In her book The Tapestry Edith Schaeffer recounts a conversation prompted by a question put to her by her husband, Francis:

“Edith, I wonder what would happen to most churches and Christian work if we awakened tomorrow, and everything concerning the reality and work of the Holy Spirit, and everything concerning prayer, were removed from the Bible. I don’t mean just ignored, but actually cut out—disappeared. I wonder how much difference it would make?”

We concluded it would not make much difference in many board meetings, committee meetings, decisions, and activities.

The natural inertia of all our Christian ministry and living is to proceed out of our own resources, asking God to add his blessing to our efforts. It’s how we all tend to operate without even realizing it, even as born again believers. But it is backward. When you have a Lamborghini engine under the hood, it’s odd to try to get your car going like Fred Flintstone, using the power of your own legs on the ground. All the right doctrine, without fire and life, will only render us all the more open to judgment on the final day. Fire and life, energy and power, the very glimpse of heaven that we all long to be—this comes only to a life yielded wholeheartedly to the Spirit and his quiet, gracious, humble, risk-taking ways.

This final chapter reflects on the only way to make the previous eight chapters work in your life: keeping in step with the indwelling Spirit.

The Father ordains salvation, the Son accomplishes salvation, and the Spirit applies salvation. In other words, there is no Christian life without the Spirit. The Christian life is purely theoretical if there is no operation of the Spirit. Everything that we experience of God is the working of the Spirit. That is true at conversion, as the Spirit opens our eyes to our sin and Christ’s saving offer. And it is true of our growth.

The main thing I want to say in this chapter is this: because of the Spirit, you can grow. You really can. Those feelings of futility, that sense of impossibility, the settled resignation that you have permanently plateaued—that is not of heaven but of hell. Satan loves your shrugged acquiescence to your sin. Jesus Christ’s own heart for you is flourishing growth. He understands more deeply than you do the psychology of the heart fueling the sin you can’t seem to leave behind once and for all. And he is well prepared and fully equipped to walk you out of that darkness. For he has given you the most precious gift of all: his own Holy Spirit. Everything said thus far in this book would remain purely abstract without the Spirit. It would all be fine theory, nothing more. The Spirit gives life, turning doctrine into power.

The Holy Spirit is how God gets inside you. If you are a Christian, you are now permanently indwelt by the Spirit, and if you are permanently indwelt by the Spirit, then you have been supernaturalized. It’s not just you anymore. You aren’t alone. You have a companion living within you. He is there to stay, and he provides everything you need to grow in Christ.

If you choose to stay in your sins, you won’t be able to stand before God one day and tell him he didn’t provide you with the resources.

Redirecting Our Gaze

How, though? How does the Holy Spirit actually propel inner change in Christians?

The main answer the New Testament gives us is: the Spirit changes us by making Christ wonderful to us. The third person of the Trinity does his work by spotlighting the second person of the Trinity.

Some quarters of the church focus on the Holy Spirit. Rightly sensing the neglect of the Spirit in some wings of the church, they make the Spirit the dominating center point. “It is the Spirit who gives life” (John 6:63), we are told. “To set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).

Other quarters of the church emphasize Christ—“Him we proclaim” (Col. 1:28), we are reminded. “We preach Christ” (1 Cor. 1:23).

But true apostolic Christianity understands that to diminish either the second or the third person of the Trinity is necessarily to diminish the other. For the Spirit himself fixes our gaze on Christ. The two work in tandem. The Spirit and Christ rise or diminish together. Let me show you this briefly in three passages of Scripture.

First, throughout John 14–16, Jesus comforts the disciples by teaching them that it is good for them that he will go away, so that the Spirit can come. And how does Jesus describe the work of the Spirit? The Spirit “will bear witness about” Jesus (15:26). The Spirit “will glorify” Jesus (16:13–14). The third person puts the second person in the foreground. The Spirit’s animating impulse is not a raw, faceless power in the life of the Christian. The Spirit ignites our contemplation of Jesus Christ. The subjective work of the Spirit works in tandem with the objective work of Christ.

Second, remember 1 Corinthians 2:12, which I mentioned in passing in chapter 4: “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” We receive the Spirit, this text says, in order that we might grasp what we have freely received—the phrase “freely given” is one Greek word, formed out of the verb form (charizomai) of the noun for “grace” (charis). The Spirit opens our eyes to see what we have been “graced” with. And in keeping with the strongly Christocentric context of 1 Corinthians 2, both before and after verse 12, the Spirit opens our eyes to see what we have been graced with in Christ.

Third, and explicitly picking up the “seeing” metaphor I’ve been using in this chapter, remember what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, where he speaks of “beholding the glory of the Lord” (“Lord” being Jesus in this context). Paul’s point is that this very beholding of Jesus fundamentally transforms believers. But notice what Paul then says: all this “comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (not a conflation of Christ and the Spirit but simply a most intimate association [cf. Rom. 8:9–11]). In brief: the Spirit effectually causes us to behold Christ in such a way that transforms us.

My burden in raising these three texts is to prevent you from trying to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit as some exercise separate from everything else I have been saying about focusing on Jesus Christ. Chapter 9 of this book is not shooting off in a new direction. The Holy Spirit clinches everything said in the first eight chapters. Be so radically Spirit-led that you are therefore radically Christ-centered. Christ and Spirit, the incarnate Son and the indwelling Spirit—this is your double gift.

Don’t focus too much on the Spirit himself—focus on Christ, asking the Spirit to make Christ beautiful. The Spirit is the effectual cause of your growth, but Christ is the object to contemplate in your growth. A man doesn’t focus on his brain when he looks at his wife and ponders how beautiful she is. He focuses on her and enjoys her. His brain is what effectually causes that enjoyment. But what would he say to someone who said he’s been neglecting his brain by being so wife-centered? He’d say, If it weren’t for my brain, I would not be able to enjoy my wife at all. Praise God for a brain. But I don’t look at my brain; I look with my brain.

Dane C. Ortlund, Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners, ed. Michael Reeves, Union (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), 16–19.

We have just completed a Bible study to guide your group into meditating on and applying these truths. Deeper is our Bible Study based on Dane Ortlund’s book by the same name. It consists of 7 lessons with ready-to-use questions suitable for groups. It can be purchased on Amazon and is also available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service.