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The Indwelling Spirit of Promise

Ezekiel 36:26-27, in an apparent Messianic prophecy, gives a wonderful promise of the Spirit’s presence in our hearts and lives as Christians.  “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”  (Ezekiel 11:19 uses the term “undivided” heart instead of “new” heart.)  In the Old Testament, people did not have the indwelling Spirit, and as a result, did not consistently follow God’s decrees and laws.  Now, however, we have the Spirit to move us in the right direction.

Paul describes this impetus of the Spirit in Romans 8:1-4 in powerful ways.  Through Christ, the law of the Spirit sets us free from the law of sin and death.  Jesus was our perfect sin offering to take away both the guilt and power of sin in our lives.  The righteous requirements of the law can be fully met in us, who live according to the Spirit, which is not sinlessness on our part, but absolute faithfulness and consistency plus God’s continual forgiveness as we walk in the light (1 John 1:7) with the aid of the Spirit.

The Spirit and the Message of Salvation

The Holy Spirit and the Word of God are closely associated in the salvation of mankind.  First, the message was inspired by the Spirit in the OT prophets, as they foretold the message of salvation by the Spirit (1 Peter 1:10-12), and in the NT apostles and prophets who had their message revealed to them by the Spirit (Ephesians 3:2-5; 2 Peter 1:20-21).  Since the Spirit expresses spiritual truths in spiritual words (1Corinthians 2:13-14), they can only be understood by spiritually-minded people (See also Ephesians 5.17-18).  Such a person readily accepts what is written, rather than looking for and praying for an “understanding” which fits his preconceived ideas and desires (2 Timothy 3:2-4).  Refusal to accept the Spirit’s inspired message leads to God sending those who refuse a powerful delusion which leads to their condemnation (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12)!

Second, the message also was sent by the Spirit.  Once the Spirit came to usher in the Kingdom of God on earth, the apostles had the task of being witnesses to all nations – Acts 1:1-8.   The Spirit was to testify about Jesus (John 15:26); the apostles were to testify about Jesus (John 15:27); and, all other disciples were to do the same (Matthew 28:19-20).  Through this preached message, the Spirit offers the invitation to salvation; the church does the same, and every individual who accepts the invitation must pass it on (Revelation 22:17).  Obviously, the Holy Spirit loves to preach!  But He can only preach through those whom he indwells.  How fired up is he about dwelling in you?  Does He find you exciting or boring?

Third, the message was directed by the Spirit, as he opened doors of opportunity for evangelism.  These doors were to individuals (Acts 8:26-40, especially verse 29) and to entire areas (2 Corinthians 2:12).  This being true, Paul admonished us to pray for such open doors (Colossians 4:3).  Sometimes, the Spirit directed some doors closed in order to lead to more open doors (Acts 16:6-10).  Therefore, we must take advantage of every opportunity (Colossians 4:5-6) as we trust the Spirit to direct our paths to fruitful service!  When your evangelism does not seem successful, do not get frustrated nor discouraged.  Keep on sowing the seed, and trusting the Spirit’s direction.  You will bear fruit!

The Spirit and Initial Salvation

When we find God, it is because he has first found us, seeking us through the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 8:29, the Spirit sent Philip to meet a non-Christian (who had an openness to God).  The Spirit is definitely involved in divine providence, both before and after we become Christians.  Our being met and taught is never an accident – it is the plan of God brought about by the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit draws us to God initially by convicting us of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:7-8).  Because we are blinded by sin, we must first deal with this malady if we are to appreciate and accept the abundant grace of God.  But how does He bring about this conviction?  First, he inspired the Word of God (1 Peter 1:20-21; Ephesians 3:3-5).  This explains why the Word of God is called the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17), for through it he brings people to conviction.

Look at this convicting process in Acts 2:36-41, as the people were convicted of the sin of crucifying Christ (verses 36-37), convicted of the way to righteousness with God (verse 38) and then convicted of judgment (verse 40).  In Acts 24:25, Paul reasoned with Felix about righteousness, self-control (sin), and the judgment to come, which left this hardened ruler convicted (afraid) but not obedient.  Thus, the Spirit convicts the world through his Word, whether shared individually, preached publicly, or read privately.

