On Monday night (yes, last Monday night) we began an exploration of what the Scriptures teach us about the Holy Spirit. Here are the notes:
The Holy Spirit: Making Us Alive
Introduction: See Genesis 2:7. God breathed into the first man’s nostrils “the breath of live,” and he became a living being. Then … in Genesis 2:15-17 God gives Adam his work, and brings him into relationship with Himself with a command—“don’t eat of this one tree; I’ve given you the whole earth, but I’m putting this tree under My personal authority, as the creator and king over the whole creation.” So just by keeping that command Adam acknowledged God’s authority and protected himself from whatever it was about the tree God wanted him shielded from, at least for then. And if he kept the command, he could avoid the result of eating from the tree which God says is death.
These two passages set up our first study on the Holy Spirit, because if you’re familiar with what happens, literally on the next page of the bible, Adam and his wife Eve—the first couple—they eat the fruit from the tree, and some interesting (I think we could say tragic) things happen. But one things we might have expected to happen doesn’t happen. What doesn’t happen is that Adam and Eve’s eyes go blank and they drop to the grass as corpses, and end of story. No…life seems to continue right along, except that now everything seems to have been fundamentally changed in terms of how they experience the world. Whereas before this it’s hard for us to even imagine what things were like, because everything seems pretty peaceful, no suffering, and no hint of death or anything like that, and afterwards there’s this immediate anxiety, running from God, lying, passing the blame—and God is telling them that now the world is going to be a difficult place—and he pretty much just describes the world we know and live in every day.
So you’re left to wonder and think about it, right from the beginning of how the bible describes the world—what did happen when they ate that fruit? We know they immediately were in a world where death is a reality, and all the processes that cause it had begun, so that we could say—that was the day they died, meaning, it all started then. But as you keep reading the bible, you start to realize that something else must have happened; something even bigger and more fundamental; something closer to what men and women really are. Because as the story progresses, the problem’s not just that people physically die.
There’s clearly a much bigger problem here—something has been altered about humanity. God told the first couple that they were to rule over the whole creation, and it implies that they’re going to take a wild creation and make it great. But by just the second generation—their kids are killing each other. And it keeps going from there—the bible records humanity’s story of generation after generation of difficulty and violence and oppression and let down, and finally, death. Of course there’s beauty and victory in there too, but when the story started out sounding like we’d have only beauty and victory, and instead you get war and suffering, you have to just be asking yourself, what’s up with people? And asking that question leads us to some deeper insights—it’s not just that people mess with each other, it’s something else too—it’s this really pronounced separation from God too. Whereas at first it seems like Adam and Eve had a total sense of who God was—they were like him, and they were near to him, now there’s all this distance—and people are totally not like God. All the horribleness we do to each other is just nothing like the God who made us and gave us the earth as a gift and wants to walk with us in the cool of the day.
…and maybe that starts to get us closer to the other important thing we need to hear when we read God’s warning to Adam that, “when you eat the fruit, you’ll die.” Maybe God’s saying something like—if you turn your back on me and deny what I’ve said and make your own rules, it’s going to change our relationship, and it’s going to put separation between us, and that will do lasting damage to who and what you are. And so when we see humans treating each other in horrible ways, it’s just the most obvious outworking of that fact that humans are separated from God, we’re ignorant of who he is, so we don’t even know who we are, and we don’t know him, and we’re not like him. And for a human being, the bible calls that death. Physical death is just the inevitable physical conclusion to this state of separation and estrangement from God. We were never created to live independently from him.
What Jesus said about all this: (See John 3:1-17)
Now, it’s into this mix that Jesus came, walking around, doing his miracles, gathering crowds and a following, and teaching. And I wanted to start with all this background because I think it throws immediate light onto the passages we’re going to read. One of the things Jesus did when he taught was to, sort of out of the blue, drop these truths on people, where he was telling them about the Holy Spirit.
A lot of times it seems to come from left field and catch them off guard, and they might not really even get what he’s saying unless he explains himself. But one of the major things he wanted to get across to us has to do with God’s solution to this state of death that exists for humanity.
