Living a Spirit-filled life

I recently wrote about what it means to engage in all the steps that God has provided for us to fully enter into His Kingdom.

A key result of fully entering into God’s Kingdom is being filled with His Spirit in a discernible way. It is what was promised by God through the prophet Joel.

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. (Joel 2:28) 

This was the key purpose of Christ’s work on the Earth. To facilitate the ushering in of God’s Kingdom on the Earth. A Kingdom that is in and by His Spirit. A spiritual Kingdom over which He is King.

One of the defining characteristics of this spiritual Kingdom and the work of the Spirit is its supernatural nature. Here in Joel we see that the result of God’s Spirit being poured out is a range of supernatural experiences for young and old, male and female, rich and poor.

It resembles a life that is above and beyond our natural plane. One that is empowered by God Himself. And one that is not determined by social class, race, gender, or age.

All you need to do is read the Gospels as well as the book of Acts to see what this looks like in action.

Sadly however, much of the Christian world today has actually lost this dimension of God’s Kingdom. There are roughly four different camps in this regard:

  1. Cessationists – Those who believe that the supernatural (and especially the gifts of the Spirit), have ceased.
  2. Fearful – Those who believe in the supernatural but do not actively function in spiritual gifts.
  3. Immature – Those who believe in the supernatural and function in spiritual gifts, but do so in unhealthy ways.
  4. Mature – Those who believe in the supernatural and function in spiritual gifts in healthy ways.

Cessationists base their belief on one scripture in 1 Corinthians 13:8 which says that one day, when the perfect comes, the gift of tounges will cease. They have created an entire doctrine around this stating that the perfect, which has come, is the canonised scriptures, i.e. the Bible. Thus, their belief is that because we now have Gods Full Revelation there is no longer any need for the gifts of the Spirit. This could not be further from the truth, and Frank Viola does a great job refuting it in this PDF booklet called Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire.

The Fearful are those that believe in the supernatural and spiritual gifts but do not engage their faith in order to function in them. Such people may have once functioned in spiritual gifts when they were new believers, but because of the bad fruit that came from engaging in them in unhealthy and immature ways, they became cautious and even fearful of the gifts. Others in this camp have never actually functioned in spiritual gifts themselves because they may have grown up in an environment that did not encourage the healthy functioning of spiritual gifts. Either way, those in this camp are generally cautious, fearful, and even suspicious of spiritual gifts, even though they believe in the supernatural nature of God.

They generally quote Matthew 7:22-23 as their reason for focusing on developing a deep relationship with God rather than functioning in spiritual gifts.

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:22-23)

The problem of course with this thinking is that this scripture does not condemn the gifts, it simply reveals that functioning in spiritual gifts does not mean that one has a close relationship with the Lord. The fact that some function in immature ways does not give us license to reject growing up into maturity ourselves. And functioning in spiritual gifts is very much part of what it means to be a mature son in God’s house. All you need to do is look at the way Jesus (a mature son) functioned in the gospels and the way He trained His disciples to function as well.

The Immature are those who believe in the supernatural and function in spiritual gifts but often do so in ways that are unhealthy or which produce bad fruit. These could be the people that Jesus refers to in Matthew 7 who are part of His Kingdom, but who have departed from walking close to Him. Instead they have exalted the gifts of the Spirit and used it to make a name for themselves (like Simon the sorcerer wanted to do in Acts 8). Others in this camp are simply ignorant. They have not had any mature disciples teach them how to function in spiritual gifts in ways that are mature and healthy. The Corinthians fell into this camp and therefore Paul wrote them a letter designed to disciple them into a mature understanding and practice of spiritual gifts.

The Mature are those who believe in the supernatural and function in spiritual gifts, and do so in ways that are healthy and upbuilding. There are numerous examples of such people in the scriptures, including Jesus, Paul, Peter, and Phillip. All these people functioned in spiritual gifts in ways that revealed God’s Kingdom, and brought Heaven to Earth. In ways that ultimately revealed God’s love to people. Thus, the defining characteristic of the mature display of God’s supernatural power is love. It is the main reason that Paul explained to the Corinthians what love looks like immediately after explaining to them the correct functioning of the spiritual gifts. His desire was that they would understand that God’s aim is love flowing from a pure heart (1 Tim 1).

Living in the Spirit

In order to grow into a mature believer that can engage in the supernatural and effectively function in spiritual gifts and bare significant spiritual fruit, it is important to be continually “filled” with the Spirit (Eph 5:18). Provided that one has been filled with the Spirit as I discussed here, life in the Kingdom involves being filled over and over and over again. In fact, it is a life of being daily filled with God’s Spirit.

