Jesus told His disciples in John 14 that He was leaving them, but He would not leave them as orphans. He promised to send another Helper—one like Himself—to be with them forever. This paraclete would be their Helper, Counselor, Comforter, Advocate. He had been with them, and would be in them. He would teach them all they needed to know. He would bring to their remembrance all that Jesus told them. He would give them peace and joy and love.
The paraclete is who we call the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not some impersonal force, and He’s not some angelic being. He is none other than the third person of the Trinity, God in every sense of the word, one with the Father and the Son. He is a Person though that’s hard to get our minds around. We know this because the Bible presents Him as a person.
He appears in the second verse of the Bible as He hovers over the waters of the unfinished earth. And we find Him in the last chapter of Revelation where we are told that the Spirit says, “‘Come.’ Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” We know the Holy Spirit is a person because Scripture ascribes to Him all the traits of a person:
- He Speaks (Acts 13:2; Rev. 2:7–29)
- He Teaches (John 14:26)
- He Intercedes (Rom. 8:26)
- He Leads (Acts 8:29; Rom. 8:14)
- He Commands (Acts 16:6–7)
- He Guides (John 16:13)
- He Convicts (John 16:8)
- He Wills (1 Cor. 12:11)
And Scripture says He can be insulted, grieved, and quenched. Even though in our Trinitarian doctrinal statements, we will claim belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I’m afraid we often live as what you might call “bi-nitarians,” communing with the Father and the Son, but ignoring the Spirit, or at least unsure of what to do with Him. I believe that we need a fresh understanding of the Spirit whom the Father sent to indwell us.
What the Holy Spirit Did/Does
Scripture is full of verses that speak of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Here’s a quick list of some of the things that the Spirit does for you and me. I’ve put them into two lists. The first list is the things that the Spirit does when we come to Christ by faith. These are one-time events. At the moment that a person puts his or her faith in Christ alone, God the Holy Spirit . . .
- Regenerates (Tit. 3:5)
- Seals (Eph. 1:13, 4:30)
- Baptizes (1 Cor. 12:13)
- Gifts (1 Cor. 12:7–13)
- Indwells (1 Cor. 3:16)
If you are a believer, these are done. They are one-time, permanent activities of the Spirit that happen at the moment of salvation. We don’t seek these things; they’ve been done to us. And we can’t lose these things; they can’t be undone.
But, as Jesus said, the Holy Spirit is our Helper and Advocate. He has an ongoing ministry in the life of the believer. According to Scripture, He . . .
- Teaches (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:12-16)
- Guides/Leads (John 16:13; Rom. 8:14)
- Empowers (Acts 1:8; Eph. 3:20)
- Helps in Prayer (Rom. 8:26–27)
- Bears Fruit (Gal. 5:22–23)
- Sanctifies (2 Cor. 3:17; Gal. 5:16–25)
Do you know the Spirit in these ways? Have you experienced the teaching ministry of the Spirit? His guidance in your life? His power for witnessing and overcoming sin? Have you seen His fruit ever increasing in your life? Are you becoming more like Jesus? This is not some super-spirituality that we strive to attain to; this is what the normal Christian life should be like. And it comes from living by the Spirit.
He Glorifies Christ
One thing we mustn’t miss about the Spirit is that His mission is to bring glory to Jesus Christ. Jesus said:
John 16:14–15 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
The Holy Spirit’s role is not to glorify Himself, but Christ. He does not call attention to Himself, but to Jesus. He doesn’t lead us to focus on our experiences, but on Christ. He doesn’t speak on His own initiative, but declares what Jesus wants Him to.
If you’ve ever been to Washington, D.C., and seen the Washington Monument at night, it looks like a shining ivory needle illuminated against the night sky. Hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of lights shine directly on the stone pillar, both from far away and from close up, memorializing the father of our country.
When you look at the Washington Monument in all its glory, I doubt that your mind goes to all of the expensive, brilliant lights that illuminate it. That’s because they are there not to bring attentions to themselves, but to illuminate something else. In fact, they are strategically hidden so as not to take away from the Monument itself. And if they are doing their job, you’re not thinking about them, you’re focused on the Washington Monument.
The same is true of the Spirit of God. His purpose is to illuminate the gospel and bring glory to Jesus. J.I. Packer calls the work of the Spirit a “floodlight” ministry, quietly turning everyone’s attention away from Himself and to the Savior. Theologian Dale Bruner calls Him the “shy member of the Trinity,” because He doesn’t like attention on Himself!
