Written by Doug Ponder on January 13, 2013
Something’s Missing – Round 1
Can you imagine how exciting it must have been when John the Baptizer (a.k.a., John the Baptist) showed up one day in the area around Judea to announce that the long-awaited Messiah would soon be here? “Prepare the way for the Lord; make straight paths for him,” John said. And people listened. Many of them were baptized, confessing their sins and placing their faith and hope in “the One who was to come,” as John put it.
Now imagine how exciting it must have been for a guy like Apollos, a Jewish man from Egypt, who heard the good news that John the Baptizer’s message had come true. The Messiah had come, and his name was Jesus. So Apollos got busy telling people about Jesus. But one day, as he was proving from the Scriptures that the Messiah was Jesus, some Christians noticed that something was missing from his public sermon. Apollos’ teaching about Jesus was accurate, but incomplete (Acts 18:25). He didn’t know about the final instructions that Jesus had given to his followers. Jesus had told them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).
It seems that Apollos was still teaching that baptism was just a sign of general repentance, sort of like a public demonstration that you are sorry for your sins. That’s what John the Baptizer had been doing, but things were different now that the Messiah had finally come. So when Jesus told his followers to baptize, he give them a different reason: baptism in the name of the Lord was to be the new “badge of membership” for Christians everywhere. It symbolizes that we belong to Jesus and that we belong with the rest of his people (cf. Eph. 4:4-6). It was important that Apollos get this right, so a concerned Christian couple named Aquila and Priscilla pulled Apollos aside, told him about the baptism of Jesus, and then sent him on his way to continue telling others the good news about the Messiah.
Something’s Missing – Round 2
Meanwhile, the apostle Paul runs into another group of John the Baptizer’s disciples in the city of Ephesus. They were missing something, too, and it was an even bigger deal than what Apollos was missing. They had heard John the Baptizer’s message, and believed, but they hadn’t been told that the Messiah they were waiting for had already come. Worse than that, they knew nothing about the Holy Spirit, the “Helper” whom God had given to live in his people. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?” Paul asks. “We had not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit,” they replied. This wouldn’t do. To be Christian in the fullest sense of the term is not merely to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, though that’s start. Rather, it includes the fuller understanding that Jesus has left the world and sent the Holy Spirit to continue working among his people.
Here’s how Jesus put it: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). Jesus was talking about a “Helper” who would not only be withyou, as God has always been, but also be in you. Perhaps that didn’t seem like a big deal to his followers at the time, but Jesus himself thought otherwise. He told them, “Very truly I tell you, it is for your advantage that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
The Power of the Spirit’s Presence
Have you ever wished that you could have Jesus stand next you, physically, to walk with you and talk with you throughout your day? Perhaps we feel that life would be much easier if things worked that way. We could just turn to Jesus and ask him, “What should I think about this?” or “Tell me what to do here.” But Jesus says we’re wrong. “It is for your advantage that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Helper will not come to you.” The trouble is, we don’t believe Jesus about this. We continue to think that the Helper he promised, the Holy Spirit, isn’t really all that big of a deal. But he is. Listen to some of the things that God has promised the Holy Spirit does in our lives:
- The Spirit gives us a new heart along with new desires and new abilities to do what God has said (Titus 3:4-7; Phil. 2:13).
- The Spirit leads us into the truth, by bringing Scriptures to mind or by showing us the way forward when we don’t know what to do (John 14:26; Acts 13:2).
- The Spirit gives you the words to speak when you need to bear witness about the gospel (Mark 13:11; Luke 12:12).
- The Spirit empowers us to be God’s witnesses, drawing people to God by giving them faith. (Acts 1:8; Eph. 2:8-9).
- The Spirit illuminates the Word of God so that we can understand what it means and do what it says (John 16:12-15; 1 Cor. 2:10).
- The Spirit allows us to have intimacy with God, softening our hearts and giving us love and affection for God our Father (Rom. 8:15-16).
- The Spirit convicts us of sin and gives us the desire to turn from it (John 16:7-11; 1 Thess. 1:5).
- The Spirit brings us new life and freedom from sin (Rom. 8:2, 10-11; 2 Cor. 3:17).
- The Spirit intercedes for us when we pray (Rom. 8:26-27).
- The Spirit gives us supernatural gifts so that we can serve other (1 Cor. 12:1-7).
Thus, the Spirit is our helper in every way. He is our comforter, our counselor, our adviser our advocate, our encourager, and our strength. The question for us is, do we depend upon the Holy Spirit for all that God says he will do in us and through us?
Do You Have the Holy Spirit?
Sometimes we may wonder whether or not we even have the Holy Spirit. We look at our lives and see so much sin and brokenness that we doubt that it could possibly be true that the God who made the universe is actually living inside of us. At least, it doesn’t feel that way. But Jesus and receiving the Spirit are a “package deal” (Titus 3:5-7), so there is no such thing as someone who has been redeemed by Jesus that doesn’t have the Spirit. Nevertheless, the reason we may not feel the Spirit’s presence and power may be because we are “quenching” (1 Thess. 5:19) or “grieving” (Eph. 4:30) the Spirit through deliberate rebellion or through neglect. After all, Jesus did say “You have not because you ask not,” so it may be that we don’t experience more of the Spirit’s work in our lives because we have not asked him to move or we have not trusted that he would do so. The good news is that the Spirit will always work to supply you with the desire and the energy to do what pleases God; all that’s left is for you to “work out” what the Spirit “works in” (Phil. 2:12-13).
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.