The Christian life is a life that is not our own. It is God’s life flowing within us. It is His divine life lived out in and through us.

It is not so much a belief system, or a set of doctrines, or a set of religious habits (like reading your bible), or even a so-called “righteous” life where you try to stay free from sin. It is a life that is fundamentally other-worldly. It is an empowered life. A life from above.

As such, the Christian life is not so much what we do, but what God does in and through us. It is not about our attempts to reach Him and please Him, but instead His ability to work in and through us. It is about His Spirit flowing in us.

Therefore, what matters most in our day to day lives is the degree to which we live in and by His Spirit. The degree to which we allow His life to flow in and through us. The degree to which we open to Him and walk in and by His Spirit. This is the Christian life!

God revealed that this is what He would do through Eziekiel:

And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ez 36:27)

After His Spirit was poured out on all flesh in Acts 2, this became the defining characteristic of a born-again life. One that is filled with the Spirit. There are numerous references to this in the New Testament:

  • And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be (continually) filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18)
  • Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. (Acts 6:3)
  • Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And many people were brought to the Lord. (Acts 11:24)

The book of Acts reveals that that which was most notable in prominent disciples was being full of the Spirit, and the  Epistles often encourage believers to be filled with the Spirit. Again, this is the defining characteristic of the Christian life, being full of God’s Spirit.

There is a difference between “walking” in the Spirit and being “full” of the Spirit. In Galatians Paul talks about walking in and by the Spirit. This is the practice of inwardly turning to the Lord and learning to be led by the Spirit rather than by our sinful flesh. It has to do with listening to that still small voice of the Spirit and obeying His instructions and unctions. This is a very important aspect of living in the fullness of the Spirit. There are numerous practices that one can adopt in order to walk in the Spirit more effectively. Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet wrote a good book entitled Jesus Speaks which covers this topic in detail.

Being “filled” with the Spirit on the other hand is more outward. It is what happens when God’s Spirit fills you up to the point that you are flowing over. You flow over outwardly, generally from your mouth. That is why people who get full of the Spirit generally express themselves to God through their mouths. You will see that in the book of Acts, when people were filled with the Spirit it generally resulted in an expression that came out of their mouths, whether speaking in a foreign tongue, or praising God, or prophesying, or something that made them seem “drunk.” It was “abnormal,” almost like they were out of control.

But this is the normal expression of someone that is full of God’s Spirit. It is a physical expression that points to a heavenly reality. A human experience and enjoyment of God’s nature and realm. That is why being filled with the Spirit is generally accompanied with a supernatural experience of one of God’s characteristics. Like supernatural Joy, or Peace, or Boldness, or Faith. It is God Himself filling that person.

It is this experience of being “filled” with God’s Spirit that enabled the early disciples to preach God’s word with boldness amidst persecution, break bread with joy in their hearts amidst having very little, perform miracles with great faith, experience peace and joy while in prison, and so on. The feelings that filled them were supernatural. They were God’s characteristics filling them to a point of overflowing.

So in addition to functioning in Spiritual gifts, being filled with the Spirit enables us to experience God’s nature in a way that transcends our human environment. In situations where we should experience fear, instead we have faith. Where we should be despondent or depressed, instead we have joy. When we should be anxious or stressed, instead we experience peace.

Being filled with God’s Spirit is the only way to truly live! It sets us free from what our situations and environments would determine our lives to be. It breaks us out of what this world would confine us to experience. It releases God’s supernatural life and nature into us to the point that it flows over into our situations. This helps us break through the prisons that Satan would try to trap us in. Whether depression, despondency, anxiety, and so forth. By being filled with God’s Spirit we receive and enjoy His Kingdom and nature, instead of Satan’s. And as a result of it flowing over it has the power to change our situations. It brings Heaven to Earth and replaces the Kingdom of this world with God’s Kingdom.

This is perfectly illustrated in Acts 16 by the way that Paul and Silas praised God amidst being imprisoned. The Spirit of God so overflowed in them that it caused an earthquake to break them out of jail. God’s Kingdom came and displaced the kingdom of Satan. This is the power of being filled with the Spirit.

So what are some ways in which one can be filled with the Spirit?

Some of the ways that I practice and appreciate include:

  • calling on the name of the Lord Jesus (Oh Lord Jesus!),
  • praying in tounges (spiritual prayer language),
  • praising the Lord loudly,
  • singing to the Lord from the depths of my being,
  • prophesying and praising God,
  • rejoicing and making a joyful noise to the Lord (see the Psalms),
  • fasting often,
  • fervently pray-reading the word, and
  • praying boldly.

