The Transforming Power of God's Spirit

Lesson 9, Part 3


The Holy Spirit in the Church

How vital is the Holy Spirit to our relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ?

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by [which] we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit [itself] bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:14-17).

Only those who have God the Father and Jesus the Son dwelling in them through the power of the Holy Spirit are considered “children of God.”

Notice that God leads His children with His Spirit. He does not drive them. God’s Spirit empowers only those who choose to serve Him. That explains why Paul wrote: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:12-13).

Paul is telling us that God, through His Spirit, will help us live righteously. If we respond He will instill more and more of His divine nature and character in us. But He will not force us. We must trust Him to help us so we can act in faith. As we need more faith, He will provide it (Ephesians 2:8; compare Psalms 1:1-3).

Is it possible to be a true Christian without the Holy Spirit?

“So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit [which] dwells in you” (Romans 8:8-11).

Anyone who claims to be a converted follower of Christ who has not truly repented and received the indwelling power of God through the Holy Spirit is sorely mistaken about his status in God’s sight. Such a person’s outlook on life is still being shaped mostly by his fleshly feelings, desires and impulses because “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another …” (Galatians 5:17).

Notice that Paul spoke of the Holy Spirit proceeding from both the Father and Jesus. The Scriptures represent the Spirit’s divine power as available to us from either of Them. But it is represented as the same Spirit—with no distinction. As Paul explains: “There is … one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling” (Ephesians 4:4).

Why, in addition to spiritual strength, do we need the Holy Spirit?

“Now we did not receive the spirit of the world, but we received the Spirit that is from God so that we can know all that God has given us. And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom but with words taught us by the Spirit. And so we explain spiritual truths to spiritual people” (1 Corinthians 2:12-13, NCV).

Jesus told His disciples, “… It has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them [who are not disciples] it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11). Without God’s Spirit no one can fully comprehend the Holy Scriptures. God’s help, through His Spirit, is essential for us to attain that level of understanding.

Should we ask God to guide us, through His Spirit, to rightly understand the Scriptures?

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13).

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, [which] the Father will send in My name, [it] will teach you all things …” (John 14:26).

“However, when [it], the Spirit of truth, has come, [it] will guide you into all truth …” (John 16:13).

From the above scriptures it is clear that God does the guiding, and He does it through His Spirit.

Does God expect us to spiritually mature and grow?

“We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15, NRSV).

“You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17-18, NRSV).

“… As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).

When we receive God’s Spirit we are no more than spiritual infants. But we should begin growing by quickly learning the basics of God’s way of life, by thriving on the milk of the Word. If we do, God will work in us, though the Holy Spirit, to transform our lives.

Is effort on our part necessary?

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

“My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:1-5).

God expects us to study the Holy Scriptures so we will correctly understand them. He wants us to learn how to effectively apply His Word in our in daily lives. The Scriptures tell us that “solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

In contrast, those who neglect spiritual growth are told: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe” (Hebrews 5:12-13). As our knowledge of God’s Word increases, our skill in discerning the proper application of its spiritual principles should also greatly increase.

Notice Paul’s prayer for God’s converted children: “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height; to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).

Paul prayed that God would help His children to discern His will, to comprehend the intent of His Word. Through His Spirit God helps us incorporate this understanding into our character—patterning it after His character, His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). With our cooperation, He writes the principles embodied in His laws in our hearts and minds (Hebrews 8:10).

The marvelous process of developing character is a miracle. We could never accomplish it by ourselves. That is why Paul wrote: “For by grace [God’s loving gift] you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

No amount of effort on our part, unless it is accompanied by the power of God’s Spirit, would ever shape us into what God wants us to be. But with His Spirit working in us we become His workmanship—enabled to perform works truly pleasing to Him. We can comprehend what those righteous works are because God helps us, through the power of His Spirit, to discern how to observe the spirit (the intent) of “every word of God” (Luke 4:4).

How does the Bible define the “good works” we should “walk in”?

“But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:35).

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13).

“[Christ] gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).

“They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work” (Titus 1:16).

A “lawless deed” cannot qualify as a “good work.” Rather, one who “works righteousness” is also known by his “good conduct.” Jesus stressed this truth when He said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:23).

