Believe it or not, my simple study of the Holy Spirit produced at least ten responsibilities that Christians have toward the Holy Spirit. There is a philosophy out there that says, “let go and let God”, but while that statement might have times when we find a great deal of truth in it, there remains a core responsibility for Christians to live holy lives. Sanctification, or separation to God takes place on two levels. First, God sanctifies us, separating us to become one of his, and that happens at or nearly at the point of salvation, when we first believe. That sanctification is wonderful, and should work to give the new saint an entirely different perspective on heavenly things. But there is another sanctification that we are called to. The scripture says be ye holy as I am holy, and thus the command is to us, to sanctify ourselves.
Martin Luther was severely upbraided for his teaching that salvation comes by grace, for his fellow priests felt that would make their task of getting things done to be audaciously difficult. As long as they could threaten the loss of salvation to their flock, they could get much more work out of them. But Luther pointed out that getting salvation purely through grace was like an apple tree. The works, or the fruit, he explained, would naturally flow from the tree, for that is what an apple tree does. It produces apples. These responsibilities that we have towards the Spirit of God need to be looked at in a similar light. They are something that we need to do because we have been reborn, and they do not amount in any sense to works, but rather are points of submission where we are expected, indeed commanded, to open ourselves to the Spirit’s use.
Works might be defined as something that we do to gain or keep our salvation, and these commands are not in any sense those kind of works. Rather they are points at which we are expected to step back, to submit ourselves to God the Spirit, that he might have full sway in us. I remember the story of a pastor and his wife who were newly come to their church, decked out very formally. In those days the pastor still wore suits, and the wife was in a very pretty and formal dress, and they were having a welcoming meeting, one in which they were being honored, and much-inspected by their new parishioners. In the middle of the meeting, the unthinkable happened. Someone got violently and suddenly sick, all over the floor. The pastor, never missing an opportunity, looked to his wife, and she understood instantly. Together, with a pail of water and rags, they scoured the mess diligently up in front of their horrified audience. I remember not much about what that pastor said or taught, but did he not have a powerful sermon that day? It would be very difficult to think of any other time that he was to have such a great impact.
That is the kind of work I am trying to write about here; we are called to submit ourselves to God, and that certainly includes the Spirit of God, whom Jesus sent to us that we might be cared for while we await his return. The first two responsibilities that we have are very similar and because of that I will deal with them together. Note that they are both things that we are NOT to do, the only things in this list which are set in the negative, and I thought it good to get the negatives out of the way.
First, we are told not to grieve the Holy Spirit.1 Easy enough, right? Not so fast! The next verse immediately tells us how not to grieve the Holy Spirit. Bitterness, clamor, wrath, and anger must be put away from us. I notice that three of these have to do with conditions of the heart: bitterness, wrath, and anger. One has to do with talking out of place. I actually know of a church that destroyed itself, a church of several hundred, through the mouth of one elder. He compromised the secrets of the church to his wife, who could not stop talking about them, and before it all settled they were down to ten members who did not get along. There is much to be said for the saint who will learn to be quiet, and work at gentling his heart. I have to say one of the great marks of the elder is his gentle reply, and his readiness to forgive in the name of kindness, which is exactly Paul’s remonstrance: be kind and tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as Christ forgave you. All of these things together provide a sound path that you might not grieve the Holy Spirit, by whom ye are sealed.
Similarly, in Thessalonians, we are told NOT to quench the Spirit.2 Both of these admonitions of what NOT to do come from Paul, though found in different epistles. While we might, as I do, connect grieving the Holy Spirit with quenching the Holy Spirit, Paul includes some interesting afterwords, explaining what he means, and the commands after quenching do indeed differ from the ones about grieving included above. He tells us to despise not prophesyings, which I take to mean to listen to each other for that still small voice of the Holy Spirit. It means at least that, but we ought to be mindful of the fact that the canon was still very loose, and the Bible was still looked at as just the Old Testament, but attitudes were changing. All believers were aware that men were beginning to write about this Jesus, and the writings being collected often seemed to be from above. Therefore, despise not prophesying. Instead, Paul seems to point out that we need to prove all things. Much of what Paul writes is solidly based in Isaiah, and the Psalms. It proves out when we go back and look at those books. Isn’t he just telling us that we ought to find and confirm those things? Instead of pointing to specific acts to avoid, such as anger, wrath, and bitterness, this time Paul is content to sum it all up by just saying “avoid all appearance of evil.”
