Just the Simple Truth
In 2008, a news release was sent out in Great Britain entitled, “World’s Oldest Living Animal Discovered After He is Pictured in 1900 Photograph.”1 The article showed a picture taken on the island of Saint Helena, several hundred miles off the coast of Africa. The picture showed a solider and a prisoner from the Boar War, which was fought from 1899-1902. Standing right in front of them, nibbling on some grass, was a turtle nicknamed “Jonathan” who was believed to be 70 years old at the time.
The interesting thing about the photograph is that in 2008, at the time of this news release, scientists had returned to Saint Helena to find that Jonathan was still alive and that he was the oldest living animal on the planet. The article went on to say that the grass-eating reptile lived through the reign of 8 British Monarchs and 50 Prime Ministers.
Turtles, while they are slow and cumbersome and boring to watch, can live for extremely long periods of time. Some of them can live for well over a century.
By way of contrast, there is another animal that few have heard of called the gastrotrich. The gastrotrich is a water tick that lives in lakes and ponds.2 Its body is tiny, only about .004 or .006 of an inch, and through a microscope it looks like a long, hairy tube. The gastrotrich is a scavenger, so it has suction cups all over its body to cling to decaying matter and eat it.
The interesting thing about the gastrotrich is that it only lives for 5-6 days. It only lives for about a week or possibly 10 days under laboratory conditions. A gastrotrich is born, eats decaying matter, reproduces, and then dies all within about a week’s worth of time. Its entire existence will happen between one Sunday and the next.
Now with that in mind, let me ask you a question: Are you living like Jonathan the Turtle or are you living like the quick-dying gastrotrich? Are you preparing for eternity or are you living for today?
To illustrate this another way, just imagine that I am holding an extension cord and that it represents your life.3 The plug-in part represents your life here on earth. The Lord plugs you into existence and you begin to live. You live for a very short amount of time: 50-60-70-80 years and then you die.
Imagine that the cord I hold represents your life in eternity after you die. It starts where I am standing and it goes down the hall in my living room and out the front door of my house and it never stops. It travels through Avon, Indiana into the city of Indianapolis and from there further west to the Pacific Ocean and it keeps going and going and going until it wraps itself around the world forever and ever.
And just imagine that this imaginary extension cord represents your life after death. It represents your eternal soul. It represents your eternal reward in Heaven or your eternal punishment in Hell.
Now with this illustration in mind, let me ask the question another way: What are you filling your life with? How are you spending your short 50-60-70-80 years? You only get a few decades, so where is all of your precious time going? How are you getting ready for eternity?
We are all going to die one day. That is a sure thing. The mortality rate on this planet is 100 percent. You are born, you live, and then you die. That is the way of all the earth. So here is the question that I want to pose to you in this article: How do you prepare for eternity? How do you use this small, short life that you have and make yourself ready for the life that never ends? What should you fill your life with?
The Apostle Paul answers that question in the Book of Ephesians. Ephesians is about how to live or “walk” as a Christian.4 In this book, the word “walk” appears 7 times. It appears in Ephesians 2:2, 10; 4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15. Over and over and over again, Paul tells the church at Ephesus how to “walk” with God.
When you “walk,” you go somewhere. You put one foot in front of the other and you travel to a destination. In this letter, Paul tells these First Century Christians how to do just that. He tells them how to walk with the Lord. He tells them how to travel with Him through life. He tells them how to draw near to Him and have a relationship with Him.
With that in mind, in Ephesians 5:18, Paul says something very peculiar:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.
Here is how to answer the question: What should you fill your life with? Here is how you live like Jonathan the Turtle instead of the infamous gastrotrich. Here is how you are supposed to use your precious time on earth: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”
But just by reading this verse, you can tell that there is a lot that needs to be explained. So let me ask and answer three questions about this passage.
I. WHAT DOES BEING FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT NOT REFER TO?
This is a very misunderstood verse in the Bible. Charismatics and mystics take it to mean all kinds of things5 but what is it not saying? What is Paul not telling us in this passage?
1. Being Filled with the Spirit Does Not Refer to an Option. If you notice, verse 18 has two commands in it. “Do not get drunk with wine” and “Be filled with the Spirit.” Those are not two options. They are not recommendations. Paul is not suggesting something here. Both of the verbs are in the command tense.6 “Do not . . .” “Be filled . . .” These are verbs that tell you what to do. To disobey them is to sin.
