The Holy Spirit is the power of God in our lives. As the part of God that gets inside us and transforms us, this Spirit is essential to our walk of faith. But I don’t think we spend enough time letting these truths really sink in (I know I haven’t).
While reading Dr. Juli Slattery’s book Rethinking Sexuality, I’ve been surprised by how many lessons in this book are applicable to the whole of our Christian walk. Pages 116-117 in particular struck me as some of the deepest Christian writings I’ve ever read. In this passage, Dr. Slattery says that embracing the truth that “the Holy Spirit is the power of God in our lives” radically changes how we try to follow God.
It really should be an obvious concept. But far too often, I think many of us ask God for help with living His way of life and yet don’t recognize how that help shows up. We ask to be filled with power, but don’t always know how to use it or even recognize it’s there. And to further complicate matters, we keep trying to do things on our own instead of truly relying on God working in us.
“The ability to live the Christian life is impossible outside of the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus knew this when He told His disciples, ‘Be glad I’m going away because the Holy Spirit is coming!’ His words mean that we are more equipped to live the Christian life by the power of the Holy Spirit than we would be if we could follow Jesus around everywhere.” (Rethinking Sexuality, p. 116)
I’m sure Jesus’ disciples were confused when He said, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I don’t go away the Counselor won’t come to you” (John 16:7, WEB). And I think if given the choice, most of us would rather be able to see Jesus and talk with Him face-to-face than have things like they are now. But Jesus would never lie to us, so it must be true that there’s an advantage to knowing Him and the Father through the Holy Spirit that we wouldn’t have if Jesus had stayed here on earth.
Indeed, we see the most profound spiritual growth in the lives of Jesus’ disciples happen in the books of Acts, after He’d returned to heaven and sent them the gift of the Holy Spirit. Even during Christ’s work on earth His primary focus was on the spiritual (though He did perform physical healings and other miracles). Today, the method He and the Father have chosen to accomplish Their spiritual work is putting the Holy Spirit inside each of us.
Jesus wants us to be His friends, adopted siblings, and bride. In order for those relationship to happen, we need to become like God and be made compatible with His family. And for that, we must be washed clean and made holy by the blood of Jesus so God can get inside us with His Holy Spirit and transform us from the inside out.
God’s Spirit and Our Spirits
Paul’s and Peters’ letters tell us the church (as a whole) is the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in each of us. Our bodies and spirits belong to God. He’s bringing us into relationship with Him and making us His holy people by working inside us through His spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19-20; 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Pet. 2:5).
For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God, except God’s Spirit. … Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:11, 14, WEB)
Just as we, who are made in God’s image, have a “spirit” so does God have a “Spirit.” This part of Him communicates with our spirits and rewrites our spiritual DNA so that we can receive the things of God’s spirit. He’s actually changing the way our minds, emotions, and everything about us works so that we can understand and follow Him. This incredible process is going on inside every person God calls (1 Cor. 2:12-13; Rom. 8:13-15).
Living in Relationship
God starts this process for each believer as soon as we commit ourselves to him (typically at baptism). It’s His desire and intention to go on to see each of us fully become part of His family. But, to quote Dr. Slattery again, “while everyone who is saved by Jesus has received the deposit of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21-22), not every Christian is living by the power of the Holy Spirit” (p. 116). Instead of being filled with and transformed by God’s spirit, all too often we focus on trying to study and discipline ourselves into doing what’s right. We have things backwards.
“Spiritual maturity is not primarily what we are able to say no to but the passion and conviction with which we pursue Jesus. Only the Holy Spirit can transform us like this. So, instead of trying to be good Christians, we learn that our greatest work is to know God, asking Him to overwhelm us with His presence and Power.” (Rethinking Sexuality, p. 116)
It’s somewhat ironic that when we focus on relationship with God and let Him fill us with His power, we become better Christians than if we put our effort into trying to make ourselves good. Our lives will be most pleasing to God when we fully surrender to His work in us. True obedience and righteousness doesn’t come from trying harder to keep a law imposed on us from the outside, but from a relationship with God where He writes His law inside our hearts (see John 14-17 and Romans 6-8).
Don’t Quench The Spirit
Another thing that struck me about how Dr. Slattery speaks of the Holy Spirit was her question, “Am I taking small steps of obedience?” I know God’s work in us is a gradual process. I’ve read Romans 7 and I know even Paul struggled with truly, consistently walking in the Spirit. But I’ve still made the mistake of looking for big movements of the Spirit and overlooking the little nudges.
“Maybe He will lead you to start a ministry or revive a dead marriage or give you amazing courage to share Jesus’s love. [God through] the Holy Spirit can do all those things, but they usually happen very simply, one step of obedience after another. The Holy Spirit will not ask you to change the world; He will ask you to change the channel. He will not give you a vision for the next ten years; He will give you direction for the next ten minutes. We invite the Spirit by responding to His prompts in the moment; we quench Him by continually ignoring that direction.” (Rethinking Sexuality, p. 117)
We learn very little about how to accomplish a task when someone does it for us. It gets done faster that way, but we don’t learn how to do the task ourselves. God wants us to learn how to be like Him, and that happens by Him guiding us little-by-little and day-by-day through His Holy Spirit. He’s teaching us to live as He would were He here on this earth in the situations that we find ourselves in. If we’re only looking for God to work in big, immediate ways or only asking Him for answers to huge questions like, “What do You want me to do with my life?” we can miss the little in-the-moment nudges He gives us toward living a godly life.
Our Father and Jesus Christ want us to become part of Their family, and They’ve given us the Spirit of God to make sure that happens. But while salvation and the Holy Spirit are freely given gifts, we are expected to respond by doing something with what we’ve been given. The Spirit’s work in us requires cooperation from us. We must heed the warning not to quench the spirit (1 Thes. 5:19) and instead listen, follow, and participate in becoming like God.
- If you’d like to get a copy of Rethinking Sexuality: God’s Design and Why It Matters by Dr. Julie Slattery, click here. Please note that this is an affiliate link, which means that, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase.