Life in the Spirit
Close to Jesus
When we’re in close proximity to another person, we learn a lot about them in a short amount of time. If you happen to be seated between two strangers on a plane, by the end of the flight you’ll likely have learned what they like to read, how they interact with others and even how loudly they chew their food!
Have you ever stopped to think how deeply personal and intimate the disciples’ experience of living with Jesus was? They had three years of doing life with Jesus, from mundane travel to mountain-top experiences. Jesus did not hold them at an arm’s length; He cooked fish for them, broke bread with them, took their cracked and dirty feet into His hands and washed them, sat in crowded boats with them, and jostled through large crowds alongside them.
There were times of lively conversations, comfortable silences, and praying together. Jesus knew their thoughts and hearts like no one else. He spoke to their doubts, called out their unbelief, and comforted them with the Father’s love. And then, in the end, He died for them. How much more intimate could a relationship be?
The loss of this face-to-face relationship with Jesus would be staggering. But before dying, Jesus had many “heart-to-heart” moments with them, giving encouragement and counsel for life after His death. He knew this separation would cause loss, pain, and confusion; yet He repeatedly assured them that He would never leave them as orphans and that He would continue to be with them. But how?
Continued Nearness in the Spirit
Death would sever the physical connection of the disciples’ life with Jesus; what could possibly comfort them and keep them going when He was gone? Maybe they worried this season of life would fade, like a sweet dream you can never relive. Would they return to their fishing boats and tax tables, left only to recall “the good old days”?
Jesus assured them that life, not spiritual death, was ahead. He would be with them in a new and different way — through another One He was sending: the Holy Spirit. “I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16:7). Christ went so far as to say it would be to their advantage for Him to leave and for the Holy Spirit to come! This must have been hard to grasp. He promised that the Spirit would dwell in them, would never leave them, and would guide them into all truth. Their lessons were not over but had just begun; instead of parables on the mountainsides with Jesus, the Holy Spirit would now teach them and remind them of Jesus’ words: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:16-17). The death of Jesus would not lessen their relationship with Him; rather, it would become stronger and more vibrant through the power of the Spirit.
This level of spiritual life and intimacy is meant for us, too. Just as the disciples, we have every opportunity for a vibrant and intimate relationship with our triune God through the Holy Spirit — and not just on Sundays in church.
It can be easy to agree with a theological book on the Holy Spirit but still be confused about what it means to have a divine resident in our heart. How does this reality actually affect and transform our day-to-day living?
Defining Who We Are
The way we act, think, and speak is a result of who we view ourselves to be — our identity. J. I. Packer says in Knowing God that the Holy Spirit’s main job in our lives is to “make and keep us conscious that we are God’s children by free grace through Jesus Christ.” In other words, He regenerates us and then acts as the legal representative in our hearts, reminding us of our identity and legal status — adopted children.
If you’re like me, you know this with your head but still try to rummage up a sense of identity by the accumulation of your failures, successes, roles, and responsibilities. Many days I go to bed with an acute sense of failure — I can never do or be enough, and I feel defeated. But as I click on my lamp and pull out my Bible, the Holy Spirit reminds me of truth: Jesus is enough and I am in Him. When spiritual amnesia has woven itself deep in my mind, He teaches me the same thing again the next day.
If we don’t understand who we are in Christ, our faith will be small, our witness weak, and our love diminished. This is why the Holy Spirit works tirelessly after regenerating us to produce a real awareness of our redeemed status with God and our identity as His children. When we grasp this, our lives are transformed into expressions of faith, assurance, and joy.
Embracing the Father
When I first met my husband, we were both reserved and hesitant as we got to know each other. Fourteen years later, it’s a different story! When we feel more sure of a relationship, it brings a new freedom, intimacy, and boldness with it. So it is when we grasp our identity as adopted children of God; our hearts will naturally embrace God as our Father and approach Him as such. This is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in us.
