Taught By the Spirit.

But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ. – 1 John 2:27 NLT

The Holy Spirit is our teacher. He teaches us the truth about God, the Son, ourselves and the Word of God. Jesus told His disciples, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” John 14:26 ESV). He went on to explain the role the Holy Spirit would play in their lives. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come (John 16:13 ESV). He is the Spirit of truth. He speaks on behalf of the Father and the Son. He knows the mind of the Father. There is absolutely no chance of Him misleading you or misrepresenting the truth. That is why John reminds his readers that the Holy Spirit is to be their primary source of truth. He was not suggesting that the Spirit be their sole source of truth or their only teacher. John was not eliminating the need for human teachers in our lives, otherwise he would not have written his gospel account or his three epistles. John was dealing with a situation where false teachers were having a strongly negative influence over a local church. They were teaching false doctrine. They were denying the reality of sin and therefore, the need for a Savior. They were teaching a different gospel than the one Jesus Himself taught. And their teaching was confusing the faithful.

It would seem that John is suggesting that the Holy Spirit within us is there to help us discern false teaching from what is true. He equips us with the tools to tell the difference between what is a lie and what is truth. Paul told the believers in Corinth, “When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means” (1 Corinthians 2:13-14 NLT). It is the presence of the indwelling Spirit of God that makes it possible for us to comprehend spiritual truth. He provides us with the capacity to listen and learn discerningly. He does not eliminate the need for human teachers in our lives, but He makes sure we are able to tell which ones are dangerous and to be avoided.

Anyone who teaches a different version of the gospel, a different Jesus, a different way to be saved, or a different version of the truth of God, is to be avoided at all costs. The Holy Spirit exists to teach us the truth about all of those things. And He uses the Word of God to inform and instruct us. We must always rely on the Scriptures for our truth. The Holy Spirit will always confirm the Word of God, not contradict it. He will agree with the teachings of Jesus, not replace them. And while false teachers will always exist, attempting to substitute the truth of God with their own version of the truth, we will always have the Spirit of truth to help us know the difference. When writing to the church in Corinth, Paul had some very strong words. “Dear brothers and sisters,when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people.I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT). They had the Spirit of God within them, but they were not relying in His help. They were living according to their old nature, giving in to their flesh and experiencing a stagnancy in their spiritual growth. All because they were not listening to the Spirit within them. We can all do it. We do it every day. We have a choice to live according to the Spirit or according to the flesh. And when we choose to live according to or by the power of the Spirit within us, we receive a steady does of truth. He opens our eyes to see the truth regarding God, sin, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and our own sanctification. He helps us recognize our ongoing need for His transforming work in our lives. He reveals our weakness and reminds us of the power of God that is available to us each and every day of our lives.

By This We Know.

By his we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us his Spirit. – 1 John 4:13 ESV

How do you know that you’re truly saved? What gives you the rock-solid assurance that you have placed your faith in Christ and that God has accepted you as His child? John gives us one, very reliable proof: The presence of the Holy Spirit within us. “And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us” (The New Living Translation). John had already talked about this matter once before back in chapter three. “Those who obey God’s commandments remain in fellowship with him, and he with them. And we know he lives in us because the Spirit he gave us lives in us” (1 John 3:24 NLT). Our very ability to obey God’s commands is due to the presence of the Spirit of God within us. We would be unable to live obediently without Him. When we sinned, we would experience no conviction without His help. It is the Holy Spirit who provides us with the assurance of our salvation. Paul described Him as a kind of down-payment or guarantee of things to come. “It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NLT). This was a favorite theme of Paul’s. He said the very same thing to the church in Ephesus. “The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him” (Ephesians 1:14 NLT). In his letter to the believers in Rome, he added a slightly different twist: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16 ESV).

By THIS we know. It is the Holy Spirit within us who should provide us with an overwhelming since of peace and confidence that we belong to God. The very fact that He lives in us and is constantly attempting to guide, convict, comfort, and transform us, should let us know that God is in us and we are in God. The Holy Spirit provides us with the ability to understand the truths of God. Paul told the believers in Corinth, “we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths” (1 Corinthians 2:13 NLT). Then he went on to explain the sad, but true facts concerning those who don’t have the Spirit of God within them. “But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means” (1 Corinthians 2:14 NLT). Concerning the Holy Spirit, Jesus told His disciples, “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17 NET). He promised His followers that the Holy Spirit would take up residence within them. And His indwelling presence would make it possible for them to understand the words of Christ in ways they never could have before.

