A LIFE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT OF GOD
We continue to look at what we can do to ensure that we stand in the last days. We have seen how difficult it would be for God’s children to maintain and uphold a life of quality, especially with all the pressures and influences coming from various quarters. This is so, even with a general life of commitment and discipleship. In the New Testament we are aware of the life of one well known disciple of the Lord who was generally sincere and committed in his life. Nonetheless, when the pressures mounted, despite his sincerity, he failed rather badly. We see this in Matthew 26:69-75. Prior to this incident, Peter had expressed his willingness even to die for the Lord. We look at another passage which demonstrates a different Peter (see Acts 2:37-41). Here we see Peter speaking confidently and testifying powerfully on behalf of the Lord and at the end of his sharing, about 3000 people responded positively to the message. What a different picture this is when compared to the previous scene when Peter was weeping so bitterly over his failure. Something happened, in between, that caused this dramatic change in the life of Peter.
It was at Pentecost that Peter, together with the other disciples, were filled with the Holy Spirit of God, and it was after this experience and incident that Peter became more courageous and effective in his testimony and communication (see Acts 2:1-4). Instead of fear, anxiety and denial of the Lord, we see boldness, courage and a powerful testimony for God and the gospel. The time lapse between the period when Peter failed the Lord and Pentecost was not a very long one in terms of years, but something definite and powerful took place in the lives of Peter and the other disciples, so much so that even in the face of threats and persecution, they stood firm and rejoiced in the fact that they were given the privilege to suffer for the Lord. It is reasonably clear that what made the difference was the filling with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
As we ponder over what we can do to ensure that we stand in the last days, one aspect of the answer must be “we ought to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God.” It is a life filled with the Spirit that would enable the Christian to overcome tremendous odds and to live a life of holiness and victory. It is such a life that would manifest the various aspects of the fruit of the Spirit such as love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness and self-control.
Perhaps one aspect of such a life that is most dramatic is boldness and courage. We saw a little of this in the life of Peter earlier on. We see it also in the life of the apostle Paul (see Acts 13:45-46 and Acts 14:19-22). We observe here the boldness and courage of Paul in the face of the jealousy of fellow Jews as well as in the face of intense persecution and violence. Although Paul was conscious of the Jews’ jealousy, yet he did not hesitate to speak the truth boldly. Many others in his context would have compromised. Even though he was stoned and dragged out of the city, presumably dead, Paul stood up and continued on in his ministry, encouraging the disciples to press on. If we pause and consider what Paul went through, we would appreciate the degree of courage he displayed. It was not that Paul did not experience pain from the stoning. In fact the stoning must have been quite severe to a point that they thought that he was dead. Despite the pain and danger he encountered, he did not allow himself to be beset with self-pity and fear. He pressed on with his mission, being a source of encouragement and inspiration to those around him. And what was the event that contributed to Paul’s boldness and courage?
Without any doubt, the experience of being filled with the Spirit started Paul off in his ministry and testimony which was creating so much impact that the Jews sought to kill him (see Acts 9:17-30). To stand in the last days, boldness and courage are essential for God’s children – and this is part and parcel of the manifestation of a life filled with the Spirit of God.
During the reign of Emperor Nero of the Roman empire, a great number of Christians suffered intense persecution. Many were thrown to the lions’ dens and burnt at the stakes. One striking observation that was recorded was the outstanding courage that was manifested in the lives of those who died. Many sang at the burning stakes, and their boldness in the face of pain and death astounded many an observer. One description that was recorded about these martyrs was “These people know how to die…”. And even though many of God’s children suffered pain and physical death, yet their testimony continues to make an impact, causing many to pause and to ponder about the gospel and the Christian faith.
Related to the subject of boldness is the enabling to overcome and to live a life of victory over sin and corruption. We saw how the influences of the last days can be so overwhelming that many of God’s children would compromise and fail the Lord, giving way to the flesh and the lust of life. Certainly this can be a real struggle even for those who are sincere and who wish to live lives that are holy and true. Many a time, they will find that although they may desire to overcome, in reality, they fail again and again.
