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The book of Acts talks about people "being filled" with the Holy Spirit at various times. There is also the concept of being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. From the perspective that asserts these are, in fact, two different things, what specifically is the biblical distinction (from a biblical literalist perspective)?

Can someone be indwelt by the Holy Spirit but not filled with the Holy Spirit?

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Related: Saul (king, not apostle) prophesying in Samuel (speaks of "The spirit of the Lord" coming upon him) –  SSumner Jun 13 '13 at 16:16

3 Answers 3

We find in Acts:

Acts 2:2-4 (ESV)
"And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance."

In these verses the Holy Spirit (strategically) empowered each of his apostles to speak in other tongues.

From this static experience, we can see 'filling' as a potentially recurring event in a believer's life. Praying for God to 'fill us with Your Holy Spirit,' can be an everyday prayer.

The indwelling, seems to me, appears later in this same chapter as Peter speaks about the 'gift of the Spirit':

Acts 2:38
"And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Though the word 'indwelling' is not in this passage, the word 'gift' implies that each person will be receiving the Spirit for the first time - the indwelling of Him. Indwelling and the opinion of when it occurs varies from denomination to denomination. According to this passage, when a person repents in faith, they are given the Holy Spirit as a gift, the indwelling.

Here is a launching webpage for some differing doctrines and beliefs on Holy Spirit filling and 'baptism': http://christianity.about.com/od/glossary/g/baptismholyspir.htm

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As controversial as he can be, Mark Driscoll just preached on the filling of the Holy Spirit this past week. You may find it insightful in your pursuit. I found his thoughts on tongues to be helpful. Video here: marshill.com/media/acts-empowered-for-jesus-mission/… –  David C. Jun 13 '13 at 18:59
Hi; I've suggested an edit to remove some of the "it seems to me" text; do you have any sources on your statement about denominational beliefs (last paragraph) -- the teachings of a specific group concerning indwelling and filling would make this an excellent post. –  Ryan Frame Jun 13 '13 at 19:44
Thanks, Ryan, for your edits –  David C. Jun 13 '13 at 21:33

Joh 20:22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:

Act 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Mat 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

Eph 5:18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Eph 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Eph 5:20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;

Yes a person may be indwelled by the Holy Spirit John 20:22 but not filled like Acts 2:4. The only explicit Bible evidence given for being filled with the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. In every instance of someone being filled with the Holy Spirit some additional action was required on the part of the receiver. Though the church at Ephesus was indeed indwelt by the Holy Spirit they were not always full of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 5:18 could read be you being filled translated using a gerund to move the phrase into the present. The theory being that we leak through life and must constantly be filled with the Holy Spirit. Being filled is said to happen through the action of speaking in various forms. Exuberance has been place at an emphasis in being filled with the Holy Spirit and thats fine but how you speak to be filled is not qualified by most verses.

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What is the difference between being filled by the Holy Spirit and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit?

Indwelling is a living presence associated with a home, abode, or even temple.

1 Corinthians 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

John 14:16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;

Being filled is more quantitative and has to do with capacity and abundance.

Ephesians 5:18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;

filled = plēroō = 1) to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full, 1a) to cause to abound, to furnish or supply liberally, 2) to render full, i.e. to complete - Thayer

In the Ephesians passage the context is contrasting the life Christians are called to with the life those in the world live. The exhortation to be filled implies that this is a choice Christians can and should make.

We get a picture of the capacity for "filling" as a variable in Galatians;

Galatians 5:16-17 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

The idea we get is that while all Christians have the Holy Spirit indwelling them, we have a responsibility to turn from the flesh so that his work would be less hindered.

There is another description of the work of the Holy Spirit that can be confusing. In the early church the Holy Spirit was "poured out", "came down", and "fell upon" Christians with all sorts of manifestations or miraculous gifts.

Acts 8:13-17 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

We see this at Pentecost and Peter describes it as prophesied by Joel;

Acts 2:16-17 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:

This presents us with a picture that shows the Holy Spirit;

  1. Living inside each Christian (dwelling)
  2. Working inside each Christian (filling)
  3. Manifesting gifts in the early church (falling on)
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