Tag Archives: HolySpirit

For Spiritual Teenagers

When a person discovers the truth about Jesus and surrenders to Him, the first few days and weeks of new life is filled with wonder — and also doubt.  Is it really true my sins are forgiven?  Is God really accessible to me as my Father?  In John’s first letter he “sings a song” to those who experience those doubts.  He calls them “dear children” and reassures them of the truth of  those promises.  (See: No Doubt)

But following Jesus isn’t just about coming to faith in Jesus, it’s a lifelong process of learning to consistently live according to Jesus’ “upside-down” understanding of reality.  Jesus’ teachings tend to contradict the knee-jerk reactions we learn from the world.  His command to love with self-sacrifice is perhaps the most stark example of that (See: John vs. John Lennon).  Living by Jesus’ teachings is only possible by the power of His Holy Spirit within us.

Most of us are like spiritual teenagers.  We have passed the excitement and wonder of new life in Christ and are now experimenting and learning how to live this new life.  Frequently we stumble with painful awkwardness.  John “sings his song” to us, too.  He says:

I write to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one  (1 John 2:13b)
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.  (1 John 2:14b)

Addressing us as “young men,” John repeats his most urgent reminder:  “you have overcome the evil one.”  Peter, from first hand experience, knew that “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a restless lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  Lions look for the weak and the frightened.  They don’t waste their energy on those who know they are strong.   That’s why John wants us to know, in the adolescence of this new life in Christ, that we have overcome the evil one.

How did we do that?  Jesus did it, on our behalf, on the cross.  Without meaning to diminish the sacred significance of the crucifixion in any way, it was the ultimate “rope a dope.”  Jesus allowed Satan to take his best shot.  And then He got back up.  In Him we have overcome Satan.

It doesn’t feel  that way, though, does it?  In a fight, or in most athletic contests, there are many things that happen that cause us to feel as though we have lost.  But the person that knows he will win, the one who can feel it in his bones, generally does win.  In our case, John says, we have already won!  

John also reminds us “adolescents in Jesus” that we are strong.  How so?  It’s not in our own strength, but “…because the Word of God lives in you.”   He doesn’t mean we have memorized a bunch of Scripture, although that is a good thing to do.  It is the “logos” of God, the mind and mindset of God that lives in us by His Holy Spirit.

If you have not yet surrendered to Jesus, keep looking and investigating until you become convinced of Who He really is.  None of this will fully make sense to you until you experience it in Jesus.  If you have surrendered by faith, if you have received the new life of the Holy Spirit, then John wants you to understand that the struggle you experience is a normal part of the deal.  It’s as normal as a teenager’s voice cracking when he tries to ask a girl to go to the prom.   But, as you struggle with these various, normal temptations, remember these truths:  you have already won the fight against Satan, and it is the Spirit of God, the Living Word of God in you in Whom you are strong.

Hate is Blind

They say “Love is blind” but John says they got it wrong.  Hate is blind.  Here it is:

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.  (1 John 2:9-11)

Love, as Jesus taught it, is a radical choice to put aside what I want so I can take care of what you need.  Hate is the opposite:  taking care of what I want instead of ministering to what you need.  Thus, the default attitude of the world – take care of number 1, in effect is hate.

The interesting thing, is that John says people hate  because they have been blinded by “the darkness.”  The darkness, in John’s words, is the attitude of people in the world who have not received the Holy Spirit.  They live in the darkness and are blinded by it.

Jesus, on the other hand, John says, is the Source of “Light.”

In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:4-5)

John’s logic (and Jesus’ “logos”) leads us to this conclusion:  If we understood reality the way Jesus does, if we had not been blinded by the ways of the world, we would naturally love.  Self-sacrificial love, Jesus’ kind of love, would make more sense to us than selfishness or hate.   Trouble is, people don’t like to change.  Radical, “upside down,” ideas are threatening to our comfortable rhythms as we live in the “same-old same-old.”    That’s why Jesus said:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.   (John 3:19)

This is a tough teaching.  Tough, but true.  How is it with you?

