There is reason to believe that many Christians, including a surprisingly high percentage of people who have been Christians for many years, lack certainty as to how they can know if they are filled by the Holy Spirit. We will attempt to eliminate this uncertainty by answering the following three basic questions:
- What are the differences between being indwelled by the Holy Spirit versus being filled with the Holy Spirit?
- Is every Christian indwelled by the Holy Spirit?
- Is every Christian filled with the Holy Spirit?
What Are the Differences between Being Indwelled by the Holy Spirit Versus Being Filled with the Holy Spirit?
In attempting to answer this question, we will discuss the following considerations:
- Control by the Holy Spirit
- Fruit of the Holy Spirit
- Gifts of the Holy Spirit
- Power or boldness in witnessing
- Other possible distinctions
Control by the Holy Spirit
We will use an analogy to help explain conceptually the difference between being indwelled and being filled with the Holy Spirit.
When a person becomes a Christian, that person is indwelled by the Holy Spirit and, therefore, the Holy Spirit will always “travel” with him (or her). What is most important is who is driving, because the driver is the one who controls the direction of the vehicle. Thus, when a Christian is filled with the Holy Spirit, he (or she) is allowing the Holy Spirit to drive (i.e., be in control).
The extent of the Holy Spirit’s presence in a Christian’s life does not change, but the extent of the Holy Spirit’s control does change, because the Holy Spirit’s control is dependent on the willingness of a person who is a Christian to surrender control at any particular time.
Theodore H. Epp says on page 71 of his book entitled The Holy Spirit and the Believer, “[W]hen the believer is filled with the Spirit, it means that the Holy Spirit controls the mind, the heart and the body of the Christian.” Therefore, when the Holy Spirit does not control the mind, the heart, and the body of a Christian, the believer is not filled with the Spirit, even though he (or she) is indwelled by the Spirit.
Walvoord states on page 192 of his book entitled The Holy Spirit, “The thought is not that individuals by any process have received more of the Spirit, but it is rather that the Spirit has complete possession of the individual.”
Likewise, Billy Graham says on page 19 of his book entitled The Journey, “It is never a question of how much you and I have of the Spirit, but how much He has of us.”
And, on page 101 of his book entitled The Holy Spirit, Graham says,
Christians, day by day, week by week, and month by month, are told to walk in the Spirit. Walking in the Spirit means being led and directed by the Holy Spirit. This comes as we progressively yield various areas of our lives to the Spirit’s control.
Then, on page 127 of the same book, Graham says, “I believe this is one of the tests of the Spirit-filled life. Is Christ becoming more and more evident in my life? Are people seeing more of Him, and less of me?”
Fruit of the Holy Spirit
A list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is found in Galatians 5:22-23a, which states: “[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” [For a brief explanation of each of these characteristics, click on “The Importance of the Fruit of the Spirit.]
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we are quoting a source that uses a different translation.]
With regard to the fruit of the Holy Spirit, John R. W. Stott states on page 79 of his book entitled Baptism & Fullness,
[T]his fruit . . . is the best available evidence . . . of the indwelling fullness of the Holy Spirit. The real proof of a deep work of the Spirit of God in any human being is neither subjective, emotional experiences, nor spectacular signs, but moral, Christlike qualities.
Stott does not mean that only Spirit-filled Christians can have the characteristics that the Bible calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” The attitude and actions of every Christian should reflect these characteristics, because every genuine Christian is indwelled by the Holy Spirit. The more a Christian yields to the Holy Spirit’s control, the greater will be that person’s ability to manifest the fruit of the Spirit. And, as the fruit of the Spirit grows in a Christian’s life, the more God will be pleased with that person.
In a publication entitled “Day by Day,” Billy Graham asserts, “If you are a true Christian . . . you will reveal through your daily life the fruit of the Spirit . . . and all the other Christian virtues which round out a Christlike personality.”
Why then do so many Christians not show more evidence of these qualities? The following perspective is provided by Walvoord, on page 219 of his aforementioned book:
The Christian controlled by the Spirit and empowered to do the will of God manifests a fundamental change in character. While his former sin nature is still present, . . . the new nature energized by the Spirit is producing the fruit of the Spirit.