The next one is very interesting to me, for I was not aware it was even my responsibility. Make no mistake, I do wait and look earnestly for the Lord’s return, but I was not aware that it actually is a part of the Spirit working in me. The verse goes thus, “for we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.”3 What is the hope? The return of Jesus, and the fulfillment of all that he has promised. We are to look by faith toward the fulfillment of those promises, but our faith in looking for that fulfillment is powered by the Holy Spirit. No wonder I get so dizzy just thinking about the awesome things to come!
We are to work at loving the Spirit.4 It is our responsibility to enhance our love for the Spirit, a love that is initially placed in our hearts through the sovereign God. How do we learn to love anyone? We have to spend time with those we would love, if it is indeed a love that is more than in name only. So we ought to spend time with the Holy Spirit, being sensitive to what he wants and expects from us. It is a beautiful thing to watch a young man in love court his woman. He dotes on her, trying to please her in all his ways. He considers her as better than himself. He watches over his manners, trying to be a gentleman in every little courtesy. Well, that young man is an exact picture of the way that we ought to love the Holy Spirit. In every way, in every chance, in every opportunity, we ought to be seeking his will for our lives, being willing to abandon our own will for that which he wants.
The fifth responsibility toward the Holy Spirit is found to build upon one and two—those NOT commands which were followed so closely with putting some sins out of our lives. Now we are told to “mortify the deeds of the body” if we are to be led by the Spirit of God.5 Indeed, it is the Spirit himself who will help us to mortify the flesh, if we will but follow. Please note that this is not torturing yourself, nor is it depriving yourself, and thus showing others your great will-worship. History is replete with misguided saints who have endeavored to brutalize their bodies and thus show their love for God. No, this is not such an outward misbegotten display of love; rather it is a discipline of the inner man, where the thoughts and desires of our inner man would pull us away from the Spirit. It is those deeds that we must seek to mortify. I used to counsel alcoholics on Skid Row, and those with a serious problem we would have sessions with, trying to get them to solve their problems at the inner man level. The mission, in Los Angeles, lay right on the border of Skid Row. Turning to the left upon coming out of the main doors, the men could leave the mission and head towards all the bars and the drinking buddies. But turning toward the right, the men would go uptown, away from the bars, and thus away from their temptation. I pointed out to them that when they chose to make that left turn, they had already made up their mind to give in to the call of alcohol. It therefore was before they left the mission that they had to make the decision about where they were going to, and it was therefore in their inner man that they had to wrestle and mortify the deeds of their flesh. A left turn out of the mission doors signified that they had already lost. We mortify the deeds of the flesh not to destroy our bodies, but that our bodies might have the abundant life of Christ’s promises.
To take up the sword of the Spirit is the Christian’s next responsibility. 6 It is a lifelong responsibility, at least for most of us. I went, long ago and far away, to Multnomah School of the Bible, and met John Mitchell, who was quite often called the Walking Bible. His memory was prodigious, and what a delight it was to sit in his classes and hear the Bible verses rolling off of his tongue, one after the other. We students would frantically be turning the pages of our Bibles, trying to keep up, and he would stop, and from memory, recite the verse before the one we were looking for, and then the verse after the one we were looking for. If we still took too much time, he would give us the Bible verses from memory in various translations. What a memory! Most of us struggle memorizing one verse, and trying to beat the word into our hardened hearts is like hitting the sore thumb with the same hammer that made it sore in the first place. It doesn’t want to go there! But if we are to face the crises of life squarely, we must sharpen the sword of the Spirit. There is no substitute for memory; neither is there any substitute for regular Bible reading. I know men and women in their fifties who have yet to make it through their Bibles once, and when the tragedies of life strike they are so woefully unprepared. God has given us the Word as our Sword, and if we are to defend ourselves properly, we must learn to use it well.
A delightful gift of the Holy Spirit is that he helps us in our prayers.7 It was properly in the list of gifts in the prior posting, but there is also a responsibility connected to it that is given to us in Ephesians 6:18, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” It would seem fair to say that we ought to be seeking to pray through the Spirit, and the more so, if we are, as this verse says, praying for the welfare and care of the saints. Our prayer life should become sensitive to what the Holy Spirit himself would have us to pray; Romans 8:5 teaches us exactly that: “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.” We are to be concerned and looking to the will of God in our prayers, and we will further discern this by developing a mind towards the Spirit. Being close to the Spirit in this way is an immeasurable delight in our walk with God.
