What Is the Filling of the Holy Spirit?

Paul Enns
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The filling of the Holy Spirit is distinct from the other ministries of the Spirit inasmuch as it is conditional. Whereas ministries such as the indwelling, baptism, regenerating, and sealing are non-experiential and occur but once at the moment of conversion, the filling of the Spirit is experiential and also repeated.


The basis for the filling of the Spirit is Ephesians 5:18, “Be filled with the Spirit.” The command to be filled with the Spirit is given in contrast to the warning “do not get drunk with wine.” Drunkenness exhibits the inability of the person to control himself. The nature of the Christian’s life is to be in contrast to the nature of the uncontrolled drunkard. The meaning of filled (Gk. plerousthe) is “control.” “The indwelling Spirit of God is the One who should continually control and dominate the life of the believer.”[1]

A further contrast can be noted between the spiritual believer and the carnal believer (1 Cor. 2:9–3:4). “The carnal man is the man who lives by the power of the flesh, according to the dictates of the flesh, and the spiritual man is the man who lives by the power of the Spirit.”[2]


The filling of the Spirit is necessary for two reasons. (1) It is essential for the believer’s maturity (1 Cor. 3:1–3). Paul admonished the Corinthian believers as being “fleshly” (Gk. sarkikos), “controlled by the flesh.” The solution to carnality and walking according to the old nature was to be controlled or filled by the Spirit. (2) It is essential for the believer’s service (Acts 4:31; 9:17, 20). Acts 4:31 illustrates the relationship between filling and service; it was the filling of the Spirit that enabled the believers to “speak the word of God with boldness.” When Paul was filled with the Spirit he immediately began to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God (Acts 9:17, 20).

Ephesians 5:18 teaches three factors concerning the concept of being filled with the Spirit. (1) It is a command. Nowhere is the believer commanded to be indwelt or sealed with the Spirit; however, the believer is commanded to be filled with the Spirit. It is a command to “be continually being filled with the Spirit” for maturity and service. (2) It is conditional. Although there are no conditions related to the indwelling, baptism, sealing, and many other ministries of the Spirit, the filling of the Spirit is conditional. Obedience to other commands of Scripture is necessary in order to be filled with the Spirit. (3) It is repeated. Ephesians 5:18 is a present imperative, commanding to be “continually being filled.” This indicates it is not a one-time experience but rather a repeated event.


Even though Ephesians 5:18 is a command to be filled with the Spirit and there are inferences about conditions necessary for being filled, it is surprising that there is no command in Scripture to pray for the filling of the Spirit. Since the command relates to a right relationship to the Holy Spirit, the conditions governing that relationship must have to do with the filling of the Spirit. There are several commands that relate to a believer’s being filled with the Spirit.[3]

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). The context of Ephesians 4:30 relates to exhortations concerning sin. Believers are warned not to lie (4:25), not to prolong anger (4:26), and not to be bitter or unforgiving (4:31–32). When a believer does these things he grieves the Holy Spirit. Sin grieves the Holy Spirit, and sin will prevent the believer from being filled with the Spirit.

Do not quench the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19). The context of this passage relates to ministry. The believer is exhorted to pray without ceasing (5:17), be thankful (5:18), and not despise prophetic utterances (5:20). When believers pour cold water on the fire of ministry they quench the Spirit. The Spirit’s ministry is not to be hindered; Christians also should not hinder others in their ministry for God.

Walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). Walk means to conduct one’s life. Rather than living in the sphere or under the domination of the old nature, believers are exhorted to conduct their lives in the sphere of the Holy Spirit.

Other conditions that are sometimes added to the above are: confession of sin (1 John 1:9) and dedication of the believer to God (Rom. 6:13; 12:1–2). However, it can be argued that these elements are subordinate factors within the three conditions discussed above.


Although there no doubt are numerous consequences of being filled with the Spirit, probably most of them would be bound up in the statement of Galatians 5:22–24. The result of being filled with the Spirit will be to produce the fruit of the Spirit. In contrast to the deeds of the flesh produced by a walk according to the flesh (Gal. 5:19–21), the filling of the Spirit produces “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (vv. 22–23). Additionally, believers will be receptive to the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9–13; John 16:12–15); will exhibit joy, unity, and thankfulness in the assembly (Eph. 5:19–20); will be unified and discerning in ministry (1 Thess. 5:17–22); and will show dedication to God and nonconformity to the world (Rom. 12:1–2).

[1] Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, ed. Cleon Rogers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), 538.

[2] J. Dwight Pentecost, The Divine Comforter (Chicago: Moody, 1963), 154.

[3] See discussion by Lewis Sperry Chafer in his classic work He That Is Spiritual (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1918), 82–172, in which he discusses these aspects in considerable detail.

For Further Reading:

The Moody Handbook of Theology

by Paul Enns

The study of God, His nature, and His Word are all essential to the Christian faith. Now those interested in Christian theology have a newly...

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