READ : Luke 11:13
Christians have more questions about the person and work of the Holy Spirit than probably any other issue in the Christian life. Let’s focus today on one of the most important of those questions.
I can hardly wait to share with you some marvelously good news. It’s the open secret of living a life that pleases God and serves his purpose. It’s the key to expressing genuine love, to doing real good for other people. And it’s a way of great joy and fulfillment for you. Sound too good to be true? Strike you as an empty dream, a huckster’s promise? No, it’s not that, anything but that. It’s the authentic power and presence of God in someone’s life. It’s the rich experience of millions of ordinary people today. What I’m speaking of is being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Listen to these words of Jesus Christ to his followers. I’m reading from the Gospel according to Luke: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Jesus is saying as plainly as words can express that if we flawed human parents want to treat our children well, our heavenly Father wants infinitely more to give us his own Spirit.
The New Testament is full of this thrilling reality. It celebrates the two greatest gifts that God has ever given to the world: the gift of his Son for us and the gift of his Spirit to us. The greatest reality of the past is that Jesus Christ lived, suffered, died, and rose again for us. And the greatest reality of the present is that the risen Christ shares his life with his people in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. God’s presence with us, his power in us, is wonderfully available now. It’s possible for people like us to be filled with the Spirit of the Living God. How? How? How can that be true for you, and for me?
The New Testament writers have several things to say about that, and I want to lift out three that are central and crucial. Two are implied in this verse that I’ve read, and the third is its main point. Think with me about how to be filled with the Spirit.
TRUST IN JESUS
First, it’s a matter of simple trust in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul raises an intriguing question in his letter to the Galatians, “Let me ask you only this,” he writes, “did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Gal. 3:2). He’s taking these believers back to the very beginning of their Christian experience. He’s reminding them of how it all started. How did they receive new life? How did God become personally present to them? How did they receive the Holy Spirit? Was it by their efforts or was it by God’s grace? Was it by keeping commandments or by believing in Jesus? Paul is sure there can be only one answer to that question. All Christians, he says, “receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:14).
Here’s how it happens. When you hear the good news that God loves you and gave his Son to die for you, when you learn that Christ bore your sins and carried your sorrows so that you could be forgiven, when you recognize that he conquered death on your behalf and lives to give you new life and when you accept him in simple trust as your Savior, you receive the gift of God’s Spirit. He brings you into vital union with the risen Savior, Jesus Christ. He takes up his abode in your heart.
We know that this is true because we have God’s clear and repeated pledge about it. In fact, it is so central to the Christian message that Jesus can refer to the gift of the Spirit as the promise of the Father, the one in which all others are included. God will put his Spirit within his own ones. They will be his children, and he will be their Father. God will pour out his Spirit on all kinds and classes of people. One will no longer need to instruct another about “knowing the Lord” because all will know him, from the least to the greatest. All will partake of his Holy Spirit. (Compare Jer. 31:33,34).
My first word to you if you have never received Jesus as your Redeemer is this: believe in him, call upon him, entrust your life to him, and you will surely receive the gift of his Holy Spirit. And, if you are a Christian today, if you have relied on Jesus as your Savior, then you have received the Spirit. Whether you feel his presence or not, whether you’ve had a particular type of experience or not, the Holy Spirit is now living within you. Paul can write to all the Christians in Corinth, though many of them were spiritually immature and even problem-ridden, “What, don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Cor. 6:19). Christian, that is true for you. Gratefully acknowledge the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. Thank him. Rejoice in him. Praise him that he is now dwelling in you.
SURRENDER TOTALLY TO GOD
Secondly, being filled with God’s Spirit is a matter of submission to God’s will. The Apostle Peter cries out to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). “Repent,” that is, “change your ways, turn away from everything that displeases God and turn your whole life over to him.” Later, when on trial before the high priest, Peter speaks again of the Holy Spirit as the One whom God has given to those who obey him, who hearken to him, those who listen to his voice, who give heed to what he says.
When Paul writes to the Ephesians about being filled with the Spirit, it’s in connection with being “in submission to one another out of reverence for Christ.” We are to be so committed to the lordship of Jesus that we defer to all who are God’s children. We are ready to listen to them, to learn from them, to serve their interests.
Paul also writes to the Galatians, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). He’s using here a kind of military term. He wants all Christians to obey the Spirit’s marching orders, to keep in step with him, to follow his lead.
