I recently posted an emailed question from a reader, asking how he could tell that the Spirit indwells him. And there have been many excellent responses from the readers. I don’t think what I’m about to say is in any sense an improvement on what’s already been said. I just want to add a couple of analogies to the mix, and there are too many words to type in that little comment box.
The Dodge Aspen analogy
I used to own a Dodge Aspen, which was the car that drove Chrysler into bankruptcy. I was driving at 55 miles per hour on a heavily trafficked road when the engine just spontaneously cut off! Until that moment, I had always assumed that when I pressed the brakes, it was me pressing the brake pads into the brake drums and stopping the car. And I’d always been sure that when I turned the steering wheel that it was me moving the wheels. But when my engine stopped on a downhill incline at 55, I learned that the engine had been doing about 99% of all that work and I’d only been doing about 1%—because I had to push about 100 times harder to stop and steer the car than I was used to. It was an eye-opening experience!
Well, this is much how the Spirit works. Sometimes I think that my love for God and zeal for his work, such as they are, are my own doing—and they are, to some extent. But my own works are greatly empowered and strengthened by God’s working in me to not only do his work, but to want to do his work. But just like power brakes, if I don’t press the pedal, the car won’t stop, but I don’t really do the work. I haven’t lost my free will—I’ve just been helped more than I’ll ever fully realize.
The scriptures are like the map and the owner’s manual in the glove compartment. They teach me how to access the power and what to do with the power, but they aren’t the power.
The old-fashioned radio analogy
Now many of my students don’t remember how radios used to work—radios with dials you turned to find the station — and that required frequent re-tunings as the signal drifted. It used to be that you manually turned the dial until you found the station. At first, you couldn’t hear the signal at all. Then, as you got closer to the correct frequency, you could hear the music, but it was distorted by static. Finally, when you got the radio tuned exactly right, the music came through clearly and beautifully.
And then, over time, the radio circuits would drift off signal, and you’d have re-tune it all over again.
The Spirit is like a beautiful symphony on the radio. The music is inaudible to anyone without a radio. Only certain people are privileged to hear it. And even those who have radios have to know how to find the station and how to keep it tuned into the station. Of course, the station never did drift off signal. Rather, old-style radio circuitry tended to drift off the frequency due to the inadequacy of the radio — not the transmitter.
Just so, the Spirit always communicates a clear, steady, beautiful signal, but only the saved can hear it. But even the saved hear poorly unless they tune in to the correct frequency. Prayer, Bible study, and our Christian community help keep us in tune with the will of God and allow the Spirit to speak more and more clearly to our hearts. The signal is always there, but we aren’t always tuned in.
We do nothing to make the music. We receive the music. But we must know the difference between music and static to tune the radio at all. The role of scripture is to teach us to recognize music when we hear it and to find the right place on the dial. But the scriptures aren’t the music.
Some people think the instruction book is all they need. After all, if the instruction book tells us how to use the radio, surely that’s enough. It’s all about the dials and buttons. And the book tells all we need to know about the music. Who needs to personally experience the music when you can read about it?
And there are lots of people with radios, well within range of the signal, who’ve misunderstood the instructions. They think the goal is own a radio, and they proudly celebrate having a radio. But they don’t hear the music because they don’t realize that that’s what the radio is for.
But more and more not only own radios, they hear the music. They follow the instructions and tune the radio to the right frequency. It takes time to master the radio’s controls, because they are imperfect and the circuits drift off signal easily. But with practice and time, the ear becomes trained to distinguish music from static and to find the very best tuning. And then it’s no longer about the radio at all. It’s the inexpressible joy of God’s music.
And those who’ve grown in the Churches of Christ understand this part very well: the best part of hearing God’s music is getting to sing along.
(Psa 30:11-12) You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, 12 that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.