Spirit Filled: an individual responsibility
by Rick Shrader
The local church is made up of individual believers. Each believer comes into the church by testimony of his faith in Christ exhibited by believer’s baptism. The local church is the earthly expression of the body of Christ and must keep itself pure, by all human means, of unbelief within its members. Only in this way can the church fully represent and display the holy character of Christ to the world. So we find in Scripture a common pattern: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). First conversion to Christ, then water baptism, and only then membership in the local body of believers.
The church, then, is a unique organization which operates as a free congregation under the Headship of Christ and His Word. The members are equally children of God and all possess the Holy Spirit. The church acts as a democracy in that final decisions are voted on by the whole congregation, even the calling of a pastor and the election of the deacons. We often say that we are all “believer-priests” under the one high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, since the Scripture plainly says that we are “a holy priesthood” and a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). This is why Baptists have held to a congregational form of church government. The two church offices of pastor and deacons are given due respect but even each of them has only one vote in congregational matters.
Since we believe this arrangement is truly biblical, it presents a great responsibility as well as a great danger. The danger is that the church would become filled with members who are truly saved and baptized but not filled with the Spirit. Though we believe that all true believers possess the Holy Spirit from conversion, the filling of the Spirit for daily walk becomes a continual command for the believer in this life (Eph. 5:18). It is entirely possible for a church to have more members who are not Spirit filled than who are! In this case, the possibility of such a church making biblical and wise decisions is thrown to the wind. The decisions are made from human wisdom and understanding, but not from the leadership of the Spirit.
The great responsibility, therefore, is for the whole church to strive to be filled with the Spirit and for the leadership of the church to guard this great occupation at all costs. Ephesians 5:18-21 and Colossians 3:16 tell us that when we are filled with the Spirit, we will be (as a result) teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace, making melody in our hearts to the Lord. In Hebrews 13:15-16 we find that we may offer spiritual sacrifices to God which are the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.
When Spirit filling is missing, the church will rely on human emotion for its comfort, various methodologies for its fruit, and symbolism for its substance. This has often been the case in every age of the church because there is no guarantee that people will seek to be filled. In times like ours, imitations abound because they are easier and are more comfortable to carnal Christians and to the world. When people want success rather than spirituality, growth in numbers rather than in knowledge, friendships rather than fellowship, human effort alone will accomplish those much easier and will not bring with it that uncomfortable conviction of the Holy Spirit. But filling is not an automatic phenomenon that comes by turning on a switch. It comes by yielding ourselves to the Spirit as we live out the New Testament Biblical faith. Rather than seeking hidden formulas, we will find the way to the filling of the Spirit clear and open to every believer. It sounds like an old list but that is because it has been true for two thousand years.
Paul’s command for us to be filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5 is paralleled by the command to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly in Colossians 3. The Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs come as a result of this filling, not as means to that end. All of Scripture is the command of Christ to us and we should not expect to remain in fellowship with Him if we are disobeying His Word. It is by the Word that the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin (Heb. 4:12) and then cleanses us from our ways (Psa. 119:9). Disobedience to the Word causes the Spirit to be quenched (1 Thes. 5:19) and grieved (Eph. 4:30). How could we expect that the same Spirit would be filling us if He is offended? Sanctification is the process by which the Holy Spirit makes us holy. A believer who dislikes that process dislikes the Holy Spirit Himself. Paul wrote, “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit” (1 Thes. 4:7-8).
Paul admonished the Corinthians that their carnality was keeping them from the meat of the Word (1 Cor. 3:1-3). We cannot feed on the Word when sin is dominating our lives and we are remaining babes not adults. The writer of Hebrews desired to write of deeper things concerning the priesthood of Christ, but the readers could not handle the meat of the Word because their senses were not exercised in the deep things of God (Heb. 5:12-14). We cannot expect to be filled with the Spirit and only open our Bibles for Sunday school and church or for a coffee shop Bible study. We need extended time in the Word. With all of our technological advances, our modern day has robbed us of time in the Word. Though we have the Word available in more forms than ever before and though we can access it from more avenues than ever before, we still do not take the time. That same technological age keeps our schedules full and robs us of every hour of the day. George Gallup said, “Americans revere the Bible — but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.”1 Jeff Brown wrote, “The average unbeliever in America 200 years ago knew more of the Bible than the average member of an evangelical church does today. Daniel Wallace contends, ‘We are a generation away from biblical illiteracy on a scale that mirrors the middle ages.’”2 We must again find the time to read the Bible if we are to be filled with the Spirit.
Jonathan Edwards said, “Prayer is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is of life; and to say a man lives a life of faith, and yet lives a prayerless life, is every whit as inconsistent and incredible, as to say that a man lives without breathing.”3 J. Oswald Sanders said of prayer, “It is indeed the Christian’s vital breath and native air.”4 Prayer is the life blood of the Christian life. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jas. 5:16). An unrighteous man doesn’t pray and that is largely why he is unrighteous. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit waits beside us when we pray to interpret our prayers before the Father (Rom. 8:27). We don’t even know what would be best to ask, so the Spirit helps “our infirmities” because He has the same mind as the Father. A Spirit filled believer is a believer who prays.
A Spirit filled man is not necessarily the one who prays long prayers in public, though he might. Many times the one who prays long in private prays short in public. But the only factor that really counts is whether a person prays with the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ has opened the door into God’s presence so that we may come boldly before the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16). The Holy Spirit, then, helps our prayers as they come up before the Father as sweet smelling incense (Rev. 8:3), whose eyes are over the righteous and whose ears are open to our prayers (1 Pet. 3:12). We must find time to pray if we are to be filled with the Spirit.
R. Kent Hughes recently wrote, “It is my considered belief that those who do not have the local church at the very center of their lives are likely not to make it as Christians through the opening decades of the third millennium.”5 There is an antipathy toward the local church in our day. People want to malign it, change it, profane it, abuse it, and refuse it; anything, it seems, except use it. But the local church is God’s program for this age of grace which exists between the first and second comings of Christ. The church belongs to Christ and He is its Head. We are commanded not to forsake our assembling together with other believers in our local church, and even more so as we see the day of Christ approaching (Heb. 10:25).
Since the Holy Spirit indwells every believer (1 Cor. 12:13), and the local church is the place where believers gather together, it is obvious that a believer needs to be in that meeting for the benefit of the Spirit’s work in his life. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). When the Lord spoke to the pastors of each of the seven churches of Revelation, those letters were always ended with, “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear, what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev. 2:7). The Holy Spirit builds us up spiritually through the life of the body. A Spirit filled believer, then, is not one who neglects the church.
A believer may be in one of a number of different family situations. The New Testament has many admonitions to various family members. Husbands are to love their wives; wives are to obey their husbands; parents are to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; children are to obey their parents (Eph 5:25-6:4). A believer who does not provide for dependent ones in his family is worse than an infidel (1 Tim. 5:8). When a husband is not the husband he ought to be to his wife, his prayers are hindered before God (1 Pet. 3:7).
Above all, members of a Christian marriage or family are brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a shame when some treat strangers with more brotherly love than their own family. Many marital problems are solved when a husband and wife remember that they are first brother and sister in Christ. A home ought to be the place, above all others, where believers show true Christian character. Churches cannot expect to see the blessing of God when their members are carnal six days of the week at home and pretend to be Spirit filled at church on Sunday. Our family relationships are vital to the filling of the Spirit.
Can a believer effectively share the gospel while not being filled with the Spirit? Will a truly Spirit filled believer not make attempts to share his or her faith? One of the important pieces of the Christian armor is the feet which are shod with the preparation of the gospel (Eph. 6:15). When Peter stood to speak during the days of Pentecost, it says, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them” (Acts 4:8). Similarly, when Paul preached on Cyprus, it says, “Then Saul, (who also is called Paul), filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him” (Acts 13:9). Paul quoted David when he said, “We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak” (2 Cor. 4:13).
It stands to reason that if the Holy Spirit has filled the believer, he will have a God-given desire to share the gospel, the good news, with souls which are lost. Since the Holy Spirit’s job in this age is to convict the world of sin and judgment (John 16:8-11), a believer who is filled with that same Spirit will be speaking the gospel. Also, the believer who desires to be filled ought to endeavor to be involved in evangelism.
And So . . . .
As individuals, as families, and as churches, we are commanded by God to be filled with the Spirit. If we are to salt our world and shine light upon its darkness, it must be through Spirit filled believers through whom God can powerfully work, even with the power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead and now lives and works in us.