Lehman Strauss declares on page 102 of his book entitled Be Filled with the Spirit, “In the spiritual realm, fruit can never be the results of human exertion and self-effort in order to obtain holiness. The fruit of the Spirit is the outward expression of God’s power working in us.” This indicates that evidence of spiritual fruit in a Christian’s life is dependent on the degree to which that person is willing to allow the Holy Spirit to be in control of his (or her) life.
To regularly manifest all, or even most, of the fruit of the Spirit in their life is a continuing challenge for every Christian. A person’s level of maturity as a Christian is the key factor. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not a shortcut to becoming a mature Christian, but it is likely to be a way to at least temporarily be able to demonstrate more fruit of the Spirit.
In this regard, Hershel H. Hobbs, on page 156 of his book entitled The Holy Spirit: Believer’s Guide, declares that the fruit of the Holy Spirit “will not be borne in a day. It is the harvest of a lifetime of yielding to the life of the indwelling Spirit.”
Gifts of the Holy Spirit
The Bible seems to indicate that all Christians receive one or more spiritual gifts, but it is not clear if Christians have the power to use their spiritual gift(s) if they are not filled with the Holy Spirit.
With regard to the significance of the spiritual gifts of Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit, we quote John Rea, Th.D., who says on page 81 of his book entitled The Layman’s Commentary on the Holy Spirit,
Let every Spirit-baptized Christian heed the warning of Jesus: “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20), not by their charismatic gifts and miraculous works. . . . The proofs of being filled with the Holy Spirit are far more convincing in the area of His fruit than of His gifts.
Likewise, Strauss emphasizes the importance of the fruit of the Spirit. On page 103 of his previously-mentioned book, he says that the fruit of the Spirit “has to do with character. . . . The fruit of the Spirit constitutes the graces of the Spirit. Today much stress is put upon the gifts of the Spirit to the neglect of the graces of the Spirit.” [For a discussion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, click on “Gifts of the Holy Spirit.”]
Power or Boldness in Witnessing
The only definite distinction between Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit and those who are not is the power or boldness that they have in witnessing to others.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus Christ is quoted as telling the eleven remaining disciples in His inner circle and other believers who were with them, “[Y]ou shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
In this regard, W. Herbert Brown, on page 87 of his book entitled God’s Answer, states,
Compare the disciples before and after Pentecost. . . . Before Pentecost the apostles had many advantages: they had spent three years with Jesus; they had witnessed and performed miracles; they knew the facts of the Gospel; Christ had opened up to them the prophetic Scriptures. . . . But they had no New Testament power!
In contrast, after their experience on the Day of Pentecost, these disciples had power from God that they previously did not have. That power resulted in boldness in proclaiming the gospel (see Acts 4:13, 31). And, that same his power seems to be a characteristic that is given to all Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit.
Such power is necessary to fulfill the commission that Jesus Christ gave to His followers to spread the gospel of eternal salvation. On page 126 of his book entitled The Power of Pentecost, John R. Rice, D.D., declares,
The apostles and others . . . who were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost did go to many nations, but not to all nations. The Great Commission is for the whole church of Christ. . . . And only the whole church of Christ can perfectly fulfill this command of the Lord Jesus about taking the gospel to all nations. And that means that in our day when the Holy Spirit comes upon us we will receive power for witnessing, just as the disciples received power for witnessing in their day.
In this regard, Stott asserts on page 54 of his previously-cited book, “We must beware of any claim to the fullness of the Spirit which does not lead to an evangelistic concern and outreach.”
Other Possible Distinctions
One possible distinction between being indwelled by the Holy Spirit versus being filled with the Holy Spirit is a desire to adore and worship God. Many Christians go through the motions of worship, but when they are Spirit-filled, their worship experience is genuine. Lehman Strauss says on page 82 of his aforementioned book, “warn-hearted praise and thanksgiving . . . comes from the heart controlled by the Holy Spirit.”
On the same page of his book, Strauss indicates that another possible difference between being indwelled versus being filled by the Holy Spirit is whether or not there is thankfulness in all circumstances. According to Strauss, “[T]he Spirit-filled Christian will be thankful at all times and under all conditions,” in accordance with Ephesians 5:20. The same cannot be said for many Christians who are not filled with the Holy Spirit.