The Spirit provides us with assurance that we are in Christ. He lets us know that we are God’s children. But it is possible to live as if He does not exist. We can treat Him as if He is not there. When we sin, we grieve Him, because we are refusing to rely upon His strength and listen to His voice in our lives. When we attempt to live the Christian life in our own strength, we quench Him. We effectively tell Him we don’t need Him. And when we do, we lose all sense of assurance. We begin to doubt. We wonder why we don’t seem to see any transformation in our lives. Paul saw the believers in Corinth doing the very same thing and told them, “Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life” (1 Corinthians 3:1 NLT). They were not acting like Spiritual people. Yes, they had the Spirit of God within them, but they were not allowing Him to do what God had sent Him to do. They were resisting Him. They were ignoring Him. And they were living their lives as if He didn’t even exist. Their lives looked more like those who who are lost and lack the Spirit altogether. Not exactly a rousing endorsement from the apostle Paul.

One of the ways we can tell if someone belongs to God is how they respond to the truth of God as found in the Word of God. When it is preached, they respond favorably. The Spirit within them either convicts or comforts them. John said that his teachings came from God and those who had the Spirit of God living in them were able to hear his words with spiritual ears. “But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception” (1 John 4:6 NLT). Spiritual people, those who have the Spirit of God living in them, are able to accept spiritual truth. It makes sense to them. They may not always accept it or obey it, but they get it. They have a choice to listen to it and allow the Holy Spirit to use it to transform their lives, or they can simply choose to act as if they never heard it. But they know what they heard. They know what the Spirit has said. So even in our disobedience we know that He is there. And that too, should give us assurance. Conviction should be comforting. It should remind us that God is there, in the form of His Spirit. By this we know that we are His children, because He has placed His Spirit within us, to comfort, convict, guide, empower, help and teach us.

The Indispensable Holy Spirit.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. – 1 Peter 1:10-12 ESV

What would we ever do without the Holy Spirit? Spiritually, we could do nothing. But the sad reality is that most of us do quite a lot without the Holy Spirit. That is what it means to live “according to the flesh” as Paul puts it. It is what happens when we give in to our old sin nature. But God provided the Holy Spirit so that man might know and experience the spiritual dimension of life, so that our souls might know Him in all His glory. And the Holy Spirit didn’t just show up at Pentecost. He has been active since the beginning of the world. In fact, He played a major role in the creation of the universe. He is called the Spirit of life for a reason. He helped give life to the universe. He helped give life to Jesus in the womb of Mary. He helped restore life to the crucified Jesus, resurrecting Him from the dead after three days in the tomb. And He helped the authors of the Scriptures by superintending their efforts, and empowering them to write the words of God, not the words of men. Even the prophets like Isaiah, who wrote concerning the coming of the future Messiah, did so under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Peter tells us these men who “prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,  inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Peter 1:10-11 ESV). In other words, the Spirit of God was the one working in them, providing them with the predictions regarding the coming Messiah. They didn’t make it up. It wasn’t the result of their imaginations. Peter makes this perfectly clear in his second letter. “…no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21 ESV). The Holy Spirit was there, ensuring that the very words these men wrote were accurate and reliable. They were penning the words of God, which is why their prophecies were fulfilled. The Holy Spirit was there to make sure that what was written was from God, so that we have proof that the claims of Jesus to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world were true.

When Jesus stood in the synagogue of His hometown of Nazareth and read from the scroll of Isaiah, He claimed to be the very fulfillment of what He read. “And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’” (Luke 4:17-19). Then Luke tells us that Jesus returned the scroll, sat down and when He had everyone’s attention, He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). He was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. The Holy Spirit had made sure those words were written by Isaiah hundreds of years before Jesus appeared on the scene. Isaiah never got to see the Messiah about whom he wrote. But he knew and believed that the Spirit of God was giving him the words to write and he believed that God would fulfill His promise to send the Messiah to the world some day.

