quickly grew to more than three thousand. Their corporate life was so attractive in joy and generosity and so electrifying in signs and wonders that it drew in many more nonbelievers to Christ (Acts 2:42–47).
Through the Spirit’s presence and power, the church grew by leaps and bounds, even in the face of intense persecution. The effects of this mighty movement of the Spirit are seen throughout the book of Acts, as more and more people are swept into the kingdom of God as it spreads through the Roman Empire. The Spirit created a community of disciples, filling and refilling both the apostles and ordinary believers as circumstances required, empowering them to live boldly and faithfully and to speak God’s word powerfully, expanding the church.
And note: these early believers were disciples of Jesus in the same sense of that word in Luke’s gospel, as evidenced in Luke’s use of the word disciple twenty-eight times in the book of Acts to describe ordinary believers. (Later, when the gospel reached Antioch, the disciples were given the nickname “Christian” [Acts 11:26]—a name that today often no longer means disciple.) Thus the basic New Testament paradigm of the church is a community of Spirit-filled disciples, engaged in advancing the kingdom of God. This is what many congregations need to recover today.
How Do We Experience This Life in the Spirit?
Life in the Holy Spirit begins when the Spirit regenerates us and gives new birth. Prior to that we were dead in sin; afterward we are alive to God and Jesus Christ. Like the blind man whom Jesus healed, we can say, “one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). This conversion may be sudden, as with Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1–17), or gradual, like Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15), who came to faith through the nurture of his mother and grandmother. It may be dramatic, like Cornelius and his friends and relatives (Acts 10:34–48), or quiet and gentle, like Lydia (Acts 16:14). However, one thing will be true in all cases: the man or woman has come alive to God.
From new birth forward and throughout our life on earth, we are meant to live daily in the fullness of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the key to authentic Christian life—to discipleship—and without his empowerment, teaching, and guidance it is impossible to live faithfully. Is such a life available to us today? Yes, just as much as it was to the first believers. Indeed, Scripture enjoins us to seek it. How do we live such a life? An important starting point is to “believe everything the Scriptures teach about the Holy Spirit, and expect all that the Scriptures promise from the Holy Spirit.” Summarizing all of that information in a brief article is impossible, but in what follows we will look at several important insights about living in the Spirit that can help significantly. I trust this will inspire each of us to do a careful Bible study about the Holy Spirit on our own or in a group.
Seek to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit
Early in his letter to the believers in Ephesus, the apostle Paul remembers how, “when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, [you] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13). Then a couple of chapters later, he says that he is asking God, “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16–19). This remarkable prayer for a deeper experience of the Spirit and the love of Christ certainly shows that we cannot rest on one experience of the Spirit at conversion. This prayer should be a top concern for every disciple of Jesus, not only for oneself but for others in the church.
Paul has yet more to say to the Ephesians, “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (5:18). The Greek verb for be filled is present tense, plural, passive voice, and imperative mood. In this text, the present imperative is a command to continuous action. Thus, Paul is commanding (imperative mood) the entire congregation (plural) to “allow yourself (passive voice) to be continuously (present tense) filled with the Holy Spirit.” What does this mean in daily life? It has often been pointed out that when a glass is filled with water there is room for nothing else; the water is in full possession of the glass. It is the same with us and the Spirit; to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to give him full possession of our lives.
In the verses that follow, Paul describes in practical terms how being “filled with the Spirit” is worked out in relationships between husbands and wives, children and parents, slaves and masters. This verse, too, highlights the fact that we cannot rest on one experience of the Spirit at conversion but need to be filled with the Spirit again and again. Why is once not enough? “Because,” as someone said, “we leak badly.” That is, we yield to sin, which interrupts our fellowship with the Spirit until we confess, repent, and seek to be filled afresh.
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