When I was in Bible School, a group of us attended a Pentecostal church. We went out of curiosity and wondered what we would see there. I have to admit that I don’t really think that I experienced the power of the Spirit of God in that church that morning. It seemed to us more like a bunch of noisy people.
There have been other times when I have experienced the power of God at work. In 1971, we attended a denominational youth retreat in Banff. At that meeting, it was evident that God was at work in many lives. People’s hearts were being changed and the worship services even had to be adjusted because of what God was doing. It is one of the most powerful experiences of the activity of the Holy Spirit that I have ever had.
One person suggested that the practicing creed for many Christians is, “I believe in God the Father, I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Son’ but I wonder about the Holy Spirit.”
Gordon Fee tells of a time when he was in church on Pentecost Sunday. A children’s story was being told about the Holy Spirit and the imagery was being used of the Spirit being like the wind and the point that was being made was that just like the wind is very visible in its effects even though it is itself invisible, so we can see the work of the Holy Spirit but He is invisible. A 6 year old boy blurted out “But I want the wind to be un-invisible.”
Please read with me article 2:3 of our confession of Faith which speaks of the Holy Spirit.
“We believe that the Holy Spirit exists eternally as one of the persons of the Trinity, co-equal with the Father and the Son. He convicts the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgement to come. He indwells believers and is the guarantee of their salvation. He encourages, comforts and guides them into the truth. He empowers for service and enables believers to live holy lives (Matthew 28:19; John 16:7, 8, 13; Acts 1:8; 5:3-4; Romans 8:1-4; I Corinthians 3:16; II Corinthians 3:3, 17; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:13-14).
This morning, we want to think about who the Holy Spirit is and what He means in our lives.
Have you ever said to someone, “can you come with me, I don’t want to go alone?” Whether it is to go for a ride, for a walk, to an appointment, we enjoy being with people. I often think of people who are in a personal care home or a hospital. Sometimes we go to visit them and we think that we have to make conversation, but I am convinced that just as much as conversation, they appreciate our simply being there with them. We all appreciate presence.
The first truth we will look at this morning is that the Holy Spirit is God present with us.
When God created Adam and Eve, the Bible tells us that He was present with them in the garden of Eden. When they sinned, that fellowship was broken. In Genesis 3:10 Adam said to God, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” That is the indication that Adam and Eve did not want God present because they were guilty. Since that time, people have shied away from the presence of God, but God wants to have a relationship with His people. The Bible demonstrates this in many places. After the fiasco with the golden calf in Exodus, Moses wondered how he would lead the people through to the promised land if God did not go with them. In Exodus 33:14 God promises, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
After the tent of meeting had been built by Israel in the wilderness, we read that God was present with His people in this tent of meeting. After Solomon built the temple, we read in I Chronicles 3:`6 that “the glory of the Lord filled the temple.” From that time until the glory of the Lord left the temple because Israel sinned, the people of Israel had a powerful sense of God present with them in the temple.
Ezekiel is written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the people were devastated and many of the wondered where the presence of God was. In Ezekiel 40-48 there is a wonderful picture of a restored temple which is a promise that God would once again be present with His people. The fulfillment of that promise is, however, different than might have been expected. In the New Testament we find that God is no longer present with His people in one location on earth in a temple. Now, the people of God are the temple of God and God is present with his people by His Holy Spirit indwelling each of them. I Corinthians 3:16 says, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” From the time of the coming of the Holy Spirit and to the present day, we, the people of God, are God’s temple and God lives in that temple by His Spirit. The Spirit of God is God present with His people.
It is very important that we do not speak of the Spirit of God as “it” but that we recognize that God’s Spirit is the very personal presence of God here with us now.
One writer says, “Surely the reality that God is personally present in and among us should encourage us through the pressures and weaknesses of our present life, not to mention revitalize us when our shoulders droop and our hands grow weary.”
We are thankful for that presence, but although sometimes presence is just that, presence, often it is much more, it is also doing. God is present by His Spirit, but He is also doing. The Spirit is the agent of God’s activity among us. How is that true for each one of us? It is true first of all in that it is the Spirit of God who is the agent of salvation. How does the Spirit bring about salvation in a person?
