Arthur F. Temmesfeld, Th.M.

bapPerhaps the area of greatest doctrinal controversy in Christendom today (circa 1970s), apart from the issue of the Verbal Plenary Inspiration of Scripture, is the teaching concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. This controversy has manifested itself in open conflict and even permanent division in a great number of churches, as charismatic and non-charismatic have come into confrontation over the use of the gifts of the Spirit. The conflict is not likely to decrease in the next few years, particularly if we continue to witness the degree of growth of the charismatic movement that we are now seeing worldwide.

There are a number of reasons why the charismatics are experiencing such extraordinary growth: Partly it is due to the apparent warmth with which they accept new members of every social category; partly it is due to the emotionalism they generate in their meetings. Yet, there is another, more subtle, reason for their continued growth that is even a greater inducement than these. It is something which tends to appeal to everyone, especially in Western culture, to a degree: It is their offer of immediate gratification of one’s desires, both material and spiritual.

In the material realm this promise of gratification is seen in their offer of immediate healing of diseases and pledges of material prosperity. In the spiritual (actually, emotional) realm it is seen in their claims of supposed miracles and in the offer of instant spiritual power by means of the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.”

It is not our purpose here to argue against the errors and misleading emphasis of the charismatic movement in the area of Spirit Baptism; there are many fine works which do an excellent job of this.[1]  Many charismatics when confronted with the proper biblical interpretation of such key passages as 1 Corinthians 12:13, Romans 6:3,4, Galatians 3:27, and Ephesians 4:5, have actually admitted their error; however, it has not led them to discard their emphasis on instant spirituality. They have only transferred that emphasis to the doctrine of the filling of the Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately, because they miss where the New Testament writers (especially Paul) place their emphasis for mature Christian living, some conservative evangelicals are unwittingly guilty of providing the charismatics with fuel for their false teaching. Those in particular who make the filling of the Holy Spirit their primary focus in the spiritual life have no effective rejoinder to the charismatics. They have unintentionally left themselves wide open to this devastating error, for now, instead of teaching, “Be baptized by the Holy Spirit and receive the sign of power by speaking in tongues,” many charismatics are saying, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues!”


The current emphasis on the filling of the Holy Spirit as a source of Christian maturity is probably most clearly illustrated by the extensive influence of Dr. William R. Bright’s booklet, “Have You Made the Wonderful Discovery of the Spirit-filled Life?” [2] Through highly effective promotion and teaching by Campus Crusade for Christ, this approach to the spiritual life has perhaps been more widely taught throughout the world than any other. According to Dr. Bright, “Millions of copies of this booklet … have been distributed in most major languages around the world.” [3]

The basic teaching of this booklet did not originate with Dr. Bright. It actually began with Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder and late President of Dallas Theological Seminary, as he outlined it in his book, He That is Spiritual, first published in 1918. Miles J. Stanford has concisely summarized Dr. Chafer’s teaching in this area:

Dr. Chafer centered his Christian life teaching upon what he termed “spirituality.” He defined this condition as being “rightly adjusted to the Holy Spirit.” He taught that this adjustment would result in the filling of the Spirit with immediate manifestation of all the fruit of the Spirit, as well as power for service in the exercise of a “gift of the Spirit.” No waiting, no processing, no development necessary!

For this filling of the Spirit and the resultant instant spirituality, Dr. Chafer laid down three conditions: (1) repentance and confession of all known sin (1 John 1:9); (2) yielding and dedication of all to God (Romans 6:13); (3) reliance upon, and walking in, the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). [4]

As to whether Dr. Chafer actually taught “instant spirituality” or not, he himself stated on page 47 of his book,

The Christian may realize at once (his emphasis) the heavenly virtues of Christ, not by trying, but by a right adjustment to the indwelling Spirit.

It is worthy to note that some of Dr. Chafer’s successors at Dallas Theological Seminary have subsequently sought to correct this emphasis. For example, Dr. Charles C. Ryrie has written:

The word maturity seems to hold the key to the concept of spirituality, for Christian maturity is the growth which the Holy Spirit produces over a period of time (emphasis mine) in the believer. To be sure, the same amount of time is not required for each individual, but some time is necessary for all. [5]


Dr. Bright for the most part has taken over Dr. Chafer’s teaching on “spirituality” and condensed it by outlining three conditions for the filling of the Spirit. In the most recent version of his booklet he writes:

You can appropriate the filling of the Holy Spirit right now if you:

  1. Sincerely desire to be controlled and empowered by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 5:6; John 7:37-39).
  2. Confess your sins.  By faith thank God that He has forgiven all of your sins–past, present, and future–because Christ died for you (Col. 2:13-15; 1 John 1; 2:1-3; Heb. 10:1-17).
  3. By faith claim the fullness of the Holy Spirit, according to:
  4. HIS COMMAND–Be filled with the Spirit.  “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).
  5. HIS PROMISE–He will always answer when we pray according to His will … (1 John 5:14,15). [6]

A key area of emphasis in Dr. Bright’s tract is on the command given in Ephesians 5:18. Although we certainly find much to agree with in the material and in his desire that every Christian learn to experience a Spirit-led life, there is, nevertheless, a problem in his emphasis and usage of this particular verse.

