When it comes to the Holy Spirit, most evangelicals fall into one of two extremes.
Some seem obsessed with him, relating to him in strange, mystical ways. Their experiences with the Spirit always seem to coincide with an emotionally ecstatic moment — triggered by a musical crescendo, the wail of the electric guitars, or that point at the end of a sermon when their pastor goes on an alliterated roll.
Other Christians react to that perceived excess by neglecting his ministry altogether. They believe in the Holy Spirit, but they relate to him the same way they relate to their pituitary gland: grateful it’s in there; know it’s essential for something; don’t pay much attention to it. There certainly isn’t a sense of the presence of God with them, or a living, moving, dynamicPerson. I was like that for many years. For me, the Holy Trinity consisted of the Father, Son, and Holy Bible.
Yet Scripture indicates that God has always desired a close and personal presence with his people. He walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the Garden, dwelled among his people in the pillar of cloud and fire, and descended upon the Temple of his presence. The Israelites even gave him the name Jehovah Shammah, “the God who is there” (Ezekiel [48:35]). Now through the Holy Spirit, he is closer than ever — God in us.
An Astounding Promise
Most Christians, however, do not relate to God as if he is a dynamic, personal Presence in their lives. Jesus made some truly astounding promises about the Holy Spirit — ones so astounding, in fact, it is tempting to not even take them seriously. He told his disciples that if they understood what was being offered to them in the Holy Spirit, they would have been glad he was returning to heaven if that meant getting the Spirit (John 16:7). Having the Holy Spirit in them, he said, would be better than having his bodily presence beside them.
Think of the absurdity of that statement, on the surface! How awesome would it be to have Jesus as your ministry companion? What if an application for your next youth pastor landed on your desk, and you saw that it was from Jesus? Sure, that’s far-fetched. But if it were true, you’d be overjoyed. Are you just as excited that you and your people have the Spirit of God? Do you see the Spirit’s presence in you as an advantage to having Jesus’s presence beside you? If not, doesn’t that show you how far removed we are from the reality of what Jesus promised to us?
The Spirit inside you is better than Jesus beside you.
Or consider this: the Holy Spirit was apparently so vital that Jesus told his disciples not to even lift a finger toward the Great Commission until they had received him: wait in Jerusalem, he told them, until you receive the Holy Spirit (see Luke [24:49]).
What was so important about the Holy Spirit that even the Great Commission could wait? How could Jesus assure his disciples that it would be better to have the Spirit than for Jesus himself to remain?
Written by J. D. Greear
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