When I was in Middle School, we had to take a “career awareness” class that was supposed to help us figure out what we were going to be when we grew up (because every sixth-grader should be able to answer a few questions that will determine their next 60 years).
So, after sitting in front of the archaic computers and answering dozens of questions from the personal assessment test, I excitedly waited for my results to print out from the dot-matrix printer.
To my surprise, the genius program decided that based on my answers I should either be a janitor or a stay-at-home mom. Well, now years later I must admit, it wasn’t totally wrong: I have been both of those things (although I prefer “stay-at-home dad” or at least part-time homemaker).
No matter what we wanted to be when we grew up and no matter what we are today, who we really are can never be boiled down to something as trite as what we do, where we are from, or even what we think about ourselves.
Instead, our identity is more about “whose” we are — meaning if we are a Christian then our identity comes from our relationship with God. This is important because who we think we are determines how we live our life.
But among those descriptions of our Christian identity, being empowered by the Holy Spirit seems to be the most confusing and even contentious to many believers.
How the Holy Spirit Empowers
So, what does it mean? One of the many passages that we can read to help answer this question is in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian churches. After laying down some important theological framework about God the Father, God the Son, and the gospel, Paul wrote:
...I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith… [so] that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19, ESV).
God is a giving God. Because of that, he pulls from the unsearchable, limitless resources of his glory to give us strength or power in our inner being through the Holy Spirit.
Let me explain the phrasing in these verses to help us better understand how the Spirit empowers us.
First, notice that the location where God works is in our “inner being” or our souls. God is not concerned about our physique or attractiveness. As he told the prophet, Samuel, “the LORD sees not as man sees… the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
That is often difficult for us to understand because of how focused we typically are on the external, physical, and aesthetic world around us through things such as fitness, fashion, and cosmetics.
But our identity is on the inside. That is why God focuses on our souls, and that is where he brings change and strengthens us.
Secondly, notice that God strengthens our souls with the Holy Spirit. Who is the Holy Spirit? We could spend so much time here but let me give a few basics.
The Holy Spirit:
- is God, the third part of the Trinity; is a person (not an “it” or a “thing”)
- is often misunderstood and even forgotten; lives within believers as the personal presence and power of God
- is our soul’s “pneuma” (Greek for “force”); our “fresh air;” the “wind in our sails”
- raised Jesus from the dead; gifts us to serve each other and reach others with the gospel
- convicts us of sin in our lives; confirms God’s Word as truth when we read it; is our best friend, comforter, uplifter, and helper
Thirdly, notice how Paul is explaining that instead of the Holy Spirit making the Christian life better, he makes the Christian life possible. Without the Spirit, we cannot even come close to living the life that God has called us to.
That is what Paul wrote at the beginning of verse 17 that the Holy Spirit strengthens our inner beings: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” (Ephesians 3:17).
The Spirit dwells in our inner being when we, according to God’s grace and by faith, confess our sins, ask forgiveness, and surrender our lives to him. There is no work or sacrament that brings on the Spirit — it is a gift of God.
When we are saved, we are set on a new journey called salvation, and the Holy Spirit is given to us to help us make that journey.
Lastly, notice that God’s goal for the Holy Spirit in our lives is not just maintenance, but abundance. Paul wrote in verse 19: “[so] that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).
To be filled with the fullness of God is about allowing God to settle in, make himself at home, fully influence, overwhelm, and govern our lives. It is what is meant Paul meant in Romans 10:9 by confession Jesus as “Lord” of our lives.
What the Holy Spirit’s Empowerment Does
This passage is not talking about a greater feeling, he is talking about a greater filling. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, there is less of us, our wants, our desires, our sins, and our influences.
So many people try to live life in their own limited power and from their weakness, but every time the enemy knocks them down and defeats them with guilt, bitterness, hatred, insecurities, doubts, busyness, distraction, pride, greed, and more.
That is because our enemy also tries to work in our “inner being” or our souls. I could tell too many stories of Christians that destroyed their lives, their witness, their relationships, their families, and their ministries because they tried to rely on their own power instead of being empowered by the Holy Spirit.
But our lives do not have to be lived in defeat. We do not have to be intimated by our enemy or fall into sin. We can live victoriously in this life by God’s grace — but it only comes through tapping into God’s limitless resources, being empowered through the Holy Spirit, and living in the fullness of God.
The well from which we get the power to live life for God will never run dry no matter how many times we draw from it. The powerful presence of God in our lives is not a one-time thing — it is eternal.
It is the source from which our souls are being daily “renewed” and regularly transformed (Romans 12:1-2) as we study Scripture, pray, fast, and worship.
In a different letter to the Galatians, Paul explains that the remedy for stopping the “works of the flesh” (or sin) in our lives is not to try harder or do better, it is to be filled more with the Holy Spirit that will result in the fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV).
What Does This Mean?
Brother or sister in Christ: Don’t live a life of defeat. Allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life, allow him to govern your life, and allow him to empower you. God has put in us a well of “living water,” but it is our choice whether or not we drink from it.
May our prayer be, “God empty me of myself and show yourself more in my life. Strengthen me with your power.”
And may we be able to sing along with Bryan and Katie Torwalt:
Holy Spirit — you are welcome here. Flood this place [and my heart] and fill the atmosphere. Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for To be overcome by Your presence, Lord…
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/kieferpix
Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, and most recently as the Lead Pastor and Planter of Village Church in Churchville, Virginia. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the Gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.