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This morning we continue our series Together: Jesus is the Thread That Binds Us. We have covered the identity of the church, the purpose of the church, and the practical functions of the church: prayer, worship and the gathering of the saints. This morning and for the next few weeks we will look at the power and presence of Jesus in the Church.
Think of the church as an outpost, a space station. We have just sent an astronaut and cosmonaut on a one year space mission. In that process of preparation, tens of thousands of hours were spent developing the right technology for survival in a hostile environment of extreme heat and cold. Special food was developed for strength, and a process devised for providing oxygen. Without this special equipment the men could not survive or accomplish their mission.
As followers of Jesus called the church, the gathering of the saints, we are in a sense living in a space station. Once we give our lives to Jesus we no longer belong here in this world and the elements of this world become hostile to us. Jesus said this in His high priestly prayer for us, “I do not ask you to take them out of the world but protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). For a time Jesus has given him limited range. Just as the astronauts need special protection and oxygen, we need the power and presence of God to survive as followers of Jesus. With His presence and power we not only survive but thrive and live out our mission in this land.
Where do we find the presence and the power of God in our lives? At church? In the Bible? By praying? Yes and no – there is something even more fundamental. To be more specific, He is a someone and He is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit there would be no salvation, no church, no gathering of the saints, no prayer, no understanding of Scripture, no power to overcome sin. Without the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ promises to be with us would be unfulfilled. Without the Holy Spirit, we would not be here.
An understanding of the Holy Spirit is so essential to our faith, yet talked about so little. One reason is by design – the Holy Spirit’s primary role is to represent Jesus and to be a mediator for Jesus. The Holy Spirit is all about Jesus, as Jesus was all about His Father. The Spirit’s work is to put our attention on Jesus, not on Himself. Second, we do not understand the concept of Spirit.
Even mentioning the Holy Spirit conjures up different ideas for all of us. Some of us may have had bad experiences in churches; others come from backgrounds where any work of the Spirit is questioned or from churches where anything of miraculous nature is thought of as demonic. We’ve heard of the Holy Spirit and known He is in the Bible but have not spent much time studying His role. Francis Chan titled his book on the Holy Spirit, Forgotten God. This summarizes the role of the Holy Spirit in many of our lives – we know He is there, but He is often forgotten and if we do think of Him, we aren’t sure what to think.
A recent survey by LifeWay Research for Ligonier Ministries confirms the confusion regarding the Holy Spirit. Of those professing evangelical Christians surveyed, more than half (51%) said the Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being. Seven percent weren’t sure, and only 42% affirmed that the Spirit is a person. Nine percent said the Holy Spirit is less divine than God the Father and Jesus.1
The concept of Spirit is hard for Westerners. We understand God the Father, even if our earthly fathers were not the best. We understand Jesus the Son of God, who was born and walked the planet. But the Spirit? We think of something ghostly, intangible, spooky, or otherworldly. Do we command the Spirit on our behalf in the name of Jesus, or does He take control of us? Can we have more or less of the Spirit? When do we get the Spirit? Does everyone have the Spirit? Do we lose the Spirit? Does He leak out? We ask this because we have all heard prayers, “Fill me Lord with your Spirit.” As Christians, we are all over the map. We tend to base our understanding of the Spirit on our own experiences and comfort level.
It is our lack of understanding of the Holy Spirit, His nature and role in our lives as individual believers and in the church corporately, that has hindered the effectiveness of the church, especially in America. A Biblical view of the Spirit gives the right understanding on the person and nature of the Spirit while also giving purpose and scope to the work of the Spirit.
In John 16, Jesus said, “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” Jesus will send the helper, the Paraclete, which means strengthener, counselor, supporter, advocate, ally, helper, advisor. But to be precise, the Holy Spirit is another helper, another Paraclete:
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; John 14:16
Who is the first Paraclete, the first helper? Jesus. Jesus sends another to take His place. Jesus was getting ready to leave, but assures His followers He will not leave them alone. There will be another who will be with them forever, not only with them but in them. Jesus says, “It is to your advantage that I go away…because if I go I will send Him.”
“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; 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 He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you. John 16:7-15
These passages are recorded from the Upper Room discourse, Jesus’ teachings just before He went to the garden of Gethsemane. These were His last words to His disciples, rich words on the necessity of the Spirit.
