There are people on both ends of the Holy Spirit debate. Some believe that a born again Christian receives the fullness of the Spirit from the time they receive Christ and that never changes. There are others on the opposite side of the spectrum that believe a Christian must receive a 2nd anointing of the Spirit subsequent to becoming a Christian; only then are they baptized with the Spirit. To the person that is stuck on either side of the debate, I would recommend a third and much more Biblical alternative. Think carefully on the following verses and ask yourself what is the alternative state of the people from whom the 7 were chosen.
“Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.” Acts 6:3, 5
If your answer is a people that were not full of the Holy Spirit you would be correct. Otherwise, everyone would not only be full of the Spirit but all would be of good reputation and of wisdom. They would not have to choose out from among them 7 men who are full of the Spirit because they would all be full. The Apostle could have said choose 7 men to put in charge of this task.
So what does it mean to be filled with with Spirit or to experience the fullness? I will not be able to answer this question adequately because it touches on so many other doctrines but suffice to say there is a difference between the indwelling of the Spirit and the fulness. In evangelical circles there is much confusion on the matter of the filling, mainly because of fear of distorting other doctrines.
The filling of the Spirit is connected to God’s sovereignty because He rules over everyone that is filled. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is also affected by the filling of the Spirit because God only gives His Spirit to those that are saved. Slavery to sin is also affected through this doctrine because the indwelling Spirit sets the Christian free to receive Christ as Lord? There are other teachings as well but let us just consider the ones stated.
Each Christian would say God is sovereign, but could he take that doctrine to where it belongs, which is to say God is always, ultimately, and undeniably sovereign in every conceivable situation and including salvation? The correct answer is yes, He is sovereign in salvation. The following verses are not meant to be explained away but they are meant to be understood exactly for what they say.
“just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself,” Ephesians 1:5, 6
God did not choose the person that would become His child because He knew ahead of time what that person was going to do but because He is merciful. It is God’s choice first and foremost not man’s. Man is not even able to choose Christ until he is born again.
For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace, because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so.” Romans 8:6, 7
The most righteous thing that a man can do is to choose to do good; it all begins right there. It is out of the heart, Jesus said, that all evil deeds proceed, and in the same way the good fruit of the Spirit proceed as well from the same place. Every man is dead spiritually and lives only in the flesh until they are made alive in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit.
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” Titus 3:5
No man is saved by the good deed of choosing Christ as Lord of his life but by the work of regeneration that takes place before he makes his choice. Jesus could not have been more clear on this point than in John 15:16.
“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain”
The fruit remains because it is God’s fruit, which results from the activity of the abiding Holly Spirit who takes up residence in the heart of the believer. Through the work of regeneration the person is set free to choose Christ; until that time he is a slave of sin.
“But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. ” Romans 6:17, 18
In these verses and those quoted previously we should understand that as the fruit remains even does the belief in the believer. Those who were once slaves of sin became slaves of righteousness through their new and abiding relationship with Christ.
So to sum up, God is sovereign, the regenerate believer is saved and kept by the abiding work of the Holy Spirit. However, even though the Spirit abides in the believer and will never leave or forsake him; the believer is commanded to be filled with the Spirit.
“And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit” Ephesians 5:18
The verb “be” in our verse is in the present continuous tense in the Greek, which means it could be rendered be, being filled. Be filled this moment and the next and the next after that. It was not a foregone conclusion in the mind of the Apostle Paul that those believers to whom he was writing would be filled with the Spirit all the time. Furthermore, the verse is stated in the imperative, which means it is a command. The Christian is never commanded to be justified because that is a one time event that happens in the mind of God and takes place in time when a person is regenerated. However, the filling is not a one time event.
In the mind and heart of God the believer is forgiven but yet the Apostle John writes to us who believe, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) We are forgiven once and forever in the mind of God when we are saved (Titus 3:7), but in time we are called upon to confess our sins. When the believer is defiled from sin it becomes necessary for his defiled conscience to be cleansed. Sin separates the Christian from God even though he’s forgiven, so it becomes necessary to confess his sins so that his conscience can be clear and he can be reunited with God in his own heart.
It is not the Christian’s confession that clears his conscience but the blood of Christ, which is why when he walks in the light of his sin and look once again to the cross of Christ for forgiveness he is cleansed and enjoys forgiveness afresh.
“but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7
Just as the Christian is justified once and forever and yet in time needs forgiveness and cleansing for his soul, even so he is indwelt by the Spirit of the living God and yet needs to be continually filled. When the congregation was asked to choose out 7 men filled with the Spirit they were asked to choose men who had made it their practice to be continually filled. No person is automatically filled from moment to moment, but a person who makes it his practice to make short accounts of sin and bring that sin immediately to the cross for forgiveness is the one who knows continual filling.
The true child of God is one that has come to know in experience the deposit of God’s Spirit within his human temple (1 Corinthians 6:19). We are told by Paul in Galatians that those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires, and yet God calls all those who live by the Spirit to also walk by the Spirit. The only true objective evidence of the Spirit filled life is the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit, which God alone can produce through the working of His Spirit within the believer.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Galatians 5:16-25