The Spirit-Filled Life
Many Christians are cynical when they hear of others coming into a deeper experience of Christ. Many, perhaps, have claimed some experience of the Holy Spirit in their lives in previous years, but now find they are left on a receding tide of blessing, more dry, more barren, more empty, more futile than before. Now they dismiss the whole thing, and go happily along content with what they have of the Gospel. Others are hungry, and yet are confused and do not quite know the issues at stake. They know that God is talking to people, but somehow have not quite grasped it for themselves, though they long that God would speak to them and bring them through into victory and blessing.
The object of this message is to draw the attention of Christian people to their birthright, to that which is their right because they are redeemed by the blood of Christ. Far too many genuine, born-again Christians are on the right side of Calvary, but on the wrong side of Pentecost. They have pardon, but no power. They know where they stand in relation to the forgiveness of sins, but not in relation to the indwelling Christ for day by day deliverance. Now God wants His people to live on this side of both Calvary and Pentecost. Of course, the first matter for each one of us to settle is that we know Jesus Christ as our Saviour and our Lord, and that we are born of the Spirit. We have to come to Him in repentance and faith, acknowledging our sinfulness and hopelessness, and that we cannot get right with God except we trust in the One Who shed His blood on the cross to save us from our sins. From that moment we have received forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit now lives within us. That means forgiveness of sins by virtue of the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Anything further that is said would lose its meaning unless you understand that the basis of it all is that you can come to Christ as a sinner and receive Him as your Saviour, and at that moment enter into life, and possess the Spirit of God, the third Person of the Trinity, living within you. That is the glorious message of the Gospel.
I am very conscious that there is an unutterable need in the lives of many Christian people for more of God. We do not drink deeply enough or often enough of the river of life. There is a thirst that only Christ can quench, and when He does you do not become peculiar or bigoted, but you love Him more dearly and lean on Him more completely, and that is what He wants of His children.
The risen Lord Jesus is calling to a dead fundamentalism today that is full of dry bones. He wants to breathe upon us the breath of life that there might stand up an exceeding great army, and the need is desperate. On every hand the lack of something is felt in Christian experience. Instead of victory there is defeat—defeat that is repeated. Instead of soul satisfaction there is hunger. Instead of heart-rest there is frustration. Instead of advancing for God we are losing ground. Is this all that Jesus meant when He spoke those words to your heart and mine, “Come unto ME?” Is that all? Is that normal Christian living? Discontent, frustration, a few moments of joy in the Lord and then months of deadness, living behind a mask of unreality—is that normal? In the name of heaven I say NO! And the Word of God says NO! And the testimony of thousands of Christian people throughout history says NO! Let us shake ourselves from the dust and arise, and possess our possessions which were bought for us with such a price.
Now I am very concerned that we follow carefully the track of the Word of God. This subject has suffered more than any other from unwise handling—the devil sees to that.
There are some who teach that the fullness of the Spirit is something quite apart from the presence of Christ in the life, and that the evidence of the fullness will be seen in ecstatic utterances, in amazing miracles, and in outstanding success in witness. Or again others will teach that the fullness of the Spirit must always come as a sudden experience maybe years after conversion, after prolonged waiting upon God. The mistake, however, is just here when you begin to lay down as essential that which is frequent. There is the risk of trouble when a Christian thinks his own experience is the standard of the truth of the Bible for other people and says, “You have to go through what I’ve been through, and come the way that I have been, or else you cannot possibly be right.” Truth is the same for everybody; the way into it may be different for all of us. We met God in Christ as sinners at the cross, but there are no two people who met Him in exactly the same way. So I come back to ask you most earnestly, have you received the Holy Spirit in a powerful, saving, delivering sense, since you believed in Jesus Christ?
