Suppose that you did not know anything about the Bible and that you have not read the previous chapters. What would you have thought that Jesus Christ would do after achieving his mission of saving all of us by dying on the cross? Of course, he would not remain dead forever, but would be resurrected. Afterwards, he would either continue to live in this world or ascend to heaven. Perhaps we would prefer him to choose the former, but he taught his disciples, “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away.”165
Why? If he continued to live in this world, Jesus Christ would have to bear a human body, with all of its limitations. Imagine that he still lived in this world today and Christians from everywhere tried to surround him to ask him for advice, to touch him, or just to get a piece of his clothes for a souvenir! Clearly, this would be impractical. If he continued to live in this world, Jesus Christ would have to abandon his human body, transcend the limitations of space, as he tried to be with many people around the world at the same time. In fact, Jesus did just that: he is living with us in the form of the Holy Spirit. He and the Holy Spirit are one. We will talk about that more in the next chapter.
For now, let us simply understand that Jesus Christ returned to heaven sitting at the right hand of God, and then sent the Holy Spirit down to us. “Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”166
Jesus Christ did not leave his disciples confused in this matter. He talked a lot about the Holy Spirit. Before his ascension, he told them clearly, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”167
The disciples obeyed his command. Despite persecution there, they stayed back in Jerusalem, waited and prayed. Jerusalem was then in preparation for the Jewish Pentecost and was full of people returning from afar.
On that historic Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down. Luke describes:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? ... We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!168
Actually, this is not the first time that the Holy Spirit came down. The Bible says that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit.169 After he was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on him.170 The Old Testament recorded the work of the Holy Spirit before Jesus was born. For example, he gave Joseph wisdom171 and Samson strength.172 Also, as we have discussed before, “prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”173
The important difference is that before the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit only came to some people for a short period of time to help them achieve a specific task. After that day, the Holy Spirit has descended not only to live inside each believer, but also to help those who sincerely want to come to Jesus in faith.
Yes, coming to faith in Jesus is not an easy thing to do. It requires that a person be humble and accept that he or she is sinful. Nobody can make another person believe in Christ except for the Holy Spirit, and likewise nobody can believe in Christ without the help of the Holy Spirit.
As the boat Ego is about to capsize, we are truly desperate. We see the lifesaver, but we cannot grasp it. There is only one thing that we can do: pray. And that’s all we need to do because if we sincerely pray, the Holy Spirit will help us to repent and believe.
Living inside a person, the Holy Spirit not only gives us the ability to do certain things, but also gives us a new life. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”174 In this new life, the believer lives with a “new dimension” that he never understood before. Some people think that believing in Christ is a loss and Christian life is boring. However, many believers are prepared to testify to the contrary. Before accepting Christ, they felt that their lives passed by meaninglessly. Now, with the Holy Spirit in their hearts, they have a new life, a new source of strength, a new direction, a new sentiment, and a new hope. As the Bible says, they have been “born-again.”
Once, Jesus Christ spoke to a person named Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again…. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’”175 Let me ask you this question: have you been born-again? Maybe you do not know when this happened, but you should know whether or not your life has changed. Before, when I followed my friends to the church, I felt very lonely and could not understand why people were doing what they were. Many times, I had to pinch myself to stay awake. As I looked at people praying, I wondered how they could be that sincere. As I listened to them sing with all their hearts, I told myself that I could not do such a childish thing. Yet, now I constantly look forward to the following Sunday, to come to church and receive the spiritual food that my soul desires. I know that I have been born-again.
But this is only one of many signs of being born-again. The clearest sign is belief in the blood of Jesus Christ. Nobody can be born halfway. Other people may not know whether you were born-again or not, but you should know. Please do not think that going to the church regularly or belonging to a Christian family is enough. These thoughts only lead you to eternal damnation. The Bible says, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”176
I like to compare the Holy Spirit with a loving mother. Both bring me a sense of closeness and gentleness. Believing in Christ is being born-again, becoming a baby, but believing in Christ is not becoming an orphan. Believing in Christ is to join an extended family in which God is our father, other Christians are our brothers and sisters, and the Holy Spirit is our mother.
