In previous essays I explored the Biblical concepts of being full of and getting filled with the Holy Spirit. I also mentioned they’re not presented to believers as suggestions. They’re commands. Accordingly, it behooves us to figure out how best to obey our divine orders. Yet we find it’s not so simple. Exactly how do we make the power and presence of the Holy Spirit a palpable reality in our lives? Talk’s cheap and we can wrangle over a topic till we’re blue in the face and afterward congratulate ourselves on expanding our intellectual horizons but unless we’re able to put our good intentions into motion it’s all an exercise in futility. The rubber must meet the road in order to gain traction. If we scour the Scriptures for a neat, concise formula for being filled with the Spirit we’re going to be disappointed because it’s not to be found. One theory is that first century Gentile Christians didn’t need to be so instructed because, for them, a Spirit-filled life was the norm. The good news was so good and such a vast improvement over the empty, superstitious, pagan hocus-pocus that preceded it they didn’t get distracted by worldly things the way modern age believers do. What can’t be overlooked, however, is the fact that the New Testament emphasizes over and over the importance of followers of Jesus being educated to and aware of how much we need to heed the Holy Spirit residing inside so we can be the persons God intended us to be before we were formed in our mothers’ wombs. Using the Bible as my guide I’ll attempt to answer the evasive “How?” question. It comes down to understanding, submission and a willingness to walk in faith. In this installment we’ll concentrate on the first part; understanding.
I’ve been involved in the Celebrate Recovery (CR) ministry for six years and my opinion is it’s the greatest thing to happen to Christianity since Luther superglued his game-changing rant to the sanctuary door. Pastor Kirk Shelton once said, “Everyone needs CR,” and he was right because the program addresses all kinds of hurts, habits and hang-ups. Not just alcoholism and drug addiction (only 2 of 10 who show up suffer from those afflictions) but every brand of compulsive, unbecoming behavior you can think of. So how can CR aid us in achieving understanding? It’s simpler than you’d guess because understanding involves stepping out of denial. You see, there are certain core Biblical truths we must absorb into our minds and we can’t do that if our puffed-up pride is assuring us we already know everything we could possibly need to know about God! Truth is, reading His Holy Word isn’t a once-and-done deal because it’s a living document that provides every Christian with new and practical revelations every day. It’s an ocean of wisdom, inspiration and time-tested advice that never runs dry and the book’s editor, the Holy Spirit, doesn’t just drop by on occasion to check on our progress, He literally lives inside us! We may not physically feel his presence (we’re made of atoms, He’s not) but if we belong to Christ then God has promised us He’s in there and God doesn’t lie. We must, especially in this case, lay aside our conceited intellect and humbly accept this as fact by faith. In acknowledging it as a certainty we must also understand our Heavenly Father insists we allow the Holy Spirit and no one else to mentor us in all our ways. That’s precisely what it means to be full of the Spirit. It’s not a reluctantly-granted concession on God’s part. He wants us to be full of it. That’s astounding news. Our gracious Creator has provided us with an inerrant divine resource solely because he loves us so much. Luke 11:13 says, “If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” If you’re not filled with the Spirit the blame falls squarely on you. In the kingdom of God you don’t get what you don’t ask for!
This understanding of our denial gene also entails coming to grips with the presence of sin in our lives. Our sins dam up the river of the Holy Spirit and unless we honestly take responsibility for every one of them we’ll never be completely filled. For those who harbor an inflated estimation of their righteousness level, facing their denial can be so painful and degrading they dare not attempt it alone. An excellent reason to try CR. A leader there will go through the process of discovery (doing a personal inventory) alongside them. However it gets accomplished, one’s denial of hiding and protecting their sinful nature must be dealt with. The impasse of iniquity has to be cleared from the stream in order to restore the flow of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes a form of denial grows out of a Christian’s false belief that, since they surrendered to Jesus, they’re now sinless. They think the self-centered person they used to be is dead and buried but that’s a myth the Bible doesn’t teach. On the contrary, the old carnal beast is very much alive and desperately wants to climb back into the driver’s seat. The difference is the Holy Spirit now dwells inside them, centered between the former self and the new creation who wants to live for God. What the believer must decide is which of the two they’re going to nurture. On their own volition they’ll opt for the old rascal and inevitably fall back into bad behavior patterns. But if they fight that urge and strive to be filled with the Holy Spirit the new person will dominate the former. At CR we concede our powerlessness. We admit we simply cannot conquer the temptations to sin on our own. Without God’s power we don’t stand a chance in hell. So stepping out of the denial of our dependence on the Holy Spirit for strength is a big step to take on the road to becoming truly Spirit-filled.
There are 8 Bible-based principles we utilize at CR to get folks back on track with our higher power – Jesus Christ. The first reads, “Realize I’m not God. I admit I’m powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable.” That’s not a condemnation, rather it’s a confirmation of the human problem we all share to one extent or another and must ultimately confront. But many balk at verbalizing that admission because their ego considers it appalling to openly admit they’re not as holy as they thought and even more degrading to admit they’re in need of doing some serious repenting. As did the wealthy seeker in Mark 10, most of us want what Jesus has to offer but not at the expense of what we covet and cling to. What I shamefully found out about myself at an early juncture in my spiritual journey was that I actually loved some of my dark sins and wasn’t inclined to give them up! Jesus said in John 3:19, “…people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” That was me! Until I became willing to come clean I hid my evil deeds from others and even myself. How did I get so stupid? The Bible tells us sin blinds us spiritually so we can’t see what’s right in front of us. Namely, the enormous depth of our sin. We become blinded to how much it’s ruthlessly invaded every area of our lives and how much it’s corrupted everything we say, think and do. And, while we may become acutely aware of the “big” sins we commit (due to the despicable consequences they produce) it’s the “little” sins that are just as deadly. But we tend to brush those aside.
Almost everyone who comes into a CR meeting for the first time does so because their elephant-in-the-room character defect finally sunk their boat to rock bottom and they’ve concluded they need help. Those who stick with the program usually become aware after a while that they have other dubious, unrighteous aspects of their personality in need of correction, as well. That’s because their spiritual eyes have at long last been opened and for that reason the ministry will always steer them into reading their Bible. God doesn’t want us to be content with conducting a casual glance-over of our situation in which we only address the sins causing disasters in our relationships and general well-being. He expects us to do a top-to-bottom, sin-exterminating house cleaning. As we prayerfully study the Word of God the real author of Scripture, the Holy Ghost, will shine a glaring, penetrating searchlight into the other cubbyholes of sin we need to expose before God. We must remember that what we’re tempted to write off as “minor offenses” are not necessarily trivial or inconsequential to the Holy Spirit. With God there are no “small sins” and there are definitely no acceptable excuses for Christians who should know better than to knowingly commit them.
Thus our daily confession needs to encompass and include all our sins. In the somewhat underappreciated book Song of Songs chapter 2, verse 15 we find this nugget: “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards – for our vineyard is in bloom.” In a poetic way it illustrates that our “little foxes” (sins) can cancel out and destroy our fruitfulness for the Lord. Think of it this way. In football a dropped pass occurs in most every game but if it comes at a crucial moment it can cost the team dearly. In our lives there may be pride, jealousy, resentments or even a propensity to utter “white lies” in order to sidestep an inconvenient truth. We can be guilty of spreading gossip, of impatience, of unkindness or of lashing out in spasms of anger and try to justify them later. But there’s no justification for any action that adversely affects someone else. The bottom line is that unclean thoughts need to be laid down at the foot of the cross for cleansing. Habits like gluttony or procrastination have to be eradicated. The indwelling Holy Spirit sees them all and will speak to us through our conscience about how we spend our time and income, our lifestyle or our misuse of some unique, God-given gift. He may make us painfully aware we’ve gotten lazy in expressing our gratitude or displaying our love for someone close to us. And don’t kid yourself; the Holy Spirit doesn’t miss noticing the tiniest spot of filth. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Our job as believers is to identify every sin He illuminates and surrender it to God through confession. Yes, confession. It ain’t just for Catholics, you know.
