During the war with Iraq, America’s elite Special Forces pulled off two breathtaking rescues of our POWs from behind enemy lines. In the first, Jessica Lynch lay in grave physical condition, with wounds to her head and back and many broken bones. She was way beyond using her skills, wits and training to mastermind an escape. Even if she could crawl to the door, four Iraqi soldiers waited there, armed with AK-47 machine guns. All the strength she could muster was futile. Her only hope was to be rescued.
That’s exactly where we found ourselves spiritually before our salvation. We were lost, without hope, without the resources or ability to reach heaven on our own. Fortunately, God came to our rescue. As the Apostle Paul put it,
For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son…. (Colossians 1:13, NASB)
Fortunately (or providentially!) for Jessica, an awesome array of Special Forces risked their lives to come for her. After midnight, hundreds of Marines crossed enemy lines and created a diversion south of Jessica’s building with artillery and gunfire. Then, several dozen ‘’door-kickers’’ arrived in Black Hawk helicopters provided by Air Force special operations. Army Rangers secured the building. Navy Seals penetrated the hospital.
I want someone to accompany me through this life, someone strong enough to take care of me.
Wearing night goggles, the Seals found her room and whisked her off to a helicopter. But, although she was rescued, she knew that she wasn’t out of harm’s way. On the helicopter, she said, “Please don’t let anyone leave me.” They never did.
Lest you think this desperation for companionship was just a feminine reaction to her ordeal, in a similar rescue of 7 male POWs in Iraq, the rescuers sensed the same need for companionship in the rescued men. So, two Marines were instructed by their commanding officer to accompany the soldiers out of Iraq. As one rescuer said, “We were the first Americans they’d seen since they were captured. They kind of clung to us from the start, so our Commanding Officer figured they needed some familiar faces traveling with them.” (1)
Spiritually, I have some of the same needs and feelings as these POWs. Sure, I’ve been rescued from darkness and given a new chance at life. But I don’t want to be simply dumped outside the city limits of Baghdad and left to fend for myself. I want someone to accompany me through this life, someone strong enough to take care of me.
This is exactly what God has given us in His Holy Spirit. When Jesus readied His disciples for His departure, He assured them that He’d send them a “helper”—“one summoned to the side of another to befriend him, advise him, and if necessary plead his cause.”(2) (John 14:16,26, 15:26, 16:7)
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
(John 14:26, NASB)
And, He comes to live inside of us! In this Pocket PrincipleTM, we’ll learn more about the Holy Spirit and how He wants to relate to us.
WHEN GOD MOVED IN
Back in Old Testament times, God wasn’t as up close and personal. Sure, He talked to Moses face to face, but to most of God’s people, He was separated from them by a veil in the temple. God dwelt “in the midst of” His people (Exodus 15:13,17; Numbers 35:34; Deuteronomy 7:21). The temple symbolized God’s presence (Deuteronomy 12:5-7), and only the priests could enter the “holy of holies,” where God could be contacted.
You shall not dread them, for the LORD your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. (Deuteronomy 7:21, NASB)
God moved out of His temple and into His people!
Jesus changed all of that. In the Christmas story, you may remember Jesus is referred to as “Immanuel,” which means “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23) God walked among us during His years on earth, but He assured His disciples that after His death and resurrection He’d stay close to them through His indwelling Spirit (John 14:7). When He died on the cross, the temple veil ripped in two, symbolizing that God’s presence was no longer just for the priests (Matthew 27:51).
When He ascended, He told His disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit. Since that time, the Holy Spirit enters believers at the time of our salvation (Acts 2:38; Ephesians 1:13; Romans 8:9-11). Now all believers are priests; our bodies are His temple (I Corinthians 6:19; Acts 17:24). God moved out of His temple and into His people!
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (I Corinthians 6:19)
When a young child named Benji expressed a strong desire to make sure that he was going to heaven, his parents led him in a prayer to ask Jesus to come live in his heart. After the prayer, Benji looked up at his parents with a confident smile and said, “Well, He’s packing!” In his literal-thinking mind, Benji could imagine God packing His bags to come live in his heart. What a great picture!
When God’s Spirit comes to live in us, He makes several changes in our lives.
A NEW LIFE
One night, Jesus talked to a fellow named Nicodemus about how to enter God’s kingdom. Being a high ranking Pharisee, Nicodemus had certainly studied God’s Word and tried to live it out. Yet, Jesus said that he couldn’t get into God’s kingdom without being born again, which He also calls being born of the Spirit (John 3:5). Jesus was speaking of the new life the Spirit gives to us.