The Light You Shine

John wrote in a confusing way about an “old command” that is a “new command.”  (For more about that, see: John vs. John Lennon)  The “old command” (Love your neighbor) is made new, by Jesus redefining what love is.  Jesus’ kind of love, the “new command” He gave, is simple to describe but impossible to do.  Love, He taught, is a choice to put aside what I want in order to minister to what you need.   Sounds simple, but it is impossible on our own, because we are wired by our experiences in this world to “take care of number one” as a number one priority.  Jesus’ kind of love doesn’t make sense in our world; it only makes sense when you see the world through His lenses, His “logos.”  That Greek word, weakly translated in English as “word,” really goes way deeper.  It describes a whole mindset and understanding of reality.

When you read a book, and are observed doing so by your dog, your “logos” of what you are doing is very different from your dog’s “logos” of what is happening.  See that?

Jesus’ commands fit beautifully when you understand His “logos.”  In a very real sense, His commands are a part of His way of seeing reality.  That is why, in 1 John 2:7, John wrote, “This old command is the message (that’s the word, “logos”) you have heard.”

When you live in Jesus’ logos, His kind of love emerges in what you do, not from self-effort but from the Holy Spirit, living within you.   (See: Who Can Fix It?)  That is why John wrote about this “new command”:

…its truth is seen in him (Jesus) and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.  (1 John 2:8)

John said that the light of Jesus shines in those who have come to Him by faith.  Already.

You are probably thinking, “If this means I must perfectly resemble Jesus in every way, I’m so far off that mark it’s hopeless…”  Don’t freak out.  Instead, look carefully at the verbs in verse 8 above:

… its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness  is passing and the true light is already shining.  (1 John 2:8)

When someone surrenders to Jesus by faith, receiving His gift of forgiveness and fellowship with God, the Holy Spirit begins to live within his or her soul, as God always intended.  (See: Who Can Fix It?)  In John’s words, “the true light is already shining.”  However, that person is still profoundly shaped by all of life’s experiences and illusions.  Those habits, personality traits and outright addictions don’t simply vanish.  John says “the darkness is passing.”  

Picture a bright light shining in a room full of smoke so thick you can hardly see it.  A window is raised for fresh air to blow through the room.  The smoke is passing, but the light is already shining.

Jesus shines through the life of those who have fully trusted Him.  They are not perfect; they may not even be aware of how He is doing so at any one moment.  However, “the truth is seen,” John says, in Jesus and in you, too.    That’s how we know we know Jesus.  That’s how they know, too.

Facing the Truth about Sin

There was no “Delete” key in the first century.  So, when John wrote: “and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 john 1:7b), he needed to clarify what he meant.  John knew people would read that and ask if he was claiming that followers of Jesus become sinless.  So he explained:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:8-9)

There are people who claim to follow Christ and also claim to be sinless.  John says those folks are deceiving themselves.  More than that, he says  “the truth is not in [them].”  It’s important to understand that John is warning such people that they have not truly begun a relationship of faith with Jesus.  How can he be sure?  Jesus gives the Holy Spirit,  the “Spirit of Truth,” to everyone who truly believes and follows Him (John 14:17).  Jesus promised his followers, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”  (John 16:13a).   Someone who is self-deceived about sin is almost certainly also self-deceived about his relationship with Jesus.

But those who have the Spirit of Truth, will experience His Truth as it pertains to their condition, whenever they sin.  They will be painfully aware that they have sinned again (and again)!

John reassures such people that, as we acknowledge our sin (confess, or agree with what the Spirit has shown us), God is faithful to forgive us.  “Faithful” means we can count on Him to do so.   God also is just.”  How can it be just for God to keep on forgiving us?  God forgives us with complete and perfect justice because “the blood of Jesus”  (v.7) has paid the full penalty for our sin.  Do you struggle to wrap your mind around that?  Me too.  But it is the truth.

And it gets better:  John says, God, Who faithfully forgives us with justice, then “purifies us from all unrighteousness.”   When you screw up and sin, don’t you feel dirty?  Don’t you feel as though you are smeared with a stain that you cannot wash away?  Despite how you feel, the truth is, God lovingly washes you clean.  He restores you and gives you a clean slate.  It is hard for us to feel clean, and yet, in truth, we are clean.  Amazing…

But, you may be wondering, how often can we expect God to keep doing that for us?  Look back to the quote above and see it for yourself:  He cleanses us from “all unrighteousness.”  The word, all, literally means “each and every one.”   More amazing…

The more the Spirit makes us aware of how often we sin, the more the message of God’s forgiveness, His justice and His washing seems.  Amazing and very, very humbling.  But true.