There are probably others, but these are the one’s that you can see illustrated in the New Testament as well. I have found that when I actively engage with these spiritual practices that the Spirit begins to fill me up. And if I continue to engage in them by faith I get filled up to the point that I overflow. It is at this point that I begin to experience that I have no more inhibitions. That I am able to freely sing and pray and prophesy with boldness. It’s like going from being stuck in mud to being able to fly around without any restraints. It is usually at this point that functioning in spiritual gifts is also much more effortless and accurate.

Paul defines this experience as freedom in the Spirit.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Cor 3:17). 

It is a space where you are no longer chained and bound by your human faculties. Your mind, or your will, or your emotions, are no longer controlling you, instead it is your spirit, empowered by God’s Spirit that is determining your actions. The bible often compares this experience to being drunk. One could say that drunkenness is the demonic counterfeit for being filled with the Spirit. The main difference of course with the two is that when filled with the Spirit one still has full control of one’s faculties, they are just all empowered by God’s Spirit.

As we can see with the descriptions of the men in Acts, they were “full” of the Spirit. This means that they were not just simply filled with the Spirit at times (although I’m sure there were times that they overflowed more than at other times), but they were men who lived “full” of the Spirit. This implies that they actively engaged with God’s Spirit in ways that enabled them to consistently be “full” of Him. As such, they walked in God’s authority and were able to preach His word boldly, perform miraculous healings, discern demonic spirits, prophesy boldly, and function in numerous other spiritual gifts.

We may wonder how they came to live this way. Well, the bible does give some hints.

  • Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes 5:16-18)
  • I thank God that I speak in other tongues more than all of you. (1 Cor 14:18)
  • Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

The Lord has given us practical tools that we can use to be filled with the Spirit. Praying, prophesying, calling, singing, dancing, fasting, tounges, and so on, are all ways that we can focus our beings on God and tap into His Spirit. There is however one ingredient that needs to be mixed with these practices in order for them to help us become filled with the Spirit, and as I’m sure you have realised, its faith.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

If you want to be filled with God’s Spirit you need to draw near to Him in faith. In other words, you need to engage in these spiritual practices by faith, with a clear intention of being filled with the Spirit.

In addition to faith, you need to open yourself up for God to fill you up. These practices help you to empty yourself of your thoughts about yourself and your life and focus your attention on God. They prepare you for His filling. They close off all the other taps and begin to open your spirit to be watered by God’s Spirit. They help you open God’s spiritual tap so that you can experience what Jesus revealed would happen to all those who believed.

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

This spring is one that we can enjoy every day. One that can well up in us and water all our inward parts, and bubble up to the point that it overflows from our mouths and bodies. If we allow ourselves to be continually filled with the Spirit we eventually become “full” of the Spirit and can walk in the power and wisdom of God everyday. We can enjoy the freedom of God and begin to live by all of His characteristics rather than our own. If we do this for long enough, these attributes of God eventually become deposited in us in a permanent way and give rise to more permanent spiritual fruit.

Thus, living in the fullness of the Spirit as a mature disciple of Jesus means:

  • Being baptised in the Spirit for the first time;
  • Walking in and by the inward direction of the Spirit;
  • Continually being filled with the Spirit to the point that it overflows outwardly;
  • Learning to experience and enjoy God’s characteristics in Spirit rather than our own;
  • Learning to function in spiritual gifts;
  • Ultimately letting God’s Spirit dwell in us richly to the point that we are “full” of the Spirit.

This is what it truly means to live the Christian life. It is a life that is full of the Spirit of God!

One last thing is to realise that we can get filled up with the Spirit individually and with others. It is a dimension of God that is there to build us up in our personal walk as well as to build up His body. So in addition to getting filled up on one’s own, the most enjoyable times are often experiencing God’s Spirit together with others. After all, this is our birth right. Our inheritance from above. So surely we should enjoy it as often and as we can and with as many others as we can. As such, our times together should be marked with the experience and expression of God’s Spirit. For that is what we are. A spiritual people called to display Heaven on Earth.

How full would you say your life is with the Spirit? What do your times look like when getting filled up with the Spirit? What practices do you enjoy in order to experience being filled up with the Spirit? What testimonies can you share from times when you have been filled up with the Spirit?

The image of this blog post is of a well in the Tuhala village in Northern Estonia. For thousands of years the well has been overflowing every year in Spring when the melting of snow and excessive rains cause the underground water systems to become overwhelmed. It ends up flooding the entire surrounding area. Although it has become to be called the “Witches Well” by the locals because of the belief that it is witches that cause the well to overflow, I think it is a beautiful picture of  what Jesus referred to in John 4. It is a picture of a Spirit-filled life!

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