Course: Life is a Journey
Lecture: Holy Spirit
In the past, we have talked about the fact that Christians are monotheists; we believe in one God. Our being monotheists, for example, is why Jesus can say to Philip, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father; I and the Father are one.” We are also Trinitarians; we believe, as theologians say it, in the three persons of the Godhead. We believe that God the Father is fully God and distinct from God the Son; and likewise, we believe that God the Son, Jesus, is fully God and distinct from the Father. We also believe in God the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit is fully God and yet distinct from God the Father and distinct from God the Son. We’re monotheists and we are Trinitarians; this is some heavy-duty theology, but it’s why Jesus can tell us, “Go make disciples, baptizing them in the name” (singular) “of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” We admit that this theology is a mystery, but we believe it because the Bible teaches it and we’re not surprised because we know we cannot fully understand the person of God. What I would like to do is focus our attention on the activity of the third member of the Trinity. I want to look specifically at two of His primary tasks: the Holy Spirit regenerates and the Holy Spirit Indwells.
Holy Spirit Regenerates
First, the Holy Spirit is the agent of regeneration. Regeneration is defined simply as the process by which God gives us new life. God gives us new birth, and He makes us into a new creation; that’s what regeneration means--the actual point in time in our conversion in which we are made alive. The process of regeneration is the specific responsibility of the Holy Spirit--He’s the agent of regeneration. The process of regeneration begins, for many of us, years before we actually become Christians; the process begins when we are convicted of our sin. John 16:7-8, Jesus says, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away” (He’s preparing the disciples for His death and ascension into heaven), “for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:” “World” here means non-believers, and part of the Holy Spirit’s function is to show the world (non-believers) their sin, and then He shows them God’s righteousness. He then proclaims of God’s coming judgment because they are sinful and God is righteous; all of this is part of the function of the Holy Spirit.
Do you remember when you first became aware that something was wrong? that something was missing? that there was emptiness in your life? Our awareness was the work of the Holy Spirit, who was convicting us of our sin; in the midst of that conviction, the Holy Spirit starts to draw us to God. Do you remember when Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him”? (John 6:44) The Father draws people to Himself through the work of the third member of the Trinity--the Holy Spirit. Do you remember that first time you found yourself believing, “Maybe there is something to this Jesus stuff”? That was the Holy Spirit in the midst of His conviction of our sin, drawing us to the person and the claims of Jesus Christ--drawing us to God. Then the Holy Spirit does the actual work of regeneration in our lives. The Holy Spirit is the One who gives us new life and new birth. In John 3:5, Jesus talked with Nicodemus saying, “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit” (capital “S”), “he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” The Holy Spirit’s job is to come in, to cleanse, and then to renew--to regenerate and give us life. The Holy Spirit is the agent of regeneration. Paul says the same thing in Titus 3:4-6: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy…” Then Paul continues how God the Father went about saving us: “…by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior…” Titus 3:4-6 is one of the really important Trinitarian passages in the entire Bible--it was God the Father who decided that He would save His people. He saved His people through what God the Son did on the cross, which enabled God the Spirit to come and to wash us clean and to regenerate our hearts. The Holy Spirit is the agent of regeneration, and it is He who comes in and makes us new.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t stop at being the agent of regeneration, but He is also the seal of our regeneration. What happens when we seal a document? We let a little wax drop on the document and then we stick our ring into the wax; we don’t do it this way much anymore. However, what we’re doing are two things to the document, aren’t we? (1) We’re marking ownership because it’s our seal, and (2) we’re protecting the document--the seal is going to keep the scroll rolled up or the book shut. The Holy Spirit is doing the same thing: He is the seal of our inheritance; He is God’s mark of ownership on our lives--The Holy Spirit is our protector. What we have just read is what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 1:13-14: “In Him” (Jesus) “you also, when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him,” (you) “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, Who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.” When you and I became Christians, finally through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives of regenerating us, He put God’s stamp of ownership on us and He protected us. The Holy Spirit is keeping us safe (guaranteeing our inheritance), which Peter tells us is “kept for us in heaven,” and that inheritance is kept safe until we die and go home. In Modern Greek, the word “seal” is now used of a wedding ring; interesting, isn’t it! In order for this illustration to have its force, we’re going to have to go back to older customs where the engagement was the legally binding ceremony. In that day and age, if we were going to break an engagement, we would have to get a divorce, which is not like today. The Holy Spirit comes and He seals us; He is our engagement ring that guarantees the marriage with the Lamb when we all go to heaven. The Holy Spirit regenerates us, convicts us of our sin, draws us to God, makes us into new people, and then He seals us--protecting our inheritance and us until we get to go home to heaven. Where would we be without the Holy Spirit? I’ll tell you where we’d be: We would be dead in our sin, unable to respond to God--we would be guaranteed only of hell. Thanks be' to God for His unspeakable gift of the Holy Spirit to us.
