The presence of Christ in the believer is a great and glorious gift. By it God works in the believer “both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).”
We cannot understand how it is that God dwells in us but this reality is widely attested to in Scripture. On the night of His betrayal, Jesus comforted His Apostles by speaking to them of the time after His resurrection and ascension when, “you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you (John 14:20).” Jesus goes on to say, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (John 14:23).” This teaching is also included by the Apostle, Paul, when he says in Galatians, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me,” and the Apostle goes on to declare, “He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him (1 Cor. 6:17).” Elsewhere, the Apostle is inspired to reveal the way that Christ dwells within us, saying, “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (Eph. 3:17).”
Christ is made present in us not merely by “hanging” with Him. There is no way to simply “spend time” with the ascended Lord Jesus so that He “rubs off” on us. That would lead us into foolishness. It would be like asking, “‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead) (Rom 10:6).”
Simply put, there is no place where we can go today to “hang out” with Jesus in the same way may meet up with a good friend at a Starbucks.
Jesus teaches of the specific means through which He indwells us.
But Jesus has not left us to grope around in the dark to seek mystical union with Him. He does not drive us to look within ourselves. He does not leave it to us to, “establish ourselves in a sense of GOD’s Presence, by continually conversing with Him,” as the mystic Brother Lawrence writes in, The Practice of the Presence of God. God has no desire that we should follow such blind guides.
Rather, God desires that we hearken to the voice of Jesus, who said, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.” And He has taught us the specific ways that we receive the Holy Spirit for the upbuilding of our faith so that we may love Him and serve our neighbor as He desires.
Jesus instituted and taught the Apostles four specific ways by which He promises to be active in us. If we seek Jesus to be present with us and in us, we would do well to listen to Him so that we can be certain that it is God who is at work delivering to us His Spirit. After all, not every spiritual experience is with the Holy Spirit!
1. Hear the Word of God
Jesus gave His Word through the Apostles and Prophets and He accompanies that Word with the Holy Spirit.
In chastising the Galatian church for turning to themselves and their own pious actions in order to perfect the good work that was begun in them by God, Paul asks, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith (Gal. 2:3)?” He goes on to assert that it is God “who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you,” not through our own works and efforts, but rather, God does so, “by hearing with faith (Gal. 3:5).”
In Romans 10:17, Paul clearly states, “So faith comes from hearing,” and ties that hearing directly to the work of Christ through the office of the sent servant of God or what we would call the “Pastoral Office.” Paul says:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-17)
In Ephesians 4, St. Paul,lists among the gifts Jesus gives to men, “the Apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.” He says that Jesus gives these men as gifts, “for the work of the ministry, for the upbuilding of the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood.” That is to say, God places these men among us to speak His Word so that God would grow us:
to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped. (Eph. 4:11-16)
2. Remember Your Baptism
The inspired Apostle, St. Paul, frequently refers to baptism as the way we are connected to Christ and receive His Spirit. Jesus, Himself, connects water baptism with reception of the Holy Spirit when He says, “Unless one is born again from above . . . of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:3-5).”
In the baptismal font, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death (Romans 6:4).” “Having been buried with him in baptism, . . . you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God (Col 2:12),” and, “you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority (Col 2:10).”
In Baptism, God saves us, “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:5-6).”
When we recall our baptism, we are reminded of His work to give us the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead and “will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Rom. 8:11).” This remembrance God’s activity to connect us to the finished work of Christ builds our faith and strengthens the work of the Spirit within us by leading us to rely upon God’s gifts and work ever more and ourselves less just as St. John the Baptizer said, “He must increase, I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
3. Hear the absolution
When Jesus sent His Apostles to preach in the towns and villages ahead of Him, he said, “He who hears you, hears me, (Luke 10:16)” And, in the upper room after His resurrection, Jesus breathes on those gathered and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven (John 20:23).”
When God’s called and sent servants apply the healing balm of the Gospel to the specific sins of our life by telling us that for the sake of Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, those very sins are forgiven, the Holy Spirit, who searches the depths of God, leads us to understand this mercy and grace freely given to us by God. That Word, spoken externally by the authorized representative of God, gives our faith something to lay hold of and believe. Such “hearing with faith” brings with it the Holy Spirit as St. Paul teaches in Galatians 3:1-5.
4. Eat and Drink Christ’s Body and Blood
There is no deeper presence than Christ entering our bodies as we eat His body and drink His blood as it is distributed and received in the Lord’s Supper. Much more than a mere memorial meal and a simple declaration of Christ’s death until He comes, St. Paul emphatically says that this eating and drinking is a “participation” in the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16). Jesus says as much when He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (John 6:23)”
It is difficult to conceive of an activity from which we can derive a greater benefit than to have Christ present for us in bread and wine being taken into us to unite with our spirit.
Through these, as through means . . .
The early confessors of the faith of the reformation were very clear as to how the Christian receives the Holy Spirit. They didn’t refer to mystical practices or to an inward activity of “conversation” or “contemplation.” They didn’t even refer to prayer, in spite of God’s command to pray and the salutary promise to hear our prayers and respond.
Instead, those who first confessed the great truths of the reformation pointed to the outward, objective means that God has established to deliver to us the Holy Spirit and work faith in us saying, “That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.” (Augsburg Confession, Article V.)
These wise men from centuries ago also spoke in agreement with the Scriptures when they recognized the false teachings of those who say, “that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works (AC. V.).”
All who cling to the Christ of the Scriptures and claim to have a “high view of the sacraments” should walk together with our forefathers in the faith and not deviate to the right or the left. They should not risk shipwrecking the faith of their hearers by pointing them to their own efforts and exertions. Rather, Christ’s teachers teach the faith “once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3)” through the Apostles, who clearly teach that it is through the Gospel and the Sacraments as through means that the Holy Spirit is given.
EDIT – 11/11/2014 – 11:00 PM EST – The link to Brother Lawrence, “Practice of the Presence of God” was corrected.