Renewal By The Holy Spirit
I would like to do a little demonstration for you this morning. I have here a jar. Let the jar represent your life. Sometime in your childhood you make a choice to disobey your parents and you commit your first sin. As life goes on, you lie, you cheat on a test, you think things you shouldn’t, you gossip, you do some other sin. Before long, you have a life full of things for which you feel guilty. They clutter up your life and create all kinds of problems for you. That is what sin does. How do you get the sin out of your life? If you try to pour it out, some always stays. If you try to pick it out, you can’t get all of it out. Even if you succeeded in getting it out, very soon more would get in. The only way that you can get rid of it is if you pour in some water and soon it is all out of your life.
Today is Pentecost, when we remember the day on which God sent His Spirit into the world. Although it gets little coverage in society or even in the church, it is one of the great days of celebration. At Christmas we celebrate that God came among us in the person of Jesus. At Easter, we celebrate that God provided a way for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Today, we celebrate that God has not abandoned us, but continues with us by His Holy Spirit.
Although the illustration is a little simplistic, it presents for us a picture of the only way in which we can have victory and that is by the Holy Spirit. It is only as the Spirit of God applies the blood of Christ and renews our hearts that we will find freedom from sin and only as we are filled with the Spirit that we begin to live in victory over sin.
This morning, I would like to look at Scripture to see exactly how it is that God’s Spirit does the work of renewal in us.
I. God’s Spirit In Salvation
The renewing work of God by the Holy Spirit begins in the work of salvation.
A. Convicts Of Sin
It starts right at the beginning because apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, we would never realize that we have sinned.
John 16:8, speaking of the Holy Spirit says, “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment…”
I think that most people would agree that they do wrong things. They may describe them as slips, they may not see them as that serious, but they all know that they do wrong. The work of the Holy Spirit is to convict people of the seriousness of that wrong. Most people will not realize that sin is a violation of the righteousness of God or that sin will result in judgement. They do not know that sin always leads to death. The Holy Spirit is the one who begins to work in a person’s heart before they are believers and convinces them of the desperate need of a saviour. If we don’t know that we are lost, we will not seek the Saviour. The Holy Spirit helps people understand that they are in need.
As the Spirit does that convicting work in us, we need to respond by confessing our sins. Confession of sin is, simply the admission that the guilt and conviction we sense in our hearts through the Holy Spirit is right. We have done wrong. Apart from admitting that, we will not be saved.
After confession, the second step is that we receive the gift that God has for us in Jesus Christ by faith.
We often talk about putting on the light, but how much do we have to do in putting on a light? We don’t provide the electricity, we don’t glow like a filament. All we really do is throw a switch which allows the electricity to cause the filament to glow. In a similar way in salvation, we talk about being saved, but how much do we really do in salvation. All we do is repent and receiving God’s gift. What we forget is that there is a lot more going on. What is going on is that when we believe, the Holy Spirit comes in and cleanses our heart. He washes us clean of our sin and he renews our hearts. Salvation itself is not an act that we do, it is an act that God does in us by His Holy Spirit. Just as we could not clean out the Styrofoam, so we cannot clean the sin out of our hearts. It is the Holy Spirit who does that renewing work in us.
Titus 3:5,6 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, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour.”
I Peter 1:2 agrees with this truth when it says, “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood…”
Apart from the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit, we cannot be saved.
C. Seals Our Redemption
When the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, he also does another thing related to the work of salvation. The Holy Spirit affirms that we are children of God. There are so many verses that reveal that we can know that we are saved and that knowledge of salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:15,16 says, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” If we are able to say “Father” to God, then we know that we are children of God. God’s Spirit within us affirms that we belong to Him.
The work of the Spirit affirming that we are children of God is also described in Ephesians 1:13, 14 which 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.”
That verse tells us two things that the Holy Spirit does. It is the Spirit who is a seal in our hearts. A seal on a document marks ownership. The Holy Spirit marks us as belonging to God. He gives us the assurance in our hearts that we belong to God.
