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Experiencing God's Greatest Giftâ"The Holy Spirit
By Tony Evans
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1996 Anthony T. Evans
All rights reserved.
EXPERIENCING THE SPIRIT'S PROMISE
The Holy Spirit is not merely a nice addendum to the Christian faith. He is at the heart and core of it. He is not merely a force or an influence. He is the third Person of the Trinity, God Himself.
If there is anything you and I must understand if we are going to live what is commonly called the victorious Christian life, it is the Person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, my task in this book is to try to address in as biblical and practical a way as possible the issues surrounding this most important Person.
So we've got a huge task to undertake in these pages, for several reasons.
First, because my subject is the eternal God Himself, in the Person of God the Holy Spirit. So I've got a huge subject, and the most I can hope to do is help you understand and experience the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in a way you never have before. I could never reach the end of the subject.
Second, I'm overwhelmed by the importance of what we're going to study together. If everything in life emanates from the knowledge of God, then it's safe to say that everything in the Christian life emanates from the knowledge of the Holy Spirit.
Think about it. When He left this earth to go back to heaven, Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to do and to be all that we would ever need to live victorious Christian lives. The age we live in—the church age—was inaugurated by the Spirit's arrival at Pentecost. And when the Holy Spirit's presence is removed from this world, we're going with Him!
Let me give you some idea of the importance of the Holy Spirit's work, beginning right at the beginning. If there were no Holy Spirit, there would be no creation. If there were no Holy Spirit, there would be no human race because we would not have the principle of life operating within us.
Without the operation of the Holy Spirit, there would have been no Virgin Birth, because Jesus was born of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit. There would have been no victory over Satan in the wilderness for Jesus, because it was the Spirit of God who led Him there to be tempted of the Devil.
Again, if there were no Holy Spirit, there would be no Christians, no Bible, no one to restrain sin in our world, and no expectation of the return of Christ. Without the Holy Spirit, there would be nothing.
THE CENTRALITY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
So the Holy Spirit is absolutely central to the Christian life. And yet, because of the mystery surrounding this third Person of the triune God, a great deal of confusion has been connected with the work of the Holy Spirit. This has led to a lot of misappropriation, as well as a lot of gross under appropriation, of His power and gifts.
Usually, the Holy Spirit is approached from one of two extremes. Either we know very little about Him or we try to make Him into a celebrity, someone we all think we know but don't really know at all. Neither is desirable, but we cannot let a lack of familiarity in some circles or excesses in others keep us from pursuing the knowledge of the Holy Spirit. The fact is, His role is the indispensable factor in determining whether you win or lose spiritually, whether you are a failure or a success as a Christian.
So I want to begin our study by looking at one of the foundational New Testament passages for understanding the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. I'm talking about Jesus' Upper Room Discourse, which He delivered on the night of the Last Supper and His betrayal. It was here He promised His followers that God the Father would send them "another Helper" (John 14:16).
This was not one of the greatest moments in the lives of the disciples. This was what you would call a spiritual downtime. Everything was going wrong. Judas had shown himself to be a traitor and had just left the room on his way to betray Christ. One of the Twelve was a Benedict Arnold.
What's more, Peter had just been told that within the next twenty-four hours he was going to publicly deny Christ (John 13:38). And the Jews wanted to get rid of Christ and all His followers. So the disciples had reason to be afraid.
Then came the worst blow. Jesus told them, "I am going to go away to prepare a place for you. You can't come to Me until I come for you. I am not going to tell you when I will come for you, but trust Me" (see John 14:1–3).
Thomas reacted right away. "Jesus, You have got to be kidding. We put all of our eggs in Your basket, and now You tell us You have to leave us. Jesus, we had enough problems trying to make it with You here. How in the world do You expect us to make it if You leave us?" (see v. 5).
So this was the tension-charged, late-night environment in the upper room of a second-story flat in Jerusalem, when Jesus introduced His disciples to the ministry of the third Person of the Trinity:
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world can not receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you. (John 14:16–17)
THE SPIRIT'S PERSON
Jesus assured His followers that even though He would leave, they would not be left alone. There would be another divine Person who would take His place in their midst. This Person would be with them as Jesus had been with them for comfort, strength, and guidance, but this Person would also be in them. Jesus wanted the disciples to know He was going to send them a Somebody, not a something.
A Real Person
How do we know the Holy Spirit is a Person instead of just a force or an "it"? Because He bears all the attributes of personality: intellect, emotion, and will.
