dove1BREATHTAKING RESCUES

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

End Notes:

.(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).

Clock Face 8 am

Last week I finished meeting with a group of ten ladies that have become very special to me.  These ladies were selected to be part of a training group by the leadership of their church. The WDA Restorative Team  is helping their church launch a Restoring Your Heart emotional healing ministry. My ladies have now completed the majority of their training to be Restoring Your Heart (RYH) group leaders. Most of this training was accomplished by actually participating in RYH groups and working on their own self-awareness and dealing with their own hurts and pains. Sounds like fun, huh?

Here is a bit of the story of our journey together.

Last January, we met for the first time on a cold windy Sunday morning. My co-leader and I did not know exactly what to expect, the other nine group participants knew even less of what to expect. Let me start off by saying that 8 AM on a Sunday is not exactly the ideal time of the day or week to dig into your past and take a long look at your hurts. Yet this was the time allotted for the training, so we began.

In a typical “first group session” for RYH, we spend some time introducing ourselves and getting to know each other. This is one of my favorite parts of the group because we all know nothing about each other. It is always interesting to notice what people reveal about themselves, and I love the beginnings of getting to know each person. This group was no exception. Each lady told a little bit about herself and what she hoped to get out of the group. We are all usually very cordial and congenial and somewhat guarded when the group begins. After some sharing time in that first session, we went over the Group Covenant, which is basically the “rules” of the group. This is important because one of the primary “rules” is confidentiality. This is so important to make the group a safe place for healing. A person can be asked to leave a group if confidentiality is violated.

After talking a bit more about what to expect and what we hoped to accomplish, I asked the group members in that first session if they had any thoughts or questions. There was silence for a minute. Then one lady spoke up and said, “To be honest, I don’t know if I will feel safe sharing anything with this group. I have been hurt by gossip in the church in the past and I just don’t trust people in the church.” I nodded and said nothing. Then another lady spoke up and said basically the same thing, “I don’t know if I will feel safe sharing, either.” I waited a minute to see if anyone else had a comment or thought. Then I said, “You must only share what you feel safe sharing. Hopefully, as the group gets to know one another better, trust will form. But, YOU will be the one to decide what to share and when to share it.” Half the group still seemed uneasy; the other half nodded expectantly.

That was a year ago, two workbooks ago, numerous trainings ago, and many tears and laughs ago.

Over the course of our time together, the two ladies who were most unsure in the beginning have become two of the most hard-working, courageous, gut-sharing members of the group. It took some time and patience with each other. It took baby-steps of sharing and trusting. It took the powerful healing work of the Holy Spirit moving among these women and in their hearts.

These 9 ladies have bonded in a supernatural way with each other. They have shared things about their pasts and their hurts and their hearts that they have never shared with anyone else before. They have gained insights about themselves and new ways of thinking and acting. They have learned to express their feelings in healthier ways and they have learned the meaning of safety. They have disagreed with each other. They have confronted each other. And in so doing, have come out on the other side of their disagreements and confrontations even more connected and bonded. They have encouraged and supported each other. They have prayed for each other.  They have learned how they impact other people and why they do the things they do. Each lady, in her own unique way, has healed and become more self-aware. This is the beauty of a Restoring Your Heart group experience that is guided by the Holy Spirit.

These ladies have also learned a lot about the emotional healing process and group dynamics. They are all excited about using what they have learned and experienced to help other women heal: women who are also afraid to trust, women who have deep hurts from their childhood, women who want to grow and don’t know how.

When I end a training group, it is always a little sad and a lot exciting. It is sad for me because I grow so attached to the women in my groups. I hate to end our time together.

But it is also exciting to think back over how far they have come and to see the growth in their lives. It is exciting to see them want to share with others their experience of healing.

Ultimately, this healing is because of the power of the Holy Spirit, working in us and through us. However, the Spirit employs us as His co-workers and lets us work along side Him as He does His mighty work. I am encouraged by what is happening in these women and at their church. I am looking forward to seeing what God does next.

 

Have you ever been afraid to trust others, especially in the Church?

Have you ever wondered why the Church should be a safe place and sometimes isn’t?

