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Powerful Living Made Possible by God’s Spirit

Jim Davis

When I was growing up in my endeavor to become a Christian somehow I subordinated the work of God’s Holy Spirit solely to the realm of Scripture. I believed that God’s Holy Spirit had guided the apostles through inspiration to write the Scriptures, but then it was solely up to me to live out God’s commands on human strength alone. I studied the long and endless debates on the work of the Holy Spirit and the medium he used to direct our lives. I concluded that the Spirit’s help was confined solely to delivery of scripture in written form. I wasn’t sure whether the gift of the Holy Spirit was given at baptism or not.

Acts 2:38-39
38 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." NIV

I was never sure what Peter meant when he said, "And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." But I felt that the gift of the Spirit had nothing to do with God’s Spirit dwelling within me. I concluded that it was simply the gift of salvation. Somehow in all my confusion I totally removed the Spirit from the context of an intimate personal relationship with God.

I believed that the first Christians had a measure of the Spirit that I didn’t have. The major reason I reached this conclusion was because the first Christians performed miracles that we can’t perform today. Somehow I had fixed firmly in my mind that when the age of miracles, signs and wonders was over, the Holy Spirit’s work was completed. The Spirit had given us the word; he had confirmed the word with signs and miracles, now it was solely up to us to obey it without any help from the Spirit.

The Result of Denying the Power of the Spirit

When we seek to use the Word separate and apart from the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Word becomes solely a written code.

It takes more than good advice to live a godly life. This is the dilemma of the Old Testament Law. It tells you what you should and should not do, but it doesn’t give you the power to perform. It announces a death penalty of guilt on our heads without lifting an exclamation point to give us assistance. It says, "Do this; don’t do that." It doesn’t give us any help. Then it declares us guilty.

Romans 3:9-20
9 What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10 As it is written:

"There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one."

13 "Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit."
"The poison of vipers is on their lips."
14 "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness."
15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know."
18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. NIV

The New Testament is no different from the Old Testament when it comes to our ability to live up to its standards. One only has to read the Sermon on the Mount to realize the lack of human power to carry out the precepts found there. If that were all of the religion that Jesus had to offer, it would surely be bad news. Who in the world can live up to the precepts set forth in that sermon? That’s why Paul said, "no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law." It is "through the law we become ever more conscious of sin" (Romans 3:20).

The disciples saw Jesus cure people who were sick. He brought at least two dead men back to life. He restored sight to the blind. He put lame folks back on their feet. Then he turned to the disciples and said, "Go and do even greater works than these."

Good news? Why, he might as well have told them to fly to the moon. It’s never good news to tell someone to perform the impossible, to achieve the unattainable, to climb the insurmountable.

After Jesus’ resurrection the disciples remembered his words to them: "Love one another even as I have loved you." In the light of the cost to which that love drove him, such instruction could lead ultimately to despair. Who in the world can love like that?

Jesus knew that his disciples needed more than precepts. They also needed power. So Jesus told them to stay in Jerusalem until they received the promised Holy Spirit. "You will receive power from on high," said Jesus, "when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. But you’ve got to wait for it. When you have received that power, you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth."

Now, precepts plus power is good news. If it had not been for the events recorded in the second chapter of Acts, we wouldn’t be here today. The cross and the resurrection are remarkable demonstrations of God’s love and power, but the story would have been forgotten if it had not been for the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

We can’t begin to image the emotions the disciples experienced at the resurrection. Imagine spending forty days with the resurrected Lord. However, the excitement and enthusiasm felt by the disciples were no match for the opposition they would encounter. They needed more than just human enthusiasm; they needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Without him they could not begin to do the job.

Jesus knew exactly what his disciples needed and he supplied them the power they needed through the Holy Spirit. We may map out what the church is through a doctrinal statement, but embracing the doctrinal statement with all the enthusiasm we can muster does not empower us with God’s Spirit.

Christ not only promised those disciples the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit to all that obey him in baptism.

Acts 2:38-39
38 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." NIV

The Holy Spirit Sustains Us

Without the Holy Spirit we are powerless because the limitation of human knowledge is our greatest weakness. Powerful lives are made possible by knowing the Spirit of God is there to intercede when we have reached the limits of human understanding.

Romans 8:26-29
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. NIV

A man was in an airport rushing to catch a plane. He was sweating and puffing when he looked to his right and saw a man walking half as fast as he was, but going faster. He was walking on a moving sidewalk.

This is how it is when we walk in the Spirit; he comes underneath us and bears us along. We're still walking, but we walk dependent on him.

We need to do all we can for the Lord, but we must understand that it is the power of his Holy Spirit that supports us and caries us along. Our salvation is dependent upon the work he does in our life more than it is on our abilities and our accomplishment.

There is a great deal of difference in what the Spirit of God can do for us and what we can do for ourselves. Imagine sitting down and making out the fullest list possible of all we think we need. Then remind yourself that the Spirit of God is able to fill your needs far beyond anything you can imagine.