How can we know? “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6). These two verses speak of freedom and intimacy. Imagine if we tried to earn our status as children of God: we would fear every day because we fail every day! But our relationship with the Father has been secured in Christ and can never be revoked.
Jesus repeatedly pointed the disciples to this freedom and intimacy with the Father as a result of His work: “he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father” (John 14:21), and again, “if a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23).
Like the disciples, we too have freedom in Christ to approach the Father as His children. Doesn’t that bring you to new levels of joy and humility?
Acting Like Children
Usually that phrase is not a compliment! But in this case, it is. It’s an inevitable result of understanding who I am in Christ and embracing the Father. We will act as His children by loving the brethren, living for God’s glory, and becoming more like Jesus.
The Spirit lives in us and guarantees He will bring this work to completion in us: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). He will oppose anything in your heart that will lead you away from Jesus, whether it be temptation, unbelief, or doubt. He will not let you go; He is a friend who is utterly for you. The reality of His ministry in our lives will be seen in simple yet transformative ways.
It will be found less in seeking feelings and experiences and more in actually seeking God Himself through concrete ways — Scripture, meditation, and prayer. It will be found less in mystical experiences of strong emotions that don’t produce fruit and more in living life with the Word open, allowing the Spirit to weave it into our hearts and bear fruit in our lives: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23). It will be found less by seeking the Spirit through special experiences and more about following His leading to see the beauty and glory of Jesus and responding in sin-conquering, life-embracing ways.
The Word Connection
Do you struggle to understand your identity in Christ even after confessing faith? Do you lack an intimate relationship with the Father? Is it hard to find any fruit of being filled with the Spirit? Ask the Spirit to make the Word alive in your life — it’s what He does, taking objective truth and making it alive and powerful. But you need to be in the Word for that to happen. If you read through Acts, you’ll find the disciples and apostles had the Word ruminating in their minds, spilling from their lips, and directing their lives.
A Word-filled life often means a Spirit-filled life. Maybe you’re in a season of life with little “quiet time” and have to do this creatively, but do whatever you need to saturate your life with the Word. For me, it means saturating the “dead spaces” of my days with the Word. I have podcasts, sermons, and the Bible app downloaded on my phone with a set of ear buds always on hand. If the kids are napping and I’ve got cleaning to do, I pop in my ear buds and work while my heart and mind are filled. Sitting in a long line for the car wash? Listen to the next sermon in the series. Create little lifelines wherever you can.
Get Word-filled music to saturate your ears and heart. The Spirit uses this often to draw you to God in faith and worship during doubt, coldness, struggle, and pain. We have CD’s of Scripture set to music in the car; many times the Spirit has ministered to my heart and moved me to worship as I play these songs “for the kids.”
Have a stack of books on your coffee table for kids and adults — books filled with the Word. Maybe it’s a book of nature or art with thoughtful texts from Scripture or a kid’s study Bible. Have copies of the Bible easily and always accessible for you and your kids to use during family worship or for spontaneous readings. It’s through the Word that we often discover sin that needs to be confessed, trust that needs to be restored, obedience that needs to follow, and the Savior to be treasured. It’s one thing to read and it’s another to have the Holy Spirit reveal Jesus Christ in your heart. So as you read (or listen), pray!
Every Reason to Rejoice
If you read through Acts, you’ll see everything Jesus promised the disciples came true. They were not left as orphans but instead lived with a strong awareness of God with them. They did receive the ministry of the Spirit, making them bold in their witness, alive in the Word, and vibrant and intimate in their relationship with the Lord.
We too will never be left as spiritual orphans, and He’s given the ministry of His Spirit to guarantee it. Do you feel the security and freedom in that? You have an advocate in heaven, Jesus, standing on your behalf before the Father. You have a heavenly Father desiring for you to come to Him as His child, placing your implicit trust and love in Him. And finally, you have an advocate here on earth, the Holy Spirit, assuring you of these realities and actively completing the good work in you.
He has done everything. May our life-song sing to Him!