The Holy Spirit: Key to Real Change in Your Life

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The Holy Spirit

Key to Real Change in Your Life

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Seven weeks after Jesus’ resurrection, His followers were together in Jerusalem in observance of the annual Feast of Pentecost. Suddenly, the place they were gathered was filled with the sound of powerful wind. What appeared as tongues of fire came upon them, and they began to speak in different languages. In this way, God announced the pouring out of His Holy Spirit, as the prophets had foretold.

Pentecost is celebrated by many churches as a reminder of what happened to these early Christians when God poured out His Spirit on them.

The New Testament is filled with wonderful stories about people whose lives were dramatically changed when they received the indwelling of God’s Spirit. This same miraculous, life-changing Spirit is available today. It is a spirit not of fear but of power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7 2 Timothy 1:7For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
American King James Version×
).

Would you characterize your own life this way? Are you filled with fear? Or do you experience spiritual power and serve others with God’s love? Are you constantly wracked with guilt, hatred, lust, envy and confusion? Or do you have a sound mind?

What happens to people when they receive the Holy Spirit of God living in them, as the followers of Jesus did on that great day of Pentecost?

The power those early Christians received on Pentecost is the same power God wants to give you. Many passages in the New Testament describe how God’s Spirit interacts with human beings. In these stories we read about how God’s Spirit produced dynamic changes in their lives.

But it was not for that time only. God, in fact, wants to create those same changes in your life. He wants you to experience the conquering of fear and anxiety, replacing fear with spiritual power, unselfish love and a sound mind.

Let’s take a look at three aspects of the monumental change God’s Spirit can accomplish in your life.

1. God, through His Spirit, gives us meaning, guidance and comfort, resulting in a sound mind.

The human mind, with all of its complexity and abilities, is unable to understand great spiritual truths unless God reveals them to us—such spiritual truths as: Why were you born? Does God have a plan for your life? How can you even know God? How can you find happiness? Why is there so much suffering in the world?

We’re all looking for those “Aha!” moments, when we experience remarkable spiritual insight into life and death. But how can we trust that these moments aren’t just figments of our imagination or purely emotional responses?

We find the answer in the example of Saul of Tarsus in the New Testament. He was highly respected in the religious community, zealous for Jewish tradition to the point of persecuting the early Christian Church. Then one day Saul was literally knocked down and blinded by the resurrected Jesus Christ. Until this time Saul believed in God, but he rejected Jesus as the Messiah or Christ. Here, then, was a real “Aha!” moment, and it changed his life forever.

For three days Saul remained blinded from his encounter until God sent a teacher named Ananias to him. God gave Saul back his eyesight, and he was baptized and received the Holy Spirit. Saul became better known as the apostle Paul, one of the greatest teachers and writers in Christian history.

When you read about the life of Paul you find two important points about his great spiritual “Aha!” moment. First, when Christ revealed Himself to Paul, Paul’s life took a dramatic turn to a new direction God sent him in—and he chose to follow. He had to give up his dreams and desires, his time and effort, his whole life to God. Secondly, in reading Paul’s writings you see that he uses the Scriptures as the Word of God to define the changing path of his life.

Listen to what Paul writes to the Corinthians, combining thoughts from different scriptural passages: “But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him’” (1 Corinthians 2:9 1 Corinthians 2:9But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.
American King James Version×
). Paul is speaking of what God will do in your life and of the future He wants to give you in His Kingdom, which is beyond your imagination.

It takes an “Aha!” moment to understand what God is doing. But where do these spiritual insights even come from?

Listen to what Paul writes next: “But God has revealed them [His wonderful plans for our future] to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except [by] the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except [by] the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 [10] But God has revealed them to us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. [11] For what man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knows no man, but the Spirit of God.
American King James Version×
).

Prior to his conversion, Saul was absolutely sure he had it all together. He had a great deal of biblical knowledge. But without the Holy Spirit, his zeal was misguided, focused on persecuting the followers of the very Messiah he was waiting for.

Paul goes on, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 1 Corinthians 2:14But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
American King James Version×
). “But we,” he then states of those who have God’s Spirit living in them, “have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16 1 Corinthians 2:16For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
American King James Version×
).

We can’t know God the Father or Jesus Christ on our own any more than Saul could. God must be revealed to us. This probably won’t involve physical blinding, as in Saul’s special case. Rather, God through His Spirit can unlock the understanding and power of His word contained in the Bible. In this awesome book we discover the mind of Christ.

