“When the day of Pentecost came they were all together in one place…All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:4) The effect upon Peter was startling. This disciple, who had denied His Lord with oaths and curses, stood up with the eleven and preached the first great evangelistic sermon of the Christian faith. About three thousand inquirers were added to the church that day. The only explanation was that the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus (“you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” Acts 1:8) had transformed Peter and used his personality and gifts to reach the multitudes with such convicting power that they were cut to the heart and repented and were baptized and asked to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit for themselves.
This incident, and every other one recorded, shows that the Filling of the Holy Spirit is for service. In each instance, the infilling was followed by strong action. The Filling of the Holy Spirit was not, is not, will not be given merely for private spiritual experience, but always for service.
Not only was the Apostle Peter filled on the day of Pentecost: they were all filled. John and James and Andrew and Phillip and Thomas and Bartholomew and Matthew and James and Simon and Judas and Matthias, all apostles; also James and Joses and Judas and Simon, the brothers of Jesus; and Mary the mother of Jesus, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Mary of Magdala, and Mary of Bethany, and Martha, and Joanna, and Susanna, and Salome, and other women who had been with the Lord in His ministry; a score of these who were filled were named for us, but a hundred others remain unnamed. The filling of the unnamed disciples is an encouragement to every humble Christian who might be tempted to think that the power from on high is for only ones whom God intends to exalt to leadership.
The Apostle Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit again, some days later. The filling of the Holy Spirit has a direct relationship with immediate service. There appear to be times of relaxation and rest in between times of being filled with power. The fullness of the Holy Spirit is under the sovereignty of the Spirit rather than the impulse of the believer.
The book of the Acts of the Apostles chronicles the acts of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people like Stephen, Philip, Saul of Tarsus, and others as they are filled with the Spirit. The filling of the Holy Spirit is given for preaching, for witnessing, for defense, for evangelism, for missionary work, for discernment, and for martyrdom.
What is the experience of the Filling of the Holy Spirit like? The Holy Spirit has been described in terms of fire, wind, water, and other natural elements, so it is possible to have an experience of the Spirit as consuming as a forest fire, as bending as a hurricane, or as gentle as a well of water bubbling up from the depths like a river.
What is the evidence of the Filling of the Holy Spirit? There is the extraordinary power of the proclamation of the Gospel resulting in the conversion of many people. But there is also the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When a Christian is filled with the Holy Spirit, his heart is full of love, full of joy, full of peace, full of patience, full of kindness, full of goodness, full of faithfulness, full of gentleness, and full of self-control. When these qualities are absent then you know that the person is not filled with the Holy Spirit.
There is also the evidence of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation. These are supernatural gifts, not just natural talents. No one person possesses all of them. The Holy Spirit apportions the gifts to each individually as He determines the need.
What actually is the Filling of the Holy Spirit? The Apostle Paul tells us: “Do not get drunk with wine…instead be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18) When a person gets drunk they lose control of themselves: a quiet man can become rowdy, a mean man can become generous, a decent man can become indecent, a cautious man can become reckless: and people excuse him by saying that he is not himself, he is intoxicated. The filling of the Holy Spirit is God-intoxication; not fanaticism, but the possession of the person’s faculties by the Holy Spirit of God, so that he is led to behave as God would want him. The fruit of the Spirit is the very opposite of extravagance or fanaticism.
How does one seek to be filled with the Spirit? Jesus told his disciples: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, but how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” (Luke 11:13) “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9) An asking, seeking, knocking Christian will soon find out for himself what stands in the way of his being filled with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we are led to seek forgiveness, and to surrender our lives anew to God.
I ask for the Spirit to fill me every morning. I know how empty I can be. I know how full of myself I can become. I know how difficult it is to produce the fruit of the Spirit. “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19) It is only the Spirit of God who lives in us, who can enable us to do that which is good. I am powerless of myself to help myself. I cannot do it on my own. The more I try in my own strength, the more I fail. That is why the filling of the Spirit is so crucial.
God cannot fill us with his Spirit if we are full of ourselves. We need to be aware of our own need enough, aware of our own deficiencies enough, and want to become a better person enough, that we will ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
“Lord I am a child that has no knowledge, so teach me;
And blind and see not the way, so lead me:
And weak, most weak to choose rightly, so supply your power:
And love myself too well, so show me, give me love, true love, fill me with your Spirit.”