How do you describe the indescribable?
So much of the Bible involves trying to describe the nature and work of our sovereign and glorious God in human language to mere mortals. When describing God and the things of God, human language and imagery are exhausted and woefully inadequate. God made this point when he sent Jesus as his personal incarnation — words could not adequately describe God's love for us, so Jesus came as God's ultimate message, the Word among us (John 1:1-18; Hebrews 1:1-3).
So how do we fully grasp the incredible truth that as followers of Jesus, God lives in us through the Holy Spirit? This incredible mystery is one of the primary themes of the New Testament, a repeated promise in the Old Testament about the coming of God's new covenant, and the precious gift God gives to those who follow Jesus (Luke 11:11-13). But how are we to grasp this incredible blessing?
As a little boy, my dad worked as a pharmaceutical rep, but was always involved in leading worship, working with the youth, or preaching at little churches. While he was preaching for a little country church in the early sixties, he taught a sermon about heaven. These were country people, but they lived near Houston. Most of them had country friends who were even more country than they were. So dad got them thinking about how they could describe a skyscraper in Houston to an old timer who had never been to the city. The language they had to use was interesting — silos that are six or ten times taller than ours and full of people who work in them. This was really helpful to me as a kid to realize that the language in Scripture about heaven was woefully inadequate to describe all that God has waiting for us. We can't begin to imagine the glory that awaits us because our words and experiences are so limited in comparison to their glory.
In much the same way, Scripture gives us images and glimpses of the Spirit's work among us. These images rely on our experiences as limited mortals to describe the eternal and glorious work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Spirit is like an artesian spring, bubbling up within us with new life (John 4:1-13; John 7:37-39). The Holy Spirit is like having a great Comforter - Counselor - Advocate (the word carries all three connotations) who is Jesus' presence with us and within us, to help us and bless us (John 14:15-17; John 16:7-15). The Holy Spirit comes to us like a holy fire, burning away our impurities, cleansing us our past sins, and purifying us as the dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Luke 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20).
One of the most interesting analogies involving the Holy Spirit involves the concept of living "under the influence." Most countries have stiff penalties for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Most people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol have visibly changed behaviors. Many crimes, much lack of emotional and sexual control, and poor relational skills can all be traced to living under the influence of alcohol and drugs. So as Paul is trying to help early followers of Jesus understand the work of the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit empowers Jesus' followers to live holy lives, he used the image of living "under the influence":
Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit ... (Ephesians 5:15-18 TNIV).
Paul speaks of life with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us as a life lived "under the influence" of the Spirit. That's what it means to be filled with the Spirit — to live under the Spirit's holy influence. We have a choice of what influence will govern our lives, guide our hearts, and impact our behavior: it can be the world's choice of joy, celebration, and passion or God's choice. But, our behaviors are going to be spiritually determined by the choice of which influence we choose to place in our lives! (Read also Romans 8:5-13 and Galatians 5:13-27 for more on the influence of the sinful nature or the Spirit.)
The issue is not whether or not we live under the influence of something or someone (Ephesians 2:1-10), but which influence we will choose to control our lives!
So how do we turn loose the Spirit to have influence in our lives? Paul's guidance on how to be filled with the Spirit is this:
... be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:18-21).
We are living "under the influence" of someone or something. So what's that influence in your life?
What do you need to do to live under a life more under the influence of the Holy Spirit and not other influences?
While the results are far different, why do you think Paul chose to use the analogy of living "under the influence" for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives?
What are the different outcomes that happen because we voluntarily allow the Holy Spirit to influence our attitudes, behaviors, and emotions versus living under the influence of some other substance or person?
As you think about living under the influence of the Holy Spirit, how does the following passage give you hope?
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful humanity to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in human flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4).
I'd love to get your thoughts on these ideas on my blog: