Editor’s note: Today, we celebrate Pentecost! Holy Spirit fire! If the commemoration of Pentecost is new to you or you just want to remember the falling of the Holy Spirit on Christ’s first followers in Jerusalem, read Acts 2:1-4 and then continue to read how lives were changed when God the Holy Spirit was released in power in the first century.
One of the first things that comes to mind when Christians think about Jesus is his morally perfect character. When Jesus overcame the Devil’s temptation, he entered the wilderness “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1), and forty days later he emerged from the wilderness “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). As a result, Jesus “committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22). Likewise, the Spirit helps us today to overcome temptation and sin in our own lives.
The Spirit once helped me when I was frustrated with one of my children. Our city was covered with snow, so my family and I decided we would go sledding. We all pulled on our snow pants, mittens, and winter jackets, and piled into our minivan to drive across town. When we arrived at the biggest hill in our prairie city, I parked the van at the top. And as we were climbing out with our sleds, one of my daughters said the seven words every parent dreads hearing when their child is all bundled up for winter weather: “I have to go to the bathroom.” Of course, there were no bathrooms at the sledding hill or anywhere else within walking distance. “No,” I told her. “We just got here… And I told you to go to the bathroom before we left the house.” She explained that she had gone to the bathroom at home, but that she needed to go again.
I figured we weren’t going to have any fun if she was complaining the whole time about needing to go to the bathroom, so I told my wife to stay at the hill with our other children while I drove my daughter to a bathroom. At the time, my wife thought I was being nice, but I grumbled the whole way to the convenience store, and I kept grumbling once we got inside. Then, as I was leaning against the wall outside the bathroom, the Spirit helped me recognize the anger in my heart and convicted me “concerning sin and righteousness” (John 16:8 NASB). And the Spirit didn’t just leave me aware of my sin, either. In that moment it was as though the Spirit also gave me a “new heart” (Ezekiel 36:26). I had a choice to live “according to the flesh” or “in accordance with the Spirit” (Romans 8:5), and the Spirit helped me respond to my daughter with patience and gentleness. Our drive back to the sledding hill was a lot more pleasant.
On this occasion the “fruit of the Spirit” became evident in my life. We can choose to give in to temptation and engage in “sexual immorality… hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition… envy, drunkenness… and the like” (Galatians 5:19-21). But the Spirit works to instill
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. — Galatians 5:22-23 NLT
When we exhibit self-control and are kind to someone who stabbed us in the back, we are following the lead of the Spirit. When we are patient with our spouse, even though they are driving us crazy, we show signs of being Spirit-filled. And when we are gentle with those who sin against us, we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit and holiness in our character.
Whenever I talk about character, holiness, and avoiding sin, some people automatically get concerned that I’m being legalistic. Legalism usually refers to rules people, rather than God, set in order to gain God’s approval, as though we are saved by our actions rather than grace. While God certainly does have ethical expectations for us, legalism is problematic because it promotes slavery to law rather than freedom from sin. Another problem with legalism is that rules don’t change us — the Spirit does.
When we are shaped by the Spirit, we don’t do what is right only because those who live according to their sinful nature “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). Instead, as the Spirit is poured out upon us like water to cleanse our hearts, the Spirit moves us from having a sense of duty to do what is right, to having delight in obeying God (Psalm 119). Overall, when we exhibit holiness, or the character of Christ, and avoid sin, we are the kind of person that the Bible calls spiritual (Galatians 6:1 NASB).
Proclaiming the Gospel
The Spirit not only enabled Jesus to remain sinless, but the Spirit also empowered Jesus for His ministry. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, who “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), Jesus said He received the Spirit “to proclaim” good news (Luke 4:18). Jesus told the disciples,
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses. — Acts 1:8
As a result, the book of Acts records numerous instances when believers “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). Another aspect of spirituality, then, is that we are inspired, led, and empowered by the Spirit to share the good news about Jesus Christ by ministering to our family and neighbors, to those in our workplaces, and to others around us.
