Pastor John, in pursuing daily joy in God, how important is the permanently abiding and indwelling Holy Spirit in me? And if indwelling is important, how do I explain my own personal fluctuating experience of joy in God when then source of my personal joy — the Holy Spirit — is constantly, personally present in me at all times?
That is a really good question, because its premises are right. We do have the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is sovereign, he is God, and so why isn’t he producing his fruits in me as fully as they could possibly be produced? And one of those fruits is joy (Galatians 5:22). That is a really, really good question.
The Spirit’s Work Is Not Static
If you go to the book of Ephesians, there are clues that the Holy Spirit doesn’t, in fact, govern us that way. Ephesians 5:18, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit,” clearly signals that there are gradations of fullness and that means, I think, gradations of the Holy Spirit’s control. That is, he is willing to let himself be more or less resisted.
He says in Ephesians 4:30, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” So the Holy Spirit is willing to let himself be grieved by certain attitudes that we have. That doesn't mean the Holy Spirit has ceased to be God, that he somehow ceased to have the power to sanctify us. It means that he has his sovereign reasons for why he would be willing to be grieved by us.
And in Ephesians 1:17–19 — it is just amazing how many of these are in Ephesians — Paul prays for the saints that the eyes of our heart would be opened to know our calling and to see the greatness of our inheritance and the power at work in us. I mean, why would he pray that? Well, because our eyes get dull. And if our eyes get dull our feelings get dull. And the Holy Spirit answers that by opening the eyes of our hearts, which means he could have kept them open, but he has his reasons for allowing there to be these seasons of seeing less clearly.
"God gets more glory through Christians battling their own sin than if we were to just be transformed in an instant."
The same thing in Ephesians 3:18 where Paul prays that you be strengthened with power in your heart according to his Spirit, that Christ would dwell in your hearts by faith. That is a strange thing to pray for a Christian, isn’t it? We all have Christ with us. We all have the Holy Spirit within us. And yet he is praying that Christ would dwell. I think that means that Christ would dwell manifestly, that Christ would dwell powerfully.
All of this simply says both the Holy Spirit and the indwelling Christ are there and that they are always present for the believer. They don’t go in and out, but they are there in different levels of power, different levels of manifestation, different levels of control.
God Is Glorified in Progressive Holiness
And if you ask me, “Why wouldn’t he just take us right there,” I would say it’s the same reason he hasn’t knocked the devil out entirely, which he could do this afternoon. He could just end the devil’s existence entirely. He could change history entirely. He could bring the kingdom entirely. And instead he is working progressively with us, because, evidently, he gets more glory through the kinds of battles Christians fight with their own sin than if we were to just be transformed in an instant.