Mother Holy Spirit teaches believers all things necessary for his or her faith. Jesus Christ spoke to his disciples, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.”177
The Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the Bible and teaches believers to understand it. This is not just pure theory. I know people who have tried to use their own ability to understand the Bible before believing, but to little avail. But after believing, they suddenly felt that the Bible was so clear and that they could appreciate things that they previously could not understand. The Bible is like a Vietnamese folksong. While the artistry of these folksongs will never die in the hearts of the Vietnamese, foreigners cannot fully appreciate their spirit, even though they may understand the meaning of the lyrics. Mother Holy Spirit not only gives birth to the believers, but also nurses her children with the folksong Bible, so that their hearts are constantly connected with their country in heaven.
Mother Holy Spirit teaches the believers to call God “Father.” “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”178
It was Mother Holy Spirit who guaranteed believers a large inheritance. Perhaps you have believed, but you still doubt the things you will receive, such as eternal life. You are you doubtful because you refuse to listen to the word of Mother Holy Spirit and to look at the statement from the Bank of the Bible. The paperwork is there and the guarantee is there, so why should you doubt and lose peace?
Mother Holy Spirit also comforts believers when they are punished by God. She reminds them that God disciplines us because he loves us. “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”179 Whatever happens to believers, they are reminded by the Holy Spirit that their troubles are only short-term. They are reminded of the Bible’s promise: “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”180 They know that God loves them when they go through their tribulations in life.
Please picture a beautiful image, that of a mother stretching her hands, encouraging her son to learn to walk. The Holy Spirit acts in this way, teaching believers to be “sanctified”; that is, to become more pure, holy, and spiritually mature.
Actually, a believer’s soul is not always calm. From the day they believe, their soul is a battlefield where the temptations of sin and the desire to please God are in constant conflict. Believers have peace and joy because they know that they will win in the end, thanks to the power of God. However, as long their souls are confined in corruptible bodies, they bear conflict.
Do not think that Christianity is wrong because there are believers who commit sin. And if you are a believer, do not give up because you feel that you repeat the same old mistakes. Please remember that Paul said, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other.”181
Once I saw a documentary about orphanages in Vietnam. The thing that saddened me most was that these orphans were so passive. Without people to encourage them, they just sat there. There were children who were old enough to speak, but could not. They completely lacked the curiosity necessary for growing up. Similarly, without the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, human beings are inactive and lack the desire to fight against sin.
Conflict within our souls is thus desirable. Fortunately, with belief in Christ comes the teaching and encouragement of the Holy Spirit. The main thing is that we “keep in step with the Spirit”182 so that we will not give up. The mother stretches her hand to encourage her son to walk towards her; the son awkwardly does so step-by-step. Thanks to his mother, he keeps on trying. His mother is his goal. Her arms are the reward. Reaching her, he feels safe. Looking at her, he won’t walk into ensnaring traps.
Sometimes, he falls and is hurt. Sometimes, a believer sins and is disappointed. However, Mother Holy Spirit remains patient, and the son, keeping his eyes on her, will see that her waiting arms are still there, protecting, encouraging, and supporting him on his walk in life. Later when he looks back, he appreciates that she let him fall occasionally just for him to grow.
Without God, we can still live an exemplary life. Although I agree that doing so is admirable, I would want to not try it. It won’t bring salvation. It also demands an extraordinary effort with a lot of sacrifice. On the other hand, believers can live a life pleasing to God if they simply follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They do not do this for salvation – they already have been saved – but because of their love for God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Love is the motivation, and love can compel people to do extraordinary things.
Similarly in the garden of faith, believers can bear fruit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”183 All this comes not from their own effort, but is a gift of the loving Holy Spirit.
A famous Vietnamese author, Nhat Hanh, wrote a book encouraging children whose mothers were still alive to express their appreciation by pinning roses on their lapels on the Vietnamese Mother Day. In the same way, if you have the Holy Spirit within you, pin a cross-shaped rose on your heart. Tonight, in solitude, come to talk with the Holy Spirit, saying “Dear God, I want to thank you for coming into my heart. Please teach me not to displease you anymore. Please teach me to love you so that my life can bear fruit.”