And Peter goes on to say that the very same Holy Spirit was the one behind the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ that had led to the conversion of His readers. Peter, Paul and the other apostles, ministered under the power of the Holy Spirit. They had been indwelt by the Spirit and were operating under His influence, teaching truth He had revealed to them. Once again, they weren’t making this stuff up as they went along. They were being led by, taught by and empowered by the Holy Spirit. And that same Holy Spirit was working in the hearts of those to whom they apostles preached, playing an indispensable role in their salvation. Paul tells us, “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). The lost person is incapable of understanding the truth about Jesus without the Spirit’s help. Even the good news is no news at all to an unbeliever. It comes across as foolish and far-fetched. So the Spirit must open the eyes of the lost so that they are able to see and accept the gift being offered to them by God. In Paul’s letter to Titus, he tells him that God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 ESV). J. I. Packer explains regeneration this way: “Regeneration is the spiritual change wrought in the heart of man by the Holy Spirit in which his/her inherently sinful nature is changed so that he/she can respond to God in faith, and live in accordance with His will. It extends to the whole nature of man, altering his governing disposition, illuminating his mind, freeing his will, and renewing his nature.” The Holy Spirit makes it possible for spiritually dead men and women to respond to God in faith. He is indispensable. He is irreplaceable. And living the Christian life is impossible without His help. The Holy Spirit is not optional equipment or an add-on for the believer. He is essential to our salvation, our sanctification and, ultimately, our future glorification. So rather than treat Him like the red-headed stepchild of the Trinity, let’s give Him the respect, honor and attention He deserves. He is truly indispensable.

Power to Purify.

For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. – Hebrews 9:13-14 ESV

Jesus was the perfect, sinless sacrifice. He became a man so that He might live the life God expects of all men – yet without sin. For Him to offer Himself to God as the substitute for the sins of all men, He had to be sinless, perfectly righteous and a worthy sacrifice, acceptable to God and capable of atoning for the sins of man with His own blood. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Hebrews 8:3 ESV). Prior to the death of Jesus, all men stood condemned by sin – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). And the penalty for man’s sin was death. But Jesus condemned sin. Man’s flesh – his sin nature – condemned him. But Jesus took on human flesh, became a man, and lived a sinless life, turning the tables on sin. He condemned sin, using the very tool sin had used to condemn man – the flesh. “Because God’s children are human beings – made of flesh and blood – the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14 NLT).

But how did He do it? How was Jesus able to accomplish what no other man had ever done before? The quick and easy answer would be to say that He was divine. He was God. He had help. And that would be true, but the help Jesus had was not His divine nature, it was indwelling Holy Spirit. Yes, Jesus, the Son of God, was indwelt with the very same Spirit that God has made available to you and me. After the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus at His baptism by John, Luke tells us, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1-2 ESV). Jesus, the Son of God, yielded His life to the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. In His humanity, He submitted to the leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit, in order to provide us with an example to follow. When Jesus told His disciples that God would send them “another Helper”, He spoke from experience. He knew what it was like to have the Spirit of God provide help, guidance, and comfort. Luke tells us that when Jesus returned from His time of fasting and temptation in the wilderness, He did so with power. “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee…” (Luke 4:14 ESV). His entire ministry would be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. His miracles would be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. And the author of Hebrews tells us that was “through the eternal Spirit” that Jesus able to offer Himself without blemish, as sinless, to God. That very significant fact seems to escape most of us as believers. We somehow think that our pursuit of righteousness is up to us. We have bought into the lie that, while our salvation was the gift of God, an act of grace, our sanctification is somehow up to us. We have to pursue holiness on our own. But we have the very same Spirit within us that Jesus had. We have the same power available to us that He availed Himself of all throughout His earthly ministry. Jesus clearly told His disciples that they would have access to a power source that would make possible their commission as His apostles. “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7 ESV). Again, Jesus told them, “And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven” (Luke 24:49 NLT).