Have you experienced emotional healing in the Church?

We would love to hear your comments or experiences.

 

PostScript:  At this church, there was a men’s training group going on at the same time. These men will also now be helping other men begin their healing process.

For more information on emotional issues we refer you to our Pocket Principles:

Created with Emotions

Understanding Emotional Problems

Healing From Emotional Problems

 

Just as birth, growth and development, and death are primary components of physical life, so, too, the spiritual life features significant lifecycle events. We are born to new life, we grow and develop in our spiritual lives, and one day we will be completely transformed into Christ’s likeness. Or, to put it another way, we have been made holy, we are being made holy, and one day we shall be made completely holy. Today, we live in the “already, but not yet.” The exciting truth is that God plays a significant role in each phase of our spiritual lives.

It is by God’s initiative that we begin our spiritual lives. The apostle Paul taught the church at Corinth that Christ is the one who made it possible for us to be reconciled to God. In 1 Corinthians 1:20 he writes, “God alone made it possible for you to be in Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made Christ to be wisdom itself. He is the one who made us acceptable to God. He made us pure and holy, and He gave Himself to purchase our freedom.” (New Living Translation) And later Paul writes to the same group of believers that, “God made Him [Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:20) Elsewhere, Paul describes this event as Christ trading His riches for our poverty so that we might become rich—in spiritual riches (II Corinthians 8:9). Some have referred to this transaction as The Great Exchange.

We have another exchange to look forward to—when we will exchange our weak, mortal bodies for glorious, imperishable bodies. At some point in the future, God will complete the work He began when He saved us. Paul deals with this aspect extensively in the fifteenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians when he discusses the resurrection from the dead and the nature of the glorified body. The apostle John described our future hope this way: “What we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He [Christ] appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)

So we see that God began this work and He will finish it. As believers, we sometimes have a tendency to view the in-between phase as solely our responsibility. The truth is that God plays a crucial role in our spiritual growth and development. However, this truth does not imply that man’s role is unimportant. It is the interaction between what God does and what we do that produces growth. Paul provides remarkable insight to this complementary dynamic when he writes in Colossians 1:29: “To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Paul was aware that he had a responsibility to expend effort; however, he also recognized that, without God working through him and giving him strength, his efforts would come to nothing.

As noted by Kenneth Boa in his book That I May Know Him, author and seminary professor Howard Hendricks has described the spiritual life as “the life of Christ reproduced in the believer by the power of the Holy Spirit in obedient response to the word of God.” This perspective on spiritual growth balances our responsibility to be obedient with God’s enabling power.

We can better understand God’s role in the growth process by looking at the two primary ways He influences us. God works in us both internally and externally, as discussed in the following sections.

God influences us internally.

God’s internal influence in our spiritual growth takes place primarily through the work of the Holy Spirit living in us. At the time of salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to reside in our lives permanently. Speaking to this point, Paul challenged the believers at Corinth: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) This indwelling of the Spirit is the basis of all else that happens in our spiritual lives.

The Holy Spirit produces a permanent change of heart that causes the believer’s disposition to be tender toward God instead of hostile to Him (Romans 8:5-8). The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel spoke of this heart transplant as God taking away hearts of stone and giving hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19). He went on to say that, after surgery, the transplant recipients would follow God’s decrees and be careful to keep His laws.

Believers who are indwelled by the Spirit also need to be filled with the Spirit—submitting daily to His lordship and control. As we yield ourselves to God, the Spirit impacts our lives in the following ways.

He writes God’s law on our hearts.

God, speaking through His prophet Jeremiah, foretold the day when He would make a new covenant with His people (through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ). He said, “I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:33) This new covenant would not be written on tablets of stone but would rather be engraved on hearts by the Holy Spirit. Even today we contrast the phrase “the letter of the law” with “the spirit of the law.” The religious leaders of Jesus’ day knew the law down to the letter. However, it had not been written on their hearts. As a result, Jesus would say of them, “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones.” (Matthew 23:27) Elsewhere, quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus charged the religious leaders saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) It is only when God’s Spirit writes His law on our hearts that we can worship Him in spirit and in truth.

