January 31, 2016
Perhaps you hear a question like this every year. What gift would you like for your birthday or for Christmas? This question helps the gift giver and blesses a person with something they really want. Of course it does take away the element of surprise and honestly I have a hard time coming up with a list. Now suppose Jesus were to come to you and ask, what would you like me to give you? Wow! What would you ask for? I mean it’s Jesus! The sky is the limit. Fortunately Jesus knows what we really need and has given wonderful gifts to us.
So far in this series of messages called “Grace Gifts from Jesus to You,” we have noted the gifts of forgiveness and eternal living. Today I would like to focus in on a very significant gift. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost, Peter said in Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit is a gift which comes from God the Father and Jesus, God the Son. But let me be clear in saying that the Holy Spirit is also fully God. He is God the Holy Spirit. Every believer has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I. THE HOLY SPIRIT ASSURES US. Rm.8:16; Eph.1:13-14
In Jn.16 Jesus is explaining to his disciples that he will soon be returning to the Father. This was a reference to his ascension after he rose from the dead. Before his death on the cross the disciples enjoyed regular access to Jesus but when they heard that Jesus was leaving they were sorrowful. So in Jn.16:7, Jesus says, “Nevertheless, 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.”
Most of us would rather have access to Jesus in the flesh. But when Jesus was in the flesh he was only in one place at a time. By sending the Holy Spirit who would dwell within every believer, the presence of Jesus is with all of us, all the time. If you know Jesus Christ, you have the Holy Spirit in you. And one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to bring assurance to our hearts that we are children of God.
In Eph.1:13-14 Paul writes, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, 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.” In those days people would use a wax seal, indicating ownership. Even today some people use sealing wax to seal envelopes. The Holy Spirit who indwells us is God’s mark of ownership on our lives. And Paul tells us that the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of our inheritance that we will receive in full when we are with Jesus in glory. As we will see, the ministry of the Holy Spirit to our lives is tremendous, but there is much more to come when we are finally with the Lord
Let me read another passage. In Rm.8:15-17 Paul writes, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Rm.8 is a chapter in which Paul talks about living our lives in and by the Spirit of God. A believer is someone who is seeking to live a life that honors God. We will say more about this later. In the verses I just read, Paul points out that those who are trusting in Jesus for forgiveness and life are actually adopted into the family of God. Just as Jesus can call God his father, so also can we. Through Christ, we belong to God. Jesus is our Elder Brother. The Holy Spirit who indwells every believer bears an inner witness, an inner assurance that we are part of the family of God.
Now I believe that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is both an objective and subjective reality. When the Holy Spirit indwells us he ministers to us. I have known my share of doubt over the years. But I have found that when doubts arise there is also a deep awareness within myself that not only do I want to be a child of God, there is also an assurance that I am a child of God. But this is not just a feeling. And I would caution everyone to not rely on feelings when it comes to your standing in Christ. Now, if you are not seeking to honor God in your life, If you regularly, consistently pursue and allow sin to dwell in your life, it is probably good for you to question and doubt your salvation. Christians do not walk in the pathway of sin. Christians sin, to be sure, but Christians are grieved by their sin and regularly repent and confess their sin. Christians seek to resist and avoid sin.
When I speak about the assurance of the Holy Spirit it is more of a deep awareness that is rooted in my faith and the truth of God’s word. I see that the thrust of my heart, my mind, my actions is to honor Jesus Christ. That is what I want. I put my trust in God and His word which assures me that all who come to Jesus are kept by the power of God. At the end of the day, Christians must walk by faith and not by sight and feeling. As we live by the Spirit we are granted his assurance that we belong to God and are in his family.
