“And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8: 9b-11 NIV).
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. 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 – to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13,14 NIV).
The Holy Guarantee
Beware and fair warning! We are entering into great mystery and delight that can literally change your life. People don’t change, we hear from all sides. But Christians do. True Christians who begin at the foot of the cross in confession and shame and embrace the forgiveness and new relationship with God that is offered. They change. Otherwise repentance is a joke. That is the whole point of the cross – to change people’s hearts and lives. It may be subtle. It may be hidden for a while. It may take some digging to uncover but it is there and it is wonderous.
There is something that happens to us the moment we are sincerely repentant of our sins and truly desireous of a new relationship with God. Remember that it has always been about the heart. God is not stupid. He isn’t about rules and regulations. He is about love. And if we are also about the heart and not just about religion, and God can tell, of course, then something happens to us. Something physical. Something mysterious. Something transformational.
We are given the Holy Spirit.
Before we became saints, and while we were still sinners, we could not receive the Holy Spirit. Not just because the Spirit isn’t interested in co-habitating with people whose hearts are in rebellion against him but because we would not survive it. We would be burnt up in that Holy Fire which cleanses everything it touches. The only reason we can survive his presence now is because we have been declared righteous because of the cross. We have become saints and Jesus has become the sinner. Therefore we can receive the Holy Spirit which enters into us and gives us a new nature.
A new nature? What are you saying? Are we no longer human? Are we in-humans or more than humans? What?
No, now we are truly human. If man was meant to exist in a relationship with God and was meant to physically live with the Holy Spirit within as a normal part of our creation and, if all of the problems we face are because we have rebelled and rejected that relationship, then it makes sense that God is restoring us to the original idea of what creation was all about. It’s the same but not the same.
It’s the same in the sense that our relationship with God has been restored and that makes all the difference in the world. There is great power and even greater mystery in that truth. But it is also not the same because we still continue to sin. We have been legally declared innocent but we were the ones who committed the crime and we continue to struggle to live a life that is different and more congruent with who we are.
Saint Augustine used to say that Adam, before the fall, was able to sin. After the fall, he was not able not to sin. Then when we become Christians and receive the Holy Spirit, we are able not to sin. Finally, when we meet God face to face in heaven and we are forever cleansed from all vestiges of our old life, we are no longer able to sin. I, for one, look forward to that day.
I remember once in Bible College that a teacher was saying that Jesus lived in our hearts. I put my hand up, not wanting to take anything at face value, and I said something to the effect that my heart is a pump and that I doubt very much a little man was living in there. The class laughed but the teacher just smiled and asked me a question. “In terms of your body, where are you? Is your consciousness in your stomach, your liver, your heart? Where are you?”
I thought about it for a moment and then said, “I would have to say somewhere in my mind, maybe my frontal lobe.”
And the teacher replied, “Well, wherever your consciousness resides, that’s where the Holy Spirit is as well. In Bible days, they didn’t have our knowledge of anatomy and they talked about the heart, which we still do today. But physically, we probably should be talking about the mind.” I thought it was a pretty good answer actually and from that moment on, I realized that there were many good answers out there. I just had to do the work to find them.
Point is that the Holy Spirit is real and he is stuck with you and you with him for all eternity. Thank God. After all, the Holy Spirit isn’t going to hell, so niether are you. If you did go to hell, it would turn into heaven because the Holy Spirit would be there with you. Go figure. That’s a pretty good guarantee.
So how do you know that you have the Holy Spirit within you? Was your confession sincere? Were you filled with shame at the foot of the cross? Did you accept his forgiveness and allow him to take your shame away? Do you want a new relationship with God? Did you say “I do” to his proposal to spend the rest of your life (and eternity) together? Then you are off to a good start. That is what comes before you get the Holy Spirit (although it comes from the Holy Spirit’s influence on you already present before you accepted his proposal).
But what about afterwards? What evidence of the Holy Spirit should I expect in my life? In the early church, people who received the Holy Spirit often spoke in tongues. That normally meant other languages that actually existed at that time. It was a way for the Holy Spirit to prepare people for their work of spreading the gospel. But Paul also talks in his letters about speaking “in the tongues of men and of angels” (I Corinthians 13) so that is also possible. Many people could heal the sick and others could do miraculous signs.