The apostle Paul wrote of such a struggle in Romans 7:18-24. Thankfully, he did not stop at that. He went on to share the secret of the victory that is possible for the child of God (see Romans 7:25 – 8:6). The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death. Those who are filled with the Spirit of God are equipped and enabled by God’s Spirit to overcome the law of sin and death. The Spirit of God empowers and strengthens us to live the life that God desires. He transforms us, as we co-operate with Him, into men and women who reflect the holiness of God in our lives. No longer do we need to be in the condition of Romans 7 where we struggle to overcome the weakness of the flesh. In the Lord Jesus Christ, and with the enabling of God’s Spirit, we can and ought to live lives of victory over sin and the lust of the flesh.
The life of victory over sin, temptation and corruption is something real and attainable by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that the child of God will live a perfect life; however, more and more, as the Christian is continually filled with the Holy Spirit of God, his life is moulded and transformed by the Lord such that his character becomes one that is holy and godly. The child of God, at different stages of his life, learns to flee from temptations, to fight and overcome temptations and to be unaffected by the pull and influences of such temptations, desiring instead the will and desires of God. Such a consistent life of victory would only be the experience of those who have been filled with the Spirit of God. For the child of God who may be sincere and even mature in some ways, and yet has not experienced such a filling, the life of victory seems theoretical and so unreal. Nevertheless, for the one who has tasted and experienced being filled with the Spirit, such a life is feasible and is indeed part of the abundant life promised by the Lord Jesus.
A life filled with the Spirit of God would manifest the various aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. One aspect of the fruit is love – the love of God manifested in the life of the believer. We see a dramatic illustration of this in Acts 7:54-60. Here we see the response of Stephen in the face of opposition, persecution and impending death. Stephen was described in Acts 6 as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. He was one full of grace and power, performing great wonders and signs among the people. Even here in Acts 7, Stephen was noted to be one being full of the Holy Spirit and in this state, he saw the glory of God and the Lord Jesus standing at the right hand of God. In the midst of the stoning and pain, Stephen called upon the Lord. Even in his dying moments, he cried to God to forgive the very people who caused him to die. In this, we see Stephen demonstrating love – the love of God, praying and forgiving the very ones who hated him and who caused his pain and agony. To many who read the account of Stephen’s life and death, his response seems so unbelievable and unreal. How could it be possible not to be bitter against those who persecuted you unjustly? How could it be possible to even love these very same ones and to pray for their welfare despite their hardness of heart and cruelty? Nevertheless, we see all these demonstrated in the life and heart of Stephen. Undoubtedly, it was because Stephen was filled with the Spirit of God, so much so that he could respond during such a time like his Master did on the cross. We would remember the Lord Jesus praying to the Father to forgive those who crucified Him.
In the midst of the pain and pressures of the last days, would God’s children end up angry, unforgiving and bitter, and in the process, lose the positive testimony and impact that could have been possible? The evil one seeks to cripple the life of many a child of God, and what better way to do it than to cause them to end up in a state of bitterness. In such a state, the Christian cannot be effective in serving the Lord, not to mention a life of faithfulness and victory.
The story is told of a Red Indian chief who was converted to Christianity. The chief’s own son was killed by a rival chief and he had vowed vengeance in his heart since then. On one particular occasion, he had an opportunity to avenge the death of his son. Raising his bow and arrow, he had his son’s murderer on target; yet he hesitated. Then he put down his bow and arrow saying, “Big chief wishes to kill son’s killer but bigger Chief says to forgive”. The term bigger Chief was used to refer to the Lord Jesus. Here we see how God’s love can work in the life of one of His children. And certainly God’s love can be seen in all its beauty and splendour in the lives of those filled with the Holy Spirit of God.
Two other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit are joy and peace. These are qualities quite lacking in the lives of many, including God’s children. Many Christians, in the midst of stress and pressure, find that joy and peace are not easily found. Instead, they become restless, disturbed, depressed and discouraged. We see a contrast in Acts 16:22-34. Paul and Silas were beaten badly with rods and thrown into prison. In fact they were placed in the inner prison and their feet were fastened in the stocks. This was not due to any wrongdoing on their part but rather because they sought to be faithful in preaching the gospel. Nevertheless, in such a state, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns of praise to God. There was much joy and peace in their hearts despite the unfavourable circumstances they were in. Physically, they may be in prison and in chains, but their hearts were not imprisoned or chained. Their hearts were filled with the peace and joy of God. Silas and Paul were notably men who were full of the Spirit of God.
