I wonder if you know why I have complete confidence that the Holy Spirit is mightily at work in this room right now. Or, more specifically — and this is more important — do you know that the Holy Spirit is right now at work powerfully in your life? Can you identify your experience — and I do mean experience — of the Spirit at work in your life now? This very moment?
I’ll tell you my reason for the confidence that he is at work now in this room, and then you can judge if what I say applies to you. The apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:3,
No one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
The reason I am confident that the Holy Spirit is massively at work in this room is that hundreds of you say in your heart and with your lips, “Jesus is Lord.” You are here at this conference because of this reality. You say and mean from your heart: “I believe in the saving power, the supreme authority, and the unsurpassed beauty of the lordship of Jesus Christ. That saving, authoritative, beautiful lordship is supreme in my life.” Hundreds of you say that, and mean it.
And the Bible says, You can’t do that except by the Spirit. You cannot. Oudeis dunatai — “No one is able to say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by in the Holy Spirit.”
The Divine Diagnosis
That is a divinely inspired diagnosis of the human heart and a divine prescription of the only remedy that will heal it. Every human heart, everywhere in the world, is in such a rebellious spiritual condition that it cannot submit to the lordship of Jesus. And the only remedy is the triumphant work of the Holy Spirit to change that rebellion into submission.
Here’s the way Paul put it in Romans 8:7:
The mind of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Or here’s the way he put it in 1 Corinthians 2:14:
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
Or here is the way Jesus put it in John 6:44:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.
And when Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus answered him, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17)
No one — anywhere in the world, among any people group in the world — not one in their “natural” condition, in “the mind of the flesh,” as mere human “flesh and blood” can say “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
And hundreds of you do say it. And therefore I have complete confidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in this room right now.
More Than Mere Words
Of course, you know as well as I do, that a computer can be programmed to say, Jesus is Lord. That would not have surprised Jesus or contradicted anything Paul or he had said. Because they both knew that the mere words, “Jesus is Lord” mean nothing. Jesus put it like this:
On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:22–23)
When Paul says, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit,” he means that no one can say it from the heart. No one can really mean it. He makes that plain in Romans 10:9:
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
And Jesus warned that there were fake affirmations of lordship:
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. (Matthew 15:8)
So, when I say, I have complete confidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in this room right now, I am saying, I am confident that the vast majority of you who say, Jesus is Lord, mean it. And that’s why you are here.
Do You Really Believe It?
And now I ask again that more specific, more important, question: Do you know that the Holy Spirit is right now at work in your life? Can you identify your experience — and I do mean experience — of the Spirit at work in your life now? This very moment?
I just gave you a constellation of biblical truth about who you were, who you are, and how you got there. You may have never heard that before in your life. It is possible to experience something supernatural, miraculous, and glorious, and not know how to put it into words. But now I have put it into words.
And the question is Do you believe it? Does it make your heart soar that your acclamation of the lordship of Christ over your life is decisively the work of the Holy Spirit, and not your own? Are you amazed and glad that it is the Holy Spirit who caused it, and you are performing it? That he created it, and you are acting it out? Are you glad that he is the fire? And your love for Christ is the heat, and your testimony to his lordship is the light?
The Spirit Humbles and Empowers
If not, I pray that you will be glad by the time this conference is over, because this has everything to do with world evangelization. It means that there would be no goers — no missionaries without the work of the Holy Spirit, for there would be no Christians. And it means that, if there were goers, there would be no converts anywhere in the world, because nobody moves from the lordship of Satan to the lordship of Christ without the Holy Spirit.
There would be no world evangelization, no world missions, if it were not for the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. And when you think about it, this fact is both humbling and empowering.
It humbles us because we know we did not save ourselves, and we could never save anyone else. We are in ourselves powerless, and that is humbling, as it should be.
And this fact also empowers us, because no matter how weak we feel before the powers of darkness, and before supernatural principalities and authorities of this world, the Holy Spirit is sovereign and will cause anyone he pleases to see and say that Jesus is Lord. He’s been doing it for 2,000 years, and he will finish the mission. He will awaken and gather all of Christ’s sheep (John 10:16; 11:52).
