It is a wonderful thing to realize that all Christians have the Holy Spirit. “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9, NIV). Therefore if you are a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit.
How do you know you have the Holy Spirit? You could not have trusted Christ for your salvation in your strength alone. The Holy Spirit enabled you to become a Christian. Nobody can say that Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit.
If we really have the Holy Spirit, why is it such a struggle to live a holy life? Conversion to Christ does not perfect us. We are still sinners. “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:17, NIV).
Some people think that new Christians proceed to holy living automatically, with no help from other believers. After all, the Ethiopian eunuch was left to himself when Philip was whisked away. But the story of the eunuch is exceptional. Once Philip led the eunuch to Christ and baptized him, the Holy Spirit took Philip away to preach in another city. The main reason we have the New Testament is for our spiritual growth. Most of the Apostle Paul’s epistles are written to saved people to motivate them to holy living.
When I was pastor at Westminster Chapel, we had a ministry called Pilot Lights, where we witnessed to passers-by in the streets of London. We saw a surprising number of people come to faith in Christ between Victoria, Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. Many of them we never saw again because they were from outside London, but when we did have the opportunity to follow up with these new Christians, the growth results were quite wonderful. This is an example of how the Holy Spirit works through means.
The Holy Spirit works through the motivation and encouragement of fellow Christians. Nothing is more encouraging than a fellow Christian who knows what it is to struggle but perseveres nonetheless. One of our greatest examples of a person maturing into holy living after being converted on the streets of London was almost entirely due to the loving follow-up of the person who led him to Christ. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24, NIV).
The Holy Spirit works through accountability friends, people who are both caring and impartial. In nearly all cases I have known where Christians have fallen into some sort of scandal, they were not accountable to anyone. We need to become vulnerable by seeking out those to whom we can be accountable. “Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ” (Ephesians 5:21, NIV). This honors the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit works through the church— a church where Christ is honored and the Bible is preached. No one that I know of is so mature and spiritual that they do not need to fellowship with the Body of Christ. Otherwise we may come to think we are above the Word, that our relationship with God bypasses the church. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25, NIV).
The Holy Spirit works through our regular, disciplined time alone with the Lord. Whether we call it personal devotions or quiet time, we get to know the Lord and His will largely through how much time we give Him. Children judge how much we love them by the amount of time we spend with them. If God were to assess our love in this way, how much would He say that we love Him? In my time alone with God, I use a Bible reading plan, one that keeps me in the Word every day. And I make it a point to spend time alone in prayer. These moments—usually mornings—are the most valued time of my day. The Bible is the Holy Spirit’s greatest product. He wrote it. If you want to experience the power of the Spirit to live a holy life, get to know and love the Bible more than you do anything else in the world.
The Holy Spirit works through sound doctrine of sanctification. This presupposes good teaching. I was brought up in a church that encouraged you to believe that you could be sinlessly perfect. I am thankful for my background in many ways, but this teaching did me no great favor. Christians who think they have reached perfection will certainly fall, soon—and hard! God knows our frame. He remembers we are “dust.” Jesus, our High Priest, is touched with the feeling of our weaknesses and is always there to uphold us. Sanctification is progressive. We will not reach absolute perfection until we are glorified and made just like Jesus.
John Newton, author of the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace,” said to his friend William Cowper (also a great hymn writer): “I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I will be. But thank God I am not what I used to be.” The progress may be slow, but if we keep our eyes on Jesus we will become more and more like Him and can encourage others to do the same.