In contrast, through the power of the Holy Spirit God writes His laws in our hearts and minds, enabling us to obey the Scriptures (Hebrews 10:15-16; Ezekiel 36:26-27). As Peter wrote: “Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:14-15, NRSV).

Righteous works are simply the application of the principles found in God’s Word—performed through the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, as Jesus reminds us: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4). We can consistently do this, however, only if God works in us through His Spirit.

The Letter and Spirit of the Law

The teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are revolutionary—not because He annulled the laws God revealed, but because He expanded them, showing their spiritual intent.

Notice, in His familiar words in the Sermon on the Mount, His teaching about the commandments of God: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus spoke plainly. God’s law is not abolished, and, according to Christ’s own words, anyone who teaches otherwise directly contradicts Him and is in serious trouble (Matthew 5:18-19).

Some people assume and teach that we do not need to keep God’s law because Jesus “fulfilled” it. But they fundamentally misunderstand Christ’s clear words. The word translated fulfill in this passage means “to make full, to fill to the full” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, “Fill”). The same word is used of filling up nets with fish (Matthew 13:48). In the same way that a fisherman fills his nets with fish, Jesus perfectly “filled up” the law of God. He perfectly kept the Ten Commandments, including the spiritual intent of God’s laws and how we should apply them.

How did Jesus expand on the law, showing its fuller and deeper spiritual intent? Notice one example in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

The immoral act of committing adultery is defined as a sin by the Seventh Commandment (Exodus 20:14). Yet the literal wording of that commandment—the letter of that law (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)—does not fully reflect God’s intent. Jesus showed that the spirit of the law—its spiritual intent—is much broader than the letter and encompasses even our thoughts toward others. Lustful thoughts, He taught, are mental, emotional and spiritual adultery and are contrary to a basic principle of His will—loving our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39).

Similarly, Christ expanded the intent of the Sixth Commandment, which prohibits murder (Exodus 20:13). “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22, New Revised Standard Version). Jesus explained that uncontrolled or unjustified anger can break the spirit of the Sixth Commandment.

He continued: “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all … But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:33-37).

Jesus’ teaching about oaths illustrates another aspect of applying the spirit of the law rather than just the letter of such biblical commands. In this example the spiritual principle underlying the law demands that those who serve God should be truthful in everything they say. They should not have to be required to swear an oath before their words can be regarded as honest and factual. Therefore the commandment telling us not to “bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16) should mean far more to us than only being required to tell the truth if we are under an oath. Jesus made the New Testament application of this command even more demanding by saying, “Do not swear at all.”

With the help of His Spirit, God enables us to discern that the intent of a law may extend far beyond the letter—the exact wording—originally written in the five books of the law, the first five books of the Bible. God expects us to look at specific problems that the written laws address and discern how we should apply the intended principles of those laws in reference to the spirit or intent of all of God’s Word as magnified by Christ and His apostles.

This requires a wisdom and spiritual balance that we can attain only if we are guided by God’s Spirit. Those who do not have the Spirit of God simply do not have this discernment. Rather, they naturally tend to be “hostile” to God’s laws (Romans 8:7, NIV) and perceive them as “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 2:14). They do not see them as the wisdom of God that needs to be properly discerned and “correctly handled” (2 Timothy 2:15, NIV).

God will help us, through His Spirit, to begin to discern how to apply the principles contained in the Scriptures in this manner—to discern and comprehend the proper application of those Scriptures. This means that the standards for our conduct will be even higher than those expressed in the literal words—in the letter of the laws—recorded for us in the Old Testament.

Jesus illustrates this with two other examples. First, He explains: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees [who prided themselves in obeying the letter of the law] you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20; compare Luke 18:11).

He also taught: “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do’ ” (Luke 17:10). Our righteousness has to exceed the letter of the law. We become profitable servants of God only if we begin to discern and apply to the way we obey Him the primary principles (such as faith, hope, love, justice, good judgment and mercy) on which all of the Word of God is based.

God gives us His Spirit so we can properly discern and apply the spirit and intent of the Holy Scriptures. (To better understand the spiritual foundation and intent of God’s laws, be sure to request your free copy of the booklet The Ten Commandments .)

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