What does it mean to be living in the Holy Spirit?
At the Last Supper Jesus promised his disciples he would send the Advocate (or Comforter) to guide them after he was gone. This Spirit of Truth would remind them of everything Jesus had told them and teach them everything they needed to know. In effect, he was telling them they would have a new way of life, living in the Holy Spirit.
Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be with Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper?
There was so much going on. First and foremost there was reverence for celebrating the Passover. But there was also tension in the air. The disciples sensed that something important was going to happen. Maybe Jesus would finally assume his role of King of the Jews.
During this time with his disciples, Jesus shared things he had never said before. He also confessed that one of them would betray him. He said he would leave them. And there’s so much more you can read in all four gospels, but especially in John, Chapters 13 – 17, if you want a deep insight into what Jesus was thinking about that night. Of course, we know what is about to happen, but the folks in that room did not.
How would you have felt if you heard Jesus say all these things? It created fear and uncertainty. It created confusion. To think that Jesus would be going away must have brought deep sorrow to the disciples’ hearts.
Jesus promises the Holy Spirit
There are so many things to explore in these chapters, but what I want to focus on today is that Jesus told his friends he would leave them. This was not happy news, or so they thought. But Jesus explained why he must leave and what would happen once he was gone.
This is how he puts it,
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.John 14:16 NIV
But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. John 16:7 NLT
Other translations use the words Comforter, or Encourager, or Counselor. The Greek word is paraklētos. It means one who pleads another’s cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant, an advocate.
Jesus is saying the Holy Spirit will, among other things, be our defense attorney. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it. I wrote a blog post on this several years ago: The Holy Spirit: Advocate, Comforter, and Defense Attorney.
Has the Holy Spirit come to you?
Now you may be thinking, “James, this all sounds great but I’m not so sure the Holy Spirit has come to me.” I totally understand. I have felt this way at times too.
After all, we read the accounts in the Bible about tongues of fire dancing on the heads of the disciples on the Day of Pentecost in Acts, Chapter 2.
We read about Cornelius and his friends and family receiving the Holy Spirit in a way that was visible to Peter and those who were with him in Acts, Chapter 10.
And we hear someone at church, on a podcast, or read in a book about someone’s experience of receiving the Holy Spirit that sounds so incredible and we hang our heads low because that has never happened to us in some dramatic way.
How you know you have the Holy Spirit
But the Bible gives a very simple litmus test that makes it clear how to know someone has the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit.
This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 1 John 4:2 NIV
The Gnostics were apparently saying that Jesus was not a real person in the flesh. He was just a spirit.
First John makes it clear that anyone who understands that Jesus, as the Son of God, was sent to earth and lived in the flesh as a human being, has the Holy Spirit.
Do you believe Jesus was a real person living on earth for some 33 years? Then you have the Holy Spirit. Even if you may not realize it. Yes, of course, Jesus was more than just an ordinary person. He was the Son of God, but he came to earth in actual human form.
If you believe Jesus was just some sort of apparition or spirit and never lived as an actual human being, then you have missed some of the beauty of Jesus’s purpose here on earth and will not be able to fully receive and live in the Holy Spirit.
The reason I bring this up is that I don’t want you to assume that you don’t have the Holy Spirit in your life just because your experience is different from someone else’s.
God gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask and are obedient
And if you still feel you haven’t received the Holy Spirit in your life, Jesus explains that God is inclined to give us this blessing. He’s talking to a crowd of people but he specifically says to the dads,
You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people 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 11:11-13 NLT
Jesus is making it clear that God is ready, willing, and able to give us the Holy Spirit. We need to ask.
And Peter says the Holy Spirit “is given by God to those who obey Him.” (Acts 5:32 NLT)
Every time you obey God, the Holy Spirit is with you, you are living in the Holy Spirit.
So, how does the Holy Spirit come? It’s about obedience to God. It’s about asking God to send the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit and Christ’s purpose
But there’s something else that’s really important to understand.
Several years ago I taught a class on the Holy Spirit at the Danbury, CT Federal Correctional Institution. What came out in this class was something I had never noticed before.
Every mention of the Holy Spirit in the Bible has something to do with Christ: the prophecies and fulfillment of Christ’s coming, the manifestation of Christ’s nature in the life of Jesus, and the continuation of Christ’s Cause after Jesus ascended.
The thing that really stands out to me is that the Holy Spirit never really came to someone just to solve individual problems or meet personal needs. It did those things. But it always came in relation to the appearing of Christ, his ministry and the preaching and acceptance of the gospel.
So don’t try to invoke the Holy Spirit just to solve your personal problems. There’s something bigger going on. And it’s important to realize this.
When you’re praying about something and the Holy Spirit comes to you to teach, guard, guide, or heal you, it’s not just to solve your situation in solitary. This situation becomes a witness to others of the power of God and the saving presence of Christ. These experiences lead you and hopefully the church to glorify, strengthen, and propel forward the Cause of Christ, to redeem the whole world.
The Holy Spirit prepares you to share Christ with the world
So, when the Holy Spirit solves and heals your personal problems, it’s actually preparing you to share the Gospel in a way that you haven’t done yet.
There’s so much that can be said about the Holy Spirit and there’s no way I can share it all in this one podcast episode. The class I taught at the Danbury Prison on this topic took about six months, meeting each week.
About 10 years ago, I wrote a blog post just giving a brief outline of what the Holy Spirit does. It’s called What Does the Holy Ghost ACTUALLY Do?” At the time I still used the term Holy Ghost.
Holy Spirit or the Holy Spirit?
And just as a side note here, I recently was asked whether it’s more correct to refer to the Holy Spirit or just say Holy Spirit.
My initial thought is, I don’t think God cares. But I always like to see how the Bible does things.
The Bible almost always uses the article “the” in referring to the Holy Spirit. Jesus says “the Holy Spirit.” So do Peter and Paul. It’s almost like a title.
It sort of depends on the context. If I were talking about a judge, I would say, “The judge told the witness to answer the question.” But if I were talking directly to the judge, I would say, “Judge, thank you for a fair trial.”
If you were talking about God, you might say something like, “God is the Father of all creation.” But when you are talking directly to God, you might say, “Father, thank You for all Your blessings.”
Same with the Holy Spirit. And that’s why, as I said, I like to come back and see how the Bible deals with things like this.
Sometimes we make things more important than they are. When a fellow Christian does or says something a certain way, and we respect them, it’s easy to think they know something we don’t and so we just copy them.
One of my goals here at The Bible Speaks to You Podcast is to encourage you to read the Bible for yourself and see how it speaks to you. Don’t just copy someone else because they act and speak with authority.
Living in the Holy Spirit
Now, I want to talk about something that is really important and sometimes gets overlooked.
I’ve been sharing some ideas to think about in regard to the Holy Spirit. But the thing I really want to focus on now is: How do we live in the Holy Spirit? How do we let this presence influence and guide our daily lives?
Just knowing about the Holy Spirit is not enough. You can read the Bible all day long, study volumes of theological dissertations on the subject, but that doesn’t by any means guarantee you’ll be any closer to actually feeling the Holy Spirit’s presence in your life.
So, how do we live in the Holy Spirit?
Well, first we need to admit the Holy Spirit actually exists and is present in our lives, which is what we’ve just been talking about.
Surrender your will to God
And then it becomes a matter of surrender to God’s will in your life. Every time you pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,” (Matthew 6:10 KJV) you’re actually repeating Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, “not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42 KJV)
Jesus gave up his own will to obey the Father. Every time we do that, we experience the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.
Every time you forgive someone, every time you love your neighbor as yourself, every time you obey God and surrender your agenda to His, every time you feel inspiration in your prayers or Bible study, the Holy Spirit is with you, whether you realize it or not.
Sometimes, unfortunately, we substitute the letter for the presence of the Holy Spirit and think we are doing everything we can to be more spiritual and follow Jesus better. But just studying the Bible, or articles, or listening to sermons, or podcasts does not automatically mean you will experience the Holy Spirit.
Paul says to the Corinthians “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6 NIV)
The Spirit moves us
If we focus too much on learning the letter, or words, of the Bible, if we focus too much on always studying to learn some new idea, memorize a bunch of Bible verses, and turn our Bible study into an intellectual treasure hunt, we may very well be ignoring the Spirit.
The Greek word for Spirit is pneuma. It can mean so many different things depending on the context. It comes from a root word meaning breath or wind.
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “wind?” To me it implies movement and power, either gentle or strong.
That’s what the Holy Spirit creates in us: movement. It brings spiritual power to our lives. There is nothing static about us when we are moved by the Holy Spirit.
Now don’t get me wrong, Bible study is absolutely important. But we can’t just always be studying the letter all the time. We need to get out of our prayer chairs and put the things we’re learning into practice in our daily lives.
The more you do this, the more you will feel the presence of the Holy Spirit guiding you.
And this is exactly what Jesus wanted us to do, be guided by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit reminds us what Jesus said
Let’s go back to those two verses from John:
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:16 NIV
But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. John 16:7 NLT
Why did Jesus have to leave?
Have you ever wondered why Jesus said this and what he meant? Why could the disciples receive the Holy Spirit only if Jesus had left them?
Think of how they acted when Jesus was with them. They were always asking questions. They only went out to preach and heal when and where he told them to. They leaned on him personally for help.
For example, when they were in a storm at sea and Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat, the disciples were afraid, even though Jesus was with them. Okay he was asleep, but did they honestly think God would let Jesus drown.
