“While Apollo was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ And they said, ‘No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’” Acts 19:1-2
Ellen Ann is a pretty little six year old who has grown up in a lovely home that is next door to a town cemetery. In her few years Ellen Ann has witnessed dozens of funerals from her backyard swing. One day her mother found her in the graveyard burying one of her broken dolls. The child scooped out a hole, put the dolly in, covered it over with sod, and stood up to reverently intone, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and in-the-hole-he-goes!”
Maybe that’s all you know about the Holy Spirit. And if so, you are not alone. Today God the Spirit is the forgotten person of the Trinity. Like the people of Ephesus, when asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” We too, must honestly answer, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
But did you know that the Holy Ghost is not optional? In fact, Christ commands us to live the Christian life in His power! “Receive the Holy Spirit,” He says in John 20:22. “Walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16). “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 4:30). “Do not quench the Spirit” (Thess. 5:19).
So, let’s take a few moments to study the Holy Spirit, to learn His ways, and make a decision about receiving Him into our lives.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” The Greek word for power is “dynamis.” We derive our words dynamite or dynamo or dynamic from it. And Jesus is saying we shall receive this sort of power when the Holy Spirit is accepted into our lives.
Take Peter as an example of the Spirit’s enabling power. Before Pentecost, before he had received the Holy Spirit, he was by Jesus’ side and he made all the right sounds, “Lord, I will follow you even unto death.” But Peter could not live out his creed. In the garden of Gethsemane he slept. When the soldiers came he lashed out in anger and fled into the night. Then following at a distance, when a servant girl accused him of being a Christian, he cursed and swore he never knew the man Jesus. Yet after Pentecost when Peter had been filled with the Spirit of Christ he threw open the doors of the upper room and boldly preached Jesus as risen Lord. And throughout the subsequent pages of Scripture we see Peter growing and manifesting the power of God as a healer, as a man overcoming his racial prejudices, becoming an author (something out of character for a rustic fisherman), and finally refusing to deny Christ and run away as he is crucified upside down on a cross in Rome.
If you are a Christian, this same life changing power is in you. But you say, “I am a Christian. But I certainly do not feel so powerful right now! Where is this strength?” And the answer is, down inside you. Deuteronomy 33:25 explains, “As your days so shall your strength be.”
My car is sitting in my driveway right now. It does not seem to be powerful in any way. I can go out and sit in it, turn on the parking lights and listen to the radio— but it still seems to be no real power. When I start the motor and idle down the driveway and along the neighborhood streets it still does not impress me with power. Yet when I pull out on the expressway and need to go 55 miles per hour, the exact power I need is there. And that is the way the Holy Ghost operates in the life of the believer. “As your day so shall your strength be.” The power to love, to forgive, to witness, to hurt, to discipline, to be patient, to create— it’s all there as needed, adequate power for daily living.
Point Out Sins
In John 16:7-8 Jesus said the Holy Spirit does more than empower. He said, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away the counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And when He comes, He will convince the world of sin and righteousness…” In other words, the Holy Spirit will point out right and wrong in our lives.
Consider an experiment. Imagine the room where you are seated to be full of light. There is no way to turn any more lights on. The room simply has all of the light it is going to get. But, does the light have all of the room? No, it does not. For there are shadows all about.
What if one by one you removed every object that blocked the light’s presence in the room— a table, a chair, a trash can? When you finished would the room have any more light in it? No. It’s just that the light would have more of the room.
The Holy Spirit works like that in the Christian’s life. He is a person and He enters our lives totally at conversion. One does not receive an arm and a leg of the Spirit. And later comes His head and His hands. He is a person and He enters us fully or not at all. So, the question is not, “Does the believer have the Holy Spirit?” The question is, “Does the Holy Spirit have the believer?” As the Spirit enters our lives He begins to point out our sins one at a time. Maybe He begins with our pride, encouraging us to confess it and in God’s power put it aside. That done, He may point out unforgiveness, then lust, poor financial management, disrespect for authority, impatience, and so on and so forth. As we walk in the Spirit, grieve not the Spirit, quench not the Spirit, we are changed day by day into the likeness of Christ.
The key principle to remember here is that you the believer first get all of the Spirit you are ever going to get. And then, little by little, the Holy Spirit gets all of you.
In John 16:12-13 Jesus further explained the Holy Spirit’s work in the Christians life. Standing before the twelve disciples He said, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth.”
Imagine that! Twelve persons who’d given it all up to follow Jesus twenty-four hours a day for three years. They’d heard His every saying, watched Him minister, witnessed His frequent miracles. And still Jesus called them to His side and announced, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Wow! That would have hurt my feelings! And it must have hurt theirs! But the point is this: If Jesus said it to the twelve, how much more must He be saying it to us today.
We are so ignorant.
Not a one of us knows it all yet.
But the Spirit is here to teach us. Jesus promised, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth.”
When I was a teenager my father bought a Lincoln Continental Town Car. He never really used it for road trips. He was content to ride out for ice cream with the family, take it to church and the like. And, of course, my father never bothered to read the owner’s manual.
