A story is told of a minister who was training a catechism class for a public recitation of the Apostles’ Creed. The first boy would say the phrase, “I believe in God the Father Almighty,” the second boy the next phrase and so on down the line until completion.
On this particular day they were well into the recitation when there was an awkward pause. Finally the silence was broken when a little voice piped up and said, “Excuse me sir, but the boy who believes in the Holy Ghost is missing today.”
Could it be in our lives today that those who believe in the Holy Spirit are missing? As we look at the Apostles’ Creed there are ten statements regarding Christ and yet only one regarding the Holy Spirit. That’s a ratio of ten to one. Samuel Chadwick, a Methodist minister of seventy years ago, said, “about represents the interest in the doctrine of the Spirit in the history of the church.”
As we saw over the last two weeks, the Creeds were fashioned primarily over the Jesus controversy. The church fathers haggled over His virgin birth, His Incarnation, the meaning of His death, and how He was present in Communion. Of the first ten controversies in the church, only one concerned itself with the identity of the Holy Spirit.
Throughout the history of the church, discussion of the Holy Spirit has always taken second place to other issues. What does it matter? When we determine our views on the Holy Spirit, everything else comes into view. What do I mean? Consider these questions and the Holy Spirit’s role in them:
· How is the Scripture inspired, and to what extent?
· Is it possible to be saved without knowing how?
· How are evil people converted at all?
· What is the role of the church?
· Who are its prophets?
Give me your doctrine on the Holy Spirit and I can give you your doctrine on the above matters.
Even today, even in our holiness churches, the Holy Spirit is forgotten. He’s become the forgotten middle child – He’s somewhat loved but forgotten in the day-to-day operations of the church. This morning, we specifically selected songs that dealt with the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. Many of our hymns are full of references to God and to Jesus, but they are lacking mention of the Holy Spirit. Although, some of the choruses mention the Holy Spirit (Holy Spirit, I appreciate you.) Up until a few years ago, many holiness churches didn’t even acknowledge Pentecost Sunday. That seems a little strange to me, considering that’s when the Holy Spirit came upon the church and it began its spread around the world. Part of the issue is that we feel that we are no more qualified to discuss the Holy Spirit than the second law of thermodynamics. Steve DeNeff writes, “that we, as a struggling church, labor incessantly to provide for ourselves the very things we are told He would give us, is evidence that while we strive to be Christians, we fully intend to be so without the Holy Spirit.
Let’s take a look at what Jesus said in John 16:7-16 concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in believers lives.
But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. 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 regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
I have much more to say to you, more than you now can bear. 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. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.
Of the four Gospel writers, John is the most direct about his witness to the Holy Spirit. There are twelve references to the Holy Spirit. Six outline the work of the Spirit in the life if Jesus. A second group of six tells how the Holy Spirit will help us, since we are the sequel to Jesus’ earthly ministry. That is what we must see! The Holy Spirit is the Presence of Christ in our lives today. He has come, in us, to finish what Jesus began.
Jesus’ disciples had an advantage over us in that they had Jesus walking with them. When they had questions, they could ask Him. But as the time of His death approached He made sure they knew that He was leaving, and then He reassures them that they won’t be alone when He leaves them, because He will be sending someone (the counselor, the Holy Spirit) in His place. According to John there are two very important things that Jesus promised the Spirit would do. These are conviction and counsel.
Let’s take a look at the first. In John 16:8, Jesus said, “He will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.”
Steve DeNeff once compiled a list of silly, outrageous ways in which the church has tried to win people to Christ. Finally, he quit, realizing that there is no end to the depths to which the church will stoop in order to “win” one more soul. He tells of reading an advertisement for a computer that will call the new residents of your city for you. The ad proclaimed that “it knock on doors while you win souls.” What are some of the other methods? How about fake twenty-dollar bills, mock parking tickets, silly e-mail advising us to “forward this message if you love Jesus,” bait-and-switch door prizes, and slick television commercials about Jesus, “the perfect guy.” Social critic Neil Postman argues that “Christianity is a demanding and serious religion, and when it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.”
Is it any wonder that the world doesn’t take us seriously? Jesus said the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin. Another way to say this is that the Holy Spirit will expose the guilt of the world. As we look at the scriptures, the New Testament normally speaks of the Holy Spirit working in the life of the believer. As we consider this, we have to ask the question, “Do we really believe that the Holy Spirit has come with power in our lives?” The church today seems so paralyzed when it come to sin in the world. Could it be that we don’t have the Spirit in our lives? Could it be that we don’t believe in the power the Spirit gives us as believers? Where is the conviction of sin in people’s lives? Believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit ought to be exposing the guilt because that is what the Holy Spirit does. Apart from the Spirit’s convicting work, people can never see themselves as sinners.
