 the Greek verb pleroo (πληροω) is used, and it describes an ongoing, sustained, long-term state of life.

The noun form pleres (πληρες) also carries this meaning. 

When we read of:

  • a man filled with leprosy (Luke 5:12)
  • a house filled with fragrance (John 12:3)
  • a woman filled with good deeds (Acts 9:36)
  • Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1)
  • The disciples filled with joy and the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52)
  • The seven deacons were full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3).
  • Paul commands us to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18)

When these words relate to the Spirit there is a consistent pattern in which we discover:

The Spirit of God…
in/within/filling
…name of the person…
resulting in
…fruit or character trait, or relationship with God.

This is the sanctifying and inward work of the Spirit within us.

We are temples of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us and is at work growing the fruit of a Christlike character and moving us to obey the Lord’s commands and laws.

This is an ongoing, developing work in progress, and is analogous to a living fruit tree that is bearing fruit.

This pattern of long-term, inward work is a prophetic hope expressed in the Old Testament. Ezekiel foresaw this inner work of being filled with the Holy Spirit

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NIV)

This long-term inward work of the Holy Spirit is an essential part of the new covenant promise:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah… I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NIV)

In Jesus, not only is our sin cleansed, but the Spirit enters the human heart and changes it.

The result is knowing and loving God, seeking to obey Him.

This is all the work of the Spirit.

Being filled with an inward “sanctifying” work of the Spirit is now for all of God’s people!

Filled with the Holy Spirit – Upon you at a given moment for action

2. Pletho πληθω:

In Acts 2:4 the Greek verb pletho (πληθω) is used and refers to a short-term, episodic, for-the-moment scenario.

We read of:

  • a sponge filled with vinegar (Matthew 27:48)
  • boats filled with fish (Luke 5:7)
  • people filled with rage (Luke 4:28-29, KJV)
  • Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41-42)
  • The disciples were filled (Acts 2:4)
  • Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17-20)

These are temporary states, and it is this Greek word in use.

Here again there is a consistent pattern in which we discover:

The Spirit of God…
falling upon/moving/clothing
…name of the person…
resulting in
…some empowered act/speech/sight.

This is the short-term, episodic empowering work of the Spirit upon us.
When this happens, the Holy Spirit equips us to play our part in demonstrating the dynamic reality of the Kingdom of God at that moment.

This pattern is in continuity with the short-term episodic work of the Holy Spirit falling upon the great prophets, priests, and kings found in the Old Testament.

Through Jesus, this empowerment is extended to all disciples as foreseen through the prophets.

Moses yearned for that time when the Holy Spirit would be upon more people:

But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!”

Numbers 11:29 (NIV)

Joel expressed this prophetic hope.

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.”

Joel 2:28-32(NIV)

Joel’s statement is absolutely, radical.

The Holy Spirit poured out upon everyone regardless of social class, age, gender, or occupation.

The same Spirit of God who moved across the face of the waters at creation, who empowered Moses, and spoke through the prophet Isaiah, would fall upon ordinary people.

Before Pentecost, this outward episodic work of the Holy Spirit was limited to a select few.

But on the day of Pentecost through today, the Holy Spirit can fill us episodically for works of service to advance the Kingdom of God

Where Is Being Filled With The Holy Spirit Found In Christ’s Mission?

We believe it is most faithful to Scripture to maintain both these truths we can see used by the different words for filled:

  1. Every Christian already having the Spirit within them, and to encourage them to be increasingly filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) so that a Christlike character may develop and mature.
  1. Every Christian needs the Spirit upon them, to be clothed with power, and to encourage people to receive and co-operate with that empowering presence of the Spirit whenever necessary.

What about Baptized with the Spirit?

John the Baptist said that Jesus would “baptize with the Holy Spirit,” John 1:33 (NIV), and Jesus himself promised that “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” Acts 1:5 (NIV).

To speak about being baptized with the Spirit is clearly a Biblical phrase and one which Christians need not avoid.

But it is also fair to say that the phrase can be used in an unhelpful way.

Some parts of the Church have taught that the only evidence (or the required evidence) of a person being baptized with the Spirit is for them to speak in tongues.

Some traditions will add that such an experience of speaking in tongues comes only for those who have been fully sanctified.

These churches have had a fresh vitality in worship, and phenomenal fruitfulness in evangelism and extending the Kingdom of God. We thank God for them.

But those teachings have proved pastorally unhelpful (there are many who have felt rejected or spiritually abused because their experience did not fit a prescribed pattern). We believe it is Biblically incomplete.

Conversely, other parts of the church have taught that every Christian is baptized with the Spirit from the time of their conversion. Some traditions further teach that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are no longer available to the Church.

These churches have often maintained a strong evangelical witness to the truthfulness of Scripture, the deity of Jesus Christ and the importance of holy living. We thank God for them.

But in practice, those teachings have often left the Church powerless, deprived of the gifting that Jesus promised. This, too, is unhelpful and settles for less than the full riches promised in Scripture.

‘Baptism’ with the Holy Spirit is an initiatory term. It most helpfully describes the first occasion when a person receives that episodic filling with the Holy Spirit upon them for empowered ministry.

But there will be many occasions in the future when a fresh filling with the Holy Spirit is required (as happened in Acts 4:31).

What Is Evidence Of Being Filled With The Spirit?

The only New Testament evidence of a person being filled with the Holy Spirit for empowered ministry is that they participate effectively in the mission of the Church.

After all, Jesus promised the empowering in order that we might be His worldwide witnesses as found in Acts 1:8!

You may be asking the question, “Do I need to speak in tongues as evidence that I have been filled with the Holy Spirit?”

For more than 100 years, the connection between the gift of tongues and the baptism of the Holy Spirit has been the subject of many books, conferences, debates, as well as hurt in the body of Christ.

We have known people who started praying in tongues as soon as they asked for the baptism of the Holy Spirit (the first experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit upon you), including some that received Christ as Lord and Savior just minutes before.

But we have also known people who are obviously filled or baptized with the Holy Spirit who struggle with this experience, seek after it, travel to conferences seeking after a tongues experience, and yet still have not yet experienced tongues.

R. A. Torrey maintained that the evidence of being filled/baptized/clothed in the empowering work of the Holy Spirit was to be a more effective witness as found in Acts 1:8.

Any of the spiritual gifts could be experienced.

In the ministry of PRMI, we maintain that the experience of praying in tongues is one of many possibilities for obedience when praying for a fresh infilling or baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Read More On How To Be Filled With The Holy Spirit! 

With the Baptism with the Holy Spirit ebook, you will discover why Jesus wants you baptized in the Holy Spirit and advance the Kingdom of God.

You will find:

  • How the Holy Spirit is at work in your life already.
  • What it means to be filled / baptized with the Holy Spirit.
  • Seven ways to prepare to receive prayer for empowerment.
  • Links to 4 video stories from men and women whose ministry has changed because they received the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
  • How the gift of tongues relates to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, with a link to our free 7-lesson video course on tongues.

To continue reading the remainder of this ebook, we welcome you to download the remaining contents of the Baptism With The Holy Spirit and discover more about the gifts of the Spirit!

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