You will find my text in Ephesians 5:18 — “Be filled with the Spirit.”
This is the most important commandment in the Bible. I know that the command to be baptized is important, but this is more important. The commandments of Moses are important, but they are not as important as this commandment. The commandment of Jesus, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel,” is one of the most important in the New Testament, but the command to be filled with the Spirit is still more important. Because, you see, when you obey this commandment you automatically obey all the others. The fullness of the Spirit settles every problem in your life.
This commandment was not given to a carnal church; it was given to one of the most spiritual churches, the Church at Ephesus. If it had been give to the Corinthian Church we would have understood it at once. The Corinthians were carnal; they needed the fullness of the Spirit. But it was not given to them. If, therefore, it was necessary for the Ephesian Church it is necessary for us today. Paul could stand in any pulpit in our day and say, “Be filled with the Spirit,” for there are some in every church who have never yet been filled with the fullness of the Spirit of God.
This message, therefore, is for each and every one of us. We all need to be filled with the Spirit. The disciples were filled on the day of Pentecost and then filled again at a later date. We, too, must be filled again and again. God wants us not only to be filled, but to live Spirit-filled lives. Otherwise we will be failures.
“But,” you say, “I have the Holy Spirit. I received Him when I was regenerated.” That is true. It was also true of the Ephesians. They had the Spirit. However, it is one thing to “have” the Spirit, it is another thing to be “filled” with the Spirit.
Here, for instance, is a glass of water. It is filled partly with water and partly with air. Before it can be filled with water all the air must be excluded. Only when it is filled to the brim would I be correct in saying that it is filled with water. So it is with you. You have the Spirit, but does He have you? Is He in complete control of you? Does He fill you? Or are you partly filled with the Spirit and partly filled with self, the world and sin? Does He dominate and rule your life? Are you really and truly filled with the Spirit?
WHY MUST YOU BE FILLED?
But why must you be filled with the Spirit? There are two reasons and I express them both in one word, and that one word is POWER. You need power. You must have power. But power, however, along two lines.
First, power over sin. You will never be an overcomer until you are Spirit filled. The Bible says: “Walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). It is only as you are filled with the Holy Spirit that you are able to overcome your besetting sin. The Holy Spirit makes you a victorious Christian. Without His fullness you will be defeated, you will be a slave to sin. God wants to set you free. He wants to make you an overcomer. You cannot overcome yourself. Only the Holy Spirit within you can overcome. The Christian life is the outliving of the indwelling Christ. Only as He indwells in the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit will your outward life be the kind of a life it should be. Therefore, in order to have power over sin you must be filled with the Spirit.
Second, power in service. You will never be used of God until you are filled with the Spirit. The Bible says: “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me” (Acts 1:8). If you are going to be an effective witness you must be filled with the Spirit. Otherwise you will witness in the energy of the flesh and accomplish nothing. If you want your testimony to count for God, you must testify in the power of the Holy Ghost. Only as you are filled with the Spirit will you be used of God, otherwise your ministry will be ineffective. You will be working in the energy of the flesh instead of in the power of the Spirit. Therefore, if you want God to use you, you will have to be filled with the Spirit.
This, then, is the purpose of the fullness of the Spirit, namely, POWER. Power over sin and power in service. Do you have that power? Are you a victor? Are you an overcomer? Are you living a Spirit-filled life? Or are you a defeated Christian? Are you discouraged? Do you feel like giving up? Does your besetting sin conquer you? Or have you been set free? Then, too, do you have power in service? Is God using you for His glory? Are you really surrendered? Will you go where He wants you to go and do what He wants you to do? Are you His slave? Is your testimony effective? When you witness for the Lord Jesus Christ does anything happen? Are you ministering in the energy of the flesh or in the power of the Spirit?
WHAT ARE THE CONDITIONS?
Now comes the question, “How may I be filled with the Holy Spirit?” God says that He gives the Holy Spirit “to them that obey Him” (Acts 5:32). The Holy Spirit will not fill a disobedient heart. You must be willing to remove every hindrance. If there is sin in your life you are disobedient. If you will not surrender to God, you are disobedient. But how can the hindrance be removed? By confession, renunciation, and surrender. These are the steps that must be taken. These are the conditions that must be met. Let me express them in four simple words — confess, renounce, surrender, believe.
In 1 John 1:9 we read: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” Sin confessed is sin forgiven, and sin forgiven is sin cleansed. “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Note, if you will, that it is the Christian and not the sinner who is told to confess his sins. God never tells a sinner to confess his sins. First, because it would be impossible for him to remember them. He might remember some of the outstanding sins of his life, but there would be thousands that he would forget, and if he has to confess one then he has to confess all.
