If you’ve ever driven into Washington, D.C., on Interstate 395 late at night, you’ve seen the magnificent splendor of the Washington Monument, looking like a shining ivory needle illuminated against the night sky. Hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of lights shine directly on the stone pillar, memorializing the father of our country.
Yet I doubt you have ever noticed, or maybe even thought about, those expensive, brilliant lights. That’s because they are there to illuminate something else. If they are doing their job, you’re not thinking about them; you’re thinking about the Washington Monument.
The same is true of the Spirit of God. His purpose is to illuminate the gospel and bring glory to Jesus. J.I. Packer calls the work of the Spirit a “floodlight” ministry, quietly turning everyone’s attention away from Himself and to the Savior. Theologian Dale Bruner calls Him, in fact, the “shy member of the Trinity,” because He doesn’t like attention on Himself!
This means that when someone claims to be filled with the Spirit and yet spends most of his time talking about his own experiences with the Spirit, you have reason to doubt whether he really is filled with the Spirit. When the Holy Spirit speaks through someone, you tend to forget about the person speaking. You don’t even really think about the Holy Spirit. You find yourself thinking about Jesus.
The fullness of the Spirit comes as we plumb the depths, heights, widths, and lengths of God’s love as revealed in the gospel. The more He comes into us, the more we know His love; and the more of His love we know, the more of His fullness grows within us (Eph. 3:17-19). The Spirit moves us in the Word. The Spirit moves us to go deeper into that Word.
So do you want more of the Spirit? If so, then seek greater knowledge of God’s love through the Word of His gospel. As you do, Paul promises, you’ll experience the “fullness of God.”
We cannot fulfill the Word apart from the Spirit
Just as there is no real experience with the Spirit apart from the Word, so there can be no true obedience to the Word apart from the Spirit. “Apart from me,” Jesus said, “you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Nothing is a big word, and I’m sure Jesus chose it intentionally. Without His divine presence living inside of us, we cannot truly accomplish even the first word of His commands.
This means we cannot overcome sin without His presence. We cannot love others. We cannot win others to Christ. We cannot raise our children. We are like an appliance unplugged from the socket. We can do nothing.
Jesus told His disciples that if they truly understood that the Holy Spirit was so essential to their lives and would be such a help to them, they would be glad Jesus was returning to heaven, because only then would the Holy Spirit come:
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7 ESV)
Think for a moment about how absurd this idea must have sounded to those first disciples. It would be to their advantage for Jesus to go away? What would it have been like to walk around with the all-knowing, miracle-working, God of the universe—and then to have him tell you that you shouldn’t feel sad over His departure because it was to your advantage?
For if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)
Jesus claimed that having the Holy Spirit in them would be better than having Him beside them. Wow. Let that sink in for a moment.
Jesus believed that the Holy Spirit would be a better teacher than even He was. That may sound hard to believe, but the Spirit, Jesus explained, could apply the Word more powerfully than He did, because He could speak it into the deep recesses of our heart at just the right moments (John 14:25-26; 16:5-14; 1 John 2:27-28).
Only through the Holy Spirit can we live victoriously over sin. In Romans 8, Paul’s great chapter on how to live the victorious life, he refers to the Spirit 22 times. The implication is clear: If we want victory over our sinful flesh, we must be filled with the Holy Spirit!
Better than Jesus beside them
When I read the book of Acts, I don’t have any problem seeing how the apostles would have considered the Spirit’s presence in them to be better than Jesus beside them! They turn out, after all, to be much more effective witnesses after Jesus leaves.
Think about it: The same Peter who denied Christ three times in one night before the Spirit came boldly tells a crowd in Acts 2, “You crucified Christ by wicked hands!” Then 3,000 get saved and baptized on the spot.
And while the Holy Spirit worked through Peter in Jerusalem in Acts 15, he was simultaneously speaking through Paul in Philippi in Acts 16. He was two places at once! Jesus inHis incarnation couldn’t have done that! Now that the Holy Spirit had come, God’s power was not localized in one person in one place. He was in every believer, scattered all over the world with His power.
Now, maybe you still feel skeptical. You cannot understand how it possibly could be better to have an invisible presence inside of you rather than a bodily Jesus beside you. Fair enough. But at least concede this: What Jesus said has to mean something, right?
Be encouraged. That “something” is what God has waiting for you.
Taken from Jesus, Continued… by J.D. Greear. Copyright © 2014 by J.D. Greear. Used by permission of Zondervan.