I’m persuaded that it’s just not possible to really understand God’s grace without some understanding of how his Spirit works in us today. I don’t want to talk about Pentecostalism, tongues, or that sort of thing in this lesson. In fact, all too often we so focus on what we don’t believe that we never get around to teaching what we do believe.
A sound understanding of the Spirit requires that we go back to the story of the Exodus. God asked the Israelites to build a tabernacle, literally a portable tent for use in worship and sacrifice as they journeyed across the desert. God promised, “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exo. 25:8).
Once the tabernacle was finished, God’s presence came to rest in the Holy of Holies, above the Ark of the Covenant–
(Exo. 40:34-35) Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
Although God is, of course, omnipresent and exists everywhere, he chose to have a special, visible, glorious presence in the tabernacle built for his worship.
Later, when Solomon dedicated the temple, the same thing happened–
(1 Kings 8:10-13) When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. 11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple. 12 Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud; 13 I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever.”
Later, when Nehemiah rebuilt the temple after the Babylonian Captivity, God’s glory failed to return. The Israelites prayed for centuries for the return to his people of God’s special presence.
The Jews expected the God’s presence to return because the prophets prophesied the coming of the Spirit–
(Isa. 44:3) For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.
(Ezek. 39:29) I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel, declares the Sovereign LORD.”
(Joel 2:28-32) ‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. … 32 And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls.
On Pentecost, following Jesus’ resurrection, Peter announced the coming of the long-prophesied Spirit, quoting at length Joel’s prophecy. He then announced —
(Acts 2:38-39) Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Notice the the Spirit is a gift received when we are saved, and this gift is promised not only to the people Peter was speaking to, but also for “all” whom the Lord would call. The gift of the Spirit is not temporary, but given to the church for so long as there is a church.
Paul often spoke of each congregation and of each Christian as being a “temple” for the Holy Spirit.
(1 Cor. 3:16) Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?
(1 Cor. 6:19a) Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
(Eph. 2:21-22) In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Now, the point should be obvious. God dwells in the church and in each Christian through his Spirit in the same sense that God dwelt in the tabernacle and temple — through the real, special presence of his glory.
“Glory” in the Bible refers to the bright, shining immediate presence of God. And referring back to Exodus and 1 Kings, we are told we also possess God’s glory, through the Spirit–
(1 Pet. 4:14) If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
Now, there are those who limit the presence of the Spirit to the pages of the Bible. But this just can’t be. It’s unimaginable that God would have been more present with the Israelites than with those brought to God through his Son! Indeed, the promise of the coming Spirit wasn’t that God would give us his word — that is hardly what Joel and the other prophets had in mind!
And so, inevitably the question arises: what does the Spirit do? Let’s look at the word.
The Spirit teaches us to love and helps us begin to comprehend God’s love–
(Rom. 5:5) And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
(Eph. 3:16-19) I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
In Ephesians, Paul prays that the Christians would know love that surpasses knowledge. How can you know something that’s beyond knowledge? It’s an obvious paradox, and the answer is given: only by the power of God himself “through his Spirit.” By reading alone you can only know at a human level. The Spirit is required to know beyond human knowledge.
Paul explains how it is that Christians, who have the Spirit, can understand things that non-Christians simply cannot–
(1 Cor. 2:12-14) 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. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Of course, this is closely parallel to what we learned from Ephesians 3. We see from this passage that the principle is much broader than the love of God, but includes all “things that come from the Spirit of God.”
Several passages give the Spirit credit for our sanctification. For example,
(1 Cor. 6:11) And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
To be “justified” is to be saved and declared “not guilty” of sin by the blood of Jesus. However, to be “sanctified” is to be made actually holy–that is, more and more like Jesus.
We learn in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 that the Spirit gives many gifts to Christians. Some are miraculous. Others are more mundane, but all are granted by the will of the Spirit.
