Jesus' Parables for Disciples
The Holy Spirit is probably the least understood Person of the Godhead or Trinity. But when you became a Christ-follower, you had already experienced his work. (I am referring to the Holy Spirit a "He," because the Bible talks about him as a Person, not as just an impersonal force.) We are going to spend some time talking about him, because as you understand the dynamic of the Spirit in your life, you will be better able to cooperate with his working in you.
The word "spirit" comes from the word for "breath" or "wind" -- unseen, but powerful.
Convincing Work of the Spirit
The Holy Spirit's work began in you even before you committed your life to Christ. Jesus told his disciples of the Holy Spirit:
"When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment." (John 16:8)
In Greek, the language in which the New Testament was originally written, the same word can be translated "convict" and "convince." The Spirit both convinced you that Jesus was the Way and convicted or made you aware of, and ashamed of, your sins.
Likewise, when you tell someone about Christ, you can't "talk them into becoming a Christian." That is the Holy Spirit's responsibility. Instead, relax, trust God, love that person with all your heart, and say what God puts into your mind. Bringing people to faith in Christ is the Holy Spirit's work. You are the assistant, not the other way around.
Life-Giving Power of the Spirit
Jesus said to Nicodemus, a religious leader who was trying to understand Jesus' teaching:
"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)
Some people imagine that being a Christian is primarily believing certain truths and propositions. Truth and faith are involved, of course, but truth itself is not the spark of life, the breath of life. When the Holy Spirit comes into a person, he imparts the life of God and changes the person.
Doesn't Jesus live in a person's heart? Yes. It is the Spirit of Jesus that lives in you.
Spirit of Christ = Spirit of God = Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is sent by Jesus from the Father to dwell in a person (John 15:26). There is no conflict. The Holy Spirit is God, working in full cooperation with the Father and Son. It's not important to determine exactly whether the Holy Spirit or Jesus is doing something. Just realize that each has his own particular area of ministry.
Christians have struggled for centuries to understand this mystery of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. How can they be one, and still be three persons? This is the Trinity or Tri-unity that we mentioned in Lesson 6. They are all equally God, but in some way they act as different Persons. I know that sounds strange, but that is the clear teaching of the Bible.13
The point I'm trying to make is that the Holy Spirit in a person makes the difference between being religious, but spiritually dead, and being alive spiritually. The Spirit brings spiritual life. The life of God is a gift, not something a person can "achieve" through believing it so.
Be Filled with the Spirit
The Spirit is the source of our spiritual life, so in that sense every true Christian has received the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). But sometimes, the presence of the Holy Spirit seems to be at low ebb in our lives. St. Paul exhorts us to: "Be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18).
The New Testament uses several terms to describe the Spirit in a believer's life:
- Receive the Holy Spirit, that is, "take into your possession" (John 7:39; Acts 1:8; 2:38; 8:15; 10:47; Galatians 3:2, 14)
- Be baptized with the Holy Spirit, that is, "be immersed in" or "be overwhelmed by" the Spirit (Luke 3:16; Acts 1:5; 11:16)
- Be filled with the Holy Spirit, that is, "become full" of the Spirit (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:57; Ephesians 5:18)
In many cases, these words are used synonymously. Sometimes in Scripture we read about various supernatural phenomena that accompany this initial filling of the Spirit; other places we don't. Of course, we don't seek an experience, but the Spirit Himself.
The point is that we seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit's power at all times -- not just a taste, but the fullness. We experience this fullness by yielding ourselves and our will to God and to his Holy Spirit.
The Spirit Helps Us Resist Temptation
Another way the fullness of the Spirit is described in the Bible is as "walking" or "living" in the Spirit or "being led" by the Spirit. In Lesson 3 we talked about resisting temptation. The Holy Spirit plays an important role here, too.
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do 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 prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law." (Galatians 5:16-18, RSV)
Living (literally "walking") by the Spirit is the key. It is not focusing on the sins that plague us and resisting them toe-to-toe. Rather, it is yielding ourselves to the Spirit and asking him for help to resist. If we focus on the temptation, we are likely to fall. But if we turn our focus to the Spirit, we will be able to stand firm.
Fruit of the Spirit
Not only does the Holy Spirit bring the spark of spiritual life to you, he also works in you to make you more like Jesus.
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23)
A tree produces fruit if it is well-watered and healthy. If the tree is sickly, the blossoms will be few and the fruit shriveled. The Holy Spirit works within you to build the qualities of Christ's character in you.
As you yield to the Holy Spirit, your character gradually changes. Don't be disappointed if this doesn't happen overnight. Yes, some lifestyle changes will take place quickly and dramatically.
Our basic character is different. It is the product of many years of attitudes and decisions. And as we mentioned in Lesson 5 on love, our character before Christ is primarily centered on self-interest, not genuine love -- love for God and love for others.
However, the Holy Spirit works with us to chip away at the old nature and replace it with the fruit or product of the Spirit's activity, beginning with love.
Gifts of the Spirit
Here is an aspect of the Holy Spirit that is exciting: the gifts of the Spirit -- powerful spiritual equipment to carry out Christ's mission. Notice the difference:
- Fruit of the Spirit -- the character of Christ formed in us
- Gifts of the Spirit -- spiritual equipment for our mission
Both are important. One without the other produces an impotent Christian.
God has so "wired" each of us that each of us has talents, abilities, passions, and special spiritual empowerments to help God's work.
"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
Let's look briefly at a few of the gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows, though the list below is by no means complete.