Holy Spirit Indwells
Second, the Holy Spirit also indwells us--we tend to use the words, “The indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” In John 14, Jesus is getting His disciples ready because He knows He’s going to die and leave them. Jesus says in John 14:16, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” Jesus is the disciples’ helper, but He has to leave, and so God the Father is going to send another Helper, another person, who is going to be like Jesus; except in this case, this Helper will never leave as was required of Jesus. We may have heard of the word Paraclete, which is the Greek word that is translated here with helper. Paraclete literally means someone who comes alongside. The idea is that the Paraclete comes alongside to help us; we don’t really have an English word that matches up with this, so sometimes we translate it as helper or comforter or advocate--sometimes we give up and call Him “The Paraclete.” Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit, who at Pentecost in Acts 2 came and fully indwelt all believers; the same Holy Spirit that comes upon you and me in our conversion.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t just come and regenerate us and leave, but rather He comes and regenerates us, makes us new, and stays; He stays with us and in us--He is within and indwelling each one of us. Jesus isn’t talking about some kind of divine impersonal force; that is not what He is. The Holy Spirit is God just as much as the Father is God and just as much as the Son is God; He is as personal as God the Father is. We relate to Him as a person in the same way that we relate to God the Son. God the Spirit is fully God and He is personally involved in every aspect of our daily lives. The Holy Spirit is involved with each one of us because He is there to help and come alongside each one of us. The Holy Spirit helps in many ways, doesn’t He? As we read through the Bible and receive the work of the Holy Spirit, we’ll see, among other things, that the Holy Spirit assures us that we are the children of God. He whispers to us from the inside that we belong to God. He helps us in our prayers when we don’t know how to pray. He searches the depths of our hearts deeper than words can go and expresses the deep longings of our hearts to God; that’s not a charismatic gift, but it’s something true of all believers (Romans 8).
The Holy Spirit also guarantees our final resurrection, and the list goes on and on, but His primary work, or at least His daily work, is guiding and empowering us. The Holy Spirit indwells us in order to guide and empower us. Daily the Holy Spirit guides each one of us. The Bible talks about our being led by the Spirit, and sometimes it talks about walking in the Spirit or walking by the Spirit. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16) Paul says to walk in accordance with the Spirit; that is how He is guiding us. The Holy Spirit guides us in different ways, doesn’t He? The main way in which the Holy Spirit guides us is through the Bible. As we read the Bible, He helps us to understand what it means, and He helps us apply it in our lives. In writing the second letter to Timothy, Paul gives him some pretty difficult things to understand: “7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”(2 Timothy 2:7) Part of the Holy Spirit’s function is that as we read our Bibles, which is the word of God, He is at work in our minds to help us understand and apply the Word; it is so we can say, “Yeah, I’m talking about you in Verse 4.” “Yes, this is for you, Bill--get it through your head!” The Holy Spirit also guides us, I think, by speaking to us. Now, we have to be careful here because anything that we think the Holy Spirit is saying in our heads must parallel to what the Bible says. I don’t know how many times I’ve talked to people who say, “The Lord is leading me to do this...” I say, “No, He’s not because the Lord never leads in a way that is contrary to Scripture.” “Well, I just really feel that God wants me to divorce my husband or wife”; this is one of the more common excuses for divorce. No, that voice isn’t God’s; it’s Satan’s because God’s voice in our heads will never contradict the Bible…ever! Yet with that caveat, I believe that the Holy Spirit is also working inside of us and guiding us by reminding us--He is pointing out things to us. About a year ago, I started asking God if He would give His Spirit an accent! “God, there are a lot of voices floating in my head: there’s me, there’s my sinful nature, and there’s my baggage from past experiences. I know that the Holy Spirit is in there and He’s trying to get my attention, but I struggle sometimes to know which voice is His. Could You give Him an accent like a nice North Carolina drawl? That would be nice!” This whole concept about being guided by the Spirit is a process; it’s not something that happens instantly overnight. Yet it has been remarkable, because as I try to listen and distinguish voices in my head, I think I’m coming to hear the Spirit’s accent. Normally, He is saying, “Shut up, Bill, you don’t need to say that so keep it quiet”; I think that’s one of the ways in which the Spirit guides us. The Holy Spirit never guides us in a way that is contrary to Scripture. The Holy Spirit is that voice in our heads who takes Scripture, things we know, experiences in our lives, and conversations we have with our non-Christian friends, and He says, “Push that point.” “Talk to them a little more.” “Ask him about his spouse.” “Ask him about his kids.” “Find out what’s going on in his life.”
