THE ONLY PREREQUISITE for a seeking heart to be purified and filled—and continually purified and filled with the Holy Spirit—is a healthy appetite for God, a deep thirst for God. Remember, God forgives what we confess, he sanctifies what we offer, he fills what he sanctifies, and he uses what he fills—all through grace given to the God-thirsty soul.
The 120 who gathered for prayer ten days before the Pentecost outpouring of the Holy Spirit were thirsty-hearted followers of the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord Jesus Christ. These men and women had walked with Christ during his earthly sojourn; they were convinced he was the way, the truth, and the life. Their Lord had told them that apart from him, they could not do anything that God considered a success. They were to live their lives in total dependence upon Christ, always giving Christ the glory for anything he accomplished through them. The apostles were selected to serve as Christ’s witnesses, going into all the world to preach the gospel, making disciples of all their converts. But there was one requirement that must first be met before they were prepared to serve Christ fully and effectively—they must be cleansed and filled—cleansed and filled with power from on high.
The One Essential
The Lord Jesus, before his ascension into heaven, alerted the disciples to the one essential for fruitful ministry—the power of the Holy Spirit: “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk. 24:49).1
To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be filled with the Spirit’s power—the power to live a life pleasing to God, the ability to accomplish God’s purposes through us. Too much of the work of the church is self-generated and self-maintained. One can hear it in so much of the music, praying, and preaching. What pleases carnal hearers and what pleases our Father in Heaven are not to be confused.
Prior to the Pentecost event, Simon Peter was the personification of one who possessed good intentions but lacked the power to bring those intentions to successful fruition. Peter, along with the other disciples, experienced the power to cast out demons but lacked the ability of the Holy Spirit to control their passions and energize their respective ministries to the glory of God.
How we need the power of the Holy Spirit! How we need his strength to minister effectively and live obediently. Without the indwelling, filling power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot live a life in total consecration and surrender to the Lord Jesus.
The same Simon Peter who denied his Lord three times—but afterward repented—and was subsequently empowered with the Spirit at Pentecost, wrote a letter to the Christian Diaspora some 30 years later. In that letter (The First Epistle of Peter), this Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered apostle of the Lord, called the letter’s recipients to a humanly impossible lifestyle. Note the following selections from each of the five respective chapters.
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1:14-16).
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God (2:18-20).
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (3:8).
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly since love covers a multitude of sins (4:8).
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another (5:5b).
Don’t you see the impossibility of living out these, or any other, biblical imperatives apart from the ever-present indwelling, filling, empowering Holy Spirit?
Christianity is a supernatural religion that is incapable of being lived-out without supernatural help. But the good news for Christians is that the Helper is available to all who invite him to take control. But that is the problem—we want to be in control, at least to control some areas of our life.
Transformed and empowered by the Spirit of God, Peter knew his readers could not possibly obey his apostolic injunctions. How could one not be conformed to sinful passions, treat an unjust master with respect, live in unity and brotherly love with all Christians, and walk in humility with fellow believers? Impossible!—impossible as long as we seek to live a self-directed life instead of a Spirit-controlled and Spirit-empowered life.
Here is where the church is failing miserably short. We are walking in the flesh instead of being controlled by the Spirit. Hence, the tensions and conflict, the disputes and arguments, the world-conformity instead of Christ-conformity, the man-pleasing spirit instead of a God-fearing spirit, pride instead of humility, self-assertion instead of self-abasement.
The average Christian stands in need of another conversion! Why? He is living without power, without the Spirit controlling his or her passions, temperament, desires, motives, choices, ambitions, thoughts, and pursuits. The church needs changed Christians, Spirit-filled, and Spirit-controlled followers of the Lord Jesus.
When our grandson Luke was six years of age, he was just learning to spell a bit and learn a few punctuation marks. One day he placed a little yellow note on my desk. Here’s what he wrote: “I love you, God. ! ?” Period, exclamation point—then a question mark. Those three items could very well summarize Peter’s walk with Christ—before the Pentecost event, as well as summarizing the walk of many of Christ’s contemporary spasmodic disciples. They are living life without certainty, real purpose, and direction. Their hearts are divided. They need a fresh cleansing and the definitive filling and empowering of the Holy Spirit.
What is the answer for such vacillating, powerless, joyless, divided hearts? What is the solution for these defeated Christians?
Separation and Cleansing
For those who are professing faith in Christ but living powerless lives, the first step one must take before he can enter into a life of fullness and power is to repent of his fleshly ways and receive a heart-cleansing—a cleansing from a self-centered ego. The specific things one needs to be cleansed from and repent of can only be suggested by the Holy Spirit; he will let us know.
One of the apostle Paul’s most challenging churches he founded and tended was the Corinthian Church. This church excelled in spiritual gifts (though incorrectly understood at points), but they fell short of agape love; these brothers and sisters had been set apart by God to live a holy life, but they often failed miserably—demonstrating a sectarian spirit, jealousy, and were sometimes contentious, and lacked moral courage. When we fail on the outside, it is because we have a real need on the inside. These Corinthians had a real inside need. What were Paul’s recommendations and solutions to the Corinthians’ heart-need? Part of that solution is found in his second letter to the church.
14Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
17Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
18and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”
7 1Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1).