The Spirit and Continual Salvation

When we are baptized into a saved relationship with Christ, the Spirit comes to indwell us (Acts 2:38; 5:32).  According to Galatians 4:6, he is sent into our hearts by God because we became children of God, thus signifying this new relationship (tie this in with Galatians 3:26-27).  Back in John 7:37-39, Jesus had promised this indwelling.  Several truths are connected with this indwelling.  One, the Spirit is our seal (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:13).  A seal was an official sign of ownership.  When we become Christians, God stamps us as his property!  The world may not be able to tell who is a child of God simply by looking, but the spirit world now can.

Two, the Spirit is the deposit of our inheritance (2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:14).  The deposit here carries the idea of earnest money put down for a purchase as a pledge that the full amount will be paid at the proper time.  Therefore, the Spirit is God’s deposit in us, guaranteeing our future blessings with him (Philippians 3:20-21).

Three, he strengthens us (Ephesians 3:14-21), which is more than being strengthened by the Word (which definitely strengthens us).  He also helps us to follow through with our convictions.  Of course, he will not force us to do right against our will to do otherwise, but he will strengthen us to do what we really want to do for God.  Once I was jogging a much longer distance than I ever had before, and near the end of the run, I came to a formidable hill.  When I was tempted to give up, a friend ran behind me with his hand in the middle of my back pushing me.  Had I quit running, he could not have helped me, but because I was trying, he could assist me in completing the run.  Similarly, the Spirit assists us to complete what we could not complete without his helpful and vital “push.”

Four, he aids us in godly living.  Just knowing that he dwells in me keeps me from wanting to sin (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), for where I go, he goes!  Galatians tells us that we “live” by the Spirit in a number of ways:  by refusing to gratify the desires of the sinful nature (verses 16-17); by being freed from a legalistic works orientation (verse 18); by avoiding a life directed by the sinful nature (verses 19-21), by developing the fruit of the Spirit (verses 22-23); by crucifying the sinful nature (verse 24); by keeping step with the Spirit (verse 25); and by maintaining loving relationships with our brothers (verse 26).

Romans 8 also promises that as we set our minds on spiritual living, the Spirit helps us control our minds and lives for God.  We have life and peace (verse 6); our spirit is alive (verse 10); life is given to our mortal bodies (verse 11); we put to death the misdeeds of the body (verse 13); we are led by the Spirit (verse 14); we have a Spirit of sonship, not fear (verse 15); we have the assurance of salvation (verse 16-17); and he intercedes for us (verses 26-27).  The Holy Spirit is vitally concerned about every aspect of our lives and needs.  He loves us.  He cares how we feel.  He intercedes because he is an Encourager (Acts 9:31) and a Counselor to us (John 14:16-18).  In that latter role, he joins Jesus in speaking in our behalf (1 John 2:1).

Five, the Spirit acts providentially for us, often leading in ways that are very delightful to us as we are led directly into the blessings of God.  However, he also leads us into the desert of trials (Matthew 4:1)!  In this gospel context, Jesus was thus led right after a time of great commitment to God’s will.  Don’t be surprised when spiritual mountaintops seem to be followed by some rather intense valleys.  Passages like Lamentations 3:38 inform us that everything which happens to us is either directly caused by God, or at the least allowed by him.

But why does a loving God allowing such painful testing in our lives?  The Bible supplies abundant answers to that question.  It develops character (Romans 5:1-5; James 1:2-4); it breaks us of self-sufficiency (2 Corinthians 1:8-9; 12:7-10); it makes us into Christ’s image (Romans 8:28-29; Galatians 4:19; Hebrews 5:7-9; 12:4-13).  However, knowing why we suffering doesn’t remove the pain!  Suffering is tough, producing what men call stress (the difference between our agenda for our lives and God’s agenda for them!).  It may lead to our questioning God, as did the Psalmist on many occasions (Psalm 13:1-6).  Such struggling with God is natural at first, but if we don’t work it through, we can end up like Job, who found himself facing a God who had worn thin on patience!