Paul is not saying that you can get to this whenever you feel like it. Paul is not saying that this is something for you to pray about and seek God’s will over.7 He is not saying that this is something for your consideration.
This is God’s will for your life. This is a command. It is an order from on high. If you want to walk with God and prepare yourself for eternity, you must not get drunk with wine but instead be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is not for the super-spiritual or for those who want to be extra holy. This is a command for every child of God: “Do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit.”
2. Being Filled with the Spirit Does Not Refer to a Percentage. You may have never thought about this but most of our sports and business practices in America are based on percentages. Basketball players can win a game and only make 40 percent of their shots. Football players can drop 6 out of 8 passes and still score touchdowns. Salesmen can have a successful day and get turned down on 70 percent of their presentations. Farmers can do well and only yield 90 percent of their crops.
However, Paul is not talking about a percentage in Ephesians 5:18. He is not saying that you can walk with God with a 40 percent attempt. He is not saying that you can prepare for eternity with only half your life invested. He is saying that if you want to walk with God then you must be 100 percent filled with the Holy Spirit. If you want to know the Lord and love the Lord and please the Lord, then you must be saturated with the Holy Spirit.
Not dipped in Him. Not touched by Him. Not moved by Him. Not covered in Him with up to 50 percent of your soul. The word is “filled,” or pleirow in the Greek, which means “to make something full or complete.”8 You are to fill your life with the Spirit.
Now this does not mean that there is not a place in your life for other things. It does not mean that you have to pray or fast or read your Bible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and do nothing else with your time. It does mean that you should seek the Spirit of God above everything else. It does mean that He is your top priority at all times.
If my wife asks me if I love her, I would not say, “Yes, you are first in my life but second is Jane and third is Susan and fourth is Dana.” “Katie, you are first but there are all kinds of other women behind you.” Any man would get in trouble if he said that. I love my wife and, because I love her, she has the only place in my life. There are no other women.
It is the same way with the Holy Spirit of God. If you want to prepare for eternity, you must fill your life with Him. If you want to live for the long cord and not the plug, you must saturate yourself with Him. He is everything to you and He tells you where the other things in life should go. He sets your priorities. He tells you where all of your precious time belongs.
3. Being Filled with the Spirit Does Not Refer to an Experience. Specifically, being filled with the Holy Spirit does not refer to an emotional experience. It does not refer to a “high” you get at Summer Camp when the lights are down low and the band is playing a rocking worship song. It does not refer to a warm-fuzzy moment when the preacher tells you a touching story that comes out and grips you. That is not what “being filled with the Spirit” refers to.
You can have an emotional response to the things of God and not be filled with the Spirit. This does not refer to your emotions. In fact, that is actually the opposite of what this verse is referring to.
When Paul says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation . . .” he is referring to the ancient practice of putting alcohol or drugs into your body to help in worship. In the First Century, pagans would often worship their gods by escaping reality. Greek gods like Dionysius and Aphrodite, and Caananite gods like Baal and Ashera were worshipped by engaging in lewd acts of drunkenness or sexual immorality.9 In some cases, the worship involved personal mutilation10 or the sacrifice of children.11
The idea was that, by doing these things, you could lift your soul closer to God. You could get to a higher level spiritually. It might interest you to know that many Rock-n-Roll bands in the 1960’s did the same thing with their music. As a matter of fact, the lead singer of The Doors was a self-proclaimed follower of Dionysius, the Greek god of drunkenness.12 He thought that getting drunk or high would help him find a “door” leading to another dimension. Consequently, Morrison died when he was in his late 20’s, possibly of a drug overdose.13
Paul tells the Ephesians not to worship God like that. He tells them not to fill themselves up with alcohol or drugs or sex. He says, “Do not prepare for eternity with some emotional high where you feel great but you shut off your mind.” That is not how you are to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
If you think about it for a moment, it feels good to get “high.” Otherwise people would not do it. After all, it is not called getting “low.” It feels great. It lifts you up, but then you come down and feel awful and have to go and find another high. The same principle applies to getting drunk.
That is how the pagans worshipped their gods in the First Century. They worshipped with whatever felt good. They worshipped with whatever gave them a good experience, but Paul warns the Ephesian Christians not to do that.
He is not saying that it is wrong to use your emotions in worship. He is not saying that it is wrong to have an emotional experience when you encounter God. After all, you cannot love God without using your emotions.14 Paul is saying that it is wrong to think you are filled with the Holy Spirit simply because you feel great. That is not what being filled with the Spirit is talking about. It is not talking about an emotional experience.
