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"... we know he lives in us because the Spirit he gave us lives in us." - 1 John 3:24 (NLT)
Trying to describe the Holy Spirit is like trying to find the North Pole. It takes knowledge, a compass, and a little guesstimation to triangulate the general location where the pole might be found. But it has both magnetic and geographic locations, and migrates slightly over time... so we can actually only find an approximate location.
Similarly, talking about the Holy Spirit requires using words and phrases which only nudge, point toward, or capture in pictures and metaphor in an attempt to describe God Himself utilizing tiny little human concepts.
If you and I were to have coffee and talk about God’s Spirit, my experience and yours combined would just begin to scratch the surface. Scripture fills in the picture significantly. But not all of it. The Holy Spirit seems to keep blowing the doors off, breaking chains, surpassing all limits we use to try to pin Him down.
Nevertheless, here are a few thoughts to begin to triangulate who He is, what He does, How He does it…
The Holy Spirit has left His fingerprints. Some days we feel His presence. Sometimes we don’t and that’s okay, too. He assures us deeply in our hearts that our faith is solid and trustworthy. He’s alive in us.
"For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." - 2 Corinthians 3:17 (NLT)
“Uhm… we’ve got a trampoline in our backyard,” my daughter pointed out as I awoke from a short nap. A storm had blown through and our neighbor's trampoline had been lifted over the privacy fence and set down next to our deck. The invisible wind had visible results. And it took thirty minutes to undo what the wind had accomplished in a moment - dismantling the heavy trampoline, carrying the parts around the fence to reassemble it in the spot from which it had taken flight. It’s the same with God. His Holy Spirit performs work in our hearts that no amount of effort on our part can accomplish.
Sadly, there are things we can do without the Spirit’s help that makes us feel like we’re doing great...
It takes a real connection to His Spirit to…
But one of the most astonishing things the Holy Spirit does is to set us free. Yes, free from the penalty of sin. We like that. But also from the power of sin that leads to sinful actions and, ultimately, death. We suddenly find we are free to choose holiness over sin. We couldn’t do that before.
When we come to faith in Christ and take the plunge in baptism, the Holy Spirit moves in and sets us free in that moment. This is entirely new for people like us who are so deeply entrenched in sinful habits. And as God works in us, we become more and more like Him, reflecting Him ever more brightly. He’s with us, in us, and working on us.
"...may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again." - 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NLT)
Years ago an earthquake struck the San Fernando Valley in California causing a power outage. That evening, people from the city called in reports of a strange smoke in the sky. Had this silvery cloud somehow been the cause of the earthquake? Authorities explained that, in the absence of the normal light pollution, people were seeing the stars of the Milky Way for the first time. Sometimes a little explanation can help clear up a truckload of confusion! In hindsight, things weren’t really as baffling as they seemed.
One place of common confusion about the Holy Spirit is how He connects with us: spirit, soul, and body.
Our spirit is the part of us which is enabled to connect directly with God. It’s either dead apart from Him or alive when connected to Christ. Romans 8:16 tells us that His Spirit joins with our spirit. These are separate and distinct... yet can be unified. It’s like His Spirit is a power outlet. When our spirit is plugged in, He unleashes power and we begin to function as we were designed.
Next, our soul. It’s been said you don’t have a soul, you are a soul. It’s the place where our thoughts, feelings, and decisions move toward action. It’s the infrastructure of our life. Our soul envelops, encloses, encircles, enfolds, intertwines with our spirit. The soul is the place where the Holy Spirit connects with the depths of who we are and translates into our mind, our will, and our emotions.
And finally, our body. While our soul is tangibly close to our spirit within, it is also tangibly close to our flesh outside. Our decisions can be prompted from either direction. Our reliance on either the inner catalyst of the Holy Spirit or the external impulse of our fleshly desires will determine the kind of actions produced in our lives.
God’s Spirit brings life to us, spirit, soul, and body. Life-giving vitality can only flow out of our lives if God’s Spirit has taken up residence inside.
"I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms." - Ephesians 1:19-20 (NLT)
One of the most striking truths I’ve ever encountered is the fact that the Holy Spirit who lives in us is the same mighty power who raised Jesus from the dead. It’s amazing. Shocking. Beautiful. Humbling. Empowering.
The Holy Spirit is working powerfully to transform us. Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1 is that we will catch the slightest glimpse of this truth, to “get it” for the first time. Because He knows it’s so compelling that we will be drawn in and eventually grow into everything else God has in store. If you’ve come to Christ and been baptized, the Spirit lives in you and is in charge of transforming your life. He won’t insist that you change. But He will slowly and steadily lay the groundwork for transformation.
Are you changing? Are your thoughts, your habits, your desires morphing into something beautifully new and different? You can be sure He’s present. But what if we aren’t seeing that transformation? It can be tempting to get worked up about what’s happening - or not happening. But the better place to focus your energy is just returning again and again to Jesus and asking Him to do in you what only He can do.
You see, if you believe in Christ and the Holy Spirit lives in you, you’ve left death behind and you’re assured to share in His life. This is because His Spirit is our new power-source. Our mind, will, and emotions (i.e. our soul) receive immediate benefit from this reality, whether it’s visible yet or not. Eventually, our actions will start showing what’s happening within. Fear not: He is working on you, He is working in you, He is working around you.
"God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child." - Galatians 4:6-7 (NLT)
Have you been in church for a short time? Or maybe a lifetime? Two important truths that ought to eventually hit home are these: (1) God is a good Father and (2) We are God’s kids. If you can get your mind around these two things, a huge level of freedom is in store for you. Our Good Father flat out loves His kids. He’d never leave His kids without guidance, protection, provision. God took care of our most dire need when He sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sin. Our trust in this amazing gift is what welcomes us into God’s family forever.
Now, while trust in Jesus makes us God’s children, the Holy Spirit makes us look like God’s child. The Holy Spirit lives in us - the same mighty power who raised Jesus from the dead. We receive this powerful gift of God in us because we are God’s kids. The Holy Spirit moves in and our lives begin to look a lot different. That’s transformation!
What does this look like in our lives? We interact with the Holy Spirit, asking Him for help... like hearing God’s voice more clearly, knowing how to pray, what words to say, letting Him direct our prayers. We can also ask Him to pray for us and through us. We lean into the Holy Spirit when we realize God wants to change something inside for the better. We let Him help us do life.
His presence inside us is proof we are His sons and daughters - and now we have the power to act accordingly. We have access to every bit of what He wants to give us. The trick is to learn His truths, let Him work in our hearts to show us how they come alive, and then live like they belong to us. He’s a generous, good Father who loves us in a way that matters - not just “one day in Heaven,” but today.