Know the Holy Spirit
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Do we even know who he is? Is Holy Spirit just a religious term with no content? Do we know what his mission in the world is? Do we know the astonishing work that he does for all those to trust Christ? Do we know how to experience his fullest power? Those are the questions I turn to now.
None of the teachings of the Bible about the Holy Spirit will have their proper effect on us unless we are persuaded that the Holy Spirit is himself a person, and that he is a divine person namely God, the Spirit, the second person of the Trinity.
The most important passage in the Bible to support the truth that the Holy Spirit is a Person, not just a force, or an influence, or an aspect of God, is John 14–16. Let me just point to two brief things that confirm the personhood of the Holy Spirit.
1. Jesus calls him “another Counselor.”
I will pray the Father and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth. (John 14:16; see also John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7).
When Jesus calls him a Counselor or Comforter, he treats him as a person not a force. And when he calls him “another Counselor,” he means, “He will be a counselor like me.” The Holy Spirit is a counselor like Jesus is — he is a person.
2. The Holy Spirit is described not merely as the voice of God’s teaching but as a teacher in his own right.
The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things. (John 14:26)
And in John 15:26 he is a witness in his own right:
When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me.
And lest we think that the Spirit is just the extended teaching activity of the Father and the Son, John 16:13 says that the Spirit first hears and then teaches:
He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak.
The Spirit is treated not as a force, or influence, or activity of another person, but as a person in his own right, hearing from the Father and the Son, and teaching and bearing witness to men.
A Living Person
It will make a difference in your own life if you believe that you are indwelt, and led, and purified not by impersonal forces from a distant God, but by a living person. Handley C. G. Moule, the former bishop of Durham who died in 1920, gave witness to the importance of the Spirit’s personality. I pray this will your experience:
Never shall I forget the gain to my conscious faith and peace which came to my own soul, . . . from a more intelligent and conscious hold upon the living and most gracious Personality of that Holy Spirit. . . . It was a new development of insight into the Love of God. It was a new contact as it were with the inner eternal movements of redeeming goodness and power, a new discovery in divine resources. (Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, 13)
And now add to the truth that the Holy Spirit is a person the second truth that he is not just a person, but a divine person. The person who indwells, and leads, and purifies is no one less than God the Holy Spirit. The simple evidence for this is the frequent designation of this person — not this force or presence or influence — as the “Spirit of God.”
The Holy Spirit is “of God” not because God created him, or that he is an impersonal energy flowing from him, but because he shares God’s nature and comes forth eternally from God. Think of it this way: If the Son of God is equally eternal with the Father, as the Apostle John says — “In the beginning with the Word and the Word was with God and was God” (John 1:1) — then the Holy Spirit is equally eternal with them both — not created — because, according to Romans 8:9–11, the Spirit of Christ is one and the same with the Spirit of God. Therefore, just as the Son of God is co-eternal with God and is God, so the Spirit of God is co-eternal with God and is God.
And thus Christianity introduces to the world in bright lights what was only dimly foreshadowed in the Old Testament, namely, that there is one God and he exists in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the Great Commission commands us to go to all the nations to make disciples, baptizing them in the name (not names, name!) of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
And if those words are not to be meaningless, then our job in missions is to explain everywhere to everyone how each person of the Trinity has a special role in the triumph of world missions: The Father conceived and planned salvation; the Son came and purchased salvation; and the Holy Spirit was sent to spread and apply salvation.
So we live in the third great era of the world, the era of the Spirit.
The Spirit’s Work Is to Glorify Jesus
So our next question is: What is his mission? What was he sent to do? And I aim to be very personal and specific: What is he committed to do in your life as a follower of Jesus?
Of all the things that the Bible says the Holy Spirit is sent to do, the most ultimate one — the one that unifies all the others in one great purpose — is to glorify Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 16:14,
When the Spirit of truth comes . . . . He will glorify me.
He does many things in the world and in our lives. But all of them serve this ultimate purpose because there isn’t anything higher: to reveal the beauty and the greatness of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit was sent into the world to cause blind people to see and savor the unsurpassed beauty and the greatness of Jesus.
Nobody anywhere in the world sees the glory of Jesus as supreme, and nobody anywhere in the world admires the glory of Jesus supremely, without the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. And yet that global admiration of the glory of Christ is the goal of God in this world.
We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, (Romans 1:5)
The aim of world missions is that the name — the glory, the beauty, the greatness — of Jesus would be known and admired with white hot passion among all the peoples of the world. Because
God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)
This is the ultimate reason that the Holy Spirit was sent into the world, that the name of Jesus would be valued above every name, and his glory desired and admired above every good, every glory, every god in the universe. That is the great work of the Holy Spirit. That is what this era of history is about since Jesus returned to heaven and poured out the Holy Spirit for the sake of his mission.
That is what this conference is about. And we are praying that this is what your life will be about.
Seven Steps of the Spirit’s Work in Your Life
This brings us now to the question: What is the Holy Spirit committed to do in your life as a follower of Jesus? I’ll answer this in seven steps, all of which are essential to God’s mission in the world.
1. First, he has given you life — spiritual life.
You would still be dead in your sins (Ephesians 2:5), if the Holy Spirit had not made you alive to Christ so that you saw him for who he is and trusted him.
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. (John 6:63)
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6)
Or as Paul said,
We are ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:6)
If you have any spiritual life in you at all — if you are alive to the beauty and greatness of Jesus — it is because the Holy Spirit gave you life.
2. The Holy Spirit gives you assurance of salvation so that you can know that you have life — eternal life.
You don’t just have it because of the Spirit, you know that you have it because of the Spirit. Here are the awesome words from the apostle Paul:
If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. (Romans 8:13–16)
So the Holy Spirit bears witness that you are a child of God in two ways: First, by leading you into hatred and combat with your sin, for all who are led by the Spirit are sons of God (verse 14). And second, by humbling you to cry out like a little child, Abba Father (verse 15). This is how we know that we are the children of God: We have a Spirit-given hatred for sin and a Spirit-given humility and affectionate trust in our heavenly Father.
It is a glorious work of the Spirit to give you rock-solid assurance that you are a child of God. And if a child, then an heir. What a confidence as we go to the nations!
3. The Holy Spirit sanctifies you.
After he gives you life and assurance, he goes on transforming you into a holy person set apart for God in purity, useful for his purposes.
God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
The path to final salvation is the path of holiness — of sanctification (Hebrews 12:14). And this is the work of the Holy Spirit. If you are making any progress in likeness to Christ, it is owing to him.
4. He fills you with joy and power for boldness in witness to Christ.
Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. (Ephesians 5:18–19)
So there is a fullness of the Spirit that brims over in joyful singing to the Lord. This is beyond the ordinary, steady-state contentment of the Christian. It is something special that God grants, as when a happy child is swept up into his father’s arms and hugged. He was happy and contented before, but then comes the outpouring of more.
It happens repeatedly in the book of Acts — not just once — and the effect is unusual power for bold witness. For example,
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and were speaking the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31)
Jesus connected this directly with world missions in Acts 1:7–8. Just before he returned to heaven the disciples asked him, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said,
It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
At the end of the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:49) he called this “being clothed with power from on high.” There is a special fullness for the power of unusual joy and boldness in witness. I don’t know of any Christian who has walked in this unusual power of joy and boldness with no defeats in spiritual warfare. But every Christian should seek this fullness continually, and especially when opposition is great and we are tempted to shut our mouths in fear at the very moment we should be joyfully bold.
5. The Holy Spirit gives special guidance in your mission for Christ.
Listen to these amazing acts of the Holy Spirit to guide the mission of the early church:
I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there. (Acts 20:22)
Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome. (Acts 19:21)
They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. (Acts 16:6)
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. . . . So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:2, 4)
If you count every branch of the Christian Church there are over 400,000 foreign missionaries in the world today. In ten years, hundreds of you will be a part of that great band of global emissaries for Christ. You will be somewhere. You will be serving some group. You will be performing some task. And how will get there? You will be guided by the Holy Spirit.
