“YOU WILL RECEIVE POWER”
In order to live out your honored status in Christ, you need help. And help, indeed, is what you get. So, along with “Thank you,” get in the habit of saying “Help” as often as possible.
The cross was behind him and Jesus was eating with his disciples again. It was during the forty days between his resurrection and his ascension. The topic was the Holy Spirit. In just a few days, after Jesus ascended, the Spirit would come and life as it was then understood would be changed forever. Power was coming.
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now . . . . But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” (Acts 1:4–5, 8)
Power—that’s what you need. The shamed have none of it. They always seem to be on the losing end. They experience oppression and neglect. They are nothing. But even more, you need power for God’s truth to come alive in your soul. Too often God’s words of truth to a shame-filled soul don’t penetrate or last. As soon as hope appears, it is vaporized. You need God’s power so his words of truth can take up residence in your life. You need power to believe, power to act.
Jesus ascended and the Spirit was given. This is a moment in history that affects you right now. (You already know how the past can affect you negatively, but this is a good way the past affects you.) Jesus had promised that he would never leave his people alone. He promised that when he left the Spirit would come. If you know anything about the Spirit, you might as well nickname him “Power” because when he is present things happen (Acts 1:8).
The death and resurrection of Jesus inaugurated the new kingdom; the coming of the Spirit made it all visible. The people of God had dwindled to a handful of women. Now, with the coming of the Spirit, the numbers multiplied daily. Fearful disciples suddenly became bold, even in the face of death. There were enough miracles to prove that Jesus’ work was continuing, and continuing through imperfect followers. Forgiveness of sins was in the air. Out-of-control lives were brought back within the boundaries of self-control. And shame, for those who were willing, was forever changed.
THE SPIRIT AND WATER
“Power,” that is, the Holy Spirit, was always central to God’s plan. He was promised long ago, and he was promised when people were a spiritual mess. In other words, no matter how bad you think you are, there is no chance that God will renege on his promises now.
People make promises when there is mutual trust. Wedding vows are the best example. They come only after a period of dating or courtship, when faithfulness can be displayed and verified. You want to have confidence in the other person’s fidelity. Not too many people would knowingly walk down the aisle while their prospective spouse was in the process of trashing the relationship. But this is exactly what God does. He makes promises knowing that his people are either fearful or unfaithful. His story is about his faithfulness and our unfaithfulness. So you can’t exclude yourself from these promises. They are delivered to people who are decidedly unworthy.
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:25–27)
The Spirit and water promised by Ezekiel. God says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you.” You can add “Water of Life” or “Cleansing Water” to the names of the Spirit. This sprinkling is with no ordinary water. The Spirit himself is the water.
At the very heart of shame is the absence of relationships, the absence of being known, personal isolation. With this in mind you again get the feeling that God’s words to you are all about shame. For example, many religions have cleansing rituals, but the cleansing given by the true God is fundamentally about him uniting himself with you. His world is intensely personal. You are cleansed by the person of God so that the Spirit of God can dwell with you.
The time is coming, Ezekiel said, when you will be ceremonially sprinkled and be clean through and through. That time has come.
Remember that there are two kinds of cleansing. One happens once and lasts a lifetime; the other is the foot washing we need every day. Ezekiel is talking about that initial once-and-for-all cleansing. No matter how we became unclean, whether by the acts of other people or by our own, we know there must be a cleansing that reaches far beneath the skin. This is that cleansing.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth understood the depths of defilement. He needed cleansing from two murders, and he knew water was ineffective. He said,
“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.”14
His wife, an accomplice to murder, also found that her acts left her permanently bloody.
“Out, damned spot! out, I say!—One: two: why, then, ’tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky!—Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?—Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”15
Water alone can’t wash our souls, but the Spirit can. Inner transformation is exactly what the Spirit does. It is part of consecration and it is God’s work, not yours. So Scripture counters the futility of washing ourselves with the Lord’s promise that even murderous hands can be cleansed.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
All you have to do is nothing, but nothing, as you know, is very hard to do. The gifts of God to you are getting more specific. Received rightly, they change you.
