The Work of the Spirit | pt. 2

God the Spirit and the Filling of the Spirit

God the Spirit. Since we are considering the work of the Spirit within the church, it is important that we consider God the Spirit, who He is and what He does. First, without going into any detail, the Holy Spirit is the third person of Trinity. The Spirit is fully God.[1] The Holy Spirit also has personhood; He is not an impersonal force.[2] That is who the Spirit is.

Second,[3] it is important that we briefly consider what it is that the Spirit does. The Old Testament teaches us various things about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit molds creation into shape and gives life to created beings (Gen 1:2; 2:7; Ps 33:6; Job 26:13; 33:4). The Spirit controls the course of nature and history (Ps 104:29-30; Isa 34:16). The Spirit teaches and reveals God’s truth and will to His messengers.[4] The Spirit elicits personal response to God.[5] The Spirit equips individuals for leadership.[6] We also see that the Spirit equips individuals with skill and strength (Exod 31:1-11; 1 Kgs 7:14; Hag 2:5; Zech 4:6).

The Spirit is given as our Helper (John 14:24). He takes what belongs to the Son and shares it with those who believe (John 16:14), beginning with the new birth (John 3:6), teaching and guiding (John 16:14), and transforming (2 Cor 3:5-18) in ways that surpass human capacity (1 Cor 2:10-14). He empowers believers to be Jesus’ witnesses to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8) and to the end of the age (Matt 28:20). By indwelling believers (Rom 8:9; 1 John 2:27), the Spirit washes and renews (Titus 3:5), pours out divine love in our hearts (Rom 5:5), reproduces the divine virtues (Gal 5:22-23; Rom 14:17), enables us to resist sin (Rom 8:13) and pursue holiness (2 Thess 2:13), and build unity among the church (Eph 2:22; 4:3, 13; Phil 2:1-2).[7] The Spirit hears, speaks, witnesses, convinces, shows, leads, guides, teaches, commands, forbids, desires, gives speeches, helps, and intercedes with groans.[8] It is vital that we not leave out the most miraculous work that the Spirit works within people; He makes them new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17; 3:3, 6, 18; Titus 3:5-6; Ezek 36:25-28; Rom 2:28-29).

The Filling of the Spirit. Further, from the point of our new birth, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. We are, amazingly, temples of the Living God (e.g. 1 Cor 3:16; Eph 1:13). However, we can still be filled with the Spirit. We need this filling for instance to be powerful witnesses, to put to death the wicked deeds of the body, and to know and love God as we should. We see our need for the filling of the Spirit in a few different places. We will take our example from Ephesians.

Paul wrote to the saints (who were thus already indwelt by the Spirit) at Ephesus (Eph 1:1) and yet he prayed that they would be “filled with all the fullness of God” (notice Paul’s emphasis, “filled,” “all,” and “fullness”) (3:19). He prayed that they would have strength to comprehend the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge and this happens through the Spirit’s power (v. 16). Second, later in Ephesians, Paul wrote, “Be filled with the Spirit” (5:18). Paul writes it as a command, not an option. Again, we must realize that he writes this to believers, believers that are already temples indwelt with the Spirit of God (1 Cor 3:16; Eph 1:13 cf. Titus 3:5; Jn. 3:3, 5). So there must be a way that we can be more filled (again, notice Paul’s language in Eph 3:19). Third, the tense of the command is in the present, so we could say that we are called to “keep on being filled with the Spirit.” It is not simply a once and done type of thing. We continually need to pursue the filling of the Spirit. Fourth, it is in the passive voice, we are filled and we cannot do the filling on our own. The Spirit does the work of filling us. We cannot fabricate or conjure His presence. That does not mean, however, that we are wholly inactive in our pursuit of being filled with the Spirit. Remember, Paul says, “be filled.” It’s a passive imperative.

Therefore, we see that the New Testament points us to our need for the ongoing presence, power, and continual filling of the Holy Spirit.[9] Further, we see the Spirit fills us through a collaboration of means. He works as we sing songs, and hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph 5:18-19; Col 3:16).[10] He speaks through Scripture as His own inspired word (2 Tim 3:16-17). He works as we pray (Eph 1:17ff; 3:16ff). We come to God as our good Father and ask Him to fill us with the Spirit (Luke 11:5-13). We kill sin (mortification) and live towards God (vivification); we purify ourselves to be worthy vessels (Rom 8:4-6; 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19-20; Gal 5:16-25; 2 Tim 2:21) and He draws near to us (Jas 4:8).

