When I lived in Detroit, the youth group used to sing a song about Jesus with these words: He is the lily of the valley, the bright and morning star, he is the fairest of ten thousand to my soul. My English was not that good at that point and I had to ask the other youth to tell me exactly what they were singing about and how they experienced Jesus in that way.
In my first pastorate, I had the opposite experience. One gentlemen told me that he never talks about Jesus because Jesus is a personal matter for him, but this brother would constantly talk about how great his wife was. I asked him if his wife was more public than Jesus. He saw that he loved two people—Jesus and his wife. Yet somehow, in his thinking and upbringing, he learned to constantly praise his wife and rarely talk about Jesus. How do we relate to Jesus? How do I relate to my wife? How do I relate to my kids? The easiest way to find out is to talk about them in the presence of other people.
In many Protestant circles, we talk about the fact that Christianity is a relationship and not just a religion. In contrast with other religions, Christianity is a relationship with the Holy Trinity. Through Jesus Christ, we have a relationship with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Yet if one spends time in many of our churches, we talk more about religion than about this relationship. We talk about ethics, laws, and principles. But if we only talk about those things, we find out that there are Jews and Buddhists and even atheists who are more principled and ethical than some Christians.
We have that popular statement that distance makes the heart grow fonder and the prayer “Maranatha, Lord come quickly,” but Jesus tells his disciples that he will not leave them or forsake them. On the day of Pentecost, Peter tells the people gathered there that Jesus Christ fulfilled his promise because they were experiencing the Holy Spirit in that place. The Apostle Paul picks up on that promise and writes that he who does not have the Holy Spirit does not have Christ.
There is an episode in the Book of Acts where Paul asks a group of believers if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed. They answered negatively. Paul proceeded to pray, and the believers received the Holy Spirit in the same manner as people did at Pentecost. Even today, there is a song where we sing these words, “Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.”
It is easy to talk about the idea of Jesus or his impact on religion or ethics. King David was known for being blessed by God and doing wonderful and mighty deeds. But when he sinned by taking Bathsheba (who was married to another man), he was afraid that God would take away the Holy Spirit, as he did with Saul. He knew the importance of that presence and that relationship, so he prayed “And do not take your Holy Spirit from me.”
It is again Paul who tells us that “it is our spirit with God’s Spirit testifying that we are the children of God.” This is called the inward testimony of the Spirit. There are some people who are hesitant to make an outward declaration, but this affirmation of the Holy Spirit tells us who has already come to Jesus and will receive eternal life with Him. Belief is always inward and outward—the Holy Spirit testifies about what has changed in our hearts and we talk to others about our loving relationship with Jesus Christ.