And it is that power from heaven that purifies our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. He renews our mind. He produces His fruit in our lives. He provides us with the capacity to say no to the works of the flesh or our old sin nature. He frees us from slavery to sin and allows us to live in obedience to the will of God – through His power, not our own. Our holiness is not left up to us. Our transformation into the likeness of Christ is not something for which we are responsible. We certainly take part in the process, but we do so by yielding to the Spirit of God. We are to walk according to the Spirit, not our flesh. We are to sow to the Spirit, not our flesh. We are to depend upon the Spirit, not our flesh. Jesus offered Himself without blemish to God, through the eternal Spirit. How much more so must we depend upon that same Spirit to help us live holy lives and fend off the constant desires of our old sinful nature? Peter reminds us, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT). That divine power is the very Spirit who lives within us. The eternal Spirit of God. God has made possible our holiness, through the death of the Son of God and the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. We have all we need.
 

Full Measure.

But “when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior.” – Titus 3:4-6 ESV

How much Holy Spirit did you receive at salvation? According to Paul, you received a full measure of the Spirit of God. No partial fillings. No half-full Christians. No second filling to come. Why is this such an important distinction? Because God’s salvation is full and complete, not partial. He sent His Son to die so that we might live. He sent His Spirit to live within us so that we might be made new. Jesus didn’t undergo a partial death. He gave everything He had to give. And we don’t receive just a little bit of the Holy Spirit. We get all of Him – all at one time. So if we have a full measure of the Holy Spirit, why don’t some of us experience a full measure of His power in our lives? Lewis Sperry Chafer, in his book, He That Is Spiritual, writes, “To be filled with the Spirit is to have the Spirit fulfilling in us all that God intended Him to do when He placed Him there. To be filled is not the problem of getting more of the Spirit, it is rather the problem of the Spirit getting more of us.

The filling of the Spirit has nothing to do with the quantity of the Spirit we possess, but it has everything to do with the degree to which the Spirit possesses us. It is all about control. That is why Paul told Titus to remind the believers under his care to live their lives in such a way that it would be clear that they not only possessed the Holy Spirit, but that He possessed them. His control of them would show up in their behavior. They would willing subject themselves to rulers and authorities. They would model obedience, and be ready to do good works. They would refrain from negative behavior like slander, instead living in peace with others, extending courtesy and exhibiting a gentle spirit to all people. Before Christ they had been known for being foolish, disobedient, misled, slaves to their own lusts and pleasures. Their lives were full of evil and envy, and marked by a mutual hatred for one another. Not a pretty picture. But then Jesus came and changed all that. He offered them salvation, based not on works of righteousness they had done, but based on the mercy of God as exhibited in the death of His own Son.

And after His ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to provide regeneration and renewal. Regeneration refers to our new birth in Christ. We were once spiritually dead because of sin, and the Spirit, the Spirit of Life, brought us to life again. Jesus told Nicodemus, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life” (John 3:4-5 NLT). Paul writes in Romans, “And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives” (Romans 6:4 NLT). Later on, in the same letter, Paul writes, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (Romans 8:11 NLT). We experience the new birth through the power of the indwelling Spirit. But we also experience renewal. Paul tells us, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT). We have experienced a new birth and we are able to live a new life – all because of the Spirit who lives within us. It takes a full measure of the Spirit to get the full effect of what God intended at our salvation.

And because we have the full measure of the Spirit of God living within us, we have all we need to live radically different lives. Not only do we have the hope of eternal life somewhere out there in the future. We have the power to live godly lives in the here and now. Paul tells Titus that believers should devote themselves to doing good, but not in their own strength – in the power of the Holy Spirit. God, in His mercy, saved us. God, in His mercy, is transforming us. It is not something we accomplish in our own strength. It is the full measure of the fully present Holy Spirit that fully transforms us into the likeness of Christ. God saved us. God is sanctifying us. And God will one day glorify us. All according to His grace, love and mercy. You and I have all the Spirit we need to do all that God has called us to do. We don’t need more of Him. We simply need to give Him all of us.

Living Proof of His Power.