The Spirit's intellect is demonstrated by the fact that there are things He knows with His mind (Romans 8.27; 1 Corinthians 2:10–11). His emotions or feelings are seen in the fact that He can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). His will is seen in the fact that He acts with intentionality or purpose (1 Corinthians 12:11). Only persons intend to do things.
In addition, the Bible uses personal pronouns for the Holy Spirit. Jesus referred to the Spirit as "He" (John 15:26; 16:13). The Spirit refers to Himself in the first person and also speaks His thoughts intelligibly to others, something only a person can do (Acts 13:2).
When God saves us, then, He calls us into a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. In fact, God wants us to enter into intimate communion with the Spirit's Person (John 14:17). It is for this reason we are not to sin against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31; Acts 5:3).
One of our fundamental problems is that we look for the wrong thing first when it comes to the Holy Spirit. People talk about their need for Holy Ghost power. Now make no mistake about it, we do need Holy Ghost power. But only after we have met Holy Ghost Person.
When you start dealing with the Holy Spirit as a power first, then you are always looking for the power and you may just miss the Person. But you cannot deal with a person without dealing with relationships.
What many Christians want are power surges to live the Christian life. They want a boost to take them to the next spiritual level. Many people come to church on Sunday morning looking for a Holy Ghost "oomph" to get them rolling and carry them through the week. They leave church all fired up.
But if you leave with momentary Holy Ghost power without a relationship with the Holy Ghost as a Person, as God, you will wind up with a Holy Ghost deficit in your spiritual life. The Holy Spirit is a Person we can know and relate to, not just a force or power to be used.
A Divine Person
The Holy Spirit is God, the third member of the Trinity. The word trinity refers to the reality that God is one in essence, yet plural in personality. There is one God composed of three distinct Persons. The Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Spirit, yet each is equally and fully God.
In theological terms, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are homoousios, "of the same essence or substance," not homoiousios, "of like or similar essence or substance." That extra Greek letter i in the second term makes a world of difference!
While the doctrine of the Trinity is a paradox and difficult to understand, it is not a contradiction, because the doctrine says that God is different in essence (one) than He is in person (three). Now since essence is different from person, there is no contradiction. This is a simple distinction that is hard to grasp with our finite minds.
For that reason, no picture of the Trinity is really adequate. But the one that helps me is to picture it as a pretzel. The way a pretzel interlocks, often you will see three holes in it. One hole represents the Father, one represents the Son, and one the Spirit. They are distinct holes, but they intertwine to make one pretzel. Don't try to figure it out. Just enjoy it while you chew on it!
The thing I want you to see here is that the Holy Spirit is God. This truth is in abundant evidence in Scripture. He possesses the attributes of deity. The Spirit is omniscient or all-knowing (Isaiah 40:13; 1 Corinthians 2:2), omnipresent or in all places at once (Psalm 139:7), and omnipotent or all powerful (Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30).
The Spirit is also equally associated with the other members of the Trinity in the writing of Scripture (Isaiah 6:9; cf. Acts 28:25; Jeremiah 31:31–34; cf. Hebrews 10:15–17). To lie to the Holy Spirit is the same as lying to God (Acts 5:3–4). Matthew 28:19 is especially crucial here because the singular "name" is used with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
So to talk about a relationship with the Holy Spirit is at the same time to talk about a relationship with the Father and the Son. Yet, because the Spirit is a distinct Person in the Godhead with a distinct ministry, we also benefit from His unique ministry.
A Unique Person
Jesus called this Helper "the Spirit of truth" in John 14:17. In verse 26, Jesus called Him "the Holy Spirit." There is a lot in that second name.
The Spirit is holy because He is God, totally separate from all that is unlike who and what God is. This title also focuses attention on His primary work in the life of believers: to progressively conform us to the image of Christ, the process we call sanctification (1 Peter 3:15).
The Holy Spirit is spirit because He is nonmaterial, intangible, and invisible. Both the Hebrew and Greek words for spirit mean "wind, breath." The Holy Spirit is the very breath or wind of God. And like the wind, He wields great power even though He is invisible. So you can't relate to Him simply by trying to use your five senses.
Now I'm not talking about Casper the friendly ghost. I mean the invisible reality of almighty God. So the Holy Spirit is not simply a power. Trying to explain an invisible reality is difficult, because it's like trying to explain electricity.
You know electricity is there. You know it is powerful. You know you need it. You know you can benefit from it. But trying to explain electricity can be tough. The same is true about the Holy Spirit, but Jesus made clear in John 14:17 that the Holy Spirit is knowable. We who know Christ can know the Holy Spirit.
Why doesn't the world know the Holy Spirit (v. 17)?