So we’re just going to look at three passages where Jesus spoke about the Holy Spirit, and we’re going to concentrate on one key aspect of what he was saying, and what it tells us about the Holy Spirit.
What do we learn about the Holy Spirit in John 3:1-17?
- The Spirit brings life. In other words, the Spirit makes human beings alive.
And, the Spirit makes them alive with the kind of life you need to have in order to see, and enter, the kingdom of God. (v. 3, 5)
- This life is everlasting. (v.16) In other words, the problem of physical death, and how it seems to be the boundary of our life, is taken away with this life Jesus gives—this life goes on forever.
- And then you have this language about being born again—Jesus says experiencing this life for the first time is a new birth. Jesus is clearly at pains to try to get this across to Nicodemus, and it’s right where Nicodemus is struggling to follow him, but it seems like Jesus is letting him know that, this life that the Spirit brings is so new, and so different from the kind of life Nicodemus and you and I are used to, so much fuller and bigger and better and…more alive to everything eternal and spiritual and real and significant—even to the world of matter and humanity, that it’s like a whole new birth. It’s such an upgrade, such a life upgrade, that Jesus says, it’s really like being born all over again, or really, it’s that you weren’t actually alive yet, and then, you are. So, you had a kind of birth once, that brought you into this world as human being, but, if you want to do anything more than live in a body and die one day, if you want to live the eternal life of the kingdom of God, if you want to be alive to spiritual things, you need this
- Or, as he says in verses 5 and 6 and 8, You need to be born of the Spirit. The way Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit in this conversation tells us the Spirit’s place in all this. This new birth is the birth of the Spirit. In other words, it is the new life a man or woman experiences when the Holy Spirit gives them life. And in verse 16, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit gives this life to everyone who trusts in Jesus to get it.
So to sum up, here in John 3 we’re seeing that Jesus taught that God’s way of solving the death problem is the Holy Spirit—he comes and gives God’s life, real life, to everyone who believes. So we can only be alive in this sense when we know and trust Christ, when we’re in relation with him, when we’re actually indwelt by the Spirit—and what that’s like is a whole new birth, which makes you alive to eternal things, and God’s eternal kingdom.
What do we learn about the Holy Spirit in John 4:10-14 and 7:37-39?
- God likes to give people this experience of new life.
- And we get some more description of what it’s like to come alive to God this way. Having the Holy Spirit give you God’s life is like taking a drink of water. It’s like taking a drink of water that’s so refreshing, so satisfying, that you’re so fulfilled, in the deepest part of who you are, (7:38), that not only are you satisfied, but you have so much life, so much satisfaction, it overflows on all the people in your life—everyone you meet. It’s like taking a drink of water, and then that water is coming out of you and taking care of everyone else’s thirst too.
- John wants us to know in 7:39—he was speaking about the Holy Spirt.
- Now if you ask, “ok but how do I drink?” we can get some answers by listening to how Jesus plays his verbs off each other. Here in chapter 7 we’ve got “come,” “drink,” and “believe.” (v.37-8)
If you work through it, I think you end up seeing something like: “Drinking” is simply “coming” to Jesus and “believing.” And you could say, “believing” is “coming” and “drinking”—trusting Jesus to be the only one who can satisfy the thirst of your soul.
- When you “drink,” when you come to Jesus to be the one who takes care of your soul thirst, you know, you start out with that thirst in your soul that’s there in all of us—but after you drink this water, you’ll never have that thirst again. (In John 6, he says it’s like eating a meal that makes you never hungry again.)
So in the Gospel of John, we find that Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit is God’s answer to one of the greatest issues that plagues us—that spiritual death that makes our physical death inevitable. By his Holy Spirit, God gives new, eternal life to everyone who relies on Jesus. So if we want to understand who the Holy Spirit is, I think this is a great place to start, I think it’s profound that it seems to be where Jesus started when he began to teach about the Holy Spirit—The Holy Spirit is God’s way of overcoming death, and making us alive.