II. WHAT DOES BEING FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT REFER TO?
If being filled with the Spirit does not refer to an option or a percentage or an experience, what does it refer to? What does this verse mean? How do we obey this command?
1. Being Filled with the Spirit Refers to a Lifestyle. It does not come across well in English but the Greek in verse 18 could be translated, “And do not get drunk with wine, but be filled continually with the Spirit.”15 The tense of this Greek verb gives the idea of an ongoing/continuous action.16 It is the kind of action that never stops.
The English language does not have this but the Greek language had a verb tense which said that something happened and it kept happening. In other words, Paul is saying not to be filled with the Spirit one time only. He is saying do not be filled with the Spirit at a Lady’s Retreat and then it is over. Do not be filled with the Spirit at a wonderful worship service or at a prayer meeting and then stop.
He is commanding us to do this all the time. To make it an ongoing habit. To build our lifestyle around it. This is another reason why being filled with the Spirit does not refer to an emotional experience.
I grew up in a denomination that sent teenagers to church camp every summer, and we inevitably acted in the same manner each year. We would go away with our sleeping bags, hear some high energy sermons, read our Bibles, sing tearful songs, feel close to God, promise to give our lives to Him, and then come back and live the same way we did before we got there. We would go off to “get religious” but forget about it when we got home.
That is not what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. You cannot obey Ephesians 5:18 for just a week. Being filled with the Spirit refers to a lifestyle, not an experience. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it: “If what happened to you last night does not last for twenty-four hours, I am not interested in it.”17 This is a continuous event.
2. Being Filled with the Spirit Refers to Obedience. You cannot be full of God if you are sinning against Him. You cannot be filled with the Spirit if your life is not holy.18 If you are lying or coveting or stealing, the Holy Spirit will not fill you. If you are lusting or gossiping or living a worldly life, the Holy Spirit will not fill you. If you are making an idol of something, the Holy Spirit will not fill you.19
You cannot prepare for eternity by doing those things. You cannot honor God by living like that. This verse refers to obedience.
To help draw this out a little bit, being filled with the Spirit is not connected to salvation.20 Being sealed with the Spirit is connected to salvation.21 Being baptized in the Spirit is connected to salvation.22 Being indwelt with the Spirit is connected to salvation.23 But being filled with the Spirit is not. That is why it is a command.
To add to this, believers are never commanded to be baptized by the Spirit. They are never commanded to be sealed or indwelt by His presence. That is never seen in Scripture because that all happens the moment someone is saved, but it is never commanded. That is all on the Godward side of things. We have no part to play in any of that and, therefore, it is never required of us. But we are, on the other hand, commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
As mentioned earlier, this is not an option for a Christian. This is a command. And it is a command because it is connected to our sanctification, not our salvation.24 It is connected to a Christian’s walk with God.
Paul says that you cannot grow in holiness as a believer and prepare for eternity if you are not being obedient to the commands of Scripture. Obedience does not save25 but it does prove that someone has been saved.26 It is what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
3. Being Filled with the Spirit Refers to a Joyful, Thankful, Humble Heart. Ephesians 5:18-21 goes on to say:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
Paul mentions several results of being filled with the Spirit in this passage.27 In verse 19, he mentions speaking to one another in joyful ways, with songs and hymns and spiritual songs. Christians should have an amazing joy and appreciation for what Jesus has done for them, and they sing about it. They cannot help but sing about it. They are so full of joy that they have to sing about it.
Christianity has always been a musical religion28 because believers are overjoyed at how the Lord has changed them through the blood of His Son. They express emotion. Not as a one-time experience but as an ongoing, every day reality in their lives. They have joy.
In verse 20, believers also give thanks for all things. As we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are humbled at how God has been good to evil sinners like us. We are thankful. We appreciate the grace and the mercy of God. We are grateful at having been given so much more than we deserve.
Paul goes on to say in verse 21 that, as a result of this, Christians subject themselves to one another. We do not put ourselves forward as something important when we are full of the Holy Spirit. We make ourselves low in the eyes of others when this happens to us.
If you are full of yourself, then I guarantee you, you are not full of the Holy Spirit. There is not enough room for both. You must be full of one or the other. If you think that you are “the man,” then you are not “God’s man.” God’s people are low in their own eyes. They are humble.29 Being filled with the Spirit makes Christians subject themselves to one another, which Paul goes on to write about in the rest of Ephesians. Wives should be subject to their husbands (5:22-24). Children should be subject to their parents (6:1-3). Slaves should be subject to their masters (6:5-8).