The Holy Spirit is working in our hearts and minds from the inside out, guiding us daily; it’s how we walk by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit also enables us not only to hear His voice, but then He gives us the power to do what that voice is saying--the Holy Spirit empowers us daily. One of my favorite passages is Philippians 2:12-13, where Paul tells the Philippian church, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” J.B. Phillips’ translation helps us understand Paul’s theology a little bit better. He writes, “Be keener than ever to work out the salvation that God has given you with a proper sense of awe and responsibility, for it is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve His purpose.” God the Holy Spirit is at work in you and me, planting desires in our hearts, and then giving us the power to enable us to actually accomplish what is in our hearts. I want to say some things about empowerment because this is one of those issues that can be kind of confusing and frustrating at times; it would be really easy to be a legalist at this point. “Wow, you know, you just have to conform your outside behavior to what God commands and that’s all that matters”; legalism is easy in that sense. However, the Holy Spirit indwells us and He works from the inside out; He works from our hearts to our mouths to our hands and to our feet. What we need to do as Christians is to learn not only to hear the Holy Spirit, but also allow His power to accomplish His work in our lives.
One of the ways in which God empowers us is certainly through the gifts that He’s given us; I’m talking about the issue of what is called “spiritual gifts.” The Bible teaches that every one of us was given at least one supernatural gift when we became Christians. If you’re a new Christian, you may not be aware that you now have a supernatural gift through the power of the Spirit residing in you. Sometimes God’s gifts parallel our natural gifts (of course there is no such thing as “natural” gifts because God controlled how our genes went together), but sometimes the spiritual gifts are kind of an enhancement of what we’re already doing. Sometimes our spiritual gift is radically different than what we naturally are able to do, but every one of us, as Christians, has at least one. There are places in the Bible that list many gifts that include gifts of teaching, preaching, evangelizing, serving, and encouraging, or being a pastor or administrator. The Bible also lists the gift of giving, which is a supernatural ability to make unusual amounts of money paralleled by a really deep conviction that we are God’s stewards to use His wealth for His purposes--it’s a gift to make money and equally a gift to give it away. Other gifts listed in the Bible are gifts of leading the church, mercy, wisdom, healing, and doing miracles. There are probably many more gifts listed in the Bible, but the Spirit has this wide variety of gifts that He gives to His church because there are a wide variety of needs in the church. To meet the needs of the body, He gifts all the members of the body so that all of us can be involved in the lives of the body of Christ, using our gifts for the service of the church. Paul explicitly says in 1 Corinthians 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The gifts we have are to be used for the common good of the church. Peter says we are to use our gifts to serve one another as stewards of God’s grace. One way in which the Holy Spirit empowers us is to give us a wide variety of gifts to meet the wide variety of needs in the church. Under the general category of empowerment, we also ask about purpose: “What is the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s guiding us and empowering us?” The purpose is that our lives change; that’s the whole point. Do we want to know what the will of God is? The will of God is our sanctification; it’s our holiness--Paul tells that to the Thessalonian church. There, we don’t have to ask that question any more! What’s God’s will for our lives? God’s will or our lives is for us to be holy; it is for our lives to change; it is to look more like Jesus Christ; everything else is commentary.
Fruits of the Spirit
Paul tells the Romans and us that the good God is going to work in our lives is so that we are conformed to the image of His Son; that you and I look more and more like Jesus; it’s a process, isn’t it? “29 For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29) Paul tells the Corinthians that we are being changed from one degree of glory into the next. John tells us, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” (I John 3:2) I John 3:2 is God’s goal for our lives, and that’s why the Spirit is guiding us and that’s why the Spirit is empowering us--because He wants our lives to exhibit what are called the “Fruits of the Spirit.” Jesus told His disciples, “By this my Father is glorified that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” Fruit simply means the visible results of our having our lives changed--the visible results are called fruit. The main passage on fruits is in Galatians 5. Paul starts in Verse 16 where he says, “But I say, ‘Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.’” Walk by the guidance of the Spirit. Walk by the power that the Spirit gives us; if we do that, then we’re not going to accomplish the desires of the flesh. Then he sets up a contrast between the desires of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit. Paul says, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” If the Spirit has given us regenerated lives, then the lives that follow out must be lived by the Spirit; of walking in the Spirit; of listening to His guidance and allowing His power to help us accomplish the work that He’s given us. “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s guidance and the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment is so our lives will change and start to show love and joy where there was neither love nor joy. Now, the interesting thing is the Holy Spirit will not empower us or produce fruit in us without our cooperation; we don’t cooperate in our salvation, but we do cooperate in our sanctification. The whole business of growth into holiness is not some automatic thing where we can sit back and say, “Whatever!” We can actually fight against the Spirit; the Bible calls it Quenching the Spirit or Grieving the Spirit. In Hebrews, the author talks about a person outraging the Holy Spirit; this happens when we hear the Spirit but we do not listen; this happens when we are prompted to obey and yet we disobey. We can fight the work of God’s Spirit, and when we do, what happens? The Holy Spirit starts to withdraw the blessings of God in our lives, and He will start to exert corrective discipline. Paul tells the Corinthians that many of them have become sick and some have even died because they defiled the Lord’s Supper, they ridiculed the poor, and they ridiculed the cross. The Holy Spirit became angry with them and so some were made to be sick and some were simply taken home. How much better it is to hear and listen to the Holy Spirit! How much better it is to be prompted and to obey the Holy Spirit!
