Jim Cymbala

B. Childress
May 27 2013

We all have influences in our lives.  The way we think and dress, and even the goals we set, have been shaped by
various influences over the course of our lives.  Some of those influences have become deeply embedded in us, while
others we have rejected.  But the fact is, we are all a product of multiple influences.

Occasionally, however, something that started as one of many contributing influences becomes more dominant and
perhaps even begins to subtly control us.  This control can powerfully shape our personalities – the way we see things
and the way we react to situations.  We all have met folks who respond to the world through the control of things such as
drugs, alcohol, money, obsessive thoughts, weight issues, failed dreams, or fear.  When an idea, a substance, or
another person controls us, it affects nearly everything we do.  A Christian counselor who understands what or who
controls a person can help that person to focus on the problem.

Recently I was in the bank waiting to finish my transaction.  The teller at the window next to me motioned for the next
person in line to approach.  The man who was waiting stomped to her window, muttered something under his breath, and
slammed his paperwork on the counter.

“Your stupid ATM isn’t working!” he said loud enough for everyone to hear.  The teller assumed that it was the one
outside the bank.  “I’m sorry, sir.  We’ll have someone go out and take a look at it.”

“No! It’s that one!” he said, pointing at the machine near the door.  “That one right there!  See it?  Right there!”  He kept
pointing, making himself look ridiculous.  A woman with a stroller crossed in front of the machine, and he yelled, “Get out
of the way!”  Otherwise she still won’t see it, and it’ll never get fixed!”

As I looked around, his seething anger seemed to have affected everyone within earshot.  Something had obviously
happened before he went to the bank, minutes, hours, or maybe even years before, something totally unrelated to the
troublesome ATM.  But now he was completely controlled by anger.

We have all known people like him.  They suffered a slight or even a grave injustice in the past, and they become
infuriated.  They never dealt with their rage and never resolved it.  They spent the rest of their lives increasingly
controlled by that anger.  If they went out to eat, they were angry when they ordered.  They were angry when they talked
about their past and angry when they looked into their future.  In some cases, their anger affected their spouses or their
children until all those around them were painfully scarred or developed their own anger issues.

In the next chapter, you’ll read Roma’s story.  Roma is a member of the Brooklyn Tabernacle; he grew up in Harlem in
the 1970’s and what he saw happening on the streets heavily influenced him.  Some of those influences, such as drugs,
alcohol, and greed, ended up controlling him.  But he also had other influences in his life fighting against all the
negativity he encountered on streets, including a mother who prayed for him, a brother whom he looked up to, and the
movies that helped him to escape the street life for a few hours a week.  As Roma tells his story, you’ll see that he had to
make choices about all those influences.  He had to choose what would control him, and as he’ll tell us, he didn’t always
make the best decisions.

You and I are just like Roma – we have been influenced by people and experiences.  We didn’t grow up in a vacuum.  
Our personalities weren’t shaped on a deserted island.  That’s why it is so important to make sure we have godly
influences in our lives, that we are surrounded by good people.  Good influences are gifts from the Lord and help us
develop into the people he wants us to become.

But here’s the thing: regardless of whether we have had good influences or bad influences, we still get to decide what
will influence our future.  It is heartbreaking to meet people who instead of seeking God’s strength during the battles of
life, have become hardened, embittered, unforgiving, and cynical.  You probably know some people like that.  You say to
them, “Hey, what a beautiful day,” and they answer with “Well, it’s not gonna last long.”  The glass is always half empty,
and negativity is the air they breathe.  Those people didn’t start life that way.  They weren’t born that hardened.  
Somehow they have let the negative influences in their lives control them.

Moving In and Making a Home

As Christians, our lives have been purchased for a price, and we now belong to God.  The price was the blood of Jesus
Christ, which he shed on the cross.  Just as Israelites in the Old Testament belonged to God through covenant,
Christians belong to God through the salvation we have experienced.  We’re God’s people now.  We belong to him –
rescued out of the clutches of sin, guilt, and condemnation, and adopted into his family.  In this case, being bought and
owned by someone isn’t a negative thing; it’s a beautiful thing.

