“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:2,3).
Confidence in God comes out of relationship with God. The relationship between God and man is spiritual in nature.
One of the great questions of Christian faith is whether we are “working for God” or “working with God”. A hireling or employee can work for someone or even work for God. They blindly do what they are instructed to do for a wage or reward. In a negative sense, this is nothing more than outward religion or legalism.
But we are not called to be hirelings or employees. We are called to be friends of God and even sons of God! “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14,15). “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom 8:14).
Friendship – and especially “sonship” – demands a relationship. Relationship implies two-way communication or dialogue. By dialogue, we mean that we can speak to God and know that He hears us. It also means that God can speak to us and we can know that we have heard from God.
Even in the natural sense, can there be a genuine relationship or friendship without communication?
Throughout both the Old and New Testaments we see example after example of communication between God and man. Yet we still struggle with the idea that God wants to communicate with us today.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8). What was available to believers in the past, through the Scriptures, is also available to us today. Jesus encourages us in this truth: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).
The Scriptures tell us that it is impossible to please God without faith: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb 11:6). We have to be diligently seeking, knocking and asking (Matt 7:7,8), believing that He will reward our efforts to communicate with Him.
FAITH AND THE WILL OF GOD
What is also important is that faith is impossible unless the will of God is known. So, on the one hand, faith is essential to pleasing God. On the other hand, we must know the will of God before faith can be activated in us. When we take an action of faith based upon God’s will, we can be confident that He will move on our behalf. The will of God is the hope or basis of our faith: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). What we do not mean by hope is, “I hope that it will turn out alright”. Biblical hope is not chance or luck, or wishful thinking. Scriptural hope is based on the promises of the One who never breaks a promise!
An example will help clarify this truth: When you bring an action to the legal court systems, the court will only listen to the case if you have a basis for your argument in the law. That means that the law gives you a legitimate right to bring the legal action. For instance, you cannot bring someone into court for breaking a contract with you unless you are one of the contract signers. The basis in the law then recognizes your right to pursue legal action.
As believers, we have a basis for faith when the issue of faith is based upon a promise of God:
- Awareness of the promise of God brings hope (basis);
- Trusting in God to bring about that hope for your sake is faith.
Remember: Faith pleases God!
THE BIBLE: THE MEASURING ROD
Some will say, “Of course God speaks to us. He speaks to us through His Word, the Bible!” That is an absolutely true statement. But is the Bible the only way in which God speaks? The answer to that pivotal question is a resounding, “No!” God is Spirit and He is able to communicate with us in a direct manner by His Spirit.
But let me place a caution here: God will never violate (or change) His Word as already given in the Bible. This means that the Bible becomes the “plumb-line” or the “measuring rod” by which we can discern the accuracy and source of any spiritual communication. In other words, if someone says God spoke to them, and what they heard does not agree with what is already in the Bible, then what they heard was not from God.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE LED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT?
“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). The word “filled” in this case means just that: completely filled up or supplied. But the word “filled” is derived from the Greek root word pletho, which means to be influenced by. This requires our submitted will to cooperate with the Spirit’s influence.
In other words, we are to be influenced by the Holy Spirit and not controlled or influenced by other things in the natural or spiritual world. This is what Christians commonly refer to as being Spirit-filled or Spirit-led.
When we examine this concept of being influenced or led by the Spirit of God, we see more clearly the need to learn how to hear, recognize and follow the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).
At this point we should agree and be assured by the Word of God that we have the ability to hear the Lord’s voice. The purpose of hearing His voice is so that we can follow Him.
Walking in faithful obedience to both the Bible and the Holy Spirit will lead to an overcoming life –regardless of the circumstances of the past, the present or the future.
Scripture states that Jesus is seated at the right hand of Father God, making intercession for us: “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Rom 8:34).
Jesus is within each believer, through the Holy Spirit – since the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are One. “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper [like Me], that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you, and will be in you” (John 14:16,17).
The Holy Spirit reminds us of what Jesus says (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus the Christ to us (Eph 1:17). The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus with all honor, glory and power: “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13,14).
The essential work of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ to us and transform us into the image of Christ (2Cor 3:18). This is so that we would know what Jesus would do in every situation or circumstance, and so that we would act and respond as He would!
Now let us look at some of the specific areas where the leading and the working of the Holy Spirit are involved. Let us keep in mind the principle that the Holy Spirit of God is the agent of guidance, empowerment and enablement.
