The distinguishing mark of a Christian is not simply that the Christian does good things with his or her life. Lots of people do good things with their lives and yet are not Christians. The distinguishing mark of a Christian is not simply that he or she attends church gatherings. Lots of people have attended – and even regularly attend – church gatherings and yet are not Christians.
The distinguishing mark of a Christian is not knowledge of Christian things – knowledge of the Bible or the way of salvation or the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Lots of people know all about these Christian things and yet are not Christians.
No, the distinguishing mark of a Christian is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of that person. Only Christians have the Holy Spirit living in them. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8 that anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Christ. Only Christians have the Holy Spirit.
And it is by the Spirit that we live. The Spirit enables us to put to death the deeds of the body. The Spirit gives us freedom from slavery to sin and death. The Spirit cast out fear from our lives.
And the Spirit is the first fruits of our future. The Spirit is a Spirit of adoption. We have the Spirit now even as we await the final fulfillment of what we will come to be – spiritually and physically transformed children of God.
The Spirit is even more than this to Christians. But Paul wanted us to know we are alive because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives – and this life we have in the Spirit is the distinguishing mark of a Christian.
The long testimony of Scripture always pointed to God’s Spirit dwelling within his people.
The prophet Ezekiel reported God talking to his people, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
The prophet Isaiah reported God’s promise to “pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants” (Isaiah 44:3).
And the prophet Jeremiah reported the coming of the new covenant of God with his people – a direct teaching about what the Holy Spirit would do in the lives of God’s children. “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).
Of course, the Holy Spirit works quietly in our lives quite often. We aren’t always overwhelmed with the power and compelling presence of the Spirit. But if we, as believers, pause and search for the leading of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit will lead us. And if we need a witness that we indeed are children of God by adoption, the Holy Spirit will provide that witness. And if we try to pray and we simply don’t know how, the Holy Spirit will pray for us.
We accept by faith we have the Holy Spirit. And we hope.
“For in this hope we were saved.”
The Spirit ushers hope into our lives. To lose hope is to lose life. That is, we no longer live if we no longer have hope because hope is what enables us to get up each morning and think there might be a brighter day ahead than the dark day that just passed.
Lots of people can have hope. But Holy Spirit-fueled hope is the hope that enables us to move through suffering knowing that something glorious is coming – that the suffering ultimately will turn out for good and that the suffering actually is a conduit for God’s good that comes to us.
And so the Holy Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the Christian and of the church. It speaks to our past, our present, and our future.