First, it is important to note that this is the only passage in the Bible which refers to the filling of the Spirit as a command for the believer. This, in itself, ought to give us a reason to question whether it should receive the priority of emphasis it does in any doctrine of the spiritual life. This is especially important in view of the fact that there are commands related to our identification with Christ and subsequent growth in spiritual maturity which are repeated numerous times in the New Testament.

Secondly, the context of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians gives us a basis for seriously questioning whether Dr. Bright and others are justified in using this verse as they do. If their interpretation of Ephesians 5: 18 is shown to be in error, then those who depend upon the command given there for their walk in the Spirit will also be shown to be building their concept of spirituality on a wrong foundation. Later in this article we will show that the context of the letter demands a different interpretation than that held by many teachers of spiritual life doctrine in recent years.

Let us state here also, that it is not the purpose of this paper to attack Dr. Bright or the work of Campus Crusade for Christ. The reason his particular tract was selected is because, among the many who currently teach this view, he has had the most influence due to his effective promotion and teaching methods. Dr. Bright is only one example among many reputable Christian teachers who emphasize the filling of the Spirit as the key in their doctrine of the spiritual life.


The filling of the Holy Spirit is mentioned fifteen times specifically in the New Testament, and all the references to it are found in the writings of Luke and Paul. In the Gospel of Luke it occurs four times (Lu. 1:15; 1:41; 1:67 and 4: 1); in the book of Acts it is mentioned ten times ( 2:4; 4:8; 4:31; 6: 3; 6:5; 7: 55; 9:17; 11:24; 13:9 and Acts 13:52); it is referred to in Ephesians once (5: 18), the only occurrence in the epistles.

The problem we face in the interpretation of these verses is that, though the English translations intimate the writers are describing the same phenomenon, the expressions in the original Greek of Luke and Acts differ from each other and from that used by Paul in Ephesians. There are actually three different expressions used in these writings, all translated in English either as “filled with the Spirit” or “full of the Spirit.


The first of these expressions uses the Greek verb pimplemi followed by the genitive case and is rendered pimplemi pneumatos hagiou (“to fill of, or by, the Holy Spirit”). This expression is used in Luke 1:15; 1:41; 1:67; Acts 2:4; 4:8; 4:31; 9:17 and 13:9.  Where it is used it seems to describe the Spirit’s “coming upon” an individual for special empowerment, usually for witness or to make an inspired utterance.  This is commonly related to Acts 1:8 and to the Old Testament concept as seen in 1 Samuel 10:6, 10.


The second of these three expressions uses the Greek verb pleroo or its derived adjective pleres, also with the genitive case, and is rendered pleroo pneumatos hagiou (“to be filled with, or full of, the Holy Spirit”).  This expression occurs in Luke 4:1; Acts 6:3; 6:5; 7:55; 11:24 and 13:52.  Wherever it is used it seems to refer to a characteristic quality of life, and seems to be roughly equivalent to the term “spiritual” as we use it today.


The third expression in the Greek also makes use of the verb plero-; however, instead of being followed by the genitive case, it is followed by the preposition en plus the dative case and is rendered pleroo en pneumati (“to be filled with the Spirit”).   This expression occurs only in Ephesians 5:18; however, it is typically equated with experiences described in passages such as Luke 1, or Acts 2, 4 and 13, where individuals who are said to be filled with the Spirit are seen to prophesy, perform miracles, or speak by direct revelation from God. [8]

If these passages all refer to the same phenomenon, one is inclined to raise the question: Are we still expected to prophesy and perform miracles as did those individuals when they were “filled with the Spirit”?  The charismatics, in fact, take the position that these passages justify such a teaching; however, most sound Bible teachers hold the opposite view.  A proper interpretation of Ephesians 5:18 in its context will clear up any confusion among Bible expositors as to which view is the correct one.


Beyond the fact that there are three different expressions in the New Testament translated “filled with the Spirit” or “full of the Spirit”, there is an additional interpretive problem with Ephesians 5:18, in that there are at least three possible translations of the Greek expression plerousthe en pneumati, translated as “Be filled with the Spirit.”  The translation one prefers depends upon the meaning one gives to the preposition en. Depending on the context, en can be translated “with” or “by means of” denoting means or instrumentality; it can be translated “in” denoting sphere, or it can be translated “by” denoting agency. [9] The question is, which of these various translations favors the context?


In the first translation, en is translated “by means of” or simply “with.” The Holy Spirit is thus made to be the means or instrument of the believer’s filling. Those who interpret the verse this way usually relate it to the fillings described in Acts 2:4; 4:8 and 4:31, where the apostles or disciples were said to have “spoken with boldness.”[10] There are two possible inferences one may draw from this interpretation, depending upon whether the interpreter is charismatic or non-charismatic.

The Non-charismatic View

The non-charismatic who holds this interpretation takes the verse as a command to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and then says that “filling” is equivalent to control by the Holy Spirit. [11] After having made this assertion, most who hold this view give conditions similar to those outlined in Dr. Bright’s tract, above. [12] In studying this particular view, certain problems of an exegetical and theological nature arise:

(1) The dative (instrumental) case is used to denote the impersonal instrument or means by which something is done; it is not used to denote the content of the filling. [13] Since this is the case, it is somewhat odd to see this usage applied to the Holy Spirit, who is neither an impersonal “tool” nor an object, but a Divine Person in His own right.

