Being “filled” with the spirit is often associated with speaking in tongues or being baptized with the Holy Spirit. However, when we look at all the biblical references surrounding what it means to be filled with the spirit, it extends beyond a spiritual gift and sacrament. Luke uses the phrase “filled with the holy spirit” most often, mentioning it three times in his gospel account and five times in the book of Acts.
The Greek word Luke uses is pimplēmi , which can mean “to supply or furnish”. Being filled with the Holy Spirit means to be “equipped” with the ability to do things we otherwise would not be able to do despite our humanistic knowledge or passion.
Luke 1: 13-15
“But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.”
The first reference is found in Luke chapter one, verses 13-15 where an angel appeared to Zacharias and told him he and his wife would bear a son and his son would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from within his mother’s womb. In verses 39-45 of the same chapter, we see the angel’s prophecy come to fruition when Elizabeth’s child leaps in her womb when Mary, who is pregnant with Jesus, comes to visit her. Being filled with the holy spirit is to be empowered and enlightened to recognize the Messiah.
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah,40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit,42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
In verses 67-79 of chapter one, we see Zacharias being filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesying about the coming of the messiah.
67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying 68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our father and to remember his holy covenant 73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
In Acts 2:4-14, Peter is empowered by the spirit to give prophetic testimony about Jesus to the unbelievers. Before the sermon, Peter was speaking in tongues along with the other disciples. However, being filled with the spirit is not always accompanied by speaking in tongues, as other accounts in Luke have shown.
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.
Again, in Acts 4:7-12, Peter gives prophetic testimony about Jesus to unbelievers.
7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
This fulfilled what Jesus said in Luke 12:11-12. This was the second time Peter was “filled” with the spirit. Being filled with the spirit is not a one-time occurrence. It is a recurring event that equips believers with the boldness and ability to carry out God’s will at any given time.
At the end of Acts 4:29-31, the event happens again where the disciples pray to speak the word of God boldly amid unbelievers.
29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
Another reference is found in Acts 9, beginning at verse 17, where Ananias comes to Paul to give him back his sight and fill him with the Holy Spirit.
17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.
For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
Saul began preaching the gospel boldly before the unbelieving scribes and Pharisees. Saul was a new believer who had previously persecuted other Christians. The Holy Spirit was not only able to change his heart but was able to give him the power to preach the gospel and win souls.
Lastly, in Acts chapter 13, the apostle Paul pronounced God’s judgment on a sorcerer seeking to sabotage the work that Barnabas and Paul were doing.
8 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
In this instance, the unbeliever who witnessed the sorcerer being supernaturally blinded caused him to believe in the Gospel that Paul and Barnabas were preaching.
Aside from Luke, Paul also uses the phrase “filled with the Spirit”, however, his meaning is slightly different. In Ephesians 5, Paul is admonishing believers to be wise and not tolerate sin. In verse 18, Paul tells believers not to be drunk with wine, but to be “filled with the Spirit”.
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.
The word “filled” here in Greek translates to plēroō. One of the meanings of this Greek word is to “fill to the brim”, like filling a glass with liquid. When we apply this understanding of the word filled to the rest of the verse, we can see quite literally that Paul is exhorting believers to be filled with Holy Spirit so they may live holy and righteous lives set apart from the opposite and chaotic ways of the world.
In Galatians chapter 5, verse 23, we see that self-control is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Being filled with the Spirit in the context of Ephesians 5 means walking on the path of sanctification. In this context, we are constantly being filled with the spirit as we fight the good fight. We are not strong enough to live holy, sin-free lives on our own, but the Holy Spirit is with us in the heat of the battle and helps us overcome sinful habits and thoughts we normally struggle with.
Therefore, those of us that have been saved should allow the Holy Spirit to take control over us, instead of giving in to our old fleshly pleasures. Being filled with the spirit also helps us to be aware of those that are trying to deceive us and cause us to stumble as is also seen in Ephesians 5.
As 2 Corinthians 3:17 tells us, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
God wants us to live lives free from the bondage of sin and condemnation. Even though salvation is a gift, we always have a choice to live for God or for ourselves. The Holy Spirit will never force itself on us, but it deeply wants to help us live for Christ. Whether it’s giving testimony about Christ to unbelievers, or possessing the power to live holy lives, there is no denying that being filled with the Holy Spirit is a wonderful gift that can help us fulfill God’s call on our lives and help lead souls to Christ. So, let’s remember to ask God to fill us with His Holy Spirit!
(Written by Derrick Watson)