He gives us holy desires.

Along with writing God’s law on our hearts, the Spirit also grants us the desire to follow what God’s law tells us to do. As Paul explained to the believers at Philippi, “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) In other words, it wouldn’t do any good for us to know that God wants us to be holy if He didn’t also give us the desire to be holy. Though we still have to battle against our sin nature that wants us to continue in sin, we now have the Holy Spirit leading us to pursue righteousness.

He convicts us of sin.

In the devotional booklet Our Daily Bread, the story is told of a young girl who accepted Christ as her Savior and applied for membership in a local church. “Were you a sinner before you received the Lord Jesus into your life?” inquired an old deacon. “Yes, sir,” she replied. “Well, are you still a sinner?” “To tell you the truth, I feel I’m a greater sinner than ever.” “Then what real change have you experienced?” “I don’t quite know how to explain it,” she said, “except I used to be a sinner running after sin, but now that I am saved I’m a sinner running from sin!” She was received into the fellowship of the church, and she proved by her consistent life that she was truly converted.

The girl’s words in this story, “I feel I’m a greater sinner than ever,” ring true with many Christians who are experiencing spiritual growth. This greater awareness of sin occurs because the Spirit reveals more and more sin to us. As we pray with the psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart…see if there is any offensive way in me,” the Spirit will point out to us areas that we still need to work on. Whenever we become aware of sin, we recognize that the Spirit is doing His job.

He gives us power.

The Holy Spirit also gives us power⎜power to walk in obedience, power to do good works (Ephesians 3:20), power to stand against evil (Ephesians 6:10), power to stand up under adversity (2 Corinthians 12:10), and power to bear witness before an unbelieving world (Acts 1:8 and 4:33).

He bears His fruit in our lives.

The result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is that we will bear His kind of fruit. Examples of this fruit include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). This fruit is the evidence of growth and maturity. If we are growing, we will bear fruit. If we are not growing, we will be unable to bear fruit. It’s that simple.

God influences us externally.

God does not depend solely on His internal work in our lives to bring about spiritual growth. He complements this strategy with an external component that can be seen in the following ways.

Through life events

God uses difficult circumstances, consequences of our choices, and persecution to mold us into the kind of people He wants us to be. Responding appropriately to unfavorable events or circumstances is a frequent theme in the New Testament writings. Christians are challenged to see God’s hand in these things and to use them as opportunities to grow and develop in faith. James tells us to welcome times of testing as our friends (James 1:2). This is not a fatalistic or masochistic mind set; rather, it represents a mature understanding of the greater purposes that can be achieved through these tribulations. Suffering produces perseverance; discipline produces righteousness. And, as we endure these events and circumstances, we remain confident that God causes everything to work together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

Unfortunately, some interpret difficult circumstances as a sign that God has deserted them or no longer cares about them. They resent or resist the situation they find themselves in and decide to wait until things change for the better before they pursue spiritual growth.

Dallas Willard challenges this mindset when he writes in The Divine Conspiracy, “We must accept the circumstances we constantly find ourselves in as the place of God’s Kingdom and blessing. God has yet to bless anyone except where they actually are, and if we faithlessly discard situation after situation, moment after moment, as not being ‘right,’ we will simply have no place to receive His Kingdom into our life. For those situations and moments are our life.”

Through the results of our walk

God also uses positive results from our walk to motivate us to continue our pursuit of holiness. We are told in Scripture to obey God, to spend time with Him in prayer, to study His Word, and so on. As we exercise these spiritual disciplines, God brings about growth. When we engage in healthy activities such as proper diet, rest, and exercise, we feel better and this motivates us to continue. So it is with the spiritual life. The more we grow, the more we desire to grow.

Through the influence of other believers

God also brings about spiritual growth through the influence of other believers. It is part of God’s plan for His children to work together and to help each other in many ways. Whether it be the teaching or preaching of believers so gifted or through the encouragement, modeling, challenge, rebuke, or accountability that someone provides, fellow believers are an important means of growth. The apostle Paul certainly understood this dynamic and the role God enabled him to play in the lives of other believers. He referred to believers as his spiritual offspring and, at one point, wrote to the believers in Galatia that he “was in the pains of childbirth until Christ was formed in them.” (Galatians 4:19) What a profound picture of the influence of other believers on our spiritual growth!