The power of the Holy Spirit in us is more important than outward expressions like speaking in tongues or even miracles. God gives us His Spirit to impart to us the mind of Christ, to lead us to His Word. We all desperately need the Holy Spirit to properly relate to God, understand the Bible and follow the right way to live. There isn’t much benefit in outward show of spirituality if the inner person isn’t becoming like Christ.

So how can the mind of Christ be developed in us? This brings us to a second aspect of the change we undergo in receiving God’s Spirit.

2. The Holy Spirit imparts into our hearts and minds the very nature of God.

We just read that through God’s Spirit we receive “the mind of Christ.” What does that mean?

Let’s face it: All of us are weak and fallible human beings. Many times we flounder through life with a vague realization that for all of our religious feelings and efforts at worship, nothing has really changed in our inner person. Perhaps you find that you’re still the same old person you used to be. Yet real change is possible.

Having the mind of Christ refers to a drastic change in the inner person. Also called “the mind of the Spirit” (Romans 8:27 Romans 8:27And he that searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
American King James Version×
), it comes through God the Father and Christ living in us through the Spirit.

The apostle Peter addresses this change in his letter known as 2 Peter. He states of God in verse 3 that “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue …”

Let’s stop for a moment and think about that. Peter says that through God’s divine power, the followers of Jesus Christ have been given “all things that pertain to life and godliness.”

In the darkest hours of your life or when you are faced with temptation to disobey God, when you suffer doubt, God’s Spirit will give you everything you need in this life, empowering you to overcome fear and replace it with power, love and a sound mind.

And whose sound mind will God develop in you? Well, Paul already told us. The mind of Jesus Christ (see also Philippians 2:5 Philippians 2:5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
American King James Version×
).

Returning to 2 Peter, let’s continue in verse 4: “… by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature” (emphasis added throughout). What would a person who has become a partaker of God’s very nature look and act like?

First of all, God’s Spirit doesn’t “possess” us and force us to obey God. It doesn’t erase our free will or ability to make choices. A person with the Holy Spirit dwelling in him can still sin—and sometimes still does. This can be a little disappointing to a new Christian. God’s Spirit doesn’t immediately erase our corrupt human nature, emotional problems, attraction to sin or the difficulties of everyday life. Rather, we must develop God’s character through regular use of God’s Spirit.

The Christian life is a journey. By submitting to the guidance of God’s Spirit, a person will experience a lifelong process of becoming like Christ. Paul’s encounter with the living Christ was only a beginning for him. He then spent the rest of his life trying to imitate Christ.

We must understand that momentary conversion is not enough. Consider this analogy: Let’s say you go to an awe-inspiring concert and have one of those “Aha!” moments. Music is now your passion, and you go home intent on being a virtuoso musician. You try through fits and starts, but you just don’t have the talent or perseverance to master an instrument. You try different ones but to no avail. You sign up for lessons, but go for only a month before dropping them. You know you won’t get better without practicing every day, but instead you just settle into a habit of watching inspiring performances on the Internet once a week.

Might this sound a little bit like your Christian lifestyle? You’ve discovered God. You want a relationship with Him. You try and fail, and you finally settle into going to church once a week—but you experience no real daily change in your life.

Once God gives us the “Aha!” moment, He must also supply us with the ability we need, as in this metaphor, empowering us through the Holy Spirit. You and I can’t develop the mind of Christ on our own. We must receive it from God. And once God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are required to practice our Christian lives every day, being led by the Spirit and changed by it.

This is why an emphasis on ecstatic speaking in tongues as the proof of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as some argue for, is actually a dangerous spiritual concept. The gift of tongues or languages given to the followers of Jesus in the book of Acts was a special sign to bring many into the Church in its early years and to help the gospel spread beyond the borders of Judea. The real proof of the presence of the Holy Spirit is that a person is becoming Christlike.

As noted earlier, Paul told Timothy that the Spirit God gives us is not one of fear but of power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7 2 Timothy 1:7For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
American King James Version×
). Is that evident in your own life? I asked this at the outset, but right now I want you to really look inside yourself, into your inner person, and give an honest answer. Are you filled with fear? Or do you experience spiritual power and serve others with God’s love? Are you constantly wracked with guilt, hatred, lust, envy and confusion? Or do you have a sound mind?

Again, the indwelling of God’s Spirit doesn’t instantly remove dysfunctional thoughts, emotions and behavior from our lives. But as the mind of Christ is developed in you, you will grow to overcome these faults. God wants to forgive you and heal you from your sins. And He further wants to replace your broken heart and mind with the fruit of His Spirit, which Paul lists as “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 Galatians 5:22-23 [22] But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, [23] Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
American King James Version×
).

