In Ephesians 5:15–20, the apostle Paul teaches believers how to experience a holy relationship with God—how to live for Him, obey Him, and discover His will as we serve Him. He writes, “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. . . . Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (NLT).
The pagan people of Ephesus worshiped their god in drunken orgies: “They believed that to commune with their god and to be led by him, they had to be drunk. In this drunken state, they could determine the will of their god and determine how best to serve and obey him” (Anders, M., Galatians–Colossians Holman New Testament Commentary, vol. 8, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999, p. 172). By contrast, Paul commanded believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We are filled with the Holy Spirit when we cautiously consider our actions and yield ourselves to the Spirit’s power, allowing Him to guide, influence, and govern our behavior. We carefully align our daily choices and decisions with the wisdom and truth Scripture teaches.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit in the context of Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5:18 differs from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at salvation (see John 14:16–17). Those who believe in Jesus Christ and accept His gift of salvation receive the life-giving, eternal “Living Water” of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37–39; see also 1 Corinthians 12:13; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Galatians 3:14; Ephesians 1:13). Everyone who belongs to Jesus Christ has the Spirit of God living in him or her (Romans 8:9). Nevertheless, we can hinder or stifle the work of the Spirit in our lives (1 Thessalonians 5:19) and even “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30).
Sin and rebellion against God’s will hinder us from being filled with the Holy Spirit. When we give in to sinful temptations and worldly desires, when we lose control and do what we know is wrong, living as we did before accepting Christ’s salvation, we prevent God’s Spirit from guiding, influencing, and governing our behavior. The Holy Spirit is grieved and quenched because He is not allowed to reveal Himself in our lives as He wants to, with expressions or “fruits” of “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). When we sin, we should confess our transgressions to God as soon as possible (1 John 1:9) and renew our commitment to being filled with the Spirit.
Jesus was filled with the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:18; 10:21). So was John the Baptist (Luke 1:15), his mother Elizabeth (Luke 1:41), and his father Zechariah (Luke 1:67). Old Testament saints like Bezalel (Exodus 31:3; 35:30), Joshua (Deuteronomy 34:9), Samson (Judges 13:25; 15:14), and Micah (Micah 3:8) were filled with the Holy Spirit. The believers at Pentecost were “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). Peter (Acts 4:8), Paul (Acts 13:9), and “the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). In contrast, Ananias allowed himself to be filled with Satan (Acts 5:3).
When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) and are “led by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:18), “live by the Spirit,” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). According to the apostle Paul, being filled with the Holy Spirit makes the difference between life and death. When we belong to Jesus, “the power of the life-giving Spirit” frees us “from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:2, NLT). “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). Instead of living in bondage to sin and fear of death, we live as God’s adopted children (Romans 8:14–15).
Spirit-filled believers trade in “fear and timidity” for “power, love, and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). They sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs . . . and [make] music to the Lord in [their] hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19–21, NLT). A heart overflowing with music, joy, and thankfulness to God usually signals a believer who is filled with the Holy Spirit. Finally, Paul described Spirit-filled believers as those who “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21, NLT).
We can be filled with the Holy Spirit daily by yielding our will to God in submission and obedience to His Word. There is no formula to follow other than to allow Him to fill us and control every part of our lives—our thoughts, emotions, bodies, and actions. Only as we submit to Him and are filled with the Holy Spirit can we experience a harmonious relationship with God and one another.