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One of my most unforgettable moments happened when I was about ten years old. My father served our country during World War II in a plant in our hometown, building all sorts of interesting equipment for the massive tanks, fighter planes, and bombers that defended us in lands far away. Dad worked too long and too hard. As a result he suffered a physical breakdown, and on its heels came an emotional trauma that puzzled everyone, including the doctors.
I was convinced in my heart that my dad was going to die. He may have had such thoughts too, because one night he called me into his room for a somber father-son talk, spoken in terminal terms. I remember leaning hard against his bed, listening carefully to a voice that was hardly more than a whisper. I thought I was hearing him for the last time. He gave me counsel on life—how I should live, how I should conduct myself as his son. The counsel wasn't long, and then I left and went across the hall to the room that I shared with my older brother. All alone, I lay across my bed and sobbed, convinced that I would never see my dad alive again.
That scene haunts me. Even though my dad recovered to live three decades more, I still remember the night he talked with me.
Something very significant is wrapped up in our final words. Consider that night in Jerusalem when the Lord and His disciples gathered for the Passover Seder—what we call "The Last Supper." Less than twelve hours after the disciples sat beside the Savior during that meal, Jesus was nailed to a cross; a few hours later, He was dead. Jesus understood the significance of those moments and the importance of His last counsel. And so He gave His disciples exactly what they would need to carry them through the rest of their days. In that little room they pushed aside wooden cups and bowls, and every eye fell on Him and every ear leaned in to hear His voice. Their grief hardly allowed them to take in the last words of their Lord as He taught them how they might live on ... without Him.
Recorded by the disciple John—one who had sat by the Lord's side at that meal and who had meditated upon those events for sixty years before expressing them in his Gospel—the comfort and instruction that fell from our Lord's dying lips comes alive in John 13 through 17.
Two Secrets about the Christian Life
Jesus told His men two secrets—two pillars of truth that support all other truths about the Christian life ... truth that would bring life into focus after His death. The first related to Him and had to do with something that happened when He came. The second relates to us and has something to do with what would happen when He left ... and what has since happened.
First, the truth about Him: Jesus told the disciples that the secret of His victorious life was His vital union with His Father. He spoke of His Father repeatedly as He talked that night. He told them that when He came to earth it was with the Father's blessing, it was in the Father's power, and it was through the Father's guidance that He was able to minister. In addition, it was the Father's will that He proclaimed the Father's Word. Because there had never been a break in that vital union, He had been able to live a perfect life, qualifying Him to die as the sin offering for man.
But He didn't stop there. The second secret was about His followers: that our victorious life is connected to our vital union with the Holy Spirit. If we would be habitually empowered by the Spirit that indwells us, we could know the kind of life He had lived. Ian Thomas described this well: "The life that He lived qualified Him for the death that He died. And the death that He died qualifies us for the life that He lived."
Jesus told us that the life He lived is possible to be lived day after day when we draw upon the strength of the Spirit of God who lives within us. Read this as new news for yourself: through His Spirit, we can actually live like Christ.
No doubt the disciples were confused to hear about "a Spirit." Their minds were probably still whirling with His declaration, "I'm going away." They sat paralyzed, riveted to that statement, unable to form any of the questions they would later ponder. They were in shock. Jesus pointed out that they weren't even curious about where He was going. They couldn't cope with the news of His departure, just as I couldn't, as a little boy, cope with the possibility that my dad would be gone by morning. Wrestling with that tragedy and unable to get beyond it, I dissolved into tears.
So did the disciples. "Sorrow filled [their] hearts" (John 16:6). The Greek word for sorrow here means "grief"—devastating pain that accompanies the loss of someone we love. Jesus understood all that they were experiencing. He saw that grief and fear had gripped them.
We all want very much to give the impression that we can handle anything that comes. We want to appear secure, even when we feel very insecure. The big lie is that "We can handle everything." The truth is, deep down within each of us, we long to be kept. We ache to be held securely. When some earthquake takes that security from us, the moorings of our foundation shift. It happens when we face the possibility of a terminal illness or the imminent death of a loved one or danger on the battlefield. How many soldiers go berserk on the landing craft before they ever hit the water? The imminence of danger or separation brings about feelings of desperate insecurity. That's what happened with the disciples. And Jesus said, "Look, men, sorrow has filled your heart. Grief has paralyzed you. I understand."
But He didn't abandon them in that desperate place. He promised, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:18).