In the second place, if we were to tell a sinner to confess his sins we would be putting salvation on a basis of works, and salvation is not of works, but by faith. When a sinner wants to be saved you do not tell him to get down and start working by confessing his sins. You simply point him to the Lord Jesus Christ. All that a sinner has to confess is that he is a sinner and that he needs salvation. The Publican cried: “God be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). He did not confess his sins. He simply admitted that he was a sinner and needed mercy.
However, when it comes to the Christian it is entirely different. The Christian who has backslidden and has gone off the road must return. Christian, in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, tried to go on, but found that he had to return to the crossroads where he had slept, and there he found his scroll, and only then could he go on his way rejoicing. So it is with the Christian today. Some besetting sin in his life turned him aside and got him off the road. He must confess that sin before he can be right. God says: “If we (we Christians) confess our sins (the sins of the Christian) he is faithful and just to forgive us OUR sins” (again, the sins of the Christian). Anything that is wrong in the life of a Christian must be confessed. God will never pour out His Spirit on the flesh. Sin and spirituality cannot coexist. The Holy Spirit will not occupy a dirty heart.
Now there are three kinds of confession. First of all, there is PRIVATE confession. Then there is PERSONAL confession, and, lastly, there is PUBLIC confession. If your sin has been committed against God alone, then you need only confess it to God and He will forgive you. If, however, it has been committed against another individual, then you will have to confess it to that individual as well. Perhaps you have injured someone. Whatever it is, it will have to be made right. To be right with God is to be right with man, and to be wrong with man is to be wrong with God. Finally, there is public confession. If your sin has been committed against the entire Church, it will have to be confessed to the Church. If it was publicly committed and everyone knows about it, it must be publicly confessed. Otherwise there will be no forgiveness and no peace.
Now, let me ask you a question: Have you confessed every Sin? Have you made everything right between you and those you have injured or wronged? If you have borrowed money, have you paid it back? Or are you still in debt? God says: “Owe no man anything” (Rom. 13:8). Have you paid what you owe, or are you refusing to meet your obligation? Where do you stand with your fellowmen? Where do you stand with God? Have you come clean? Do you believe God has forgiven you?
Not only must you confess your sin, you must also renounce it. It must be put away. Unless you forsake what you are doing, your confession is valueless. It is no use confessing your sin and then going right back and committing it again. When sin is confessed it must also be renounced. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18).
But, you say, I cannot give up my sin. I am a slave to it. I love it. It has a stranglehold on me and I cannot break it. My friend, let me ask you two questions. First, are you WILLING to forsake your sin? Second, are you DETERMINED to forsake your sin?
Now there are a lot of Christians who are not willing. They turn it over as a sweet morsel and they do not want to give it up. Do you remember when Jesus spoke to the man at the pool? He said: “Wilt thou be made whole?” Do you want to be better, or would you rather be sick? If, my friend, you are not willing, then you will have to offer this prayer: “Lord, I am willing to be made willing,” and God will make you willing.
You may be willing and not be determined. The Prodigal Son was willing. He was sick of the life he was living. He wanted to get away from the swine, but he was not determined. Finally, however, there came a moment when determination took the place of willingness. Springing to his feet, he cried: “I will arise and go.” Turning his back on the swine, he started towards his father’s house, and never looked over his shoulder until he found himself in his father’s arms. As soon as he was determined he was free. You, too, must be determined. You must be in dead earnest. You must mean business. If you are both willing and determined, God will set you free.
Up to the present we have been dealing with the negative, now we turn to the positive. It is one thing to confess and renounce, it is another thing to surrender. The Bible says, “Yield yourselves to God” (ROM 6:13). God wants you to serve Him and in order to serve Him you must be surrendered to Him. Everything must be laid on the altar. You are His, body, soul, and spirit. Not only is He your Savior, He is your Lord and Master.
The reason you have had so much trouble in your Christian life is because your will has crossed God’s will. There will never be an end to the struggle until your will parallels God’s will. His will must become yours, so that you can say with the Lord Jesus in the Messianic Psalms, “I delight to do thy will, O my God” (Psalm 40:8). “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me” (John 4:34). Once God’s will has become your will the conflict will be over. After that you will have no desire to do anything apart from the will of God. You will have surrendered completely to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The trouble with most of us is we have never been broken. We have never really yielded. Let me show you what I mean. Sam Jones, an American evangelist, held a campaign for the cowboys of Texas. They wanted to take up a love-offering for him, but they had no money. So they let him go back to his house in Philadelphia without any honorarium. Some weeks later he received a telegram from the cowboys stating that they were sending him a love-offering. They were shipping him a carload of broncos. But what could Sam Jones do in the city of Philadelphia with a carload of wild horses? Suddenly he thought of an idea. He decided to hold an auction sale and sell them and then pocket the money, which he did.
However, he kept the finest looking animal for his son. Calling the cowboy to him, he asked him the question: “How much will you charge to break the bronco so that my son can ride him?” “Fifteen dollars,” said the cowboy. “Take him away,” said Sam, “and break him.” Two weeks passed by. The cowboy returned, leading the bronco. “Is it broken?” asked Sam. “Yes, sir.” “Can my son ride him?” “Yes, sir.” “All right, here is your fifteen dollars.” Then Sam, thinking that he had better try first, approached the animal. The cowboy came running up in consternation. “Why, what’s the matter?” asked Sam. “Why, sir,” said the cowboy, “he has only been broken on one side and you are mounting from the wrong side.” “Oh,” said Sam, “that will never do. My son might make a mistake and mount him from the wrong side. How much will you charge to break him on the other side?” “Fifteen dollars,” said the cowboy. “All right,” said Sam. “Take him away and break him on the other side.” Another two weeks passed and the cowboy returned with the bronco. “Is he broken now?” asked Sam. “Yes,” said the cowboy. “Both sides?” “Yes, sir, both sides. Your son may mount from either side.” “All right,” said Sam, “here is your fifteen dollars.”
Do you know the trouble with the average Christian? He is only broken on one side. He is like Ephraim’s cake –half-baked. He will do this, but he will not do that. He will go here, but he will not go there. He will sing in the choir — if he can sing the solos. He will work in the foreign field, but he refuses to work in the home field. God cannot depend upon him. He has never been broken. He is not trustworthy. God wants us to be broken, so that He can count on us. Once that has happened we will be surrendered and then we will be usable. If God were to fill us with the Holy Spirit and we still chose our will instead of His, we would make shipwreck of the experience. We must be broken, yielded, surrendered, if we are to be filled.
I will never forget the time God broke me. I was quite young in the ministry and had been pastor of a large Presbyterian church, but I had resigned. Naturally, I expected to get another just as large, but I found that I could not. I preached for a Call in many a church, but was never called. I went to mission halls, but still I was not wanted. My finances were very low and I was at my wits’ end. One day Paul Rader came to Toronto to hold a great campaign in Massey Hall. I asked if I could usher and I did so, but was soon set aside. Then I tried to do personal work. But, again, I was ignored. Finally, I started selling hymnbooks in the aisles. My heart was broken. I knew not which way to turn, It seemed as though my ministry had come to an end and that I was to be put on the shelf. I felt that God had no more use for me. I was desperate.
Suddenly, one night, Arthur W. McKee, Paul Rader’s song-leader, announced that he was going to lead the great congregation in the singing of a new hymn that had just been published, entitled “Saved.” Then before the entire audience of 3,400 people he pointed down to where I was selling hymnbooks and said: “That young man down there wrote this hymn.” I did not know which way to look. I went on selling hymnbooks. Presently the audience began to sing. I will never forget it. I was hearing it for the first time. I was to hear it often in the after years.
Suddenly one day I received a cable from London, England, asking if I could occupy the world-famous pulpit of Spurgeon’s Tabernacle for a few Sundays. I immediately accepted. From that time to this I have never been without a Call. I have to refuse dozens that I cannot accept. A great work had opened for me in Toronto — The Peoples Church. Before long I was traveling all over the world holding large campaigns. But, you see, I had to be broken. God knew that I was proud and ambitious, and so He could not use me. He had to bring me down by taking everything away from me, and only when I had completely surrendered, only when I had been broken, was He able to trust me again and use me for His glory.
My friend, have you taken these three steps? Have you confessed, renounced and surrendered? If you have, then all you have to do is to believe. God will then give you a supernatural faith and you will be able to trust Him for the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Remember, the Holy Spirit is more anxious to fill you than you are to be filled. Nature abhors a vacuum. So it is with the Holy Ghost. As soon as your heart is ready He will come in and then He will complete the transformation until you are finally changed into Christlikeness.
There may not be any great emotional experience. God never promises it. No two are filled the same. When there is a lot of sin there may be a tremendous experience. When there is a big dam and it is suddenly taken away, there will be a mighty rush and roar as the water pours over. If there is no great dam, then, as you quietly yield, He will flow in in His fullness and fill you without any tremendous upheaval, but it will be real nevertheless. The result will be seen in your ministry. You will be used by God. Conviction will grip the hearts of those to whom you preach, or witness. God will work in you and through you for His glory. He will use you as you have never been used before. You will then know both power over sin and power in service, and thus you will glorify Him.
Will you, right now, take these three steps? Will you get alone with God, and as you pour out your heart in confession, will you tell Him that you renounce every sin? Then will you yield to Him, surrender to Him, become His slave? After that it will be easy for you to trust Him, to believe Him for the fullness of the Spirit, and you will rise to live for Him and serve Him in a way you have never known before. There will be a peace you will experience for the very first time, a rest you have never known. And, as you walk softly in fellowship with Jesus Christ, you will be conscious of His presence. You will know that He has filled you with His Spirit. Your problems will be solved, for you will have carried out the injunction given in Ephesians 5:18, “Be filled with the Spirit.”