One great thing about CR is that it creates a safe environment for confessing sin. The ministry knows that opening up about the awful stuff we do can be difficult and embarrassing so every precaution is taken to make sure people feel comfortable enough to be transparent and real. The fourth principle states, “Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God and to someone I trust” and it’s backed by two pertinent verses. The first is from the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:6) where Jesus said, “Happy are the pure in heart.” The only way for a heart to become pure is to rid it of all impurities and confession accomplishes that in a jiffy. The second is James 5:16, “So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” Logic would intimate that sitting in a room with others of your gender and unloading your dirty laundry wouldn’t accomplish much in the way of healing but I and hundreds of thousands of Christians will testify that it’s one of the most therapeutic and empowering activities they’ve ever been a part of. That’s because it works! The act of confessing and hearing others confess is medicine for the soul, mind and heart. I’ve never heard anyone say they regretted going to a CR meeting.
While it’s worthwhile to talk about all the various shortcomings we Christians have and bring them to the surface we must acknowledge that the worst, most deeply-rooted sin of all is our reluctance and outright failure to let Jesus be in charge of every aspect of our existence. Billy Graham wrote, “The most basic question any Christian can ask is this: Who is ruling my life, self or Christ?” If the Son of God, communicating to us through the Holy Spirit, is in control then we have a much better chance of thwarting the devil’s goading to “do our own thing.” Don’t be misled, sin will continue to be a problem and our lives will most likely encounter defeats, let-downs and discouragements because Christ never promised us a rose garden down here on terra firma. That’s a fact, Jack. Our rebellious “self” is a stubborn, hard-to-kill brat who insists on getting his/her way and being the center of attention. Putting that jerk in his/her place is a non-stop challenge we must tackle in order to let the new creation who only listens to the Holy Spirit develop and expand. That’s a Christian truism many in the church don’t want to hear, much less comply with. Even so, the New Testament is packed with unambiguous statements about our Savior’s demand for nothing less than total commitment. Luke 9:23 records the raw truth: “Then he [Jesus] said to them all, ‘If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Our natural inclination, not to mention the ambition of our animal instinct, is to set self-serving goals, to follow our own noses and go wherever our desires take us without ever giving the God who created us a second thought. Because He gave us free will it’s up to us to seek His perfect will above all our other impulses.
God has blessed us far beyond what we deserve so it’s only right that He should expect a lot from us in return. Bear in mind, this has nothing to do with the grace that saved us. That’s free, no strings attached. But the Bible tells us He calls us to renounce our selfish aspirations and focus all our energy on complying with His will. He asks that we step down from the throne of our lives and let Jesus wield the scepter without interference. We’re to demonstrate our faith and trust in Him by allowing Him to rule over everything we think and do. 2 Corinthians 5:15 reads, “And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised.” It wasn’t until several frustrating decades had passed before I finally saw how completely (and disastrously, I must add) sin had blinded me and was continuing to generate chaos in my life, my marriage and all my relationships. I came to the stark realization that I needed to be willing to yield to Christ’s authority and let Him drive the bus, else I was doomed to spend the rest of my life barreling down the fast lane on the highway to hell. Since doing things “my way” was obviously making matters worse the decision to turn around and follow Jesus was an easy one to make. When I started reading my Bible again I was confronted with fundamental doctrines I’d learned in Sunday school as a child but I’d conveniently forgotten because they’d interfered with my plans. Things like the fact that the Holy Spirit lives in me and that the Father in heaven wants my life to be filled with Him.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out an angel led me six years ago to the only local congregation that sponsored CR meetings weekly at their church. I had to answer the crucial question of who I was going to serve – Satan or Jesus – and the 12 steps and 8 principles CR recommended helped me do that. I know for sure that, left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have been able to change. I would’ve retreated back into my introverted mindset and cut myself off from the love and encouragement my CR brothers and sisters in Christ provide that made an enormous difference in my walk with the Lord. Gaining essential understanding is no cake walk on Easy Street but you don’t have to go it alone at CR. Celebrate Recovery’s certainly not the only way but it’s a good one.