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. – 1 Thessalonians 1:4-7 ESV

For Paul, the reality of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit was far from an intellectual argument based on solid biblical proof and human reasoning. It was something he believed in because he had both experienced and witnessed it. At his miraculous conversion, he had received the Holy Spirit and his life radically transformed from that of a rabid persecutor and exterminator of the followers of Christ to that of an avid proponent and promoter of “the way”. What brought about this remarkable transformation? What is through careful study of the Torah? Had he been convinced through the reasoning capabilities of one of Christ’s followers? No, he had come face to face with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. This encounter had left Paul blind. But not only was he incapable of seeing, he was left wondering what all this meant. All Jesus had told him was “rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:6 ESV). Luke, the author of the book of Acts tells us “for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9 ESV). Then Jesus sent Ananias with the job of restoring Paul’s sight. Luke describes the encounter between Ananias and Paul. “And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened” (Acts 9:17-19 ESV).

Along with his sight, Paul received the Holy Spirit, and it was to be a game-changing moment in his life. Most of us think it was his encounter with Jesus on the road that brought about Paul’s radical transformation. But that only left him blind and confused. It was the coming of the Spirit of God into his life that brought about the remarkable change Paul experienced. It was the Holy Spirit who gave him a new direction and motivation for life. Jesus had told Ananias, “he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16 ESV). As a result of his reception of the Holy Spirit, Paul went from persecuting Christ and His followers to proclaiming the truth of His claim to be the Son of God. He immediately went to the local synagogue and “confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 9:22 ESV). They couldn’t believe that this was the same man who had once spent his life chasing down and locking up Christians. What had happened?

The Holy Spirit is what had happened. Yes, Paul had met Jesus on the road, but it was the presence of God’s Spirit that brought about his transformation. It was the Holy Spirit who transformed Saul, persecutor of Christians, into Paul, proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So when he told the Thessalonians that he knew God had chosen them, he gave as his proof the power of the Holy Spirit. He said, “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” 1 Thessalonians 1:5 ESV). I like the way The New Living Translation puts it. “For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true.” It had not been Paul’s powers of persuasion that had brought about the conviction and conversion of the believers in Thessalonica. It had been the Spirit. Paul told the believers in Corinth the same thing. “I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan” (1 Corinthians 1:1 NLT). Instead, he said, “my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 1:4 NLT).

As a result of their acceptance of God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ, the believers in Thessalonica also received the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is He who became proof of their conversion and the source of their transformation. As a result, these new believers became imitators (mimētēs) of Paul. That doesn’t mean they simply mimicked what he did. It means they experienced the very same thing he had, the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Their lives were immediately and irreversibly changed by the Spirit of God. So much so, that they became examples to “all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1 Thessalonians 1:7 ESV). The Greek word Paul used is typos, and it means “a pattern, a type, a person or thing prefiguring a future person or thing”. It was not so much that the way they lived their lives was an example for other believers to follow. But it was the indwelling, transformative presence of the Holy Spirit that would be the form or pattern that all believers would experience. We are transformed by the Spirit of God. We are sanctified, made more holy, by the Spirit of God. And our lives should be living proof of His power and presence. Others should be able to see His power at work in us and through us. The Thessalonian believers had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 ESV). That was the result of the Spirit of God, not human reasoning or human insight. Our belief in Christ was the Spirit’s doing, not ours. Our transformation into His likeness is the Spirit’s doing, not ours. And our future glorification will be his doing as well.

Quenching the Spirit.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 ESV

In the old TV sitcom, All In The Family, Archie Bunker used to regularly tell his wife, “Stifle yourself, Edith!” Inevitably, Edith was talking and Archie wanted her to stop. It was his way of telling her to shut up. And in a way, as believers, we can do the same thing to the Holy Spirit. He talks and we simply tell Him to stifle Himself. That is what the Greek word Paul uses really conveys. It is sbennymi and it means “to extinguish, suppress or stifle”. It can be used to refer to the putting out of a flame or, metaphorically, the suppression of divine influence. But how do we suppress the Spirit’s influence in our lives. It’s really quite simple. All we have to do is live life in our own strength. This can include trying to do good things without His help or doing bad things against His wishes. In his highly popular devotional guide, My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers describes it this way: “ The sense of warning and restraint that the Spirit gives comes to us in the most amazingly gentle ways. And if you are not sensitive enough to detect His voice, you will quench it, and your spiritual life will be impaired.” In other words, we quench the Spirit every time we fail to hear His voice or simply choose to ignore it. We can also quench the Spirit when we refuse to allow Him to do what God sent Him to do – guide, direct, empower, and transform us into the likeness of Christ.