The Spirit also is the deposit. Just as a deposit on a purchase guarantees the full purchase price and the completion of the deal, God’s Spirit guarantees that one day, we will see God face to face. Because we already, have God in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, that presence of God is the deposit that guarantees that we belong to God and will one day be with him.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit in us in salvation. He convicts of sin, renews us within and assures us that we have been accepted by God. We cannot be saved apart from what the Spirit of God does. I praise God for His Spirit who has applied the gift of salvation to my heart.
II. God’s Spirit In The Christian Life
But we know very well that even though we have been saved, many times sin still comes into our life. If the Spirit has come in and removed the sin, why is it still there? Why do we still continue to sin?
Spirit of God continues to work in us. He not only washes us at salvation, but continues to work in our lives throughout our life to make us into new creatures. We often make a mistake in thinking that we will renew ourselves by our own efforts. It is as if we think that since God has cleaned our jar, now it is up to us to make sure that we don’t let any more dirt into it. There is certainly truth to that, but it is not only at the level of our effort. God’s Spirit continues to work in our life with his renewing power. The wonderful thing about having the Spirit in our lives is that he continues to work in us. Let us examine several passages of Scripture which teach that.
There is a Greek principle of philosophy that says, “like is known by like.” When a person who knows about computers talks about bytes and ram and skuzi drive and so on, a person who also works with computers understands what he is talking about but the rest of us go “huh?” When some of you tell jokes in Low-German, the rest of you who grew up with Low-German as your first language all laugh but the others of us who do not have that knowledge go (hand over head). When God wants to communicate His word to the people of the world, it is a mystery. They do not understand.
But listen to I Corinthians 2:6-16. (read)
If like is known by like then, God’s Spirit knows what God is thinking. If God’s Spirit is in us, then we also understand what God is thinking and as we hear God speaking into our lives renewal begins to happen.
Oswald Chambers wrote, “The great idea is not that we are at work for God, but that he is at work in us ... that he is working out a strong family likeness to his Son in us.”
How does that happen? Well, let me tell you of one of my experiences. I am a little embarrassed to tell you, but hopefully it will help you. When I went to Bible School, I was a city kid with an attitude. I thought people from the city were smarter and more sophisticated and I had a rather poor opinion of farmers. I was pretty vocal about it and often teased my country friends. How did God work with that attitude in me? Well, for the last 20 years, I have been a pastor to farming people and have come to love them and to respect them greatly. That is one way in which God has worked in my life to teach me to love. God brings us through situations and lets us hear certain sermons and experience things and through these ways he works in our hearts and slowly transforms us step by step.
That renewal isn’t instantaneous, it happens little by little. II Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we…are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” This verse tells us that this is an ongoing matter. Note that it says “we are being transformed.” It is not something that happens in an instant.
The characteristics that God is building in us are the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22,23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” This is not a list of things that we ought to build into our own lives, but a list of things which the Holy Spirit works into our lives. The Holy Spirit is not in us to give us luxury and ease. The Holy Spirit is in us to make us new creatures.
Robert C. Roberts wrote, “The fruits of the Holy Spirit are, it seems to me, largely fruits of sustained interaction with God. Just as a child picks up traits more or less simply by dwelling in the presence of her parent, so the Christian develops tender-heartedness, compassion, humility, forgiveness, joy, and hope through "the fellowship of the Holy Spirit"--that is, by dwelling in the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son.
III. Responding To The Spirit
Earlier in the message, I indicated that salvation is a co-operative work between us and God. We respond to the work of God in our lives. Just as we co-operate in salvation in the first place by faith, so we also co-operate by responding to the work of God in our hearts by his Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is so powerfully at work in us, how do we respond to what God is doing in us?
There are several passages in Scripture which teach us how we ought to respond to the work of the Spirit of God in our lives.
A. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire I Thessalonians 5:19;
The first word comes from I Thessalonians 5:19 which says, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” Other translations say, “Do not quench the Spirit.”
God’s Spirit is in us changing our hearts. One of the ways in which he does that is to let us know when we are doing something wrong. When we don’t listen to the voice of the Spirit when we are doing something wrong, then we put out the Spirit’s fire.