THE HOLY SPIRIT AT WORK IN SALVATION
Even the primary work of salvation is a work that is initiated by the Spirit of God. “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:13).
The Holy Spirit is at work even in the life of an unbeliever, drawing him to the truth of the Gospel message (John 16:8-11). A person who does not know Christ may not fully understand what is taking place. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit is cultivating in the unbelieving heart a ground for the reception of the seed, the Gospel message. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (John 6:44).
Ultimately, the choice to receive or reject the Gospel (and its promises) resides with each individual. But God, through His Holy Spirit, is faithfully at work, drawing the unbelievers to Himself. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2Pet 3:9).
The work of the Holy Spirit in salvation can be described in three tenses: past, present and future.
When a person believes in Christ, he is saved to eternity. “So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household’” (Acts 16:31; see also John 10:28; Acts 2:38; Rom 1:16,17). Salvation through Jesus Christ is a one-time event for a person. You were born again when you believed and accepted Christ. It becomes a past event that carries with it a future, eternal reward.
A backslidden Christian cannot be born again… again. He simply must repent from his sins and be restored back into relationship with God (John 15:1-8; Acts 8:22-24; 1John 1:9). Remember, God has promised to never leave you nor forsake you (Matt 28:20; Heb 13:5). If God seems distant from you, it is because you moved away, not because He moved away: “‘Return, O backsliding children,’ says the Lord; ‘for I am married to you’” (Jer 3:14).
We are also in the process of being saved from the power of sin. Your nature has been changed; you are being transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:1,2). The power of sin, which separated you from a Holy God, has been broken (Rom 6:1-14, 22; 8:2-4). The old habits must be replaced by new godly habits. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13).
Finally, we shall be saved from the very presence of sin. The day is coming when Jesus will return and we will be “caught up” in the air (1Thess 4:16,17; also 1Cor 15:51,52). If the Lord should not return until after our physical death, then we also have the promise of being present with Him, forever: “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2,3).
In each case – past, present and future – faith is required on our part. Faith is simply the Word of God combined with the Spirit of God, with our will working in cooperation. Faith is initiated by the Word of God and activated by our decision to follow the leading or prompting of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God and the Spirit of God will always be in agreement.
God releases into our lives today, through His Spirit, the power of Christ’s resurrection: “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:10,11).
God has also given us a “down payment” or “deposit” of the Spirit. God has given us the Spirit as proof of our new life in Christ: “…who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2Cor 1:22; also Eph 1:13,14).
Of course, our experience of salvation will be complete when Christ returns: “So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Heb 9:28). When that day comes, the Kingdom of God will be fully revealed: “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt 13:41-43).
THE HOLY SPIRIT AT WORK IN ASSURANCE
We can have assurance or confidence in the Gospel message of love, forgiveness and acceptance because of the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake” (1Thess 1:5).
Since The Holy Spirit is the power of God. Therefore, we can be assured that God is “for us and not against us” when the Holy Spirit does His extraordinary work in ordinary individuals.
Although Paul the apostle was not exactly an ordinary man even in his day, Paul recognized the awesome power made available by the Holy Spirit. A study of who God will use and empower is given to us in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31: “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise…” (v.27).
Here is a key principle to understand: The more ordinary and common the vessel, the greater the glory God gets when He uses that ordinary vessel in extraordinary ways.
The Apostle Paul’s own testimony was that he leaned not on his own strength or understanding, but relied on the demonstration of the Spirit and power of God. “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1Cor 2:1-5).
THE HOLY SPIRIT AT WORK IN DISCIPLESHIP
A disciple (or pupil) of Christ may be described as one who believes the truths or doctrines of Christ; puts their complete faith and trust upon the finished work of Calvary; walks by the Spirit of God; and imitates Jesus’ example.
As disciples, we are also instructed to make disciples of others. The Great Commission, as described in each of the four Gospels and the Book of Acts, is the instruction from Jesus Christ to make disciples of all people from all nations.
- “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matt 28:18-20).
- “Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover’” (Mark 16:14-18).
- “Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high’” (Luke 24:46-49).
- “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21,22).
- “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Discipleship is not simply about making a convert, becoming a member of the church, conforming to traditions, and recognizing others in the church organization.
- helping others to become more like Jesus
- learning the Bible
- learning how to be led by the Holy Spirit
- learning how to walk by faith and not by sight.