The aspect of great change mentioned previously, the direction of God’s Spirit forming in us a sound mind, comes through this second aspect of the Spirit replacing our corrupted human nature with God’s own divine nature. And this is yet part of a third fundamental aspect of our spiritual change—a close family relationship.

3. Through the Holy Spirit living in us we become the children of God.

Going back to the story of the apostle Paul, think about the kind of man he was before he was called by God to be a Christian and apostle—when he was a religious Pharisee named Saul. Saul worshipped God and praised Him. He understood Him as Creator and tried to live by His laws. But he didn’t really understand God as Father and the nature of the divine family.

In his “Aha!” moment, when confronted by Christ, Saul was given insight into God the Father and Jesus Christ. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit that followed made plain to him the awesome reality of God’s love toward him as a father loves a child.

Note what Paul wrote to Christians in Romans 8: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship … [whereby] we cry, ‘Abba, Father’” (Romans 8:14-15 Romans 8:14-15 [14] For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. [15] For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
American King James Version×
, New International Version 1984).

Do you understand the meaning and power of Paul’s words?

When a person receives the indwelling of God’s Spirit, he or she literally becomes a son or daughter of God. This relationship allows us to come before the awesome, all-powerful Creator of the universe and cry out to Him as a little child before a loving parent.

I know not everyone can relate to the concept of a loving father, depending on their past personal experience. But Paul tells us that the most loving and caring father-child relationship we can ever experience is with God—in spite of how bad our relationship may have been with our own human fathers. He says we can cry out to God, “Abba, Father!”

Abba is an Aramaic word that expresses a tender intimacy and childlike trust along with respect—“Dear Father,” some translate it. Just think about a little girl who runs to her mom when she’s hurt. According to Paul, only those who are truly “led by the Spirit of God” can experience this intimacy with our Father in heaven.

Of course, there is more to being a child of God than just having the ability to relate to Him with the love and trust of a small child toward a parent. Children don’t stay little forever. They grow up, hopefully still trusting their parents and looking up to them. And most parents still have great love for their grown children, a love that motivates them to make sacrifices for their continuing well-being.

If children didn’t grow up, they would never experience a full life. They could never make it out in the world. Isn’t that the point of raising them—to protect and nurture them while teaching them, helping to equip them for real life? They need to learn how to handle hardship, to not be selfish and to make wise and moral decisions. Parents hope that their children will become well-adjusted adults who can then have the same parent-child relationship with their children.

This dynamic is parallel to our relationship with God when we are led by His Spirit.

We begin like very little children. We need Him, we run to Him with all of our problems, we cry out to Him in our times of need. And He’s there for us.

But He didn’t create us just to receive His love. No, we’re created to grow and to learn to love Him in return—and to love others made in His image. Jesus said that the greatest of the commandments is to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind, while the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).

As we are led by God’s Spirit we learn to love God—both the Father and Jesus Christ. God’s Spirit helps us to grow into spiritual maturity so that when we obey God we do it because we love Him. Jesus told His followers, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). To love God is to obey God!

And through His teachings we learn to love our fellow man as well. We learn a Christlike care and desire for all people to know God.

Let’s now consider what Paul said next in Romans 8: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17 Romans 8:16-17 [16] The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: [17] And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
American King James Version×
, King James Version).

Did you catch that? Paul here says that a person who is led by the Spirit of God becomes an heir to everything the Father owns.

Think about this for a minute. What does God not own? What is excluded in that promise? Nothing. God owns everything! This is the awesome future God has prepared for those who receive the indwelling of His Spirit.

But in the meantime, in the here and now, life can be very complicated and difficult. All of us face times when there seem to be no answers to the problems—when you cry out to God, “Abba, Father!” It might be an illness, or financial calamity, or the unfaithfulness of a spouse. And maybe in the darkness you can’t even pray, as no words come.

Be encouraged by Paul’s experiences with pain, hardship, loneliness and despair. Read what he wrote a little farther on here in Romans 8: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26, New Revised Standard Version).

Through His Spirit, God is intimately in touch with your thoughts and emotions. He understands you better than you understand yourself. He can guide you when there is no hope. Through His Spirit He will give you comfort when comfort seems impossible. When peace seems impossible, He can give you peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7 Philippians 4:7And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
American King James Version×
).

Saul the Pharisaic leader practiced religion. Paul the apostle had an intimate relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ through the Spirit of God. He and other Christians of the New Testament Church had within them the very power and nature of God to transform their lives—the Holy Spirit that made them God’s children and God their loving Father. You too need this power in your life!

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