Yes, there is a doctrine, and therefore a family of truths, that is as Gospel based as can be but has fallen off the preaching and teaching landscape in our churches today. That truth is the filling of the Holy Spirit! Surely someone receiving this message will say, “Well, I just preached on it”, or “I teach that regularly”. Good, but you are the exception. I occasionally hear this truth expressed in prayer but rarely expounded in the pulpits.
Now, I don’t mean to convey we only need a sermon on this here and there. Much more than that, this whole group of Gospel truths – dying to self and being risen with Christ – must be applied to our lives and woven into the very fabric of our messages. This is sanctification by the Spirit. More later on why this is vital.
In this writing I am not attempting to expound this great teaching. Yet for clarity’s sake, I am speaking of He, the Holy Spirit, being in control of the believer’s life. That same dominating, possessing, inherent control that Jesus walked in, we must have also. This is not emotion; it is empowerment. It is not a feeling but a filling! In Eph. 5:18, “be filled” is in the imperative, meaning a command. More so, it is a present tense, indicating a consistent experience. Interestingly, it is in the passive voice, meaning we are acted upon – we cannot do this! Does this mean we are commanded to do something we cannot do? Precisely! This is the same pattern theologically as “you must be born again”, and we know we cannot save ourselves. God is the initiator, and we are the respondents. In Acts 4:8, Peter is “filled with the Holy Spirit”. Again, it is in the passive voice but here in an aorist tense, telling us that at this particular point in time this filling was done to him. Yes, God’s Spirit just landed on him, a special touch for a specific task. So whether it is us seeking this powerful filling or God sending it for special times, WE NEED HIS FILLING POWER and are meant to serve Him with it! While this is obviously mystical, it is also objective since the Word of God is our guide for life in the Spirit (Col 3:16).
WHERE ARE WE? In the 70’s and 80’s, every itinerant evangelist I knew and all solid Bible-centered pastors preached on the filling of the Spirit. Some of this came in seeking to clear up some neo-pentecostal confusion, but thankfully it went way beyond that. Conferences abounded, tapes were heard and shared, and churches were alive and hungry to hear more. There was a genuine move of God in Baptist and Evangelical churches by the dear Holy Spirit teaching us how He works in and through us to empower us, exalting Jesus as we show and share the Gospel.
This teaching went by many names such as “the abundant life”, “the exchanged life”, “the deeper life” (the name of my seminary course), “the saving life of Christ”, “life in Christ” and more. It was often said, “Whatever you call it, get it!”
Today there is hardly a peep. I recently met a godly man who has a sound background in this area who told me that in eleven years in area churches he has not heard one sermon on this area of sanctification. This may be isolated, but I believe it is representative. I will not take time to expound all the reasons for the dearth of these truths; but let it be noted: the teaching has faded, and so have we!
1 Kings 14:26-28 tells about how Rehoboam replaced the gold shields Solomon made (which were stolen by Egypt) with bronze shields. These shields were used to honor the king. What does it take to make bronze look like gold? A lot of elbow grease, i.e. a lot of effort of the flesh. It was still a substitute. I’m afraid we have substituted the fleshly effort of the bronze shields of Church Growth techniques and tools from the Leadership movement for Holy Spirit power. My late father was a highly-skilled professional craftsman, and I inherited nearly all his tools. I may sharpen them and polish them and attempt to use them, but I still do not possess the skill and power with which he worked. We keep polishing our tools rather than seeking from God “gold refined in the fire” (Rev 3:18).
As I conclude this portion, I will add one thing that relates to a wider subject: Nothing will affect our prayer life like the seeking of the fullness of the Holy Spirit through His Word!