I’m writing this post to explain a phenomenon that I used to detest as a younger Christian, yet strangely enough, am personally experiencing myself more and more of. As I am growing in my faith, I don’t see this trend going in the opposite direction, and so now at this point, I am begging for some theological and biblical reflection on this phenomenon.
This phenomenon is none other than being drunk in the Holy Spirit.
I’m writing this because I feel that I have two audiences reading; both of which I want to explain what I’ve learned as well as learn from.
First are my non-charismatic / conservative / Reformed / curious friends who will have responses to this phenomenon which range from “This is unbiblical”, “This is pointless”, “I don’t have experience of this”, “This is honestly really weird”, to “I’m actually a bit curious about it.” Yes I have you in mind as I write because I care about you and want to defend not only mine and many other Christians’ experiences, but show that there is good biblical precedence for this phenomenon. Also I want to learn from you and hear your thoughts about this.
Second are my super charismatic / pentecostal friends. While I have ecstatic experiences in the Holy Spirit, I admit not as much as you guys. So I want to hear your mystical experiences and spiritual insights into this.
So here’s my biblical and theological reflection on why some Christians roll around the floor laughing with joy. Enjoy.
Biblical Precedence for Spiritual Drunkenness
Yes, I am being drunk in the Holy Spirit and am a Bible-believing Christian. What are the odds? I want to show some passages in the scriptures which inform my understanding of being drunk in the Spirit.
Acts 2:1-13 – Pentecost
“But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.'”
The first place I want to look is Acts on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is prophetically poured out powerfully on the believers at the time. What happens is that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Furthermore, the crowd gathers around them and mocks them first with amazement. But the second observation they note is striking to me.
It says, “Others mocked them saying, ‘They are filled with new wine'” (2:13). Even Peter would later respond to this accusation by saying “These are people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day” (2:15).
What an interesting way to describe the filling of the Holy Spirit, that the apostles were “drunk”. When you think of a group of people being drunk, even across different cultures, I think you can imagine the same scene–probably a boisterous, tipsy, and chaotic scene. I can imagine them falling over, being a little light headed, and laughing, intoxicated with the influence of the wine.
The reason I think this is the case is because the accusation of being drunk doesn’t satisfy men simply standing there speaking in other human languages, because that’s quite a normal activity that happens (even though it was supernaturally given to them). This description given in Acts reveals a more chaotic scene as the influencing power of the Holy Spirit is on them.
In short, I think the scene in Acts is one of men and women who are filled with the Spirit, and being drunk in His presence. This intoxicating presence leads them to speak in other languages declaring God’s praises, and leads to the possibility of other activities fit for the description of being drunk e.g. being tipsy, light-headed, falling over, laughing excessively.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.
We enter further into the New Testament, which I argue has a very robust and pervasive theology of the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians, Paul comments on being filled with the Spirit and contrasts it with “being drunk with wine.”
The comparison is meant to show that there is a both strong connection and difference between being intoxicated with wine and being intoxicated with the Holy Spirit. The similarity, by nature of the metaphor, is that both are powerful controlling substances/agents.
When alcohol enters our system it leads us to a number of things e.g. lowering of inhibition, fake friendliness, fake happiness, laughing at things, lower bodily control. These usually only bring us to bad places because people do stupid things when they’re drunk.
When the Spirit is filling us, I think it leads to many of those things like alcohol, except in the opposite direction. Lowering of inhibition leads to boldness for Jesus, friendliness and supernatural joy, laughing at things (because God is quite funny), and lowering bodily control (an inherent quality of controlling substances).
When people are filled with the Spirit, they do great things they will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. But what I’m highlighting here is the phenomenological similarities between being drunk in the Spirit and being drunk with wine.
1 Samuel 19 – Saul Prophesying with the Prophets
the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied…
A study on the Spirit in the Bible will eventually lead you to a study of the Spirit in the Old Testament, as its presence is quite frequent. Of the many, I will highlight just one.
This is actually both a hilarious and powerful scene.
Saul is chasing David to kill him. And then out of nowhere the text says, “the Spirit of God falls on Saul’s messengers and they started prophesying.” There was a sudden interruption of their course of action as the Spirit fell on them. They couldn’t chase David anymore because the Spirit of God was on them. It wasn’t just a mental shift like “Oh I’m going to stop chasing David now”, but they were physically arrested by the Spirit of God which led them to prophesy uncontrollably.
Most people won’t believe it but the text will go on later to say that Saul would be hit and filled with the Spirit of God and, I quote, “he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night” (19:24).
What a strange yet powerful image of the Holy Spirit.
I bring this to show that the Spirit has power in him which leads to real physical effects on the human person as witnessed by the people in the Bible who were filled with him.
Spiritual & Theological Reflections
My Experience of Being Drunk in the Spirit
Experience doesn’t teach everything but it does inform our theology more than we give it credit for, so allow me to share my personal experiences.
I’ve come to a point in my faith when I can recognize the move of the Spirit on my life. I can tell when he’s deeply wounded by my actions, when he’s ecstatic by my presence, when he’s just enjoying our conversation, or when he’s filling me with spiritual power for a ministry task.
In addition, the Christian life is about making a proper resting place for Jesus to dwell and move in us. So as I am growing and Jesus is having more of my heart, there is more room for his presence to dwell in me.
With that, my experiences of encountering God over the years become increasingly intense, and I have a handful of powerful ecstatic experiences which only a few people know about. But lately, being filled in the Spirit to a point where I am just sitting there chuckling or falling over completely bawling with uncontrollable laughter has been an increasing occurrence.
