Great Themes of the Bible (#6-Spirit's Indwelling)

"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. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.' The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory" (Rom. 8:14-17).

Did you ever wish you were stronger and more competent for your spiritual struggles? I can't speak for you, but I feel so weak at times. I certainly feel called to tasks that are greater than my paltry abilities. Then I am just plain overwhelmed by my unworthiness. I am a sinner. If Paul was "chief of sinners," I'm at least an assistant chief.

Then I begin reading my Bible again and find that my experience isn't all that unique. The people of God throughout history have been outnumbered and overmatched by the forces of the Evil One — but still have triumphed. God acted around them, on their behalf, and through them to accomplish what no one could have predicted from a purely human point of view.

So there stood Moses before mighty Pharaoh and David before the giant Goliath. Abram and Sarai laughed at the idea of becoming parents at their age. Naomi and Ruth were widows in a foreign country, and Esther was being claimed as the wife of a wicked man who had just kicked out his first wife for having a sense of virtue and decency. Peter had a hot temper. John was self-righteous. Paul had complicity in murder on his record, and John Mark was a quitter. Yet these are the names of some of the most venerable saints in biblical history.

God did something for those people. He gave them something. He acted on their behalf. Although these precise words are nowhere in their life histories, you could use them of Moses or Ruth, Paul or John Mark: The one working in them was greater than everything else that was working against them.

Wouldn't it be nice to think that something comparable was going on with me in my weak, overwhelmed, and ill-equipped moments? With you in yours? With this church? With believers in places in the world where Christians are being persecuted for their faith? With your children in their temptations?

I am here today to testify that the same thing that went on in the lives of those saints is going on in your life and mine. I am here to claim, in fact, that we have an even clearer promise of divine aid in advance of our needs than those saints had. The promise- words of Jesus that he would send the Holy Spirit to live not only among but inside the very bodies of his disciples is being fulfilled in us. And my thesis is that a greater awareness of this biblical truth would serve all of us well by reassuring us in our moments of terror and comforting us in our moments of apparent failure.

I know what you do when you feel trapped, weak, and outmatched by the devil. You do the same thing I do. You think about everything behind you, in front of you, and around you that screams "Target!", "Scapegoat!", "Patsy!", "Victim!" It's time for you to begin hearing the voice of God speak to you in those moments to tell you, "Ah, but look at what's inside you!" And then perhaps these explicit words will come ringing in your ears: "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (1 John 4:4).

It's a Fact!

Incredible as it sounds, the fact is that God indwells every saved man and woman, boy and girl of the human race in the person of the Holy Spirit. Because of what happened to the word in its English usage, we more often speak of the Holy Spirit today than of the Holy Ghost. But I will tell you that I like the original idea inherent in the term Holy Ghost for the simple reason that in seventeenth-century English, the word "ghost" had the essential meaning of our modern "guest." Thus three centuries ago people would have spoken of the third member of the Godhead as a holy guest among them — without our modern connotations of a "ghost" as a floating, transparent bed sheet. A Halloween weirdo. A disembodied human being.

Frankly, I love the idea of God as our Holy Guest down here on Planet Earth! He is with us. He is among us. He is in our hearts, minds, and bodies to act for heaven on our behalf. There are so many Scripture texts that affirm it.

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you (Rom. 8:9-11).

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit (1 John 4:12-13).

Most people in my heritage understand the first half of Acts 2:38 to be pretty important, but some of us are a bit fuzzy on the second half. "Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" We understand the apostle's instruction about repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus; we continue to teach and stress these biblical commandments to people seeking pardon and hope. But we need to teach with equal emphasis that the new life of a disciple to Jesus Christ is not doomed to be just another version of past attempts at self-help recovery from addictions, moral failures, and vices greater than our personal or collective ability to handle as humans.

The Power to Live Triumphantly

The personal presence of God that indwells every Christian through the Holy Spirit is a promise of victory to feeble, struggling, overmatched people like us. In spite of anything behind you (i.e., in your personal past, in your genetic makeup, in your marital record, in your criminal record, etc.), around you (i.e., bad circumstances, poor options, enemies, slander), or in front of you (i.e., deadlines, ultimatums, consequences, death), you have something — no Some-ONE — inside you who is omnipotent, eternal, and omniscient. You and he together are a match for anything! You and God are an overwhelming majority against any and all odds Satan can bring against you! Here is why it is so, as explained by Paul in the text for this lesson.

First, the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit is proof of your established and certified family relationship with God. According to Paul: "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children" (Rom. 8:16). Both here and at Galatians 4:6, the apostle affirms that the Holy Guest whom God sends into the hearts, minds, and bodies of his people speaks of sonship (and daughterhood!) to himself: "Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.'"

Here Paul represents the Holy Spirit calling out to heaven on our behalf to remind God that "Larry is your son!" or "Linda is your daughter!" In other words, he is pleading our case. He is letting the Sovereign of the Universe know that some struggling soul down below is not a stranger or would-be visitor at the door but one of his children. "He's in trouble again, God!" "You're going to have to bail her out again, Father!" It's as if the understood premise is: "I know you wouldn't do this for anybody but one of your own family!" In another place, Paul says the Holy Spirit is the "stamp" or "trademark" or "brand" on each of God's people — the mark that indicates ownership (Eph. 1:13; 4:30).

