“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
By John David Hicks
In my sermons on the filling of the Holy Spirit, I use a simple illustration. A large glass goblet filled with clean, pure water represents how God created us to be. The Bible says we were made vessels of earthen clay to contain God. He intends for us to be pure and holy. Sin, however, comes in and pollutes this pure water with dirt, grime, and filth.
In addition to the goblet of clean water, I have 7 UP, Tabasco, pig’s blood, dirt, beer, honey, garlic, and a cherry to illustrate how sin contaminates the water. The spirit of lust comes in, I pour in dirt and 7 UP—the water starts bubbling. Greed and covetousness come in, I pour in pig’s blood, honey, and garlic. This contamination leaves the person disappointed, which can result in anger. I pour in Tabasco—the person is now boiling and mad as hell and not going to take any more from anyone (James 4:23). This anger can grow and ferment until there is a murderous rage full of hate.
This nasty mess has contaminated the spirit of man and affects everything about him. He is so messed up that he’s drunk—so let’s give him some beer.
Now do you want to drink this water? How about if I put a cherry on top? Does the package of sin look better? Now will you drink from the goblet?
No one wants to drink this filth and pollution! I took a drink of this earlier, but not now. This is why people pull away from us. They see through us—with all the crud and filth in our lives. We are undrinkable. We can get use to the pollution, however, and barely notice it in our lives. In a few minutes I will show you how God cleanses all the filth and sin out of our lives and makes us so that we are living as God intended us to be, pure and holy. The water will be so clean that I can drink from the goblet, but only after God cleans it!
God made us vessels of earthen clay to contain Him, but sin has contaminated our lives. In the fall, man took on a sinful, selfish nature. In Scripture this is called the carnal nature, the flesh, or the old self. Romans 7 says we have this bent toward sinning and do the things we don’t want to do rather than what is right and good.
This sinful, selfish nature is described in Galatians 5:1923. “It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and ncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on” (The Message). That is the contamination in the glass!
“How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinks iniquity (sin) like water?” (Job 15:16). Something has happened inside of a man or woman. Sin messes us up. Jesus proclaims, “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
The Gospel is the good news that God wants to fill the goblet of our lives with Himself. Peter says we “may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:4). This means that a deep, fundamental change is possible. This is what we call sanctification: “to be holy, set apart for God’s use; cleansed for service.”
On the Day of Pentecost the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. They were given power from on high to witness and live a holy life. Paul said he too was “sanctified by faith” (Acts 26:18). The Spirit-filled life is not the deluxe edition of the Christian life reserved for super-disciples. It is the basic and total plan of God for all His people. Ephesians 5:18 tells us how we are filled with the Spirit: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
Continuing to get drunk on sin leads to debauchery. That’s excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures, or self-indulgence. The focus of this sinful nature is on self, my performance, the law, sin, and failure. The Bible says the yeast of this old self must be extracted so that the new self in Christ can live. “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:68).
God wants to clean out the old leaven of sin. Jesus, our lamb that was sacrificed, has provided for this. The new self without yeast—sin—is lived by sincerity, wanting to do God’s will and walking in the truth of God’s Word, by being filled with the Holy Spirit. “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).
But how can we deal with this sinful nature? Because the New Testament church experienced the fullness of the Holy Spirit, so can you. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Ephesians 5:18 gives us the steps to the treasure:
BE: Many religions place an emphasis on what you do; Christianity emphasizes what you are to be, because the work is already done. What tempted Adam and Eve? The tree of knowledge was a “do to be” tree. Satan tempted the pair by saying that if you do this (eat from the tree), you will become that (like God). Man is still eating of that tree: do this to be that. This world system drives us to perform to be accepted, even in the church. If you do, do, do, then all you really get out of it is doo-doo. Paul says that in Philippians 3: All his “do to be” was doo-doo—dung—in God’s sight. We have brought this world system into the church so people will do to keep the organization going.