Attempting to live the Christian life apart from the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit is impossible. Trying to live righteously in our own strength will prove futile. Our flesh or old sin nature will not allow us to pull it off. And every time we try, we stifle the Holy Spirit’s work in our life. It is so easy for us to assume that we can pull off the Christian life in our own strength. Many of us suffer from the good old American work ethic. We have been indoctrinated with the idea that we can accomplish anything when we put our mind to it. But Jesus told His disciples, “And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven” (Luke 24:49 NLT). Power from heaven. That is what we receive when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us at salvation. And the power the Holy Spirit provides is meant to make possible the impossible. It is He who gives us the strength to live the life we have been called to live. And every time we attempt to live it in our own strength, we are, for all intents and purposes, telling the Holy Spirit, “stifle it!” We are telling that still, small voice within us to shut up. In essence, we throw water on the very fire we need to fuel our faith.

That is why Paul provides us with this admonition: “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses” (Galatians 5:16-18 NLT). It is essential that we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and empower us. When we try to do it on our own, we are attempting to live under the law again. We are subjecting ourselves to the futile effort of gaining favor from God apart from faith. At the end of the day, we are either living according to the Spirit or according to the flesh. And even when we try to do good things apart from and without the Spirit’s help, we suppress His power in our life. We stifle Him.

So when Paul tells us to “warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone. See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people. Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances…” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-18 NLT), he is reminding us to do it in the power of the Holy Spirit. To attempt to do any of those things in our own strength would be futile. That is why he follows this list with the warning, “Do not stifle the Holy Spirit.” Don’t try to live your life in your own strength. Depend on the power from heaven. Rely on the God-given source that He has placed within you. So Paul would remind us, “Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live” (Romans 8:12-13 NLT).

Offending the Spirit.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:30-32 ESV

The Holy Spirit lives within each and every believer. At the point of conversion, He takes up permanent residence, indwelling them, baptizing them into the family of God, and filling them with the power they need to live the life they have been called to live. Both His indwelling and baptizing are one-time events, never to happen again. But His filling is to be an ongoing, often-replicated event. In fact, the tense of the Greek word Paul uses in Ephesians 5:18, carries with it the idea of continuous, ongoing action – “keep on being filled”. The indwelling of the Spirit does not guarantee the filling of the Spirit. He does fill us at salvation, but that can quickly change. In telling the believer to be filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18, Paul uses the comparison of being drunk with wine. To be intoxicated with wine is to allow oneself to come under the influence of the alcohol. It takes over control of the individual’s speech and conduct. It alters thinking patterns and drastically influences behavior. Paul’s point is that, when under the control of the Spirit, the same things should happen. His presence in us should result in His control over us. That is what it means to be filled. We end up under his influence, His control. And He changes our speech, behavior, and thinking.

But Paul reminds us that we can grieve the Spirit. How do we do that? Through sinful behavior that is not in keeping with His agenda for our lives. It happens each and every time we take back control of our lives and live them according to our old sinful nature. Placing our faith in Christ did not immediately eradicate our sin nature. It remains alive and well, a constant and pervasive presence in our lives. Paul described it this way: “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:17 ESV). Sin dwells in the believer in the form of our flesh or sin nature. And it craves to live in disobedience to God, satisfying its own selfish and  sensual desires. It tempts us to do those things that are not in keeping with God’s will for our lives. “For this is God’s will: that you become holy” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NET). Our sin nature despises holiness. It prefers self-love, self-reliance, self-indulgence, self-protection, self-centeredness and a host of other self-related sins. That’s why Paul says we are to avoid bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice. Notice that these are all other-oriented sins. They are directed at others – specifically at fellow believers. And when we commit them, we grieve the Spirit. In actuality, we offend Him. He has been commissioned by God to bring about our sanctification, our transformation into the likeness of His Son. So when we sin, particularly against our brothers and sisters in Christ, we offend the Spirit. We prevent Him from doing what He was sent to do.

