Luke begins the book of Acts with a surprising statement. He says that in his former book—the gospel of Luke—he “wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1). The implication is that Acts records what Jesus is continuing to do. It’s not that in the Gospels Jesus worked, and now we, in His absence, work for Him; during His incarnation Jesus worked through His earthly body and now He works through us.
This is a crucial message. When we approach the Christian life as something we do for God, we quickly feel frustrated and overwhelmed. But when we are filled by the Spirit, drudgery is transformed into delight, and the crushing weightiness of the mission becomes empowerment for specific callings the Spirit gives to us.
Jesus told the disciples that it would be better for them after He left because the Spirit would come dwell in them (John 16:7). Having the Holy Spirit in them would be better than having Jesus there beside them. In fact, they so needed the Spirit’s presence that Jesus instructed them not to so much as lift a finger toward fulfilling the Great Commission until after that Spirit had come.
The Spirit inside us is better than Jesus beside us. That’s a staggering promise. How many Christians today are experiencing the fulfillment of that promise? Would most Christians, if they had a choice, choose the Holy Spirit inside them even over Jesus beside them? Doesn’t that show us how far we are from the relationship Jesus intended us to have with the Holy Spirit?
When the disciples had Jesus beside them, He wasn’t just a force or a principle. He was a person, someone they interacted with. Someone who spoke into their lives. The Holy Spirit is to be the same for us. He desires to have fellowship with us (1 John 1:3). As Puritan John Newton wrote, “Many . . . who would not flatly contradict the apostle’s testimony in 1 John 1:3 attempt to evade its force by restraining it to the primitive times . . . but who can believe that the very nature and design of Christianity should alter in the course of time? And that communion with God, which was essential to it in the apostle’s days, should now be unnecessary?”
Jesus birthed the Christian movement by sending His Spirit like a mighty, rushing wind into His disciples. The place where they met shook with God’s power, and as a result they turned the world upside-down. Acts is the story of the disciples’ following the Spirit—trying to keep up, feeling like a kite in a hurricane.
The Spirit empowers our ministry similarly. He gives us resurrection power over sin, applies the promises and warnings of Scriptures to our hearts, and shows us what parts of the Great Commission belong to us. He moves us beyond “good” ideas to “God” ideas. Our generation of Christians—mission driven, but weary and longing for joy—desperately needs to recover this dynamic presence and power of God.