What Does It Look Like to be Empowered?
Finally, we are at a very practical level: What does it look like to be empowered? This is a very difficult question. Paul tells the Philippians that God is at work in us, giving us desires; we understand that, but then He gives us the power to accomplish those desires. We might ask, “How is that different for me, just putting my nose to a grindstone and working really hard? What does it look like to have this balance?” These are hard questions to even ask. What does it look like to allow God’s Spirit to enable us to accomplish the work that He has given us to do? Whether it’s preaching or growth in holiness, how do we let the Spirit do that? I have no idea; it’s a mystical concept. When it happens, we’ll know it though, won’t we? All of the sudden, we will look at our lives and realize, “My goodness, I don’t hate him anymore. How did that happen? I couldn’t do that on my own.” The Holy Spirit is at work. So when it happens, we’ll know it. The question is: “What does it look like?” There’s much I don’t understand, but there are a couple of things about which I have a pretty clear idea. Allowing the Spirit’s power to flow through us and allowing Him to be the strength and the enablement for us to move forward begins with our confession of saying, “I can’t,” and it has to begin there. When we look at someone we hate or someone with whom we’re angry--or the whole issue of growing in holiness--growth starts by saying, “God, I can’t do that; I can’t love that person anymore.” “God, I can’t stop gossiping on my own; I’ve done it all my life! I open my mouth, and out it flows; I can’t stop it.” Confession is the first step toward recovering. Have we not noticed over and over again, how many times in the Psalms where the writers say, “Oh God, You are my rock and my Helper, in You I trust”? The Psalmists understood when they said, “I can’t take care of my enemies.” “I can’t do what You’ve called me to do on my own; it’s You that’s going to do it.” Even David, a thousand years before the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit, understood that the enablement of God in our lives begins by saying, “I can’t do it,” and then followed by faith in God’s ability to do it. I cannot do anything in a sermon to change our hearts. I can’t do anything by preaching to make us more like Jesus Christ. Do you know what? I know that--there is nothing I can do. There’s certainly nothing that programs can do or elders can do to change our hearts and we admit that. However, we do believe with every fiber in our beings that God can--it’s my prayer every Sunday before I stand up here. So the process is to turn you and me over to the working of the Holy Spirit. Zechariah says, “‘It’s not by might, it’s not by power, but it’s by my Spirit,’ says the Lord.” Not because of my power, but it’s because of the Spirit of God who is at work in the midst of His children, guiding them and empowering them; that’s how this work gets done, and that’s how lives are changed; not because we’re strong. Don’t ever think we can just sit back and let God do it all; this is not an excuse for laziness. I will never stand before you and try to deliver some sort of spiritual stream of consciousness because I was too lazy to study the preceding week. In Romans 12:1-2, it is interesting when Paul says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” There is no place for us to say, “Well whatever! God’s going to do His work”; that’s not the way it works. However, it does begin by saying, “God, I can’t do it, but I believe through the power of Your Spirit, You can make me look like Jesus. So by Your guidance and strength, I will present my whole body, everything that I am, to You as a living sacrifice. I will, as Your Spirit enables me, not let the world squeeze me into its mold.” Where would we be without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Where would we be without His empowerment? Well, we’d be unable to fight sin; we’d be unable to enjoy the victory of our lives. Thanks be’ to God for His unspeakable gift of the Holy Spirit. I’ll close with John 7:37-38. Jesus is in Jerusalem and He says, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me,’ as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Then Jesus goes on to explain that it is the Spirit that is the river of living water; the Spirit that wants to gush, to flow out of our souls and out of our lives and flood our lives and flood our families and flood our churches. Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift of the Holy Spirit!