Orthodox Christianity holds to the great Three-in-One of God – God is indivisibly One and at the same time a Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit. Christians typically have no problem expressing their prayers and devotion to the Persons of the Father and the Son. However, when it comes to the Spirit, this Person of the Holy Trinity is often referred to as an “it” or a “force.” Yet, the Holy Spirit is as much God and as much a Person as our heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
We absolutely and totally need the Holy Spirit of God. Without the Spirit’s help, Jesus is merely looked at by people as one of thousands of individuals crucified in history, and only an example of one who was martyred for his faith. But Jesus was infinitely more than that. He is the Son of God. He is the Savior of the world. Through Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension people can be redeemed from empty lives, saved from destructive life-patterns, and given the kind of security and purpose to life that God intended from the beginning of the world for people to possess. It is the Spirit of God that takes these redemptive events of Jesus and applies them to our lives. Apart from the Holy Spirit, we are lost because we are completely unable to see the genuine spiritual truth about the cross of Jesus Christ unless God the Holy Spirit breaks into our lives and does an intervention showing us our denial about how we are really doing and our delusions about who we really are (1 Corinthians 2:1-16).
Admitting that we absolutely and totally need the Holy Spirit of God means that the power of Christianity and the Christian life does not reside with me or you; power rests only with Jesus Christ and him crucified with the Spirit witnessing to us of this truth. In other words, we are powerless. I realize that this is not a popular message, especially in Western society. We Americans are powerless? That sounds ridiculous to a particularly can-do kind of people. We have done fairly well, thank you very much; we have a couple of cars, a house, a job, and a family. After all, we worked hard and we did it. But the thing is that any worldly success and getting the things we want may lead us to the delusion that we have the power to do what we want.
“Oh, sure,” we might reason, “we have problems just like everybody else. After all, we cannot control everything.” But we are not powerless just because we have difficult circumstances and a few problem people in our lives. “God will step in a take-over where I leave off, right?” Wrong. Apart from the Holy Spirit of God, we are totally unable to become Christians and live the Christian life. If we think we manage our lives just fine, with some help from God, then we may be in denial about how much we actually place ourselves at the center of the world and believe we should be able to deal with whatever comes in life. When our constant response to adverse situations or the realization that we are not handling something well is to try and fix ourselves, we are living the delusion that we have the power to change.
When our first reaction is to search Google to find answers to our problems; when we persistently deal privately with our personal issues; when we expect that our willpower should be enough; or, when we passively resign ourselves to mediocre lives because we have tried to change or be different; then, we are feeding the delusion that we do not really need the Holy Spirit of God but instead feed the idea that more effort or information is what we need in order to find the power to overcome whatever is in my life that needs overcoming. What we are left with in this approach is more knowledge, but even more discouragement because what we actually need more than anything in this world is the Holy Spirit of God applying the work of Jesus Christ to our lives so that we can truly live the power of a victorious life.
Unfortunately, it typically takes a tragedy or crisis to break our delusion of power – a bad marriage, a family member’s addiction, a runaway child, a terminal illness, a bankruptcy, or a death. How bad do you and I need to hurt before we will admit that we are not managing our lives well at all, and that the real power to change resides with the Holy Spirit and not me? Instead of expending enormous amounts of energy trying to keep up appearances of being in control and having power, let’s admit that we are compulsive about looking good to others and ask for help because we are really powerless.
Power is in the cross of Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit testifying to us of God’s great grace. The Apostle Paul believed this with all his heart. Although he was a very intelligent and learned person, he did not rely on his abilities but rather trusted in proclaiming the power of Jesus and him crucified. The cross of Jesus is not just an historical event, but an ongoing reality for us to experience victory over all the brokenness of this world and all the mess we have made of things putting ourselves at the center of the universe. We need the Holy Spirit of God to intervene and apply Christ’s finished work to us.
That means that it is not enough for churches and Christian organizations to engage in strategic planning and mission statements, although these are important and have their place. What all God’s people need is the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit more than anything else. It is the Spirit that we must rely on to truly do the work of ministry and live the Christian life. Learning to discern the Spirit’s guidance is not just a nice thing, but is essential for every church and each believer. Soli Deo Gloria.