God saved us for the purpose of making us human temples, inhabited by his Spirit.  During Old Testament days, God
dwelt within the inner room of the temple – a place called the Holy of Holies.  That’s where he made his home.  When
Paul said Christians were the “temples of the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 6:19), the word he used for “temple” was not the
word used for the outer rooms of the Old Testament temple.  It was
naos, which referred to the inner sanctum, the place
where there was a visible manifestation of the
shekinah glory of God.

That indwelling of God through the Holy Spirit makes Christians different from any other religionist on earth.  Judaism,
Islam, and Buddhism – none of these religions claim that their god inhabits their followers.  The leaders of those belief
systems may try to proselytize with their doctrine, but the gospel of Christ is different.  Faith in Jesus makes us walking
miracles who have been changed through the Holy Spirit personally dwelling in us!

God’s plan in redemption was that we should live life
full of the Holy Spirit.  “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to
debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).  The metaphor here is that we might be filled with the
Spirit to the point where he overflows – spilling out onto others with love and grace.  That’s a beautiful image, isn’t it?  
But it’s not the clearest explanation of the Holy Spirit’s relationship to the believer.  When you consider that the Holy
Spirit is a person, the third person of the Godhead, what does it mean to be
filled with a person?  He’s not a gas.  He’s
not a liquid.  He’s as much a person as the Father and the Son.  So I think a better description of “being filled” is to say
the Spirit
controls us.

Sadly, there are too many believers today who profess faith in Christ but who haven’t surrendered themselves to the
control of the Spirit.  I am the last person who wants to get into a doctrinal dispute, and I understand that Christians have
varied opinions.  But because of the urgency of the hour and the state of affairs in our churches, I think we must look at
the obvious difference between Christians who are born again and those who are living a Spirit-controlled life.

Controlled by the Spirit: A Biblical Imperative

The Bible shows us the importance of living a Spirit-controlled life.  Taking a look at the passages in Acts 6 and
Revelation 3, we can see the importance of going deeper with God.


In Acts 6 the apostles had to choose what many have come to call the first deacons.  There was a dispute between the
Grecian Jews and the Hebraic Jews about the fairness of the food distribution system.  The apostles decided to appoint
some men to handle that task so food distribution would get proper attention while the apostles continued to focus on
“prayer and the ministry of the word” (verse 4).

The apostles said, “Brothers and sisters choose seven men from among you who are
known to be full of the Spirit and
wisdom” (verse 3, emphasis added).  Handing out food was a straightforward menial task, yet the apostles felt that being
full of or controlled by the Spirit was a necessary qualification to wisely handle that simple job.

Compare that with some of our contemporary church hiring practices.  When selecting people for professional ministry
positions, we usually look first for educational qualifications.  Folks who have earned a seminary degree become prime
candidates to lead Christ’s people without anyone having first discerned whether these potential leaders show evidence
of being controlled by the Spirit.  Then candidates are often given a battery of psychological tests to see if they’re
compatible for ministry, as if science were the deciding factor on wisdom.  But in the New Testament church, even the job
of distributing food to widows required leaders who were Spirit-controlled and full of wisdom.  

Earlier, I mentioned R.A. Torrey, who was an outstanding evangelist.  In 1899 he was chosen by D.L. Moody to be the
first president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, which educates people for ministry.  Given Torrey’s unique experience
as an educator, it is interesting to read this:

    We think that if a man is pious and has had a college and seminary education and comes out of it reasonably
    orthodox, he is now ready for our hand to be laid upon him and to be ordained to preach the Gospel.  But Jesus
    Christ said, ‘No.’  There is another preparation so essential that a man must not undertake this work until he has
    received it.  “Tarry [literally ‘sit down’]…until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

If all believers were full of the Holy Spirit, if everyone in the community were Spirit-controlled, the apostles wouldn’t have
laid down such a qualification.  In fact, it would be downright silly.  Imagine them saying, “Choose seven people who are
breathing.”  Being a Christian does not necessarily guarantee that a person lives a life controlled by the Spirit.  The
example above is further illuminated in a love letter Jesus sent to some believers two thousand years ago.


In Revelations 3, Jesus spoke to the church at Laodicea.  This was a Christian church – one of the golden lampstands in
that prophetic picture.  These were Jesus’ people.  Yet he said to them, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor
hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit
you out of my mouth” (verses 15-16).

We’re not sure what Jesus meant by hot or cold.  We do know (and we’ll discuss in a later chapter) that one of the
symbols of the Holy Spirit is fire, and of course, fire is hot.  It’s easy to imagine how a Spirit-controlled church could be
“on fire.”  And we can picture that cold means the opposite, absolutely no evidence of the Holy Spirit, no fire, no flame.  
But this church was neither hot nor cold.  They were just lukewarm, and Jesus was about to spit them out of his mouth
because of that.

Now if some are compelled by their doctrinal position to insist that the Laodicean Christians were actually
full of the Holy
– because they insist that to be a Christian is automatically to be filled with the Spirit – then what they are saying is
this: Jesus was vomiting Spirit-filled, Spirit-controlled believers out of his mouth.  If that’s the case, then lukewarmness
means nothing and the words of Scripture become meaningless.

When we look at the Christian landscape today, we see many churches that are doing great things for God – people are
finding Christ and being baptized, prayer meetings are bringing down God’s blessings, and a spirit of love is pervading
the atmosphere.  The Spirit of Christ is in those churches, and excitement is in the air.

But we also can see some churches that probably give Jesus Christ a bad name.  They’re lukewarm.  They dishonor the
Lord because of their actions and attitudes.  The pastor might preach biblical sermons, but there is scant evidence of
God’s unconditional, tender love and little sense of God’s Spirit.  The inevitable signs that God’s Spirit is in control are
absent; in fact, a deadly spiritual chill fills the air.

The apostle Paul told the church at Ephesus: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled
with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).  If all Christians were already filled with the Spirit at all times, why would there be this
strong command from Paul?  Just a few verses before this Paul said, “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise
but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but
understand what the Lord’s will is” (verses 15-17).  It seems that Paul was saying we need to keep on being controlled
by the Spirit if we want to live wisely, to understand the Lord’s will for our lives, and to make the most of every
opportunity.  If we’re not Spirit-controlled, we will miss out on being what God wants us to be.

So here’s the question: If the Bible makes it clear that being controlled by the Spirit is so vital, what prevents so many of
us from fully surrendering ourselves to the Holy Spirit?

Losing Control and Gaining Power

Some of us are afraid of opening up to the Holy Spirit because we prefer to stay in control.  That’s understandable.  We’
re concerned about self-preservation, so giving up control can be scary.  We’re not sure we’re comfortable with what
God did in Acts 2 when people spoke in languages they had never learned.  At the time, the early Christians’
manifestations of euphoric joy and ecstatic utterances made people mockingly say, “Those people are drunk!”  And we
see their point.  Why would God inspire such a holy bedlam?

Many of us want more of God but not to the point of being ridiculed.  Our Western minds think,
I will serve the Lord, but I
will remain in control as I do it
.  But whether we like it or not, that’s not how the church began.  The church began with
Spirit-controlled Christians who yielded themselves to God.  That’s radical, yes, but that’s the way the Lord did it.

Some might say, “Yeah, but we’ve improved upon that New Testament style of Christianity.”  If that’s true, I want to see
the spiritual fruit our improvements have produced.  People may have mocked those first, “unsophisticated” Christians,
but thousands got saved in the first four chapters of Acts.  The Word of God was treasured.  The churches were filled
with sacrificial love.  A holy excitement pervaded the atmosphere.  Have we really improved upon that?