Rest assured that God is not sentimental.  He gives us what we need rather than what we think we need.  We especially struggle with accepting testing through people (who make mistakes), but following Jesus in the way of the cross is still the only answer (1 Peter 2:18-25).  The key is to trust God no matter what occurs (Romans 8:31-39) and to decide to be thankful in (not necessarily for) all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  Note that nine of the ten lepers cleansed by Christ were not even thankful for the good things in their lives.  We seem to expect the good, thus taking it for granted, while being shocked and dismayed at the not-so-good.  Shedding the idea that we are somehow God’s gift to creation would help us be more thankful and more accepting of the challenges of life!  Only Spirit-filled disciples can be thankful for the hard times in their lives.  Bottom line, God is allowing you to be tested in order to become more spiritual and more prepared for deeper spiritual service in the future.  Trust him and trust the Spirit who leads you through both the storms and through the sunshine (and each has its own inherent danger!).

The Holy Spirit and Conscience

We often speak of conscience, but what is that?  Biblically, it is an inner voice which sits in judgment over our attitudes and actions (Romans 2:15).  It is not infallible, for it is only as good as it is trained.  Since we all receive worldly training as non-Christians, the conscience must be retrained, by the Scriptures.  Two vital lessons regarding the conscience must be kept in mind.

One, we must always strive to keep our consciences clear before God and men (Acts 24:16; 1 Timothy 1:15,19).  However, a clear conscience does not guarantee our innocence (Acts 26:9; 1 Corinthians 4:4).  It can be weak (accusing us inaccurately – 1 Corinthians 8:7, 10); seared over (1 Timothy 4:2); corrupted (Titus 1:15); and guilty (Hebrews 10:22).  Two, in the situation where conscience is not trained properly, it nonetheless must not be violated in the process of retraining it (Romans 14:22-23).  Although religion per se cannot clear the conscience (Hebrews 9:9),  the blood of Christ, properly applied, can (Hebrews 9:14).

But having said that, how do our consciences and the Spirit work together?  Paul said that his truthfulness was confirmed in his conscience by the Holy Spirit (Romans 9:1).  Since a clear conscience does not guarantee innocence (it is the Lord who judges – 1 Corinthians 4:4), to be approved by the Spirit has to mean that our actions or thoughts are based on God’s Word (which the Spirit inspired).  The real danger comes when trusting our emotions and attributing them to an inner prompting of the Holy Spirit.  Emotions and conscience are not the same thing.  Emotions can be very selfishly directed, leading us to violate our own consciences (with the help of our rationalization process).

In making decisions, conscience should move us to stay surrendered and open-minded, and to get plenty of advice.  Emotionalism moves us to be very independent and untrusting of others.  Bottom line, if you feel like making a decision without wanting advice, Satan is using your emotions.  If you want advice to insure a godly decision, God is using your conscience.  This line of reasoning does not rule out prompting by the Spirit, but it does raise a proper caution.  The Spirit will never prompt us in a direction which violates biblical principles, and such prompting must then be confirmed by advice from mature spiritual people (Proverbs 12:15;13:10;14:12; 19:20; 20:18; Romans 15:14).

The Holy Spirit, the Word, and Spirituality

The Holy Spirit works very closely in conjunction with the Word he inspired.  Note the following parallels:

  • We are born again by the Spirit (John 3:8) and by the Word (1 Peter 1:23).
  • We are sanctified (set apart) by the Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13) and by the Word (John 17:17).
  • We live by the Spirit (Galatians 5:25) and by the Word (Matthew 4:4).
  • We are strengthened by the Spirit (Ephesians 3:16) and by the Word (Acts 20:32).
  • We are filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-19) and in a parallel passage, indwelt by the Word (Colossians 3:16).

Being full of the Spirit (Acts 6:3, 5; 11:24) is to be full of desire to love and serve God, and to be directing that desire in accordance with the Word of God.  One can be knowledgeable without being spiritual.  One can be pious in heart, yet deficient in knowledge, and still not be spiritual.  The need is always spirit and truth – to possess both zeal and knowledge.  When we are truly Spirit-filled, Spirit-led disciples, we live in the very atmosphere of the Holy Spirit!  As Paul put it in Romans 14:17, the kingdom of God is a matter of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  We are to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers (Ephesians 6:18).  We love one another in the Spirit (Colossians 1:7).  In spite of severe suffering, we have joy given by the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:6).

In conclusion, with Paul let us say:  “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit by with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

—Gordon Ferguson (May 1998)