Earlier in chapter four, Paul warned his readers, “you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (Ephesians 4:17 ESV). He describes these unbelieving Gentiles in very clear terms. “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!” (Ephesians 4:19-20 ESV). Notice the phrase, “given themselves up to”. They were under the influence of sin. But Paul says that is not to be the way with us. We are to be under the influence of the Spirit. We didn’t learn Christ or become aware of His salvation through selfishness and sensuality. And we will not become more holy through those things either. Paul tells us to put off our old selves “which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22 ESV). Instead, he reminds us “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:24-25 NLT).

This is a daily, ongoing choice we must make. We can choose to be led by the Spirit in every part of our lives, or we can choose to listen to our selfish, sensual old nature. We can make it all about us or we can make it all about God’s will for us – our holiness. That is why Paul warns us, “Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another” (Galatians 5:26 NLT). As soon as self enters into the scene, things begin to get dicey. The self and the Spirit can’t both be in control at the same time. When self raises its ugly head, the Holy Spirit takes a back seat. He doesn’t leave us, but we lose His influence over us. And when we do, nothing good comes out of it. Not only do we end up grieving and offending the Spirit within us, we do harm to all of those around us. On top of that, we stall and stagnate our own sanctification process. We must constantly remain aware of our potential for doing great damage to the cause of Christ and the Spirit’s commission to transform us into the image of Christ. As soon as self raises its ugly head, we must confess it and ask the Spirit to take over control of our lives again. We must constantly submit ourselves to His control. That will require giving up our control. It will demand that we release the grip we have on our own agendas for our lives. We can’t make ourselves more holy – only the Spirit can do that. Let’s learn to rely on Him, lean on Him, listen to Him and relinquish control of our lives over to Him.

From One Degree of Glory to Another.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 ESV

Paul continues his use of Moses as a comparison. Moses, as a result of his exposure to the glory of God during his time on top of Mount Sinai, actually glowed when he came back down the mountain. God’s glory rubbed off on him, so to speak. And when the people saw Moses’ face, they were terrified. They had never seen anything like it before in their lives. So Moses covered it up with a veil. But in time, the glory or glow began to fade. But rather than let the people in on the secret, he continued to wear the veil and hide the fact that his glorification was impermanent.

But Paul’s point is that Moses’ temporary glory was symbolic of the temporary nature of the Old Covenant. It too, would come to an end. It would be replaced with something far better. The glory Moses received was external in nature. His skin glowed. But like a bad sunburn, over time it began to fade. The New Covenant, made possible by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, provides us with a different kind of glory. Because of the work of the Spirit in our lives, we have had the veil removed. And that act has accomplished two very important things. It has freed us up from having to pretend as if we are something we are not. For Moses, the veil became a cover-up, a means of hiding reality. At one time, we too were stuck trying to act as if we were spiritual through external acts that led those around us to believe we were something we were not. We veiled our lostness with self-righteousness. But then the Spirit opened our eyes. And that’s the second significant thing that happened when the veil was removed. We were able to see Christ in all His glory. For the first time we were capable of recognizing Jesus for who He is and able to accept what He had done for us. The removed veil signifies our acknowledgement of our own sinfulness and the Spirit-endowed ability to see the freedom made available to us through Jesus.

Paul says, “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”. We have the Spirit of Christ present within us. This does not mean that the Spirit and Jesus are one in the same. It simply means that they share their divinity and to have one is to have the other. The Spirit allows us to have the mind of Christ, the wisdom of Christ, the love of Christ, and the nature of Christ. And His presence within us frees us up from having to try to earn favor with God through acts of self-righteousness. We now depend solely upon the righteousness of Christ that was imputed to us by God. We share in Christ’s righteousness, so when God looks at us, He sees us as perfectly righteous, just as His Son was.