The Good/Bad Meter

There is an old electronic meter, hanging on the wall of a recording studio near here.  It’s just for decoration; kind of looks like something out of Frankenstein.  Big old needle that swings back and forth – one side says “Good” and the other says “Bad.”  Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a meter like that in life?

We’ve been talking about what we can expect when we put our faith in Jesus and He installs His Holy Spirit in our souls.  We now have an “online” communication with God, causing us to live more in line with the way He designed us to operate.  Trouble is, we also have years and years of old, deeply ingrained habits, that compete with the Spirit.  Good and Bad, Spirit and Flesh (See: “Can I Do New Stuff?”).  Question is: how do we know when we are operating by the Spirit and when we are operating by our old habits?

The Bible has a “Good/Bad” meter of sorts in the book of Galatians.  Basically, it says you will know whether you are living by the Spirit’s direction or by the Flesh (they call it “sinful nature”), by looking at the end results of our behavior.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures,  idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,  envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. …

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.   (Excerpts from Galatians 5:19-23 New Living Translation)

Can I Do New Stuff?

Don’tcha love it when the software fairies announce that your computer operating system has just been updated?  Me? I seize up at first, thinking that they have just erased all my passwords and favorite tunes.  But then I go exploring, trying to figure out if, as a result of this new software, I can actually do new stuff.  When you trust Jesus, He gives you a new operating system – the Holy Spirit.  Question is, can you actually do new stuff?  Yes you can!  But, but, but…

At first, you may not notice any big change, because the Holy Spirit has been added to an operating system that has grown accustomed to operating without Him.  But soon enough, we start looking to see if we can do new stuff.

Think of your “self” in three parts: Body, Soul (your mind, emotion & will), and Spirit.  The Body takes orders from the Soul.  But where does the Soul get its information from?  We are designed to have the Spirit (of God) inform the Soul, so it can operate the Body correctly.  If we don’t have the Spirit, the Soul has to get all of its information from the Body (the eyes, ears and Facebook).  That is backwards.

The Bible calls a Body and Soul with no Holy Spirit, “flesh.”  Flesh is the nickname for our old operating system.  When God gives His Spirit to that person, now he has “flesh” and “Spirit.”   We have a new operating system, but we still have the habits we formed when all we had to work with was flesh.  Just like with new computer software, when you have to train yourself not to do things the old way, there is a natural conflict between our old habits (flesh) and our new operating system (Spirit).  It takes awhile to learn to operate (or “walk”) by the Spirit, instead of the flesh.  But that is how we discover the new stuff we can do.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV)

When you first read that, you might think it’s saying you have to stop having fun.  Nope.  It’s saying “Learn to use your new operating system, so you can do new stuff.”

Yeah, But What Can I Really Expect?

The friend I mentioned in the last post, who wanted to know what to expect from the Holy Spirit, is an engineer. He’s a practical guy, more comfortable with hand tools than he is with theology. “What’s going to happen to me with the Spirit,” he wants to know, “am I going to foam at the mouth; are my eyes going to roll around in my head? What?” He’s kind of like the guys Jesus hung out with. Some of them were fishermen. Probably had rock hard muscles, scarred and calloused hands. Jesus had just told them, “Guess what? I’m going to install my Spirit in you.” (John 14:15-21) Can you imagine saying something like that to your fishing buddies? If they didn’t just toss you into the lake, they would want you to speak plainly and tell them something they could understand.

That is the problem with the Holy Spirit. Even though we have all been designed to have Him living inside us, none of us start out that way. Trying to imagine what we can expect is kind of like a man born blind trying to imagine a sunset. So, when Jesus tried to explain what they could expect, he said it like this:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 )

Something is lost in translation. The word “remains” means to live in, permanently. “If a man lives in Me and I in him… he will bear much fruit.”

