Ten Reasons We Can't Do Without the Holy Spirit


In some Christian circles he may not be talked about as much as the other two members of the Trinity, but the Holy Spirit is active in and around us, being mentioned several hundred times throughout the Bible. Jesus once told his disciples not to go anywhere without the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). Here are ten reasons we can’t do without him.

1.       The Spirit gives us life.

The Bible says it was the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. He’s the source of our life too.

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you (Rom. 8:11).

2.       The Spirit reassures us of God’s love.

. . . because sometimes you just need to be reminded that God’s got you.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (Rom. 8:16).

3.       The Spirit helps us in our weakness.

Have you ever felt so confused or powerless that you didn’t even know what to pray?

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans (Rom. 8:26).

4.       The Spirit gives us wisdom and guidance.

It’s good to know where to go for wisdom anytime you need it.

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives (Col. 1:9).

5.       The Spirit makes us better.

In light of what’s going on in your life right now, what character trait do you most need today? Chances are it’s on the list of what the Spirit wants to produce in you.   

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). 

6.       The Spirit transforms us.

What do you want to be when you “grow up”? What if you could be just like Jesus? That’s what the Spirit intends to do with you and me.

We all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).

7.       The Spirit qualifies us for ministry.

When it comes to who gets picked for certain ministry opportunities, it’s about who you know. Only those who are full of the Spirit qualify for certain jobs.   

Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them (Acts 6:3).

8.       The Spirit equips us for ministry.

The Spirit not only qualifies us for ministry. He also equips us for ministry by endowing each believer with a special spiritual gift for serving the body of Christ.

There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit distributes them. . . . To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Cor. 12:4, 7). 

9.       The Spirit empowers us to witness for Christ.

Even after spending three years with Jesus and seeing him after his resurrection, the original disciples still lacked the one thing they needed to effectively share the good news about their Savior. Jesus told them,

Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. . . . You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses (Acts 1:4, 8; cf. 4:31).

10.   The Spirit gives us courage.

What would you do with more courage? The Spirit is ready to provide it.

The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power (1 Tim. 1:7).

This list of reasons why we can’t do without the Holy Spirit is far from exhaustive. But it reminds us of the Spirit’s essential role in enabling us to live the supernatural life Jesus is calling us into.

Of these ten reasons we can’t do without the Holy Spirit, which one speaks most urgently to you right now? Turn it into a prayer for the Spirit’s work to be done in you today.

A Better Way to Assess Spiritual Health


“We don’t smoke. We don’t chew. And we don’t go with girls who do.”

That about sums up what some people think it means to be a Christian. But judging a person’s spiritual health (our own or someone else’s) based on what we don’t do can be misleading. I’ve known plenty of people who don’t smoke or chew tobacco who are not Christ followers. I’ve also known plenty of people who smoke or chew who are Christ followers.

This very conundrum has led some to believe that it’s futile—not to mention intrusive and judgmental—for us mortals to try to evaluate anyone’s spirituality.

But the apostle John seems to have no problem with our testing someone’s spirituality. “Do not believe every spirit,” he says, “but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). The apostle Paul even exhorts us to “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).

Since there are times when we need to evaluate our spiritual health and that of others, what metrics are we to use?  How can we “test” such things?

It’s instructive to note that while Jesus issued plenty of prohibitions, he never said, “People will know you are my disciples if you don’t do such-and-such.” He does say, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35) and “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). It turns out that recognizing Christ’s true followers is more about what we do (loving one another, bearing spiritual fruit) than about what we don’t do (smoking, chewing, fraternizing with those who do). As one writer put it, “[True spirituality] is not suppression: it is expression. It is not holding in self: it is living out Christ.”[1]

Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). The presence of this fruit is the true measure of spiritual health. The apostle Paul picks up this same idea, calling it “the fruit of the Spirit.” It’s that set of virtues that the Holy Spirit manifests in the life of those living in vital union with Christ. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). These are the qualities we can expect to find in the life of a growing disciple of Jesus.

So in our diligence to weed out the sin from the vineyard, let’s not forget to check on the quality of the fruit that might be growing there.



[1]Lewis Sperry Chafer, He That is Spiritual (Wheaton, IL: Van Kampen Press, 1918), 60. 

Have We Underestimated People's Interest in Spirituality?


An interesting paradox is at work in our culture. On the one hand, some researchers are suggesting that religion in America is becoming passé—perhaps even on its way to extinction.[1] Such dire predictions, coupled with the erosion of morality in our culture, are enough to plunge some of us into a mild depression over the apparent disregard for anything spiritual.

On the other hand, there are those who speak of a rising tide of spiritual interest here in America and in Western culture in general. A few years ago, American pollster George Gallup, Jr. wrote, “One of the most profound yet perhaps most overlooked trends in the U.S. over the last decade, clearly identified in national surveys, is the surge of interest in spiritual matters and an intense hunger for God.”[2] Similarly, Anglican theologian Alister McGrath writes,

There has been a remarkable growth in interest in the general area of spirituality in recent years. A resurgent cynicism concerning the value of material possessions has led to much greater attention being paid to the spiritual dimensions of life. . . . Alongside a gradual general decline in appeal of institutionalized forms of religion in western culture, there has been a clear rise in popular interest in spirituality, including the various forms of Christian spirituality.[3]

If these respected authors are correct, then regardless of the state of religion in America, spirituality seems to be thriving. And if spirituality is thriving, then perhaps our culture is more open to learning the way of Christ than we think.

Wanting to get a view from the balcony, I recently graphed the number of books published annually since 1980 on the subject of “spiritual formation,” according to the WorldCat online catalog.[4] Check out the impressive trajectory in the graph below.

Books Published Annually on Spiritual Formation

Below is a similar graph of books published under the keyword discipleship.[5] While the trajectory is not as steep here, the graph line has definitely headed north over the past fifteen years.

Books Published Annually on Discipleship

I’ve believed for a long time that people need Jesus, though I’ve sometimes wondered how much people want him these days. But if the rate at which books on spiritual formation and discipleship are cascading off the presses is any indication, this is a great time to point people to Jesus.

We’re riding a wave of spiritual interest right now. Cowabunga!


[1]Daniel M. Abrams, Haley A. Yaple, and Richard J. Wiener, A Mathematical Model of Social Group Competition with Application to the Growth of Religious Non-affiliation, Cornell University Library, last revised January 11, 2011, accessed November 4, 2014, http://arxiv.org/abs/1012.1375.

[2]George Gallup, Jr., foreword to Becoming a Healthy Disciple: Ten Traits of a Vital Christian, by Stephen A. Macchia (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 11.

[3]Alister E. McGrath, Christian Spirituality: An Introduction (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1999), 1.

[4]WorldCat, accessed May 5, 2016, http://www.worldcat.org.

[5]WorldCat, accessed May 5, 2016, http://www.worldcat.org. 

If Jesus Could Ask You One Question . . .


Here’s a classic small group discussion starter you may have heard before: “If you could ask God one question, what would you ask him?” Posing this provocative question is a great way to take the discussion to the deep end of the pool. Try it sometime.

But what if we were to turn the tables? What if we were to ask, “If God could ask me one question, what would he ask me?”

It’s not so far-fetched when you stop to realize that God has been asking people questions since the Garden of Eden. There he asked Adam, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9) and “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (v. 11). God didn’t ask these questions because he couldn’t find Adam or because he wasn’t there when the forbidden fruit went missing. God sees and knows everything.

So why would God ask us questions when he already knows the answer?

Sometimes our situation is so desperate that only God can help us, but we aren’t ready to face this reality. So we hide or we trust in things that can’t really help us. That’s when God, out of his compassion, will ask us a question that compels us to face our need of him.

Jesus, God’s Son, did this when he encountered a man who had been disabled for thirty-eight years, poised at the edge of a pool supposed to have healing powers. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). The question was really an invitation for the man to lift his eyes and behold the remedy standing right in front of him.

Knowing that Jesus uses questions this way, what do you suppose he might ask you if you gave him the chance to ask you one question?

