Are You Spirit-Filled?

What does it mean to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” That we’re supposed to speak in tongues? Be eccentric? Does a Christian have to be Spirit-filled? 

In many churches, the Holy Spirit is either super-emphasized or completely ignored. I grew up in a Pentecostal church that taught that speaking in tongues was evidence that one had been filled and baptized in the Spirit. I even told other people that unless they spoke in tongues they were not Christians and doomed for hell. My logic was this: 1: Speaking in tongues means you are filled with the Spirit. 2: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9 3: “… No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:3 Therefore: Speaking in tongues is proof that you are filled with the Spirit and are saved. Not speaking in tongues is proof that you don’t really have the Spirit (even though you think you do) and, therefore, you do not truly confess Jesus is Lord and you are not saved. Yikes! That’s just weird logic. Fortunately, not all Pentecostals are this wacky in their theology, but at the time, I was wrapped up in a form of Pentecostalism on steroids and committed to faulty interpretation. That’s a bad mix. The other extreme is that the Holy Spirit is nearly forgotten, which can be more of a problem in certain Reformed and Lutheran traditions. The unfortunate joke in some of those circles is that the Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Bible. Oops.


Jesus accomplished redemption and forgiveness through his life, death, and resurrection, and the Spirit applies that redemption and forgiveness to us. The Spirit continues and expands the ministry of Jesus through the lives of believers. Without the Spirit, we can do nothing. Even Jesus, in his earthly ministry, relied upon the Holy Spirit. The four Gospels are accounts of Jesus’ ministry that was empowered through the Spirit. At age 30, Jesus was baptized by John and the Holy Spirit came down upon him and anointed him for his ministry. The Gospel accounts are full of phrases like “in the power of the Spirit,” and “full of the Holy Spirit,” used to describe Jesus’ ministry.


The book of Acts is the extension of Jesus’ ministry through earlier believers. After Jesus’ resurrection and just before his ascension, Jesus said to his disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

From creation onward, the Holy Spirit has been active in the lives of God’s people. The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Godhead and is the empowering presence of God, filling all believers for his mission to make himself known.


We prefer not to use the word “charismatic” when we talk about what it means to be under the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit. We prefer the language of “Spirit-filled,” because the word “charismatic” tends to conjure images of everybody speaking in tongues, having their own private experience, and distracting others from the preaching and hearing of the gospel. Simply put, to be Spirit-filled is to be like Jesus, who depended on the Spirit for the success of his earthly ministry. The Gospels reveal that the life of Jesus—doing miracles, healing people, raising the dead, and resisting sinful temptation—was marked by the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38). In the Gospel of Luke, we see that Jesus was:

  • Conceived by the Spirit (1:35);
  • Taught and matured by the Spirit (2:26-27, 40, 52);
  • Filled by the Holy Spirit at his baptism (3:22);
  • Led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted (4:1)
  • Sent to preach by the power of the Spirit (4:14).

All of this was building toward the cross, where Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for our sin through the eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14). Jesus actually said it was to our advantage that he would no longer be with us in the flesh because in his absence he would send a “Helper,” the Spirit of truth, to be with us forever and to lead us into all truth. He said God the Father would send the Spirit in his name, teaching us all things, and bringing into remembrance all that he said (John 14:15–27). Jesus said the Spirit would convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment, leading us into all truth (John 16:7–13).


In possibly the greatest promise of the coming work of the Spirit, Jesus said the Spirit would take everything that is Jesus’ and make it known to us (John 16:14). All these promises were fulfilled as the Holy Spirit was poured out on all believers in Jesus Christ at Pentecost (Acts 2) and subsequent outpourings of the Spirit in Acts 810–11and 19.


1. If you trust Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit.

You can’t be a Christian without having the Holy Spirit, because it is the Spirit who gives life and awakens your heart to understand the gospel and believe in Jesus. The Spirit is the one who applies the finished redemptive work of Jesus to us and unites us to Christ through faith. John Calvin argued that if Christ’s benefits had remained outside of us, his work on our behalf would have been useless. We need to be united to Christ. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is our inauguration into the life of Christ. Sinclair Ferguson puts it this way: Baptism with the Spirit inaugurates us into the life of union with Christ. Baptism with water makers this outwardly: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Here repentance, water baptism, the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit are seen as correlative aspects of the one reality of entrance into Christ, and thus into (the fellowship of) the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

2. You can also be “filled with the Spirit” after salvation.

This is where the Spirit empowers you for renewed worship, increased holiness, and special fruitfulness in ministry. Wayne Grudem explains, It is appropriate to understand filling with the Holy Spirit not as a one-time event but as an event that can occur over and over again in a Christian’s life. It may involve a momentary empowering for a specific ministry … but it may also refer to a long-term characteristic of a person’s life (see Acts 6:3; 11:24). In either case such filling can occur many times in a person’s life: even though Stephen, as an early deacon (or apostolic assistant), was a man “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3, 5), when he was being stoned he apparently received a fresh new filling of the Holy Spirit in great power (Acts 7:55). If you’re part of the church, if you trust in Jesus and his work on the cross for you, you are Spirit-filled—and should earnestly desire to be filled continually (Ephesians 5:18). To be a Spirit-filled Christian means you have gifts, both natural and supernatural, to be used to build the church, serve those in need, spread the gospel message, and ultimately to glorify God. Don’t shy away from those gifts. Rather, humbly ask God to help you grow in them to his glory.