1. The Fullness Of The Spirit
I would now put before you four propositions from the Word of God concerning our subject, and support them from Scripture. The first is that the New Testament teaches that there is an experience of the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer which is not identical with conversion. In other words, you may be born again, you may have received Christ as your Saviour, but be far from being Spirit-filled. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit: “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Romans 8:9). “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Every man who has come to God in Christ in saving faith has the Holy Spirit living within Him. He has been regenerated and born of the Spirit of God. However, to have the Spirit is one thing, but to be filled with the Spirit is another. Egypt always has the River Nile, but Egypt waits every year for the Nile to overflow its banks. Having the Nile is one thing, and having the overflow is quite another. The overflow changes the desert into a garden, the wilderness into a fruitful field, waste into productivity, disaster into abundance. That is what happens when the overflow comes.
There is no reason why there should not be an experience of the fullness of the Spirit at the moment of conversion as in the case, for instance, of Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:44. But this is exceptional. The Lord Jesus breathed upon His disciples and said, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22), and they received the Spirit. In Acts 2:4 they were filled with the Spirit. Saul of Tarsus was converted on the road to Damascus. He fell prostrate before the Lord and said, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” God gave him His instructions, and he went into Damascus, and there the evidence of his conversion was that he prayed. The risen Lord said to Ananias, “Behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11). And this man, a genuine believer, later when Ananias came, was filled with the Holy Ghost. The disciples at Ephesus so lacked any evidence of spiritual reality that when Paul came to them he asked, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since you believed?” (Acts 19:2).
Surely the implications of that question are clear. While every believer has, in a sense, the Holy Spirit in him, yet he may not know Him in a Pentecostal sense, in delivering and satisfying power, and there may be a complete lack of evidence of conversion which would raise the same query as Paul asked concerning that group, “Have you received the Holy Spirit?” You see, at conversion I have Him; at Pentecost He has me—that is the difference.”
2. Not A Once-For-All Experience
The second proposition is that the fullness of the Holy Spirit is not a once-for-all experience, but an increasing habit of life. There are many references in the Acts of the Apostles to those who were filled at Pentecost who were filled again. For example, compare Acts 2:4 with Acts 4:31—there is a time lapse between those two occasions. Often you will read of Paul being filled with the Holy Spirit. Imagine a fountain that is habitually full, but at some moments it seems to flow quicker than ever and it begins to overflow, and it rises to a higher level. Now it is quite clear that these fillings of the Holy Spirit were for special service and testimony, times of special testing and temptation. Nevertheless, the fullness of the Spirit is quite clearly intended to be increasingly the habit of the life of a Christian. Barnabas was a man filled with the Holy Ghost (Acts 11:24); Stephen is spoken of as being “full of faith and of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 6:5).
Here then is a fullness which distinguishes a man’s character. It alters the atmosphere around him, and somehow changes the whole situation of his life. It is a fullness that is characterized by a daily walk with God, which results in an increased capacity for the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ.
3. It Is For Everyone
The third proposition is that the fullness of the Holy Spirit is not for a favored few but for everybody. There is a negative command in Ephesians 5:18 which says, “Be not drunk with wine.” Now, that does not present any difficulty or problem. It is obvious, and I do not imagine anyone is going to quarrel with that statement. But the positive is just as binding and important: “Be filled with the Spirit.” Is it a sin to get drunk? It is equally a sin not to be filled with the Holy Spirit. God does not issue commands for you to criticize, admire or interest yourself in them; He issues them that you might obey them. He says, “Do not get drunk with wine!” “All right, Lord, by Thy grace I will not do that.” “Very well, then, be filled with the Spirit.” Here are both the positive and the negative. The fullness of the Spirit is not for special occasions only, nor is it for a few people, but it is for the whole life of every child of God.
You will notice that in Ephesians 5 after telling us to be filled with the Spirit, Paul goes on to speak about submitting to one another in the fear of God, about the home life of husband and wife, parent and child. No one would deny that we need the power of the Spirit of God for missionary service, for Christian work, for preaching, and so forth. Of course we need His fullness for that, but we need Him just as much for our daily walk and our daily life. You know that you need Him to speak to other people about the Saviour, and to go into the ministry or missionary service, but you need the fullness of the Spirit to be holy anywhere, at any time and in any place. You need Him to be all that God would have you to be in the home. That will not make your home peculiar or queer, but it will become normal, the kind of Christian home God intends you to have.
