Sunday was Pentecost Sunday when we especially remember the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the church and the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. I spent a bit of time this week thinking about that second aspect, how the Holy Spirit works in our lives after we become believers and I have come to the conclusion that there is a paradox to the work of the Spirit in our lives. A paradox is a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition and there are two seemingly contradictory aspects of the Spirit’s work in us, namely its God’s Work and in a sense our work.
Let’s have a look at that apparent paradox.
In what I think is one of the most important verses for understanding the work of the Spirit in our lives Paul writes that,
“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5
The Holy Spirit works in our lives to enable us to experience the reality of God’s love. This is not something that happens when we work ourselves into a frenzy, its God’s Work. It is God who pours his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us when we were born again, or born of the Spirit.
John Piper writes about this experience described in Romans 5
“Whatever else we say about this experience, let this be said: it is not decisively the work of man, but the work of God. It is supernatural. It is not finally in our power. It is not the product of mere circumstances. It is not owing to a good family of origin. It is owing to the Holy Spirit. You don’t make it happen. The Holy Spirit makes it happen. It’s his work.”
This is an experience we receive from God through the Spirit, so this means we are just passive right? We just have to receive? We have no role in this happening to us? It’s all about “let go, and let God”
Paul gives this advice when mentoring his young protégé Timothy,
“For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” 2 Timothy 1:6
In a great book about all the verses in the NT where the Apostle Paul talks about the Holy Spirit called GOD’S EMPOWERING PRESENCE, Gordon Fee argues convincingly that the “gift of God” Paul is talking about to Timothy is not a spiritual gift, but the gift of the Holy Spirit himself. Paul is telling Timothy in the same way that there are certain things you have to do to make a fire burn more fiercely, there are certain things we should do that will allow the flames of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit’s empowering and purifying presence, to work more powerfully and effectively in our lives.
I wish Paul had given us a list of what we need to do to “fan into flame the gift of God” those attitudes and actions that create the conditions for the Spirit to work more freely in our lives. I think they must include a desire for God, prayer, reading God’s Word, worship, fellowship, repentance for sin, a craving for holiness.
Do you see the paradox? On the one hand in Romans Paul says our experience of the Holy Spirit is God’s Work but on the other hand he tells Timothy we have work to do to create the conditions to allow us to experience the Holy Spirit’s work.