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Freedom in the Spirit

How can we be filled with the Spirit?

Law and Conscience (3)              

And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit…Ephesians 5.18

Good and necessary
I don’t know a single Christian who doesn’t believe that being filled with the Spirit of God is a good and necessary thing.

But I know lots of believers who don’t have a clue as to what that means.

For some, the filling of the Spirit is a simple formula: breathe out your sins through confession, breathe in the Spirit by prayer. As if we could manipulate the Holy Spirit of God by incantation!

Others insist that the filling of the Spirit is realized through the manifestation of extraordinary gifts. In some churches, you can even find instruction in how to “prime the pump” of your speech by uttering mindless, repetitious phrases until the Spirit takes over and, voilà, you’re filled with Him. That, too, seems rather manipulative to me – not to mention, nowhere taught in Scripture.

Still others will insist that being filled with the Spirit means don’t drink, don’t smoke, and don’t hang with those that do. Lots of people who don’t believe in Jesus would fall into this category, but I doubt we would consider them filled with the Spirit.

For most Christians, I suspect, being “filled with the Spirit” is something you agree to with reservations. I mean, sure, we want to be filled with the Spirit, but, like, what might that get me into?

Pleasing God
With such divergent views of the filling of the Spirit, we do well to see if Scripture has any clear and complementary instruction to help us understand what Paul means. The Spirit of God, we know, teaches us the things of God by comparing passages of Scripture with one another so that, in their harmonizing tones, we can hear and delight in the truth of God (1 Cor. 2.12, 13). So the filling of the Spirit definitely will require us following Him around in Scripture a bit.

The Spirit actively works to shape our mind and heart with the Law of God (Ezek. 36.26, 27; Psalm 119), so that our conscience can clearly discern the course of good works for walking in the Spirit (Rom. 8.5-9). The better we understand what it means to be filled with the Spirit, the more of His liberty we will experience, living in the glory of God’s Law and being transformed into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I want us to look briefly at three passages of Scripture that relate to the work and filling of the Spirit of God. In the light of these texts, we can gain a better understanding of what God has liberated us unto in His holy and righteous and good Law. We will see that living in the Spirit, and being filled with Him, takes place within the framework of obedience to God’s Law. To put that another way, we have no Biblical hope for the filling of the Spirit apart from delighting in and obeying the Law of God. Period.

The first passage is Philippians 2.13. Here Paul says God is at work within us to make us willing and able to do whatever is in line with His pleasure. Now we know that the Spirit of God, sent to dwell in the heart of all who believe in Jesus, is the power of God Who works within us to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ (Acts 1.8; 2 Cor. 3.12-18; Eph. 3.20).

But in what does God take pleasure? What is the Spirit working within us to make us willing and able to do? Could it be those good works for which we have been redeemed, and which God has prepared for us beforehand in His Law (Eph. 2.10)? God is good, and He takes pleasure in His own goodness. His Law expresses that goodness (Rom. 7.12), as a guide for our conscience to lead us into the pleasure of God. The Spirit is at work within us, therefore, teaching us the Law of God, so that He might empower us for good works according to the Law of liberty and bring us into the pleasure of the Lord.

Convicted of sin
Second, Jesus taught that the Spirit of God will convict and instruct us when He comes to dwell within us (Jn. 16.8-11). This is how He begins to make us willing and able to do the good works of God. He convicts us of our sins – which Paul says He does by pointing us to the Law of God (Rom. 7.7) – and He teaches us the way of righteousness, which is the way of Christ’s Kingdom (Rom. 14.17, 18) and the way of God’s Law (Ps. 1).

By exposing us to the light of God’s Law, the Spirit of God convicts us of sin and points us down the path of right living and good works, thus liberating us from our own foolish notions about good and evil or right and wrong.

Obedience to God’s Law
Finally, as we have seen, through the prophet Ezekiel, God specifically told us that, when He gives His Spirit to His people it will be so that the Spirit will teach us His Law and enable us to walk in obedience to it (Ezek. 36.26, 27).

The Spirit of God – Who is, we should recall, the Holy Spirit – is working within us through conviction and instruction to make us willing and able to understand and obey the Law of God, the Law of liberty. As we take up the holy Law of God we are liberated from the life of the flesh into the life of the Holy Spirit of God. And the more we take up that Law, the more we will be filled with the Spirit according to the teaching of God’s Word. Our mind will be filled with God’s truth; our heart will delight in it; and our conscience will bring heart and mind together into good words and good works, empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, overflowing from within our souls (Jn. 7.37-39).

If we want to be filled with the Spirit – if we want to know the true freedom that is ours in the Spirit – then we will station ourselves squarely within the path marked out by the Law of God, and all God’s Word, for the Spirit works in the Law and by the Law to liberate us from folly, and to fill and transform us into the Law-keeping image of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3.12-18).

For reflection
1.  How your understanding of the “filling of the Spirit” changed?

2.  Meditate on Philippians 2.13 and Ephesians 3.20. What kind of outlook on life should these passages foster in a believer?

3.  Meditate on 2 Corinthians 3.12-18. Explain the relationship between the Law of God, the image of Jesus Christ, the glory of God, and the work of the Holy Spirit (Phil. 2.13; Eph. 3.20). In what way is this true liberty?

Next steps - Transformation: The psalmist says that those who are righteous in the Lord’s sight make a practice of meditating regularly on His holy and righteous and good Law (Ps. 1). Have you adopted this practice?

T. M. Moore

All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here. Check out our newest feature, Readings from the Celtic Revival (click here).

Why does the Law of God still matter? How can we make best use of it? Our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics, addresses those questions in a winsome and conversational manner. Order your free copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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