Is Every Christian Indwelled by the Holy Spirit?
Billy Graham states on page 60 of his book entitled The Journey,
If you know Christ, you don’t need to beg for the Holy Spirit to come into your life. He is already there – whether you “feel” His presence or not. Don’t confuse the Holy Spirit with an emotional feeling or a particular type of spiritual experience.
In regard to the same matter, we will now consider several scriptures which indicate that the Holy Spirit indwells (i.e., exists within, as an activating force) every genuine Christian.
Romans 8:9: “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.”
1 Corinthians 3:16: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
2 Corinthians 1:21-22: “Now He Who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, Who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a deposit.”
On page 76 of his aforementioned book, Rea explains that the Greek word translated “deposit” in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 means “the first down payment by which the recipient is assured of final payment in full. . . . The Spirit Himself is this [deposit], or pledge . . ., or guarantee. . . .”
Similarly, on page 146 of his previously-mentioned book, Hobbs says, “At the moment one believes in Christ the Holy Spirit indwells him, seals him unto God, and becomes God’s guarantee or earnest money that God will go through with his promise to save him completely.”
And, Arthur W. Pink, on page 133 of his book entitled The Holy Spirit, states, “[T]he Spirit seals or confirms my heart that salvation is mine. Thus in ‘sealing’ the Spirit authenticates, certifies, ratifies.”
Rea, on page 24 of his previously-mentioned book, provides the following additional perspective regarding the significance of “sealing”:
The time when this sealing takes place is said to be after we have believed the Gospel. . . . In those days an owner often stamped his signet into the still soft clay of a newly made storage jar or of a jar stopper. The impression left by the signet “sealed” the jar, clearly marking it and its future contents as the possession of that man.
Other scriptures which infer that the Holy Spirit indwells everyone who is a genuine Christian (i.e., people who have sincerely trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord) include the following:
2 Corinthians 5:5b: “God . . . has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”
Ephesians 1:13-14a: “In Him [Jesus Christ] you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in Whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, Who is the guarantee of our inheritance. . . .”
Ephesians 4:30: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
It may be appropriate to include Acts 2:38 in this list. This scripture states, “Then Peter [i.e., one of Jesus Christ’s inner circle of disciples] said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” However, some Bible scholars think that “the gift of the Holy Spirit” refers to salvation, rather than to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
In any case, the Bible clearly teaches that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is proof that a person is a Christian, and that all genuine Christians are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. And, this indwelling is constant, regardless of what a Christian feels, says, or does.
Is Every Christian Filled with the Holy Spirit?
There are several scriptures, most notably the following scriptures in the Book of Acts, that indicate being filled with the Holy Spirit is a special experience that not every Christian has.
Acts 6:3: “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business [i.e., the responsibilities of deacons or elders].”
This scripture indicates that, in addition to having a good reputation and wisdom, the men to be chosen to serve in important positions in the church needed to have a relationship with the Holy Spirit that went beyond His indwelling them. Although all Christians are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, the instruction to choose men who were “full of the Holy Spirit” indicates that not all the Christian men in the Jerusalem church were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Walvoord, on page 191 of his previously-cited book says, “[A] newborn saint may have the fullness of the Spirit, while being nevertheless quite immature, and in contrast a mature saint may lack the fullness of the Spirit.”
Another scripture that indicates being filled with the Holy Spirit is a special experience that not every Christian has is the following:
Acts 9:17: “And Ananias [a Christian to whom the Lord had spoken in a vision] went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him, he said, ‘Brother Saul [i.e., the apostle Paul’s name, before it was changed], the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’”
In regard to this scripture, Brown states on page 97 of his previously-mentioned book, “Saul must have been a saved man when Ananias came to minister to him, because Ananias addressed him as ‘Brother Saul.’” Therefore, Saul’s filling by the Holy Spirit must have been subsequent to the time when he became indwelled by the Holy Spirit.