II. THE HOLY SPIRIT GUIDES US. Jn.16:13; 14:26
Perhaps this is the moment to mention that the Holy Spirit, does not call attention to himself. In Jn.16:14, Jesus says about the Holy Spirit, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The Holy Spirit seeks to point everyone to Jesus and to honor Jesus. This is one reason why our experience with the Holy Spirit can be a bit mysterious. He is not trying to call attention to himself. He dwells within us and works in us and we can’t always discern his work in our lives. Nor can we put him in a box. This is seen in Scripture again and again. Jesus likened the work of the Spirit to the wind. We don’t know where the wind comes from or where it is going. Throughout the book of Acts there are many places where it talks about the leading, the guiding of the Holy Spirit, but it doesn’t specify exactly how that guidance actually occurred.
In Jn.16:13 Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
In his book, Jesus Continued, J.D. Greear identifies 6 ways in which we experience the Holy Spirit’s presence and guidance. These 6 ways are, the Gospel, the Word of God, our giftings, the Church, our spirit, our circumstances. First he says that the Holy Spirit’s presence is linked to the gospel itself. It is the Holy Spirit who draws us to Christ, convincing us of our sin and our need for Christ. The Spirit is the one who enables us to be born again. This is the beginning of the Spirit’s ministry in our lives.
The Holy Spirit also works through the Word of God. And we must think about this. In Jn.14:26 Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
If you don’t remember anything from this message, please remember this. The Holy Spirit always speaks either through the Word of God or in accord with the Word of God. What do I mean? Well, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will bring to mind all that Jesus said. The words of Jesus available to us are found in Scripture. I realize that scripture has more than just the words of Jesus, and so I want to expand this thought to include the entire word of God because Jesus is fully God.
Here’s the point. Since the scripture is God’s word to us, we can fully expect that when we read it and as we put it in our hearts and minds, the Holy Spirit will use it to guide us. After all, the Holy Spirit is fully God. I realize that all of us would like the Holy Spirit to tell us exactly what to do in the various decisions we must make in our lives. That’s important, but this is of first importance. How can the Holy Spirit speak to us if we do not concern ourselves with what he has already said? How can the Holy Spirit bring to our remembrance what Jesus has said if we don’t know what Jesus has said? Many believers do not attend to the word of God and their relationship with God suffers because of it. We limit the Holy Spirit by our unwillingness to pay attention to what he has said in the Word of God. The word of God is the foundation of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our lives. Most of what need to know for living a God honoring life is already found in the word of God.
Now there is no formula for gaining guidance from the Holy Spirit especially when it comes to circumstances that are not specifically addressed by Scripture. I’m referring to questions like, “Should I marry so and so? What school should I attend? As we look at the New Testament and listen to experiences of Christians we see the Holy Spirit uses many ways to guide his people.
Greear offers 4 ways that the Holy Spirit sometimes speaks to us. First he refers to particular prayer burdens. There are times when we are in prayer and we sense that we ought to pray for a certain person or situation. Maybe you have been awakened in the middle of the night with a burden to pray for a specific person or situation only to discover that at that very moment that person was in trouble. Maybe the Holy Spirit brings a specific scripture to mind as you pray. Again, having the word of God in our minds gives the Spirit greater opportunity to use us in prayer.
Then he refers to special insights into people and situations. Maybe as you are praying with someone you sense that you ought to pray in a specific way in which God wants work in that person’s life. Maybe God gives you foreknowledge about a situation that you need to be prepared for. In Acts 11 Paul was given foreknowledge about the shipwreck and how everyone could be rescued. Sometimes we may have a sense that the Holy Spirit is leading us to do a specific thing or say some specific thing to someone.
Next Greear refers to holy ambitions. Paul had an ambition to preach the gospel in Rome. We don’t read anywhere that God told him to go to Rome. In Acts 17:16, we read, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” An opportunity opened for Paul to speak to some of the leading thinkers in Athens. Surely the Holy Spirit was involved even though it says that Paul was provoked in his spirit. It’s not always easy to know what is God’s Spirit or our spirit. Greear writes, “Provocations in my spirit are often provocations from God’s Spirit. Because our spirit has been united to God’s, unscrambling where ours stops and his begins can be difficult, if not impossible.” Not every ambition is from the Holy Spirit, but God can surely use holy discontent, holy ambition. Finally Greear points to dreams and visions. We hear a great deal about how God is using dreams to reveal Christ and the gospel among Muslim men and women.
