Spirit-Filled Teaching

  • by Postcards From Corinth

We can't afford to not get this right.

Let's begin with an honest evaluation. For a ministry committed to teaching the Spirit-filled life, we've done a pretty lousy job of explaining it. As a young Christian, I sat through seminars of people making chocolate milk, illustrating the influence of the Spirit, and always left wondering what the heck I was being asked to do. Worse, I made chocolate milk in student seminars not knowing what the heck I was saying.

We are all agreed that there is nothing more foundational to the Christian life than reliance upon the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. For it is the other half of the gospel message: Christ died for our sins but was resurrected and desires to live His resurrected life through us. He accomplishes this by proxy: the indwelling third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

I thought it most productive in helping us disciple others in the ministry of the Holy Spirit to give greater background and context to our understanding of the Holy Spirit's ministry, for a better understanding of these concepts will elevate the level of our teaching.

THE OLD TESTAMENT CONTEXT

One of the great books of  our time on the ministry of the Holy Spirit is Gordon Fee's Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God . In one of his chapters, Fee provides the Old Testament context for the anticipated fulfillment of God's promise to send His Spirit.

I think without this context, the full impact of the notion that God's presence indwells us will always evade us. Here is a brief summary of that history:

OUT OF EGYPT

It's about 1446 B.C. and as the Israelites venture out of Egypt to find the land God has promised to them, they stop at Mount Sinai where God's presence dwells. This fact was impressed upon the people by rumblings, smoke, and fire that came from the mountain. At Mount Sinai, God tells Moses, the Israelites' leader, His presence will leave the mountain and He will go with them to the Promised Land. God reveals to Moses that a portable temple known as the Tabernacle, or the Tent of Meeting, will house His presence on the journey. Chapter upon painful chapter describes the exact instructions for making this Tabernacle.

What distinguishes this wandering nation from all nations of the world is that the presence of God goes with them everywhere. They will be known as the "People of His Presence." Equally symbolic, as they camp along the journey, the Tabernacle is always erected in the midst of the tribes and clans of Israel-God's presence is in their midst.

When they first erect the Tabernacle, they know immediately that God's presence is in their midst. In Exodus 40:34-35, we read:

Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting
because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

Was it always that smoky in the Tabernacle? No, this happened only at the inaugural erection of the Tabernacle. God gave them a visual aid that His presence was truly among them. It was quite a thing to conceive that the God of the universe tabernacled or dwelled among men.

THE TEMPLE

Remember that the Tabernacle was like a portable Temple. It was constructed like an enormous tent—God under the big top. God's place of dwelling among the Israelites would remain in this portable housing for about 450 years until King David's son, Solomon, built the actual Temple—a more permanent structure.

It's now about 980 B.C. God tells Solomon to build the Temple in Jerusalem as the permanent dwelling place for the Lord's presence among His people. Solomon builds it, and on Inauguration Day, or the day of dedication for the Temple, the same amazing phenomenon happens again. Once again, there is no doubt that God's presence has filled the Temple.

When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying,"He is good; his love endures forever" (2 Chronicles 7:1-3).

The Temple was the hub of Israel. It was the symbol of God's presence dwelling among them. Everyone traveled to the Temple several times of year, because this is where the presence of God dwelled.

Here's where the story could get confusing. Several hundred years later (about 600 B.C.), due to continued disobedience to God, the Israelites are exiled from their land by the invading Babylonians. Jerusalem is ransacked and Solomon's Temple is demolished.

In their exile, preachers, called prophets, tell the Israelites that they will once again be restored to their land and that they will again enjoy the presence of God in their midst. Sure enough, 70 years later, through God's miraculous provision, the Israelites are enabled to return to their homeland, Israel. Their first order of business is to rebuild the Temple, the symbol of God's presence.

THE REBUILT TEMPLE

So, they rebuild the Temple (now about 520 B.C.), but with little resources. It's a pretty scrawny looking Temple. It looks more like a movie theatre than a house of worship. Still, they dedicate their new Temple just as Solomon did. But, low and behold ... nothing. No sparks. No smoke. Nothing.

