What do the Holy Spirit do in our lives? May 17th 2020
Sixth Sunday after Easter (Sunday before Ascension Day)
John 14:15-21, also Acts 17:16-31
The Corona pandemic has shaken many things in life. Things we took for certain or were sure were changed or stopped. And even now, we wonder when or even if, things will return this year to a sense of how they were at the start of this year.
So for me it is hugely encouraging that Jesus says – I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever. Forever, Jesus says. One is given to us who cannot be taken away. One who will not go away. The One who was with you when this year began and has been with you every day through this pandemic.
Paul when preaching in Athens, told the listeners: The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and doesn’t live in temples built by human hands.’’ (Acts 17:24) Yet he lives in each Christian. He comes to us and we become, each, a temple of the Holy Spirit. God gives us not only life and breath (Acts 17:25). He gives himself on the cross, and he comes to live inside each of us (John 14:17). Christian faith is more than – we are saved, and God says ‘see you when I return’. The Lord comes to live inside us – to be present with us, in all places and times, through all pandemics, until the end of the age. We are not left as orphans by our heavenly father but God comes to us, by his Spirit (John 14:18).
But what does this ‘another counselor, the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit’ do in our lives – if he is with us always until the day Jesus returns or when we die?
Jesus says his words to his followers. Earlier he had said: ‘’Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. By this he meant the Spirit…’’ (John 7:38-39).
To another man, Nicodemus – he said ‘I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, and the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You shouldn’t be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” ’ (John 3:5-7).
To many people ‘born again’ it sounds a bit odd. Jesus is saying that, just as a baby comes from physical union, so new spiritual life comes from the union of a human spirit with God’s Spirit. There is a new birth. That is what Jesus is talking about when he says ‘you must be born again.’ He is saying physical birth is not enough. We need to be born again – which happens when someone becomes a Christian.
When we are born physically we are born into a family. When we are born again spiritually we are born into a Christian family. The Spirit assures us of our identity – of our relationship with our heavenly father – and he helps us develop intimacy with God – to develop that relationship with the Father. He transforms us – slowly perhaps quickly – into a family likeness, the likeness of Jesus the Son of the Father. There’s so many parts to that relationship with your Father in heaven. These are just three of them. Next week we will consider more what he does.
- Identity: We are born again to be children in the family of God
Paul says this – chapter 8:14:
‘… those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we’re God’s children. And if we’re children, then we’re heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.’
By the Spirit you and I are adopted as children into God’s family. We have a new identity.
Max Lucado says: ‘’When we come to Christ, God not only forgives us, he also adopts us. Through a dramatic series of events, we go from condemned orphans, with no hope, to adopted children with no fear.’’
That’s an extraordinary privilege and it has an impact on us, on our PAST, our PRESENT and our FUTURE.
OUR PAST is impacted: a few verses earlier,
in Romans 8, verses 1 and 2, St. Paul writes this:
‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.’
We can be set free from the past, whatever we’ve done. Jesus, on the cross, took all our sins. Past present future. The slate is wiped completely clean the moment we come to Christ…the Spirit of life sets us free from the past.
Many of us find ourselves bound by habits, patterns of thought, addictions. And when the Spirit of God comes upon us, he can enable us to break free from whatever addictions we’ve been under: drugs, immorality, anger, envy.
The most vivid example of this for me is from 1993. I wasn’t a Christian when I went to Keele University. And a nasty habit I had was blaspheming lots – I always remember a person in our kitchen who didn’t mind swearing one bit, winching at how I use a set of expletive involving God’s name etc… it was something I just did. Yet when I became a Christian on the night of Sept 27th 1993, the next morning I realized I couldn’t blaspheme, I didn’t want to, but just couldn’t either…
And so our PRESENT is impacted too: Receiving God’s Spirit means experiencing God’s freedom and love TODAY. We experience and know intimacy with God.
As we’ve heard: “By him we cry, “Abba, Father.” ‘Abba’ is a very interesting word because it’s Aramaic. It’s the word that would have been used by a child to their father; but not just when they
were little, all the way through their life. So it’s almost like, ‘Dad’ or ‘Daddy’. It’s a word used in a very close and intimate relationship. You can still hear this used in the Middle East.
I have not plumbed the depths yet of how key this must be. I remember Thirza when she was 2 ½ – now she is 10! When she was 2 ½ when we would read books – she would often point to family groups and say there is mummy, daddy, me – she would say – and Callum – Ca Cal – she couldn’t say his name… it is a tremendous thing, she says that is her daddy… others in the story may be a Richard, Mark, Katie etc, but I am her Daddy… She looked and saw who was her Daddy. The Spirit enables us to look at God, see our Creator, Lord and also to be able to call and see him as our Father. Abba is a word that was distinctive to Jesus. Nowhere in the Old Testament is God referred to as Abba, but Jesus used it in his relationship with God. And he offers it to us.
When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed:
”Abba Father, he said, everything is possible for you, take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’’ And the Spirit gives us the deepest experience that God as “Abba” is true. The intention that even in the darkest of times – like Jesus faced death – he still addressed God as Daddy, Father, he still trusted that loving Father as he brought deep issues to him. That in our dark days, when we really don’t like where God is leading or how things are going, we do not draw back, but in our spirit, we know he is our Dad, our Father.
‘The Spirit … testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.’
By the Spirit, there is this impact:
PAST, PRESENT …….AND FUTURE:
We are adopted into God’s family and that brings the most profound sense of security and hope. In Jewish thinking – to be a son, means an inheritance will come…’’ And if we’re children, then we’re heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.’’ All of the riches of Heaven are ours. Heirs of all of God’s eternal glory.
