When we think about whether the Spirit of God working in this church, here’s the question we need to begin with: where as a church are we looking to for alternate satisfaction?
We’re talking about control.
Is the Spirit of God filling this church? Well, what is it that is really in control of what we do and what we think and the way we live our lives out? Is it the same thing as the world? A desire for pleasure, earthly pleasure? Is our appetite for earthly pleasure what controls us? Is that the center of our lives? Are we controlled by a lust for more? We need to ask that, we said, because there’s a lot of religious activity that is trying to use God the same way a drunk uses alcohol. A drunk looks to alcohol and stuffs his face with alcohol because of his passion for pleasure now and that’s the way many people are in terms of their relationship with God. The reason they’re excited about church, the reason they come to church, why they do what they do at church is all about pleasure now. How can I use God to get what I want now?
What happens when we’re controlled by earthly pleasures and not the Spirit, it produces chaos in our lives and in our relationships. Paul says it’s debauchery. It leads to wildness. It’s kind of like, I think, if you can imagine you enter a room, there’s a lot of people, this is the foolish lifestyle, this is the way many people are living in their life, it’s the opposite of being controlled by the Spirit. But there are many people, it’s sort of like if you enter a room and you can imagine in this room there are all kinds of instruments: there is a drum, there is a guitar, there is a piano, there is a keyboard, there is a trumpet. And these people enter the room and with the foolish person, the foolish people, it’s like they go into the room and they’re taking these instruments which could make beautiful music but they’re going wild just playing these instruments as loudly as they can with no clue how the instruments are supposed to work and that’s what’s happening in our world. God has filled this world with all sorts of instruments that give him glory and are intended to bring us pleasure but the world doesn’t know how to use them in a way that honors God and so what we hear is chaos, chaos.
Loud crazy chaos.
One of the ways we can tell something is happening in our church is that we are starting to stop misusing the instruments God’s placed in this world and that loud crazy chaotic noise is turned down a bit in our lives and in our relationships. Meaning, more specifically, that the church that is filled with the Spirit has turned and is turning from being controlled by desire for earthly pleasures like alcohol. They’re not foolishly trying to find ultimate satisfaction in things that are not satisfying and instead they’re being driven by a thirst for something that does satisfy, something that does last, something that is more significant than earthly pleasure and that is the gospel, God and the person and work of Jesus Christ.
So, if we want to know if we are filled with the Spirit, the first place to look is at what is controlling you? What is it that controls you? The days are evil, where do you turn to for satisfaction? Are you stuffing your face with more and more earthly pleasure now, is that what controls you? Well, that’s the opposite of a life that is controlled by the Holy Spirit, filled with the Holy Spirit.
Really a better way to translate that would actually be “keep being continually filled with the Spirit.” Paul is not talking so much about a one time event. In fact, one way you could translate this would be “be being filled with the Spirit.” Don’t ever get drunk with wine but continually be filled with the Spirit. Sometimes people think when they hear “filled with the Spirit” they almost think of just a one time zap, a one time event, a moment of ecstasy. Paul here when he talks about being filled with the Spirit, it’s important, he’s not just talking about a one time event, he’s actually talking about a lifestyle. As one of my former pastors has put it, he says, “When Paul commands us to be filled with the Spirit, we’re not talking about some kind of momentous experience; we’re not talking about some kind of euphoria; we’re not talking about something that zaps you out of nowhere; we’re not talking about ‘being anointed.” Rather, we’re talking about a constant way of life, a constant reality, be being kept continuously filled with the Spirit.”I think that’s important to understand otherwise you might think of being filled with the Spirit as something like a moment of just complete thoughtless ecstasy that you experience somehow at church when really when Paul talks about being filled with the Spirit, he’s talking about something that’s deeper than that, something that’s more profound than that. He’s talking about a lifestyle that we pursue as a church. You see, the idea behind being filled with the Spirit is not like what happens at a petrol station and maybe some of you think of it this way but it’s not. You know, when your car runs out of fuel? Sometimes people sort of think of it like this: we have some of the Spirit and we need to go to the spiritual petrol station on Sunday and get some more fuel so more of the Spirit can fill us back up so we can run throughout the week. That’s not what Paul is talking about. That’s not what he means. It can’t be that because when you’re saved, you are given the Spirit of God. Paul told us that back in Ephesians 1. Remember, he said this is one of the blessings of being saved. You are sealed with the Spirit. In fact, when you’re saved, one of the images the Bible uses to describe what happens to you is you are baptized with the Spirit. You may have heard of the baptism of the Spirit. That word “baptism” means “immersed.” It doesn’t even mean “sprinkled” there’ it definitely means “immersed.” You are baptized by the Spirit.