Late one night, at the Apple warehouse, a box of new iPhones were engaged in a casual competition to see which one of them was the best. Unexpectedly, one of the phones was connected to a cell phone signal and then to the WiFi. The other phones sensed something was amiss and asked him, “What’s that goofy look on your face; what’s going on?” “I don’t know how to explain what I’m experiencing, but it is almost as though I came to life for the first time.” The other phones considered him weird and ostracized him.
Okay, maybe that didn’t really happen, but it illustrates the problem of answering the question we posed last time (See: Who is in Control?): “How do I know when I have received the Holy Spirit?” If you have received Him, you probably agree it’s pretty hard to find words to describe the experience. But a pretty good start is to say it feels a bit like coming to life in a new way and for the first time.
Some will tell you that receiving the Holy Spirit is always accompanied by speaking in unknown languages, or by falling down and twitching, by hysterical laughter or even barking like a dog. Perhaps all of these things have occurred to some as they received this mysterious and powerful new life, but it is nonsense to insist that everyone will respond in the same way. Paul made that point in an extended argument you can read in 1 Corinthians 12 through 14.
Let me suggest a couple of telltale signs of new life in God’s Spirit. The first one is that you will begin to notice basic changes in how you think, what you see, what kinds of things are most important, etc. You may think to yourself, “Well, that wasn’t like me…” One of the changes I noticed pretty quickly was a desire to read the Bible, when I formerly had found it incredibly dull. That wasn’t like me. The changes might be very subtle, and even more noticeable to others. The night I crossed the line of faith and received the Spirit, when I walked in the front door, my wife looked up and said, “Something is different about you; what’s going on?” I don’t know what she saw or sensed.
Secondly, these changes will not fade over time but, instead, will grow. They are not simply temporary emotional responses, such as what you might experience if you get a promotion, but living and growing changes, as you gradually become more attuned to the life of God’s Spirit within you.
Eventually, the life of the Holy Spirit will produce fruit. Jesus spoke of the difference between a superficial religious experience and one that was genuine. He said, those who genuinely come to new life in Him don’t wither away when trouble comes but continue to grow and produce fruit (see: Matthew 13:1-23). What does this fruit look like? Paul says it looks like this:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” – Galatians 5:22–23 (NIV84)
And you think, “Whoa… that’s not like me!” Notice that these “fruit” changes are external, they impact others around us. The changes and then the fruit grow as the Spirit changes our character and attitudes to more closely resemble God’s.
Eventually, the Spirit gives us new aptitudes and abilities – gifts of the Spirit. And we’ll take that up next time.
P.S. – If you are concerned about your situation and need to run some questions past someone, I strongly encourage you to seek out a local pastor, one who is comfortable with the concept of what it means to be born again.