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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez

What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?

I will limit my comments to the use of the phrase “filled with the Holy Spirit,” which is only used in the Gospel of Luke and in Acts. The Greek verb is pimplēmi (“fill up, make full”), but we also find the adjective plērēs (“full”) associated with the Spirit. The verb is used in a literal way (Luke 5:7; 1:23), but we will concentrate on the metaphorical usage of the verb.

1. Filled With Emotions: Humans are emotional creatures, and their emotions can overtake them. After listening to Jesus, people in Nazareth were furious (“filled with wrath” [thumos, Luke 4:28]), and tried to kill Him. Jesus healed a man during the Sabbath, and Jewish leaders were furious (“filled with rage” [anoia, Luke 6:11]) and began to plan what to do to Him. They also saw the work of the disciples and were filled with jealousy (“indignation” [zēlos]) accompanied by hostility (Acts 5:17) and arrested them. In Ephesus a riot broke out, and the whole city was in uproar (“filled with confusion” [Acts 19:29]).

At other times people were filled with good emotions. Jesus healed a paralytic and everyone was awed (“all amazed” or reverential fear [phobos, Luke 5:26]). Peter healed a crippled beggar and people were filled with fear (“wonder” [thamboia]) and astonishment (“amazement” [ekstasis, Acts 3:10]).

These examples suggest that when humans are filled with an emotion it controls them and leads them to particular actions. The stimulus comes from outside and changes their inner state and outward behavior. With the exception of the riot in Ephesus, the different emotions were provoked by the proclamation of the message of Jesus and His disciples. The gospel seeks to fill the inner life with that which is good, but if rejected it is filled with hostility and self-destructive emotions. Reactions of awe and amazement keep the door open for being filled with the Spirit.

2. Filled With the Spirit: Zacharias was told that his son, John the Baptist, “will also be filled with the Holy Spirit” from the womb of his mother (Luke 1:15)— expressing ideas of election, guidance, and service. Elizabeth saw Mary and, filled with the Spirit (verse 41), recognized that Mary was bearing the Messiah. Zacharias and Paul prophesied when they were filled with the Spirit (verse 67; Acts 13:9). At Pentecost the disciples were empowered to speak in different tongues (Acts 2:4); and from that moment on, filled with the Spirit, they boldly spoke about Jesus (Acts 4:8, 31; 9:17-22). The church was a spiritual space within which the Spirit was active, filling it with His presence.

3. Significance of the Infilling of the Spirit: First, humans are emotional beings in whom Satan is ready to fill with evil emotions (Acts 5:3; 13:8-10) that rule over them and lead them into  wickedness and to oppose the work of the Lord. Through their actions their characters and dispositions are revealed. Second, the Lord wants to fill our inner beings with the presence and power of the Spirit, who comes as gift to those who know Christ their Savior. Third, the indwelling of the Spirit transforms us, makes us good persons, and strengthens our faith (Acts 11:24). With Him we obtain divine wisdom and spiritual discernment that allow us to recognize God’s activity (Acts 6:3). Fourth, the presence of the Spirit in our lives is visible through transformed lives of service to God and others. Fifth, the Holy Spirit empowers Christ’s followers to witness, to do something for the Lord. Not all are prophets, because the infilling of the Spirit is according to His will for each one. Sixth, being filled with the Spirit does not necessarily entail miracles. This element is present, but it is subservient to the mission of the church. Paul’s being filled with the Spirit was not accompanied by a supernatural manifestation. He was empowered to preach (Acts 9:17-22). Healing and signs added some effectiveness to what was the most important manifestation of being filled with the Spirit: being guided by the Spirit and fulfilling the mission of the church (Acts 4:29-31).