The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is constantly at work in the life of Christians. Unlike a believer’s salvation in Jesus Christ, their sanctification, or spiritual growth, is a joint effort, which means they have responsibilities and obligations. In this regard, the Apostle Paul commands Christians to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). How can believers do that?
A person readies themself to be filled with the Holy Spirit when they trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, turn from sin in their life, and pursue the results of his work. Being filled with the Spirit isn’t for salvation, which is exclusively a work of God, but sanctification, which is cooperative.
With what sinful behavior does Paul contrast being filled with the Holy Spirit? How does the comparison help explain his instructions for Christians? What should a believer do and not do to prepare for the Spirit’s filling in their life? What does it mean to pursue the results of the Spirit’s work? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see How To Pray In the Spirit to learn more.
Under the Influence: The Holy Spirit in a Christian’s Life
In Ephesians 5:1-21, Paul encourages Christians to imitate God. As part of this teaching, he tells them to walk wisely (v. 15), be good stewards of time (v. 16), and understand how God wants them to live (v. 17). Next, Paul boldly compares alcohol and the Holy Spirit: “And do not get drunk with wine, in which there is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (ESV).
|do not [negative]
|get drunk [action]
|be filled [action]
|with wine [controller]
|with the Spirit [controller]
A Christian is either under the influence of the Holy Spirit or something else. For some people, the alternative controller may be drunkenness, but it’s a different sin for others. Scholars speculate that drunkenness may have been part of the spiritual practices that the Ephesians had before they became Christians. Paul’s point is that Christians should be under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
In Ephesians 5:18, the Greek word translated as “filled” in English (ESV, NIV, KJV, NASB) is an imperative, which means it’s a command. It’s also in the present tense, making it an ongoing behavior, not a one-time action. Paul didn’t write “be full of the Holy Spirit,” suggesting a single action. The verb he chose means to be continually filled, implying that Christians must constantly choose the Spirit.
The “filling” Paul refers to isn’t for salvation. The Holy Spirit already indwells the Ephesians. The Spirit’s filling consists of yielding to the Spirit’s influence, submitting to his authority, and choosing him over the world, sin, and Satan. The purpose is for ministry empowerment, overcoming sin and temptation, and ongoing growth in the Christian life.
Also see What Does the Holy Spirit Do? to learn more.
Obeying the command to be filled with the Holy Spirit
Paul implies that the way that the Spirit fills a person involves what they don’t do and what they do. In other words, being filled with the Spirit includes purposefully choosing not to be filled with ungodly things and consciously trying to cooperate with the Spirit’s work in their lives. The combination of these decisions enables a person to live under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
What not to do in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit: Wine is just one example of what shouldn’t fill believers. In general, Christians shouldn’t fall under the influence of anything related to the unholy trinity of the world, the flesh (i.e., the sinful nature), or Satan. The Bible prohibits Christians from yielding their beliefs, values, and lifestyles to ungodly influencers.
- Regarding the world, 1 John 2:15 reads, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
- Regarding sin, Romans 6:6 reads, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
- Regarding Satan, James 4:7 reads, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
What to do in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit: Like drinking alcohol in excess is a choice, being filled with the Holy Spirit is a choice. Like drinking alcohol starts with a desire, being filled with the Holy Spirit begins with a desire to be more holy, righteous, and Christlike. Therefore, being filled with the Holy Spirit is foremost a condition of a person that Jesus has saved and the Spirit has indwelled.
Next, drinking wine in excess defined the Ephesian’s old way of life before they knew Jesus. Those who Jesus has saved no longer locate their identity in their pre-conversion life. There is a clear break between who they were and how they used to live and who they are now and how they live.
- 2 Corinthians 5:17 reads, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
- Ezekiel 36:26 reads, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
- Isaiah 43:18 reads, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.”
Christians can also pursue the fruit of being filled with the Holy Spirit because it encourages yielding to his influence in their lives. Keep reading to learn more.
Also see What Does It Mean To Worship In Spirit and Truth? to learn more.
The Fruit of Being Filled with the Holy Spirit
After Paul writes, “but be filled with the Spirit,” he immediately adds, “ addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,  singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,  giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and  submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:19-21).
Pursuing these fruits of the Spirit’s filling encourages their presence and growth in a person’s life and pushes out old influences. The holy words, actions, and attitudes replace the unholy influences.
(1) Addressing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
Though some Christians have gifts related to singing and music, those abilities aren’t necessarily the application of this instruction. Instead, Paul generally refers to fellowship in which Christians benefit from hearing others worship God. Gathering together with other Christians who are pursuing God is an important part of not being filled with ungodly influences.
An example of this is Psalm 95, which begins with an address to people: “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!” (v. 1-2). Then, direct praise to God is offered: “For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (v. 3).
(2) Singing and making melody to the Lord
Paul’s first instruction is for believers to sing with each other in Christian fellowship. His second encouragement is for believers to sing to God, which Psalm 95:3-11 illustrates.
Colossians 3:16 parallels this instruction: “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.”
Worship is a response to God, but it also transforms the heart and mind, inclining it to godliness and rendering the world, sin, and Satan undesirable in comparison.
Also see What Is the Purpose of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit? to learn more.
(3) Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father
Being filled with the world, sin, and Satan often results in discontentment with what a person has. Author Jerry Bridges writes, “Gratitude is a handmaiden of contentment. An ever-growing attitude of gratitude will certainly make us more content since we will be focusing more on what we do have, both spiritually and materially, than on what we do not have.” 
- 1 Thessalonians 5:18 reads, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
- Philippians 4:6 reads, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
(4) Submitting to one another
Being filled with the world, sin, and Satan often results in selfishness. Yet, when a person submits to others, they yield to them. The fruit of being filled with the Holy Spirit isn’t being brash, overbearing, or rude to other people. Like the Spirit’s nature is humble, patient, and loving toward others, so too are Christians who are filled with him.
The aim of submission isn’t to appease loud, domineering, and self-centered people, but doing so “in the fear of Christ” (v. 21b). In other words, yielding to the needs and preferences of others is God’s will for believers because it demonstrates love and unity between them. Therefore, in this instruction, Paul implies obedience to the two greatest commandments: loving God and others (Matt. 22:38-39).
Also see the meaning Where the Spirit of the Lord Is, There Is Freedom
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