We are able to read that calmly ... but try to imagine the disciples hearing it for the first time. Their stomachs must have churned at the word orphan, for that is exactly how they felt. For more than three years they had been inseparable. Jesus was there when they awoke. He stood with them through virtually every situation they faced. When they called for help, He was nearby, ready to step in. When they said "Good night," He quickly responded. Suddenly all that would change. He was leaving them—permanently. And though they were adults, the sting of His departure left them feeling orphaned.
I told you about that night when I thought my dad was leaving our family. To our surprise, he recovered and lived another thirty-five years, even surviving my mom and living to see us all grow up. Nevertheless, his departure from this life in 1980 marked a passage in my life after which things would never be quite the same. No more visits. No more phone calls. No more opportunities to sit and talk through something and to have him listen and respond. In a strange way since that day, there are occasions I feel orphaned. I still miss being able to see my father, to hear his voice, to watch him respond.
That was how the disciples felt. No more meals together. No more discussions beside the sea. No more quiet talks around the fire at night. No more shared laughter ... or tears ... or watching Him handle some thorny situation. Orphaned.
I love Jesus' compassion for them in that moment. He carefully chose His words. "I won't leave you orphaned ... I have a solution." Plan B was already in motion. The answer Jesus gave them was the person of the Holy Spirit.
"I Will Not Leave You Orphaned"
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper [literally, another of the same kind], that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)
Aha! Jesus promised them that His replacement would be "another Helper." Namely, the Holy Spirit. And when that other Helper came, He would become an integral part of their lives. He would reside within them. Unlike Jesus, who had only been with them, He (the Spirit) would be in them. Huge difference! Not too many days hence, when the Spirit arrived, He would slip inside them and live within them forever. No more temporary companionship; the Spirit's presence would be (and still is) a permanent presence. It had never been like that before. Not even in the lives of those Old Testament greats. But from now on ... yes!
Jesus had to leave in order for the Spirit to begin His permanent indwelling. Jesus made that clear: "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you" (John 16:7).
The question that comes to mind is, Why was it advantageous for Jesus to leave? Why is it more beneficial for us to have the Holy Spirit than Christ Himself?
That's not too difficult to answer. Jesus Christ, while on earth, inhabited a body. Therefore He could be only one place at one time. When He was in Nazareth, He was not in Jerusalem. When He was near the northern shores of Galilee, He could not be walking along the Dead Sea. He could only be one place at one time. However, when He left the earth and sent the Spirit, the Spirit of God, being omnipresent (the everywhere-ness of God), could fill and empower with the same power a man in Palestine, a woman in Syria, and yet another individual in faraway Italy. At the same moment you experience power like Jesus experienced from the Father, a believer in Angola or in Alaska or the southern tip of Australia can experience that same power at the very same time.
"It's advantageous that I go," said Jesus. "That way you don't have to be with Me physically to have My strength. I'll give you that inner strength you need, and it will never leave." What a great plan! The reaction was fear; the solution was the Spirit of God.
Embracing the Person of the Holy Spirit
Notice Jesus referred to the Helper as "He" or "Him," not "It." To most folks, the person, work, and ministry of the Holy Spirit are little more than a mystery. He is not only invisible but also a bit eerie ... especially when, for years, He has been referred to as "It" and formally addressed as the Holy Ghost. The whole concept is difficult to get our arms around.
All of us have had earthly fathers, so trying to understand the concept of a heavenly Father is not that difficult. In traditional homes, the father is the one in charge, making the big decisions and ultimately responsible for the family's overall protection, direction, leadership, and stability. There are exceptions but in the final analysis, it is Dad who casts the final vote. We respect and honor God the Father. We worship Him in the majesty and beauty of His holiness.
We identify much more easily with Jesus. Although He is the Son of God, He was born as a human being and grew up alongside His parents, much like we did. Because He was a flesh-and-blood person, we have a tangible mental image of Christ. Even His role as the Son of God is fairly clear to us. Our familiarity with His suffering and death causes us to feel close to Him and grateful for Him. He is the One who points to the Father. He is the One who implemented the Father's plan. We not only love Jesus, we adore Him.
But the Holy Ghost? To many, He is still the divine "It." Not even changing His title to "Spirit" helps that much. Certainly to the uninitiated the name sounds weird. If His name is vague, it is no surprise that most find His work and ministry mysterious. And since those who attempt to explain His workings are usually theologians who are often notoriously deep and unclear themselves, no wonder most people don't have a clue in understanding what He is about. Small wonder we don't feel intimately related to Him.