The difference between doing and being can be illustrated by a healthy marriage relationship. When two people are in love there are certain “rules” that they abide by even without discussing them. They love each other, and neither wants to have an affair. Do they not have an affair because it is a rule, or do they not have an affair because it would devastate their partner? They are in love, so following rules comes naturally out of a relationship.
It is the same with God. As we enter into relationship with God, our focus is not on the rules but on a “new covenant,” the law of love written on our hearts. It is a process of becoming, and the doing falls in line with our relationship with God.
Some discuss sin as if it can be completely removed in one instant, like a surgeon opens up the body and skillfully removes a cancerous tumor. The removal of sin is not as precise an operation. Clearly the seeker needs to make a decision (a onetime event), but as the person trusts God and learns to love, slowly God changes the person to become more like Him. As his relationship with God improves, the desire for sin decreases. There is a crisis and a process (Luke 9:23).
The work of God is that you be in Him. The tree of life was a “be” tree. Be in God what you are. “Abide in the vine.” If you be dead to sin, you have God’s nature and you be God’s child (Romans 6:2; 1 John 3:610).
Christians can go through all the outward forms of doing and saying the right things and still miss what God intends for the Spirit-filled life. God does not want to see what you can do, but He wants to show you what you can be and are, right now, by faith. Let God do it in you. “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us” (Ephesians 3:2021 The Message).
FILLED: There is nothing halfway about Christianity. When you are saved, the Holy Spirit comes into your heart. When you are filled with the Spirit, you don’t get more of God, but He gets more of you. God tells us that you must present your body to Him (Romans 12:12). God can’t fill what He does not have. Your part is the consecration. God’s part is the sanctification. When God flows like a river in your life, He will begin to push out the sinful, selfish things, cleansing and filling you with Himself. You “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:4). The Holy Spirit imparts the essence of Jesus, His pure, kind, simple, and loving character. As you let God be God in you, you become what you were destined to become (Colossians 1:27).
“Be filled.” This is God’s work in you as you respond in faith. Jesus wanted no one to follow Him under false pretense. “Are you sure you want to follow Me?” He asked for self-sacrifice, and many turned away. There is cost involved in surrendering to the leadership of God’s Spirit. The crowd turned back from Jesus and never knew what it meant to become true disciples. But if you have a hunger for God, if you crave the fullness of His presence and want intimacy with Him, if you desire God’s purity and power, then the answer is: Be continually filled with the Spirit. Jesus said, “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness” (John 10:10).
WITH: You will be filled with some thing. Do you want to be filled with the dirt and filth of sin? Or would you rather be filled with the Spirit of the Living God? You can allow yourself to be transformed into the likeness of the Creator by being filled with His Spirit. You cannot become more like God without allowing Him to fill you with His Spirit. Do not be naïve—you are filled with something. The question is: What are you filled with?
Someone who is filled with the Spirit exhibits certain characteristics of the Holy Spirit. “He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely” (Galatians 5:2223 The Message).
THE: It is not be filled with a spirit, but be filled with the Spirit! We are talking about the Spirit of God, God Himself, who fills all things. He is the imparting, empowering, inspiring, entrusting, teaching Holy Spirit who fills and overflows your life, so that “you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:4).
SPIRIT: Don’t be filled with darkness, fear, bitterness, and hate. Don’t look to yourself, but rather to improving your relationship with your Creator. Only through walking day by day in closer communion with God will you begin to find a true infilling of the Spirit of God. It’s not a onetime occurrence, but an everyday decision. It’s not just a moment-in-time transformation, but a process of growth (2 Peter 3:18).
A little orphan boy at the mission school was always in trouble. One day the teacher caught him again eating sugar from the sugar bowl. “Teacher,” he said to her, “you are so good and I am so bad. I wish you could crawl down inside of me and be good. Then I would always be good.”
That’s what God wants to do in you through the Spirit (Colossians 1:27).
Do you want to be filled with the Spirit? Remember that goblet of filth? It is filled with sin, the law, and failure. When our focus is on our shortcomings and sin, there is no room for God. Reading the list of sins in Galatians 5, some of you felt the sting of your failure.