Paul says in 2 Cor 1:21-22 –
‘’Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership upon us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come.’’
The gift of the Spirit is the first part of the redemption of the whole person. ‘The beginning of the process which will end when believers assume their ‘spiritual bodies’ at the resurrection.’ (Fee) As Dunn says, The Spirit is the first installment of the consummated kingdom of God.
An inheritance of course you receive normally when someone dies… but in this case the one who has to die, is you and me. We need to die to ourselves. We need to die to being the one in control and boss of our lives, and instead let God be our Lord, Saviour and King…
When the Spirit of God comes to live within a person, they become a child of God. A new identity.
2. Intimacy: the Spirit helps us to develop that relationship with the Father
- Understanding comes by the Spirit…
I don’t know whether any of you have seen the film Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade?
Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones, Sean Connery playing his father. And Sean gets shot. Indy is in search of the legendary Holy Grail in order to save his father’s life, and he gets to the edge of this chasm…and he needs to take a step of faith because it seems, nothing is there.
We will never understand Christianity without the Spirit enlightening our eyes. We see enough to make a step of faith – like Indy. ‘’Yet real understanding often only follows faith”, as Nicky Gumbel comments, (Nicky Gumbel, Questions of Life, p.134). One of the great theologians and philosophers of the eleventh century, Anselm of Canterbury, said this: ‘Credo ut intelligam’ ‘I believe in order that I might understand.’ … only when we believe and receve the Spitit can we really understand God’s revelation.
The Holy Spirit then helps to develop the relationship with God. The Spirit regularly will lead us into further steps of faith. As we take steps of faith – which may seem at the time a risk, but later we see they were sure steps – the relationship develops and deepens.
- Relationships grow by communication.
26 And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what we ought to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words … interceding in accordance with God’s will.
The Spirit does not eliminate or transform believers’ total inability to maintain the proper dialogue between God and man; rather the Spirit works in and through our inability. The Spirit lends a helping hand. And the Spirit is seen here as typically active, not so much in the heights of spiritual rapture and delight, but active in the depths of our inability to cope, to express our feelings to God, how to pray in all that faces us and the struggles we endure.
So the Spirit of God helps us to pray, to speak to God, and again that reminds us that God isn’t into a distant relationship with his kids, but in fact he wants it to be up close and personal… he wants to build intimacy between us and him.
- The Holy Spirit also helps us understand God’s word.
Paul prays in Ephesians that we would have ‘the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we might know God better’. He prays that ‘the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened in order that we can understand’ …everything, including the Bible. Jesus says: The Spirit Jesus calls is ‘the Spirit of Truth’ and a little later he says: The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit will teach you all things.’’
- Spirit brings us into personal encounter?
The Spirit longs for the return of Jesus. To draw us ultimately into that most intimate of encounters, where we will see him face to face. He will minister to our spirit, to long for that meeting. As it says at the end of the Bible in Revelation., ‘The Spirit and the bride [that’s the Bride of Christ, which is the church] – The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” We will long to meet him. The Spirit knows where it is all going and so seeks to draw us into intimacy for that is how it will be when the Lord returns. The Church – the believers – look forward for the Lord’s return, because the Spirit who teaches us how to pray, who speaks to our
spirit, is praying in the same way…
3. Transformation: The Holy Spirit brings the family likeness.
Kids are like their parents, in looks and in mannerisms….
St Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, ‘We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Paul is saying that when the Spirit of God comes to live within a person, he will bring about this family likeness, becoming more like God, becoming more like Jesus, who is our brother. In fact that is God’s goal for our lives – that we will be transformed into the likeness of Christ… (Romans 8:29).
The Spirit is about transformation of each of us. Not into something awful. Becoming like Jesus.
How does this happen?
Paul says of Christians. We are to walk in newness of life (Roman 6:4). How do we walk, a couple of chapters later, ‘we do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.’ In Galatians: ‘So I say live by the Spirit.’ Later, be led by the Spirit. And how does life look like walking, keeping in step with the Spirit, being led by the Spirit: In Galatians, chapter 5, verse 22 and 23, St Paul writes:
‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
As we are led by the Spirit, walk by the Spirit, he works to make us more like Jesus. And there is a wonderful promise here. Paul doesn’t say – this is only for some of you. Rather he says – for all the fruit of the Spirit is this. So for people who have lost joy, who have become hardened by lifes experiences, who just cannot be patient, there is hope – we may feel that those are an impossible list but the promise is there, by the Spirit…
‘’Now Christians, all Christians, can experience the divine presence directly in the Spirit – as Jesus is teaching his followers – and the effect of the Spirit on their lives is sustained and increasing: they are being transformed into the likeness of the Lord’s glory.’’ (Dunn, pg 320)
James Dunn: ‘’to experience the Spirit’s working is not only to experience sonship – identity – but also to become more like the Son, to take on increasingly the family likeness, a process only completed at the Parousia. (Dunn, pg 321)
What does the Spirit do? He assures us of our identity as sons and daughters of God. He helps us develop intimacy, to deepen that relationship with God. He transforms us. So the counselor who comes to live within us, is not someone dormant, but someone active and at work…
Prayer to end the sermon:
as you pour out your Spirit
upon the Church and upon us,
help us to recognize all the gifts
you are giving and the ways you are working,
and teach us to use the gifts
with humility as well as love, and to be open to the work of your Spirit within us and among us.
For the glory of your name. Amen