Not only does the Holy Spirit convict us of sin, but he also reveals to us God’s righteousness. This is the righteousness brought about by Christ’s sacrificial death. No one but the Holy Spirit can reveal to a person that a righteous status before God does not depend on good works but on Christ’s death on a cross.
Not only does the Holy Sprit convict us of sin, and righteousness, but also comes in regard to judgment. The cross was God’s judgment on the world. John 12:31 states, “Jesus said, ‘This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’” The cross would seem to be Satan’s triumph; instead the cross was defeat, especially in light of Christ’s resurrection. Out of Christ’s death on the cross the greatest good would come into the world.
When God’s people are not filled with the Holy Spirit we are powerless. We are powerless to do anything about sin in our own lives. We are powerless to be righteous in God’s eyes. We are powerless to do anything about sin in the lives of our family, our friends, and other people. Without the Spirit in our lives we are powerless to do acts of service. Jesus Christ said the Holy Spirit would come into our lives so that we (as believers and as the church) would make a difference in the world. Without the Holy Spirit’s power even this preachers words are useless. Every week as I prepare, I pray for the Holy Spirit to work in the lives that are going to be hear each Sunday. I ask for the Spirit’s guidance as I prepare the worship. Sometimes, we view preparation as a quenching of the Spirit, but the Spirit can work as much in our planning as He can work on the spur of the moment.
Where the Spirit is, “He will convict men of sin, righteousness, and judgment.” Perhaps you’ve seen any number of courtroom dramas on television. The clever attorney comes at the witness with all kinds of questions, until the witness, who is the real culprit, admits, “I did it! It did it!” This is the meaning of Christ’s word convict. Where the Spirit is active, there is no way out. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit would fall upon our church. If he did, we would never be the same.
The Holy Spirit not only comes to convict, but He comes to give us wise counsel. Jesus even said that if I don’t go the Counselor will not come. What is a counselor? Jesus tells us in verse 13 that, “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” In essence and in action the Spirit is characterized by truth. The Spirit brings all people to the truth of God. Just as Jesus came to earth to personify God the Father, the Spirit is placed in our lives to guide us to the truth of God.
For a few years now, you may have heard the saying, “What would Jesus do?” For a while there was all kinds of merchandise asking that question. We are not supposed to wonder about what Jesus would do. But we are supposed to know by instinct. Former president Bill Clinton would walk around the White House while mulling over a decision and ask himself the question, “What would Abe Lincoln do?” Without the Holy Spirit in our lives we can wonder what we should do, but we will never know. Let’s take a look at what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:11-13 and 16. “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak…words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words…we have the mind of Christ.” It is through the Spirit that we can know God and his truth. It is through the Spirit that we can know Jesus Christ. This morning we can look around and see the story of Jesus through the stained glass windows of our church. But I challenge you to go outside and see what they look like. You can still get a feel for the pictures but they are dim. It’s only when you are on the inside that you see the story in full glorious light. This is what the Spirit does in our life. Without the Spirit we can hear the story but it seems dull and lifeless. With the Spirit the whole story comes alive.
Through the Spirit we can know Christ. Let me illustrate it this way. For several years, Pam and I wrote to Chaplain Ritchie and his family. We had some pictures so we could what he looked like and get to know him and his family better. It wasn’t until they came to visit us last November that we could really get to know them. That is what the Spirit does in our life. When we have the Spirit in our life, we can be with Christ and get to know Him. He becomes more than a picture. Without the Spirit the gospels are a script, but with the Spirit they are a complete play. When the Spirit is with us, Christ possesses us. Christ will speak for us. He will raise our children. He will spend our income. He will be our employer. We will live the life of Christ. But this is not possible except for the Holy Spirit.
It was the day of the final exam. The students of the first year chemistry class filed in for the exam. As a way to motivate her students to study, the teacher had promised that every student could bring to the test a single sheet of paper with as much information as they could fit onto it. Of course, most students wrote their notes tediously and very small. Others drew diagrams and formulas. Still others had written outlines that labeled everything they had crammed into their heads. Everyone had a different way of filling up his or her sheet. Everyone, that is, except a single student who confidently sat down and waited for the test to begin. As the exam was distributed, the student reached into his backpack and lifted out a blank sheet of paper. What was he going to do with that, the students wondered. Had he forgotten the assignment? But in a flash, he wafted the paper onto the floor next to his desk and motioned toward the door. Very gently, the door opened and a graduate student in chemistry walked over to the desk, placed one foot squarely on the blank sheet of paper, leaned over the freshman’s desk and prepared to take the exam with him.
That is a picture of how the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, to come along side of us and take life’s exam with us. We are glad for the notes God has given us – the Bible – but even more grateful that he comes and takes our tests with us.
We have the Spirit to thank for this. Let’s honor him by paying Him our attention, by giving Him our praise, by following His intuition, and submitting to His control.