Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Holy Spirit and me

Don’t you know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? 1 Corinthians 6:19

Don’t get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filed with the Spirit... Ephesians 5:18

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22

I wrote last time about how the Holy Spirit came on the disciples of Jesus on that thrilling, awe-inspiring, history-changing Day of Pentecost - how the Spirit “baptised” the church to give it the energy and vitality of God himself (Acts 2).

The focus there was the Spirit in relation to the community of God’s people, not so much the Spirit in relation to individual men and women.

But of course the Bible has much to say also about how the Spirit operates in each and every follower of Jesus: which means, if you are a Christian today, in you and me. Paul is specially keen to highlight this, so I have picked three short verses from his letters which stress different aspects of what it means in practice. You can boil it down like this...

First: Christian, you are a temple (1 Corinthians 6:19).

Does that seem odd? How can a human being be a temple!

Remember that to the Jewish people of Jesus’ day the temple in Jerusalem was massively important. If God lived in heaven, then the temple was, so to speak, his headquarters on earth, his earthly dwelling-place. It was the place individuals would go when they meant serious business with God; and it was also the great gathering-place of the Jewish people as a whole.

But... Jesus predicted its destruction. When his disciples, like yokels up from the country, were gazing at it goggle-eyed, he popped their balloon with the words: “You see all these things? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:1-2).

The Jerusalem temple was doomed. And Jesus’ prediction came true about forty years later when the Roman legions came marching in. God no longer had need  of a temple, because the “place” to find him now was not in any building, but in Jesus himself. And his permanent presence, after Jesus went back to heaven, would be among his people: the followers of Jesus, through the indwelling of the Spirit, would now be God’s dwelling-place on earth - God’s temple.

This is a solemn and very wonderful thought: if you are a Christian, God lives in you. Which means that your very body is holy and sacred.

I feel like suggesting, “Repeat to yourself fifty times every day ‘I am a temple of the Holy Spirit’.” If only we could get that extraordinary truth deep into our hearts and minds!

Second: Christian, the Holy Spirit wants to fill you (Ephesians 5:18).

To have the Holy Spirit within us is one thing; but something even greater follows - we can be (and should be!) filled with the Holy Spirit.

By nature, our spirits are filled with all sorts of things, many of them bad: pride, greed, selfishness, lies, anger, lust, you name it. (In Ephesians 5:18 the one Paul particularly targets is drunkenness, but it’s worth turning back a bit and giving serious thought to the ugly lists in Ephesians 4:25-5:7.)
These are the kind of things that ruin our lives and destroy our relationships.

And what Paul is saying is, “It doesn’t have to be that way! There is a better way! God the Holy Spirit living within you can turn you into the kind of human being you were meant to be. He can cleanse and purify you from the inside out, like having your heart and soul washed with beautiful clean water. But he can only do that if you let him fill you.”

How do we let the Holy Spirit fill us? By humbling ourselves every day - indeed, every hour - before God, and pledging ourselves to live in the light of his truth. When Paul says “Be filled with the Spirit” he is not talking about an event, a once-for-all experience; no, he is talking about a constant process - “be being filled with the Spirit” sounds a bit clumsy, but it captures his meaning.

Being filled with the Spirit is not an optional extra if we are Christians, like icing on an already very good cake; it is a command of God. And if God commands something, then it must be a realistic possibility. Not, of course, that we go around claiming to be Spirit-filled, for the more Spirit-filled we are, the more conscious we will be of our sins. “He/she is Spirit-filled” is always something said by another person, never something we say about  ourselves.

I picked out three verses from Paul, and I’ve only opened up two. But it’s time to stop! - so I’ll have to leave the third one till next time.

Let’s finish with this two-fold challenge: Christian, have you ever given serious thought to the fact that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit? And is it your main aim in life to be filled with the Spirit?

Why not close your eyes and reflect for a minute or two on those two questions?

Father God, thank you that you sent your Spirit to equip and empower the church. But thank you too that you send him today to strengthen and purify me. Help me to live such a life that he is able to fill me to overflowing. Amen.

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