Ephesians 3:14-21
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 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.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. NIV

Have you ever thanked God for unanswered prayers? We do this when we make a list of what we think we need and asked God to fill it. Then God gives us far more than we requested, in fact, after receiving what he gives us, we see how foolish our list of needs was.

We must realize that our faith in Christ is made possible by the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us. Notice what Paul writes, "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." The Spirit strengthens our inner being—so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.

A faith built upon the collection of facts is much different than a faith built upon the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is possible to relegate the work of God’s Spirit to an intellectual exercise that leaves us powerless. When we relegate the work of the Holy Spirit to the intellectual realm we deny for ourselves the power of God. The Holy Spirit is not present to deny the doctrine of truth but to sustain it.

John 5:39-40
39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. NIV

The written code alone brings death, but the Spirit gives life.

2 Corinthians 3:1-3
3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. NIV

2 Corinthians 3:4-6
4 Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant-not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. NIV

Teaching the gospel must go beyond merely relating the teaching and the story of the experiences of first century Christians. It is not enough to go back and restore biblical principles that the prophets and apostles taught, those principles must be written upon our heart by the Spirit of God so that we can experience their relevance to the times in which we live.

The word of God is a tool the Spirit uses to direct our lives, but the word of God is not the Spirit—the power to live a Christian life is not found in the word—it is found in the one who uses the word of God as a sword. Paul writes, "Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:17-18 NIV).

The word of God is the sword of the Spirit, but it is not the Spirit. The Holy Spirit uses the word to convict us of sin.

John 16:7-11
Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. NIV

The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s conviction is to bring us understanding rather than condemnation. Conviction is not condemnation. When we are convicted by the presence of the Holy Spirit it is for the purpose of enlightenment.

The Holy Spirit Enlightens Us

The Holy Spirit brings understanding.

1 Corinthians 2:10-15
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 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. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: NIV

Paul is revealing how he received his message, but in the same breath he is telling us that a person without the Spirit of God cannot understand the message. Paul writes, "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."

The Holy Spirit’s presence assures us of our salvation.

Ephesians 1:11-14
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession-to the praise of his glory. NIV

Many have recoiled at the idea that the Holy Spirit resides in sinful men and women. However, his presence in our lives is the one thing that assures us that God has clothed us with the righteousness of Christ. Through Christ sacrifice God counts us righteous, the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives guarantees us that God no longer thinks of as sinners because it is absolutely true that he cannot dwell in the unholy.

Romans 8:15-16
15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. NIV

Without the Spirit the sinful nature takes the law of God and seeks to club you to death with the word of God by punishing you with guilt and condemnation. It is the kind of death Judas suffered when he went out and hanged himself after betraying Christ. If the Spirit of God was in control of Judas, he could have been led to repentance. The other disciples repented of their betrayal and were empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel on Pentecost.

An unhealthy since of guilt and condemnation is a sure sign that the Spirit of God is not controlling your life. The Spirit of God is present in you to give you life—not to crush it out of you through guilt and condemnation. Paul writes, "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children" (Romans 8:15).

Romans 8:9-11
9 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.

Why Do We Not Recognize the Spirit’s Presence

But if all this is true, why isn’t the church today as alive and power-filled as those early Christians seemed to be?

Could it be that we have shut the Holy Spirit out of our lives? One reason could be the fact that the Holy Spirit, though he dwells in every believer, has been shut up inside our lives in some quiet closet and is unable—because we will not give him the liberty to do so—to make us effective in our Christian living.

Remember that Jesus said, as recorded by John in the Apocalypse, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hear my voice and open the door, I w ill come in to him." It’s not enough to open our lives to Christ. We’ve got to turn every room in the house of our lives over to him. If we shut him up in some little closet of our lives, he can’t begin to fulfill in us what God wants for us— the very best.

The apostle Paul warned Christians not to quench the Spirit. We quench the Spirit by being insensitive to his presence. We quench the Spirit by disobeying him. We quench the Spirit by choosing to run our own lives.

Could it be that we are just ignorant of the Spirit’s presence. But I think there’s another reason why some modern Christians don’t seem to be as alive and power-filled as those early disciples. It can be found, I think, in the experience of the Christians in Ephesus. In Acts 19 we read that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"

They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." I suspect that there are some people today who are sincere believers in Jesus Christ who are ignorant of the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells in them and is able to give them the power to live as Christians should live.

It is impossible to have a correct view of the New Testament without an understanding that it was the power of the Holy Spirit making all of it possible. That same power is available to us today.

Conclusion:

We must test the direction of our lives. Are we being led by God’s Spirit?

1 John 4:1-3
4:1 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, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. NIV

You can receive the Spirit of God today.

Acts 2:38-39
38 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." NIV
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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