Grapevine

Grapevine (Photo credit: Wikipedia

Jesus’ fishing buddies would all have been able to “see it” when He talked about the vine (in this picture, the part growing straight up) and the branch (in this picture, the part that is attached to the vine and grows out to the right). Because that branch has the “life” of the vine flowing through it, it has lush, green leaves. When the season is right, it produces a couple of clusters of grapes. You can imagine how different the branch would look if you cut the connection to the vine, right? When we want to know what to expect from the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, “Picture what happens to a branch when it is attached to a vine.” When we are attached to Jesus, when we surrender in faith to Him and allow Him to do so, His life will flow through us and transform our lives, producing “fruit.”

But what do we have to do? How does the grape branch manage to produce the grapes? How hard does it have to work? How much does it have to know so it will do the right thing? Nothing! The fruit emerges naturally because it has the life of the vine flowing through it. Jesus said, “When you make your life in Me (His metaphor for believing fully in Him), My life will flow through you (His metaphor for the Holy Spirit.) And, He said, “you WILL bear much fruit.” How will you do so? By doing what a branch does.

But what does this “fruit” look like? Is this the part where I become the church lady? For a branch of grapes, the fruit looks like grapes. For a branch of pumpkins it looks very different. That’s because the design of the branches is different. Your fruit probably will not look like mine. But fruit from the Holy Spirit, like fruit from a branch, tastes good, feels good and refreshes those it is given to. When the life of Jesus flows through a person who has come to live in Him, Jesus causes that person to produce good things that restore and refresh others.

That’s what you can expect. Next time we’ll go deeper on what the fruit looks like.

What Can I Expect?

A buddy of mine asked, “I hear so much about the Holy Spirit: Who is He and what can I expect if He comes to me?” The first answer is the Holy Spirit is God. He is the form in which God lives inside humans, enabling us to know God and respond to God. That’s the second answer. It’s kind of like this: Satellites send an invisible, wave of energy to your GPS device, that enables it to be a GPS, to become more than just a dead box of hardware and software. When the GPS gets the signal, it becomes fully alive, which means it is now able to operate the way it was designed to operate. God sends His Holy Spirit to those who will receive Him, so that we can operate the way we were designed to operate.

This is not some new change of plans for God; He has always had it in mind to do this. 700 years before Jesus, He told Ezekiel about His plan:

And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:28)

God’s plan is to to put His Spirit in us and make us fully alive. Religion tells us to try harder to obey the rules. God tells us, “I will put My Spirit in you and cause you to live as I have designed you to live” (my paraphrase of Ezekiel 36:27-28). When we operate as we were designed to operate, we become fully alive. In other words, God’s Spirit is our life.

Jesus once shocked and startled people by saying:

“I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (John 6:53b)

But then He explained what He meant. He said:

“Does this offend you? … The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. (John 6:61-63 – excerpts)

The Spirit of God, living in us – guiding us, empowering us, connecting us to God in real time – is our life. With Him installed, we become fully alive. With that idea in mind, chew on these other quotes from Jesus:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10b)

“…I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. … Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. (John 14:16b-20 excerpts)

Obviously, my friend needed more of an answer than those short tidbits. And we will go into it further in future posts. But, if this is new to you, chew on it. It is the essence of the fresh bread of life. Perhaps if you chew on it, one day you will be ready to swallow it.

The Source of Power in Faith

There is a commonly held, new-age idea that belief – belief in anything – in and of itself, does powerful, good things for you.  Sounds nice, but it is nonsense.  A buddy of mine believed he was a magpie (Ahh, yes — remember the 70’s?).  His belief was confusing but it was not powerful.  But there is something powerful going on when God uses faith to interact and connect to humans  (See: “Loud and Clear”).  But how is that faith any different?  Where does the power come from?  Faith is a necessary ingredient, but it doesn’t do the work.  God does.

It’s sort of like this: If I want to start using Facebook, I can’t just do it because my computer is not automatically equipped for it. First, I have to ask the folks at Facebook to send me a download of software or an “App.”  I receive it, install it, and then my computer is enabled to make that connection. Something similar goes on when God connects to people by faith.  It is a powerful something, something that is rarely explained, even by Christians.