(2) Nowhere does Scripture specifically equate the filling of the Holy Spirit with the idea of control. Those who interpret it this way draw the inference from the supposed contrast of being drunk with wine and being filled with the Spirit; the idea being that “drunkenness” is equivalent to “being under the control of wine.” [14]

This view ignores the fact that the two expressions are not grammatically parallel in the Greek. Me methuskesthe oino (“Be not drunk with wine”) is a simple dative construction, whereas plerousthe en pneumati contains the preposition en plus the dative. Because of this lack of parallelism, there is a question as to whether Paul was really seeking to make a direct contrast between “being drunk” and “being filled.”

It would appear from the context that the primary contrast Paul was making was not so much between the ideas of being drunk and being filled as it was between the actions accompanying these phenomena. In one case the accompanying result is “dissipation” (asotia, also translated “debauchery” or “profligacy”); in the other, the accompaniment is “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” etc.

The adjective asotia is used to describe the “loose living” of the Prodigal Son (Lu.15:13), but the noun asotia occurs only twice elsewhere in the New Testament. In Titus 1:6 it refers to the qualification that the overseer’s children must not be “accused of riot or unruly.” In 1 Peter 4:4 it refers to the life-style of the idolatrous Gentiles as one of “excess of riot.” In this latter case there seems to be a clear connection with the activities and rites of idol worship (cf. 1 Pet. 4:3).

This connection is also evident in Ephesians Five, for in verse twelve Paul refers to “the things which are done of them in secret” as being “a shame even to speak of.” It is highly probable that what we see here is a reference to the orgies and rites practiced by the pagan mystery religions in the Ephesus of Paul’s day. The cult of Diana of Ephesus was particularly known for its occult practices and cultic prostitution. [15]

Since this is the likely idea Paul is alluding to here, the contrast is plain. Instead of contrasting the ideas of “control by wine” with “control by the Spirit,” what Paul is really contrasting is the activity of the pagan idolators in the debauched rites and orgies with that of the saints meeting together in the local church ministering to one another under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

The point is simply that the basic meaning of the verb pleroo is not “to control” but rather, “to occupy, to put something into something else, to bring to completion.” To justify changing the basic meaning of a verb takes more justification than some imagined contrast between “being drunk” and “being filled.” To take the idea of “control” as the primary thrust of the passage is to ignore the entire context.

(3) Another question must be raised: If we are truly “controlled” by the Holy Spirit when we are filled, how is it possible then to sin so as to become “unfilled”? Few who hold this view will assert that the filling is of a permanent nature, yet how could the Holy Spirit permit the person to sin if He were actually in control? Either you have a type of “control” which is not really control, or the Holy Spirit is not actually in control at all.

From the New Testament examples of the Spirit’s filling we have referred to, it would appear that while the Spirit was in control of any believer, He was in complete control until the time He sovereignly withdrew from His filling ministry (cf. Acts 2:4; 13:9; see also I Sam 19:23,24 for a related Old Testament example). We do not see many non-charismatic Bible teachers asserting that this is the type of “control” we ought to regularly expect from the Holy Spirit today. But if not, should we presume to say we are being “filled” in the same sense as the early Christians?

(4) Another problem with this view is that no such “conditions” for filling are specified in this passage similar to those put forth by the teachers of this theory. On the contrary, no conditions seem to be laid down at all, except the unstated assumption that the saints will be assembling together to practice the activities described in verses 19 and 20. The act of filling seems rather to be left up to God’s initiative, as is seen by the use of the passive verb form (plerousthe). One would certainly agree that yieldedness and confession of sin are requisites for fellowship with the Father (1 John 1:6-10; Rom. 12:1,2), but where are these laid down as specific conditions for the filling of the Holy Spirit?

(5) This view also de-emphasizes the need for the Cross to be applied continually to the Old Man to deal with the problem of sin in the life of the believer, and it overlooks the need for a resting in the ascended life of the Lord Jesus at the right hand of the Father (Lu. 9:23,24; Rom. 6:3, 11; Gal. 2:19, 20; Phil. 3:10, 11). We are not saying that those who teach this view demonstrate a lack of spirituality in their own lives, but what so often happens is that when new believers are taught this concept, they tend to reduce it to a mechanical formula which is “guaranteed to produce instant spirituality.”

Thus they overlook the need for time and processing (growth) for the Holy Spirit to manifest His fruit of Christlikeness in our lives. Such an emphasis must be corrected by looking at what the sum total of Scripture has to say about the spiritual life, rather than looking at a few isolated verses. In the New Testament, and Paul’s epistles in particular, the concept of our identification with the Lord Jesus in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension receives a far greater emphasis than any filling of the Spirit. [16]

The Charismatic View

The charismatic also interprets the filling of the Holy Spirit to mean “control,” but his interpretation has certain significant differences from that of the non-charismatic. Some charismatics realize that the old-line Pentecostal view concerning the “baptism of the Holy Ghost” has been thoroughly refuted by proper exegesis of 1 Corinthians 12:13, and in casting about for Scriptural support for their teaching on the “second blessing” their attention has centered on Ephesians 5:18. They now no longer say “Be baptized by (or in) the Holy Ghost and receive a ‘second blessing’ along with the gift of tongues”; instead they say, “Be filled with the Spirit, and as evidence of His control, you will speak in ‘spiritual songs’ (i.e., tongues).” [17]

Apart from the obvious exegetical difficulty of asserting that everyone who is baptized or filled with the Spirit should speak in tongues (refer to Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life, Chapter 16, for a concise, Biblical refutation of that assertion), there are more serious theological problems with this error:

1) Scripture nowhere speaks of any “second blessing” or “second work of grace.” This error arises out of Arminian holiness circles and is based on the Pelagian heresy that man somehow has sufficient ability to achieve a “higher state of grace” based on his own efforts. This not only denies the fact of the total depravity of man (Rom. 3:9-20), but it also denies the efficacy of the finished work of Christ for the eternal forgiveness of sins as well as for the condemnation of the sin principle (Rom. 8:3).

In Romans 8:3 Paul stated that when Christ died unto sin, “He condemned sin in the flesh,” i.e., the indwelling principle of sin, or sin, in our flesh. To argue for a “second work of grace” or for a need of another “baptism of the Spirit,” or even for a special filling of the Spirit to live the Christian life, is to say in effect that the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ is insufficient to deal with the problem of sin in the believer’s life, and that His resurrection life is insufficient to supply all that we need to live unto our Father.

In Romans 6:1-11, Paul answers those who suppose that the believer has an excuse for continuing to live in sin, and his argument is built on our union with the Lord Jesus in His death unto sin, burial, resurrection and ascension–nothing else. The believer is called to reckon on this by faith in the facts in order to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).

If the Cross and resurrection of Christ were sufficient for Paul why do we need to resort to some other “special powers”? Paul wrote, “I can do (present tense, implying continuous action) all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). The issue is one of faith: either the Father has united us with His Son in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension, or He has not. Since He has, we need no other “special power,” for we already have all the power of the universe at our disposal (Col. 2:9,10)!

(2) The charismatic does not merely de-emphasize the need for a faith-reckoning on our identification with Christ in His death unto sin and His life unto God (Rom. 6:11), he tends to completely ignore it. For him the “Holy Ghost” is the beginning and end of the spiritual life. This emphasis has resulted in tragic consequences, for it places the focus of his life on the wrong person. Instead of centering on the Lord Jesus Christ in glory (cf. Col. 1:18; 3:1-3; Eph. 1:10; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 2:9, 10; 3:10, 11), the charismatic instead has his focus on the Holy Spirit. (Ironically, many non-charismatics commit the same error!).

While not minimizing the Holy Spirit’s deity and prerogatives in any way, the Lord Jesus clearly taught that the Holy Spirit would not glorify Himself, but the Son (John 16:13, 14). [18] This is, in the author’s view, one of the most serious errors in the charismatic movement: They have put their focus on the “power” supplied by the Holy Spirit, and not on the Person of the glorified Lord Jesus Christ.

We do not question the love some of the charismatics have for our Lord Jesus Christ; on the other hand, for many “Jesus” is only a means to an end. He “heals me,” or He “answers my prayers,” or He “blesses me financially”; but He is not regarded as the Christian’s very life, nor is He worshipped as the ascended and glorified Son of God. Wherever this attitude exists, be it in charismatic or non-charismatic circles, we have the strongest evidence that what we see there is not of the Holy Spirit; for if it were, it would teach and glorify the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ.


In the second of the three translations of Ephesians 5: 18, the preposition en is rendered “in.” Tim Crater, who put forth this view, asserts that the filling takes place in the sphere of one’s own human spirit. In his Master’s Thesis he writes:

Several different lines of evidence indicate that the phrase in Ephesians 5:18 does not refer to a filling of the Holy Spirit for power to live the “victorious life,” but rather to a full exercise of the human spirit in worship and service to God, and is primarily applicable to the assembly worship of the Church.

This is not to say that the Holy Spirit is not involved in the worship activity of the Christian, for unquestionably all Christian service to God is ultimately dependent upon the work of the Spirit. However, the emphasis which has been placed on the Holy Spirit has tended to overshadow the fact that the human spirit does have a legitimate function in the worship activity of the believer, as well as in the Christian life as a whole…. [19]

This view has a number of advantages over the previous view. First, Crater has clearly established in his thesis that the phraseology used in Luke and Acts to refer to the filling of the Spirit is different from Ephesians 5: 18 (see footnote 7). Where the expression pimplemi pneumatos hagiou is used, it refers to a supernatural utterance or speaking prophetically by direct inspiration (cf. Acts 4:31), which is not in view in Ephesians Chapter 5. On the other hand, when the expression pleroo (pleres) pneumatos hagiou is used, it refers to a characteristic quality already existing in the believer’s life (cf. Acts 13:52). As such, it is not a command to be followed like Ephesians 5:18, but merely a statement of facts as they already exist.

Secondly, Crater has pointed out that there is a definite lack of emphasis on the filling ministry of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament epistles. Concerning this lack he has written:

If filling were such a crucial doctrine in the Pauline concept of the Christian life, we would expect plerousthe en pneumati to be used in Colossians as well as Ephesians (not to mention many other areas of his writings). At the very least we would expect to find some discussion of how filling will enable one to overcome the flesh and live the Christian life, but in the context of both passages (i.e., Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3) there is no mention of such a concept. In both passages the apostle seems to be concerned about activities which are primarily relevant to worship in the assembly. [20]

Thirdly, though this expression cannot be directly related to expressions in Luke or Acts, Crater has clearly shown that it can be related to the activities of the local church meeting as seen by the immediate context of Ephesians 5:18-20. [21] These activities (“speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”) describe the worship of believers in the Church. According to his thesis, we are then “filled in our spirit” at the same time we engage in these worship activities in the meeting of the Church. [22]

Although his interpretation does much better in relating to the context of the epistle and of explaining differences in terminology than the former view, it still presents some problems:

(1) Crater’s thesis fails to answer the key question: If we are to be filled in our human spirit, what are we to be filled with? We have the receptacle, but what is the content? Crater attempts to deal with this in passing by saying, “Paul does not need to state what it is that the spirit is to be filled with since it is not stated that there is an intoxicant for the spirit which corresponds to wine.” [23]

However, seeing that we have already demonstrated that the two phrases concerning “drunkenness with wine” and “filling with the Spirit” are not grammatically parallel (see above), his statement actually begs the question. If one is to be filled (assuming the normal meaning of the verb, which Crater does), he must be filled with something. We have already demonstrated that filling cannot mean control, and we have also shown that the Spirit of God cannot Himself be the content if one follows the rules of grammar. This leaves us with a “content-less filling.”

(2) We would agree with Crater that the primary emphasis of the passage is on the circumstances attending the filling, [24] but to largely eliminate the Holy Spirit from the picture as he does goes contrary to the context of the epistle as well. It creates the impression that there is no need for a Divine dynamic in the ministry of the Church.

He is also too restrictive in describing the activities of verses 19 and 20 as merely “worship,” for they also include ministries of mutual edification by the saints. The key phrase is “speaking to each other,” for this does not involve worship directed to the Father alone, but ministry and teaching directed to the saints, and this is a primary theme of the latter half of the letter (4: 7- 16, 28- 32). It is also the major thrust of the parallel passage in Colossians (3:15,16).

The third interpretation of Ephesians 5:18 endeavors to answer all of these questions while relating to the context of the entire epistle.


In the third translation of the verse in question, the preposition en is translated “by.” The Holy Spirit is thus regarded as the personal Agent of the filling. [25] This view answers the question raised by the former interpretation by looking at the development of the theme of “filling” as it is seen in Ephesians.

(1) To begin, in Ephesians 1: 10 Paul refers to the “summing up (anakephalaiosasthai) of all things in Christ” (NASV). The idea expressed is that the Lord Jesus Christ is the very Center and Focus of all that God is doing to work out His sovereign purpose (cf. Col. 1:18; John 16:14). This point is crucial to the understanding of the development of the overall theme of Ephesians expressed in Chapter 3, verse 21: “Unto Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.” All ministry the Holy Spirit performs to the believer has this as its primary purpose.

(2) In Ephesians 1:23 Paul states that the Church is “His Body, the fullness (pleroma) of Him that filleth all in all.” The word pleroma has a passive meaning of “something which is filled” where the -ma ending indicates the result of an action. [26] Thus the Church is “Christ’s fullness,” that is, something which is filled with Christ, Who fills all things. We see then, that Christ has a specific “filling ministry” with respect to His Body, the Church.

(3) In Eph 3:18,19 Paul prays that we may be able to know the knowledge-surpassing love of Christ with the result that we may “be filled up to (plerothete eis) all the fullness (pleroma) of God” (NASV), i.e., that we may attain to His full character, or Godlikeness. This is virtually equivalent to Christlikeness.

(4) In 4:10 the Lord Jesus is said to have “descended” (become incarnate) for the express purpose “that He might fill all things (hina plerose ta panta). “This is directly connected with His giving spiritual gifts (or more specifically, gifted men) to the Church for the mutual ministry of believers (see verses 7 through 16).

(5) In Eph 4:13 the goal of giving gifted men to the Church to equip the saints is that we all might attain to the full stature of “the fullness of Christ“. In other words, as we are filled with Christ, we are to become like Him in every respect of His revealed character. There is no higher mark to press to (Phil. 3:14), nor is there any greater purpose in the Christian life (Rom. 8:28, 29)!

(6) Right through the book of Ephesians we see the theme of “filling” to be far more consistent with the filling up with Christ Himself.

This, of course, is the first rule of hermeneutics: interpret by context–immediate context before remote! The meaning of Ephesians 5:18 is that Christ Himself is the unexpressed content of the filling, which is produced by the expressed agency of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit produces this filling, or Christlikeness, in the believer as the believer ministers his or her spiritual gift to others. The advantages of this interpretation

(1) It puts the focus of the believer’s life where it should be–on the Person of Christ. It thus agrees with the nature of the Holy Spirit’s scriptural role. We have shown that in John 16:13-15 His ministry is for the purpose of glorifying Christ, not Himself; yet the way most people have interpreted this verse, the Holy Spirit has received practically all of the attention! The best way to glorify the Lord Jesus in this dispensation is for people to be made like Him, i.e., “to fill them with Christ” (cf. Col. 2:9, 10; Gal. 4:19).

(2) It explains the difference in terminology used here from that in the Gospel of Luke and Acts. Luke and Paul were not talking about the same experience, for the experience in Luke/Acts (pimplemi pneumatos hagiou) was more closely akin to a sovereign “coming upon” the individual by the Spirit for prophetic proclamation.

If we hold to the completion of the canon of Scripture, we should question whether this experience is normative for the believer today. We certainly have no need for further authoritative revelation in the present dispensation, for the Scripture we now possess is sufficient to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:17).

There is therefore no good work that needs to be done in this dispensation for which we need “further revelation.” We should also recognize that the primary source of truth regarding the Church and the Christian life is the New Testament epistles, preeminently the epistles of Paul. To go outside that realm for authoritative determination of which experience is normative for the believer in the Church today is to subject him to confusion and misapplication of biblical truth not intended for this present economy.

(3) This interpretation is more in agreement with the tense and voice of the verb in Ephesians 5:18. Plerousthe is a present passive imperative with an emphasis on a continuing process to be received by the believer. [27] “Keep on getting filled by the Holy Spirit” would be a more accurate translation of the verse. Spiritual growth is always the result of a process that takes place over a period of time. [28]

Views which hold that we can be “filled” one moment simply by praying and yielding, then “unfilled” the next, have reduced the spiritual life dangerously close to a mechanical formula. Spiritual growth is the product of a relationship, not the application of a formula. If the “fullness of the Spirit” means anything, it means Christlikeness (cf. Gal. 5:22,23), and this only comes by walking with Him through a lifetime of intimate association!

(4) This view agrees with the context of Ephesians better than the other two views. It takes the meaning of the term “filling” as Paul uses it in this particular epistle, which is the first place we must go to resolve any interpretive problems.

It especially fits in with the theme of Ephesians Chapter 4, which emphasizes that the “equipping of the saints” is a ministry of the Body as a whole. It is not a question of individualistic spiritual growth as the first interpretation would have it, for our spiritual growth is tied directly to our relationship with other members in the Body of Christ. Spiritual growth is nurtured preeminently in the context of the local Church, not in a vacuum!

(5) It agrees better with the parallel passage of Colossians 3:16, 17: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another, in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever ye do in word or deed, do all in the Name (i.e., the revealed character) of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.” The parallel passage emphasizes both the mutual ministry of believers in the Body of Christ and the goal of Christlikeness.

(6) It explains the lack of other references to the filling of the Spirit in the writings of Paul and the other epistles. If “the filling of the Spirit” were intended to be the basis for Christian maturity, we would expect to see a much greater emphasis on the subject. Instead, we find a complete absence of its emphasis in the key passages dealing with maturity in Christ. Please note, we are not saying the Holy Spirit has no place in producing the believer’s maturity in Christ. What we are saying is that it is not His filling ministry (in the sense of the book of Acts or in the Old Testament) that does it.

(7) This view is also in accordance with the lexical meaning of the term pleroo (“to fill, to make complete”). The Holy Spirit’s ministry is to fill us with Christ, not Himself. We are not differentiating between the essential Nature of the Second and Third Persons of the Godhead, which is the same; we are differentiating between their roles. The present role of the Spirit is to glorify the Son (John 16:14).

Whether one agrees totally with the grammatical analysis of the author in distinguishing between the Spirit’s role as Agent vs. means/instrument or not, he must nevertheless acknowledge that the context of Ephesians clearly puts the Lord Jesus Christ as the content of the filling and that filling does not mean “control,” but rather “to put Christ in us,” or “to make us complete in Christ” (cf. Gal. 4:19). By so acknowledging, we thus agree with the ultimate purpose of the Father for each believer–to make him like His Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4,5; 4:13,15; Col. 1:28).

Conclusion: What IS the New Testament Basis of Developing Maturity?

Having gone to a good bit of effort to establish the point that the Holy Spirit is the Agent of the filling and that Christ is the Content and Object, some readers may be inclined to feel that the author is “straining at a gnat.” Does it really matter whether it is the Holy Spirit or the Person of the Lord Jesus who is in view in Ephesians 5:18? Does it make any difference?

As a matter of fact, it makes a great deal of difference with respect to our whole philosophy of the spiritual life. Do we focus on the Holy Spirit of God, or on Christ, the Son of God? This is the basic issue that divides charismatics from doctrinally sound Christians. Our real contention is not over the “gift of tongues” (although we do contend!); it is over our entire approach to the concept of Christian maturity.

If one would dispute the importance of this, let him observe the confusion and division resulting when the charismatic issue has been raised in vast numbers of churches throughout the world during the past twenty-five years. It is not simply the issue of whether one group is receptive to the gifts of the Spirit and the other is not. The issue goes much deeper.

The first question we need to ask is, “Is the filling ministry of the Holy Spirit really normative for the believer today?” If by “filling” of the Spirit one refers to instances where the fullness expresses a characteristic quality in the believer’s life (e.g., Acts 13:52), we would say, “definitely yes! “–but only with the stipulation that the “fullness” refers to the character of the Lord Jesus Christ developed and manifested over a lifetime via spiritual growth.

If, on the other hand, by “filling” we mean the instances where the Spirit came upon the disciples for special empowerment to perform miracles or speak prophetically (e.g., Acts 2:4; 4:31; 13:9), we must say, “Emphatically no! This kind of filling was always seen as a sovereign act of God related to ministry, and not to maturity. Furthermore, such a filling was apparently independent of the recipient’s maturity at the time. At the very least, no such criteria were specifically stated, so to argue for such would be to argue from silence. Spiritual maturity may have increased the likelihood of being filled this way, but this type of filling was not seen as producing the maturity.

The second question is, “Can or does this sovereign filling of the Spirit occur at all today? The author does not want to be put into a position of limiting the omnipotent Spirit of God, so we must acknowledge that it certainly can, but whether it does in the large number of cases where it is reported is highly conjectural.

