Being God’s Beloved: Day 38: The Spirit of Persistence

If you are a Christian, Holy Spirit dwells in your heart.

Some Christians question and doubt this. But you need have no doubt about the persistence of Spirit in your life.

Jesus says to the disciples, before Pentecost, “You know him [Spirit], for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). The first part of this sentence is written in the present tense (you currently know him because he currently lives in you) to emphasise that Spirit is already dwelling in them. And the second part of the sentence is written in the future tense (he will be in you in the future) to emphasise that Spirit will persist in them – he will not leave. The same is true of all children of God today – if you are a Child of God, Spirit has already taken up residence in your heart, and will remain there forever.

As we journey through life, however, we may have fresh and new experiences of Holy Spirit – new outpourings of Spirit into our hearts. The disciples experienced this from Jesus after the resurrection. In John 20, Jesus appears first to Mary and then to the disciples. He greets them, “‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21-22). Just a few days earlier, Jesus had affirmed that Spirit was already living with them. So they are not now receiving Spirit for the first time. Rather, this is a new outpouring of Spirit into them.

And some weeks later, at Pentecost, they receive another outpouring of Spirit – this time with “a violent wind from heaven” and “what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” and with the ability to speak in different languages (Acts 2:2-4). Again, this is a new experience of Spirit, but that does not mean they did not previously have Spirit in them. This time, however, we see radical transformation in their faith and witness, and an explosive growth of the church. Clearly, the outpouring of Spirit is a vital part of our spiritual growth. We should eagerly desire to know Spirit like this!

‘Baptism in the Spirit’ or being ‘filled with the Spirit’, which are sometimes accompanied by supernatural gifts such as tongues, does not mean receiving Holy Spirit for the first time. Spirit is intimately involved in our salvation, so if you are saved then Spirit is with you. We cannot be saved without Spirit’s participation. But, baptism and filling will provide you with ‘more’of Spirit, though I don’t like how ‘more’ suggests that Spirit is something that can be quantified and dispensed, like water or power. Remember that Spirit is a person. It is more helpful to think of baptism and filling as the removal of chains that constrain Spirit within you, so that you give Spirit space to work within you. Baptism and filling free Spirit up to do what he does best – to work in and through us for the glory of God. And this is something we should all pray for.

Yesterday we reflected that when Spirit saves us and dwells in us, we become children of God (Romans 8:15-17). This too sounds wonderful, does it not? Not only can we be filled with Spirit, but we can also become children of God and coheirs with Christ! This would suggest that once we are saved, we can expect to live the good life!

Of course, we all know that this is not true. Being a Christian does not secure the good life. Sometimes, being a Christian actually seems to work against us – we choose to give up activities or friends we enjoyed before, we feel obliged to be honest in our work and our tax returns, we feel persuaded to forgive someone who has harmed us, we grapple with guilt because we repeatedly fail to live up to God’s standards. This does not feel like the good life.

Paul recognises this, and so in Romans, immediately after several verses about how wonderful it is to live in step with Spirit, he begins to write about suffering and about the hope for a future glory – the good life that we will experience sometime in the future, if not now. He uses words like (Romans 8:18-27): sufferings, eager expectation, frustration, subjected, liberated, bondage, decay, groaning, the pains of childbirth, groan, eagerly wait, hope, patiently, weakness, groans.

Why does Paul write like this?

It is because the Christian path is not an easy one. It is because there are many times that we will feel like giving up, we may question if all this is worth it. It is because there are times when we will feel that God has abandoned us.

It is significant that Paul uses ‘groans’ three times and ‘hope’ five times in these 10 verses. This combination of groaning and hoping is often the experience of being a child of God. We groan because things are not how we want them to be. And we hope because we look forward to a better time. Hope helps us tolerate groaning. Hope helps us to persist through the groans.

And then Paul offers us two promises – promises that serve to give us courage and hope in the face of adversity, promises that remind us that the heart of God is filled with love towards us, promises that assure us that Spirit persists with us.

The first promise is this: that God is always working to transform bad experiences into good opportunities for us. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Bad things do happen. They happen to us. They happen to the people we love. And they happen to people throughout the world. Bad things do happen. We can write many books to explain suffering. But the bottom line is that we do suffer. It is a fact of living in a fallen world. God does not protect us from suffering.

But what we can trust God for, is that God will work with us, in all things, to transform bad into good. The thing that happened remains a bad thing. But God works to change the effects of that bad thing into something good. This is something God does in partnership with us – God partners with us to transform bad into good. God did this with the Cross: the Cross is a bad thing; but God transformed the effects of the Cross into something good for us.

For example, someone may experience a violent crime – that is a bad thing. God will work to transform that bad experience into something valuable – for example, the person may discover a fire in their belly to start a programme for people who commit violent crimes. The violent crime has not become good, just because it lead to something good. The crime itself is still a bad thing. But God has “worked together with those who love him to bring about what is good” (an alternative translation of Romans 8:28).

We can always trust God to help us transform bad things into good results.

And the second promise is this: that we will never be separated from God’s love. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

Whenever I read this passage out loud, I find myself emphasising that “No!” in verse 37. It is one of Paul’s emphatic No’s, as if he had been sitting down and now stands up to emphasise this word. And then I find that I get louder and slower and more emphatic as I move through the last two verses, “For I am convinced…”

Nothing, absolutely nothing, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! Nothing!!

God’s love does not give up on us. God’s love is not thwarted. God’s love is not contingent on whether we feel God’s love. God’s love does not get turned away by things that happen to us. God’s love is not doused by our own faithlessness. There is nothing in the universe that can separate us from God’s love.

Yesterday we reflected on the idea that Spirit is the love of God. Paul in Romans 8 has been writing extensively about Spirit in the lead up to these verses. So it is not too great a stretch to conclude that we can never be separated from God’s love because we can never be separated from Spirit. Spirit, who is the love of God, dwells in us – we are Holy Spirit’s temple (1 Corinthians 6:19) – and so God’s love dwells in us.

No matter what happens, no matter what we go through, Spirit remains with us, God’s love remains with us. Spirit will never leave us nor forsake us, so we need never fear nor be discouraged (Deuteronomy 31:6-8). We can have confidence that “if God is for us, who can be against us. He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).

And no matter what we ourselves do, no matter what we say, Spirit remains with us, God’s love remains with us. We are incapable of escaping Spirit, as the psalmist has written, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 137:7-10). God remains with us, because God knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 137:13). God knows everything there is to know about us – all the wonderful and all the terrible things about us – and still loves us, is not ashamed of or repulsed by us.

Today we give thanks for Holy Spirit, for the Love of God, who dwells in us, in the innermost place in our hearts, who works continuously for our good, who is present with us in suffering and hardship, and who loves us to the ends of time.

Meditation for the Day

Consider the presence of God’s Spirit in your heart right now. Even if you do not sense his presence, affirm and meditate on the truth that he is there and that he will persist in you.

Prayer for the Day

Spirit of Christ, Spirit of Love. Thank you that you reside in me and that you have promised to never leave nor forsake me. Open my heart to your presence and stir up in me faith and hope. Give me courage and ability to do your work in the world.

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