The work of the Spirit in an individual begins with the work of convicting. John 16:7, 8 says, “…Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment…”
In order for a person to come to Christ, they first of all need to know that they are sinners. We will not convince people of their sin by our condemnation. Whenever a person comes to the conviction of sin it is because the Holy Spirit has been at work. In fact, apart from the Holy Spirit, people do not really know the truth about sin, righteousness or judgement. The Spirit convicts people in several senses. The Spirit helps people realize that they are sinners. He presses upon their conscience the reality of God’s standards. When they understand them and that they cannot meet them, they are ready for God’s help. The Spirit helps them understand that as they are, they are under God’s judgement and when they know that they are under wrath, they are ready to trust in God’s help for salvation.
Before we became followers of Christ, the Spirit of God had already done His work in our hearts. Whenever we meet someone who is ready to receive Christ by faith, God’s Spirit has already been at work in their heart.
Just as the Spirit is the agent of conviction, the Spirit is also the agent of rebirth. We do not save ourselves. We do not change our hearts. We may change our minds, but we are not Christians until we have been changed by the work of the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:5,6 makes this very clear when it says, “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit…” Salvation is the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes I wonder if we ask the wrong questions. We ask people, “have you made a commitment to Christ.” Now there is no doubt that we need to believe in God, but I think the important question really is “have you, by faith, allowed the Spirit of God to change your heart?” That is what it means to be born again. The work of the Spirit of God in salvation is so important that Romans 8:9 says that “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”
I believe that it is very important for us to recognize that the work of rebirth is the work of the Spirit of God.
So first of all, we recognize that the Spirit of God is present with us doing the work of salvation. As we witness to Christ and as people put their faith in Christ, the Spirit of God has already been at work convicting of sin and at the point of belief, doing the work of renewal.
Just as the Spirit has been powerfully present with us in our salvation, so God’s presence continues with us in our Christian life. One writer speaks about the Spirit as a “vital experienced reality in believers lives.” The Spirit is God present with us as an accompanying friend. What does that mean to each one of us?
God is essentially a relational being. We see this particularly in the relationship of Jesus with the Father. The presence of the Spirit of God with each of us indicates this relationship. In Romans 8:26,27 we have words which describe the relationship. There we read, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” The Spirit, who Himself knows the thoughts of God because He is in an intimate relationship with God, is at work in us helping our prayer because He is also in an intimate relationship with us.
In Galatians 4:6, we see more of that relationship as we discover that it is by the Spirit of God that we have a relationship with God as Father in the most intimate sense of the word. There it says, “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” We may be able to have an intellectual apprehension of God as Sovereign, as Father, as Creator and so on. But we can only cry “Abba,” which is the most intimate way of speaking, by the power of the Holy Spirit. What is it like in your life. Do you have a sense of God as Father? Do you experience a relationship with God by the Spirit?
If that relationship is present, then something else happens and that is that we begin to walk by the Spirit. In Romans 8, we encounter five statements that talk about living our Christian life by the power of the Spirit. Verse 4 talks about living according to the Spirit. Verse 5 talks about living in accordance with the Spirit. Verse 6 talks about being controlled by the Spirit. Verse 13 talks about putting to death the sinful nature by the Spirit and verse 14 talks about being led by the Spirit. This passage speaks about the new life that is possible by the power of the Spirit. The whole Old Testament has demonstrated that we cannot live in righteousness if we assume that the law will help us keep sin in check. The law is unable to bound sin in our life. Even as Christians, if we live by law, we will not bind sin so that it does not have victory in our lives any more. That is why legalism does not work. The message of God is that when we have been reborn by the Spirit of God, God is present with us by His Spirit and we are able to bound sin by the power of the Spirit.
How does that work in practical terms? It means that we walk by the Spirit, which means looking in the direction away from law and away from reliance on ourselves to reliance on the Holy Spirit. It means taking the way out, mentioned in I Corinthians 10:13, when we are tempted. It means living in community and finding strength from that community. It means accepting the discipline which God brings into our lives and learning from that discipline because it comes from a loving Father who is using it to draw us to Himself. It is recognizing that God is at work in us and will complete His work in us. It is so sad that we have ignored or feared, or forgotten about the presence of God’s Spirit at work in us. I think we have much to learn about walking by the Spirit.
