How can we lead a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led life? Can we assume that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit will naturally lead to a Spirit-filled life? Is it possible to grieve/quench/resist the Holy Spirit that dwells in us?
An important verse in understanding the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is John 14:16, where Jesus promised the Spirit would be given to believers and that He would be with them forever. It is important to distinguish the indwelling from the filling of the Spirit. The permanent indwelling of the Spirit is not for a select few believers, but for all believers. There are a number of references in Scripture that support this conclusion. First, the Holy Spirit is a gift given to all believers in Jesus without exception, and no conditions are placed upon this gift except faith in Christ (cf. John 7:37-39). Second, the Holy Spirit is given at the moment of salvation (cf. Ephesians 1:13). Galatians 3:2 emphasizes this same truth, saying that the sealing and indwelling of the Spirit took place at the time of believing. Third, the Holy Spirit indwells believers permanently. The Holy Spirit is given to believers as a down payment, or verification of their future glorification in Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 4:30).
This is in contrast to the filling of the Spirit referred to in Ephesians 5:18, which means that believers shall come to understand what the will of the Lord is; for the Spirit of God is given as a Spirit of wisdom and of understanding; and as a result, yield completely to the Holy Spirit so that He can possess them fully, and fill their souls with great joy, strength, and courage. Romans 8:9 and Ephesians 1:13-14 state that the Holy Spirit dwells within every believer, but He can be grieved (cf. Ephesians 4:30), His activity within us can be quenched (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:19), and He can be resisted by stubborn people (cf. Acts 7:51).
To understand what it means to grieve the Spirit, we must first understand that this indicates the Spirit possesses personality. Only a person can be grieved; therefore, the Spirit must be a divine person in order to have this emotion. Once we understand this, we can better understand how He is grieved, mainly because we too are grieved. Ephesians 4:30 tells us that we should not grieve the Spirit. We grieve the Spirit by living like the pagans (4:17-19), by lying (4:25), by being angry (4:26-27), by stealing (4:28), by cursing (4:29), by being bitter (4:31), by being unforgiving (4:32), and by being sexually immoral (5:3-5). To grieve the Spirit is to act out in a sinful manner, whether it is in thought only or in both thought and deed.
When the word “quench” is used in Scripture, it is speaking of suppressing fire. When believers put on the shield of faith, as part of their armor of God (cf. Ephesians 6:16), they are extinguishing the power of the fiery darts from Satan. Christ described hell as a place where the fire would not be “quenched” (cf. Mark 9:44, 46, 48). Likewise, the Holy Spirit is a fire dwelling in each believer. He wants to express Himself in our actions and attitudes. When believers do not allow the Spirit to be seen in our actions, when we do what we know is wrong, we suppress or quench the Spirit (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:19). We do not allow the Spirit to reveal Himself the way that He wants to.
The words of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, were spoken to a hostile audience. The message of the risen Christ was being rejected. “You stiff-necked people,” he says, “with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51) Their response was like the response their ancestors gave whenever a prophet came among them; their rejection of the message was tantamount to resisting the Holy Spirit. It was as if the Holy Spirit was personally speaking to them and they were rejecting him. The Jews resisted what Stephen said: “they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him… they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him” (Acts 7:54-57). The Holy Spirit was speaking through Stephen and, when his message was rejected, the Holy Spirit was being resisted.
When we grieve/quench/resist the Holy Spirit, we do not experience the fullness of the Spirit’s working and His power in and through us. To be filled with the Spirit implies freedom for Him to occupy every part of our lives, guiding and controlling us. Then His power can be exerted through us so that what we do is fruitful to God. The filling of the Spirit does not apply to outward acts alone; it also applies to the innermost thoughts and motives of our actions. Psalm 19:14 says, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
Sin is what hinders the filling of the Holy Spirit, and obedience to God is how the filling of the Spirit is maintained. Ephesians 5:18 commands that we be filled with the Spirit; however, it is not by praying for the filling of the Holy Spirit alone that accomplishes the filling. It is our openness to the Spirit’s prompting with the grace of God that allows Him the freedom to work within us. Because we are still infected with sin, it is impossible to be filled with the Spirit all the time. When we sin, we should immediately confess it and renew our commitment to being Spirit-filled and Spirit-led.
Let us ask the Lord to fill us with the Holy Spirit with the song “Fill My Cup, Lord”, and may our hearts be always open to His prompting: