When I was a kid the Holy Spirit was that dispensable, confusing, and honestly, boring member of the Trinity who none of us really understood. God made sense. Jesus seemed nice. But the Spirit? We didn’t know what to do with Him.
When I look at church culture today, not much has changed.
In the few years I’ve been in ministry, most of what is wrong with Christianity and its formation in real lives comes down to pneumatology: our theology of the Holy Spirit. I have realized that most Christians grow up with a withered pneumatology. Either He was never mentioned at all, or He was mentioned only in the context of the dramatic and sensational.
It’s the difference between “Holy Spirit? Who’s He?” and “If you don’t speak in tongues, you don’t have the Spirit.” The church culture you were raised in (or the one you entered when you became a believer) is responsible for shaping your view of this very essential, not-boring-at-all member of the Trinity.
Without going into a full treatise on the Spirit (I have a chapter on Him in my theology book coming in February!) let me summarize a little about Him here:
- Jesus said the Spirit is our Helper and Advocate, sent by Christ to help us become like Him.
- The Spirit is not “new”. He was active in the Old Testament era, empowering the saints to holiness and ministry. Now He dwells with us always and comes upon us in power for specific tasks.
- The Spirit is not impersonal; He is very personal! He is not a force. He is not the universe. He is equal with God, not a lesser being, and proceeds from the Father and Son.
- The Spirit speaks to us and guides us specifically by bringing to mind the Word and guiding us specifically in ways that line up with what Scripture teaches.
When I became a Christian in my teens I read a quote by D.L. Moody that said something to the effect of, “I would rather lose my right arm than lose the Holy Spirit.” For some reason it stuck with me – probably because I was thinking: I definitely don’t feel that way. I’ll keep my arm, thanks. What good has the Spirit done me??
I spent most of my early Christian life memorizing Scriptures about Christian virtue and trying to “do” them. It was insanely frustrating, but I thought that’s how Christianity was done! I was even more frustrated when my dad tried to explain the Spirit-led life: “It’s not this hard, Phy.” He told me. “You don’t have to strive at it. You just let Him lead you.”
Ugh. Boring. Weird! Also, kind of lazy??!
What my dad knew and I didn’t was what Jesus taught plainly in those very passages on the Holy Spirit (John 15-17):
“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” John 15:3-4
If we can’t bear fruit unless we remain/abide in Jesus… we have to ask: what does it mean to remain? To remain means to stay in one place or to stay in constant connection with, to live in, and reside with Christ. This is not “memorize ten bible verses then white knuckle it”. That’s a spiritual scarcity mindset (“I have to get this information down so I can go out and live it, because I won’t have enough otherwise”). No; abiding is a lifestyle of listening to the Holy Spirit, living in His presence, and walking by His lead.
And this is why I spend so much time teaching our kids the law of God (Ten Commandments, overarching story) while also teaching them to listen for God (recognizing the Spirit’s voice). Law alone creates legalists and white-knucklers, and those who only listen are in danger of apathy or a faith that is all experience and no obedience. We need both because the Spirit speaks – but He never contradicts Himself. He inspired the Word of God. He’s not going to tell us something principally different.
So if you’re the person who doesn’t “get” the Spirit… I’ve been there. I’ve found Him weird/vague and I’ve seen Him represented poorly. But those extremes don’t get to define Him when he has clearly defined Himself in Scripture! And Jesus said: I am sending you a Helper. He is here to help you become like Christ. Practically, His part is to do the sanctification and your part is to listen and cooperate. What that looks like for me:
- Spending time in prayer daily, both writing out requests and listening for Him.
- Letting Him remind me of Scripture throughout the day and listening for the check in my soul/spirit when I need to obey in an area.
- When I feel anxiety creeping in, remind myself that my ONLY JOB is to abide in Christ. He will then give me specific leading in that area. I can wait on Him for instructions. This removes my need for control and gives me the calm I need to refocus on prayer and the things I am responsible for.
- If someone gives me a “word” from the Lord or has a dream and shares it with me, I bring that to the Lord and pray about it. Is this true? Does this align with your leading on my life? Does it align with your Word?
My encouragement to you this week: Try listening to the Lord. Ask for Him to lead you, and take the time to follow. Remain in Him – through the Word, prayer, and obedience – and you will bear much fruit, because he’s in the fruit business.