An African woman had just been given a scarf. It was a ten-dollar item you could buy at a thrift store for two. But she didn’t look like she had been given a two-dollar scarf. She looked transformed in her own demure way.
Why the change in her? You didn’t have to guess.
“This is the first time I was ever given a gift.”
When you understand that God gave you the gift of himself, you discover another kind of shame: you are being treated in a way that is much better than you deserve. You are being cleansed and accepted, and no one deserves such a gift.
When you receive an extravagant gift and have nothing to give in return, you can be a little embarrassed. You feel . . . unworthy, though it is a very different unworthy than you ever experienced. When you receive an extravagant gift from someone that you yourself shamed, you will feel something closer to shame than embarrassment. That is pride talking. We are concerned more about ourselves than we are grateful for the mercy and grace of the other person. But with our pride ousted, humility has the freedom to take our eyes off ourselves and appreciate the greatness of the giver. Humility simply says, “Thank you.”
And, of course, there are even more gifts.
The Spirit and water promised by Jesus. Jesus had the “Water of Life,” a.k.a. the Holy Spirit, in view whenever he spoke about cleansing and water. He said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Next, he offered living water to the Samaritan woman (John 4). Though he doesn’t specify to her the connection between the Spirit, water for drinking, and water for cleansing (John 4); he will make that connection clear just a little later.
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive . . . . (John 7:37–39)
The apostle John spelled it out: The living water is the Spirit.
Can you see it? The gifts are mounting up. In Ezekiel you see the priest sprinkle the water of cleansing on you, and the water of cleansing is the Holy Spirit. Even more, the Spirit doesn’t just wash off. Instead he seeps into you, going all the way to your heart to become the identifying center of your life. The progression from unclean to holy is complete. You are clean inside and out, and you are consecrated. How could it be otherwise? The Spirit lives within you.
Jesus adds that the Spirit in you gushes out from you. There is nothing surprising here. God is generous. When the Spirit is given to you, you get a lot of the Spirit. Jesus is splicing Ezekiel’s prophecy with a later vision when Ezekiel watched the temple spring a leak (Ezekiel 47:1–12). In that vision, Ezekiel was brought to the temple and observed water coming from the Holy Place, where God dwelled with his people. The water was coming out in a stream, flowing outside the temple gates, starting as a trickle but gathering momentum so that it kept getting wider and deeper as you followed it—deep enough to swim in—with life springing up wherever the water went.
No little sprinkling here. There is no chance that any part of you will go unwashed. It’s time for a swim. Usually in Scripture, large amounts of water symbolize danger. Water was where you could drown. But now, for the first time, you are invited to swim without fear of drowning because this water is safe. The water is life itself.
The gusher coming from the temple is the Spirit. You are invited to dive in. When you do, you will find complete cleansing. Places in you that were dead will come to life.16 Then, once you go about your daily business, a mini-gusher comes out of you, enabling you to bless and bring words of life to other people. No more hiding and avoiding. You have been given a mission and you have the power to accomplish it.
The cleansing Spirit has washed you, brought you into the community of God, and authorized you to bless others. You are no longer the beggar but the giver.
THE SPIRIT AND THE TEMPLE
]And there is more still. Since a scale version of the Spirit-gusher comes out of you, you are the temple of God.
Keep the story in mind. The cleansing Spirit, who had been with the people in the Old Testament, was waiting for the perfect sacrifice to be made by Jesus. Once that sacrifice was verified as effective and complete, and once Jesus returned to heaven as the reigning King, the Spirit was released. Attach yourself to Jesus by faith and the Spirit washes over you and fills you. The Spirit is in you. Even more, since God is generous and lavish in the way he gives himself, you can expect the Spirit to overflow from your heart. You are the temple in Ezekiel’s vision.
God never intended to make a beautiful but lifeless building his permanent residence. The Jerusalem temple was fine, but it wasn’t much good for people who lived a few days’ walk away. No matter how beautiful a building it was, people are more appropriate temples. God always planned to dwell in living tabernacles, tabernacles with legs and arms that would represent, love, and serve him.
Yet who could qualify for such honor? Only God in the flesh.
