The fundamental difference between a believer and an unbeliever is that the believer has the Holy Spirit dwelling within him, and the unbeliever does not. The unbeliever remains under the control of the flesh and of the devil, having his understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God (Ephesians 4:18). The believer, on the other hand, has the life of God within him because he is born again; he is reborn from above, that is, the Holy Spirit has made him a new creature through the gospel of Jesus Christ and now indwells him (1 Peter 1:3, 23). This means, then, that wherever a believer is the Holy Spirit is there with him. Let us consider, then, what it means for us as believers to obey the command found in Ephesians 5:18-20.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Be filled with the Spirit” is a continual command. It is one of three commands given to believers concerning our ongoing relationship to the Holy Spirit. The other two are “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) and “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30). All other works of the Spirit are performed upon the believer at a moment in time, not repeated. For example, the Scriptures teach that we are baptized by the Holy Spirit at the moment we become a Christian. We are never commanded to be baptized by the Spirit. Neither are we commanded to be indwelt by the Spirit, sealed by the Spirit, or gifted by the Spirit. These are all actions the Spirit performs at a moment in time, at conversion. But being filled with the Spirit is different; it is a command that is given to us to be obeyed continually.
But what does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? To help us understand, the apostle compares and contrasts being filled with the spirit and being intoxicated with alcohol. The exhortation, “do not get drunk with wine,” is a call to the believer to not allow his mind to be controlled by an external substance. Alcohol controls a person’s mind and, inevitably, his actions, which usually end up being sinful.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones pastored Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years and was affectionately called “The Doctor.” He was called this not only because he was a masterful physician of the soul, but because he was a medical doctor before he became a pastor. When the Holy Spirit called him to the ministry, he left a lucrative career as the physician to the royal family. In The Doctor’s exposition of Ephesians 5:18, he said this about the influence of alcohol upon the mind:
The Christian life is a controlled life, an ordered life; it is the very reverse of the condition of the drunkard who has lost control, and is being controlled by something else, as it were, and who is therefore in a state of utter disorder and disarray….Drink is not a stimulant, it is a depressant. It depresses first and foremost the highest centres of all in the brain. They are the very first to be influenced and affected by drink. They control everything that gives a man self-control, wisdom, understanding, discrimination, judgment, balance, the power to assess everything; in other words everything that makes a man behave at his very best and highest….What alcohol does is this; it knocks out those higher centres, and so the more primitive elements in the brain come up and take control; and a man feels better temporarily….What is really true of him is that he has become more of an animal; his control over himself is diminished.
This loss of self-control leads to many sinful actions. Intoxication leads to “debauchery,” which is excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures. Like the prodigal who ended up eating breakfast with a bunch of pigs, so drunkenness degrades the person who is intoxicated as well as others around him. But the believer in Christ does not need wine to escape from reality; he does not look to alcohol for his joy, but his joy is from the Holy Spirit and will exhibit the fruit of self-control.
The believer is not to be controlled by alcohol, but by the Holy Spirit. By means of the Word, the Spirit informs our minds with the truth, stirs our affections toward Christ, and moves our wills to submit to Christ and be transformed by His Word (2 Corinthians 3:18). These results are spiritual in contrast to fleshly. The apostle teaches that when we are filled with the Holy Spirit our hearts will be filled with praise to God, which is exactly the same result of being filled with the Word of God (Colossians 3:16). We will sing the Word to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; our hearts will overflow with thanksgiving to God. When this takes place the church is edified and the lost are evangelized.