There are different measures of getting filled with the Spirit. The difference between getting drunk and getting filled is in the measure of how filled we get. If we keep getting filled more and more we eventually reach a point of overflowing. Our outward behavior can no longer remain the same.
People who are drunk in the Spirit behave differently from people who are just a little filled but drawing the line between the two is a challenge because the reason why they behave differently is due to what has happened to them on the inside, in the hidden realm of the heart. The outward changes in behavior give us some clues but that is as far as we can see. There is no such thing as a spiritual breathalyzer test or blood test to measure how much of the Spirit of God we have received. In some states, police officers give sobriety tests to drunk drivers asking them to walk a straight line, touch their nose and things like that. The police are relying totally on outward signs to show them how drunk the driver is. Measuring the level of spiritual drunkenness works the same way because the outward behavior is usually the best information available.
When it comes to drinking alcohol, the law allows people to drive their car even when they are a little bit drunk. Every state has a legal limit to how much alcohol people can have in their blood before they are considered legally drunk. Lawmakers assume people can still drive safely with some alcohol in their system as long as it is below the legal limit. So the law allows people to drive even when they are a little bit drunk as long as they are under the legal limit. You might say these drivers are a little bit filled with alcohol but have not reached the point of being legally drunk.
It could also be compared with the difference between being wet and being soaked. Both are wet but the person who is soaking wet has taken on a lot more water so they are a lot more wet and a lot more likely to get everything around them wet too. Once a person gets soaking wet the water has nowhere else to go. It has to overflow everywhere because it has reached the point of saturation.
The more filled with the Spirit a person gets, the more their perspective of reality changes. Before getting filled with the Spirit, the natural realm appears to be the only reality. However, a shift takes place when a person starts seeing into the spiritual realm. The more they focus on that realm the more they become convinced it is more real than the natural realm. As they continue to get more and more filled, the things of the natural realm begin to seem unreal to them so they are no longer moved by what they see happening in that realm. When the things of the spiritual realm become more real than the things of the natural realm they have reached the point of being drunk in the Spirit.
In the first century church there was a man named Stephen who was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was so filled was able to see into the Spiritual realm. Even as angry crowds were stoning him to death, Stephen saw into heaven and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God!
But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:55-60)
The more a person gets filled with the Spirit, the more they see into the realm of heaven. The more they see into that realm, the more they behave differently. A person who is drunk in the Spirit might even act quite sober, but they behave differently in other ways because of what they are seeing. At times they can appear to be out of their mind to anyone who is not filled with the Holy Spirit or is filled with the spirit of this world. This can cause a conflict because the drunk person and the sober person are operating in different realities.
The sober person says to the drunk person, “You have no money. You are going to go hungry.” But the drunk person sees a different reality so he replies, “My Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He told me not to give a thought or a care to what I need because if I seek first His kingdom and His righteousness He will add all of these things to me. So now I’m going to have another drink!”
The sober person says to the drunk person, “You have been diagnosed with stage four cancer. You are going to die.” But the drunk person sees a different reality so he replies, “I saw Jesus hanging on the cross with stripes on His body paying the price for my healing. Because of what He did, I have already been healed (1 Peter 2:24). Time for another drink!”
So even though these two live side by side, they are living in two different realities. The sober person cannot understand the drunk person because the natural realm is the only thing he has ever seen. The drunk person has insight into both realms because he has seen both, but has chosen to live in the Spiritual realm because it is far better (1 Corinthians 2:14-15). So the sober person scratches his head while the drunk person has another drink.
No matter how filled with the Spirit a person gets, there is still more available for whoever is thirsty for more. Even after reaching the point of being drunk, there is an inexhaustible supply available for whoever is still thirsty for more. Since the supply never runs out there are always some people who just keep drinking because they are thirstier than others. So there are different levels of drunkenness available.
Just like the natural realm with drinking alcohol, there are different levels of getting drunk in the Spirit. A person who is only a little bit drunk can still walk a straight line, while a person who is very drunk can find it impossible to stand up or even to remain conscious. The more filled with the Spirit a person gets, the more their behavior is changed. If they continue getting filled with more of the Spirit they can eventually reach the point where they resemble a sloppy drunkard, laughing, singing, falling down, passing out and having a great time. This is what happened on the day of Pentecost as described in the next chapter (Acts 2:1-13).
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