Contrary to what is so often implied, the Holy Spirit is not a course in advanced Christianity. He is not reserved for the few, the deep … the weird. From the moment we come to Jesus, the Holy Spirit is our seal and inheritance. In his word to the Ephesian church, Paul instructs, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance…” (Ephesians 1:13-14, ESV).
To access the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit, however, is a choice. I think of it sort of like my computer. This little guy can do a lot. My computer can take stock of what’s in my pantry and formulate a meal for dinner. It can manage my finances, synchronize family calendars and keep track of my caloric intake. Everything I need to organize my life is in the twelve-by-fifteen inches of metal I call a computer.
So what do I use it for? Beyond surfing the net, I do little other than type words. For me, a computer is simply a glorified typewriter. All the potential goes unused for my lack of knowledge and interest in doing more.
I suspect many who believe in Jesus have that same brand of relationship with the Holy Spirit. For all the power and potential offered us at salvation, we settle for the spiritual equivalent of word processing. And maybe that’s because (like me with my computer) we just don’t know how this thing works.
Paul got a whiff of this when he met up with a group in Ephesus who were taught repentance by Apollos. He suspected a disconnect with the whole gospel, so he asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” “No,” they answered. “We have not even heard there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:2-3).
Having embraced only the repentance half of the equation, they’d missed the full gospel. And they weren’t the last to make this mistake. How many good people who go to church and call themselves Christians have no clue about the Holy Spirit? How many are sitting in church weekly with the hope they’ve been saved from Hell but no clue they’ve also been saved for joy?
I’ve been following the life of a new believer this year as he finally laid down an addiction to alcohol. Now in his fifties, he had his first drink when he was eight. His entire adult life he’s chased after a spiritual solution to his problems with a bottle in his hand. He dropped in and out of churches, never finding peace because he’d only managed to hear half the gospel.
This year, two things changed for him. First, he finally completed the act of repentance by laying down his drinking habit. Then he got filled with the Holy Spirit. I got a text from him recently, a long line of smiley faces. When I asked what that was about, he responded, “It keeps getting better. Six months of joy and counting.”
That’s the result of walking in the Spirit. It is about moving beyond victim status to the place where we experience joy.
“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” It is a great question.
My friend did one other thing that seems crucial to the process. He got into a group. Interesting that we find this same pattern in the folks Paul encountered in Ephesus. For two years, he met regularly with that small group of Spirit-filled believers. By meeting together for mutual encouragement and training in the Word, the story says that little group managed to touch an entire community. As we have said before, when we submit to being filled we become part of a movement that cannot be contained.
I’m reminded again of my computer. On the outside it doesn’t look like much but inside there is a veritable feast of potential. In the same way, that initial encounter with the Holy Spirit – though sometimes dramatic – can often look like “not much of nothing.” But Paul’s promise is that beneath the surface God is at work growing the Kingdom in us, growing the joy, creating ripples.
Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? And do you have him in your life now? Are you getting together regularly with a few other Spirit-filled people so that the Kingdom of God is growing in you? If you are in a drought of joy these days, is it possible you are trying to do religion without walking in the Spirit?
May you find deep peace and real joy as you live the gospel and walk in the Spirit.
Read part 3, “Marks of the Spirit-filtered Life”
Read part 2, “The Rock, the Ripples, and the River”
Read part 1, “When God Moves We Move”