In other words, discipleship has to do with learning how to walk with Jesus every day and be transformed into His image (Rom 8:29) by the work of His Spirit.
As leaders, when we disciple someone we should have two primary goals clearly in mind. The first is to help the disciple be individually strong in Christ; the second is to ensure that the disciple is motivated to serve others through the Church.
True discipleship is an “inside job”. It is a transforming process from within the individual, rather than an outwardly conforming process. The difference between conforming and transforming is critical to understand if we are to make true disciples. Romans 12:2 states, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
“Conforming” implies that we are shaping someone to look and behave a certain way. Conforming is a work on the outside of the individual. Changing the clothing, language and outward behavior does not produce a true disciple.
A true disciple is one who is being changed from the inside out. Transformation is a work of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit: “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).
God is at work, through His Holy Spirit, to produce in you – and in those you are discipling – the desire and the ability to accomplish His purpose and the assignment He has for you. His purpose is to transform you into the image of His Son; His assignment for you is to fulfill the ministry for which He has called you.
Jesus spoke to the Pharisees regarding this very issue: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also…” (Matt 23:25,26; see also verses 27,28).
Jesus knew that man’s best religious efforts can only conform the outward appearance. Man has no real power within himself to change or cleanse his sinful nature (Jer 13:23; 17:9; Heb 2:14-17).
But Jesus came to break the power of sin! It is only by Christ’s power and through His Holy Spirit that man can change inwardly and be truly transformed. The power that man needs to live a life that overcomes sin is through the Holy Spirit. Jesus knows that if the inner man is transformed, the outward changes will naturally follow.
THE HOLY SPIRIT AT WORK IN AN OVERCOMING LIFE
The Bible teaches that we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit. “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom 8:37).
Now what does it mean to be more than a conqueror? Let me explain.
There is a wonderful story about a fighter, a boxer who is scheduled to fight the biggest match he has ever had. At stake is the largest prize money he has ever been offered. On the night of the match, there is a sold-out crowd, and he is facing the most experienced and toughest opponent he has ever fought. The fight begins and 15 grueling rounds later he emerges victorious. He is bruised, battered and bleeding – yet he is the conqueror! The crowd is cheering as he leaves the ring. He goes to the locker room to bathe and changes his clothes. Then he goes to pick up his winnings. He travels home to his wife. Upon reaching home, he greets his wife with a kiss. She holds out her hands, and in it he places the winnings, all the prize money!
Here is the point of the story: The man may be the conqueror, but the wife is “more than a conqueror!” You see, she received the prize without having to fight the battle.
In the same way, Jesus has fought the battle for your salvation and the right to be Lord of your life (Heb 2:9-18). From that perspective you are more than a conqueror! Not only has God fought the battle, but He has placed His Spirit within you.
As a result of the Spirit of God dwelling within you, there is nothing you cannot do as you align yourself with the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit in you. “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1John 4:4); “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27).
It is true that there will be times of doubt, discouragement and even fear as we press on to fulfill our purpose and the calling of God. It is in those times that we must reflect upon the truth of His Word: You are more than a conqueror because Jesus has fought the greatest battle for you! After assuring yourself with the Word of God, then assure yourself further in the realm of the Spirit… you are more than a conqueror!
THE HOLY SPIRIT AT WORK IN HOLINESS
In Acts Chapter 9, we discover the Pharisee Saul (Paul) and his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In this encounter, Paul comes to the realization that Jesus Christ is in fact the risen Christ, the Messiah.
Later, in Acts Chapter 26, Paul gives his testimony to King Agrippa. There we discover the assignment Jesus gave to Paul on the road to Damascus: “But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you” (Acts 26:16).
Note first that Jesus is instructing Paul in the principle that you cannot give away that which you do not possess. In others words, Paul would be enabled to teach, preach and lead in those areas where he could testify and witness to the truth of Jesus’ working in his own life.
Paul never ministered out of theory. He ministered out of his personal experience of the revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus went on to tell Paul, “I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:17,18).