For the same reason you cannot pick up radio stations if you don't have a radio. It has nothing to do with whether or not radio waves are going through the air. It has everything to do with not having anything with which to receive the signals.
The world does not have a spiritual receiver. But Jesus Christ has implanted a receiver within those who know Him that picks up heaven's signals so the believer can tune in to the heavenlies, to the very voice of God. So in the midst of discouragement, fear, loneliness, insecurity, or even sin, a believer can tune in to the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, to talk about the Holy Spirit is not to talk about a doctrinal formula that is unrelated to day-to-day living. The Holy Spirit is part of day-to-day living because He is a Person who lives within us.
THE SPIRIT'S ENABLING
A second truth about the Holy Spirit we find in the text is this: The Spirit is the Helper, the Enabler. When He indwells the believer, He enables that believer to be and to do what God wants that person to be and to do.
Jesus was about to tell the disciples something very crucial: "Apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). This blanket statement of inability without divine enabling made what Jesus was saying in John 14 even more critical. There would be no effective ministry or life that pleased the Lord by mere human effort.
Many of us have discovered that. No matter how many times we say to ourselves, "I'm going to do it this time," we find that we really are unable to be what God wants us to be on our own.
If you have discovered your own spiritual insufficiency, you are a good candidate for the ministry of the Holy Spirit. If you have not discovered that yet, you are a good candidate for spiritual disaster.
An Internal Helper
Because the disciples' need was complete, Jesus promised them that "another Helper" would come after He left (John 14:16). The Greek word for "helper" is paraclete, translated differently in various Bible versions because it is a pregnant term. Some versions translate it "counselor."
One version translates it "advocate," because the word literally means "one called alongside to help," that is, to enable.
Jesus knew that after His resurrection, the disciples would need supernatural power to pull off what He wanted them to do. And He knew where they were going to get that power: from the enabling, internal presence of the Holy Spirit. Now this is very important because whenever the disciples needed help, Jesus was always there.
When they were lonely and needed a friend, Jesus was a faithful friend. When they were discouraged and needed encouragement, Jesus was there to encourage them and give them joy. When they were defeated and needed to be picked up, Jesus was there to pick them up. When they were afraid out on the sea and wondering how they were going to make it, Jesus could walk on the water and calm their fear.
Whatever these men needed, Jesus was there to provide. So when they heard that Jesus was leaving, the question on the floor was "Who is going to help us?" That is, "Jesus, if we are going to keep on, who is going to help us when we are down and encourage us when we are discouraged? Who is going to strengthen us when we are weak? Who is going to lead us when we are confused? You did all that for us."
One of my tasks when I first met my wife, Lois, was to let her know that if she had me, she did not need her father any more. One thing that I could always do was talk. I was a rapper par excellence. I said a lot of things I could not back up, but the person I was talking to never knew it because I could camouflage all that with my rap.
Basically, I told Lois that everything provided to her by her father would be obsolete when she came to me. The best he could provide for her belonged to the Ice Age compared to what I would provide if she came over to me.
Guess what? She came over to me. So to some degree, my rap worked. Now, in our more than twenty-five years of marriage I have fallen short of my guarantees from time to time, but that's not part of this discussion.
A Helper Like Jesus
Jesus' task on this night was to convince His fearful, confused followers that the Helper He was sending was just like Him, only this Helper would be able to do even more for them.
So Jesus told them, "I am going to leave you now. But I am going to send you Someone who is always going to be there for you. No matter what your problem, no matter what your circumstance, no matter what your trial, frustration, or irritation may be, no matter what you come up against, this Helper will be with you."
We call this the indwelling ministry of the Spirit of God. When a believing sinner comes to Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in that person's life and becomes his Helper.
Now I need to explain something critical here. If you are a believer, the best help you have for whatever problem you face is inside you, not outside you.
See, if you had a problem and Jesus Christ were physically here, who would you go to with your problem, Jesus or your pastor? Don't come to me, because I am going to be over there with Jesus too! I don't think there is any debate that if Jesus were here on earth and told us we could come to Him, we would go to Him first.
Well, Jesus is not here in person, but He has left you and me another Helper who is just like Him. If you are a believer, this Helper is closer to you than anybody else could ever be, because He is within you.
One fundamental reason many Christians don't get the help they need when they are afraid or lonely or needing encouragement or whatever is that they go to the wrong person first. In case you didn't know this, let me underline it. Your pastor is not the Holy Spirit. Your Christian counselor or therapist is not the Holy Spirit, and if you are more dependent on these people than you are on the Holy Spirit, you are settling for second-class help.
Excerpted from The Promise by Tony Evans. Copyright © 1996 Anthony T. Evans. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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