III. HOW CAN I BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT?
To draw this to a close, there is only one more question left to answer: How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit? How can I receive this wonderful gift that Paul is describing here?
Maybe you do not have a joyful, thankful, humble heart. Maybe it has been a long time since you sang, and I mean really sang, to the Lord form the bottom of your heart. Maybe your lifestyle has never changed. You still give in to the same wicked sins that you have always given into. Maybe you live from emotional high to emotional high. You have no idea what the Apostle Paul meant when he said to one of his disciples:
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.30
As a Christian, you are not ready in season and out of season. You are only ready one day a week and sometimes not even then. How can you change that? How can you be filled with the Holy Spirit? How can you use this short life that you have and prepare for eternity? The answer is very simple: know and apply your Bible. Fill yourself with the Word of God and you will be filled with His Spirit.
I recently read that the greatest dust storm in American history will be when we take our Bibles off of the shelves and dust them off.31 It is sad how little we know of the Scriptures.
A few years ago, Christianity Today published some staggering statistics about Americans and their lack of Bible knowledge. According to one Gallup poll, just a little more than half of the adults in this country can name all four of the Gospels. 60 percent cannot give 5 of the 10 Commandments. 82 percent think that “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible verse. 12 percent agreed that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, and 50 percent of high school seniors said they thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple.32
To sum it all up, George Gallup and Jim Castelli, who conducted the poll, said that:
Americans revere the Bible but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because we don’t read it, we have become a nation of Biblical illiterates.33
Maybe you can relate to that. If that is the case, I want to say lovingly but boldly: Shame on you. Shame on you. There are whole countries where it is illegal to own a Bible and there are multitudes of Christians who would love to read it in their own language. And you can. And you don’t.
I say “Shame on you” because that is where the Holy Spirit speaks to you. That is where His Word is written to you. That is the book that tells you how you are supposed to live and, if you fill your life with that, you fill your life with Him. You fill your life with the Holy Spirit of God.
He has given you this book to prepare you for eternity. So read it. Seek to understand it. Do everything you can to live your life according to it.
Read the Old Testament and see how God dealt with the Jewish people and how desperately they needed a Savior. Read the Gospels and learn about the Lord Jesus Christ Who was crucified to pay for your sins and resurrected to give you eternal life. Read the letters of the New Testament and see how Christians are to live and to walk with God.
As you do that and believe the message of the Bible, you will be filled with the Holy Spirit. You will be prepared for eternity. You will take the plug and prepare for the extension cord. You will take these 50-60-70-80 short years of life on earth and make ready for the innumerable millions-billions-trillions-zillions of years in eternity. You will begin to live like Jonathan the Turtle instead of the quick-dying gastrotrich.
God’s Word has been given to us in the Bible to teach us what it means to be filled with the Spirit. Make sure to use it accordingly.
1. “World’s Oldest Living Animal Discovered After He is Pictured in 1900 Photograph.” Taken from www.telegraph.co.uk as of 8/27/13.
2. The following information about the gastrotick is taken from www.britannica.com as of 8/30/13.
3. This illustration is borrowed from Francis Chan and is best if it is seen. To see Chan use it, go to www.youtube.com and type in “Francis Chan eternity.”
4. A. Skevington Wood, Ephesians in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 11 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981) 17. “Ephesians, unlike Colossians, was not devised to combat error and expose the inconsistencies of false teaching. Paul’s aim was more detached and therefore more exalted. He rose above the smoke of battle and captured a vision of God’s sovereign plan that transcends the bitterness of controversy and the necessity for the church militant here on earth to fight incessantly for its very existence . . . Yet Paul’s objective was not purely inspirational. He sought to relate his vision to the practical demands of Christian living in a hostile society.”
5. Gerald Hawthorne quoted in Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Voice of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996) 47-48. Consider these words from Gerald Hawthorne, New Testament Professor at Wheaton College: “And as it was true of Jesus, so it is true of his followers: ‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you’ (John 20:21). As Jesus was filled and equipped by the Spirit, so those who belong to Jesus are filled and equipped by the Spirit (Acts 2:4), or at least potentially so (Eph. 5:18) . . . Through the Spirit . . . people . . . were enabled to preach boldly, convincingly, and authoritatively . . . to heal the sick and raise the dead, to arbitrate differences and bring about peace, to know where to go and where not go, what to do and what not to do, and so on. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that what was true of the earliest Christians is any less true of Christians in this century.” No one would disagree that the Spirit enables believers today to preach boldly and to bring about peace but to say that He still works in believers to raise the dead and to tell us where to go and where not to go as He did in the Book of Acts is unwarranted. For more a similar discussion concerning the gift of tongues, see the JTST Theological Question: “Do People Still Speak in Tongues?”