But no more! God is not passive. He didn't just hope we would be okay; He is proactive, sending His Spirit so our security is certain.
Moving from Theoretical to Relational
Candidly, I am just as guilty as those complex-thinking theologians who have attempted to "explain" the inscrutable Spirit of God. Way back in the 1960s I taught a course on the third member of the Trinity. When I picked up my pen to write this book, I thought it might be helpful to glance over those old notes. My immediate problem was locating them. Had I filed them under H for "Holy Spirit"? No. How about S for "Spirit"? Nope. Maybe they were tucked away in my subject file under the letter G as in "Holy Ghost." Wrong again. Or T for "Trinity." Not a chance.
I stayed at it until I unearthed them ... filed under P for Pneumatology. Amazing! That tells you a lot about how I approached the Holy Spirit five decades ago: strictly theoretical and theological ... not at all relational.
Don't get me wrong. There is nothing—absolutely nothing—wrong with theology. Sound doctrine gives us strong roots. Those who lack such stability can easily fall into extremism and error. However, it won't cut it to track a subject this intimate from an impersonal distance, keeping everything safely theoretical and coolly analytical. There has been too much of that already. What we need is a much more personal investigation of the intimate workings of the Spirit—we need to be embraced by the Spirit without losing our anchor on theological truth.
Admittedly, some of the Spirit's workings seem more theoretical than experiential. But a closer look makes them very personal. For example:
The Spirit is God—co-equal, co-existent, and co-eternal with the Father and the Son.
As a child of God, you have God Himself living inside you. St. Augustine, who found himself yielding to sin on one occasion, turned and ran. Finally, all alone, he stopped and put his head in his hands and said, "Oh, soul, dost thou not know that thou art carrying God around with thee?"
The Spirit possesses all the attributes of deity. All that you have heard about God—His everywhere-ness, His all-powerful-ness, His all-knowing-ness—can be said of His Spirit. So when you need strength, the Spirit is right there to give it. When you need confidence ... faith ... comfort ... you can get all you need from His Spirit.
The Spirit regenerates the believing sinner. Your salvation, made possible because of Jesus' death on the cross, is personally accomplished in your heart through God's Spirit. He makes alive that immaterial part of you that was stone-cold dead in sin. He brings you to life in a new and eternal way.
The Spirit baptizes us into the universal body of Christ. You have a new identity, a new family. You've got relatives you don't even know about. You are connected by a common bond that takes you all the way back to the cross. Because of the Spirit, you and I are members of God's family.
The Spirit indwells all who have been converted. You are never alone. Your day-to-day life takes on an eternal dimension because He lives in you. Life's catastrophes can be weathered because you have a different purpose for living.
The Spirit seals us, keeping every believer securely in the family of God. You should have no fear of losing what God accomplished on your behalf ... beginning with your salvation. You didn't do anything to earn it; the Spirit guarantees you won't lose it. He's got you covered.
And that's just a start!
These truths are so deeply personal that it's going to take us a while to unpack them, but it's a wonderful journey. What we're about to discover is the practical difference the Spirit can make in our lives on a personal and lasting level.
I've been a pastor for nearly fifty years. Year after year, talking with folks before I preach or while standing in front of the church after a worship service, I'm able to get a handle on the questions that people are asking. Without exaggeration, the majority of the issues on people's hearts can be answered with a practical understanding of how God's Spirit works within the life of the Christian.
Excerpted from Embraced by the Spirit by Charles R. Swindoll Copyright © 2010 by Charles R. Swindoll. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Chapter 1 Who Is the Holy Spirit? 11
Chapter 2 Why Do I Need the Spirit? 37
Chapter 3 What Does It Mean to Be Filled with the Spirit? 59
Chapter 4 How Do I Know I'm Led by the Spirit? 89
Chapter 5 How Does the Spirit Free Me from Sin? 121
Chapter 6 Can I Be Prompted by the Spirit Today? 145
Chapter 7 Does the Spirit Heal Today? 165
Chapter 8 How Can I Experience the Power of the Spirit? 193
Study Guide 217
Posted December 27, 2011
I have always enjoyed his messages, and his clear communication style brings the details of the Holy Spirit to life. I recommend this to any believer desiring more in their walk.
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Posted December 15, 2011
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