But there are also more subtle signs of the Holy Spirit that, for me, are even more powerful.
“Are you serious?” you might be asking. “Something more powerful than signs and wonders? No way.”
Yes, way. The Israelites saw the mighty signs and wonders that God performed in Egypt during the ten plagues and the crossing of the Dead Sea. They saw the Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night. They saw God miraculously take care of their needs day in and day out for forty years in the desert, more than a million people strong where bedouin tribes of less than fifty people could hardly survive. And yet, after all those signs and wonders, they still created the golden calf, they still rebelled against the leadership of Moses, they still chickened out of going in to conquer the Promised Land.
One of the things you have got to get straight in this new life with God is that signs and wonders are great encouragement when they come, but they cannot transform the human heart. Only the Holy Spirit can and his approach is much more subtle and far more powerful.
The Holy Spirit changes the heart. When you start to care for things that before you could care less about, things like your fellow believers, sharing the gospel, helping the poor, that is evidence of the Holy Spirit.
Wait a minute! People who are not believers also care for the poor.
True. But they don’t care about their relationship with God at the same time. When you start to “hunger and thirst” to know God and you want to study the Bible and ask questions and spend time with other Christians getting answers, that is evidence of the Holy Spirit.
When you start to struggle with your sin (more on that in a later post) and you don’t just do whatever you want but you truly want to please God, that is evidence of the Holy Spirit.
But let me tell you a secret. The Devil is very good a counterfeiting the things of God. He has a vested interest in keeping people religious and not discovering the power and beauty of true humility before God. That true humility is key.
One of my favorite sayings goes like this: “There is nothing more embarassing in heaven and on earth than the arrogance of people who should be ashamed of themselves. Sadly that applies to all of us.”
Even as Christians, we have no business being arrogant as if somehow we deserve God’s grace. We can enjoy it and be thankful for it but not arrogant about it. And what keeps us humble is truly only one thing.
It is what I call the Way of the Cross. Confession. Repentance. Forgiveness and Reconciliation. This process is what allowed you to become a Christian in the first place and it is also the process of our becoming more like Christ (sanctification). If healing relationships are the issue, then we need to make sure that we are always walking this Way of the Cross in all of our relationships. And it is hard. We may be willing to confess our sins to someone we have hurt but there is no guarantee that they won’t use that information against us. It has happened to me many times. You may be willing to repent and change your ways, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to give you the power to do things differently, but there isn’t usually much help from other Christians. It is a lonely road that you often have to travel alone and there are a lot of people who will tell you what you’re doing wrong at every step of the way. Forgiving others? Are you kidding? Dangerous work. You can forgive someone and they can turn around and do it again, and again, and again. We’ve all been there. And reconciliation is elusive and difficult to maintain.
The whole thing takes faith, hope and love but most of all, it takes humility. To always maintain that position in front of the cross where you let go of your reputation, your feelings, your sense of fairness and justice, and make Christ your only concern. That takes humility. To allow people to abuse you because you walk the way of the cross takes humility. To give people grace and forgive them and treat them as they are in Christ and not as they are in the flesh, takes humility.
That humility, expressed in faith, hope and love towards God and others, is a sure work of the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t come from you. You aren’t capable of it. That work is the truest evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. Sure there are lots of other good deeds you can do but they can all be done by non-believers as well. This is the only thing, the key thing, the thing that heals relationships, that comes from the Holy Spirit. It is focused on the cross and it humbles the pilgrim who walks that road just like it did to Jesus who humbled himself in faith, hope and love to God’s will, knowing that what he was doing was pleasing to God. That’s all that matters.
Well, that isn’t normal and it is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit within you. All the signs and wonders in the world cannot create it. Speaking in tongues cannot create it. It is a creation of the Holy Spirit within you. You are a new creation. You have a new nature. You are now truly human and, so long as you continue to walk in the Spirit, you will start to see strange and wonderful things happen in your life, especially the presence of true humility as you walk the way of the cross.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, I’m excited about this Holy Spirit in my life. I know that it is you. I hardly know even how to talk about him. He is the Spirit of Jesus but yet, something more. He is God. He is my counselor. He is you. Thank you. Hello Holy Spirit. Teach me how to walk everyday with you and learn from you. Thank you for changing me. I want to learn from you, O Lord. In your name I pray. Amen.