I suspect the question Jesus would ask you and me is one he asked his earliest disciples: “Who do you say I am?” (Matt. 16:15).

Jesus made it clear that embracing his true identity was a life or death matter for us, saying elsewhere, “If you do not believe I am he, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24).

“Who do you say I am?” That’s the question.

How would you answer that?

Many reply with something like, “You’re a great moral teacher” or “You’re a prophet.” But the apostle Peter speaks for every true disciple of Jesus when he answers boldly, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16).

That word Christ means “anointed one.” It’s a reference to the centuries-old expectation of a coming Messiah who would rescue God’s people. The writings of the Old Testament prophets all pointed to this Messiah, as Jesus himself explained to two of his disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24:27). Peter was declaring that Jesus is this long-awaited Savior.

By declaring “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter crystallizes why we follow Jesus. As Peter’s brother Andrew put it, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41). It’s the most important discovery we will ever make, which is why Jesus asks . . . “Who do you say I am?” 

Why We Need Spiritual Disciplines

I’m a runner, though I wouldn’t have self-identified as such before last year. A recent physical exam revealed that my cholesterol was high, and having just turned fifty without a regular exercise regimen, I figured it was time to get the lead out. Tipping the scales at 138 pounds, I concluded that my physique was better suited to running than body building. (What I lack in bulk I make up for in common sense.)

So, last spring I bought some shoes and went for a run. The last time I had tried something like this was in college. Any conditioning I had achieved then did nothing for me these thirty years later. My goal was to run a 5k race someday, but after a mile and a half I started wheezing like a cat coughing up a fur ball. It wasn’t pretty. I knew it wouldn’t be.

However, after several months of training, I ran a 5k in September in which I turned in a fifth place finish for my age bracket. I even shaved a couple more minutes off my time before winter. I’m learning to appreciate the difference that consistent training can make.

It works the same way in the spiritual realm. What regular morning runs do for my stamina and speed, regular disciplines like prayer, Bible meditation, and journaling do for my spiritual health.

So what are spiritual disciplines exactly?

According to Dallas Willard, “Spiritual disciplines are activities in our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort.”[1]

Imagine what might have happened if I had relied on sheer willpower to run that 5k. What if I would have showed up on race day ready to try my hardest without having trained? And what if, after being carried off on a stretcher, I came back next year determined to try even harder without having trained? At that point you’d probably say. “Forget the stethoscope. This dude needs to have his head examined.”  

I learned something years ago from John Ortberg that has stuck with me. He said, “There is an immense difference between training to do something and trying to do something.”[2]

This is why we need spiritual disciplines. You wouldn’t show up on race day without prior training. So why would we think we could forgive someone who hurt us deeply, love our enemies, resist temptation, or accomplish any other spiritual feat Christ calls us to if we haven’t trained for it. Spiritual disciplines are that training.

By saying this, I’m not diminishing in any way our utter dependence on the grace of God for spiritual progress. I’m suggesting that when we consistently pray, worship, read our Bible, give, serve, and fellowship with other believers, we make use of God-given means for expanding our capacity for Christ-likeness. By practicing such spiritual disciplines, we actually equip ourselves to respond to situations with spiritual maturity and Christian obedience.

So “Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).


[1]Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Rediscovering Jesus's Essential Teachings on Discipleship (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2006), 52.

[2]John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 43.


Data, Dogma, and Drama: Three Things We Confuse with Discipleship


You’ve probably noticed, if you’ve spent much time reading the Gospels, that Jesus doesn’t like phony spirituality. And he seems to have this innate “counterfeit detector.”

Here’s what it sounds like when Christ’s phoniness meter is pegged: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matt. 23:27-28). And this is just an excerpt from an entire chapter of this kind of language!

It turns out that exposing the counterfeits was a prominent feature of Christ’s teaching on discipleship. Unfortunately, these same counterfeits persist today.

Here are three such forgeries that we often confuse with discipleship.

1.  Data

How could we possibly confuse data with discipleship? We do it every time we pat ourselves on the back for being able to recite the books of the Bible in order, quote a section of Scripture from memory, or identify which of the kings of ancient Israel were good and which were bad, as if knowing this information makes us better disciples.  