The Spirit helps us pray and brings us into relationship with God–
(Gal. 4:6) Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”
Of course, we are familiar with the famous passage listing the “fruit” of the Spirit–
(Gal. 5:22-23) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
I’ve been astonished at how we sometimes study these gifts as though they are to be purely our accomplishment and never mention the involvement of the Spirit in bearing this fruit. After all, the passage doesn’t say we bear this fruit from reading the Bible. No — it says the Spirit bears this fruit.
And the Spirit helps us in our worship, in contrast to mere human effort (the flesh) —
(Phil. 3:3) For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh–
And gives joy —
(1 Thess. 1:6) You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
Finally, the Spirit shows us that we’re saved —
(1 John 3:24-4:2) Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
And one irrefutable proof of the presence of the Spirit is faith in Jesus.
The point of running through all these scriptures is to introduce the many things done by the Spirit in the Christian. Now, some of these things are also accomplished by the word. After all, the Spirit inspired the word, and so it’s obvious they will work toward common purposes. But this hardly makes them the same things.
My Internet postings do many of the things that I do. They teach, they persuade, they confront. Occasionally they even make the reader laugh. But they just aren’t me!
Many passages speak quite specifically in terms of the Spirit’s indwelling —
(2 Tim. 1:14) Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you — guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
(Eph. 3:16-17a) I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
(Gal. 4:6) Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”
There are many other such passages, as well as the “temple” passages quoted above, that all indicate a special, personal indwelling in each Christian.
And we should be delighted to have the Spirit. After all, receipt of the Spirit is essential to our salvation —
(Rom. 8:9-11) You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 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.
The lesson is simple. If the Spirit lives in you, you are saved. If not, not. Indeed, eternal life will be given to our bodies by the indwelling of this same Spirit.
You see, when we were saved, we were transformed from fleshly being into Spiritual beings. To be prepared to live with God, a spirit, in his heavenly realms, a spiritual place, we have to be changed into Spiritual people.
Jesus didn’t simply save us in the baptismal waters and then leave us to make it to heaven on our own. Rather, he planted a bit of God himself in our hearts and minds to help us be the people he wants us to be.
What a shame it would be for Jesus to have died for us and then for us not to make it! God can’t bear to let his sacrifice be in vain. And so he’s given us some of himself for a Helper. It only makes sense.
The point of the sacrifice of Jesus is not to set up a series of doctrinal tests or arduous challenges to make it hard for us to be saved in the end. Oh, no! God wants it to work! God is desperate for us to be with him in end, and he’s walking beside us–even within us–through his Spirit as we struggle to serve him and worship him as we should.
I distinctly remember the Barcelona Olympics where 400-meter runner Derek Redmond pulled up shortly before the finish line. His hamstring had popped, making one leg useless. He writhed in agony on the track as the other runners all passed him.
Although he had no chance of winning, Redmond began to hop on one leg toward the finish line. Slowly the crowd of 65,000 began to realize what was happening and they started to cheer. At first it was just a few, but soon the applause and encouragement was thunderous. But with only one good leg, Redmond faltered and clearly was physically unable to make it to the line.
Finally, overwhelmed with compassion, his father raced down from the stands, held him up, and walked him across the finish line. “I’m here, son,” his dad said. “We’ll finish together.” Derek put his arms around his father’s shoulders and sobbed.
He couldn’t do it by himself. Despite all his hard work and training, it was just too hard for him. And so his father carried him the distance — because the failure of the child was unbearable to a father who loved him.
Just so, our Father gives us his Spirit to carry us over the finish line.
Notes to teachers:
There are several videos of this poignant event on the Internet. Here’s one with Creed’s “With Arms Wide Open” played in the background.
We need to be careful to avoid any thinking that this example is talking about a works religion. Derek Redmond lost. His father didn’t help him win — just finish. But that makes the example all the better.
We could easily do a quarter on the Holy Spirit, and you will not have time to answer all the questions likely to come up. Try to answer the ones about how the Spirit works in the Christian’s life today. Don’t take time to criticize Pentecostalism except, if necessary, to reject the notion taught by a few that the Spirit is something to be earned. All Christians receive the Spirit.