By Zac Poonen
Let us look at four characteristics of the Spirit-filled life from the life of the Apostle Paul.
1. Perfect Contentment: The Spirit-filled life is, first of all, a life of perfect contentment. In Philippians 4:11, Paul says, “In whatever state I am, I am content.” And such contentment brings with it fullness of joy and peace. Hence Paul speaks of joy and peace in verses 4 and 7 of the same chapter. We can praise God only when we are perfectly content with all His dealings with us. If we believe in a God who is sovereign and Who can therefore make everything that befalls us work together for our good, (Rom.8:28) then we can be truly content in all circumstances. Then we can praise the Lord, like Habakkuk, even when the trees in our garden don’t bear fruit, when our flock dies and when we have suffered heavy financial loss – or in any situation (Habakkuk. 3:17,18). Ephesians 5:18-20 indicates that the result of the infilling of the Holy Spirit is an outflow of praise to God. The Apostle Paul could rejoice even when he was locked up in prison, with his feet in stocks (Acts 16:25). Even there, he was content and found nothing to complain about. This is one of the first marks of the Spirit-filled life. When murmuring is found in a Christian, it is an indication that he, like the Israelites who murmured against God in the wilderness has still not entered the promised land of victory.
2. Growth in Holiness: Secondly, the Spirit-filled life is a life of growth in holiness. As a man’s own life increases in holiness so does his consciousness of the absolute holiness of God. The two go together. In fact, the latter is one of the tests of whether a person really has the former. Twenty-five years after his conversion, Paul says, “I am the least of the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9). Five years subsequently, he says, “I am less than the least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8). Still a year later he says, “I am (notice, it is not “I was” but “I am”) the chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Do you see his progression in holiness in those statements? The closer Paul walked with God, the more he was conscious of the corruption and wickedness of his flesh. He recognized that no good thing could be found in his flesh (Rom. 7:18). The Spirit-filled man does not merely seek to give others an impression that he is growing in holiness, but will actually be doing so. He will not testify of experiences that supposedly made him holy, or try to convince others of his theology of sanctification. He will have such holiness in his life that others will come to him, of their own accord, and ask him the secret of his life. He will have what J.B. Phillips translates as, “the holiness which is no illusion” (Eph.4:24).
3. A crucified life: Thirdly, the Spirit-filled life is a life that is crucified. Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). The way of the cross is the way of the fullness of the Spirit. The Spirit will always leads us like He led Jesus to the cross. The Spirit and the cross are inseparable. The cross is a symbol of weakness, shame and death. The Apostle Paul had fears, perplexities, sorrows and tears in his life (See 2 Cor. 1:8; 4:8; 6:10; 7:5). He was considered a fool and a fanatic. He was often treated like dirt and garbage by others (1 Cor. 4:13). All this is not incongruous with the Spirit’s fullness. On the contrary, the Spirit-filled man will find God leading him farther and farther, down the pathway of humiliation and death to himself.
4. Continuous enlargement: Fourthly, the Spirit-filled life is a life that is continuously seeking greater degrees of fullness. “I am pressing on,” says Paul, nearly thirty years after his conversion, and as he was drawing to the end of his life (Phil. 3:14). He still has not attained. He is seeking a still greater degree of the fullness of the Spirit of God in his life, and is therefore straining every spiritual muscle toward this goal. “I am not perfect (complete),” he says in Philippians 3:12. But in verse 15, he seems to say the exact opposite: “Let us who are perfect (complete) be thus minded.” This is the paradox of the Spirit-filled life – complete, and yet not complete; in other words, full and yet desiring a greater degree of fullness. The Spirit-filled state is not a static one. There are greater and greater degrees of fullness. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit leads us from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18) – or, in other words, from one degree of fullness to another. A cup can be full of water; so can a bucket; so can a tank and so can a river. But there is a vast difference between the fullness of a cup and the fullness of a river.
The Holy Spirit is constantly seeking to enlarge our capacity, so that He can fill us to a greater degree. This is where the cross comes in. There can be no enlargement in our lives if we avoid the pathway of the cross. If we accept the cross consistently in our lives, we shall find our cup becoming a bucket, our bucket becoming a tank, our tank becoming a river and the river becoming many rivers. At each stage, as our capacity enlarges, we will need to be filled again. Thus will be fulfilled in us the promise of the Lord Jesus, “Rivers of living water shall flow from the inmost being of anyone who believes in me (He was speaking of the Holy Spirit)” (John 7:38, 39-LB).