Don’t get me wrong. These are all worthwhile pursuits that can build our biblical understanding and fuel our spiritual growth. (I’ve done these things myself.) But there’s a subtle danger of confusing our expanding knowledge of biblical facts with spiritual maturity. Mastering the biblical data doesn’t necessarily mean we’re becoming more obedient to Jesus.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were like walking Bible encyclopedias. Here’s what Jesus said about them: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (Matt. 23:2-3). Evidently, it’s possible to be a Bible scholar and not even be a disciple of Jesus.

We must not confuse mastery of the biblical data with a growing discipleship to Jesus.  

2.  Dogma

A growing understanding of theology is vital to a maturing discipleship to Jesus. But dogma, if viewed as blind adherence to a particular doctrinal system, can actually hinder discipleship. Elevating our denominational traditions over our allegiance to Christ is not discipleship. It’s hypocrisy.

To those who were more concerned about keeping their religious traditions than obeying the teachings of Scripture, Jesus said, “You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites!” (Matt. 15:6-7).

We must not confuse loyalty to our particular dogma with a growing discipleship to Jesus.   

3.  Drama

Acting spiritually minded isn’t the same as being spiritually-minded. Jesus said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:1). Whether it’s giving (vv. 2-4), praying (vv. 5-8), or fasting (vv. 16-18), if we’re doing it to impress people, then we’re practicing something other than discipleship. Jesus is not impressed by showy displays of pseudo-spirituality.

We must not confuse dramatic displays of religiosity with a growing discipleship to Jesus. 

Discipleship is not about assimilating more biblical data, defending our dogma, or acting out our good deeds for the accolades of others. These are cheap substitutes for authentic discipleship, by which we open our hearts to the transforming power of Christ. 

The Most Neglected Word in the Great Commission


The Lion King is a 1994 animated Disney film about a lion cub named Simba who is to succeed his father, Mufasa, as king. The story opens with the two side-by-side on a mountain ledge overlooking the African plain. There King Mufasa commissions young Simba. The conversation goes like this:

Mufasa: Look, Simba. Everything the light touches is our kingdom.

Simba: Whoa . . .

Mufasa: A king's time as ruler rises and falls like the sun. One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here, and will rise with you as the new king.

Simba: And this'll all be mine?

Mufasa: Everything . . .

Simba [awe-struck]: Everything the light touches . . .

What makes this commissioning so significant is that word everything. Had Mufasa told Simba, “One day some of the things the light touches will be yours” it would not have evoked the response it got from Simba.

And when King Jesus commissioned his disciples on a mountainside, he used that same word everything. “Go and make disciples of all nations,” he says, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).

As disciples of Jesus, the kingdom we’ve inherited includes everything the light of his Word touches. Everything he taught us through word and deed is now ours to be obeyed and passed on. Everything.

Michael Wilkins, author of Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship, writes, “We have a relatively good strategy for accomplishing the first two attendant participles, ‘Go’ . . . and ‘baptizing’ . . . but a nearly non-existent strategy for accomplishing the final participle: ‘and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’”[1]

And if we’ve neglected that last phrase, then surely that word everything at the heart of the phrase is the most neglected word of all. We read it but we don’t hear its significance. Once we do, we can’t help but respond as Simba did: “Whoa . . .” Suddenly we realize, as J. I. Packer and Gary Parrett did, that “This task requires the ministry of serious, sustained, systematic, and substantive teaching.”[2]

In more than one way, to neglect that word is to neglect everything. If we settle for obeying some of the things Jesus commanded we end up with a lackluster vision of discipleship that will not invoke the response King Jesus intended.  


[1]Michael J. Wilkins, “An Outline Study Guide to Issues in Biblical Discipleship to Jesus” (Doctor of Ministry: Discipleship to Jesus for the Twenty-first Century, Year One Residency class notes, Talbot School of Theology, 2010), 13.

[2]J. I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-fashioned Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013), Kindle Electronic Edition, location 911.