The Most Interesting Thing We Rarely Talk About

nervous system

Christians believe that God lives inside of them.

That’s right. GOD—the eternal, infinite, all-powerful Creator—lives inside every believer.

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? I Cor. 6:19

Why are we not absolutely mesmerized by this concept? How can we go on with our lives as if the Holy Spirit is just about as useful as a back-up appendix, little more than a backstage pass to heaven? 

When Jesus was about to leave his disciples, he told them that he would not leave them as orphans, but would send the Holy Spirit, who would come alongside them, sort of like a spiritual counselor or personal trainer, moving them toward a quality of life that they couldn’t even guess or imagine.

“There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” John 16:12

The Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit, so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. I Cor. 2:10 – 12

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Rom. 8:11

So God puts his own Spirit inside of us, giving us access to truth from the source, the deep secrets of God, and the creative power behind the universe. Yet we’d rather talk about Trump and Hillary. We stress about our health and finances, feeling hopeless, as if God is about as near and present as Santa Claus in September.

What keeps this basic Biblical reality from sinking in, diffusing our worries, filling us with bold confidence and enduring hope?

Too Subtle?

As a child, I was asked to invite Jesus into my heart. Ignorant to the bizarre and pseudo-unbiblical nature of this invitation, I didn’t think twice. I just nodded, believing my teacher, eager to keep Jesus as close as possible.

If you ask a Christian if God is inside of them, most would say yes. If you asked for a specific location, they might tap their chests or heart. No one would probably tap their arms, legs, stomach or head.

However, since many of us rarely seem to experience the dramatic impact of God’s indwelling presence, we still tend to pray outward, with our hands raised toward the ceiling or the sky. We claim that God is within us, yet pastors continue to invite him to our services, asking him to fall on our congregations like rain, quoting verses about where two or more are gathered.

Is God’s presence just too subtle? Is that why we say one thing and do another?

Too Scary?

Even though the ministry of the Holy Spirit is a clear teaching of Scripture, many churches do not emphasize it, focusing primarily on the death and resurrection of Jesus, and our resulting trajectory toward eternal bliss. Either that, or churches seem to overemphasize it, spending most of their time in an active demonstration of charismatic gifts, ignoring tradition and ritual.

When I was growing up, conversations about the Holy Spirit revolved around things like healing services, speaking in tongues, prophecy, dancing and flag waving. I’m an introvert. In my young mind, Holy Spirit people were way too hyper, way too eager and social and giddy, driving me toward the kinds of people that would rather worship sitting down.

It wasn’t until after college when I was seriously struggling with sin and confusion that I started asking questions about the Holy Spirit. Not only did I find resistance to the conversation, but concern. One church leader actually said to me: “You should go to the church down the street. They emphasize the Holy Spirit. We emphasize Jesus.”

Can we separate them like that? Why does the Holy Spirit seem to be relegated to our charismatic brothers and sisters, as if they found a secret bonus level of Christianity, or somehow earned an extra blessing?

Why is the Holy Spirit so misunderstood or ignored by certain denominations? Why all the confusion and concern?

Too Stifled?

According to John 16, the Holy Spirit is the point of contact between the Church and the risen Christ. As I like to say: if Christ is our head, and the Church is his body, the Holy Spirit is the central nervous system.

Jesus does not live in human hearts. According to Scripture, he is in heaven with his Father, and we are waiting for his return. The Holy Spirit was given to the people of God on the day of Pentecost, allowing us to share the life and purpose of our risen savior.

This is not just a gift for special Christians. In fact, you can’t be a Christian without the indwelling Spirit of God:

. . . you are not controlled by your sinful nature, you are controlled by the Spirit, if you have the Spirit of God living in you. And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all. Rom. 8:9

So why don’t we see a dramatic difference between the people of God and everyone else?

Well, maybe it’s because we already have our parents and pastors and teachers. We have Wikipedia. We have Barnts in the Belfry! The Spirit is invisible. The Spirit is subtle. Besides, how can we be sure that what we hear is really him and not some fleeting thought or masquerading demon?

The same holds true for any other role that is meant to be filled by the Spirit. Unless we are absolutely out of options, we will reach for something physical, something that is easy to connect with. And we’ll probably thank God for it.

