“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Romans 8:9)
The standard for living the Christian life is high. Very high. Yet the provision for living that life is higher still. Who does God provide to enable us to life that life? Why the Spirit!
The other day I was with a group of friends and acquaintances for dinner in a restaurant. One in the group talked a lot. But he always turned away from me and spoke animatedly to those on the other side of him. I couldn’t hear a word he said! You can imagine how I felt. I wonder how the Holy Spirit feels when we sit at table with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit and talk only to others, listen only to the others and ignore the Spirit?
But the Spirit doesn’t want just a piece of our time, a piece of us, he wants to fill us up with himself. “Be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18) This is not a suggestion, a recommendation. It’s a command.
What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? Well, some say it means an ecstatic feeling. You feel full. And it’s true that it was said of Jesus, “At that time he was full of joy in the Holy Spirit.” But the filling of the Spirit is one of the major themes of the New Testament and that’s about the only text I know that identifies the experience as a feeling. So we enlightened usually say it means to give full control of our lives over to him. And it is true that in a few cases that seems to be the evidence of being full of the Spirit. But in almost all the references to being filled, the evidence is one of two things: power in ministry or Christ-like character. The gifting of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit.
So, if you ask me if I’m filled with the Spirit, I’d have to know which kind of filling you have in mind. An ecstatic feeling? Well, sometimes. Fully yielded to him? Well, as best I know, yes. The visible evidence? The gifts, the fruit? I don’t know. You tell me. You’re the fruit inspector. That’s why, in Scripture, we never find anyone saying “I, filled with the Spirit.” It’s always “he” or ‘they,” filled with the Spirit. But whatever it means to be filled, that’s what I want. Don’t you?
Then, the Spirit does something else. Transforming. Here is the Spirit at work taking a saint and making us ever more saintly. He not only births us into the family, He sets about renovating, transforming us in our core being. That’s what 2 Corinthians 3:18 means: “we are being transformed from one degree of His likeness to another. And part of that transforming is to empower us to overcome temptation and become like him.
Rom 8:13 &14 is a conundrum for many: “for if you are living according to the [impulses of the] flesh, you are going to die. But if [you are living] by the [power of the Holy] Spirit you are habitually putting to death the sinful deeds of the body, you will [really] live forever.” (Amplified) When I taught, one assignment was to write a personal battle strategy for overcoming temptation. It turned out to be the most talked-about part of the course. Years later I’ve heard from former students who wrote to tell me of the life-transforming impact of that assignment. How is it with you? Do you have a battle strategy for overcoming temptation in your life?
When I was a student at Columbia International University, I looked in mirror. I saw a man with two great struggles- my tongue and my temper-T&T. And I discovered the Spirit has given me three weapons to use in the battle: Prayer, Scripture, the Church. And, further, that there is both a defensive use and an offensive use of each.
I began to pray daily, earnestly. I didn’t just say, “Lord, help me be Christ like today,” I prayed “Lord, you know I have a short fuse and a loose tongue. Please, please give me victory today.” That was my defense. And the offensive? A quick prayer when temptation looms: “Spirit of God, please tie my tongue, keep me from saying what this jerk deserves.” Or maybe there’s only time to say, “help, Lord!”
Then the weapon of the Word. As my defense, I “hid God’s word in my heart, that I might not sin…” What did I do? Memorize! James 3 about what God has to say about a short fuse and a loose tongue.
And what of the church? I did find strength in the larger body of Christ. And what a help to take the initiative, the offensive, in seeking out my prayer partner in the hour of testing or defeat.
So what has been the outcome? Certainly not all I wish, but you wouldn’t recognize me for the same man I was. The Spirit is at work as the overcomer. He transforms me into ever greater likeness to Jesus.