When I was a teenager, my aunt owned a little white Geo Metro. I lived with her for a couple of summers so I could work in the city, and I occasionally borrowed her car. I could drive her car, and I could get it around, but it was difficult to get her car to go where I wanted it to go because it had manual steering. I especially had to yank on the steering wheel when I was trying to park. By contrast, I now own a long, green minivan that is two or three times as big as that little Geo Metro. But I can get it around easily because it has power in a way the Geo Metro didn’t. In fact, I could probably park my minivan using my pinky finger. I don’t have to struggle with the steering wheel because I’ve got power steering. Likewise, the Holy Spirit empowers us to be more effective in our ministry. By contrast, trying to do ministry without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is like trying to drive a car without power steering.
In addition to ministering by proclaiming the good news, Jesus was empowered by the Spirit to do miracles. He said he was anointed with the Spirit to proclaim “recovery of sight for the blind” (Luke 4:18) and that he drove “out demons by the Spirit of God” (Matthew 12:28 NLT). The Gospels are full of stories about Jesus doing miracles, from raising the dead to multiplying food. When Jesus told His disciples they would be “clothed with power from on high” when they received the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49), this also included their ability to do miracles like Jesus. As a result, after Pentecost,
everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. — Acts 2:43
This empowerment from the Spirit wasn’t only for the apostles, though. We find others doing miracles, too, like Stephen, who was “a man full of God’s grace and power” and who “performed amazing miracles and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8 NLT).
The Spirit still empowers Christians to do miracles today. We don’t receive this ability so we can look spiritual. Rather, this is another way the Spirit empowers us to witness (Acts 1:8). In the same way “many people saw the signs [Jesus] was performing and believed in his name” (John 2:23), as Christians perform miracles “through the power of the Spirit of God,” the miracles are “signs” pointing people to the truth of the gospel message (Romans 15:19). Therefore, in the first century, when “the apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people…, more and more men and women believed in the Lord” (Acts 5:12, 14).
One pastor I know recalls the Spirit doing miracles as he preached the gospel in a rural French community. The church he planted there worshipped in a modest twenty-by-sixty-foot storefront that didn’t even have a bathroom. One evening a short, stocky, forty-year-old farmer named Marcel arrived at their church with a lump on his right hand. He walked to the middle of the room and sat on one of the old wooden theater seats the church used as pews. At the end of the service, the pastor stood in front of the congregation and prayed for anyone who needed healing. Still sitting in his seat, Marcel looked down at his hand, and his jaw dropped — the lump was gone. The next time he and the pastor were together, Marcel reported what had happened. Although Marcel had only attended the church a few times in the past, after he was healed, he started inviting other families to the church, and he started hosting Bible studies in his home. God continued to use the pastor to perform miracles in his church as a means of confirming the truth he was preaching. As a result, after a few months the congregation outgrew the location where they were meeting, and they found a larger space to rent for their services.
While some people find the idea of the Spirit empowering them to perform miracles exciting, others find this a little depressing because they don’t see it present in their own lives. On one hand, I think we can relieve ourselves of the pressure of expecting to do miracles frequently, given that only some people have the gifts of miracles and healing (1 Corinthians 12:29-30). On the other hand, even though not everyone has the same gifts, this doesn’t mean the Spirit can’t use us in these areas. As I indicated in a previous chapter, not everyone has the gift of encouragement, but the Spirit can use anyone to encourage others. Likewise, the Spirit can work through anyone to heal another person.
But if we never pray for people to be healed, we have no reason to expect that the Spirit will use us to see people healed.
Excerpted with permission from Simply Spirit-Filled by Andrew Gabriel, copyright Andrew K. Gabriel.
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Walking in the Spirit and being Spirit-filled transforms our lives, our character, our communities as we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and even witness healings as we pray for those who are sick or in need! What have you seen the Spirit do in your own life? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily