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The Secret of Knowing God Personally

1 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all. (Acts 19:1-7 ESV)

Did you ever have a sense that something's missing?

The Apostle Paul arrives in Ephesus and finds some disciples. These are followers of Jesus. They are not pagans or unbelievers, but something is missing. They are not on the wrong road, but they are, essentially, pushing the car instead of starting up the engine and driving it.

That is a real picture of trying to live a Christian life in our own strength. Something's missing. The power that is meant to indwell us and drive the car is untapped, and we struggle to live a life that is Christlike from our own human reserves. Religion settles for believing stuff about Jesus and working hard to be a good person. Living in Christ discovers the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to live a life that pleases God out of His great strength, which is much stronger than our best efforts.

The realization that there has to be more to faith than religious activity can lead us to holy discontent - to a God-given sense that there has to be more to life in Christ than I am experiencing. And there is more to life in Christ than praying a sinner's prayer for repentance and then, knowing I have been saved by Him, living as if it is all up to me. Am I missing the most important something in my walk with Jesus?

Paul finds out the Ephesians have been baptized into John's baptism of repentance, but never gone the next step into the baptism of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist pointed beyond himself to the One who was coming.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Matthew 3:11 ESV)

These Ephesian disciples then receive baptism into Jesus' name, Paul lays his hands on them, and they receive the Holy Spirit. They begin to speak in tongues and prophesy. They are filled with the very personal Presence of the Living God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And everything changes. The indwelling Presence of the Holy Spirit is the secret to knowing God personally. Receiving the fullness of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and living in our hearts, is the something that is missing in the practice of Christianity as religion.

With the Holy Spirit alive in our hearts we embark on a journey through the second half of the Gospel - our sanctification. The sanctifying work of grace by the Holy Spirit in our lives moves us from sinner to saint (set apart ones, not sinlessly flawless). He grieves us over our sin and gives us the power to break free from it to live holy lives in Jesus' holy love. The Holy Spirit grows the fruit of the character of Christ into our lives as He makes us more and more loving, peaceful, joyful, patient, kind, good, gentle, faithful and self-controlled. (Galatians 5:22-23).

The power to break the chains of addictions, the chains of our past, is not the power of our determination to be good people and please God. The power to break the chains is the indwelling, sanctifying, grace-filled Presence of the Holy Spirit, who becomes the engine that drives the car we have been pushing with all our strength.

And how do we tap into this power in our lives? We make Jesus Lord, surrendering everything to Him, dying to ourselves, and living in loving obedience to His Spirit. Is it easy? Nope. Our old sin nature does not die easily. Obeying the Holy Spirit can sometimes put us in a place where we have to say "no" to things that have filled our lives and brought us earthly pleasure in order to say "yes" to a deeper joy in Christ. This journey through the second half of the Gospel (our sanctification) will involve life-long transformation from the worldliness of our sin nature to the spirituality of our new life in Christ. And in this transformation we will discover that the joy and peace of knowing God personally trumps all the stuff this world can offer us.

If there is a sense of holy discontent in your life - a sense that something's missing in your walk with Christ - I would urge you to pursue Jesus with all your heart. Surrender your life to Him. Immerse your life in reading His Word and prayer. Find a church where people love Jesus, love each other, love the Word of God and love their community, and invest your life there. Seek the filling of the Holy Spirit as you invite Jesus to live in your heart and transform your life. Trust Him. Pursue Him. Love Him with all your heart. That's the secret to knowing God personally and the secret to being filled with what's missing in our religious lives.


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