Conclusion

Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:6 that, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.” This knowledge of God’s role in our spiritual growth leads us to a position of humility, gratitude, and dependence. Further, a deep understanding of God’s ongoing work of grace in our lives should motivate us to take responsibility for the role we play in our growth and energize us for the task. This aspect of spiritual growth will be discussed in the next Pocket Principle.

Application Suggestions:

• List some examples of ways you have seen God influence your spiritual growth.
• Meditate on Philippians 2:12-13. As you meditate, think of an area in which you have experienced spiritual growth. Write down the part God has played and the part you have played.

Get this Pocket Principle in Growing Spiritually, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.

“The average church member’s understanding of the Holy Spirit is so vague it is nearly nonexistent” (source unknown).

It is important for Christians to understand the person and work of the Holy Spirit and how they can follow Scripture’s command to be filled with the Spirit. Not only is the Holy Spirit an equal person of the triune Godhead, worthy of our worship and obedience, but also His ministry is of utmost importance in our lives. In fact, Jesus told His disciples that it was good for them that He go away so that He could send the Spirit (John 16:7). What an incredible thought this must have been to the disciples, who were fearful and full of grief because Jesus was talking about leaving them. But obviously, He meant what He said.

The Holy Spirit is instrumental in the process of salvation. The Spirit brings conviction to our hearts and shows us our need of a Savior. Jesus describes the new birth as being born of the Spirit (John 3:6). At salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in the believer and is the defining characteristic that he is truly a believer. In fact, Paul writes that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them are not Christians at all (Romans 8:9). By contrast, Paul says that those who truly are Christians are marked with a seal, who is the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). John echoes this thought when he writes, “We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” (I John 4:13)

However, the work of the Spirit is not limited to our initial conversion experience. Scripture emphasizes the importance for every believer to be filled with the Spirit. Our entire Christian life should be characterized by a continual reliance on the Spirit. “Walk in the Spirit” is a constant refrain of the New Testament epistles, letters that were written to give instruction to the early Christians. Alternate phrases such as “living by faith,” “drawing near to God,” and “submitting to God,” relate to this same idea of being filled with the Spirit.

In Scripture the phrase “filling of the Spirit” is used to describe the empowering, wisdom, and guidance the Spirit brings into a believer’s life. Just before returning to heaven, Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would soon come and give them power — power that would enable them to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). When the Holy Spirit did come upon the believers on the day of Pentecost, He filled them with power, with the result that they lived holy lives and impacted the community.

Take Peter, for example, the disciple who had three times denied knowing Jesus the night before He was crucified. In Acts chapter two, we see Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit, standing up and addressing the crowd that gathered to see what all the excitement was about. Through the power of the Spirit, Peter boldly spoke words of truth and conviction, such that several thousand became followers of Christ that day. Throughout the rest of the New Testament and throughout the history of the church, we witness the transformation that takes place when the Holy Spirit fills and controls a person.

In this lesson we will discuss more about what it means to be filled with the Spirit, but there is a mysterious aspect of being filled that cannot be explained. In the third chapter of his gospel account, John captures a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, who was a religious leader of the Jews. Jesus was discussing the necessity of the new birth and, in this context, He said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) Just as there is a mystical element to the Spirit’s work in salvation, so too there is a mysterious element to the Spirit’s ongoing work in our lives that cannot be fully explained. However, we can begin to understand how a person is filled with the Spirit by understanding two biblical explanations.

A Helpful Analogy

The apostle Paul’s instruction recorded in Ephesians 5:18 provides important information about the filling of the Spirit. This verse reads as follows: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

There is a comparison and a contrast between the verbs in this verse. Being filled with the Spirit is compared to getting drunk with wine. The gist is: “Don’t allow yourself to be controlled by wine. Instead, allow yourself to be controlled by the Spirit.” Just as habitual drunkards become known for being controlled by alcohol, so Christians who live spirit-filled lives develop a good reputation. Nineteenth-century American evangelist Dwight Moody was to have a campaign in England. An elderly English pastor protested, “Why do we need this ‘Mr. Moody’? He’s uneducated and inexperienced. Who does he think he is anyway? Does he think he has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?” A younger, wiser pastor rose and responded, “No, but the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on Mr. Moody.” Such is the reputation of one who lives under the control of the Spirit.