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. (John 2:19–21)
Jesus was the living temple, the place where God himself was present. Jesus was the Holy of Holies, the very heart of the temple, the place of his throne on earth (Ezekiel 43:7; Revelation 21:22). There you found the Ten Commandments, which Jesus kept perfectly. There you found the manna, the Bread of Life. Everything about the temple pointed to Jesus.
But where you find Jesus, you can expect to find his people because his people are united with him. The first inkling that we were connected to the tabernacle or temple was when we examined the clothing of the priests (Exodus 28). Look closely at this clothing and you will discover that it is suspiciously similar to the tabernacle itself. As the Holy Place was surrounded by the beautiful tent God had designed, so the priest was surrounded by that tent in miniature, his priestly garments. He was, indeed, a walking tabernacle, consecrated by God.
As we are joined to Christ by faith, we too become walking tabernacles. The apostle Paul understood this when he wrote, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
You could easily get overwhelmed by all this, as when you ask someone for directions and they give you more detail than you want. By the time the person gets to “You will pass the house with two pink azaleas where you take a soft left after the second right at the fourth light,” you remember absolutely nothing. When you hear one or two directions, you might remember; hear a lot and you hear nothing. In other words, don’t let this montage of spiritual gifts leave you dazed and stuck.
Whenever possible, put these new realities into speech. Talk about them. Tell your friends what you are learning. When you live in the kingdom of God, you will notice that public proclamations are highly valued. We are a community that learns from one another, so you owe it to the rest of us to speak these realities. And you will discover that your confidence in God’s words to you will grow as you proclaim them.
THE SPIRIT AND YOU
This is just a sample of the things the Spirit does, but it should be enough to persuade you that you are clean in Christ. If you doubt that just watch these new realities cascade down on you. In Christ you have been drenched by the cleansing Spirit. You have been sent swimming in him. That certainly is enough to cleanse you.
You have also been reclaimed as a living tabernacle. Where idols once reigned and tainted associations separated, the Spirit has come to stay. His holiness overcomes any uncleanness within you. The Holy Spirit cleanses you once and for all; you have gone from uncleanness to cleanness. Cleanness, however, can still be common and not holy. That’s why the Spirit’s residency is also important. It shows that God’s intent is to make you his own. You, who were once common and unclean, have now become holy and clean. Now, instead of contaminating others, you can touch them and somehow sanctify them. Your presence in the lives of other people is more powerful than you think. You can, in some real way, make them holy. Your presence announces God’s unique interest in the other person.
I observed this on a human scale when I married. My parents did not meet my wife until a month after our wedding, but the moment they met her they loved her. My parents loved me; I loved my wife; so my parents loved my wife. They were linked to me; I was linked to her; so they were linked to her.
This does not mean that those who are linked to us immediately belong to Christ, but it does mean that they enjoy an enviable position. At the very least, they have daily opportunities to witness the Spirit within another person. In a real way they too have been set apart.
The apostle Paul gave a concrete application of this. In ancient Israel there were strict taboos against marrying people outside Israel. Such a marriage brought pagan contamination into the home and defiled any Israelite. After Jesus ascended, the early church encountered similar relationships: one spouse put his or her faith in Jesus but the other one did not. A possible application of Old Testament principles to this situation was to advise the believer to divorce the unbeliever, thereby breaking the link to the unclean person. The apostle Paul, however, used different logic. If the unbeliever was willing to live with the believer, Paul advised the believer to stay because the believer—the holy one—can spread holiness to others in close association with him or her. With Christ in you, by way of the Holy Spirit, you can touch other people.
If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:13–14)
So get out there and start touching. This is the era of action. If you have said “I love you” to Jesus, you have all the benefits that come with your new relationship. You also have the responsibilities. In other words, you have purpose. You have a reason to live. You claim all the benefits of Jesus Christ and he claims you. Just as Jesus moved toward you in love, you move toward others on his behalf.
And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:23–24)
There is nothing burdensome in this purpose. It is hard but invigorating. Imagine that you are the new Isaiah. You have been purified by the King. He lives in you by his Spirit, and he gives you a mission.
Welch, Edward T. (2012-04-30). Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection (pp. 227-237). New Growth Press. Kindle Edition.