One thing this means is that when someone claims to be filled with the Spirit and yet spends most of his time talking about his own experiences with the Spirit, you have good reason to doubt whether he really is filled with the Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is doing His work in and through someone, it won’t be focused on the Holy Spirit, but on Jesus. You’ll find yourself thinking about Jesus.
Some say we don’t focus enough on the Holy Spirit, that all we talk about is Jesus. Listen, the Holy Spirit is not waiting in the wings to be noticed and acclaimed. He’s not hoping that we’ll magnify and exalt Him. His work is not to shine brightly before us, but to shine a light on the glory of Christ. We must not focus on the spotlight; we focus on Christ.
How We Draw Near to God
But the question remains for us: how do we develop this relationship with God by His Holy Spirit who indwells us? As we’ve seen, the Holy Spirit is a Person, with a will and emotions, who makes decisions and acts. He’s not some force that can be manipulated or controlled. Jesus compared the Spirit to the wind—no one knows where it comes from or where it’s going, and the Spirit is the same. We can’t command the Spirit; we can’t make the Spirit do something any more than we can make God the Father do something. He doesn’t respond to formulas or incantations. Nor can we guarantee that He’s going to respond in a particular way.
But we do know that God wants a relationship with His children. He wants to commune with us, and He does that by His Spirit who indwells us. What we need to do is pursue the things that the Bible says will create an environment where the Holy Spirit is willing and able and free to operate.
James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” That’s a promise! Isn’t that what we want—the nearness of God? The fellowship of the Holy Spirit? The life of Christ inside us? But, how do we draw near to God? How do we walk in the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit, be led by the Spirit? How do we experience a dynamic life of fellowship with the Spirit?
I would like to suggest five essential elements to a dynamic Christian life. Without these, we will wander around never fully experiencing the abundant life that God wants for us. These are the ways that we can draw near to God so that we are in a position where He will draw near to us.
Exercise Faith in Christ
The first element essential for us to draw near to God is revealed clearly in the Bible: we draw near to God through faith in Christ who alone gives us access to Him. We must exercise faith in Christ
Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
The first result of our faith is salvation. When we first put our trust in Christ, He saves us, and sends His Spirit to regenerate, seal, indwell, baptize, and gift us. We move from death to life. We are reconciled to God through the death of His Son. We who were far off are brought near to God.
But Scripture doesn’t just speak of faith as a one-time event, but as an ongoing trust—a life of believing. Day by day the believer puts His trust in all of God’s great and precious promises. We trust Him to care for us, to lead and guide us, to meet our needs as our Good Shepherd.
Have you trusted in Christ for salvation? If so, are you trusting Him now? Even in difficult times? Even when things don’t turn out the way you want them to? Do you have faith that God is working out all things for good for you? Are you trusting Him with your spouse? Your children? Your future?
In order to fellowship with the Spirit and draw near to God, we must have an ongoing, vital faith in God and His Word and His goodness and His promises.
Saturate Yourself in God’s Word
Second, one of the most important ways to experience communion with God and recognize the Holy Spirit’s guidance is to saturate yourself in God’s Word. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth. He inspired the writers of the Bible—all Scripture is breathed out by God. Jesus affirmed that God’s Word is truth. Psalm 119:160 puts it this way: “The sum of Your word is truth.”
God has spoken to us in His Word. We don’t need to go seeking a “word from God”—we have it right here! He has revealed His will for us in His Word. The Bible is the believer’s ultimate source of wisdom. Jesus said that we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
God’s Word is living and active. It is the Sword of the Spirit. And God’s Spirit uses God’s Word to change you, to transform you, to make you more receptive to hear God’s voice. The apostle Paul says to us:
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Do you see that? What does it mean that God’s Word would dwell in us richly? Literally, “dwell” means to make its home, to take up residence. And richly means abundantly—not casually or meagerly.
The Word of God needs to inhabit us abundantly, profusely. This is more than just reading the Bible now and then. It is reading, studying, meditating, memorizing, discussing. And what will the result be? Teaching one another, admonishing one another, singing, and thankfulness—in other words the fruit and activity of the Spirit in your life. You cannot divorce the Spirit of God from the Word of God.