Teaching is a gift of the Spirit to communicate God's truths effectively (Ephesians 4:11; Romans 12:7b).
Pastoring is a gift that enables a person to lead and care for God's people (Ephesians 4:11).
Evangelism is a gift that helps a person communicate the Gospel effectively and win people to Christ. This is beyond simple witnessing which we are all expected to do, but a special gift (Ephesians 4:11; Acts 8:12, 26-39; 21:8).
Music and Artistic Skills are spiritual gifts to be used for God, too (Exodus 31:3; 1 Chronicles 25:7).
Service14 is a spiritual gift. We are all called to serve, but some have the special spiritual gift of assisting another person in God's work, filling in behind the scenes (Romans 12:7a; 1 Corinthians 12:28).
Mercy, that is, an extraordinary empathy for others, is a special gift used by God, often by those who have a healing ministry (Romans 12:8d).
Encouragement or exhortation is a gift that God uses to call others to their best in the Lord (Romans 12:8a).
We may look at these as "natural" gifts, but they're not just ordinary. They are empowered spiritually. The Bible also talks about some gifts that we would classify as "supernatural": gifts of healing and miracles, prophecy and a word of knowledge, for example (1 Corinthians 12:28).
Through powerful gifts of the Holy Spirit, lives have been changed, churches have been renewed, nations have been transformed. It is hard to overestimate the power of God working through a spiritually-gifted individual who is in tune with the Spirit.
The primary lists of spiritual gifts are found in 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12:4-8; and 1 Peter 4:7-11. Various people have counted the spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible and come up with numbers like 9, 19, 27, etc. But I think that though the categories of gifts may be limited, the expression of those gifts are as infinite and unique as there are people. A better term might be "gift mix," since God mixes our spiritual gift or gifts with the personalities and passions he gave us.
Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts
One of your tasks as a new Christ-follower is to begin to discover the spiritual gifts that God has given you, and then use them for God. But be patient. It might take a while to get a good idea of how God has gifted you.
Try different kinds of ministries to see which you do best. You will be most effective in the areas where you have a spiritual gift. You will find that other believers will confirm your ministry in certain areas. You are also likely to find great joy and fulfillment in the areas where you have a spiritual gift. Sometimes taking a written "spiritual gifts inventory" will help you identify these areas. Ask your pastor about this.
When you discover the areas where you have the strongest spiritual gifts, concentrate your time and efforts there for greatest effectiveness for Christ's kingdom.
Nothing Is Impossible
We are so used to living in the natural world that is ruled by the physical laws God has set in place, that it is hard for us to lift our faith beyond them. But realize that the Holy Spirit is God living inside of you, filling you. Because this is true, nothing is impossible -- nothing!
To Jeremiah: "I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?" (Jeremiah 32:27)
Angel Gabriel: "For nothing is impossible with God." (Luke 1:37)
Jesus: "What is impossible with men is possible with God." (Luke 18:27)
Jesus: "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20)
Walking in the Spirit
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When you are walking with a portable radio, sometimes you have to adjust the antenna and retune the station to get the best signal. In the same way, learn to walk with the Holy Spirit, constantly seeking to stay attuned to his voice.
"If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." (Galatians 5:25, RSV)
We believers have an immense privilege: to have God live within our bodies by his Spirit and to be able to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. These are more than words. They are a reality. So I encourage you to press into God, get to know him, learn how his Spirit works. There is absolutely no limit to what God can do with a person who loves him and seeks him.
Lord, my faith is often too small. Break open my faith so that I might see you clearly and learn to trust your Holy Spirit to work through me powerfully. Form Jesus in me, I pray, as I seek to walk by the Spirit. In his name, I pray. Amen.
"And 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 14:16-17, NIV)
Questions and Discussion Points
Note for the Mentor: This lesson is a bit harder to grasp, though the principles are simple and basic. Why don't you ask your pastor to join you for this lesson, if that's possible.
- Read aloud five times today's memory verse (John 14:16-17) and write it on a card.
- Discuss. Why is the Holy Spirit harder to visualize than the Father and the Son? What do you think is the significance of "Spirit" as breath or wind?
- Discuss. Before you were a Christian, did you ever sense the Holy Spirit drawing you to Christ, convicting you of your sins, or convincing you of the truth of Jesus?
- Discuss. How does walking closely with the Spirit help you when you're tempted?
- Discuss. Have you noticed any change in your character and values since you've become a Christian? Which of the fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 have begun to show up in your character so far?
- Discuss. What gifts of the Spirit does your mentor think he or she has? What gifts of the Spirit do you suspect that you might have?
- Discuss. Why is it so important to discern what gift or gifts you have and then spend time and energy there?
- Discuss. Why do you think we are so quick to think things are impossible? If God is living with you by his Spirit, is there anything impossible to you?
- Review your memory verses from Lesson 1 (Ephesians 2:8-9), Lesson 2 (John 8:31-32), Lesson 3 (1 John 1:9), Lesson 4 (John 13:34-35), Lesson 5 (1 John 4:7-8), and Lesson 6 (John 3:16). Try to say them together with your mentor without looking at your cards.
- Pray for each other. Share with your mentor your needs to pray about and ask your mentor how you should pray for him or her. Then spend a few minutes praying for each other aloud.
- Appointment. Set a time and place to meet and go through next week's lesson.
14. The gift of service is sometimes called the gift of "helps," as it is translated in the KJV, 1 Corinthians 12:28.
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