The Spirit of God is also the accompanying friend in the life in community which we experience in the church. One writer says, “The local church is God’s temple in the community where it is placed; and it is so by the presence of the Spirit alone, by whom God has now revisited his people.” We live in such an individualistic age that we have often emphasized the life in the Spirit as an individualistic thing. God’s Spirit does indwell each of us individually, but we cannot ignore that the Spirit of God is also present with us in community.
Ephesians 2,3 is a powerful passage that reminds us that the Spirit of God is the effective agent of the churches unity. We cannot be one apart from the Spirit. With the Spirit, the most diverse group of people can be the church of God in the world, unified and working together. When I think of this, I always think of the church we attended in Vancouver. We were greeted by a black deacon, sang Spanish worship songs led by an oriental woman. That doesn’t happen by human planning, that happens by the power of God’s Spirit. Here also, where we have many differences of opinion about values and worship styles, we need to rely on the Spirit to keep us one.
The Spirit, on the other hand, is also the agent of the churches diversity. I Corinthians 12 indicates that the Spirit has gifted each one of us differently and uses the differences to build God’s kingdom. To me it is a wonderful thing that both unity and diversity are a work of the Spirit in the community of believers. That is another part of what it means that the Spirit is an accompanying friend.
Furthermore, God’s Spirit is an accompanying friend in that it is by the Spirit of God that we experience God’s guidance. This week I had to make a decision. As I wrote out the decision, I thought I had done a pretty good job of summarizing the different aspects of the decision, but just as I was about to make it, I had a doubt. Since there was some pressure to make the decision, I did not listen to that voice. Later, after I had made the decision, I checked it out with a friend and discovered that his concern was the same as the doubt I had. I realized then that I had not listened to the voice of God’s Spirit. The Bible tells us in John 16:13, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” The Holy Spirit is the revealer of truth to the believers. Are we learning to listen to the guidance of the Spirit?
When Jesus was about to leave the earth and ascend into heaven, He promised the coming of the Spirit of God to the believers. His promise centred primarily on the work which he left them to do. In Acts 1:8 we read, “But 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.” How great to know that God’s Spirit is also an accompanying friend for us when we are engaged in the great task of evangelization which God has left us with.
Finally, the Spirit of God is involved in the promise of eternal life which we have inherited. The Spirit of God is involved in two senses. He is both the evidence that we have eternal life and also the guarantee that eternal life will be ours.
There are three images which the Bible uses to convey these ideas. They are the idea of deposit, first fruits and seal. Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”
As first fruits, the Holy Spirit is the evidence that we have already entered into life that is eternal. Eternal life does not begin on the day of our death or the day of Christ’s return. Eternal life begins now. We have the beginning of eternal life in us now and that eternal life is present with us by the Spirit of God. Since we have the beginnings of eternity in our hearts, we live in a very different way than the rest of the world. We live with a bigger perspective. We live with hope. We live with eternal life in our hearts.
As a deposit and a seal, the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that we will also inherit the rest of the promise. The deposit assures us that the payment of eternity has begun. God is now already present with us and the full payment of His presence is coming at a future day.
Have you ever noticed a child at play looking up from time to time to see if mom is there? If mom would go into another room, the child might become afraid until she hears a sound from the other room and realizes I thought you were gone, but you were there all the time.
Since we lost the presence of God because of our sin, we have been wondering about God’s presence. On the one hand, we would like God to be present with us to assure us that we are OK and that everything is going to be OK. On the other hand, we are afraid of God’s presence because of our guilt. Because Jesus has forgiven oru sins, we have become vessels fit for God’s dwelling. Today, God’s presence is with us by the Holy Spirit and we can live with God present until that day when we will once again see Him face to face.
If, like many people, you are “not sure of the Holy Spirit” then I invite you to rejoice in the truths we have been looking at today and keep on studying the confession of faith and the Scripture associated with it. Brothers and sisters, this is good news.