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Holy Spirit

Rules & Regs or Spirit Led?

It is the passion of many Christians to find the complete series of rules and regulations of which they can say, "This is how to be a Christian." I'm reminded of the story of Paderewski (apocryphal, probably) in which an admiring musician gushed, "Oh Mr. Paderewski! How could I become a great violinist like you?" "Be born again - this time with talent!" We are in the same way: no heap of rules, no mountain of regulations will do. We must be born again - in the Spirit.

{9} However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" ‑‑ {10} but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. {11} For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. {12} We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. {13} This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. {14} The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. {15} The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: {16} "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ. ‑‑ 1 Corinthians 2:9‑16 (NIV)

There it is. We are born of the Spirit. It is now for us to discover what that really means.

The Unlimited Nature of the Spirit

Jesus had, as best the Scripture records, one significant conversation with a practicing, orthodox Pharisee - a man who kept the Law in all detail. That man was Nicodemus, and the conversation is in John 3:

{5} Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. {6} Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. {7} You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' {8} The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." ‑‑ John 3:5‑8 (NIV)

There are two great principles here. First, in ways which are not clear, the coming of the Spirit is associated with baptism. More to our point now, the Spirit is not controlled by man. Nor is the man controlled by the Spirit controlled by man! This has tremendous implications for those of us in the Spirit

* "Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go..." as the hymn writer put it. There are no restrictions on where I can go. Not just the restrictions of fear; the restrictions of censure, too.

* The world's ideas of what I can do or what I can be no longer apply. With the mind of Christ (the Spirit) what is there that I cannot accomplish - if God wills it? Bunyan was nearly illiterate and often in jail - and wrote Pilgrim's Progress. Moody was a shoe salesman. The Scripture is full of such examples. Why then, do we limit the Spirit? Indeed, the Spirit is given without limit:

For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. ‑‑ John 3:34 (NIV)

This idea that the Spirit is (as God indeed) without limit has some interesting implications. In our search for the rules we sometimes miss things. For example, people keep asking things like, "How can God be in Jesus and in the Spirit at the same time?" Foolishness! God is superior to time and space; He created them. Proof? Consider who was present at Jesus' baptism:

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." ‑‑ Matthew 3:16-17 (NIV)

All three persons of God are present. Indeed, we keep trying to restrict the Spirit in our rules and regulations. "The Spirit is given at baptism!" "The Spirit comes later!" "The Spirit comes before baptism!" All three examples are given in the New Testament. Acts 2:38 is used to justify "at baptism." But here are two examples of "before" and "after."


{15} When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, {16} because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. {17} Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. ‑‑ Acts 8:15‑17 (NIV)


{44} While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. {45} The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. {46} For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, {47} "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." ‑‑ Acts 10:44‑47 (NIV)

The Spirit goes where He wishes - and so does the Christian. The Spirit is not restrained by our ritual (even as it is commanded) but rather He comes into our hearts and minds by belief:

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? ‑‑ Galatians 3:2-3 (NIV)

We have freedom in the Spirit; freedom to become everything that God intended humans to become.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. ‑‑ 2 Corinthians 3:17 (NIV)

The Law and the Spirit

The early church had this same difficulty in dealing with the Spirit. They wanted to go back to the Law, slightly modified to account for Jesus. Paul dealt with this in the Roman church:

{8:1} Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, {2} because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. {3} For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, {4} in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. {5} Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. {6} The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; {7} the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. {8} Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. {9} 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. {10} But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. {11} 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. {12} Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation‑‑but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. {13} For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, {14} because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. {15} 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." {16} The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. {17} 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. {18} I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. {19} The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. {20} For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope {21} that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. {22} We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. {23} Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. {24} For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? {25} But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. {26} In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. {27} And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. {28} And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. {29} For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. {30} And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. {31} What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? {32} He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all‑‑how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? {33} Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. {34} Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died‑‑more than that, who was raised to life‑‑is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. {35} Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? {36} As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." {37} No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. {38} For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, {39} neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. {9:1} I speak the truth in Christ‑‑I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit‑‑ ‑‑ Romans 8:1‑9:1 (NIV)

(Please note that this discussion really applies to mature Christians; see Romans 14 for the distinction applied to the immature Christian)

The chapter is well worth the reading. Note please two major points:

* The Spirit gives life. This is an explicit reference to the resurrection of the dead at the second coming of Christ. We have it now and we will have it then.

* The Spirit intercedes for us. Indeed, what else? The Spirit is God in us; who else could possibly intercede for us, the priesthood of believers?

With such life, with such intercession, how could anything succeed in condemning us? In this writing, Paul soars. Here we see life in the Spirit, amplified!

This life in the Spirit is completely opposite of "freedom" as we know it today (actually, license).

{16} So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. {17} For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. {18} But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. ‑‑ Galatians 5:16‑18 (NIV)

So we see it: life in the Spirit is not rules and regulations, nor is it total license. It is being what God designed us to be. This is a radical change from the Old Testament. Where did such a change come from? The Cross!

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. ‑‑ John 7:38-39 (NIV)

But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. ‑‑ John 16:7 (NIV)

The Cross indeed set us free to become what God intended for us. What then, is the purpose of this radical change?

Purposes of the Spirit

Several purposes of the Spirit are mentioned in the New Testament. Some of these include

The Spirit as "Seal"

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession‑‑to the praise of his glory. ‑‑ Ephesians 1:13-14 (NIV)

Here the Spirit is given as evidence to us that we indeed are saved; and that we will be raised at the second coming of our Lord.

The Spirit as Credential

"As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" ‑‑ Acts 11:15-17 (NIV)

In this passage Peter is justifying his speaking to Gentiles about Christ. His argument is simple: If the Spirit comes on them, then God says they're OK - right? The Spirit continues to do this today - for God will not allow His church to remain in error.

Spirit speaking through the Apostles

for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. ‑‑ Matthew 10:20 (NIV)

Indeed the entire range of inspiration of the Scriptures is also the work of the Spirit. But for most of us, the primary purpose of the Spirit is given in these passages:

{8} When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: {9} in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; {10} in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; {11} and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. {12} "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. {13} But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. {14} He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. ‑‑ John 16:8‑14 (NIV)

Verse 8 gives us the key to one of the puzzles of the New Testament: the unforgivable sin.

And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. ‑‑ Matthew 12:31-32 (NIV)

How can someone sin against the Holy Spirit? The logic is fairly easy, actually. Look at it this way: forgiveness of sins is a process. The first step in that process is to be convinced that a) there is such a thing as righteousness; b) you don't have it; c)the judgment of that sin is too great for you to bear. Once convinced, you cry out to God for help - who provides it completely at the Cross. But if you will not accept that first step (a, b and c) - how can you possibly be saved against your will? You cannot be saved! To reject that first step is the sin against the Holy Spirit.

In summary, we have it this way:

  • The Spirit goes, without limits, where He wants to go.

  • The result of this is that we are free from law, rule and regulation - but free to be what God intended us to be. The mechanism of this freedom is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

  • The Spirit has His purposes: primary among these is the conviction of sin and judgment and righteousness. For those outside Christ, this is to produce repentance leading to salvation. For those in Christ, this conviction leads to repentance and a deeper relationship with Christ.

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