This kind of filling is not the result of human effort (or even human receptivity, considering the case of Saul!), but is brought about when and where the Spirit of God finds it desirable. It must not, however, be regarded as a “shortcut” to Christian maturity; neither should it be regarded as a vehicle for additional prophetic revelation nor a resurgence of certain miraculous or sign gifts (cf. 2 Tim. 3:17; Rev. 22:18; 1 Cor. 13:8-11).

Are we saying then that we are to reject the concepts of confession of sin and yieldedness to God taught by many as requisite to spiritual growth? No, these teachings are thoroughly biblical, but we must emphasize along with Dr. Chafer that the end result of these actions is fellowship with the Father not the filling of the Spirit. True fellowship with the Father and the Son (not the application of a formula, but the desire of a hungry heart for intimate fellowship with the Holy) should result in spiritual growth, but only if we refocus our affections in the place the Holy Spirit would have them, and that is not on Himself.

First, there needs to be a refocusing on the requirement for time to produce spiritual maturity in the life of the believer–away from any emphasis on “instantaneous spirituality.” When God wants to grow a shoot of bamboo, He does it overnight, but He takes a hundred years to grow an oak. Likewise, when He wants to develop a mature believer, He does not do it in a hurry.

Secondly, there needs to be a recognition that as the Father matures the new believer in Christ, there may be some areas in which that maturity is more evident than others. It is possible for a person, for example, to mature quite rapidly, say, in the area of personal stewardship while still be struggling with a quick temper. Another Christian may find this growth pattern reversed. There is no teaching in Scripture that all who mature must do so uniformly. The important thing is that we all grow more Christlike in every area of our lives (Eph. 4:15).

Third, and most important, there needs to be a return to the New Testament emphasis on the Lord Jesus as the Source of the believer’s new life. The New Testament writers, especially Paul, when they do refer to the Holy Spirit, do so to show His agency in producing the life of Christ in the believer. The “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22, 23) is, in reality, the manifestation of the life of the Lord Jesus in us.

Are we seeking to minimize or negate the work of the Third Person of the Trinity? By no means. In fact, we are cooperating with Him to better experience His ministry! Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 3:18:

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Here we establish our proper focus: “the glory (or, character) of the Lord” and the proper agency: “by (lit. from) the Spirit of the Lord.” As we reckon on this truth, the Spirit carries out His work of progressively manifesting the life of the Lord Jesus in our mortal body (2 Cor. 4: 11).

As previously stated, if there is any emphasis in the New Testament writings regarding Christian maturity, it seems not to be on any “filling of the Holy Spirit,” but rather on our identification with the Lord Jesus in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Reckoning on our co-death with Him sets us free from the governing power of the principle of sin in our lives, while reckoning on our co-resurrection and ascension with Him brings the Spirit’s ministry of providing His power to live the Christ-life. [29]

This twin theme is seen again and again in New Testament Scripture (cf. Rom. 6:1-11; 2 Cor. 4:7-17; Gal. 2:20; 3:27; Eph. 1:3-14; 4:21-24; Phil. 3:10,11; Col. 3:1-3; 2 Tim. 2:11; 1 Pet 3:21-4:1). In fact, the need for this emphasis is why we were given the ordinance of water baptism, which, when properly practiced by immersion, gives us a beautiful picture of that total identification.

It is safe to say that virtually every heresy or false emphasis that has plagued the Church, from its inception at Pentecost down to the present day, could have been avoided had the focus of her public teaching and her member’s private devotional lives been steadfastly on the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ! Miles J. Stanford has pointed out the real purpose and emphasis of the Spirit’s work in the life of the believer:

An understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is basic to Christian living. Spirituality is Christlikeness, and Christlikeness is the fruit of the Spirit. Spiritual power is not necessarily or usually the miraculous or spectacular, but rather the consistent manifestation of the characteristics of the Lord Jesus in the believer’s life. All of this is the work of the Spirit, of whom the Lord Jesus said, “He shall glorify Me.”

“They were all filled.” But remember, this was a testimony to Christ, for the Holy Spirit ever and always works in relation to Him. It is the Father’s beloved Son who is to “fill all things.” To be filled with–or by–the Spirit is to be filled with the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not make the Holy Spirit a fenced-around and separate Object. His ministry is to fill all things with the Lord Jesus Christ. [30]

It has always been the tactic of the Deceiver to steer us away from Truth. If he cannot prevent us from being saved, he will do his best to lead us into sin. If he cannot tempt us with the “pleasures of sin,” he would lead us into false cults. If he does not succeed in steering us into cults, he will try to have us take our focus off what is “best” for that which is merely “good.”

We must not allow what is spoken of as “good” in the Scripture (i.e., the various ministries of the Holy Spirit) to take our focus off where the Spirit, through His ministries, actually wants it to be. The primary ministry of the Spirit in the New Testament believer is to establish his faith in the Lord Jesus as his Object and the very Source of his Christian life. The believer is to depend on the Spirit and abide in the risen Christ (Col. 3:1-3). This, by means of the Word, will keep him from centering upon the wrong object, and will also protect him from the surrounding error that would seek to engulf him.


[1]  For example, the following give an excellent treatment of this subject:

Chafer, Lewis Sperry, He That Is Spiritual, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1969 (Chapter 2).