We teenage boys, however, thought that car was fantastic! And we learned everything about it we could. And that made life interesting when Dad and my brothers were in the car together.
My brother Paul would adjust the electric seat to a new position and my father would say, “How’d you do that? I didn’t know that button was there!”
We’d raise the car antenna with the electric switch and, amazed, my Dad would say, “Gee! Would you look at that!”
Over the years we showed my father all sorts of things about that car— cruise control, automatic light dimmer, an 8-track tape system, the switch to open the trunk from the glove compartment, and more.
Dad had simply bought more car than he had yet realized! And we were leading him into all truth!
The point is this: Jesus Christ has bought us more salvation than any of us can yet imagine! And it is the task of the Holy Spirit to teach us more and more all that we are and can do in Christ.
Little by little, day by day, as we study the Bible, live among Christians, think and experience the Christian life, the Spirit teaches us about prayer, being single or married, friendships, witnessing, the second coming, ecology, justice, suffering, stewardship of time, fear, doubts, the sacraments, and so much more.
I like to say that the Holy Spirit is here to take off of you everything that sin and Satan have put on you and to put on you everything that Christ wants you to have. He takes away sins and gives to us truth. He removes our weaknesses and puts on us His strength. He gives and takes away according to His good pleasure.
And now yet another exciting work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. I Peter 4:10 teaches, “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” The Greek word used for gift is “charis.” We get our word charismatic from that. And the Bible is saying, “Each has received a charismatic.” So every Christian is called to the charismatic dimensions of the Christian life.
But what does that mean?
I asked a Sunday school class once, “What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?” There was a great deal of silence and finally someone nervously volunteered, “Gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Such is our ignorance of basic Bible facts.
You’ll find the gifts of the Spirit listed in places like I Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. There it becomes clear that the gifts are actually talents for ministry like administration, showing mercy, teaching, evangelism, helping, discernment, knowledge, prayer, healing, encouragement, and more. And the Bible says, “As each has received a gift (or talent) employ it for one another…”
James Oglethorpe, the founder of the state of Georgia, was a Christian involved in a small group Bible study in London. A friend’s senseless death from fever in a squalid English debtors’ prison caused him to run for Parliament, win, and launch a panel reform movement.
Then the idea struck him! Why not take good men serving prison time for debt and let them work by helping colonize the New World for England? He was given money, equipment, ships and permission to take convicted debtors to America to form a new colony called Georgia.
Upon their arrival in the new land, each colonist was put to work— some farmed, others built, soldiered or fished. But each colonist was made to serve some useful purpose so that the colony would progress.
And all of this history is but a parable of how it is in the kingdom of heaven. You see, Jesus is our Oglethorpe who has freed us from our debts of sin, transported us to a new colony of God, the church, and given us each some ability, some special talent that we might make ourselves useful. Some of us teach. Others help, show mercy or evangelize. Some pray. Some give. Some administrate. And all of us together build up the community. The church then is nothing but a group of Christian colonists doing the various jobs of ministry so that the world can see the kingdom of Christ lived out in community right in our midst.
Hence I Peter 4:10. “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”
And now a final mission of the Holy Spirit in each believer’s life. Galatians 5:22 explains, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” In other words, the fruit of the Spirit is moral character.
Many ask, “If I open my self to the power of the Holy Ghost, if I let Him point out my sins, teach me, and call me to useful involvement in the church, what will happen to me? What will my life be like?” And all I can say is, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience and the like.”
Notice it does not say, “The blossom of the Spirit is love.” It says, “The fruit.” And that is the final product of a tree. So the fruit or final product of the indwelling Spirit is not power or truth or spiritual gifts or correction from sin. The final product is character, moral maturity described as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
A few years ago a major American magazine polled its readership asking, “What do you most want out of life?” And the three major answers were: I want love, I want to be happy, and, I want peace. And those are the first three fruits of the Spirit! So it is abundantly clear that what we most want out of life is what the good Lord is most eager to give!
Would you like to receive the Holy Spirit? Galatians 3:14 explains we “receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” So, if you are willing to turn from your sins, to trust Christ as your redeemer, and invite by faith the Spirit’s presence into your life, it can happen right now.
You may not feel anything.
You may not understand it all.
But nevertheless, He will come to you. And you will receive all of Him there is. And over the next days and years of your life He will receive all of you— your mind, your will, your emotions, your talents, your relationships. He will do this as you walk in Him, quench Him not, grieve him not.
Imagine a pipe open at both ends and stuck vertically in the river bottom. It is as full of water as it can get. But since it is at odds with the river current the water in it is not moving. Take that same pipe and rest it horizontally with the flow of the river and it is still no more or less full of water. The difference now is that the water is pouring through it.
And that is how life in the Spirit works for the Christian. In Jesus we are each filled with the Spirit. And when we refuse to live at odds with Him, to grieve or quench Him, we walk by the Spirit.
That means we are teachable as He shows us more and more who God is.
It means we are not self-reliant, but God reliant as we seek His strength.
It means we receive His spiritual gifts, His talents, and become involved in the church so as to make ourselves useful.
But most of all it means our character is changed as we become more and more like the most beautiful person who ever lived— Jesus Christ.