Jesus said, “It is to your advantage that I go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go away I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) As a believer, have you ever wanted Jesus to be right there with you, to clarify your questions, to take up your burden, to ease your sorrow? I have. I have thought in the past that the Christian life must have been a lot easier for the disciples during their three year training because Jesus was right there with them and guided them.
But if I think about it a little bit more, I realize that the disciples didn’t seem to have an easy time of it. They were often confused, not understanding what Jesus said and Jesus often rebuked them because they failed to act in a way in accord with Jesus’ teaching. In other words, their life with Jesus isn’t all that different than ours.
So Jesus said that it would be better if He sent us the Helper, AKA the Holy Spirit, to us, rather than having him hang around all the time. But many people seem to think that we don’t really need the Holy Spirit. That the Holy Spirit is the extra person of the Godhead, almost decorative, but not really necessary.
Before we explore why we need the Holy Spirit, I think we need to summarize what Jesus said the Christian life looks like. It is not just a life of intellectual assent, of having the right doctrine. Jesus insisted that his disciples act like him (John 13:15-17), obey him (Luke 6: 46-49) and act in love all the time (Mark 12:29-34). In other words, our Christian life is not primarily a life of belief, but it is a lifestyle. Which, at the very end, will make sense, for every single person is judged by what they do, not by what they believe, so Jesus’ death and resurrection is supposed to lead us into a right life, not just right belief (Rev.20:12, Matt. 16:27; Rom. 6:4).
If the Christian life was only a matter of belief, we might not need the Holy Spirit. Sure, the Holy Spirit might lead us to correct belief, but after that, we can use our reason and we don’t need any help. But that is clearly not the case in the NT. Not only are we supposed to live in the Spirit, we are supposed to walk in the Spirit—this is an ongoing process (Gal. 5:24-25).
But why? Why do we need the Holy Spirit to be with us?
1. Living in Jesus is too hard for any human
The lifestyle Jesus wants us to live in obedience and imitation of him, is simply too hard. Jesus wants us to deny ourselves, to love our enemies, to stop being hateful, to not look in lust, to keep our promises, to confront other’s sin with gentleness, and on and on. It’s just too much, frankly. There is no human in the world who, on their own, could live this life. But we don’t have to live it on our own. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to help us live this life, so we aren’t on our own. Even Jesus couldn’t help the disciples live this life that he exemplified. But when they received the Holy Spirit, they could do it. (Mark 10:26-27)
2. We don’t have the resources to live in love
Love is a lot of work, and requires more than what we have. Jesus gave the Good Samaritan as an example of love, and look at what he did! He had a donkey for transportation, he had money to pay the sick man’s bills and time to help him out. Very few of us have such wealth! Of course, Jesus is only asking us to give what we have, but he told us to love our neighbor, which means to do what we can to help anyone and everyone around us. How can we do that? It is interesting to note that Jesus himself did that with very few resources. He healed the sick although he was not a doctor. He feed thousands although he had no bakery or money. All he had was the Holy Spirit. It isn’t just that he is God—he expects every one of us to do what did. How? Through the Holy Spirit. (John 5:19; Phil 4:13)
3. We don’t have the energy to keep up a life in Jesus
I have often been jealous of Jesus’ life. He had a very difficult life, travelling around, teaching, crowds everywhere and, at the end, a horrible crucifixion. But at times that seems easy compared to my life because Jesus only had to deal with it for three and a half years. I’ve been working on this same life for a lot longer than that and my body is simply getting worn out. I’ve had illnesses and I get so tired all the time, because I’ve been trying to keep this life up for so long. But this is another reason for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives us energy. In Acts 4, the disciples were rejected and abused and torn apart. But they asked the Lord for the Holy Spirit and they were rejuvenated and ready to do God’s work again. Even so, if we are filled with the Spirit, we can have God’s strength to continue to live Jesus’ life. (Mark 13:13; Acts 4:23-31)
4. Life presents tremendous obstacles between us and a Christian life
Accidents happen. People are in direct opposition to our life in Jesus. We face situations that we don’t know what to do. We face people we don’t know how to love. We fail. We lose enthusiasm. We get depressed. These are all things of everyday life that seem to keep us from living as a true believer. But the Holy Spirit helps us to deal with these obstacles. He doesn’t keep us from stumbling over them, nor does he prevent them from being a barrier to us. But he helps us find ways around them. He gives us wisdom for the moment to live in Jesus. (James 1:5; John 16:13)
In summary, the Holy Spirit is the fuel, the power, the strength of the Christian life. Without the Holy Spirit, a life in Jesus is, frankly, impossible for any human. No human is strong enough to do and to endure what Jesus asks us to do. But when we have God in us, when we are not dependent on our own strength, but Gods, then nothing is impossible.
The Holy Spirit is the foundation for living an impossible life.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13