February 7, 2016
How many of you have a bank account? I expected that everyone’s hand would go up since it’s very difficult to live without a bank account. Every month you get a statement from the bank which shows all the financial transactions you have made in regard to that account. You see every withdrawal and every deposit, and then the statement tells you how much money you have in the account.
Of course you need to make sure your records are consistent with the bank statement. But once we see the amount we have in our account we don’t usually go to the bank and say, “Show me the money. I want to make sure the money is there.” Rather we continue to live basing our spending on the amount printed on the statement.
This is how it is with God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told us that he would send the Holy Spirit who would live in us. Reading Jesus’ words is like reading our bank statement. We don’t have to try to determine whether or not we have the Holy Spirit. Jesus says we have him. So now we must live on the basis of that reality. This morning we continue to consider the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Every believer has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.
IV. THE HOLY SPIRIT GIFTS US FOR SERVICE. Rm.12; 1Cor.12-14; Eph.4
Throughout all of history God has revealed himself in various ways, but the most significant and clearest revelation of God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus has revealed to us exactly what God is like. Jesus Christ is God with skin on. But of course, Jesus has ascended to the Father. When the Holy Spirit was given, he came to dwell within the life of every believer. Do you see where I’m going with this? There is a sense in which as Christians we are like Jesus. We are not God, but because God dwells in us, we embody God.
I realize there is a big difference between us and Jesus, but the principle is there. God dwells in us through the Holy Spirit. And that being the case, we can expect that God wants to use us in service to others. Isn’t that what Jesus said? He said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." If you know Christ and his Spirit is dwelling in you, you will come to serve. Now how does God want to use you in service?
In Rm.12, 1Cor.12-14, and Eph.4 we find reference to spiritual gifts. What are spiritual gifts? Well, let me say that there is nothing weird or strange about spiritual gifts. When we read the various examples of spiritual gifts in these passages we see that many of the gifts are part and parcel of living the Christian life. For example. In Rm.12:7-8, we read about the gifts of prophecy, serving, teaching, generosity, and acts of mercy. Well, all believers are to be involved in these things. In the New Testament we are encouraged to pray for healing, to witness for Christ, and to build up the body of Christ.
When we speak of spiritual gifts we are saying that the Holy Spirit takes one of these normal activities of service and gives a special enabling to do that activity. In his book, “Jesus Continued,” J.D. Greear points out that “a spiritual gift usually reveals itself in the confluence of what we are passionate about, what we’re good at and the affirmation of others.” In other words spiritual gifts are not shrouded in mystery. Your spiritual gifts are going to fit with who God made you to be.
What is more, we don’t find our spiritual gift by taking spiritual gift inventories. That strikes me as a particularly American thing to do. I’m not saying there is no value to spiritual gift inventories, but I think there is a better way. Serving is the better way. As we serve to build up the body of Christ we gain valuable experience and wisdom about how God can best use us.
This is not such a foreign idea. We have all known people who have gone to school to train for a certain vocation. But once they got into the job they discovered that this vocation was not for them. Practical experience opened their eyes. As we serve in the Church we begin to discover that God more effectively uses us in some ways rather than others. Maybe as you serve in some way you find there is joy in that service and maybe a brother or sister comes to you and says, “Thank you so much. Your ministry here is such an encouragement.”
Let me give you a personal example. As a college student I was asked to teach an adult class in our church. The people in the class were all older than me. I enjoyed putting the lessons together and teaching them, and a number of people told me that they appreciated my teaching style, etc. That was an affirmation for me. On the other hand, when I was serving as a short term missionary in Cameroon, I was asked to serve as the bursar of the Bible College in Ndu. Well, I can tell that no one affirmed any sort of gifting in that area, especially after learning that when I was short I would add my own money to cover the loss and then would pay myself back. I tried to do my best but it’s just not my spiritual gift.
We learn about our spiritual gifts by actually serving to build up the body of Christ. And again, the operative word is “serving.” Because Jesus came to serve, those who have the Holy Spirit will also serve. Serving is in the heart of God. Before you become frustrated about not knowing your spiritual gift, ask yourself if you have a desire to serve the Lord and build up his church? We live in a culture that is very me centered. Part of the reason for this is that our culture is so mobile and fragmented that it is difficult to experience community. We don’t want to invest the time and hard work of cultivating a history with people we don’t know. So many view church as a place to take in a morning service and then leave, with little sense of community or partnership or ministry. The Holy Spirit is always going to move a believer to be involved in service to the saints in a particular local church.
And this leads me to say that your gift enables you to give to others. We are gifted by the Holy Spirit to be givers of God’s grace to others in such a way as to help the body of Christ become a unified expression of God’s love in this world. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Paul writes in Eph.4, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
The spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit cannot be divorced from the local church. Spiritual gifts are not given for individual benefit and glory. Individual growth is a byproduct of our serving others with our spiritual gifts. If the Holy Spirit seeks to glorify Christ then when he gives a spiritual gift it is also going to be used to glorify Christ in his church.