Two other scriptures which indicate that being filled with the Holy Spirit is a special experience that not every Christian has are the following:
Acts 11:24a: “For he [Barnabas] was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”
Acts 13:52: “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
The Christians referred to in these last two scriptures were not just indwelled by the Holy Spirit – they were filled with the Holy Spirit. However, this does not mean that these Christians had more of the Holy Spirit than those who were indwelled by the Holy Spirit. As we indicated previously, the extent of the Holy Spirit’s presence in a Christian does not change, but the degree of the Holy Spirit’s control can change, because the Holy Spirit’s control is dependent on the willingness of the Christian to surrender control at any particular time.
[For a discussion of how a Christian can become filled with the Holy Spirit, click on “Importance of Being Filled with the Holy Spirit.”]
The Bible clearly teaches that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is proof that a person is a Christian and that, therefore, all genuine Christians are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. The extent of the Holy Spirit’s presence in a Christian does not change, but the extent of the Holy Spirit’s control does change, because the Holy Spirit’s control is dependent on the willingness of each Christian to surrender control at any particular time. As a result, when the Holy Spirit does not control the mind, the heart and the body of a Christian, the believer is not filled with the Spirit, even though he (or she) is indwelled by the Spirit.
Explanations of the Characteristics of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit
Love: “Agape is the particular word for love which Paul used in Galatians 5:22; it means divine love, the very nature of God. . . . It is that seed of divine love which is sown in the heart of the believer the moment he becomes God’s child. . . . [It] is an all-embracing love. In this it differs radically from ordinary human love: we humans do not love people we don’t like. But God loves every human. . . .” [Strauss, p. 104] “Agape is the intelligent and purposeful love which is an act of the will more than of emotion or feeling.” [Rea, p. 80] “This kind of love is focused on pleasing God, not pleasing oneself. [This type of] love always seeks the best for the object of its love.” [Adult Learner Guide, summer 2009, p. 47]
Joy: “Christian joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit independent of circumstances.” [Strauss, p. 105] “Joy is clearly different than happiness. It is not based on circumstances, but on the presence, hope, and promises of God.” [To Heaven and Back, by Mary C. Neal, M.D., p.93] “[It] gives zest and sparkle to all of life.” [Hobbs, p. 155]
Peace: “[This] refers to a pervasive sense of wholeness and well-being.” [Adult Learner Guide, summer 2009, p. 47] “[It is] the condition of composure and serenity even in the midst of a storm, is conditioned not upon outward circumstances but upon a faith firmly fixed in God and his will.” [Hobbs, p. 155] “This peace . . . consists both of inward repose . . . and of harmonious relations with others.” [Rea, p. 80]
Longsuffering: “[This expresses] the idea of patience, spiritual endurance.” [Strauss, p. 108] “[It includes] the patient endurance of wrongs suffered at the hand of another. . . .” [Hobbs, p. 155]
Kindness: “[This] means gentleness, sympathy, and a spirit of concern toward others.” [Adult Learner Guide, summer 2009, p. 47] “[It includes seeking] to do good to those who have wronged you.” [Hobbs, p. 155] “[It is] the mark of a sweet spirit, one that is kind and mild and full of graciousness.” [Rea, p. 81]
Goodness: “[This is] the quality of uprightness which extends itself to benefit others in generosity. . . .” [Hobbs, p. 155] “[It pertains to] an active, caring generosity that desires to do for others what is useful and beneficial.” [Adult Learner Guide, summer 2009, p. 47]
Faithfulness: “It is the quality of reliability, dependability, trustworthiness, fidelity.” [Strauss, p. 112] “It shows itself in being a trustworthy steward of God . . . and in being true and obedient to His word. . . .” [Rea, p. 81]
Gentleness (or Meekness): “[This involves] courtesy and considerateness in one’s dealings with others.” [Hobbs, p. 155] “[It is] based on humility and self-denial. It is a humble tolerance of others. . . . It is gentle and strong . . . .” [Rea, p. 81]
Self-control (or Temperance): “[This means] to take hold of, to grip, to have under control, suggesting self-restraint, self-denial, self-discipline.” [Strauss, p. 114] “[It involves] the discipline of self-restraint and mastery over one’s physical desires and passions.” [Adult Learner Guide, summer 2009, p. 47]