Second, the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit is the basis for boldness in your spiritual struggles. Not only Satan but our own humanly devised systems and rules tend to generate a spirit of bondage, oppression, and fear. "The God who made the birds never made birdcages," Oswald Chambers once said. "It is men who make birdcages, and after a while we become cramped and can do nothing but chirp and stand on one leg. When we get out into God's great free life, we discover that that is the way God meant us to live in ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God.'" And I might also add: "in the splendid boldness of the family of God."

In our original text for today, Paul reminded his readers: "You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit who makes you sons (Rom. 8:15)." With the new status (i.e., child of God) comes a new boldness. There was enough bondage and fear in the old life! God doesn't mean for you to bring it into the new one. Even if you are still paying the consequences of some of the things you did back there, you are supposed to get your chin up, walk with a confident stride, move ahead with your life now. God has set you free from the guilt and power of sin. So be fearless today. Be audacious about your prospects. Live as a confident child — not as a cringing slave — in your Father's presence.

Third, claim the presence of God's indwelling Holy Spirit as the ground of your securityin Christ. "Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ . . ." (Rom. 8:17a). The confident assurance that you will outgrow your spiritual immaturity is tied up with the Spirit's presence and power in your life. The almost- swaggering confidence you have about overcoming an addiction that has kept you in bondage to sin for so long is rooted in his power at work in you, not your own. The enthusiasm you feel for going on with your life in spite of some of the awful things in your past is due entirely to his enabling grace, not your perceived rights.

The temple God dwells in today is not in Jerusalem or Mecca or Salt Lake City. According to the Word of God, it is your body. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?" (1 Cor. 6:18). Reach up and touch your head right now. That is the data bank and communications center of God's living temple. Wiggle your fingers now. Those are service appliances or utility implements for divine service. Think that's a stretch? In the context of 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul is arguing that, since one's body belongs to God, joining it with someone to commit fornication is equivalent to temple defilement. The same thing would be true of your eyes glued to pornography, your hands taking something that doesn't belong to you, your feet and legs transporting you to a place where things that dishonor God are happening, etc. You get the picture, don't you? Your body as a divine temple is meant to speak both security and holiness to you.

Fourth, the indwelling Holy Spirit is also proof of a unity and partnership with Christ that is so intimate that it will allow you to share in every experience he has had. "Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory" (Rom. 8:17b). You will definitely share in his glory at his return (cf. 1 John 3:2). Since that is so, it should not be surprising that you may also be required to share in some of his sufferings in the meanwhile. You may be opposed because you care about or choose to do the right thing when others are willing to drift with the flow. You may experience the heartbreak of being rejected by friends or abandoned by family. Or your suffering may come in the form of cancer, crippling arthritis, automobile accident, or death.

Because you are partnered with Christ, though, even suffering means something different than it otherwise could have. Because you are not only indwelt but empowered by the Holy Spirit, you will be enabled both to endure and to prevail. The Holy Guest will supply everything you need. In your weakness, you will feel his strength. Not only through the exhortation of the Word of God but in your daily routine, you will hear from and experience the Lord Jesus Christ.


There is a close association between the Word of God and the Spirit of God. But they are not the same. Their relationship is document to author, weapon to warrior, aspiration to competence. And while their relationship is important, it is not mutually exhaustive. Having a Bible isn't the same has being filled with the Spirit. Even sincere and diligent obedience to the steps to holiness we discern in the Bible isn't the same as "walking by the Spirit" or being "led by the Spirit." I like the way my friend Max Lucado illustrated this difference in his book A Gentle Thunder.

Max compares the role of the Spirit in our lives to a guy who wants to learn to dance. He's a rational, intelligent sort of guy, so he goes to the bookstore and buys a how-to book. He takes it home and begins studying. He does everything it says with meticulous care. When the instructions say sway, he sways. When the instructions say lean, he leans. When the instructions say spin, he spins. He even cuts out paper footprints and arranges them on the family room floor so he will know exactly where to step.

Finally, he thinks he's got it down pat. He calls his wife in and says, "Honey, watch!" With book in hand and reading aloud so she'll know he's done his homework, he follows the instructions step by step. It says, "Take one step with your right foot." So he takes one step with his right foot. Then it says, "Turn slowly to the left." He turns slowly to the left. He keeps it up, reading and then moving, reading and dancing, through the whole thing.

Then he collapses exhausted on the sofa and says to his wife, "What do you think? I executed it perfectly!" To which she replies, "You executed it all right. You killed it!"

The bumfuzzled husband says, "But I followed the rules, I laid out the pattern, I did everything the book said . . ."

"But," she sighs, "you forgot the most important part. Where was the music?"

With that, she puts on a CD. "Try it again. Quit worrying about the steps and just follow the music." She holds out her hand, and he gets up and takes it. The music starts, and the next thing the guy knows he's dancing — without the book!

Max closes the story with this: "We Christians are prone to follow the book while ignoring the music. We master the doctrine, outline the chapters, memorize the dispensations, debate the rules, and stiffly step down the dance floor of life with no music in our hearts. Dancing with no music is tough stuff. Jesus knew that. For that reason, on the night before His death He introduced the disciples to the song maker of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit."

If you will let him be your Holy Guest and move to the music he makes, you will be — to borrow Paul's language from Galatians 5:25 — "in step with the Spirit." A member of the family of God. Bolder in your struggles with temptation and the Evil One. Secure in your status as a co-heir with Christ. And living in spiritual unity with him — awaiting his glory, yet willing to suffer in the meanwhile.

Why, you're not as alone as you've felt at times. Now that you know it, maybe it will help you to take heart for what still lies ahead.


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