“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable,
gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits,
without partiality and without hypocrisy.
Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
James 3:17-18 (NKJV)
A person who is born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit will show outward evidence of that inner transformation. Conversely, a person who does not have the Spirit of God in them will eventually show their true colors by what they say and how they act.
In the Epistle of James, there is a section about faith vs. works (2:14-26) that is often misinterpreted, or at least misunderstood. The epistle is directed to believers; it is not an epistle telling unbelievers how to be saved! James’ purpose is to explain to believers how they can tell genuine faith from a phony or showy faith that talks a big talk. This was the problem in his day when Pharisees came into an assembly of Christians and announced, “I’m a Christian just like you. I’m right with God. Listen to what I have to say because I’m a teacher sent by God.” These were Pharisees who mixed the grace of God with displays of colorful clothing, lavish ceremonies, and complicated rules and traditions. They insisted that believers in Jesus Christ also obey the Law of Moses and follow the Temple elders. These Pharisees were educated, articulate, persuasive, respected religious people! Should James’ readers follow them?
Of course, the best way to spot a false teacher is to see if they teach the truth or not! If they teach false doctrine, then reject them (Galatians 1:6-9; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 1 John 4:2-3). Another way to detect a false teacher is to evaluate their works. People can say anything, but their actions will give them away. That’s the point James makes in his faith vs. works treatise: “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? James 2:14 (NKJV). If this “someone” says he has great faith but his works contradict what he says, that kind of faith won’t save him—it’s a hollow, empty, dead faith. “… faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17, 26).
The hypothetical discussion continues in 2:18 when this “someone” points to his works: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” The “someone” who we now know is an ultra-religious Pharisee, a false teacher, upholds his “works” as superior to the other person’s “mere” faith. The Pharisee points to his meticulous observance of a kosher diet, frequent prayers, regular fasting, observance of holy days, fine religious clothing, precise tithing, an all the ceremonies of the Temple as the evidence of his faith. God is not impressed. These are not works at all! How do we know, because James describes their true works: bitter envy, self-seeking, boasting, lying against the truth (3:14). James assures us, “This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic” (3:15).
“Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh!” (3:12). The answers to the two questions are No! James concludes with this guidance: watch to see what kind of fruit that fig tree produces. What kind of fruit does the grapevine yield? Watch those teachers and look for evidence of spiritual fruit that comes from above.
It bears repeating before we look at an essential aspect of being “filled with the Spirit” that this “filling” is not something that can be achieved by willpower, determination, self-discipline, or “grit.” It is the natural result of a redeemed life yielded to the Lord Jesus Christ and moment-by-moment control by the Holy Spirit. If you are not born-again by faith in Jesus Christ, then all the self-help or self-reformation programs will not produce eternal life. (Read John 3:3-18 for a clear explanation of how faith alone can produce eternal life.)
Lewis Sperry Chafer offers us this gem on the meaning of being filled with the Spirit: *
“It is important to note that three times in the New Testament the effect of strong drink is put over against the Spirit-filled life (Luke 1:15; Acts 2:12-21; Ephesians 5:18). As strong drink stimulates the physical forces and men are prone to turn to it for help over the difficult places, so the child of God, facing an impossible responsibility of a heavenly walk and service, is directed to the Spirit as the source of all sufficiency. Every moment in a spiritual life is one of unmeasured need and super-human demands, and the supply of enabling power and grace must be as constantly received and employed. “As thy day, so shall thy strength be” (Deuteronomy 33:25).
“To be filled with the Spirit is to have the Spirit fulfilling in us all that God intended Him to do when He placed Him there. [See previous posts on Regenerating, Indwelling, Baptizing, Sealing.] To be filled is not the problem of getting more of the Spirit: it is rather the problem of the spirit getting more of us. We shall never have more of the Spirit than the anointing which every true Christian has received. On the other hand, the Spirit may have all of the believer and thus be able to manifest in him the life and character of Christ. A spiritual person, then is one who experiences the divine purpose and plan in his daily life through the power of the indwelling Spirit. The character of that life will be the out-lived Christ. The cause of that life will be the unhindered indwelling Spirit (Ephesians 3:16-21; II Corinthians 3:18).