This disappointment, along with more messages from the prophets, inspired a national expectation that there was another Temple yet to come. A future Temple, more glorious than even Solomon had constructed would eventually be built. When the Messiah came, He would be the one to rebuild the Temple and God's Spirit would be poured out in an abundance that they had never experienced or could imagine (Haggai 2).

THE COMING OF CHRIST

We now fast forward to 32 A.D. Israel is once more dominated by a foreign power, the Roman Empire. Jesus, the Messiah, had come. He was crucified and resurrected. Many probably wondered if he had been the Messiah, why was there no new Temple? Why were the Israelites not liberated? Why was God's Spirit not poured out in overflowing measure like the prophets had foretold? But then we read in the second chapter of Acts:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:1-4).

Throughout the rest of Acts there is a new dynamic. We read "and the Spirit told them to go here," and "the Spirit led them there," and the disciples were "filled with the Spirit," and "spoke in the Spirit." People were being healed, the disciples preached powerful messages, and people believed in Christ. It was apparent that God's presence was once again in the midst of His people. His protection, wisdom, direction, and power were all back, and in ways more dramatic than ever experienced in the history of God's people.

Now, if you're a Jewish Christian—like the disciples—you'd be ecstatic. The anticipation of the powerful coming of the Holy Spirit throughout the Old Testament is a hallmark of the Messiah's reign. You would finally be able to tell your neighbors, "Hah! Told you so! Jesus is the Messiah." But you would also have one big question: Where in the world is the new glorious Temple the Messiah was going to build to house His Presence? Then, it dawns on you-you are the new temple. God's presence dwells within you. His Holy Spirit is inside of you! And, well, you freak out. How could you ever sin again with His Holy presence within you?

Now, I know that was a terribly long story. But, you simply must appreciate this amazing truth: God dwells in you. And, if we need to drudge up 1500 years of Jewish history to appreciate it, it is well worth it.

Go through these passages with your disciples so they can grasp this ungraspable truth. It also makes it clear why Paul, in dealing with sexual morality, sees as the greatest scandal that we would bring such impurity into the new house of the Lord.

INFLUENCE CONTEXT

History provides a helpful context, but it doesn't answer the most pressing question,"How does the Holy Spirit actually exert control over our lives?" It's kind of like finding yourself married without the clear understanding of how two separate wills are supposed to function as one—how do we both control the checkbook? Scripture gives us an instructional analogy I've found useful in helping others understand the dynamics of living a life under the influence of the Spirit.

In Ephesians 5:18, it says, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery, instead be filled with the Spirit." This is a commonly quoted verse in connection with the Spirit-filled life. But one is compelled to ask, "What does getting drunk on wine have to do with being filled with the Spirit?" The link between drinking and being filled with the Holy Spirit seems to be the concept of control or influence. On this account they are similar. Contrasted, however, drinking alcohol is a counterfeit to the reality found in the Spirit. Because the way and manner by which the Holy Spirit influences us is somewhat mysterious, or at least not easily measurable, the parallel of drinking might offer us a backdoor into a better understanding of how the Holy Spirit exerts His control within our lives.

WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE TO BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT

Interestingly, this is not the first place that drinking and the Holy Spirit occupy the same passage of Scripture. Acts 2 contains the story of the Holy Spirit's first descent upon the church. As onlookers witnessed the effects of the Spirit upon the believers in the crowd, they become convinced that the Christians were actually drunk. Peter stands up and explains, "These men are not drunk, as you suppose" (Acts 2:15).

So what is it about being filled with the Spirit that would cause people to suspect that a large keg party was underway? One manifestation would be the open display of love. As alcohol removes inhibitions, those intoxicated are much freer with their emotions and affections. Likewise, a hallmark of the Holy Spirit's work in our lives is a greater capacity to love, demonstrated in words or actions. Next, people turn to alcohol for comfort in difficult times. In contrast, the Holy Spirit is referred to in Scripture as the great Comforter. Life is hard and the Holy Spirit promises comfort and the ability to live above life's circumstances. There is also great boldness exhibited by those who have been drinking. They are liable to say anything to anyone for any reason. Similarly, after the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples, we next see them boldly proclaiming the good news about Jesus Christ.