But Paul’s main point in these closing verses seems to be that we are able to see the glory of the Lord in the lives of one another. It is an internal, eternal glory that emanates not from the outside, but from the inside. It begins in the heart and flows out of us so that others can see it and experience it. It shows up as the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It manifests itself in the gifts of the Spirit, resulting in the building up the body of Christ. We can see each other being transformed into the same image, the image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another – progressively and proactively – by the Spirit within us. “For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

We are to reflect the glory of the Lord. We are to literally glow with His glory. In the very next chapter, Paul writes, “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6 NLT). We have the light of Christ shining in our lives in the form of the Holy Spirit. We have the capacity to see the glory of Christ because we have had the veil removed from our eyes. We can see Him when we read the Word. We can see Him working in the lives of those around us. And Paul goes on to say, “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7-8 NLT). That light within us is to shine out of us. Others should be able to see the glory of Christ reflected in our actions, attitudes, speech and conduct. Our changed lives are to be living proof of the transformative power of Christ’s work on the cross and the Spirit’s presence within us. We are being transformed into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another. And one day, we will be like Him – glorified, perfectly righteous, completely sinless, and enjoying the unbroken pleasure of His presence.

Open Eyes. Changed Hearts.

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. – 2 Corinthians 3:12-16 ESV

For Paul, the new covenant was permanent and irreplaceable. That brought him hope. It was not based on man’s efforts, but God’s grace. That brought him hope. It transformed men and women from the inside out. That brought him hope. Since his conversion, he had personally witnessed the transformative powers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He had seen it dramatically change his own life. He had watched as those to whom me ministered, both Jews and Gentiles, were radically redeemed and reformed by God. And it gave him hope and provided him with boldness. In fact, his compares his own boldness with that of Moses. But he uses an interesting Greek word, parrēsia, which can mean “boldness”, but also, “openly, frankly, i.e. without concealment”. I believe this has more to do with what Paul is trying to say. He is using Moses as a comparison. In his day, when he had received the law from God, a residual effect of the experience was a visible radiance or glow to his skin that others could see. His time spent on the mountain in the presence of God’s glory had left a tell-tale sign, and it so disturbed the people, that Moses took to covering his face with a veil. But as Paul says, the time came when the glory began to fade, yet Moses continued to wear the veil. He not only hid his face, he hid the truth. He concealed the reality of what was happening to him. The fading of the glory on the face of Moses was a symbol of the inevitability that the glory of the old covenant would also fade. It was destined for replacement. It was designed for obsolescence.

Over in the book of Hebrews, the author, quoting the words of God recorded in the book of Jeremiah 31, writes, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Hebrews 8:10 ESV). Notice that phrase, “write them on their hearts”. It is most likely what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3 ESV). The new covenant is not like the old. It is not based on a set of laws written on stone requiring the strict obedience of men. In other words, under the new covenant, the laws of God are no longer external and based on human adherence to work. They are internal and dependent on the indwelling Spirit of God to convict and conform the life of the believer to the will of God. It is not the law that has been replaced. It is the method by which man attempts to live according to it. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13 ESV). The means by which men were expected to maintain a right relationship with God was fading away. It was being replaced by something new and far superior. The old covenant was based on outward conformance to God’s laws. It did nothing to change the heart. It was pure legalism, and it was destined to fail. No matter how hard man tried, he could not stop sinning. He could not keep the law perfectly. But when Jesus came, He did. He was obedient, even to the point of death. He did the will of His Father without fail, including keeping the law. Why? Because His heart was right with God. His was an internal obedience. And His death on the cross ushered in the new covenant, what He referred to as the new covenant in His blood. When Jesus shared the Passover meal with the disciples just prior to His betrayal, arrest and trials, He said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people – an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you” (Luke 22:20 NLT).  Matthew records that Jesus also said, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 ESV). But many would fail to recognize the significance of Jesus’ death. Paul indicates that their eyes were veiled. He is referring to the Jews who, when reading the Old Testament writings concerning the law, were unable to see the truth about Jesus. Like Moses, their eyes were veiled. The truth was concealed from them. But Paul says, “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (2 Corinthians 3:16 ESV). Their eyes are opened. The Spirit of God gives them the capacity to see the truth regarding Jesus’ death and the wonderful reality of the new covenant that makes a right relationship with God possible – no longer based on human effort, but on faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. And that truth provided Paul with boldness, an openness and frankness that made to good news of Jesus Christ available to any and all who would listen.