Ryrie, Charles C., Balancing the Christian Life, Moody Press, Chicago, 1969 (Chapter 11).

Stanford, Miles J., The Line Drawn, Living Spring Press, Hong Kong, 1972.

Walvoord, John F., The Holy Spirit, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1954 (Chapter 15).

[2]  Published by Campus Crusade for Christ, International (Here’s Life Publishers), San Bernardino, California, 1966.

[3]  Bright, “Spirit-filled Life,” p. 16. According to data supplied in March, 1984, by Here’s Life Publishers of San Bernardino, between 1981 and 1984 at least 106,000 copies of this booklet have been published in English alone. 1981 is as far back as their official records go, so Dr. Bright’s claim is well within the range of probability.

[4]  Miles J. Stanford, “Spiritual Sharing Service,” Series II, p. 1, published by the author, Colorado Springs, Colorado, n.d.

[5]  Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life, p. 13. Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost, another of Dr. Chafer’s successors, also expresses a similar idea on page 281 of his book Pattern for Maturity (Moody Press, Chicago, 1967).

[6]  Bright, “Spirit-filled Life,” p. 10.

[7]  I am greatly indebted to Mr. Timothy D. Crater for doing the work to develop this grammatical analysis in “The Filling of the Spirit in the Greek New Testament,” his unpublished Th.M. Thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1971.  I have taken the liberty of diverging from Mr. Crater in some key points as will be shown later.

[8] Cf. Chafer, He That Is Spiritual, p. 43.

[9]  Dana and Mantey in A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, Macmillan & Co., Toronto, 1927, p. 105, list only the first two of these possibilities; however, Blass and Debrunner in A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, University of Chicago Press, 1961, p. 102, show the clear use of the Dative of Agency in Luke 23:15, and at least one of the ancient manuscripts (D) renders that verse with the Greek preposition en, showing that the preposition en plus the dative can indicate agency.  A similar situation is seen in Romans 10: 20, where p46, B, D, F and G all include the preposition en plus the dative case to show personal agency. Compare also Matt. 9:34;12: 24; Acts 17: 31; 1 Cor. 6: 2; 7: 14; Eph. 3: 5; 4: 30; Col. 1: 16.

[10]  Chafer, He That Is Spiritual, p. 43.  From the author’s experience, it has been the common practice of those who hold this teaching to emphasize the “boldness” aspect of the Spirit’s filling when they are training others for evangelism.

[11]  Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life, p. 111.

[12]  Cf. Ryrie, Op. Cit. , p. 114f; Chafer, Op. Cit., pp. 69-133; Walvoord, Op. Cit., 196-218. Note: Chafer makes these as conditions for spirituality, not filling, but he also states that the believer must be spiritual to be filled (Chapter 3).  Ryrie and Walvoord go into much greater detail than Bright in setting forth the conditions for filling, but these three conditions seem to be common to the writings of each.

[13]  Dana and Mantey, Manual Grammar, pp. 83-91. To express the idea of content requires the use of the genitive case.

[14]  Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life, p. 114.

[15]  Cf. Acts 19:7-9, also The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE), Vol. II, pp. 824f.  We should note that as bad as it was, the cult of Diana was by no means the worst.  For example, the cult of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, was considered by the Romans to be so depraved that they made his worship illegal in the city of Rome!

[16]  In addition to the verses mentioned, see also 2 Cor. 4: 7- 12; Eph. 1: 3- 14;4:21-24; Col. 3:1-3, and 2 Tim. 2:11.

[17]  The author has had discussions with charismatics who make this very claim, using Ephesians 5:18-20 as key support for their view!  Justification for their theory is also taken from Acts 2:4, which speaks directly only of the “filling of the Spirit” in connection with speaking in tongues.  One must go to Acts 11:15,16 to determine that what really took place in Acts 2 was, in fact, the Spirit’s Baptism.

[18]  Chafer, He That Is Spiritual, p. 42.

[19]  Crater, “The Filling of the Spirit,” p.50.  It would also be theoretically possible to interpret the verse as “in the sphere of the Holy Spirit,” except that this interpretation would have no practical application and presents even more difficulties that the interpretation regarding the human spirit.

[20]  Ibid., pp. 57,58.

[21]  Ibid., pp. 57.

[22]  Ibid., pp. 55,59,60.

[23]  Ibid., pp. 60.

[24]  Ibid., pp. 57,60

[25]  Refer to footnote 9 for justification of this view.

[26]  J.H. Moulton, Grammar of New Testament Greek, Vol. II, T&T Clark, Edinburgh, 1968, p. 355.

[27]  Chafer, He That Is Spiritual, p. 43.

[28]  For an excellent treatment of this topic, see Miles J. Stanford, Principles of Spiritual Growth (The Green Letters), Chapter 2, Back to the Bible, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1979 (also Zondervan Publishing House under separate editions).

[29]  We do not hold, as some do, that the “old man” can be eradicated, but rather that it can be rendered inoperative as far as producing sin in us when we count on the Cross-work of Christ in us (Romans 6:6-11).  Cf. Miles J. Stanford, “The Adamic Natures,” Voice Magazine, Vol. 63, No. 1, January/February 1984, pp. 11-13.

[30]  Quotes from personal correspondence with author, April 24, 1984.

Spiritual Sharing Service (Tri-S-Series) Number 15a of 19


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