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that’s something that happens to all of us. We have all drunk of the same Spirit; we have all been baptized into one body by the Spirit. We are all indwelt by the Spirit of God and it’s not like that goes up and down, you have a little bit of the Spirit today, a little bit less tomorrow. That guy has ¾ of the Spirit, you only have ½ of the Spirit. No, no. No, we’re all indwelt by the Spirit and that’s a gift God’s given to you on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ. Grace. If you are a believer, you have the Spirit. When Paul talks about being filled with the Spirit, he’s talking about coming under the influence of the Spirit’s power, yielding to the Spirit’s control. In other words, when Paul talks he uses this word “being filled.” You don’t want to think of being filled the way you might think of filling a glass of water. That’s not the greatest image for being filled with the Spirit because and this is a quote, “the word here ‘filling’ speaks not of filling up but filling through.” So the contrast would be the difference between filling up a glass with water and filling the sail of a sailboat with wind. That’s a very different kind of reality. One just sits there, the other doesn’t just sit there. Water in a glass is just static, it stays in its place. Sails though that are filled on a boat, they push, the wind pushes the boat along. We’re not talking about being filled up with the Holy Spirit as if that were some kind of momentary experience but rather we’re talking about living an entire life that is literally carried along, moved along by the Holy Spirit like wind fills a sail to move the ship along. This filling when Paul talks about being filled by the Spirit, this command, it’s talking about an influence that dominates your life. It’s talking about control. It’s kind of like what happens when a drunk is filled with wine. When you’re drunk with wine, you are controlled by that wine. That’s a picture of what it means for us to be filled by the Spirit; it means we’re dominated or controlled by the influence of the Spirit. As a church, we’re not controlled by some sort of earthly pleasure like alcohol, but instead we’re controlled by the Spirit of God
Now, I think maybe one of the problems when we talk about a continual lifestyle that is filled by the Spirit, one of the problems that comes up very often, being under the continual control of the Holy Spirit, when people think about that and I don’t know about you, maybe you think about it this way, but sometimes people are so focused on one kind of supernatural event, one kind of supernatural experience, they can only picture being filled by the Spirit as speaking in tongues or walking around and pointing your finger at a chair and somehow being able to lift that up out of there. They can only think of these sort of shocking miraculous events and that’s the only image that can come into their minds when they think about what would it mean to be under the continual control of the Spirit. And what happens when you think of being filled with the Spirit that way is that you miss out on a whole other kind of supernatural experience. It’s not less supernatural than that and it’s just as profound as that, much more profound and one that I think a supernatural experience that is more important than being able to lift a chair with your finger just looking at it. Certainly.
And it’s one that Paul is actually talking about here. There were some unique times throughout the history of salvation where God just picked up a man and caused him to do miraculous things that he couldn’t do on his own. There definitely were times throughout the history of salvation when God did that but that’s not what Paul is talking about when he says we as a church need to be filled with the Spirit. You don’t need to go around feeling like, “Aw, maybe I’m not filled with the Spirit because I didn’t have this momentous experience.” Because that’s not what Paul is getting at with this image of being filled by the Spirit. Instead, you know what is a characteristic of a person who is being filled with the Spirit? Do you want to know what it means? What Paul is describing? It’s a church that is focused on Jesus Christ, that has a delight in the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s supernatural, when there’s an individual and you’ve met these guys, some of you are these guys, I know you. You meet individuals and you talk to them and it’s like they’re bursting with love for Christ and you talk to this other guy and Jesus could not be more boring to him. But then you talk to this guy who’s just like this other guy, they’re both people, but this guy is bursting with a love for the gospel. This is what tastes good to him, tastes sweet to him.
That is a supernatural work of God and that is what Paul is meaning when he talks about being filled with the Spirit. I can say that with confidence to you because of what Paul has said. If you look back at Ephesians 3:14 and following, I think we find just a great description of what it means to be filled by the Spirit in Ephesians 3:14 and following. Paul’s command in Ephesians 5, I think, is based on his prayer request in Ephesians 3. Now, listen to this prayer request, look at it, look at what Paul wants for us as a church. Paul says,
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
What is Paul getting at there? Look at it. He says he wants us to be supernaturally strengthened with power through the Spirit in our inner beings. Now, what is that? Being supernaturally strengthened with power by the work of the Spirit? Do you know what that is? That’s being filled with the Spirit. That’s being filled with the Spirit when you’re supernaturally strengthened by the Holy Spirit of God. Look at this, look down at the text again, Ephesians 3 there. What happens if you’re supernaturally strengthened with the power through the Spirit? This is so cool. What does Paul say will happen to us as a church? He says, “I want you to be supernaturally strengthened with power through the Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Now, what does that mean? He’s writing to believers so he’s not talking about salvation there, instead he’s talking about Christ impacting more and more of your thoughts, desires and actions. When you are supernaturally strengthened by the Holy Spirit in your inner being, when you’re filled with the Spirit, you begin living a Christ-centered lifestyle. Your life revolves around glorifying Christ and making Christ look great.