The more time you spend with God through reading His Word, the more familiar you’ll become with His will and desires. Knowing God’s Word will help you to discern whether or not the desires and inclinations you feel come from the Holy Spirit. We must test everything against Scripture, because God will never tell us to do anything that contradicts His written Word. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth, which is now contained in the written Word of God.
But reading the Word is not some mechanical thing. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to give us understanding and illumination as we study the Scriptures. When He illumines Scripture, He’s not giving us new revelation on par with that given to the apostles and prophets as contained in the Bible—that was inspiration. The ministry of the Spirit now is one of illumination—revealing us the truth of God’s Word and applying it to our lives.
Have you ever been sitting in church and you feel like the pastor is preaching just to you? I know you have, because several of you have told me that. That’s the Holy Spirit, illuminating the preached Word and applying it to your life. He does the same thing as we are reading His Word. The great 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, said this:
It is one of the peculiar offices of the Holy Spirit to enlighten His people. He has done so by giving us His inspired Word, but the Book is never spiritually understood by anyone apart from the personal teaching of its great Author. You may read it as much as you will and never discover the inner and vital meaning unless your soul is led into it by the Holy Ghost Himself. You may have done well to learn the letter of truth, but you still need the Spirit of God to make it the light and power of God to your soul.
To commune with God, to hear His voice, to experience the leading of the Holy Spirit, you must give yourself to the Scriptures. Study them with a keen awareness and dependence on the Holy Spirit. Approach Scripture prayerfully, asking the Holy Spirit to illumine and apply the Word to your life. Just head knowledge is not enough. Pray along with the psalmist who wrote:
Psalm 119:18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.
Are you seeking God through His Word? Do you love His Word? Is it a priority in your life, or are all the other temptations and pleasures of this world choking it out? What will you do differently this week to seek God through His Word?
In order to learn to hear God’s voice, you’ve got to know His Word, for it reveals the heart and will of God.
Cultivate a Life of Prayer
The third essential to a life in the Spirit is to cultivate a life of prayer. Prayer is a non-negotiable for the Christian. Prayer is clearly and directly commanded in Scripture: “Devote yourselves to prayer” (Col. 4:2). The New Testament is full of prayers and exhortations to pray. Prayer demonstrates our dependence on God.
But prayer is not just a one-way street. Don’t just run into prayer with your checklist in hand and pray, “Dear God, please help me here, bless this situation, bless that person, heal this person, protect those people, help me have a good day. Amen.” Spend time listening to God. Any relationship requires communication—both speaking and listening. And our relationship with the Holy Spirit is no different.
Not only are we commanded to pray, but we are commanded to pray “in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18; Jude 20). Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is especially active in our lives when we enter into prayer.
Romans 8:26–27 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
As we devote ourselves to communication with God, the Holy Spirit actively works by interceding, comforting, sanctifying, protecting, teaching, leading, and guiding in ways our finite minds are not able to grasp.
And as this picture shows, when you pray, pray with your Bible open! Let God’s Word guide your prayers. Use God’s Word as the basis for your prayers. We are told to pray for God’s will to be done, so what better place for our prayers to start than with the Bible.
So, how is your prayer life? Are you just shooting up prayers now and then? When was the last time you went into your prayer closet and spent a good long time with God? What’s keeping you from that? What other things, good or bad, are crowding your time or stealing your attention? What can you do this week to make communing with God through prayer a priority?
Obey All that God Tells You
The fourth essential to communing with God is obedience. When I think of an example of obedience, besides thinking of Jesus, who obeyed His Father in everything, the account I think of more than anything is the account in Genesis 22 when God asked Abraham to take his son, Isaac, the son of promise, and to offer him as a burnt offering to the Lord.
Genesis 22:2–3 God said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering.” So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son . . . and went to the place of which God had told him.
No arguing. No laying out a fleece. No delay. No negotiating. Just immediate, complete obedience. And obedience to something that for Abraham was probably the hardest thing he would ever have to do in his life.
Jesus expected obedience from His disciples. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (John 15:10). “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46).
Notice how Jesus relates obedience to our relationship with Him.
John 14:21–23 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. . . . If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
He says, “The one who keeps my commandments is the one who loves me. AND the one who loves me (that is, the one who keeps my commandments) will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” In other words, He will not manifest Himself to those who are disobedient.
Then He repeats the same thing in slightly different words: “The one that loves me keeps my word, AND my Father will love him (that is, the one who keeps My word), and we will come to him and we will make our home with him.” In other words, God will not make Himself at home with those who are disobedient.
