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The Holy Spirit & Intentionality in Discipleship


by Bruce Zachary

The Holy Spirit & Intentionality in Discipleship

I’m not a huge pastry fan, but I do enjoy a fresh, hot slice of apple pie with a generous scoop of rich vanilla ice cream.

The rich, creamy ice cream, luxuriously melting over the warm, flaky, buttery crust, is pretty much irresistible. Pie a la Mode was invented about 1885. Fruit pies were common in the Roman Empire as early as the 5th Century B.C., and ice cream was available to the general public by 1660. Yet, the world would wait more than 200 years before ice cream and pie were combined to offer something wonderful – pie a la Mode. The moral of the story is that sometimes “both and” is better than “either or.”

What is the “both and” of making disciples?

We need to be both filled with the Spirit and intentional to make disciples. Some might assert that not being intentional is organic, and thus led by the Spirit. But that is not necessarily the case. Similarly, one could argue that if a process is intentional (strategic), it is of man (flesh), and not of the Spirit. But again, a review of the Scriptures reveals that the claimed divide between organic and strategic is a false dichotomy. In fact, a review of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus demonstrates the “both and” principle [Ac. 19:1-7, Eph. 5:18].

Have you ever met people who claimed to be followers of Jesus, but there just seems to be something missing that makes you wonder if they really are submitted to Him? When Paul returned to Ephesus, he found some disciples and asked the curious question, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” On no other occasion do we have a record of Paul making this inquiry. What prompted him to ask?

Presumably, there appeared to be something missing in their spiritual lives that prompted the question. Perhaps they did not seem to be submitted to Christ as Lord, or empowered by the Spirit for Christian living, or perhaps Paul had some discernment about what was lacking. These disciples at Ephesus confessed their ignorance of the Holy Spirit [2].

Yet, the text indicates they were disciples and implies they were believers. They understood the need for repentance and desired to follow Jesus [4]. But they were apparently seeking to become mature followers of Christ by either the power of self-discipline or man’s efforts rather than the power of God’s Spirit. And Paul recognized the problem. Subsequently, the Holy Spirit came upon them and was manifest [6].

Jesus declared that His followers would receive power to represent Him when the Holy Spirit came upon them [Ac. 1:8]. He likened it to being baptized with the Holy Spirit or being filled with the Holy Spirit [Ac. 1:5, 2:4]. We believe that the baptism, or filling of the Spirit, is distinct from salvation. But it may occur at the same time or subsequent to being saved. The work of the Holy Spirit empowers Christian living. Jesus affirmed that the Holy Spirit was available to those who sought this gift from God and were yielded to Him [Lu. 11:9-13].

When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he instructed them, “Be filled with the Spirit” [Eph. 5:18].

The Greek reveals that it is a commandment, and the tense can be translated, “Being constantly filled with the Spirit.” The terminology of being filled might cause some to assume that we can leak the Holy Spirit, like a car engine can leak a quart of oil. Or we might think that the issue is how much of the Holy Spirit a believer has. Nevertheless, the issue is not how much of the Holy Spirit we have, but how much of us the Holy Spirit has.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit flows from being submitted to Jesus. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit to be disciples and to make disciples.

Once the believers at Ephesus were filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul began an intentional process to mentor them to become mature followers of Christ [Ac. 19:8-10]. Paul taught the Scriptures daily to make disciples and develop leaders at Ephesus. The Bible helps us to understand God and know His commandments. Thus, Bible learning is critical to being a disciple. For example, it is through the Scriptures generally, and Ephesians spe-cifically, that we learn how being filled with the Spirit is manifest in praise, gratitude, mutual respect, marriage, family, and the workplace [Eph. 5:17-6:9]. But having knowledge, apart from the power of the Spirit, to apply the lessons is futile. So, making disciples requires us to be both filled with the Spirit and intentional (“both and”).

The filling of the Spirit is so critical to disciple making that Paul issued a sober warning, “And don’t be drunk with wine in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit …” [Eph. 5:18]. Please pardon the pun about “sober” warning, for the issue is not limited to exces-sive alcohol consumption. Paul’s exhortation is connected to the earlier cautions to live carefully in wisdom, redeem the time, and understand and do the will of God [Eph. 5:15-17].

Excessive alcohol consumption is an obstacle to being controlled by God and is sin. And Paul notes that being drunk is dissipation. Dissipation relates to squandering energy, time, money, or other resources. The only way to avoid wasting resources and wasting a life is to be intentional to live as Christ’s disciples, who make disciples. And the only way to be a disciple is to be controlled by God or filled with the Spirit. Thus, the moral of this story is that sometimes “both and” is better than “either or.”


1. How can disciples neglect the need for the filling of the Spirit?

2. Why is it helpful to have an intentional process, along with the filling of the Spirit, to help become a disciple?

3. How do you believe that being filled with the Spirit and an intentional process would help you as a disciple to make disciples?