Being filled with the Spirit is also contrasted with getting drunk with wine. Wine depresses, while the Spirit stimulates and inspires. Being filled with alcohol causes a person to become sluggish, confused, and out of control. By contrast, being filled with the Spirit leads to a person being alert, engaged, and ready for action.

Understanding the Language

The complex verb structure of Ephesians 5:18 needs to be explored to better understand the analogy. There are four parts to the verb structure in this verse. The English translation is unable to reflect all the facets of the original Greek, so we need to study this verb in some detail. The following four points provide further insight.

The filling is a command.

In Ephesians 5:18 Paul commands the believers at Ephesus to be filled with the Spirit. This command shows that it is God’s will for believers to be filled with the Spirit. It is not an option; it is imperative to the Christian lifestyle. A scuba instructor would never tell a student, “The oxygen tank you have strapped to your back is your source of life. When you go under water, you can open the valve if you so desire.” Rather, he would command, “You must open the valve to your tank when you go underwater. It is the only way you can survive.” For a believer to attempt to live the Christian life without the filling of the Spirit is as foolish as it would be for a scuba diver to attempt to go deep under water without opening the valve to his air tank.

The command applies to all believers.

The understood subject “you” in Ephesians 5:18 is plural. The plural subject shows that the command was written to the whole church and not just to a particular person or to a select group of individuals. This command applies to all believers, young or old, male or female, introverted or extroverted, immature or mature. Being filled with the Spirit cannot be equated with maturity in Christ; however, it is a key part of the maturing process. We could perhaps say that one can be filled with the Spirit without being mature, but no one can reach Christian maturity without the consistent work of the Spirit in his life.

The filling is not done by us.

The verb is in the passive mood. When “be filled” is translated in the passive mood, it reads, “let the Spirit fill you.” In other words, it is something God wants to do for us. It is not something that requires us to meet difficult conditions first (other than submitting to His lordship, which can be difficult indeed). We do not need to achieve a certain level of expertise, we do not need to acquire certain knowledge or to learn special techniques—we simply need to let God fill us with His Spirit.

The filling needs to be an ongoing process.

The verb is in the present tense. In the Greek language, the present tense often conveys the idea that the action of the verb is repeated again and again. Thus, the filling of the Spirit needs to continually be made a reality through conscious dependence on God.

Unlike the effects of alcohol, the filling of the Spirit does not take time to wear off. The moment we choose to resume control over our own lives (when our feelings get hurt, when we get pushed into a corner, when we decide we want something we shouldn’t have or for whatever reason), we are no longer filled by (under the control of) the Spirit.

Dual Aspect of Being Filled with the Spirit—Repentance and Trust

When a person becomes a Christian, he repents (turns from his sin) and trusts Christ (turns to Christ) to give him salvation, forgiveness, and power to overcome sin in his life. Before salvation he is heading one direction; after salvation he is going the opposite direction. As Peter explained in his address to the crowd, “Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God…then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38, New Living Translation)

When it comes right down to it, there are only two kinds of people in this world⎜those who are controlled by their own sinful nature, and those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit of God (See Romans 8:5-8). All those who have not yet believed in Jesus for salvation fall into the first category because the Spirit is given only to those who have become children of God. Christians should always fall into the second category, but the reality of life is that we continue to sin and follow our sinful nature rather than walk in the Spirit. Because we continue to struggle with sin even after we become Christians, it is necessary to confess our sins and consciously trust God to empower us to live for Christ. In other words, it is necessary to continue the pattern of repentance and trust that first brought us to salvation. We should do this whenever we become aware of sin.

