“The kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Corinthians 4:20).
If we are not disillusioned with how much we have allowed our talk to pass for our walk, discontented with the sparse amount of spiritual fruit we are truly bearing, and disappointed by the impotence of our own efforts, we will never be distressed enough to really plead with God to fill us with the Holy Spirit.
If we’re not disturbed by how little we can do in our own power, we’ll never be desperate enough to ask God for his.
What Is the Filling of the Holy Spirit?
But when we pray for this, what are we asking God for? In the words of Wayne Grudem, we are asking God for “an event subsequent to conversion in which a believer experiences a fresh infilling with the Holy Spirit that may result in a variety of consequences, including greater love for God, greater victory over sin, greater power for ministry, and sometimes the receiving of new spiritual gifts.” (Grudem, 1242)
Now, of course every Christian receives the Holy Spirit upon conversion. Being born again is the greatest miracle any human being can possibly experience, and it only happens by the omnipotent power of Holy Spirit (John 3:3–8; 1 Corinthians 12:13).
But the reason we talk about the filling of the Holy Spirit as “an event subsequent to conversion” is because that’s how the New Testament usually talks about it. Paul was exhorting born-again Christians when he wrote, “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). And almost all of Luke’s description of Spirit-fillings occurred to people who were already born again (see Acts 2:4; 4:8; 4:31; 9:17; 13:9; 13:52). And we’re actually talking about events (plural) because, just like the same people received repeated fillings of the Spirit in the book of Acts, we also need to be filled repeatedly.
According to the New Testament, we need to be repeatedly filled with the Holy Spirit for two primary purposes: empowered worship and witness.