What was Paul’s solution to the heart-needs of these failing Christians? To remove from themselves every contaminant, everything that defiled body and spirit. Radical heart-surgery was required, separating themselves from every uncleanness identified by the Holy Spirit. Holiness of heart always precedes the Spirit’s infilling and empowerment. J. C. Ryle (1816-1900), one of Anglicanism’s foremost pastors and bishops of the 19th century, said it well on this subject: “A holy man will follow after purity of heart. He will dread all filthiness and uncleanness of spirit and seek to avoid all things that might draw him into it. He knows his heart is like tinder and will diligently keep clear of the sparks of temptation.”2
The prophet Isaiah had ministered for some years before his transformative, cleansing experience. He said it happened in the year of King Uzziah’s death. He saw the Lord that day in the temple as he had never encountered him before: “high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1). The hovering seraphim were singing antiphonally: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3). Immediately, Isaiah was convicted of his uncleanness and confesses: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isa. 6:5).
Isaiah had allowed the pressure of his culture to influence his life. It was only through the manifestation of God’s revealed presence that the unclean prophet recognized his impurities.
How we need the convicting presence of God among us! Why is it that people can come and go from the church sanctuary week after week and live untouched, unchanged lives? Because God fails to show up! When God shows up, sinners and saints are convicted of their sins, their shortcomings, their lack, their powerless living. The conviction of the Holy Spirit is personal and pungent. He will press his finger deeply into our need. Conviction always precedes repentance; repentance always precedes cleansing; cleansing always precedes filling; filling always precedes ultimate usefulness to the glory of Christ.
We need to ask ourselves, “Are there areas of my life that need surrendering to the lordship of Christ? Are there attitudes, thoughts, or behaviors that need to be repented of? Do I need a fresh, radical heart-cleansing?” Can you identify with the cry of the pleading leper: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean”? Will you feel the touch of the ever-living Christ just now and hear him say, “I will; be clean” (Matt. 8:1-4).
You may want to pray the words of Charles Naylor (1974-1950):
Make me clean, make me clean,
Though defiled and so sinful I am;
Make me clean, make me clean,
Make me clean in the blood of the Lamb.3
The following words were written by J. Edwin Orr (1912-1987) while conducting revival services in Ngaruawahia, New Zealand, many years ago. They have become classic and used mightily by the Spirit in turning many hearts fully to the Lord:
Search me, O God, and know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray.
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin and set me free.4
I have never sung or read those words without the Spirit searchingly ministering to me. Even now, as I listened to them over the Internet, my heart was touched anew by the Spirit of God.
Cleansing always precedes fullness—cleansing from a self-centered ego, cleansing of a man-pleasing spirit, cleansing of every precious idol, cleansing of a self-managed life, cleansing of everything that vies for control of the throne of our heart. Our hearts need to be circumcised by the Spirit’s surgical knife, with all uncleanness excised.
We are in need of a deep cleansing. And with a deep confession and repentance, there will follow a deep cleansing, accompanied by full assurance that we have been heard by our gracious God. After that we will continue to sing with J. Edwin Orr:
I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy Word, and make me pure within.
Fill me with fire where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire to magnify Thy Name.
Fullness and Power Follow Cleansing
The fullness and power of the Holy Spirit is the inevitable consequence of cleansing. Following the Pentecost outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the followers of the Lord Jesus were full men and women. Acts records that they were filled with the Holy Spirit (2:4; 6:3; 7:55; 11:24; 13:9, 52); filled with joy (13:52); and that some were filled with wisdom, grace, faith, power and good works (6:3, 5, 8; 9:36; 11:24).
How we need Spirit-filled churches! How we need Spirit-filled Christians!
A problem we face, however, is that too often we want to be filled but are unwilling to pay the price to be cleansed.
I think just now of the Evangelist Duncan Campbell (1898-1972), whom I heard preach in 1969. This Scottish preacher had spent many years in useful service to the Lord and then strangely entered a seventeen-year period of barrenness. In his own words: “Here I was—a lovely congregation, and now proud of the fact that I was being asked to address conventions. You see, I was Campbell of the Mid Argyll Revival…. Oh, this heart of mine began to swell.”5
The Holy Spirit used both his daughter and a young minister to bring conviction to his proud heart. Listening to the young minister speaking, his heart was powerfully convicted of its need. Campbell said, “As he spoke, conviction deepened and gripped me until I felt utterly unworthy to hold the Bible in my hands. I said to my wife and daughter, ‘I’m going to my study, and I do not wish to be disturbed. I want to face God with honesty and sincerity.’” Then Campbell said, “So I went to my study. I fell on my face and confessed my backsliding. I confessed how I had drifted into modernism. I confessed how the evil heart of unbelief had gripped me.” The altar had been prepared; God responded with forgiveness, cleansing, and fullness. And the evangelist resumed an effective ministry for his remaining years.
Do you desire—really desire the Spirit’s fullness and power in your life? What is the Spirit saying to you just now? Are you willing to pay the price? It matters not whether you are a layperson or one whom the Lord has consecrated to vocational ministry—God requires each of us to be holy from the inside out and to live a Spirit-anointed life.
Listen to the holy apostle exhorting first-century Christians:
13Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:13-16).
And read once more what occurred on that glorious Pentecost Day when 120 people were gathered, praying and waiting for the promise of the Father:
1When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:1-4a).
Are you thirsty?
- Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations in this article are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
- J. C. Ryle, Holiness, p. 36.
- Charles W. Naylor, “Make Me Clean.”
- J. Edwin Orr, “Search Me, O God.”
- Duncan Campbell, source unknown.
This article is taken from The Spirit of Holiness & Power: An Anthology of the Holy Spirit by Ralph I. Tilley (Sellersburg, IN: LITS Books, 2020), 1-8).