Obedience to Jesus’ commandments enables fellowship with our Savior and God the Father. In the hearts of obedient believers, Jesus and the Father make their “home” through the Spirit. In the believer who is not grieving Him through disobedience, the Spirit works to manifest Jesus.
Our obedience to God is a concrete expression of our love for Him. This pleases God and creates in us an environment where the Spirit operates to encourage growth in the quality of our fellowship with God, and in our depth of understanding of our Lord Jesus.
But in contrast, if we are unwilling to obey God, if we are living an unholy life, if we are loving other things above Him, why should we expect Him to guide us, to reveal God’s will to us, to fellowship with us, and to manifest Christ to us? If we are grieving, quenching, or resisting the Spirit in our actions or attitudes, then why should we expect that He will show us the way to walk, when we are being disobedient to what He has already shown us?
Continued revelation is tied to our obedience. If God hasn’t spoken to you in years, perhaps it’s because you didn’t obey the last thing God told you to do. When God’s Word commands, it’s not an option. When the Spirit speaks, it’s not meant as a suggestion. If you want the Holy Spirit to continue to speak to you, obey Him when He does speak. And if you’ve blown it, confess it, claim God’s forgiveness, and obey the next time.
Are you obeying your Lord and Master? Or are you disobedient? Are you harboring unforgiveness when He has commanded you to forgive? Are you lusting after pornography when He has told you to be holy? Are you paralyzed with worry and fear when He has commanded you to trust Him?
Ongoing, willful disobedience to Christ and His commands will sear your conscience, silence the Spirit, and damage your ability to fellowship with God.
Surrender All to God
And finally, the fifth essential element to living a life in the Spirit is complete surrender to God. Well actually, this is the foundation for the others. This is how we are to do the others—with absolute surrender.
Jesus is not just our Savior, as wonderful as that is. He is our Lord and our Master. He is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph. 1:21). “He is also the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything” (Col. 1:18). And God raised Him up, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11).
In the Bible believers are called bond-servants, or literally, slaves of Christ. One commentator defined this Greek word, doulos, as “one who is in a permanent relation of servitude to another, his will altogether consumed in the will of the other.” Does that describe you? Scripture says, “You are not your own, you have been bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19–20) . That’s a slave; and Jesus is your Master.
We are to totally surrender to Jesus—not partially, not reserving part of my life as off limits to Him, but totally. When God commands, we obey—NO MATTER WHAT. When the Spirit says “go there,” we go—NO MATTER WHAT. When God tells us to speak to someone, we speak—NO MATTER WHAT. When Jesus says to forgive that person, we forgive—NO MATTER WHAT.
But what I’ve seen in the lives of many believers is not surrender to the will of God no matter what, but rather a desire for God to bless their will. We want to maintain control; we want to be in the driver’s seat; we want the final say.
The definition of surrender is “to give up possession of something: to relinquish control of something, unconditional submission, abandonment of legal rights, an act of willing submission to authority; capitulation, renunciation, to hand over, to give up a fight.”
While the Bible doesn’t use the word “surrender,” there is no mistake that the principle is there.
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Luke 9:23–24 And he [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
2 Chronicles 16:9 For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.
These are words of surrender: “I have been crucified with Christ.” “I no longer live.” “I am denying myself. I am losing my life for your sake, Lord.” “My heart is completely yours.”
To walk in the Spirit, to be filled with the Spirit, is nothing more than complete surrender to the will of God. It’s not my desires, my will, my plans, my direction that I ask God to bless. It’s His desires, His will, His plans, His direction that I follow unreservedly—NO MATTER WHAT. And I do that by living by faith in Christ, saturating myself in God’s Word, cultivating a life of prayer, and obeying all that God tells me.
Is your heart completely His? Have you surrendered your will, your dreams, your plans? Or have you been calling the shots in your life? Is He calling you today to full surrender, NO MATTER WHAT? What will you do about it?
- Exercise Faith in Christ
- Saturate Yourself in God’s Word
- Cultivate a Life of Prayer
- Obey All that God Tells you
- Surrender All to God
Now, I can’t do all this in my own power. I am weak, and my heart is prone to wander. I fail again and again. But the Lord is gracious and compassionate, and full of mercy and forgiveness. He picks me up when I fall. He’s not looking for perfection, but for direction. He gives us the desire, the power, and the ability.
Pursue these things. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.