Before any connection to God is made by faith, a “download” is necessary.  But it isn’t software God gives you, it is something alive – Someone alive –  the Holy Spirit.  God comes and lives in you, by His Holy Spirit.  Really!   It starts when someone has an “Aha!” moment of understanding that Jesus is God, Who has come to us in understandable human form (See: “One Plus Two Equals One”).  When a person crosses that threshold of faith, their natural response is to want to draw closer to God, to communicate with Him.  God connects interactively with people who believe like that.   But it isn’t the act of believing that makes the connection happen.  It’s the “download” from God, the Gift from God that powers it up. Here’s how Jesus said it.

 “If you [really believe in Me] I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  (John 14:15b -17 – with my added clarification )

This is the key. This is how and why  faith connects us.  God gives us His Spirit and by that Spirit, He lives within us. Really!  It’s so fantastic, so unexpected, that Jesus practically stood on His head to explain it.  He said:

Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.  (John 14:19-20)

Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  (John 14:23)

 

This process of receiving  (downloading and installing!) the Holy Spirit is so crucial, that, after His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples to wait for the Spirit before they tried to do anything.

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…   But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…”  (Excerpts from Acts 1:4-8]

When God gives His Spirit, as a response to faith, and therefore lives in a human soul, that soul becomes alive in a powerfully new and full way.  God’s Spirit is “born” in him or her.  That is why Jesus told a religious teacher he must be “born from on above” (commonly translated as “born again” – John 3:1-3).  He said that physical birth is not enough for complete life, for truly connecting to God:

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  (John 3:5-7)

It starts with faith.  Faith is how we reach out to God to receive His Spirit.  But God’s Spirit makes the connection and brings the new life.  Therein is the astonishing power in faith.

Who’s the Best? Who’s the Blessed?

Which son was the best: the obedient, older son or his wild and reckless brother – the one we call the “Prodigal Son?”   If you haven’t read through that challenging parable of Jesus recently, you can find it at this link:  or in the Gospel of Luke in chapter 15:11-32.  But which kid was the best in his father’s eyes: the one that took his inheritance early and ran off to lose it all in wild living?  Or was it the one who faithfully stayed home and worked hard on the farm?  That sounds like an easy question, unless you’ve ever been a father.

At the end of Jesus’ story, the younger, wilder brother has been reconciled to his father and is enjoying a joyous homecoming celebration.  The older and more responsible brother is outside, sulking  by himself, missing the party.  But notice the attitude of the father.  When he saw the younger brother was coming home, he saw him a long way off and ran to meet him.  When he heard the older boy was refusing to come in  to the party, he went out and pleaded with him to come in.  The father loved both boys and yearned for them both to be in close fellowship with him.  He went out to find both boys.  As far as the father is concerned, they are both loved.

So why is one brother, the one who didn’t deserve it, reunited in close fellowship with his father and why is the good boy estranged?  The difference was the turning point in the attitude of the younger brother.  He realized that he had separated himself from his father and did not deserve to be considered a son.  And then he turned around, with no excuse and nothing to offer, to ask his father to take him on as a hired hand.  If you have been chewing on the “Fresh Bread” from Isaiah 57:15 (See “In a Nutshell”), this was the moment when the younger son became “lowly and contrite.”  God told Isaiah He would live with the person who was lowly and contrite in order to bring that person back to life.  That life, we have shown, is the Spirit of God, living in the soul of a person, connecting him or her to God the Father in an intimate and interactive way.  This was the way God designed us to live.  It is no accident that Jesus ended His parable with the father telling the older son, “…this brother of yours was dead and isalive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:32b)

God designed us to be fully alive, fully reconciled to Him.  His life is full life and He yearns to give that life, His Spirit, to anyone who will accept it.  Which necessarily means anyone who turns around and comes home to Him “without one plea.”  The trouble is, we humans  want to work to be good enough to be loved by God.  Just like the older brother.  There is no real life standing outside  with the older brother, with your arms crossed and your lower lip sticking out,   There is no reconciliation for those who cling to self-righteous pride.

If your little boy or your young daughter came to you and said, “Daddy (or Mommy), if I clean up my room and make my bed, then will you love me?” how would you respond?   Your child cannot earn your love; it is logically impossible because love is a gift.  It’s that way with parents and also with God.  God is our Loving Father.

Which son is best, which son blessed?   Better yet, which son (or daughter) are you?

PS – There is a reason it feels right to us to try to earn God’s love.  Stay tuned…