Take of your old nature. Put on your new nature. We thought last week about how as Christians our lives should be different from what they were like before we were Christians. Our old way of life is like a filthy shabby set of old clothes which we should take off and throw away. We should put on our new life which is created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. We should follow the example of Jesus and live as God’s beloved children. Remember who you are!
And Paul continues this theme in Ephesians 5. He gives more examples of the old sins we must leave behind – immorality and greed, obscene talk and deception. He introduces a new picture, of darkness and light.
Ephesians 5 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord.
We should live in the light. We should not be foolish but instead we should be wise, Ephesians tells us. But how can we change our lives so dramatically? We all know how difficult it is to stop doing wrong and only do the right thing all the time. The truth of course is that by ourselves we cannot change. But we don’t have to struggle alone. As Christians we have God the Holy Spirit living inside us. The Holy Spirit is God’s seal on our lives guaranteeing our inheritance and our first instalment of heaven. And the Holy Spirit brings the power of God which raised Jesus from the dead into our lives. God is able to do in us more than we can ever ask or even imagine, through the power of the Holy Spirit. The secret of living a new life and becoming more like Jesus is simple.
“Be filled with the Spirit.” “Keep on being filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)
In several places the New Testament uses the phrases “being filled with the Spirit” and “receiving the Holy Spirit” to describe an inspiring empowering experience of the Holy Spirit. This is picture language, of course. The Spirit is not a liquid and we are not containers which can hold different amounts of Spirit. In “being filled with the Spirit”, we don’t receive more of the Spirit. It might be better to say that He receives more of us. As we open our lives to God in obedience and faith, so He chooses to transform us and use us the more.
Each of us would admit that there are times in our Christian lives when we are more obedient and more trusting, when we are walking more closely with our Lord. At those times we reflect better the glory of Christ and we are more open to God’s Holy Spirit working in our lives. Many Christians would also say that they have experienced a variety of experiences from the Holy Spirit (not just once but many times) and these have deepened their relationship with God or empowered them for witness and service, or marked the beginning of them experiencing a particular spiritual gift, often praying in tongues. “Being filled with the Holy Spirit” describes these uplifting occasions.
In Ephesians 5:18 Paul commands all Christians “Keep on being filled with the Spirit”.
The command is in the present imperative – keep on being filled with the Spirit, not just once but time and time again. Many of us are a long way from being “filled with the Spirit” for most of the time. As D.L.Moody said, “I am filled, but I leak!” We drift from God and we need to repent and be lifted back to Him. There is not one experience following conversion which will lift us up on to a higher plateau of Christian living from which we can never fall. Time and time again we need to return to God in repentance, to draw closer and closer to Him.
There are also times when we need special grace and power from God to meet specific situations. The Biblical command is to “keep on being filled with the Spirit”. It implies a continuous appropriation of the Spirit’s power to become more and more like Christ. Not just one “second blessing” but many further blessings.
Bob Gordon compares our Christian life to a canal boat journey up a mountainside, through a series of locks. “Many of us know God to one degree or another but we are not unlike a canal boat sitting in an empty lock. It is not that there is no water there but we are just not full. We have enough experience to keep us afloat in the Christian life, but not enough to take us ahead.” We need, he says, “a conscious awareness that we have come as far as we can as we are. There needs to be a closing of the doors behind us …… and an opening up to a fresh infilling of the water of the Holy Spirit.” Such infillings, not once but many times, should lead to more Christ-like living, greater love in relationships, bolder witnessing, greater praise and worship and thanksgiving, and more effective service.
So – How can I be filled with the Spirit?
Any experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit is a gift of God’s grace, neither earned nor deserved. Sometimes people are filled with the Spirit suddenly and unexpectedly. But more usually the Holy Spirit comes upon Christians while they are actively seeking God and desiring His moving in their lives.
Paul says, “Eagerly desire spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 14:1). We need to want the Holy Spirit to work in us. We must desire God the Giver and not just His gifts.
We also always need to be praying. Acts 4:31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Jesus said in Luke 11: 9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 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!”
We need to ask, and seek, and knock. Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking, and we can be certain that God will pour His Holy Spirit into our lives.
We all need our spiritual batteries recharging sometimes. Every one of us needs to experience more of the dynamo and the dynamite of the Spirit in our lives. We all need to be filled afresh with the Spirit of God, time and time again. But do we really want to be?
A.W. Tozer (1897–1963) wrote this. “Before we can be filled with the Spirit, the desire to be filled must be all-consuming. It must be for the time the biggest thing in the life, so acute, so intrusive as to crowd out everything else. The degree of fullness in any life accords perfectly with the intensity of true desire. We have as much of God as we actually want.”
Paul encouraged Timothy like this. fan into flame the gift of God, ….. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:6-7).
We all need to fan the flame of the Spirit in our lives. To know more of the power and love and holiness the Spirit brings. There’s an old expression: to “put yourself in the way of blessing.” It means to make a decision to be in places where God can bless you! Somebody has said that the rain of God’s blessing starts to fall we each have an umbrella – and we each have a choice. We can hold the umbrella over our heads so the rain of God’s blessing doesn’t land on us. Or we can hold the umbrella upside down to catch as much of the blessing as possible! Which way up is your umbrella?
In the film Castaway, Tom Hanks plays a kind of modern Robinson Crusoe, stranded alone on a desert island in the middle of the ocean. Fairly early on he makes himself a boat out of trees and tries desperately to paddle out to sea. But the island is surrounded by a coral reef and however hard he tries to row, the waves over the reef push him back, until in the end the boat turns over and he is badly injured on the coral. Many attempts to row out to sea end in disaster. But then one day a piece of wreckage comes to shore and the castaway sees how he can use it. He changes the design of his boat. He rows out to the reef again but instead of trying to row against the waves he hoists the wreckage as a sail. The wind catches the sail and blows the boat past the waves out to sea and eventual rescue. At the end of the film the castaway is telling his story to a friend. “I was trapped on the island,” he says, “until one day God gave me a sail.”
Many Christians spend all their lives rowing hard trying to go somewhere new with God. But all the time the waves of life push them back. Sometimes they even fall overboard and the coral hurts! But God has given us a sail – or a number of sails. What we need to do is hoist the sails and let the wind of the Spirit carry us where God wants us to go. The sail of obedience. Conscientiously doing what God has already told us he wants us to do. The sail of faith. Trusting God to work in our lives, stepping out in faith and inviting God to surprise us. “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus – but to trust and obey.” The sail of worship. Offering God the first and the best in our worship to Him and inviting Him to break in and surprise us. And finally the sail of prayer. Not a shopping list of asking prayers but time spent earnestly seeking God’s face in listening prayer. If we want God to surprise us, we need to spend time seeking Him in prayer.
If we want to grow in our Christian lives, if we want to live our new lives to the full and become more like Jesus, we each need to keep on being filled with the Spirit. The God of surprises is longing to surprise us. We need to stop rowing frantically to battle the waves. Instead we just need to hoist the sails. “He longs to do much more than our faith has yet allowed. To thrill us and surprise us with His sovereign power.” “Ask, seek, knock. How much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.