Part four of a new series exploring four essential steps to following Jesus. In this fourth part we look at the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Life is a journey. And journey’s are made up of steps. In the series we’re been exploring so far this year, we’ve been focussing on the first four steps we take as we connect our life journey to that of Christ’s. But these aren’t just any four steps. To switch metaphors, they are also foundation stones. These are the stones we build our life with Christ upon. Everything about our life with Jesus is based up these first four steps and foundations.
In the last three months we’ve looked at repentance, faith, and water baptism. We’ve seen how we are called to constantly bring our thinking into alignment with God’s thinking. We’ve seen that faith is an amazing gift that enables us to receive the wonder of God’s forgiveness; we become sons and daughters of God, declared righteous—or, ‘in the right’—and included forever in the family he promised Abraham he would form. And then we saw that baptism, like marriage, is our way of sealing this connection to Christ. It’s a public declaration of alignment with Jesus; it’s our confirmation of a new status: we are no longer in sin or ‘in Adam’; instead we are righteous and in Christ.
Today, though, we are going to experience the fourth step and foundation stone. We’re going to encounter the Holy Spirit.
When it comes to understanding God as father, we find that easy—we all have or know fathers. The same goes for Jesus: he was a human, just like us. But how on earth do we relate to, let alone make sense of, God as ‘Spirit’. What images and ideas come to mind when we hear the words ‘Holy Spirit’?
We first come across the Spirit in the opening verses of Genesis. Before anything existed, the Spirit of God is described as ‘hovering over the waters’. Other translations use the word brooding.
We see another insightful reference to the Spirit When then get to the book of Exodus. There we see God filling particular people with his Spirit to enable them to make all the artistic designs for the tabernacle.
‘I have filled him with the Spirit of God,’ God says. ‘With wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills — to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.’
Later, in the book of Numbers, Moses is told by God to bring seventy other elders into the ‘tent of meeting’. They would then share the burden of leadership with him. ‘I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them,’ God says. When this happened, they all prophesied.
Two other men, who were elders but weren’t in the tent with the others, also started to prophesy. Joshua tells Moses to make them stop. But then Moses gives a telling response: ‘I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!’.
In that one statement we see that, for whatever reason, the Spirit of God only seems to come on or fills a few—not the many. We see this throughout the Old Testament. There are specific individuals—Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and more—who God’s Spirit comes on and he uses them to do mighty deeds or to prophesy. But Moses’s wish points to a longing for more; a longing for a time when God’s Spirit would be available to everyone.
That’s why Jesus came.
Luke tells us in chapter three that, ‘The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”’
There are very few incidents recorded in all four of the gospels. This is one of them. You’ll find this moment captured in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. John isn’t the Messiah; Jesus is. And where John baptised with water, Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit.
After this announcement about Jesus from John the Baptist, we then see Jesus being baptised by John. ‘When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too, Luke records. ‘And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”’
Let’s keep reading. Just a few verses later Luke tells us that, ‘Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.’
At the end of these forty days, ‘Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.’ Luke tells us that, ‘He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.’ Luke then continues:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
It’s easy to assume that Jesus did everything he did because he was God’s son. But this isn’t the case. Jesus’ ministry began when the Holy Spirit came upon him at his baptism. Everything he did was under the leadership and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that Jesus wants to baptise all of us with.
After Jesus’ resurrection, but before his ascension, Jesus met with his disciples, telling them, ‘This is what is written: the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’ (Luke 24)
He then added, ‘You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
And that’s what the apostles did. They waited in Jerusalem and then, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirt came upon them.
Luke describes this moment at the start of Acts chapter two:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
This was the first of numerous similar incidents throughout the book of Acts. People who had chosen to follow Jesus were filled with God’s Spirit.
Later, in a letter to the church in Ephesus, the apostle Paul reminds the believers to, ‘not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.’ Instead, they are to, ‘be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.’
The tense in the original greek for ‘be filled’ is present-continuous. This could easily be translated as ‘be continually filled with the Spirit’. As with each of the four steps we’ve been looking at in this series, there is an initial dimension but then an ongoing one. We have an initial infilling, or baptism, in the Holy Spirit; but then we go on continually being filled with the Spirit.
But why do we need the Spirit? How is this relevant to our busy daily lives of work and family? We all have challenging jobs, many of us have the exhaustion of parenting, and everything else that normal life throws at us. It can all seem very routine; mundane, even. But isn’t this precisely why we need the Spirit? We may not at this point in our lives be designing a temple, but we are raising kids. Wouldn’t it be great to have God’s Spirit helping us in the midst of that? Some of us are teachers, don’t we need to Spirit to help us with that task? Others of us work in hospitals, wouldn’t our work be even more effective with God’s Spirit empowering us throughout each day? Others of us are in workplaces, designing websites, handling finances, buried in spreadsheets. Does this mean we don’t need God’s Spirit? Far from it. God’s Spirit can inspire us in our work, no matter what we do. Not only this, God’s Spirit helps shape the character and integrity we have as we go about our work.
As Paul makes clear in Galatians chapter five, God’s Spirit, when we’re filled with him, causes us to bear fruit, specifically: ‘love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ Who of us doesn’t need these characteristics filling and flowing out of our lives?
The more full of God’s Spirt we are, the less room there is for the desires of the flesh: ‘sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like’.
Thanks to Jesus, all of us can receive this gift of the Holy Spirit. He comes alongside us to help us, empower us, free us, and more. He is the means by which we will be able to come closer and closer to living just like Jesus would if he was in our shoes. We need him. We need to be filled day-by-day with the Holy Spirt. He shapes our character and he gives us gifts to help us better love and serve others around us too (See 1 Corinthians 12).
How do we keep being filled with the Spirit though? It’s actually pretty simple: we ask. Jesus himself taught, ‘ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.’ He then added, ‘If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
Why don’t we make asking for God to fill us with his Spirit a daily prayer as we start each day? God will never force his Spirit on us; we have to ask and welcome him. But when we do, we open the door to him helping us become more like Jesus in both our character and our deeds.
Come Holy Spirit, fill us all afresh now!