“The New Testament is clear as to just what the Spirit would produce in a fully adjusted life, and all of this revelation taken together forms the Bible definition of spirituality. These undertakings are distinctly assigned to the Holy Spirit, and are His manifestations in and through the Christian.” [Emphasis added.]
* He That is Spiritual by Lewis Sperry Chafer (pp. 43-44)
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit
So far, we have looked at five ministries of the Holy Spirit to believers in the Church Age:
The first four of these happened at salvation, maybe without our knowledge at the time, while the fifth is an ongoing process that is governed by our willingness to submit moment-by-moment and day-by-day to the inner work of the Holy Spirit.
The outline below gives a quick exposition of Ephesians 5:18.*
The Ephesian Christians had been blessed with every “spiritual blessing.” v. 1:3
Evidently you can have “every spiritual blessing” such as the first four in the list above and still not be “filled.” Filling comes after the initial work of the Holy Spirit at salvation.
We are not to think of the Holy Spirit like air or water that is the content of the filling.
Filled means “controlled by” cf. Luke 6:11. It is like the command, “fill the bucket with the hose.” I know that you don’t want me to stuff the hose into the bucket until the hose fills it. Likewise, we don’t put more and more of the Holy Spirit into us until we are “full.” The Holy Spirit is a Person and isn’t measured out a bit at a time. The Third Person of the Triune God lives inside each believer–we have ALL of Him! The Holy Spirit is the one filling us or controlling us. (The Holy Spirit is filling us with what Galatians 5:22-23 calls the fruit of the Spirit.)
The command implies that not all Christians are “filled.”
Commanding us to be filled shows that this is different from Regenerating, Indwelling, Baptizing, Sealing which happen at salvation.
The command proves that the responsibility for the infilling is ours.
We never find a command for any Christian to be indwelled or baptized of Spirit. God never commands us to do something that we are incapable of obeying.
Present tense (in Greek) shows that God wants us to be filled continuously, not merely at times.
Regenerating, Indwelling, Baptizing, Sealing by the Holy Spirit are one-time events. Being filled (controlled) by the Holy Spirit is an ongoing action.
Not to be filled means we are consciously disobeying the Lord’s command and this is sin.
The other command in the first half of the verse, “be not drunken with wine,” is something for which we are responsible. Being drunk means that a person is intoxicated with alcohol and that “spirit” controls their actions. Contrary to the thinking of some in our society, the intoxicated person is responsible for his/her actions when he/she decides to let another spirit control them.
The life of a Christian—a spiritual Christian—is a life controlled by the Holy Spirit.
Taken from The Persons of the Triune God, Dr. Alva J. McClain (class notes from Grace Seminary provided by George Zeller, Middletown Bible Church.)
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit
This will be our theme for the next several months as we examine the activity of God’s Spirit in the life of the believer. Our prior posts were about what the Holy Spirit did in a believer at the moment of salvation. The four that we looked at are among many things that happened when we were saved – Regenerating, Indwelling, Baptizing, Sealing. They required us to do one thing: believe. These were one-time acts that will not be repeated.
Today’s portion on Biblical Spirituality examines an activity of the Holy Spirit that takes place after salvation. Filling of the Holy Spirit involves our constant, willful participation. Ephesians 5:18 is a key, thematic verse which we will exegete (bring out the meaning of the text) in some detail next time.
Today is a short post because I want us to take our time to ponder the verse. I suggest that you memorize it because it is foundational to Biblical Spirituality. It is a verse often misinterpreted. It is at the heart of personal sanctification.
Some things to meditate about this week:
The first half of the verse contrasts with the second half. Can you see why?
What does it mean to “be filled”? How do we know when we are “full”?
“be filled with the Spirit” is an imperative (command) in Greek. What does that imply?