Do you know the way most people deal with sin? They say to the pastor, “You are right, I have sinned and failed. I am wicked. I am going to take care of things and get cleaned up. I will try harder. I am going to pray and fast for a month to get this stuff out of my heart so God can fill me and use me.”
That’s how we think: I have to empty my cup, wash it, fill it, and use it. It’s so logical, so we apply that to our faith: empty, wash, fill, use. But that’s not what the Bible says. “Be filled with the Spirit.” God’s powerful flow invades our small goblet and pushes the dirt and filth out. More dirt may get into our lives, but the Holy Spirit can continually cleanse us. Imagine the river of life, the Holy Spirit (John 7:38), pouring into your cup of sin and filth.
Back to my goblet illustration: I get a big pitcher of clean water. As I pour the water into the goblet, I am going to fill and cleanse this vessel the same way God does it. The pure water flows into the depths of the goblet, cleansing and overflowing everywhere as it pushes out all the filth and sin.
Can you hold all of God? You are like a cup. God’s love, mercy, grace, and power is like an ocean—feeding the mighty river of the Holy Spirit flowing “without measure” (John 3:34). As this river of life flows, it breaks down the banks and flows “where it wills” (John 3:8), blessing all in its path. God’s supply is greater than your supply of sin. As God fills you with His Spirit, the power of God transforms you, cleansing all your sin and filth. It’s not by your might or power that anything will be accomplished, God says, but by His Spirit (Zechariah 4:6).
You are transformed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). This flow will make you pure and clean, free from sin. The Spirit will fill your cup and anoint you with the oil of His healing grace and wisdom. “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Nobody can be filled with the Spirit of God and keep that Spirit to himself. Where the Spirit is, He will overflow. And where there is no overflowing, He is not there. He overflows your boundaries; He occupies everything around you; He goes in His direction and controls every area of your life.
Do you know why you sin? You think sin will give you more pleasure than God will give you. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). He will satisfy. “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). The joy of the Lord is your strength to overcome. Paul prayed, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). You were made to contain God and be filled with Him.
“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). The command is to walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. With the command comes life-changing truth that the Holy Spirit is living in you and continually filling you. In Acts the disciples were filled with the Spirit at Pentecost, but were filled again and again. “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).
You will never know the “fullness” of God until you have had a life-changing experience of power and purity in the Holy Spirit. God’s river will cleanse all in its path and will overflow in power over all the boundaries of men.
A few years ago June and I visited Niagara Falls and were impressed by the overpowering sense of it all. Every minute, about 500,000 tons of water plunge into the Niagara River gorge. The electrical generating station powers several large cities. God could have used a lot less water, but He didn’t. He could have made the falls lower, but He built them over 12 stories high. And because they are from His creative hand, people come from around the world to see Niagara Falls.
What a picture of the flow of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace! God’s grace toward you flows like Niagara, in superabundance to cleanse, empower, and meet your need. The flow is without measure (John 3:34).
The Spirit-filled life is not getting more from God, but freely receiving all that God is. His presence is what makes you holy. He sanctifies, He empowers. He does it all. You come in humility, like an unashamed beggar, and let go of your right to yourself (Galatians 2:2021). The human side to the filling of the Holy Spirit is consecration to the lordship of Jesus Christ (Romans 12:12); God’s side is the cleansing, empowering, and filling our hearts with the love of God by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:45). You want to “do so you can be” what God wants. But you can’t make it happen. God wants you to “be,” and He will “do” through you. The issue is that of surrender, letting go and being totally dependent on Him.
A truth is made real by experience. “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’” (John 8:3132 NKJV). You can experience the truth of the promise of the Holy Spirit: “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
Prayer: Lord, I live in a condemned world and I am condemned. I need Your daily filling and cleansing. I want to be clean. I thought that I had to empty myself and clean myself so You could fill and use me. But Your Word says You will empty and clean me by filling me. Help me to stop doing to be. Lord, help me to be to do. Help me be a part of the vine, of You. Let the river of the Holy Spirit cleanse my heart and life by filling me to overflowing. Lord, I ask to be filled afresh with the Holy Sprit. Amen.