There are other comparisons we could make, but you get the picture. While alcohol is a good example of an unhealthy influence affecting our wills and behavior, similar effects can be noted in states of rage, lust, or greed. Yet in all of these examples, we get a better picture of what it means to have a foreign influence affect our thoughts, feelings, and behavior, while not eclipsing our individual personality.

THE CONTRAST

While, in some ways, this helps us to better understand the influence or empowerment by the Holy Spirit, realize that alcohol is a cheap counterfeit (or expensive counterfeit depending on the brand). What people are really thirsting for is the presence of God.

Alcohol-induced states only create the temporary illusion of a reality that only the Spirit can produce in our lives. In fact, alcohol's control tends to be coercive, and usually means a loss of our own will and control. In Matthew 20:25, Jesus says, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them ... not so with you." Jesus is telling the disciples that their leadership and influence should be of loving encouragement, not coercion and domination. Such is the Spirit's influence.

HOW CAN WE BE MORE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT?

As we have looked at alcohol as an example, we may further note that there are differing degrees of intoxication. Likewise, there are differing degrees by which a person can be controlled or influenced by the Holy Spirit. While sin hinders the influence of the Spirit, there are clearly things we can do to improve our sensitivity to the Spirit's leading, making His presence more acute. Frequent prayer throughout the day, for example, avails us much more to the Spirit's direction than if our day is prayerless. We'll consider here five things that contribute to greater influence by the Spirit.

COMPLETE SUBMISSION TO THE WILL OF GOD

How does one become more drunk? They consume more alcohol. In the case of the Holy Spirit, we have all of Him that we will ever have. What determines how much influence the Spirit has over us is how much of us we let Him consume, or how much of our lives are we willing to allow Him to control? The question we must consider is: Do we desire to live for His will above our own in every area of life (dating, vocation, relationships, etc.)?

This decision to submit to the Lord is both progressive and critical. It is progressive in the sense that we are always becoming aware of new areas into which we have never brought God or submitted to Him. It is critical, meaning a point in time, in the sense that there are critical junctures in our Christian lives where we tell God from our hearts, "I will do anything, or go anywhere you want. My life is yours."

CONFESSION

Sin is choosing to live our own way in order to satisfy our needs, wants, and desires, rather than living God's way. When we sin, we seize control of our lives from the Holy Spirit. We turn them over to our sinful desires. When we've sinned, we need to confess it to God. Confession literally means to agree with God. We agree that we have sinned without rationalizing or justifying our actions. We agree that Christ's death has paid the price for our sin, and thus, we are forgiven. We repent and that means turning back to God and agreeing to do things His way.

How do we maintain the Spirit's maximum influence on our lives? We keep short accounts of sin. As soon as the Spirit brings awareness of sin to our minds, we confess it immediately.

RELIANCE

Have you ever watched a cigarette smoker? Every time he senses a need in his life, he lights up. If he feels lonely, he lights up. If he feels scared or nervous, he lights up. If he needs confidence, he lights up. I find myself doing the same thing with food, music and coffee. Did you ever eat something when you weren't hungry? You realize later you were relying on food to fill your loneliness. Throughout each day, we sense the need for empowerment. Whether we're eaters, coffee drinkers, or smokers, all of us have this reflex. You feel a need for (fill in the blank.). God wants us to reflexively turn to Him throughout the day and ask for comfort, empowerment, wisdom, and direction from Him. This constant reliance on the Spirit keeps us intimately connected to the Lord throughout the day. It allows our thirst to be met by His living water.