I’m not saying that God doesn’t use doctors and teachers and pastors and on and on. Of course he does! Community is an essential aspect of life in the Spirit. But genuine love and unity is impossible if we leave the Holy Spirit out, never pausing to learn the spiritual discipline it takes to really connect with that still, small voice.

We are meant to live as a unified community in Christ by the Spirit for the Father. I think we’re much better at linking arms with our brothers and sisters, hoping that God is watching our efforts, hoping that one day we’ll be rewarded.

My solution? Just sit for a while and soak in this simple, profound reality:

God is in us. He’s actually inside his people.

Let your mind be blown by the possibilities.

9 thoughts on “The Most Interesting Thing We Rarely Talk About

    • Thanks Dad. I think your teaching helped plant this seed, leading to some important personal experiences during college, then Capernwray, and so on. Seems amazing that it would take so much to come to this simple, straightforward conclusion, but based on the reaction of people to this post (mostly crickets), this concept is off the radar for most believers. And it should be right in the center.

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  1. Hi Jim. This is Jim Noe, Joshua Noe’s father. I like your though. We are driving Josh to Belhaven Thursday and moving him into Robertson 202 on Friday. How about joining us for lunch or dinner? I’d like to discuss your thoughts with you further. You may reach me on my mobile (913) 915-1681.

    In Christ,
    Jim Noe

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  2. Amen John, had the same comments with our pastor regarding “run to Jesus “in times of trouble. Huh? He lives within, preach it.

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  3. Hi John,

    Great post. This topic has been hard for me to understand, in the past and at times when I am honest with myself, if, as you mentioned, somebody frankly asked me to explain this, I would hit a brick wall in my mind.

    In the last year while mulling this over, the best way that God helped me to understand is He said, “It’s like having My Hand and your hand together in one sock puppet.”

    Then of course is the process of learning to be less and Him be the one who takes the lead and makes the decisons as to what the sock puppet body does, thinks, and desires.

    I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone else, but me. Just thought to share is all. Thanks again for the great posts that help the Congregation grow in Christ and be edified.

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    • That’s interesting, Ryan. Two hands in one sock puppet. Mind if I use that?

      You’re right in that it’s a relational union, not like demon possession or spiritual dominance. Apparently God prefers real relationships, which requires freedom. But if we want the good stuff, we need to take on the attitude of Christ and set our lives aside that he might live in and through us.

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      • Hey John,

        Of course, the example is from God, not me. I am just glad that the sock puppet thing made sense. When God helped me to understand it was a moment of clarity for me, but I wasn’t sure if I would do a good job conveying it.

        Yes, as you mentioned God is always helping me to engage more in a relational way. When I was little I got very caught up with the whole church ritualistic system. Now, that it isn’t to say spiritual discipline is not necessary, rather that disciplines are not an end in it of themselves.

        For example, just because I read my Bible everyday for one hour doesn’t mean I get spiritual upgrade points that I can spend on a getting spiritual gifts like a video game because it does not do much good to read the Bible everyday if I am not asking God to help me understand the intention behind the words. The whole “Spirit” vs the “Letter”.

        But obviously I need to read to get an idea of what God is saying, so the discipline is a thing that leads to the relational.

        Also, the demon possession thing was what made understanding “Jesus” (or Holy Spirit more specifically) “in me” difficult. But, God through the sock puppet, cleared that up with exactly what you mentioned: “togetherness”.

        The physical body is like a house and when Christ comes in He lives with us permanently like a marriage and also teaches how to better care for and make the House useful. Basically, teaching us how to live in “our” house together, not “my” house.

        Where as demon possession is like a bunch of hoodlums coming in a wrecking the place and then leaving when they are done to let us deal with the consequences.

        God wants to move in because of love, to show us the better way and to protect us from the lawless hoodlums where as demons just barge in without giving us a choice and use us to fulfill their lusts. Quite a big difference.

        On a side note, it was the sock puppet example God gave that helped me understand how Jesus was both God and man, simultaneously.

        Anyways, thanks again for your thoughts. Always glad to learn more things about Christ through His Word and fellow brothers and sisters.

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