Many years later, while Paul was again in prison, he wrote to the Christians in this same region of Philippi in the epistle to the Philippians. Again, Paul was imprisoned because of his faithfulness to God. This time around, Paul faced the prospect of death and he knew that the time of his departure was at hand. Yet, in his epistle to the Philippians, he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I will say rejoice…And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension shall guard your heart and your minds in Christ Jesus” (see Philippians 4:4, 7). Despite his physical environment and the prospect of death, joy and peace prevailed in the heart of the apostle and he sought to transmit these to the Philippian Christians, urging them to continue to have the joy and peace of God in their lives.
How do God’s children face the pressure and persecution of the last days? In fact, for many of God’s children, it does not take much to take away the joy and peace in their hearts. The prospect of failing an examination, or the prospect of being ill or being disappointed in work situation is enough to cause many of God’s children to go around with long and drawn faces of despair and discouragement. The joy and peace of God are for God’s children to experience and to keep, no matter what the circumstances may be. For the one who is filled with the Spirit of God, these aspects of the fruit of the Spirit should abound in his life.
As we consider a life filled with the Spirit of God, it is needful to realise that Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). In the area of the ministry of the Spirit of God as well as in the manifestations of the Spirit-filled life, there can be counterfeits and imitations. At times, in the midst of God’s working, the evil one may also be at work, creating confusion and spiritual setbacks. There is a real need for God’s people to be prayerful and vigilant. Do not assume that as long as we are sincere and that we are God’s children, the evil one cannot attack us (see Matthew 16:22-23 and Luke 22:31-34). In these two incidents recorded in the two passages, it is clear that Satan was working in the life of Peter to cause him to fail. In the first instance, the evil one instigated Peter to rebuke the Lord Jesus and to discourage the Lord from going to the cross. And the Lord Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me, for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” In the second instance, Peter’s subsequent denial of the Lord three times had very much to do with Satan’s manipulation of his life. Although Peter was sincere and he was a close disciple of the Lord, he was not immune to the attacks of the evil one.
The situation becomes more precarious if we are insincere and we have mixed motives in our lives. Pride, a critical spirit and self-confidence can expose God’s children to many dangers and manipulations of the evil one. Even in the midst of the working of the Holy Spirit of God, many things can go wrong and have gone wrong.
In the book “Blessing the Church?” by Clifford Hill and three others, all leaders from within the charismatic movement, the following was penned on pages 4 and 5:- “We wrote, not in the spirit of judgmentalism, or indeed with a negative critical attitude. Rather we write out of a deep concern for the church in which we have leadership responsibilities and for the future direction being taken by the charismatic movement. The prime purpose in writing is to draw attention to what we consider to be a serious drift away from biblically-based teaching into the realm of experientialism. This has led to the pernicious practice of using contemporary ‘revelation’ as the basis for doctrine and the justification for the formulation of new teachings and practice within the church which has no biblical foundation…We therefore write in a spirit of love and humility under the deep conviction that the Bible provides us with the only standard of truth that can guard against error, false doctrine, wrong practices and unrighteous behaviour.” The book reviews the history and direction of the charismatic movement with candid acknowledgements of the many serious things that have gone wrong when experience parts company with sound biblical teaching.
The overemphasis on experience and emotion, at the expense of sound biblical teachings, can lead to serious errors, false doctrines, wrong practices and unrighteous living. In such a context, the evil one can operate, and manipulate the situation as well as the lives of the believers.
At this juncture, it may be helpful for us to see the relationship between being filled with the Spirit and the various other qualities we have considered earlier. Take the area of commitment to the Lord. We saw how important commitment to the Lord is in helping us to stand in the last days. Commitment to God is, however, closely tied up with a life filled with the Spirit. In fact, one of the conditions that needs to be fulfilled before one is filled with the Spirit of God is a life fully committed to the Lord. If the Christian life is filled with many personal fleshly desires and there is no significant degree of commitment to God, there is no place for the child of God to experience the filling of the Spirit. If we do desire to be filled, we must come to a point of commitment to God in our lives and we need to continue to reaffirm this commitment throughout our spiritual pilgrimage here on earth.