6. Francis Foulkes, Ephesians in The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1989) 157-159.
7. Dave Swavely, Decisions, Decisions (Philipsburg, N. J.: P & R Publishing, 2003) 44-47. There are two “wills” of God mentioned in the Bible. One is the secret will of God and the other is the revealed will of God. The secret will of God refers to what God has planned to occur but has not told to us. The revealed will of God refers to what God has planned to occur but has told to us. The revealed will also refers to God’s commands found in the Bible. Therefore, when the Bible commands us to do something, we do not need to wonder what God’s will is concerning that command. The Lord has told us.
8. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. by Gerhard Kittel, Volume VI, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eermans Publishing Company, 2006) 292-295.
9. John MacArthur, Ephesians in The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1986) 232-234. “In light of the Ephesian situation, however, it must be recognized that Paul’s primary concern in the present passage is religious, not moral. To the Ephesians, as to most pagans and former pagans of that day, drunkenness was closely associated with the idolatrous rites and practices that were an integral part of temple worship . . . He was not only speaking of the moral and social evils of drunkenness, but of the spiritually perverted use of drunkenness as a means of worship.”
10. For an example of this, read the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:20-35.
11. At times, the kings of Israel adopted this practice. 2 Kings 16:3 says that Ahaz “walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and even made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had driven out from before the sons of Israel.”
12. Morrison went so far as to entitle one of his solo albums “Dionysius.”
13. “Jim Morrison’s Death May be Reinvestigated.” Taken from www.rollingstone.com as of 8/30/13.
14. The Greatest Commandment is to “shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). You cannot obey the greatest commandment without using emotion.
15. Peter T. Obrien, The Letter to the Ephesians in The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 391. “The practical implication is that Christians are to keep their lives open to be filled constantly and repeatedly by the divine Spirit” (Foulkes, 150).
16. H. E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1955) 178. This is the present tense in Greek; it shows that the action of the verb is unceasing.
17. Preaching & Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971) 276.
18. After all, the Spirit is called the “Holy Spirit.” This is what Paul refers to in Ephesians 4:30 when he says: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” To sin is to grieve the Spirit of God.
19. This does not mean that you never sin. First John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” This does mean that the pattern of your life is that of someone who turns from sin. First John 3:6 goes on to say, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.”
20. One reason we know this is because being filled with the Spirit is commanded of a believer whereas other aspects of the Spirit’s ministry: sealing, baptizing, indwelling are not. Another reason is because this command is an ongoing command (see discussion in Section II, 1 above). That would make little sense if Paul was telling the Ephesians to continually be saved. Salvation is a once-for-all event and, therefore, Ephesians 5:18 cannot refer to that.
21. Eph 1:13; 4:30.
22. 1 Cor 12:13.
23. Rom 8:9, 11; 2 Tim 1:14.
24. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000). This could best be seen in the difference between sanctification and justification. Sanctification is “A progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and more like Christ in our actual lives” (1253). Justification is “An instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight” (1246).
25. Believers are saved by grace alone. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
26. John 15:7-8 says, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”
27. Colossians 3:16 mentions all of these as being a result of letting “the word of Christ richly dwell within you.” In other words, the results of obeying Christ’s Word and being filled with the Spirit are the same. To obey Jesus’ Word is to be filled with the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit is to obey Jesus’ Word.
28. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume 1 (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002) 463. Hymns and Christians singing in worship go all the way back to the First Century.
29. There are many verses in the Bible on the subject of humility. Here is a short list of them: Eph 4:1-2; Phil 2:3; Col 3:12; Js 1:21; 1 Pet 5:5.
30. 2 Tim 4:2. Another way to say this is with the words of Jesus in Luke 9:23, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
31. Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, Col.: NavPress, 1991). “Some wag remarked that the worst dust storm in history would happen if all church members who were neglecting their Bibles dusted them off simultaneously” (28).
32. “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem” by Al Mohler. Taken from www.christianity.com as of 8/28/13.
Used by Permission.