Now, it is important that we hold these things loosely. Many people make claims that the Holy Spirit has spoken to them. Greear writes, “To be honest I probably don’t believe 60% of the ‘miracles,’ ‘visions,’ or ‘God told me’ reports that I hear!” If you believe the Holy Spirit is guiding you in a certain way it is good to seek confirmation in prayer and from the counsel of others.
Finally Greear says that the Holy Spirit uses circumstances to guide us. In Acts 16 Paul wanted to go into Asia, but the Holy Spirit kept them from doing that. We don’t know how that happened but Paul concluded that it wasn’t time to go into Asia. Many years ago Jim Elliot and 4 other missionaries believed God wanted them to take the gospel to the Auca Indians in Ecuador. But when they finally made contact with the Auca Indians, all 5 were killed on Jan.8, 1956. Were they led by the Spirit? Some might conclude, “No. Look what happened.” But Jim’s widow, Elizabeth Elliot persevered and the whole tribe came to Christ. And through their martyrdom, many more men and women were called into missionary service. We do not always know what God is doing. And so at the end of the day we must trust in God to direct our steps even when we don’t get it right. God works in our lives and our circumstances to accomplish his purposes. We must look to him.
One final quote from Greear. “Hearing from God means balancing what God puts in your heart with how he guides you through other means, and trusting him all the way.”
III. THE HOLY SPIRIT HELPS US. Jn.14:15-16; Gal.5; Rm.8
In Jn.14:15-16, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” Those of us who are followers of Jesus want to keep his commandments, because we love him. He has rescued us from sin and destruction. But keeping his good commands can be challenging, so Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit to help us.
In Gal.5:22-23, Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” We cannot produce these virtues by ourselves. They are the fruit produced in us by the Holy Spirit.
Living out our life with Christ involves our becoming more and more like Jesus in character and conduct both when we are alone and with others. How on earth can we do this?
In Rm.8:1-2, we read, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Wow! Those of us who have turned to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and life are free from any condemnation because of ours sins. This is wonderful news. What assurance is ours.
But in Rm.8:5-6 Paul writes, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” And in Rm.8:12-13 Paul concludes, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Is Paul contradicting himself? Is it possible for a Christian to come back under the condemnation of God by living according to the sinful nature? A great deal has been written about this chapter.
Here is what I believe. I believe that when a person surrenders their life to Christ in faith, receiving from Jesus the forgiveness of sins and eternal living in the kingdom of God they begin to live a new life that is given by the Holy Spirit who comes to live in us. But what kind of life is it? How will this life be expressed in us? When we receive this new life, we are enabled by the Spirit to actually become like Jesus in our character and conduct. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t produce this life in us without our full participation. So there is work for us to do. We seek to resist temptation and sin. We seek to put to death the sinful habits and ways of thinking that have become embedded in our minds and bodies. And we do this by setting our hearts and minds on the things of the Holy Spirit, which are the things of Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, Peter writes, that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. The Holy Spirit is the Helper par excellence. The power of God for holy living resides in you if you know Christ. And so we must learn to lean into the Holy Spirit as we seek to obey the good commands of Jesus. We lean into the Holy Spirit by seeking him and relying on him because our very lives depend upon Him.
If you know Christ, you have the Holy Spirit? He is living in you. Does this make any difference for you? Do you seek the Holy Spirit’s assurance, guidance and help? We are Christians. We live in the kingdom of God as we journey through life on earth. The Holy Spirit is essential for our living as Christians in this world. Ask the Lord to fill you with his Spirit. Set your mind, your heart on the things that the Spirit desires found in the word of God. Amen