Some Thoughts and Challenges:
When we read these things, we should just ask ourselves—In general, do people have this today? Do they have this kind of life? Do we have satisfied, overflowing souls—or is thirst the dominant vibe today? Do we have life that stretches out beyond physical death? Does our vision even extends that far—or is death the final boundary for them? Can we see the kingdom of God—or is it hidden behind the casket?
Jesus says, no one is originally born with this life. Only people who are born a second time have it. How do you know if you have it? I struggle with really getting in there and defining this sometimes, because to be honest, I myself had a very abrupt, pretty intense experience with God’s Spirit when I was 16 years old—and when I looked back on it, a little later, I realized it was then that I came alive, and then that I came to know God, God’s Spirit, and it was then that I was filled with his Spirit. And I don’t know that everyone has that exact experience. The bible gives me no reason to think I should define it like that and expect everyone to have the same story. It seems like maybe some people have an experience that’s a little more gradual.
So how do you know if you’ve drunk, if you’ve been born again? It’s very simple. According to what Jesus teaches here, you just have to ask some basic questions:
- Am I alive to Spiritual things? Do I care only about material things, or am I passionate about Spiritual things? Am I aware of them, and motivated by them, moved by them, and drawn towards Spiritual things? And when I say “Spiritual,” Jesus is very careful to define it—He means Spiritual as in, what “the scriptures said”—how the bible describes God—Spiritual as defined by the God of the bible and what He’s written—in other words, when Jesus says “spiritual,” he really just means, “having to do with the Holy Spirit.”
- Am I alive to eternal things? Do I care only about things that have to do with my lifespan, or the history of my culture, or am I passionate about, aware of, motivated by, moved by, and drawn towards the things God says will last forever things?
- Am I alive to the kingdom of God? Does it factor in to my thinking? Does it shape my plans, my desires? Do I care only about things that have to do with my personal world, or the world of politics and culture and human efforts, or am I passionate about, aware of, motivated by, moved by, and drawn towards the kingdom God will set up when Jesus returns?
- Do I depend on Jesus, and come to him, to satisfy the thirst at the center of my soul? Or do I count on other things to take care of my inner hunger?
- Has the thirst in my soul been satisfied? Or, am I still thirsty? At the core of my being has there always been this hunger, this space that’s never been filled—and I’m still just trying to find things to satisfy it?
Now if you’re answering yes to all these questions, it might mean that you had an obvious point in your life when you remember experiencing this kind of transition—and you can say, “that’s when I was born again,” or for you it might have been slower and more gradual, but in that case there’s been some time when you looked up and realized that you were different than you had been. In either case you should recognize—I once was dead to all these things, and now I’m alive to them. And they’re alive to me.
Or your story might be a little different. Maybe it happened when you were so young, that you don’t really remember a time before. That’s cool too. But then, if you think that’s the case for you, these questions are still important. If you never remember being dead to these things, and you read these passages of scripture and think, “yeah—I’m not perfect, but man, I love the Holy Spirit, I love eternal things, I want to live my life shaped around the kingdom of God, and—yeah, I don’t have a gnawing hunger at the core of my soul—Jesus is there! He’s enough,” then even though you can’t remember the change, clearly, according to what Jesus teaches here, he would tell you that you’re alive by his standards.
But, please consider: If you just have kind of always thought, “yeah, I got saved when I was like 3,”and that’s what it’s all about for you, and you’re not really sure about those questions, you should stop and think—are you really alive to Spiritual things? Do they matter to you? What about eternal things? Do they have weight in your life? Do have gravity—do you orbit around them? Do they move you? And what about that space in the center of your soul—what do you find there? Is there the same gnawing hunger and thirst, never really satisfied, just like everyone else you doesn’t know anything about Jesus? If Jesus isn’t there, right at the center of your life, giving you what you need inside, so that you aren’t driven like other people to fill the void, then you need the Holy Spirit. He’s the water Jesus gives.
And when he comes into your life. You come alive—to all the most important things.