Are you a busy person, with many thronging duties? Then if you are to be kept from worry and anxiety, from having a clouded face and offensive speech; if you are going to be kept from harsh talk, a critical tongue and censorious judgment; if you are going to be kept from that which is utterly inconsistent with the life of a Christian in the common things; if you are going to be kept from bad manners, lack of courtesy, lack of being a gentleman (or a lady)—then you need the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The fuller your life is, the more full you need to be of God; the busier you are, the more you need to know His control and His fullness. If you fail here, there will be some very serious inconsistencies in the common things of life, and the witness of your daily walk will be so poor that your whole testimony will be ruined.
On the other hand, are you a person with lots of spare time and nothing to do? I find it hard to believe, but there may be some folks like that! If you have time to spare, then you need the fullness of the Holy Spirit, or you will soon become full of self-indulgence, self-pity and wasted opportunity. Whether you are busy or idle; whether you are pressed beyond endurance or you have time on your hands, you need the fullness of the Spirit of God in your life. This is not for a few; it is for all Christians, all the time, everywhere.
4. Not Isolated From Christ
The final proposition is that the fullness of the Holy Spirit is not something that is isolated from the Lord Jesus Christ. You do not move on from an experience of the Saviour to an experience of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit always works in relationship with the Lord Jesus. He is the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9). He, by the sanctification of the Spirit, brings us to obedience by the sprinkling of the blood of the Lord (1 Peter 1:2). He takes the things of Christ and reveals them to us (John 16:14). He strengthens us in the inner man that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:16). The great evidence of the fullness of the Spirit is that Jesus fills us with His presence and with His power: “I in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). The result is that life and lips do not speak of an experience of the Holy Spirit, but they speak of Jesus Christ. A wonderful illustration of that is Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost when he was filled with the Holy Ghost, and the theme was the risen Lord. It was centered around the Lord Jesus.
The fullness of the Holy Spirit in a life means that Christ is glorified in that life, not an experience or some second work of grace, but the uplifting of the Lord Jesus, for the fullness is in Christ Himself. “In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and ye are complete in Him.” (Colossians 2:9). The fullness of the Holy Spirit is not a thing apart from Jesus Christ.
5. How Do You Receive It?
Finally, how do you receive His fullness? I would not tie the Holy Spirit to a formula, for I am reminded of the words of John 3:8, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” Nevertheless, if you have a hungry heart for His fullness, in the first place you must ask God to fill you. “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” (Luke 11:13). Behind that simple would “ask” there is of necessity a deep desire, a heart’s longing, an utter dissatisfaction and shame with yourself that implies that you are willing to turn from anything in your life that would grieve the Spirit, for He can only fill you if you are empty of all self-confidence. It was with empty hands that you received the Lord at Calvary. It is with empty hands that you must receive the fullness of His Spirit. “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). “If any man thirst (and that means desire with longing), let him come (and that means emptiness, because no man is going to come if he is satisfied with himself) unto Me and drink,” and that means faith (John 7:37).
The second condition of fullness is to believe the Lord Jesus said so, for the text in John 7 goes on to say, “This spake He of the Holy Spirit which they that believe on Him should receive.” In other words, there comes a moment in your life when you see the truth and rest upon the Word of God, and claim the promise as being for yourself personally.
Do you need the fullness of the Spirit of God in your life now? If you do, then ask Him now, and believe that God answers, for His word cannot fail. For faith will not cease asking until it has received, until it has rested, claimed and entered in. Remember that at best we are leaky sorts of vessels, and we need to keep on asking and receiving, for constant fullness depends upon constant faith and maintained obedience to the Word of God. The Lord means you to be filled with all joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13). He means you to be filled with the knowledge of His will (Colossians 1:9). He means you to be filled with the fruits of righteousness (Philippians 1:11). He means you to be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19). That can all come right now, with deep emotion or with none at all, but the question is, are you full now? Have you claimed your birthright in Christ?