CULTIVATING OUR HEARTS TOWARD GOD

In Ephesians 5:19-20, Paul talks about singing spiritual songs and hymns and having a thankful heart. The important lesson here as it relates to maximizing the Holy Spirit's influence over us is that we can foster an environment in our hearts that facilitates the control of the Holy Spirit. Just as going to the mall might foster materialism's control, so certain activities such as thanksgiving, praise, singing and prayer enhance the Spirit's influence. As we sing spiritual songs, and cloak our hearts with thanksgiving throughout the day, we find ourselves much more in tune with the Holy Spirit's direction, leading and presence.

COMMUNITY

It is in community with other Christians we experience a dynamic of the Spirit-filled life we can never experience alone because we encounter the Spirit who indwells the lives of others. We are empowered to live the Christian life as we receive encouragement and teaching from others. We find fresh life when we are able to share our sins and struggles. We are blessed as we pray together and minister to one another. The Christian life was never meant to be lived independent of the Spirit-empowered ministry of the larger body of Christ.

A PARADIGM OF INFLUENCE

For Spirit-led Christians it's not always helpful to think of the Holy Spirit's influence as either on or off, but rather how much we are allowing, cultivating, or hindering the Spirit's influence. We think instead of how we can maximize the Spirit's influence.

However, there are those who are not aware of the Spirit's ministry in their lives; they may not even know that He indwells them. They live their Christian life independent of the Spirit's power or have made decisions to walk away from His reign in their lives. This is the ministry context of the booklet called Satisfied, which introduces Christians to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. But before we look at Satisfied, it might be helpful to have a theological context for the booklet.

THEOLOGICAL CONTEXT

As we think about the Holy Spirit's ministry in our life, it's helpful to realize that different theological traditions and denominations hold viewpoints along a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum are those who focus on a Holy Spirit event, meaning there is a time and lordship decision, separate from conversion, when people yield their lives to the control of the Spirit, after which begins a process of walking in step with the Spirit. The focus here is on a Holy Spirit/ Lordship decision. Those in this camp often speak of three types of people: non-Christians, Christians who are indwelt but not empowered by the Spirit, and Spirit-empowered Christians.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who believe that our growth in the Spirit is a seamless and gradual process that begins the moment we trust Christ. The focus here is on the process. This camp holds that there are only two types of people: Christians and nonChristians, with Christians being at various places in their maturity and yielding to the Spirit.

With this as a theological context, a review of the Satisfied booklet reveals that it walks a fine line between both. For those who have never heard of the Holy Spirit, never understood that the Christian life is one yielded to God's authority, or thought that the Christian life was simply lived out in one's own strength, there is an opportunity to make a decision to yield to the Spirit's control—a Holy Spirit decision.

Yet for Christians familiar with the Holy Spirit, the main application of the booklet is to walk in the Spirit, which involves the daily process of reliance, yielding, confession of sin (spiritual breathing), and trusting God to empower us—the things we do daily to walk, or keep in step with the Spirit.

Great credit should be given for the effort it took to navigate through this theological minefield, seeking to address both needs and both audiences. However, in addressing both the process as well as a point-in-time decision, the booklet can be confusing.

Perhaps this context will help you focus your presentation to your audience: do they need to pray to be filled (did they not know of the Spirit's ministry), or do they simply need to know how to better walk in step with the Spirit-yielding control, confessing sin, moment-by-moment reliance?

SATISFIED CONTEXT

Rather than look at tips on how to share the Satisfied booklet, let's follow its theological flow, which should equip you to more effectively share it. It is the concepts you are sharing not just a booklet.

INTRODUCTION

(John 7:37-3 ). Jesus affirms the Old Testament promise that God would send His Spirit to satisfy our spiritual thirst. The sending of God's Spirit to enable His people to live Holy lives is a major theme in the Old Testament. This verse allows you to go back to those promises should you choose to.

THE GIFT

(John 14: 16-17). God has given the Spirit to us as a gift: His abiding and empowering presence in our lives. His presence allows us to experience: the love of God, assurance of being in the family of God, and a new and abundant life. In emphasizing that the Spirit is a gift you may want to point out that it is exactly like our salvation. We do not earn it, but trust God to provide what we cannot do for ourselves: live a holy life.