Then there is the area of the character taking on the characteristics of godliness and holiness. We see that the nurturing of such a character goes hand in hand with the life filled with the Spirit, which in turn manifests the various aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. All these aspects are integral in the character that is godly. As the child of God grows in his capacity to be filled with God’s Spirit and as he continues to be filled, he would more and more manifest the character of God in his life. We see therefore how central being filled with the Spirit is in the process of nurturing a godly character. Transformation, renewal of the mind and the nurturing of a godly character are the work of the Holy Spirit of God although the Christian needs to co-operate with God in this process.
What about the aspect of a spiritual life of quality and its relationship with a Spirit-filled life? We saw how a life of quality is characterised by wholesome knowledge of God and His ways, a true spirit of discipleship, a life of vigilance and a quality prayer life. If we were to pause and ponder, we would realise how these various characteristics are related to a life filled with the Spirit of God. Wholesome knowledge is closely linked to wholesome teaching and the Spirit of God is the ultimate teacher, teaching the child of God spiritual truths and principles which are not understood by natural men and women. True spiritual knowledge is imparted through the teaching and training by God through His Spirit. It is the Spirit of God also who teaches the child of God to pray in words and communication not generally appreciated by men. To be able to pray always and to maintain a prayerful life – this is not feasible without the ministry and enabling of the Holy Spirit. Hence we see again how various aspects of a life of spiritual quality are nurtured and maintained by the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
Similarly, when we refer to a life of vigilance and a true spirit of discipleship, they are also the benefit and fruit in the lives of those who have the privilege of experiencing the filling of the Spirit of God. So, as we consider what we can do to ensure that we stand in the last days, the answer can be summarised in one statement, “Make sure that we are filled with the Spirit of God and that we continue to experience this filling in increasing measure throughout our lives.” Only then can there be a life of victory, only then can we experience true and wholesome transformation of our lives and character. It is in such a context that the child of God would find the enabling to be bold and to overcome all odds, no matter what the circumstances may be, and to stand after the final battle.
It is not enough just to be sincere Christians; it is not even enough just to have generally good and positive desires in life. There are many sincere believers who end up spiritually shipwrecked in their lives. There are many, with good desires, ending up spiritually crippled and disillusioned. What we need to ensure is that we are equipped to live for God and enabled to serve Him for His glory. To that end, let us pay heed to the words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:15-18. Yes indeed, Paul’s exhortation to the Christians remains – “Be filled with the Spirit”. The question we need to ask ourselves soberly is – “Are we?”
At this point, it may be helpful for us to ponder over what A.W. Tozer wrote in “Keys to the Deeper Life” (revised and expanded, pages 50, 52):- “The doctrine of the Spirit as it relates to the believer has over the last half century been shrouded in a mist such as lies upon a mountain in stormy weather. A world of confusion has surrounded the truth. The children of God have been taught contrary doctrines from the same texts, warned, threatened and intimidated until they instinctively recoil from every mention of the Bible teaching concerning the Holy Spirit. This confusion has not come by accident. An enemy has done this. Satan knows that Spiritless evangelicalism is as deadly as modernism or heresy, and has done everything in his power to prevent us from enjoying our true Christian heritage…The church can have light only as it is full of the Spirit, and it can be full only as the members that compose it are filled individually. Furthermore, no one can be filled until he is convinced that being filled is part of the total plan of God in redemption; that nothing is added or extra, nothing strange or queer, but a proper and spiritual operation of God, based upon and growing out of the work of Christ in atonement.”
It is true that all believers have the Holy Spirit of God in their lives. It is also true that it is part of the total plan of God in redemption to have all believers filled with the Spirit of God, and living a life in the Spirit. However, we have seen that many things can go wrong. The evil one can manipulate God’s people and cause much confusion in this area of truth. Nonetheless, it is still vital for God’s people to be individually filled so that the church can be full of the Spirit of God.