So as you take inventory of your life, do you find that you have a desire to serve the body of Christ using the gifts God has given you? If not, what’s going on in you? What is the spiritual condition of your life?
V. THE HOLY SPIRIT EMPOWERS US FOR WITNESS.
What would you say is God’s mission in the world? It’s a big question and the answer is multifaceted. We can go back to Gen.12 where we read about God’s call to Abraham. God called Abraham and made some amazing promises to him and then he said to Abraham, “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
As you know, Abraham was the father of the nation of Israel. God called Israel to be a light to the nations. Israel was to show the world how marvelous it is to have God as king. But Israel failed in this mission by turning away from God to be like the world. What Israel failed to do Jesus accomplished. Jesus came into the world to show how marvelous the kingdom of God is and how everyone can enter into the kingdom of God and live under the good rule of God by embracing Jesus Christ, the King. Jesus did everything necessary to open the door for you and me to enter into the kingdom of God.
After Jesus rose from the dead and before ascending to the Father, he said to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." And in Acts 1:8 Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
What is God’s mission? God is calling people to himself through Jesus Christ. When Jesus was on earth he said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." That’s the mission and today God is using the church, believers, to seek and to save the Lost. The church and every individual believer are his witnesses. God displays his kingdom through his people. Every believer is called to live as a surrendered subject of Jesus Christ, our King. Throughout the gospels we read that Jesus acted in the power of the Holy Spirit. Isn’t that interesting? In Lk.4:14 we read, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee.” In Mt.12:28 Jesus says, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” There are numerous references like this. Jesus conducted his ministry by the Holy Spirit. And now we have the same Holy Spirit. And since the Holy Spirit is fully God, we know that he is all about fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ.
And since the Holy Spirit seeks to call attention to Jesus, I believe we can look at Jesus to see how we are to be his witnesses. How did Jesus call people? When he came, Jesus displayed the goodness of God. He embodied the love of God. He blessed many people by serving, by helping them. But Jesus didn’t just do good things. Jesus spoke the good news of the gospel, calling men and women to willingly embrace him as their Savior and King by entrusting their life to him and following him. He called people to trust him for the forgiveness of sins and new living in the kingdom of God. The gospel of forgiveness and life was embodied in the words and actions of Jesus. Our witness is seen in living out the gospel that is changing our lives.
Just as Jesus relied on the Holy Spirit, so we must rely on the Holy Spirit as we live out the gospel. Witnessing is something we do, but we do it because of who we are in Christ. If you are a Christian you are a walking, talking, spirit empowered presenter of Jesus Christ and his gospel of life.
We have the privilege of having Kevin Wood in our congregation. Kevin is a professional portrayer of Abraham Lincoln. He looks like Abraham Lincoln. He dresses like Abraham Lincoln and he even talks using the very words of Abraham Lincoln. But of course he is not Abraham Lincoln. In reality he pretends to be Abraham Lincoln.
Now in some ways as Christians we are portrayers of Jesus Christ. But we are not pretenders. Why? It’s because the Spirit of Jesus lives in us and empowers us to be like Jesus himself. In fact we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Christ is our very life.
Just as Jesus was dependent upon the Holy Spirit, so as Christians we seek to be dependent upon the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus lived and spoke the gospel by the Holy Spirit, so we live and speak the gospel by the Holy Spirit. This is why everywhere we go and everyone we interact with comes under the influence of Jesus through our lives by what we do and say.
The old Gospel song says: “How I praise Thee, precious Savior, That Thy love laid hold of me; Thou hast saved and cleansed and filled me, That I might Thy channel be. Just a channel full of blessing, To the thirsty hearts around; To tell out Thy full salvation, All Thy loving message sound. Channels only, blessed Master, But with all Thy wondrous pow’r, Flowing through us, Thou canst use us, Every day and every hour.”
The expression “channeling” is used in the context of mediums and the occult. “Channelers are basically psychic mediums with a specialty. They focus on communicating with spirit guides, ascended masters and angels. Traditionally, channelers are channeling messages from advanced spirits, usually to communicate spiritual wisdom about life and the afterlife.” We are certainly not channelers in this sense. But we do present the reality of Jesus Christ because Christ dwells in us through his Spirit.
Now I’ve been a Christian for a long time. I know every excuse for not being a witness for Jesus Christ. I know the challenges and the fears. I know the guilt that comes with not witnessing and I know how it feels to force my witness on others. Perhaps you can relate. Men and women, the secret of witnessing is found in humble, intentional dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Because as we depend upon the Holy Spirit he will work in us the love of Jesus for all who need him. Every encounter we have is a witnessing encounter because we embody Christ through the Holy Spirit and Christ came to seek the lost.
Is this true in your life? Do you find that the Holy Spirit works in you a love for others and a longing for others to know Christ? If not, what does that mean?
Now my prayer is that everyone of us will surrender our lives in a heartfelt way to the Lord and the Holy Spirit. Nothing lasting can be done apart from the Spirit of God who dwells in us. Amen