What happens to me during that time? Well, for sure, I feel the joy of the Lord. Joy is not something you can fake. There’s a real sense where the joy of God’s presence (Ps 16:11) is manifested in that moment. All my worries that I was presently thinking about are suddenly put into perspective of being in the presence of an overly joyous God. His joy wells up inside me and I can’t help but just laugh because my troubles are so silly. He loves me like crazy.
It’s like God is tickling me and revelation is just flowing. I see and hear thoughts constantly; I literally want to write and tweet them out all the time. I will want to spontaneously dance and worship God, which I often will do. His presence on me is so strong with divine happiness and I will start praying in tongues.
I’ve been drunk in front of my roommates before and they thought it was a very strange sight. That’s fine–I think it’s strange when people are drunk on wine. When I’m filled with God’s presence I am completely in another universe, the universe of God’s love.
The Phenomenon of the Living God inside of Us
To the concern of there being a phenomenological result at all when the Spirit of God comes on us, my concerns are actually opposite. My concern is when the living God of the universe enters a frail finite human frame, why isn’t there an even greater phenomenological response?
Why aren’t we all blowing up with the amount of energy which exists in the Triune God dwelling inside of us? The fact that people, when filled with the Spirit of God, are falling over, shaking, or laughing uncontrollably seems almost like a small thing.
To understand the phenomenon of being drunk in the Spirit, we have to come to understanding that God touches us not just in a “spiritual” way, but in a real physical way. I think this is the point of the biblical passages I brought forward. His presence is not just a force or a feeling, but it is the person of Jesus, with all his emotions and power dwelling inside our weak and frail bodies.
Drunkenness as Operating From an Alternate Universe
It is known that Jesus’ entire ministry is based on this: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:19). He does everything because he sees his Father in heaven doing it.
It’s out of this that Jesus spends precious time praying alone with Father. His time with God completely dominated his life and informed his ministry. He did everything out of being connected with God.
It is out of this which led him to do things that no one else thought was plausible. He waited an additional 2 days to heal Lazarus; he went into Jerusalem despite people wanting to kill him; he fed 5000 people with a few loaves and fish despite his disciples’ insistence. He simply saw things differently. It was as if he was operating from an alternative universe. Yes, it is the universe of his Father’s world.
Being drunk in the Spirit is like that. When the Spirit of God is on you in a powerful way, you have access to the heavenlies like never before. You begin operating out of the presence of God residing in you. It’s quite a humorous and exciting experience when you are laughing with joy because God’s Spirit is on you in the midst of a context which is so depressed. It’s much better to operate out of divine joy than to operate out of the depressing spiritual environment you are in.
Being Drunk with Others
I remember a time when I went to Bethel Church in Redding (the church where Jesus Culture comes out of and where Bill Johnson teaches), everyone was getting drunk in the Spirit all the time. People were in classrooms falling over with laughter and joy, and it led to them having supernatural faith (which I believe is why they see so many miracles in their church). It was quite an experience, to say the least.
I’ve had a few of those experiences before. There are times when the Spirit of God falls on a group of people and then they suddenly start losing it. I remember just looking at someone else who is shaking, falling, and laughing, and in that moment, all I could think of was Psalm 34 where it says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
We were just so happy and we were enjoying together in our senses that the God who inhabits and surrounds us indeed tastes good. He tastes so good it we just laughed at how good his presence felt on us.
I am actually not very well researched in this area, but I want to bring a resource I found from Mike Bickle who found in his research that spiritual manifestations were very common throughout heightened spiritual activity in the church, even the Great Awakenings in American religious history.
The PDF can be found here.
His PDF also has some great insights that I won’t touch on concerning manifestations in the Spirit.
I want to briefly comment on some common objections I hear.
“The Holy Spirit should yield the fruit of the Spirit, not this.” – True. I love the fruit of the Spirit and how the Spirit teaches and empowers us to live lives of character. But this endeavor is not opposed to being drunk in his presence and the fruit of the Spirit does not sum up the entirety of the NT’s teaching about the expectation for the Spirit.
“The church should have order (1 Cor 14) and being drunk is wildness” – True, the church should have order. Two comments. First, order is contextual and relative. What is “orderly” is different in a white middle class congregation and a Indonesian church. Second, I think the concern in 1 Cor 14 is Paul trying to order the usage of spiritual gifts so that they are working in unity, hence “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33).
“It’s just really weird.” – I’ll give you that. But I will posit two things. First, I find that the people who find it most weird are influenced more by American philosophy of naturalism (which often denies spiritual reality / prioritizes intellectualism) than biblical reality of real spiritual presences influencing human behavior. The biblical world is rife with spiritualism and ecstatic experiences. Second, there’s a strong connection between the Book of Acts Church in them being filled with the Spirit and the power of the church. Considering how powerless our churches are, perhaps it is not the drunk who are weird, but those aren’t are (I say this not as an indictment, but just to bring a shift in perspective).
What’s the Point of Being Drunk?
The point of being drunk is connected with experiencing God. Yes, I am making a point that being drunk on the Spirit should yield great results. But I think the important thing, which I think most people who oppose it don’t quite get is that, encountering God is an ends in itself.
When we’re drunk in the Spirit, we are literally filled with God’s presence, for all his joy, his mystery, his power, and it is an amazing feeling and experience.
I mean, you are encountering the God of the universe in a real manifest way. And it should lead you to live a holier, more loving life, which is a goal. But if the gospel is about a relationship with God, then anytime we encounter God, it is a holy ends in itself.
And being drunk in the Spirit is a very real way of encountering God.
I hope that these thoughts are helpful in helping us think about the phenomenon known as being drunk in the Holy Spirit.
I hope to share more thoughts in the future as I grow experientially, theologically, and spiritually on this subject.
With that being said, I welcome any thoughts or criticisms.