Also important to understand, being filled with the Holy Spirit is at least partly about being prepared for significant ministry. We see this in Scripture; it is clear in the book of Acts. Many early church leaders were “filled with the Holy Spirit” before or as they carried out the Lord’s work (cf. Acts 4:8; 4:31; 7:55; 13:9; 13:52). “The table servers (Acts 6:3), as exemplified by Stephan (Acts 6:5), and Barnabas (Acts 11:24) were characterized as being ‘full of the Holy Spirit,’”[11] as Allison points out.

I agree with Allison, I think “the sense of the filling or fullness of the Spirit is being thoroughly and regularly pervaded by or permeated with the Spirit resulting in fruitfulness, seen in productive ministry and proven godly character.”[12] We should all greatly desire, pray for, and seek this filling of the Spirit. We want to both have a sense of the great sweetness of God and His truth (cf. Ps 34:8; 1 Pet 2:3) and be empowered for significant ministry to God’s glory.

You can see the first post here and the next post here.

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[1] Regarding the deity of the Holy Spirit we could look at many other texts (cf. Isa 61:1; 63:10; Matt 12:28; 1 Cor 3:16; 6:11; Matt 28:19; Luke 11:13; John 14:26; 15:26; Rom 8:26-27; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Pet 1:1-2). Therefore, we see that Scripture teaches us that there are three persons—Father (e.g. Gen. 1:1), Son (e.g. Col 1:17; Heb 2:3), and Holy Spirit (e.g. Heb 9:14)—in the one God (e.g. Deut 6:4). So Ephesians 4:4-6 says, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

[2] It says in Acts 5:3-4 “Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…you have not lied to men but to God.’” The Holy Spirit is not some impersonal force but is rightly understood as the third person of the Trinity. The Spirit has personhood, the Spirit can be lied to; one cannot lie to impersonal objects or forces. We also see the Spirit’s personhood in that He teaches (John 14:26), can be blasphemed (Matt 12:31-32), comforts (Acts 9:31), speaks (Acts 28:25), can be grieved (Eph 4:30), can be resisted (Acts 7:51), and helps us in our weakness (Rom. 8:26). 

[3] For this whole paragraph see J.I. Packer, Celebrating the Saving Work of God,1 vol., 1 vol. The Collected Shorter Writings of J.I. Packer (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998), 1:221.

[4] See Num 24:2; 2 Sam 23:2; 2 Chr 12:18; 15:1; Neh 9:20, 30; Job 32:8; Ps 143:10; Isa 48:16; 61:1-4; 63:10-14; Ezek 2:2; 11:24; 37:1; Mic 3:8; Zech 7:12.

[5] See Ps 51:10-12; Isa 11:2; 44:3; Ezek 11:19; 36:25-27; 37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28-29; Zech 12:10.

[6] See Gen 41:38; Num 11:16-29; 27:18; Deut 34:9; Judg 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:19; 15:14; 1 Sam 10:10; 11:6; 16:13; 2 Kgs 2:9-15; Isa 11:1-5; 42:1-4.

[7] Eric L. Johnson, God & Soul Care: The Therapeutic Resources of The Christian Faith (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017), 57. See also Richard E. Averbeck’s essay “The Holy Spirit in the Hebrew Bible and Its Connections to the New Testament,” 15-36 in Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit? (Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2005).

[8] See John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-15; Acts 2:4; 8:29; 13:2; 16:6-7; 21:11; Rom 8:14, 16, 26-27; Gal 4:6; 5:17-18; Heb 3:7; 10:15; 1 Pet 1:11; Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 19.

[9] See Gregg R. Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit,” in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 16/4 (Winter 2012): 14.

[10] Richard E. Averbeck, “Spirit, Community, and Mission: A Biblical Theology for Spiritual Formation,” 38 in the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care). See also “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit” by Steven R. Guthrie in JETS and “Being the Fullness of God in Christ by the Spirit” by Timothy G. Gombis in Tyndale Bulletin. 

[11] Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit,” 14.

[12] Ibid., 15.

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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