Jesus also described this new life as crossing from death to life (John 5:24). Those who have not been born again are spiritually dead. Only when the Spirit of God enters their lives do they become spiritually alive (Ephesians 2:1-5). This means not only that the believer has eternal life, but that additionally he has a personal relationship with God (is alive to Him).
Although this new relationship with God, through the Holy Spirit, begins at salvation, it keeps growing throughout the rest of our lives. It’s kind of like a good marriage. A couple becomes one on their wedding day, but they continue to grow in their relationship throughout their lives. Two of the Holy Spirit’s continuing ministries are to assure the believer that she is a child of God and to inspire her to cry out to God, her Father, in prayer (Romans 8:15-16).
Although this new relationship with God, through the Holy Spirit, begins at salvation, it keeps growing throughout the rest of our lives.
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15,16)
A NEW HEART
Cassie Bernall became known worldwide as a 17-year-old student who died in the April, 1999 massacre at Columbine High School. Although she was a committed Christian at the time of her death, she wasn’t always that way. Raised by loving parents, she got with the wrong friends and began to dabble in satanic rituals. Subtly, the glasses through which she viewed the world became darker and darker, until she could seem to find no good in the world. She would cut herself. She hated her parents, God and her life, becoming obsessed with suicide. Cassie wouldn’t have responded to a self-help book or a motivational speech. She needed a new heart.
Her mom began to pray desperately. A Christian classmate befriended her and wouldn’t let go. She invited Cassie to a weekend retreat in the Rocky Mountains. During a praise and worship service, God broke through. Her change was immediate and dramatic. She walked outside the meeting room with some friends, gazed at the stars and stood in awe of the God she once hated.
When her parents met her at the bus, they immediately saw the difference. According to her dad, “it was as if she had been in a dark room, and somebody had turned the light on, and she could suddenly see the beauty surrounding her.” They saw the smile that had disappeared years ago. God had given her a new heart—one that had a passion to love God and love people. (3) Before we knew Christ, we had serious heart problems. We needed more than corrective surgery; we needed a transplant.
What does it mean to have a new heart? An Old Testament Prophet named Ezekiel prophesied of a time when God would send His Spirit to live within believers and give them new hearts. He said that God would remove their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). A “heart of flesh” means a heart that is responsive to God. It seeks after Him and desires to follow Him (Ezekiel 36:27).
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:26, 27)
The Apostle Paul explained the same truth in a different way. He spoke of the “desires of the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:17; Romans 8:5) When we are born again, the Holy Spirit gives us a new set of godly desires. But many sinful desires remain as well. God’s indwelling Spirit gives us the power to say “yes” to the godly desires and “no” to the sinful ones (Galatians 5:16,22-23).
A NEW PERSPECTIVE
The Holy Spirit enlightens our understanding (I Corinthians 2:12). Those who do not have the Spirit (unbelievers) do not understand the things of God. Spiritual issues seem like foolishness to them (I Corinthians 2:14). We see this dramatic change in the Apostle Paul. Before his conversion, he saw Christianity as a perversion of the truth. After receiving the Holy Spirit, he understood the truth (Acts 9:17-18).
We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. (I Corinthians 2:12)
Of course, the Spirit doesn’t give us all spiritual knowledge. We won’t see all things clearly until we’re in heaven (I Corinthians 13:12). Here on earth the Spirit opens our eyes immediately to some truths, and others as we follow Him and read His Word. It’s kind of like taking a trip by car at night. When you turn on the headlights, you can’t see all the way to your destination, but as you move forward, your headlights give enough light to let you continue your journey.
We introduced this lesson by describing the dramatic rescue of Jessica Lynch. It wasn’t enough to be rescued. She needed someone to accompany and protect her until she could make it home. As I write, she’s safely home in America, celebrating her 20th birthday. God not only rescued us from the domain of darkness, but also promised to accompany us each step of our journey—helping us, enlightening us, growing us up, and transforming us until that day that we arrive safely at our heavenly home.
.(1) Sgt. Joseph R. Chenelly, Marines Recount POW Rescue Operation, I Marine Expeditionary Force. Patrick Rogers, Peter Mikelbank, Rose Ellen O’Connor, Susan Keating, Jane Sims Podesta, Courtney Rubin, “Saved From Danger,” People, (April 21, 2003).
.(2) R.V.G. Tasker, Book of John, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1960), 172.
.(3) Misty Bernall, She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall (Rifton, NY: Plough Publishers, 1999).