6. The Holy Spirit will give you everything you need in suffering and death.
A life of obedience to Christ in the cause of world missions requires some measure of suffering. And may cost us our lives. Jesus made that very clear:
You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. (Luke 21:16)
Will you be able to stand in that day? Yes, you will. Why? Because the Holy Spirit will come to you and give you all you need to be faithful unto death.
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 1:6)
Joy in affliction is not natural. It is supernatural. Or, as Paul says, it is “joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Here’s the way Peter gives us this hope:
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:14)
There is a special resting of the Holy Spirit on you for the specific suffering God calls you to endure. He will not abandon you in that hour. He will be near to you in a very special way. The Spirit of glory and of God will rest on you.
7. Finally, the Holy Spirit will raise you from the dead.
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)
He will be with you through suffering. He will be with you in death. And he will raise you from the dead into everlasting joy.
Life, assurance, holiness, fullness of joy and power, guidance, help in suffering and death, resurrection. This is what the Holy Spirit is committed to do for you, all the more so, as you join him in his mission to glorify Jesus Christ among the nations.
He will not fail you.
Receive and Experience
So I close with the question: How do you receive the Holy Spirit and experience the ongoing and repeated fullness of his power in your life?
The New Testament answers in three ways. And all three of these, by God’s grace, you can do in these days together. I pray that you will. That you would leave this conference with a new eagerness to know the Holy Spirit, and to live in his fellowship and power. And to keep this eagerness as he leads you to go with him to the unreached nations of the world.
How will this happen?
1. Ask him sincerely and earnestly. Ask him.
“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!” (Luke 11:13)
For a believer, this means: Ask him for greater fullness, greater manifest presence, more effective gifting, sweeter fellowship, more power and boldness and fruitfulness. Beware of thinking in a static way: Either I have him in me, or I don’t. And there’s nothing more.
No. It’s more dynamic than that. It is possible to grieve the Spirit in you (Ephesians 4:30). It is possible to quench the Spirit in you (1 Thessalonians 5:19). There is always more for you to experience. This is why Paul taught us to pray that we would be “filled with all the fullness of God!” (Ephesians 3:19).
There is always more of him to experience. Ask him. Cry out. Will not your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit — in greater measure — to those who ask him!
2. Trust the promises of God’s word that Christ has purchased for you.
The Holy Spirit comes to us, and shows himself powerful within us, in and through faith in the blood-bought promises of God. Here’s the way Paul says it in Galatians 3:5:
Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?
And the answer is clearly, No! not by works of the law but by hearing. Hearing what? The gospel — the word of God, the word of promise. The great array of mission-sustaining, blood-bought promises of God. By hearing them with faith — believing them.
God supplies the Holy Spirit in the conduit of faith. Where there is faith in the word of God, the Spirit of truth has penetrated. How do we receive and experience the Holy Spirit? Hear and trust the promises of God!
3. And finally, it follows that if we would be full of the Holy Spirit, we must be full of the word of God.
“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32)
What was that burning in the heart? It was the flame of the Holy Spirit who delights to set the kindling of the word on fire. What did Jesus say in John 6:63?
It is the Spirit who gives life. . . . The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
The Spirit gives life! The words I have spoken are life. Is this not why Paul said in one place,
Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. (Ephesians 5:19)
And in another place,
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . . singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. (Colossians 3:16)
It is the word that makes the glories of Christ plain. The Holy Spirit has come to glorify Christ. Therefore, he comes by the word. If you would be filled with the Spirit, be filled with the word of God.
How will you receive the Holy Spirit and experience the ongoing and repeated fullness of his power in your life? How will you be fitted for a calling among the nations to do what only God can do? Answer:
- Ask him.
- Trust him.
- Listen to him.
Or to say it one more time:
- Seek his fullness.
- Be satisfied with his presence.
- Be saturated with his word.