The Holy Spirit: How do I know he indwells me?

spirit-thumb.jpgI recently posted an emailed question from a reader, asking how he could tell that the Spirit indwells him. And there have been many excellent responses from the readers. I don’t think what I’m about to say is in any sense an improvement on what’s already been said. I just want to add a couple of analogies to the mix, and there are too many words to type in that little comment box.

The Dodge Aspen analogy

I used to own a Dodge Aspen, which was the car that drove Chrysler into bankruptcy. I was driving at 55 miles per hour on a heavily trafficked road when the engine just spontaneously cut off! Until that moment, I had always assumed that when I pressed the brakes, it was me pressing the brake pads into the brake drums and stopping the car. And I’d always been sure that when I turned the steering wheel that it was me moving the wheels. But when my engine stopped on a downhill incline at 55, I learned that the engine had been doing about 99% of all that work and I’d only been doing about 1%—because I had to push about 100 times harder to stop and steer the car than I was used to. It was an eye-opening experience!

Well, this is much how the Spirit works. Sometimes I think that my love for God and zeal for his work, such as they are, are my own doing—and they are, to some extent. But my own works are greatly empowered and strengthened by God’s working in me to not only do his work, but to want to do his work. But just like power brakes, if I don’t press the pedal, the car won’t stop, but I don’t really do the work. I haven’t lost my free will—I’ve just been helped more than I’ll ever fully realize.

The scriptures are like the map and the owner’s manual in the glove compartment. They teach me how to access the power and what to do with the power, but they aren’t the power.

The old-fashioned radio analogy

Now many of my students don’t remember how radios used to work—radios with dials you turned to find the station — and that required frequent re-tunings as the signal drifted. It used to be that you manually turned the dial until you found the station. At first, you couldn’t hear the signal at all. Then, as you got closer to the correct frequency, you could hear the music, but it was distorted by static. Finally, when you got the radio tuned exactly right, the music came through clearly and beautifully.

And then, over time, the radio circuits would drift off signal, and you’d have re-tune it all over again.

The Spirit is like a beautiful symphony on the radio. The music is inaudible to anyone without a radio. Only certain people are privileged to hear it. And even those who have radios have to know how to find the station and how to keep it tuned into the station. Of course, the station never did drift off signal. Rather, old-style radio circuitry tended to drift off the frequency due to the inadequacy of the radio — not the transmitter.

Just so, the Spirit always communicates a clear, steady, beautiful signal, but only the saved can hear it. But even the saved hear poorly unless they tune in to the correct frequency. Prayer, Bible study, and our Christian community help keep us in tune with the will of God and allow the Spirit to speak more and more clearly to our hearts. The signal is always there, but we aren’t always tuned in.

We do nothing to make the music. We receive the music. But we must know the difference between music and static to tune the radio at all. The role of scripture is to teach us to recognize music when we hear it and to find the right place on the dial. But the scriptures aren’t the music.

Some people think the instruction book is all they need. After all, if the instruction book tells us how to use the radio, surely that’s enough. It’s all about the dials and buttons. And the book tells all we need to know about the music. Who needs to personally experience the music when you can read about it?

And there are lots of people with radios, well within range of the signal, who’ve misunderstood the instructions. They think the goal is own a radio, and they proudly celebrate having a radio. But they don’t hear the music because they don’t realize that that’s what the radio is for.

But more and more not only own radios, they hear the music. They follow the instructions and tune the radio to the right frequency. It takes time to master the radio’s controls, because they are imperfect and the circuits drift off signal easily. But with practice and time, the ear becomes trained to distinguish music from static and to find the very best tuning. And then it’s no longer about the radio at all. It’s the inexpressible joy of God’s music.

And those who’ve grown in the Churches of Christ understand this part very well: the best part of hearing God’s music is getting to sing along.

(Psa 30:11-12)  You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, 12 that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.

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5 Responses

  1. Jay,
    Thanks for an interesting post. I had promised myself that I would not comment anymore once you acknowledged the CofC as being largely semi-Pelagian rather than Arminian, and you have done that. But I am not keeping my part of the bargain – at least not completely.

    I do intend to say relatively little and I know my comments are frequently long and tedious. More importantly, this is your blog and I do not wish to hijack it. I especiallyI do not want to debate, though I am happy enough to converse.

