Confessions of a recovering Baptist, part 4 – Filled with the Spirit

My thinking about what it means to be “filled with the Spirit” has undergone some changes since going to a church with a “significant Charismatic dimension.”

As I’ve written before, my wife and I both grew up in Baptist churches but do not attend one now. I have seen my beliefs somewhat changed from those I grew up with.

Once again, I don’t want these articles to sound like I’m trashing Baptists or more specifically the churches that my wife and I grew up in, etc., etc.

Being filled with the Spirit

While all Baptists stand firm on the fact that the Holy Spirit is a person and is God, not many sermons in Baptist churches really develop teaching on who He is and what He does. “Holy Spirit stuff” starts quickly sounding a little charismatic, and that’s not very good. In my background, that effect mostly stems from a desire to stay true to doctrine and not chase experience. Which is a good thing.

This topic almost doesn’t belong in an article called “Confessions of a recovering Baptist,” in that Baptists in general don’t have a problem with being filled with the Spirit. It’s just the mode of how it is actually accomplished that serves to separate my current beliefs from my former. That and perhaps the emphasis. It just isn’t too common to hear a Baptist crying out to God, “Fill me with Your Spirit, Lord!” for reasons that I’ll get into.

All Baptists (all Christians?) can’t have a problem with being filled with the Spirit. Scripture commands it: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,” Ephesians 5:18. A lot of Baptist churches might spend more time on the first half of that verse than the second, but I’ve already written a bit about that. It’s in scripture, so we must deal with it.

The difference will lie in what being “filled with the Spirit” means. Some Christians would say, “of course I’m filled with the Spirit. That’s what being a Christian means!” And in one sense, I would agree. There are no “second-class Christians” that don’t have the Holy Spirit residing in them. And in that sense all Christians are filled with the Spirit.

But that can’t be all that Paul means. It would make no sense for Paul to command that we be filled with the Spirit when he’s talking to an audience of Christians in the first place. Unless we are to view the command to be filled with the Spirit as an evangelistic one, where Paul is commanding unsaved people to be filled — nah, I’m not buying it.

This must be interpreted as a command to all believers. And as I understand the Greek in that passage it really has the sense of “keep on being continually filled with the Spirit.” So there is something we are commanded to do.

So what does it entail? What do we actually do in order to be filled with the Spirit? In my church’s case we pray earnestly for God to fill us. It isn’t that He doesn’t desire to do so and that we must beg and plead for it, but rather we want to be earnestly seeking his filling. It is easy to get sidetracked on the Christian walk away from what is important.

My current view of being filled with the Spirit would entail the following:

  • filled with power to serve (especially to evangelize)
  • filled with power to overcome sin
  • filled with a better understanding and experience of God’s presence
  • also, filled with power to the point that physical manifestations become hard to control (such as extreme emotion might lead to physical shaking, etc.)

but always with the caveat that it is always the power of God, not intrinsically my own power that is in view.

I think I always desired God’s presence and power in my life. I prayed many times that God would “work through me” in the past without putting the label of “filled with the Spirit” on it. But I think they are roughly the same idea. The emphasis might be a bit different, however. As a “reformed charismatic” I’m wanting to pursue the filling of the Spirit much more than I would have thought about as a Baptist. It’s a question of purpose and desire, I think.