The Necessity of the Spirit
Jesus could not do what the Spirit does on the scale the Spirit does it. Jesus was in a physical body, which limited Him and His interaction. He was with them but not in them. The Spirit will illumine the teachings of Jesus. Had Jesus stayed and continued to teach, the disciples would have continued not to understand. Many times Jesus said, “How long have you been with me and yet you still don’t understand?” The Spirit gives us understanding; He is like a floodlight that lights up a sign. The Holy Spirit puts the floodlight on Jesus. The Spirit gives us the power and presence of God in our lives. In Jesus’ prayer, He said He kept those whom the Father gave Him. Not one was lost except Judas, for the fulfillment of Scripture. Jesus was their covering and protector; now the Spirit indwells us wherever we go and He keeps us.
The Holy Spirit continues Jesus’ role in us. His role is Jesus’ mediator in us, the relational connection. Jesus redeemed us on the cross so that we can be restored into right relationship with the Father; the Holy Spirit personifies that restoration. He leads, guides, illumines, prays, convicts, strengthens and comforts us. The Spirit of God is Jesus in us. Jesus had to return to the Father; the Spirit characterizes the age of the kingdom of God. This has been God’s plan from the beginning (Isaiah 11:1-10; 32:14-18; 42:1-14):
“And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, Ezekiel 11:19
“For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. Ezekiel 36:24-27
“It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. “Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. Joel 2:28-29
The plan was always for the people of God to have the Spirit of God until we are glorified and in the presence of God. The Spirit of God in us is necessary for the kingdom of God to be here, among us, even though it is not fully here yet. We are all an embassy of God and we are ambassadors representing Him in a foreign land. The Holy Spirit is an absolute necessity.
Necessary for Salvation
The Holy Spirit is necessary for salvation. We see this clearly in the record of Nicodemus, a Pharisee who comes to Jesus to ask Him questions. Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born again to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus answers, “How can that be?”
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8
Later Jesus addresses His disciples and says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63). Paul also says that the natural man cannot discern the things of God because they are spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:14). We need the work of the Holy Spirit to discern our need. (2 Corinthians 3:5-6; Titus 3:5; Ezekiel 36:26-36)
Necessary for Sanctification
The Holy Spirit is necessary for sanctification.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
It is the Spirit that changes us; we cannot change our own hearts. We can change some of our behaviors temporarily with sheer willpower, and we can work on our attitudes and change some of the things we do, but we cannot change who we are. Changing our hearts is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is involved both in the act of sanctification and the process of sanctification, which means being set apart for Jesus. Paul writes to the Corinthians and says of their former lifestyles:
Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:11
The Spirit gives us the fruit the represents the character of Jesus, known as the fruit of the Spirit. It is by the Spirit that we are able to put to death the deeds of the body. (Romans 7:6; 8:13; 8:5-10; Galatians 5:16)
Necessary for Security
The Holy Spirit is necessary for security. God gave us the Holy Spirit as a pledge of our inheritance (Ephesians 1). We are sealed, marked, and identified as God’s by the Holy Spirit. The psalmist says, “Where can I go from thy Spirit? or where can I flee from your presence?” There is no place, there is no time, there is no state of being that the Spirit of God is not with us. Nothing can separate us from the great love of God (Romans 8). This is the work of the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit gives us assurance and bears witness with our spirits. (Romans 8:16; 1 John 4:13)
Necessary for Service
The Holy Spirit is necessary for service. Jesus’ last words before his ascension in Acts 1 were, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you to be my witnesses…” There are examples of this throughout the New Testament: Stephen in Acts 6; Paul in Romans 15:19 and 1 Corinthians 2:4, where he said his preaching was a demonstration of the Spirit and of power; and Peter’s teaching in Acts 4. The Spirit gives gifts (1 Corinthians 12), directs us in prayer (Romans 8:26) and gives us access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18).
We would not be here without the Holy Spirit. There would be no church, no salvation, no serving, no understanding of the things of God. The Holy Spirit is to our Christian life like air is to our lungs. They are more than compatible; the lungs were designed to receive air and bring health to our body. We are designed as followers of Christ to receive the Holy Spirit who brings life to our spiritual body. The goal is not to exalt the role of the Holy Spirit above His prescribed role in the Scriptures but to bring to light an understanding of His role so that Jesus may be exalted. Jesus is the thread that binds us.
We gather to Jesus, for Jesus and about Jesus but we can do that more effectively as we understand the great gift He gave us in the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “It is better that I go.” It is our prayer that over the next few weeks we will grow more comfortable with the work of the Spirit in our lives and in the lives of others to exalt the person and work of Jesus, to be His bride, the church as He designed her for His glory.
1 Christianity Today, October 2014, “New Poll Finds Evangelical’s Favorite Heresies”, Kevin P Emmerit