Truly it is impossible to live the Christian life in your own human strength. The Christian life depends upon the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. With that in mind, what is the difference between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Spirit?
What Does Indwelling Mean?
- This indwelling occurs when we first believe. It does not occur twenty years later but rather when you are born again. (Rom. 5:5, 2 Tim. 2:4)
- The indwelling of the Holy Spirit occurs one time. It is once for all. When Jesus Christ comes into your life as your Lord and Savior, His Spirit takes up permanent residence in you.
- The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is for all believers. Simply claiming to be a Christian does not necessarily mean you are a Christian (Matt. 7:21).
Believers are not commanded to be indwelt or possessed by the Holy Spirit, born-again people are possessed by the Holy Spirit. The indwelling does not indicate direction in life but position in life.
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
When God put His Holy Spirit of promise in you, He put Him there until the redemption of the purchased possession. That means a born again person is permanently indwelt!
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).
What Does Being Filled Mean?
Paul addresses a different issue in Galatians 5:16. Paul states, “walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.” This walking in the Spirit is an active relationship with God.
So what is different about being indwelt and being filled by the Spirit?
- Being filled is a repeated experience. Being filled by God’s Spirit is something you must continually ask God to do.
- Being filled can be for specific times and assignments. (Acts 4:8)
- Being filled is for all believers but only affects those who are yielded to God.
- Being filled can in effect be lost when believers are rebelling against the will of God in their lives.
- Being filled can be renewed through repentance.
- Being filled results in the power of the Spirit at work in your life.
Being filled by the Spirit is best understood as being the opposite of being filled by the flesh. Paul reveals this difference when he said to, “walk in the Spirit so you do not fulfill the desires of the flesh.”
Many people grow up with legalism as their foundation of the Christian life. Legalistic teaching sounds more like this, “Don’t do this and don’t do that, and you will be a good Christian.” This kind of teaching seldom focuses on what it means to walk in the Spirit but rather focuses on what not to do! Learning how not to walk in the flesh does not necessarily mean you ever learned to walk in the Spirit. Unbelievers can live a good moral lifestyle but that does not mean they are walking in the Spirit. Powerful kingdom living cannot be accomplished unless you are born again.
How do you describe being filled with the Spirit? Imagine a bottle of water representing you as a person. The bottle represents your physical body and the water represents the Spirit of God living in you. Suppose the bottle is not completely full of water. If you remove the cap from the bottle and begin to pour more water into the bottle, the bottle is being filled with water.
The bottle already contains the Holy Spirit. This filling with more water does not represent the indwelling of the Holy Spirit but the filling of the Holy Spirit. The key is not what you are being filled with but it is the means by which you are filled. For example, the bottle can do nothing of itself (John 15:5). We can do nothing without Christ. To fill the bottle with the water just to say it has water in it is not the focus. An outside source has to fill the bottle. The bottle cannot fill itself.
The water is not the act of walking in the Spirit. The water represents the indwelling Spirit. The bottle contains the Spirit and has the capacity to act upon what is inside. Ephesians 5:18 clarifies this fact.
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
Don’t be drunk with wine but be filled with the Spirit! God wants us to do what He says and live according to the Spirit. We must come under the control of the Spirit like a drunk comes under control of the spirits. God’s Spirit begins to control you to do things you would not do simply because of your human abilities. When you walk in the ways of God, He begins to do things in and through your life that you could never accomplish with simple human ability. In that sense, a person who knew you before you started walking in God’s ways would think you are drunk because you look and act so different from your old ways.
God indwells you by His Spirit to guide you in His ways. Throughout the Old Testament, God wanted His people to live according to His ways, statutes, judgments, and His commandments. To walk in the Spirit you simply have to do what God says with a heart that is right toward Him.
The key to the illustration of the water bottle is not that it is a bottle and that you can put water in it. A bottle could be filled with dirty water also. The vessel is not as important as the contents of the vessel. We must be filled with the Spirit to be a vessel of righteousness (Rom. 6:13).
So if you are born again, the Holy Spirit is permanently indwelt in you, but you need daily if not moment by moment filling of the Spirit.
**Adapted from the book, “The Christian Life: A Human Impossibility” by Kerry L. Skinner