Remember, friends, that when we speak of the Holy Spirit, we speak of God personally dwelling within his people. Never think of the Spirit as an impersonal force or a vague influence. And never think of your relationship to the Spirit as anything short of personal. The Spirit doesn’t fill people as you fill a wheel barrow with stones or a bucket with water. He fills us as we submit ourselves to his reign. It isn’t that we get “more of the Spirit,” as though he were a physical substance, but that he gets “more of us,” as all of our personhood is yielded up to his control.
In fact, we normally experience the Spirit’s presence and power as we set about obeying God’s will. It’s as you commit yourself to pray, as you put yourself on the firing line, as it were, to bear witness, as you determine to follow him in service that his mighty working becomes evident in your life.
And always remember that the Spirit who dwells within you as a Christian is the same Spirit who inspired the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. The way in which he leads you will always be in accord with the way in which he has led the church for centuries through his Word.
An army sergeant was accustomed to place on the camp bulletin board the assignments of his men for each day. If they came to him personally to ask him about what they were to do, he referred them there. “Have you looked at the bulletin board?” was his question. And if you want to know how the Holy Spirit would have you walk, always check first the “bulletin board,” the will of God made known in the Bible.
KEEP ON ASKING
Third, being filled with the Spirit in a matter of persistent, expectant prayer. “How much more,” says Jesus, “will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Lk. 11:13). And that word ask is in the present tense, which in Greek implies a continuing action. The Father gives the Holy Spirit, Jesus assures us, to those who “keep on asking and seeking and knocking.”
Now it’s the same gospel writer Luke, you remember, who tells us in Acts, chapter 2, of the one-time gift of the Holy Spirit – the unrepeatable event of Pentecost. He’s not contradicting that here. But he’s recording Jesus’ word about how the presence, the power of the Spirit is experienced in full measure in the lives of believers as they go on in the Christian life.
Think of what happened to the early Christians. Just before the Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost, they were unitedly praying, and they all received the gift of the Spirit. (Acts 1:14) But some time later, when persecution arose, they were praying again, this time for help to speak the gospel boldly in the teeth of opposition. And Luke records that after they prayed, they were filled with the Holy Spirit again for a new work and witness. (Acts 4:31) And that kept on happening throughout the book of Acts. The Spirit dwells with God’s people in a continuing relationship, but he also fills them over and over again, enduing them with fresh resources for each new testing or opportunity.
Remember what I said earlier about the way in which the Holy Spirit fills us. It’s not an automatic process. We never have the Spirit’s fullness as a kind of personal possession, subject to our disposal. He is always the sovereign Lord. He fills us dynamically as we express an ever-renewed dependence upon him.
In New Testament Christianity prayer and the Holy Spirit belong inseparably together. We pray for the Spirit, but it’s also the Spirit who quickens prayer in us. The One for whom we ask is our helper in the asking. He’s the source of our praying and its great answer. To use an analogy from human breathing, we are always inhaling the Spirit’s presence and power as we exhale our prayers for his fullness. In other words, it’s the regular pattern of the Christian life.
In the filling of God’s Spirit, we receive all we need to serve God’s purpose, all we need to live a life of love to God and our fellow human beings, all we need for fullness of life. The Spirit brings the riches of Christ to us. Remember how in the parallel passage in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says, “how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?” (Mt. 7:11). In the passage here in Luke all those good things are comprehended in the gift of the Spirit. This promise is the climax of the greatest section on prayer in the entire Bible. Of all the things that we can ask of God for his glory and our good, this is the sum. The Father will surely give his own Spirit to those who persistently ask.
George MacDonald, the mentor of C.S. Lewis, used to talk about why God wants his children to keep on asking, and MacDonald’s answer to that is, “It’s to bring his child to his knee. God withholds so his children will ask.” And MacDonald goes on to say that in every other gift that God gives to us in response to our prayers, he gives himself, his own Spirit, to us.
Now, do you object to that needing to keep on asking? Does that seem unreasonable to you? Is it bothersome that you should need continually to ask for the Spirit’s fullness? Why, you wonder, should God so order his dealings with us? No one, surely, can give a full answer to that. But we have some hints. We are never so clearly expressing the reality of our human condition as when we are asking from God. The truth is that we are totally dependent upon him for life and breath and all things. Our asking says that, doesn’t it? Over and over again, in petition, in asking, we say that the source of our life, our virtue, our power to do good, lies not in ourselves but in him. The life of persistent asking for the fullness of his Spirit expresses the Soli Deo Gloria – to God alone be glory!
How, friends, can you be filled with his Spirit? Hear it again: by simply trusting in Jesus Christ, by submitting your whole life to his direction and by ceaselessly asking, “Gracious Father, fill me now with your Holy Spirit!” Make that your prayer, your lifelong prayer, your prayer every day, your prayer in everything you face.”