Conclusion

In order to enjoy new life in Christ, in order to please God and to walk worthy of our calling in Christ Jesus, in order to fulfill our destiny as Christ’s ambassadors ministering His love to a needy world, we need to be filled with the Spirit. We are filled with the Spirit through repentance and trust, continually acknowledging our dependence on Him. As Paul wrote to the believers at Colosse, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to walk in Him.” (Colossians 2:6)

Application Suggestions:

• Meet with God and work through the Spiritual Growth—The Filling of the Holy Spirit section below.
• Read Romans 8:5-8. Note the difference between a person controlled by the Holy Spirit and someone controlled by his sinful nature.

Spiritual Growth—The Filling of the Holy Spirit

Guidelines for being filled with the Spirit:

• Ask God to bring to mind any sin(s) in your life or any areas He wants you
to obey or trust Him in.
• Write down whatever God brings to mind. Confess and repent.
• Write I John 1:9 across the list of sin(s), and destroy the paper.
• Acknowledge your dependence on God, and ask Him to fill you with His
Spirit.
• Believe that God wants to fill you with His Spirit and that He has.

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Broken CisternThere are many differences between man-made religions and Christianity, but perhaps the chief one is this: only Christianity offers the believer a relationship with God. All religions devised by man are, at their core, variations on the same theme, which is man trying to reach God. Christianity, by contrast, is the story of God reaching down to man and offering a relationship with Himself.

In its essence, Christianity is a relationship with Christ. When Christ called the first disciples to come and follow Him, He was calling them into a relationship with Him. The same is true of all who follow Him today. Through the miracle of new birth into the family of God, we enter into a new relationship. The Christian life is an unfolding, a widening, and a deepening of that relationship. Everything concerning Christian growth has its foundation in this relationship. Therefore, the filling of the Holy Spirit grows out of our relationship with Jesus.

John 7:37-39 emphasizes the connection between the filling of the Spirit and our relationship with Christ.

On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If a man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. John 7:37-39

Verse 39 indicates that Jesus was preparing believers for the time after his death when the Holy Spirit would come and continue His ministry. When Jesus talks about a relationship with Himself, He is also talking about the filling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus invites believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit by relating to Him as indicated by the three action verbs recorded in John 7:37-39 (highlighted above). These actions are discussed below.

 

“Come to Me”

Thirst is a gift from the creator. Just as physical thirst is a signal that our body needs refreshment, so our spiritual thirst points out a need. Becoming aware of our spiritual thirst motivates us to come to Jesus. However, many go through life dissatisfied, discouraged, and despondent, but totally unaware of their thirst. It was no different in Jesus’ day. In his book Inside Out, noted Christian counselor and author Larry Crabb describes the scene in John 7 this way: “Our Lord Jesus walked into a group of people whose ritualistic practice of religion had so numbed their souls that they no longer were conscious of unsatisfied desires. To move them from lifeless ceremony toward the vitality of knowing God, He stood up and shouted, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.’ There was no thought that perhaps some were thirsty and others were not. Every fallen person created to enjoy God is thirsty. But many, perhaps most, of the people Jesus invited were unaware of their thirst. Perhaps they had given up hope of ever finding satisfaction and had successfully turned their attention away from that ache inside. By focusing on other matters, thirsty people can sometimes become oblivious to their parched souls.”

In the fourth chapter of his gospel, the apostle John relates the story of a meeting Jesus had with a Samaritan woman at the city well in Sychar. This woman had already been married five times and was now living with her current lover. She apparently came to the well in the heat of the day to avoid the stares and disdain of the other women of that village. The line to a country music song that says “looking for love in all the wrong places” pretty much describes this woman. In His conversation with her, Jesus was not interested in heaping shame on the woman or in offering simplistic answers to the obvious hurts in her life. Rather He was interested in helping her to identify her spiritual need⎜her thirst. As recorded in John 4:10 Jesus said to the woman, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”  Those who know their thirst can then turn to the source of satisfaction. Consider the following words of King David: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1). Is it any wonder that David enjoyed such an intimate, personal relationship with God? He knew deep thirst; he found deep fulfillment. Thus he could affirm the testimony offered in Psalm 107:8-9: “Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men, for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.”

In order to quench this deep thirst of our souls, we must come to Jesus. Nothing else and no one else can satisfy. The verb “come” used by Jesus in the present progressive tense means we are to come to Him again and again. Thus, spiritual thirst, like physical thirst, must be satisfied repeatedly. This truth reminds us that spiritual thirst is present both before and after salvation. Although Christians enjoy a relationship with God, this relationship is still hampered by our sinfulness and existence in a fallen world.

Note that Jesus invites us to come, but He does not coerce us. He does not force His way into our lives but rather offers us the opportunity to come enjoy His life. This stance is true to His nature and true to His design in creating us as moral beings. However, we should not misunderstand His approach to believe that He is disinterested in whether or not we come. He pursues us passionately and yearns for us to respond to Him. The “inviting” nature of God is woven throughout Scripture.

 

“Drink of Me ”

After coming to Jesus, we must “drink” of Him. This verb is also in the present progressive tense indicating an often-repeated action, a frequent or continual coming to Him to drink. Jesus’ choice of words emphasizes the force of His offer. Such is the function of His use of figurative language. Take, for example, the language a parent might use to motivate his child to learn. He might say, “I want you to learn all you can.” Or he could say, “Drink deeply of the fountain of knowledge.” The richness of the poetic language conveys a strength of conviction that goes beyond simply stating a desire. So it is with the invitation from Jesus to drink of Him. He earnestly desires that we come to Him for satisfaction, and He wants us to drink deeply from the fountain of His love.

We drink of Jesus by engaging in relational activities such as the following:

• Communing with Him⎜that is, simply dwelling in His presence and spending time with Him

• Worshipping Him⎜telling God how wonderful He is, reflecting on His marvelous deeds, expressing appreciation for who He is and all that He has done for us

• Listening to Him⎜reading His Word, being quiet before Him, trying to discern the leading of His Spirit

• Casting our cares on Him⎜being open and honest before God about our needs, our hurts, and our desires, baring our soul to Him, telling Him everything we are concerned about

• Allowing Him to minister to us⎜letting His Spirit minister to our spirit, letting Him calm our fears, salve our wounds, and encourage our hearts

As we spend time with Jesus in these ways and enjoy our relationship with Him, we find that He quenches our spiritual thirst.

 

“Trust [believe] in Me

The third verb⎜believe⎜is also in the present progressive tense, which expresses an action repeated over and over. We come to Jesus initially to trust Him to save us from our sins and to restore our relationship with God, which is our greatest need. Day by day, as we enjoy that restored relationship, Jesus invites us to choose to trust Him⎜to depend on Him to meet our needs.

Trust is a relational verb. As humans, we do business primarily through contracts, either oral or written. Essentially, every time we enter a contract, we are acknowledging that we do not fully trust the other person to hold up his end of the bargain. However, contracts should be unnecessary between close friends who share a healthy relationship because trust takes their place. In the same way, the more we grow in our relationship with God, the better we are able to trust Him, and the more we trust Him the more we grow and enjoy our relationship.

Conclusion

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we experience and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, as described in Galatians 5:22-23. This fruit includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Not surprisingly, this fruit is described largely in relational terms. The result of coming to Jesus, drinking of Him and trusting in Him, is that we will be filled to overflowing. The overflow can be seen in the impact on others that is the result of our filling. We will be more patient with others, more gentle with others, and so on. Therefore, the result of our relationship with God is that we also enjoy healthier relationships with others as the ministry of the Spirit overflows in our lives.

Several thousand years ago God, speaking through His prophet Jeremiah, charged the people of Israel as follows: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13). The same charge can be leveled against us today if we seek to satisfy the thirst of our souls in any other way than through allowing the Holy Spirit to minister the love of God to us and through us. We need to keep coming, keep drinking, and keep trusting and thus find in Jesus the life that is truly Life.

 

Application Suggestions:

• Read Psalm 116. How does the Psalmist relate to God? How does he commune, cast his cares, listen, worship and allow God to minister to him?

• In your devotional time this week, concentrate on doing one or more the following:

Communing with Him

Casting your cares on Him

Listening to Him

Worshipping Him

Allowing Him to minister to you.

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