by Gabe McReynolds and Rick James
God is extraordinary and unique.
But God can also be confusing.
New in my relationship with God, I accepted the idea that God exists in three unique but unified persons, while at the same time having absolutely no idea what that meant. Many a Christian feels like they have entered a hidden game level or fallen down the rabbit hole when those around them start saying things like “walk in the Spirit”, or “the Spirit of God lives in you”, or “you are sealed with the Spirit.”
Maybe it’s my puny brain, but God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit all being one being is a bit of a head-tilting idea. Each person is fully God and fully united with the others while each holds a different role in the Godhead. (The word “trinity” is used to explain this reality; three persons, “tri-”; one substance, “unity”. Tri-unity: trinity.)
One thing that helped me was growing in my understanding of the Trinity was to explore who the Holy Spirit is and his specific role in the Godhead and in my life.
Have you ever wondered: who the Holy Spirit is, why God gave him to you, and what it means to live a life controlled by the Spirit?
When you received Christ, the barrier of sin separating you from God was removed through God’s love and forgiveness. He began dwelling within you through the person of the Holy Spirit; your heart became his home.
Before your heart was like a home in a power outage—cold and dark—but after, the Spirit of God came in and lit the place up! As a result, you become spiritually alive and connected with God.
We neither know the how or the where, but we do know that the Spirit’s presence in us carries with it the assurance of our new spiritual life:
“Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession…”.Ephesians 1:13,14
We are now God’s possession and the Spirit is, in effect, the down payment on his purchased property—that would be you.
Just like the idea expressed in marriage, receiving Christ is a one-time decision. We don’t awake each morning to a fresh need to say, “I do”; once was enough. Having received Christ, the Scriptures state that we became children of God:
“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the privilege to become children of God”.John 1:12
In theory we could tell our parents that we no longer wished to be in their family, but we can never change the reality that we are their son or daughter. It’s an established fact on the basis of biology and/or law.
We can sever our fellowship but not our relationship. And since there was not one thing we did to earn our new life, there is nothing we can ever do to lose it—we are eternally Christ’s.
But the Spirit is more than simply an assurance of new life in Christ. It is through the Spirit that God enables and empowers us to live the Christian life.
So how exactly does the Holy Spirit exert control over our lives, and what is our role in the process?
Perhaps the most helpful passage in Scripture for answering these questions is this one:
“Be very careful … how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”Ephesians 5:15-20, NIV
One is compelled to ask, “What does getting drunk on wine have to do with being filled with the Spirit?” Well, obviously they are two contrasting ideas, but they must share some kind of similarity – why couple them together otherwise?
The link between them, or the similarity they share, is in the idea of influence. They are both foreign entities that, when internalized, influence our behavior.
Alcohol provides a good example of a foreign influence (albeit a bad one) that can affect our will and behavior. As demonstrated by alcohol, control is always a question of degrees.
There are things we can do that hinder the Spirit’s influence, and things we can do to increase sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading.
This is at the heart of walking in step—or being filled—with the Spirit.
So, what exactly affects the Spirit’s influence? What does it mean to “walk in step with” or “live” the Spirit-filled life? What leads to the Spirit having maximum influence over our lives?
How does one become more drunk? One consumes more alcohol.
In the case of the Holy Spirit, we have all of him that we will ever have. So the major determinant of the Spirit’s influence is how much of us we let him consume, meaning how much of our lives we allow him to control.
The questions we must ask ourselves: “Do we desire to live for Christ in every area of our life (dating, vocation, relationships, and so on)?”
When we call Jesus “Lord”, we are acknowledging that he is the one who is in control of not only the whole universe, but our lives as well. And not only do we acknowledge it, we also desire it.
Sin is choosing to live our own way in order to satisfy our needs, wants, and desires rather than living in accordance with God’s way. Sin is a seizure of control, like a coup d’etat.
Confession involves admitting the coup took place, receiving God’s forgiveness, and returning that area of our life back to its rightful owner—God.
When we sin, we instinctively feel the impulse that someone must pay a price. We can berate ourselves—someone must pay, and rightfully it should be us, so we punish ourselves. Or we blame someone else. Or we try to justify ourselves, “Now that you mention it, I’m not really sure that was a sin.” Basically we decide to make a judgment over and against our conscience, declaring that what we did was actually right, or at least not very wrong.