That’s what it means to experience the supernatural power of the Spirit and you know what? I wonder if you’ve experienced that? I wonder if you’ve experienced that? Have you ever been amazed by the great love of Christ? Has there ever been a time when Christ is everything to you? Not just, “I go to church and I’m nice to people,” but you are filled with the Spirit of God and you’ve been strengthened so that you love Christ, your life centers on him and you want every area of your life: your work, your politics, your music, you want it all to be about the glory of Christ. When you see a people who are supernaturally strengthened by the Spirit, who are filled with the Spirit, what you see are a people who are focused on Christ and not themselves. They’re bursting at the seams with love for others because they’re overwhelmed by God’s love for them. When you see a people who are filled with the Spirit, you see a people who are dazzled by the person and work of Jesus Christ and they’re growing in their likeness to him.
Sometimes I almost feel like as a pastor, I want to get on my knees and plead with people not to turn to empty earthly pleasures, not to look to earthly pleasures as the thing that will satisfy you because it will not. It will make you into a wild person. Instead, turn from trying to find your ultimate satisfaction in earthly pleasures to finding your satisfaction in the person of Christ because he actually can fill you up. When you turn to wine and you get drunk with wine what does it do? It empties you out. When you cram your face full of Christ, you can’t get enough. I cram my face full of earthly pleasures and what happens to me? I feel sick, it’s starts to ruin me. Earthly pleasures weren’t meant to be, you weren’t meant to overdoes on earthly pleasures but if you turn to Christ, you can overdose on Christ. You can fill your face with Christ and you’ll find that he only becomes more satisfying. You can try to stuff your face full of the gospel and you’ll only find there’s more there, there’s more room for delight there and joy and satisfaction.We are filled with the Spirit as we drink deeply of Christ. That’s the point and I keep pounding this home because what a lot of people are looking for in life is a quick fix. Do you know what they turn to? They turn to something like alcohol because they think, “I need a quick fix. My life is bad right now.” They want an experience that will get their minds off their troubles. They’re thirsty and so they keep reaching for a glass that is empty because it’s closer and easier and when we look around us in our churches, sometimes what we see are people doing the same thing with religion. They want a quick fix and so that’s even how they think of being filled with the Spirit, as if they could just keep on going living these wicked lifestyles throughout the week and then come to church and zap, boom, filled. Where they get the spiritual tingles and they feel so much better immediately and they didn’t have to do anything but sit there. When what Paul means when he talks about being filled with the Spirit is something much better than that. He’s talking about being strengthened to come back time and time again to Jesus Christ and centering your life on him and focusing your thoughts on him and finding your joy in what he’s done for you.
Maybe the best description really of what it means to be filled with the Spirit is found over in Colossians 3 and if you’ll just turn a couple of books over, Colossians 3. This is a passage where Paul is writing pretty much the same thing, he just uses a different phrase but he’s making the same point to this church. I think as we look at this passage, it fills out for us what it means to be filled with the Spirit. Paul says, Colossians 3:15, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
That is Spirit-filled living right there. That’s what it looks like to be filled with the Spirit. It’s when the peace of Christ rules over you and transforms your relationships with one another. You’re not just controlled by, “Hey, I want what I want.” You are controlled by the peace of Christ, the peace that Christ has obtained for you through his work on the cross, it’s the thing that’s the umpire in your heart and you’re thinking not just in this relationship, “Hey, that guy messed me up,” you’re think, “How can I honor Christ and what he’s done for me?” It’s when the word of Christ dwells in you richly, you’re focused on his word and it’s where everything we do as a church, whether it’s an action that we do or a word that we say, we’re doing it in the name of Christ and for the glory of Christ, giving thanks to him. Are we filled with the Spirit? Have we turned from trying to fill ourselves up with emptiness? Is it living a lifestyle where we are continually looking to Christ in the gospel? Where Christ is at the center? The Spirit fills us up to focus on Christ.