    In this post you said the following about the activity of the HS in the life of the believer – (note upper case letters are mine for emphasis):
    “The Spirit is like a beautiful symphony on the radio. The music is inaudible to anyone without a radio. Only CERTAIN PEOPLE ARE PRIVILEGED TO HEAR IT. And even those who have radios have to know how to find the station and how to keep it tuned into the station. Of course, the station never did drift off signal. Rather, old-style radio circuitry tended to drift off the frequency due to the inadequacy of the radio — not the transmitter.

    Just so, the Spirit always communicates a clear, steady, beautiful signal, but ONLY THE SAVED CAN HEAR IT…”

    You’re speaking of believers but this is not all that different from how some see the activity of the HS in regenerating an unbeliever, enabling them to see God and his love in a way they could not and did not want to before they were regenerated. Men/women are not robots nor puppets controlled by strings. They do not come to God apart from their wills. Rather God reveals himself to them in such as way that he is irresistible. They come willingly b/c he drew them.

    Many years ago I decided I wanted to marry a lady. Had I simply walked up to her and proposed she would have turned me down. However, I wooed her – I took her out to nice dinners and sent her flowers and spoke kindly to her etc. etc. Then I popped the question and she said “yes” b/c I did everything I could to make her willing. We have now been married nearly 40 years. I suggest this is somewhat analogous to how God draws us – and b/c he is capable of accomplishing anything he wants to he will succeed in winning whoever he wants. I could have failed in wooing my wife, but God could never fail. She would have never picked me on her own initiative just like I would never have chosen God if he had not first chosen me.

    An Arminian and Calvinist depart company here as the Arminian believes God could be resisted by a man and the Calvinist falls off the other side of the fence. Both differ significantly from the semi-Pelagian as the latter believes he came to God on his own (w/o the HS working to draw him) and then God may give him some help in his walk. As you well know, more than a few in the CofC even doubt the HS works (directly) in the life of the believer apart from the written word. I believe the HS normally works with the written word as well as in whatever other way the Spirit wants to work.

    Had it been God’s desire to ultimately save 100% of all men and women I believe he could have accomplished it. But before the foundation of the earth the lamb was slain and heaven and hell were prepared for those destined to each end. That was not my idea, but I won’t fault God for it.

    OK, I’ll stop there – already went farther down the road than I had intended. Please note this is not intended to convince you – it is intended to explain how a few of us see God’s work in our lives and why we think we are saved 100% by God’s grace and to him alone belongs 100% of the glory. I hope the use of your words will make it easy to see how we do not see God’s choice as being unfair – and I think that is the underlying basis of the CofC grudge against Calvinism. If God is the one that hardened Pharaoh, how can he fault Pharaoh for being hardened?
    Peace,
    Randall

  2. As a retired brake engineer and one who designed power brakes (different brand), I can relate to the analogy. One thing to remember, as you stated, the help from the engine is always proportional to the work done by the driver. Also, most systems are designed for the engine to provide four to five times the work of the driver. In other words, you had to push the brakes five times harder to stop your car. God is a huge help.

  3. Thanks Jay for two excellent analogies. Minor note: the radio receiver usually doesn’t drift and need retuning, instead radio waves bouncing around the hills, buildings, atmospheric changes, etc. make the drift. Modern receivers auto tune and constantly chase the signal. Actually it improves your analogy, God sends a good signal, the HS receives fine but the Devil interfers with the communication. Kind of like the parable of the Weeds: good seed, good soil, and Satan adds weeds.

  4. To Randall: you said “Had it been God’s desire to ultimately save 100% of all men and women I believe he could have accomplished it.”
    As best as I see it, saving everyone would kill the election (or you could havae a rigged one like Iran) and hell. By Calvin if everyone gets irresitable, persistant grace, there is no total depravity! To me the logic of Calvin falls at any extreme.
    You also said “But before the foundation of the earth the lamb was slain and heaven and hell were prepared for those destined to each end. That was not my idea, but I won’t fault God for it.” Where is this revealed? In our time line the lamb was slain long after the foundation. Sure God foreknew the sacritice to come, but foreknowledge is not fore doing. “in the fullnest of time” God sent his Son, not before the foundation of the world. Yes the sacrifice was retro-active,but not the action. Calvinist aren’t very good at describing works, even God’s!

  5. I was taught that God meets us where our efforts fall short and makes up the difference. Needless to say, I do not believe that anymore.

    It’s more like God wearing me like a shirt (Christ in me, the hope of glory!). I do what He does because he’s doing it, not because I tuned in, pressed on the brakes, or any other thing. It’s the fruit of the Spirit, not partly my fruit, and partly God’s. It’s all His.

    The flesh makes me an unkempt shirt, but the iron fixes that in due time!

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