They woke him up to solve the problem because they didn’t think they could solve the problem.
But Jesus rebuked their lack of faith. He asked them, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25 NLT)
Jesus is basically saying they could have used their faith to still the storm. He’s trying to teach them to turn to the same source as he does, his heavenly Father. But they were leaning on Jesus personally to solve the problem.
Just before Jesus heals the epileptic boy, whom his disciples had failed to heal, he asks them in a stern rebuke,
And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” Mark 9:19 ESV
The disciples were too dependent on Jesus personally
Jesus is basically saying he’s not going to be around forever to help them personally with what he’s given them to do. I like to paraphrase this as if Jesus said to them, “Look, I’m not going to be around forever to lace your sandals for you. You’re going to have to put your faith into action more consistently and not me to do it for you.”
One of the reasons the disciples couldn’t receive the Holy Spirit as long as Jesus was still with them physically was because they would keep depending on him instead of learning to fly for themselves.
One of the reasons we might not be receptive of the Holy Spirit is because we are leaning on Jesus too much. That may sound a bit odd to some folks, but Jesus always encourages us to pray to the Father and not to him. That’s what the Lord’s Prayer is all about, turning completely to the Father.
Relying completely on the Father is living in the Holy Spirit
That’s what Jesus did and that’s what he wants us to do. And that’s when we become aware of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
There are so many examples of this in the New Testament.
When the disciples received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, they were imbued with a power not their own. They were guided and protected and preached fearlessly and effectively.
Think of Philip when he explained the prophecy of Christ in Isaiah to the eunuch from Ethiopia.
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Acts 8:26 NIV
Philip was obedient. He didn’t know what was going to happen. But he had given up his own agenda to do what God told him to.
Once he got there he saw a chariot.
The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Acts 8:29 NIV
As it turns out, the eunuch, asked questions about the book of Isaiah. Philip told him about how Jesus fulfilled that prophecy. And the eunuch became a Christian. This is what I mean by the Holy Spirit propelling the Cause of Christ.
Hearing the Holy Spirit
And think of the time when the Christians in Antioch were praying and fasting to know what to do.
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. Acts 13:2, 3 NIV
Here’s a wonderful example of a whole church living in the Holy Spirit to such a degree that they all heard the message to send Barnabas and Saul on a special mission. This is not a mission that the church members voted on. They did what the Holy Spirit directed them to do.
What would happen if your church lived in the Holy Spirit like this?
Now you may be thinking that sort of thing doesn’t happen today. It does, but it could be happening much more than it is.
Barnabas and Saul, soon to be called Paul, had to give up their own preconceptions and surrender to a willingness to do whatever God wanted them to in order to spread the gospel of Christ to the world. They had to give up any personal sense of power, intelligence and ability, or lack thereof, and rely completely on God.
Are you and your church living in the Holy Spirit?
The question we need to ask ourselves is this, “Am I willing to let go of my agenda, my preconceptions, my opinions about what and how things have to be done, and be completely willing to go where the Holy Spirit guides me? Is my church willing to do this collectively?”
There is absolutely nothing to be afraid of in this surrendering to God. The Holy Spirit will not ask you to do something you’re not able to. And the blessings cannot be measured.
And don’t think you are exempt from being employed by the Holy Spirit to further the Cause of Christ in the world. God can use your talents and abilities, and even your perceived lack of them, to His greater purpose. It’s not about how capable or holy you are, but how capable and holy God is.
Please take a moment and silently acknowledge your ability to live in the Holy Spirit, to respond to the guidance you receive from the Holy Spirit, and to let your light shine out into the world.
All you need to do is begin with moments. Let them multiply into minutes and hours, days, weeks, months, and eventually years, a lifetime. Practice being in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
My prayer for you is that you will feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life, that you will live in the presence of the Holy Spirit and that the light of Christ in you heart will shine out into the world to bless all mankind.
Blog posts mentioned in this episode:
James Early, the Jesus Mindset Coach, is a Bible teacher, speaker, and podcaster. He conducts Bible workshops online and in person. His focus is on getting back to the original Christianity of Jesus by embracing the mindset of Christ in daily life. Contact him here.
John 14:16 NIV
16 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
John 16:7 NLT
7 But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you.
1 John 4:2 NIV
2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
Luke 11:11-13 NLT
11 You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead?
12 Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not!
13 So if you sinful people 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.
Acts 5:32 NLT
32 …the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.
Matthew 6:10 KJV
10 Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,
Luke 22:42 KJV
42 Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
2 Corinthians 3:6 NIV
6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Luke 8:25 NLT
25 Then he asked them, “Where is your faith?”
Mark 9:19 ESV
19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”
Acts 8:26 NIV
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”
Acts 8:29 NIV
29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
Acts 13:2, 3 NIV
2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.