In Acts 2, while the disciples gathered in one place, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in languages they
didn’t know.  I don’t want to debate speaking in tongues, but I want to point out that when the Spirit came upon them,
they immediately began to do something they couldn’t do naturally.  “When they heard this sound, a crowd came
together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.  Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’
t all these who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?’” (Acts 2:6-
8).  They were speaking in actual languages they didn’t know.  They were doing something that could have no other
explanation than that God was the source.  The circumstances will differ from person to person, but an undeniable
expression of Spirit-controlled living is that we will be lifted above the limitations of mere natural talents and abilities.

The irony of Spirit-filled living is that we have to give up power in order to gain a greater power.  How many times in your
Christian walk have you come to a place where you struggled to do something, so you just tried harder?  Have you ever
tried harder to have the self-discipline to read your Bible more or pray longer?  Have you ever tried harder to love an
unlovely person?  Have you ever tried harder to be bold when you felt afraid?  How did that work out for you?  Trying
harder has never gone well for me.

Christianity is not a self-effort religion but rather one of power – the ability and might of the Spirit.  “For it is God who
works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).  The Spirit is the only one who can
produce self-discipline, love, and boldness.  But to do so, he has to control us daily.  We can’t rest on a religious
experience we had years or even months ago.

Keep the Fire Going

Paul’s last letter was written to Timothy, a young minister he had ordained.  In the letter, Paul said: “For this reason I
remind you to fan into the flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For the Spirit God
gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (II Timothy 1:6-7).  We get a picture of a
fire that’s almost out, embers that need to be breathed on to keep the fire alive.  Paul wanted Timothy to fan the flames
of the Spirit.  He warned Timothy not to neglect them, but to stir up the fire and keep it going.  Whatever Timothy did, he
was to prevent the fire from being extinguished; he was to give attention to the Spirit’s work in him.  Without that
anointing, Timothy would never fulfill the purposes of God for his life.

Charles Finney, a nineteenth-century Presbyterian minister and former president of Oberlin College, preached a series
of lectures on revivals of religion, which later became a book and is now considered a spiritual classic.  In it he describes
three key points about the Holy Spirit:

  • Jesus promised the Spirit’s fullness.  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be
    my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

  • Scripture commands Christians to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to
    debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18,  emphasis added).  Just as there are commands to
    love one another and not to steal, “be filled with the Spirit” is no different.  It is expressed in the imperative form,
    meaning it is a command no different from any other biblical command.

  • The fullness of the Spirit is a necessity in our lives.  When Jesus declared, “Apart from me you can do nothing”      
    (John 15:5), he meant what he said.

When God takes control of a life or a church, he takes control through the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is the
Helper Jesus sent to do the job.  When we fear giving control to the Spirit, we really fear God’s control over our lives.  
When we refuse to yield to the Spirit, we miss out on the holy excitement of living beyond ourselves.

As Paul told Timothy, God did not give him the spirit of timidity; rather, he gave power, love, and self-discipline.  Notice,
God is the one who gives those gifts, and it is only through the Holy Spirit working in our hearts that we receive them.  
We cannot live the life God desires for us without the presence of the Holy Spirit, but with him in control of our lives, our
hope is in his power and his gifts are available for us to receive.

Would you like to love more deeply and freely?  Do you wish to have more self-discipline?  Are your life and ministry
producing fruit?  For those things to happen, you have to surrender to the Helper.  But oh the rewards that come when
you hand control of your life to the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit waits to fulfill the mission he was sent to do – to govern the affairs of every born-again believer.  I encourage
you to get alone with God today and spend some time praying about who or what is in control of your life.  You and I are
going to be controlled by something.  There is no question about that.  So before you go any further, decide now whom
you will yield to.  Tell God your questions about being controlled by the Spirit.  Present him with your hopes and longings
for something more.

The first step in the process is giving him control.


SPIRIT RISING, by Jim Cymbala with Jennifer Schuchmann, Copyright 2012, Zondervan.