The next admonition is actually another NOT, but it is compared to what we are supposed to be doing, and that is the bigger responsibility. We are told not to be drunk with wine, but rather to be filled with the Holy Spirit.8 The being drunk with wine has consequences which most have experienced, and to the mature Christian, does not need more emphasis. It is there, and it is a command which should govern our temperament choices. But the command to be filled with the Spirit is one that needs emphasis. How can we insure being filled with the Holy Spirit?
I have made interesting Bible studies on the Holy Spirit in Acts, and the filling of the Holy Spirit is almost always done in the immediate context of sharing the gospel. In other words, being filled with the Spirit does involve a readiness to share the gospel. I do not want to overemphasize here; rather I just note in passing that the chief responsibility the Lord left to us was the Great Commission, and it seems evident that the Holy Spirit most often fills those who are seeking to carry it out. The mature Christian is going to be actively looking for ways to carry out that commission, and will also seek to follow each of his responsibilities towards the Holy Spirit. Charles Spurgeon believed in the deeper walk with God, the walk that mature Christians should always seek to find. “If I were to go much farther, I should be accused of fanaticism, and so it may be; but yet I will believe and must believe that there are seasons when the Christian lives next door to heaven.”9 Much false doctrine has been taught about the mature walk with the Spirit of God, but that should not negate the wonderful truths of scripture. One of my favorite Bible passages that I refer to often is found in Romans 12, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” The mature saint runs the race as Paul would teach us, as athletes knowing that only one wins the prize, and that we ought to be willing to do all things that we might possibly be closer to God. How is it that so many of our young people are taken off to camp for a spiritual experience, and come back to us filled with the Holy Spirit, sometimes for a first experience? Is it not because we older adults remember our mountain-top experiences? Oh, that we might find and stay on that mountain-top, that even our faces might begin to glow with the presence of Jesus, that the Holy Spirit might have full sway in us. There is so much in that one command: be filled with the Holy Spirit.
We are, according to the next responsibility, to walk in the Spirit, something that might seem incredibly hard, but is made possible by the power of the Spirit himself.10 But the path to greatness in Christianity is the opposite of the world. Jesus took the disciples and washed their feet, thus teaching the maxim that whoever would be great in the kingdom of God should be servant of all. Indeed, the next verse after the admonition to walk in the Spirit tells us specifically not to seek vainglory, or to provoke one another, or to envy one another. I am reminded of the great passage of Philippians where it tells us to maintain a lowliness of mind, being careful to always esteem others as better than ourselves. Humility is the task master we must follow; it is a thankless taskmaster always seeming to demand more than we can give, and yet, when we once again take up its direction, we find freshly that Christ has breathed on us his very breath. Envy flies away when we see and love our brothers, for their sake, and how easy it is for us to thank God for their glory. I do not think heaven to be a place which will let envy have any foothold. Rather we will glory for each other, and mostly in him that has saved us.
The last responsibility towards the Holy Spirit is a lifelong one. We are commanded to sow to the Spirit.11 And not to the flesh. Notice the difference, both held out as examples of what we might do. Yes, one who has been saved by the Spirit is free, for the first time in his life. Now he is to follow the way of Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, not swerving aside for any of the enticing lusts of life. For the first time, a Christian is given the power to sow to the Spirit, by putting the meaningful things, the enduring things, into his life. Christ sent the Spirit for this very purpose, that the Christian might begin to have victory over his flesh. Unfortunately, the other walk is all too apparent in our lives. How many Christians do you know that have spent decades pursuing their fleshly interests? I want to be that saint, doing my utmost for his highest when he returns. Don’t you want the same thing? I know there is not a single thing that I can undo in my life. It has already happened, and there were many times (I say this to my dismay) that I sought to fulfill the desires of the flesh. But God is capable of forgiveness and renewal. Take up the cross, walk with the Spirit, and sow seeds of righteousness in your life. As long as you live, each new day is a new opportunity to give to God, seeking his blessing. Why not start by trying to look at these ten responsibilities, and figure out in which you might be lacking?
1. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
2. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.
1 Thess. 5:19-22
3. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
4. Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;
5. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
6. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
7. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
8. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
9. Spurgeon, Charles. The Complete Works of Charles Spurgeon: Volume 1, Sermons 1-53 (Kindle Locations 7653-7654). www.DelmarvaPublications.com. Kindle Edition.
10. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.
11. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.