Notice how complete the work of God is:
- Deliverance – from those who oppose you and God’s call on your life
- Opened eyes – to see the truth that will set you free
- Being moved from darkness to light – being led by the Spirit of God
- Being transferred from the power of Satan to the power of God – transferred lordship
- Receiving forgiveness of sins – restored relationship with God
- Receiving an inheritance – present power and future glory
- Being sanctified by faith in Jesus – empowered to walk the life of holiness through faith in Jesus Christ
What a powerful series of statements which sums up the victorious life to which Christ has called us! It is the power of God in our lives that enables us, by His Holy Spirit, to live a life uncorrupted by the world and its system. We have entered the light and now can see, just as the blind man who encountered Jesus declared: “One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25).
THE MOTIVATION OF LOVE
There is still an ongoing struggle or process of change that takes place. The Apostle Paul makes this very clear as he presents his personal struggle in Romans 7 and 8.
Going from hopelessness under the Law to victory in Christ, Paul teaches that victory comes to those who learn to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh (see Romans 8:1-7). In Romans 7, Paul testifies of the futility of trying to live by the Law: Knowing what to do, but powerless to do it; or knowing what not to do and yet doing the very thing he hated.
How many of us have struggled with that very same kind of experience? When you are trying to live by an external standard through your own effort and self-discipline alone, you are destined to fail.
There are two issues revealed here that must be dealt with: One is the motivation; the other is the enablement or power to accomplish the motivation. If the motivation is simply to do good in order to outweigh the evil done in life, as if we were trying to balance a scale, then we are lost. The motivation must come out of a changed heart, a new nature.
In other words, there must be found in me a desire to be pleasing to my Father in Heaven. This can truly happen only through relationship with Him, not by a religion of rules and regulations. There is only one motivation that God is looking for and pleased by: that is the motivation of love. We are to be motivated by love for God and love for those whom God loves.
God’s love is not for institutions, ministries or organizations. God loves His creation, people. One way to define love is: “Love is living your life for someone else’s good.” Jesus lived His life for your good and the good of all mankind (John 3:16-18; Phil 2:1-11; Rom 5:5-11). We are called to do the same. As you live your life for the good of others, you are demonstrating God’s love for mankind. “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1John 3:16).
EMPOWERED BY OUR INHERITANCE
Just having the proper motivation for serving God is not sufficient. We need to be empowered to live and serve according to God’s standard of holiness. God has provided that empowerment through His Holy Spirit, in that He has called us to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:1). Then again in verse 4: “…that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Paul goes on to talk about the carnal mind. Remember that the carnal mind is a spiritually immature mind that is set upon the flesh or the things of the world. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:5-8).
We are then exhorted to remember, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom 8:14). Finally, Christ encourages us, through Paul, to recall that sons are entitled to the inheritance: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Rom 8:16,17).
Not only is there the inheritance of Heaven and everlasting life in the future; there is also the inheritance of His Word, His Spirit and faith to help us live as “more than conquerors” in this life. “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2Pet 1:3,4).
But Christ’s enablement does not stop at power to live a godly life. He has even more to give us!
THE HOLY SPIRIT AT WORK IN ENABLING FOR MINISTRY
Paul was a man who showed great faith in all that he did because of the great confidence he had in the call of God upon his life. Paul did not choose to be a minister of the Gospel. He was called by God and he was obedient to that call. Paul was able to say: “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry” (1Tim 1:12). There is much that we can learn about ministry from this one statement.
- Paul was thankful at all times. The circumstances may have been difficult, heart-wrenching and desperate. The circumstances may have been sweet and pleasant. Regardless of the circumstances, he was thankful. Paul affirms in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This is not a statement of great human ability or accomplishment. It is a statement of the supernatural ability to endure all kinds of circumstances – good and bad – and still be thankful. (Read Paul’s full thoughts in Philippians 4:6-13; see also Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 1:12).
- Paul knew who it was who called him, enabled him and put him in the ministry. Paul had confidence in his calling; and therefore he put his full faith and trust in “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1Cor 2:2). Paul’s trust was not in his training, his background, his denomination or his friends. His trust was in God! “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2Cor 3:5,6).
- Paul knew how to be faithful (1Cor 4:2). Paul was faithful to obey the Word of God and the prompting of the Holy Spirit in all situations. The word “faithful” means to be full of faith. It takes faith to walk with God and to please God. When we are learning to be led by the Spirit of God, we may feel there is an element of risk. We are often still learning how to hear His voice or recognize His guidance. We may feel fearful to trust that we are truly hearing His desires for us. However, as we grow in our relationship with God, and cultivate daily sensitivity and obedience to Him, we will become more and more confident in our ability to recognize His direction.