Is the Holy Spirit real personally, that is? Historically, the Holy Spirit has been extremely real, witness Luke’s detailed journal in the book of Acts. In Acts 2, for instance, he recorded the dramatic arrival of the Holy Spirit to a crowd of thousands in Jerusalem, who saw and felt it. And in Acts 13:2, the Holy Spirit spoke to the church in Antioch – and to Paul personally in Acts 20:23. So to all these people there was no doubt the Holy Spirit was real.
But how is the Holy Spirit real to us today? According to Jesus in John 14:16-17, the Father gives us “the Spirit of truth” and we will “know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” The word “know” tells me the Holy Spirit is meant to be real to us, but HOW do we know it’s the Spirit? Are there clear identifiable signs, for instance, that help us know it’s the Spirit?
Jesus answered that for us in verse 26, when he said, “the Holy Spirit will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
Well, that’s an easily identifiable sign of the Holy Spirit: it’s finding ourselves with a concentrated focus on Jesus and what he taught, because we believe it’s only in his teachings that “all things” about our human existence are made plain. And that’s observably different, because who today believes that Jesus is the only source of all truth, and only he has the solution to (and the explanation for) all our human problems? Any politicians you know who believe that? Any corporate heads? Any highly credentialed academics? Any religious leaders? Any city councillors? Any neighbours, or even family members? Few there be, I imagine, which isn’t meant as a criticism, but as evidence that there are very observable and noticeable differences we can clue into that identify the Holy Spirit as real in our lives.
Jesus also demonstrated in his own life what those observable and noticeable differences are – things like his deep love and respect for his Father and never straying from his instructions, and his deep love and respect for his fellow humans too, and especially the marginalized and ignorant. He also bristled at anyone who didn’t respect his Father, or didn’t care for others. If we feel the same way, therefore, we can take that as clear evidence of the Holy Spirit being real in our lives too.
There’s obviously something very different happening in our heads – and noticeably in the heads of many non-Christians too – who also take what Jesus taught seriously and try their best to live good lives, even if it means going against the flow of the culture and being criticized and picked on for it. It is surely evidence of the Holy Spirit being “with” them, because they too are observably (and pleasantly) different.
But Jesus went one step further, because he talked about the Holy Spirit being “IN” us, and in such a way we’ll “know” that too. So, what’s the difference, then, between the Holy Spirit being “with” us, and the Holy Spirit being “in” us?
Jesus gave us a clue in the next verse, John 14:27, when he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”
That’s enlightening, because no matter how much the Holy Spirit has been “with” people, the history of the human race has shown that peace has always been beyond our reach. But verse 27 tells us that Jesus put peace within our reach personally. And Romans 8 tells us how: it’s through the Holy Spirit (the source of peace, verse 6) living “IN” us, verse 9.
So, what does the Spirit living “in” us actually do to make this peace real? According to verse 16, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children,” and when that dawns on us it surely has to make a huge difference in how we react to our human dilemmas, both personal and global. Because as God’s very own children in his mighty and loving care we have nothing to fear, which is exactly what Jesus said back in John 14:27 – “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
But how is that possible in a world like ours, with crisis after crisis feeding fear and anxiousness? It isn’t. So if we, personally, are becoming less fearful and anxious, because in the depths of our being we know we’re safe in our Father’s care, isn’t that what helps us know for certain that the Holy Spirit is real and very much “living in us”?