One time we were camping and before we left the site, we put water on the fire. But then someone wanted to use fire yet. Well, after the water was on the fire, it was hard to get it going again. The same is true if we continually quench the Spirit’s fire. After a while, it will be hard for us to hear his voice any more.
“A friend of Vance Havner coined a word by combining the words squelch and quench. He used to say, "Don't `squench' the Spirit." Havner thought it was so descriptive that he often used it in his preaching. Havner said, "We `squench' the Spirit in more ways than we suspect. We do so when we stifle the desire to speak or act for the Lord. When we criticize or discourage others by an unspiritual attitude, we `throw cold water' on their inner fire. We have the Holy Spirit as an honored Guest in every Christian gathering, and He can be grieved very easily. A frivolous attitude, a rebellious frame of mind, or a fed-up complacency will do it."
The only way to deal with things when we fail to listen to the Spirit’s voice is to admit that we have done wrong. Repentance will keep the voice of the Spirit in our lives.
B. Keep in step with the Spirit Galatians 5:25
A second word comes from Galatians 5:25 which says, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
Let me put it to you with the story of a simple, illiterate man who was converted through the work of the Salvation Army. He went regularly to the Salvation Army citadel. One day he came home rather disconsolate.
His wife said, "What's the matter?"
He said, "I've just noticed that all the people in the Salvation Army wear red sweaters, and I don't have a red sweater."
She said, "I'll knit one." So she knitted him a red sweater.
The next Sunday after he went to the citadel, he still wasn't happy.
His wife said, "What's wrong this time?"
He said, "I just noticed all their red sweaters have yellow writing."
They were both illiterate, but she said, "Don't worry about it. I'll embroider some writing on for you."
She had no idea what the yellow writing on the red sweater of a Salvation Army man said. They have a yellow circle, and in it, BLOOD AND FIRE. That’s their motto.
The man's wife had no idea what the letters said, and she couldn't read anyway. So copying a sign from a store window opposite their home, she embroidered the words of that store sign onto his red sweater.
When he came back the next Sunday, she said, "Did they like your sweater?"
"They loved my sweater. Some of them said they liked my sweater better than their sweater."
What neither of them knew was that the sign on the store window she had copied read, THIS BUSINESS UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT.
That's what it means to keep in step with the Spirit, to let Him be the manager of our life and to always listen to the manager.
-- Stuart Briscoe, "Christmas 365 Days a Year," Preaching Today, Tape 135.
C. Be filled with the Spirit Ephesians 5:18
Finally, we get back to where I started with the word from Ephesians 5:18 which says, “…be filled with the Spirit.”
If we are filled with the Spirit of God, then there is no room for anything else. Dwight L. Moody wrote, “If we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and self-seeking and pleasure and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God, and I believe many a man is praying to God to fill him when he is full already with something else.”
In the illustration of the jar, we know that no Styrofoam will stay in the jar as long as the jar is filled with water. So also, as we are filled with the Spirit, sin will stay out. Therefore, we need to allow God’s Spirit to fill us. When we become Christians, we receive all of the Spirit, but do we allow Him to fill us?
A city dweller moved to a farm and bought a cow. Shortly after he did, the cow went dry. When he reported this fact to a neighbour farmer, the farmer expressed surprise. The city man said he was surprised too. "I can't understand it either, for if ever a person was considerate of an animal, I was of that cow. If I didn't need any milk, I didn't milk her. If I only needed a quart, I only took a quart." The farmer tried to explain that the only way to keep milk flowing is not to take as little as possible from the cow, but to take as much as possible. Is that not also true of the Christian life? Those who only turn to God in need miss the real joy that flows from a daily infilling of His Spirit.
Sin is invasive, pervasive and destructive. It fills us and consumes us and destroys us. All wrongdoing leads ultimately to death.
The only hope comes from outside of ourselves. Only the work of God in our life is able to break the hold of sin and give us eternal life. God is willing to do that work. He is willing to change and renew us and he does so by His Spirit. “Unless we have within us that which is above us, we will soon yield to the pressures around us.”
Let us give thanks for the powerful work God’s Spirit does in us at salvation and continually.
Let us allow God to do His mighty work in our heart and life.