Well, we are all brilliant lawyers, but try as we may, God the Judge is not hearing any of it. It’s true that when you feel the conviction of sin, someone must die. But that person already has—over 2,000 years ago. So your plea bargaining was really a waste of time.
What is needed is confession: the acknowledgment of sin and the acknowledgment and personal application of Christ’s death for that sin.
The Spirit will make you aware of areas that he wants you to surrender to him. Whenever the Spirit reveals sin to you, you confess it, turning back to Christ, agreeing with his assessment and his death on the cross.
As you become aware of these areas, you can pray a simple prayer of surrender like this:
“Lord Jesus, I realize that I have not been trusting you with the issue of [specify area] in my life. I am sorry for this and now surrender it to your control, so that you can do with it what you will.”
You may have to do this more than once as you find yourself taking back control of a given area.
Over time you’ll discover deeper roots of sin and uncover areas disconnected from his control. In submitting these areas to Christ, we affirm that he is Lord and that we are committed to giving him control.
We all rely on different people for different needs. If we need comfort, we might seek out a parent or close friend. For managing our money, we might have a financial adviser. When we are ill, we rely on a doctor.
But to whom can we turn throughout the day for every need? And who is close at hand to meet our deepest needs?
While there is a place for all the people who help us in our lives, the loving Spirit of Christ is with us wherever we go and is always ready to help us.
In fact, one of his names is Helper, sometimes translated as Counsellor or Comforter (John 14:26). Whatever need we have or situation we are facing, we can turn our thoughts and prayers to him. And in times of our deepest need, when we need hope or inner strength in the face of adversity, he is the only one who can see us through.
Throughout each day, we sense the need for empowerment. Whether we’re eaters, coffee drinkers, or smokers, all of us have this reflex. But while there is an immediate satisfaction to our “crutches,” they never truly meet the need. When I’m done eating, for example, I’m just as lonely.
A life fully empowered or maximally influenced by the Spirit is one in which we reflexively turn to Christ throughout the day, asking for comfort, empowerment, wisdom, and direction.
Before we turn to others, we first connect with God: “Oh Lord, I’m nervous. Will you please strengthen me?” or “Oh Lord, I don’t know what to do. Will you please give me wisdom?”
All day long, in every circumstance, we turn to the Lord. This is the idea of reliance and it is vital to experiencing the Spirit’s influence.
Atmosphere is important.
Going back to our Spirit-filled passage again, Ephesians 5:19-20, notice what it says:
“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”Ephesians 5:19-20
The description Paul gives is of an environment conducive to the empowering influence of the Holy Spirit. As we worship, give thanks, praise God, and sing, our hearts become an environment where we grow in sensitivity to the Spirit and his presence grows stronger.
And finally, it is in community with other Christians that we experience a dynamic of the Spirit-filled life we can never experience alone.
Notice again that our verses in Ephesians say,
“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs…”
There are many passages in the Bible that promote community through the phrase “one another”: love one another, serve one another, encourage one another, and so on.
Often, when God wants to meet our need for love, encouragement or help, he will do it through our relationships with other Spirit-filled believers. We ﬁnd fresh life when we share our sins and struggles. We are blessed as we pray together and sympathize with one another. Without this community, we would miss out on the Spirit’s blessings to us through them.
Moreover, we learn about who God is and how he acts by seeing his work in the lives of others in our community.
Consider this: your experience of Christ and walk with God are significantly impacted by the waterline of your community. Life-giving relationships with other believers, characterized by love and truth, are critical means by which Christ produces growth and maturity in our lives.
God, your spiritual Father, has given you the amazing gift of his presence and power in you through his Spirit. Take advantage of this!
Just as you began your relationship with God by faith, so by faith you can be assured of his power in you moment by moment. You will be able to resist the destructive power of sin through confession. Spending time regularly in quiet meditation on his Word and in prayer, as well as with a community of Christians, will enrich your experience of the Spirit.
As you rely on him, you will find it possible to give God praise and thanks in every circumstance, both good and bad. Study and employ the practical teaching found in the booklet entitled “Satisfied” and learn more about how to be filled with and walk in the power of the Spirit.
* Based on “THE SPIRIT: God’s Presence and Power in You,” written by Rick James. From InTransition © 2008 CruPress. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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