Does the Holy Spirit get upset when people ignore him? For many years, the Evangelical church in the US was accused of being Bitarian rather than Trinitarian because it talked about the Father and the Son but almost never about the Holy Spirit. Did the Holy Spirit feel like a third wheel in the trinity? Did the Holy Spirit ever want to say to the church, “What am I, chopped liver?” Should we try to make it up to the Holy Spirit by praying to him as well as praying to the Father and the Son? We sing a lot of songs about Jesus. Should we sing more songs about the Holy Spirit? Should we sing a third of our songs to the Father, a third to the Son and a third to the Holy Spirit so no one feels left out?
The problem with all these questions is that they assume there are three gods who compete for attention, but that is not the case. There is one God who is triune: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not need equal time. To pray to the Father is to pray to the Son and Spirit. To praise the Son is to praise the Father and Spirit. To submit to the Holy Spirit is to submit to the Father and Son. There is one God, not three gods.
There is one God but it is as if God presents himself in three different ways. God the Father is the creator of the universe, the first person in the Trinity. Jesus said only the Father knows the time of his return. God the Son is the human manifestation of God, our savior. Jesus is the one seated on the throne before whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is King of kings and Lord of lords. God the Holy Spirit is the power of God in this world. It is through the Holy Spirit that God’s will is accomplished.
There is one God but three different roles. And even here they are not so distinct. God created the universe but the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters at the beginning in Genesis and Paul in Colossians and the writer of Hebrews wrote that through Jesus everything was created. There are different roles but one God so we cannot always make clear, separate job descriptions to define each person of the Trinity.
You can see the problem in talking about the Trinity. As soon as I talk about the Holy Spirit I am talking about a person and in our minds that person is separate and distinct. But as I have mentioned in other sermons, the difficulty is that we are too limited to comprehend the complete view of God and so we are easily and understandably confused. We can only understand what is confined to our universe in time and space. God who exists outside of our time and space is going to be far more than we can grasp.
When the church has focused on God the Father and God the Son but ignored God the Holy Spirit, the triune God has not suffered – the church has suffered because we have limited ourselves to only a part of the work of God in the world. The Holy Spirit does not have self-esteem issues that we need to correct; we have an inadequate view of God that deprives us of all that God has to offer.
When you talk about God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be deliberate about resting in the mystery of what we cannot comprehend. Don’t be nervous about making seemingly contradictory statements. When we talk about the Holy Spirit we do so as if he were a distinct person, but we do that because we have no other way of talking about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God just as the Father and the Son are God.
Be careful not to become confused by the Trinity. We worship one God in three persons. The persons are not separate in being but they are differentiated by roles. God the Father sent Jesus to be our savior and when Jesus ascended, he sent the Holy Spirit. When we pray, we pray to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. But we pray to one God.
What is the role the Holy Spirit plays?
The first and most important role is that he came to glorify Jesus. In Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit in John 16 he said
[The Holy Spirit] will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
“He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
J. I. Packer tells the story of a beautiful cathedral in Vancouver, which is spectactularly floodlit at night. It would be crazy to visit the cathedral at night and stare into the floodlights. For one, you would probably damage your eyes and secondly, the purpose of the lights is not to be looked at but to light up the cathedral and expose its beauty in the night. In the same way, says Packer, the Holy Spirit is not given so he may bring attention to himself, but in order to expose the glory of Christ amid the dark night of sin and death. We need the Holy Spirit to illuminate Christ, but it is Christ who is the focus of our wonder.
This is why in our worship this morning, on a Sunday when we are focusing on the Holy Spirit, we sang songs of praise to Jesus. This is what the Holy Spirit wants us to do. This is why the Holy Spirit came, to lift up and bring glory to Jesus and in this sermon with an overview of the Holy Spirit, this is the thread that will connect it all.
When the church ignores the Holy Spirit, it fails to lift up Jesus and glorify him as we should.
One of the ways the Holy Spirit lifts up and glorifies Jesus is to work with us to make us more holy.
Paul wrote of two stages of salvation in his letter to the church in Rome. The first stage is justification which takes place the moment we surrender to Jesus and accept his gift of salvation. We are instantly made right in the eyes of God because the righteousness of Jesus is given to us. We are justified in the eyes of God.
The second stage begins at that moment when we are justified. The Holy Spirit is given to us as a guarantee that we have been saved and then begins to work in us to make us more like Jesus. This second stage of salvation is called sanctification and it is our responsibility to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as we are gradually transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
As we become more like Jesus, we increasingly reflect Jesus to others in our actions. People see Jesus in us and that brings him glory.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit, to bring glory to Jesus. Part of how he does this is to transform us so we more and more reflect Jesus in our lives. How does he work in our lives?
First of all, the Holy Spirit is the giver of life.
In both the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, the words for “breath”, “wind”, and “spirit” are the same. When you read the Bible, it helps to keep this in mind and you will pick up insights that otherwise might be missed.
The Holy Spirit was active in the beginning of creation and in Genesis 2:7 we read:
then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
The Spirit breathed spirit, breath into Adam and he was created in the image of God. The image of God is not two legs, two arms, a head and shoulders and body. The image of God is the spirit that is breathed into us.
I was with my father when he died three years ago. One moment he was sitting on a chair, trying to breathe and the next he was a corpse on the floor. Even when he was sitting on the chair in his poor health, he looked alive. But almost instantly, he became a corpse with no life. The rapid change was stunning. Without spirit we are nothing.
We see this also in the vision God gave Ezekiel. (Ezekiel 37:1–14)
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.
God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones and as he did, the bones became connected with muscles and flesh.
8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.
There were bodies but no spirit. So God told Ezekiel
“Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
Ezekiel saw the bones become connected and flesh covered them but they were simply corpses until Ezekiel called on breath, the Spirit, to breath spirit into them.
This is a picture of what happens to us in our salvation when we call on Jesus and ask for forgiveness. It is the Holy Spirit who comes and breathes life into us. With the presence of the Holy Spirit the truths of God begin to make sense. We come to life when we are filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit brings us life and then in his ongoing work in us, he convicts us of sin.
How do we know in what way we need to become more like Jesus? How do we know when we have sinned? The Bible is given to us to help us know how God wants us to live. But the Holy Spirit is also at work in us to encourage us to live obedient lives.
If I asked you to close your eyes and pray with me that God would bring to mind the ways in which we have sinned, there would be for most of us a thought that would come to our mind, some situation or some action. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. This is not the same as our conscience, but the Holy Spirit uses our conscience as a tool to shape us and mold us to be more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit leads us to an awareness of sin so that we can confess our sin, make necessary changes in our behavior or attitude, and become more like Jesus.
The Holy Spirit brings us life, convicts us of sin and leads us into all truth. Jesus said in John 16:13
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth,
There are a lot of preachers and teachers and books and blogs and magazines. Among all the things that are said and written, how are we to know what is true and what is not? How are we to distinguish between what is from God and what is merely the invention of humans?
The adult Sunday School class is listening to lectures from Gordon Fee that are helping us learn how to read the Bible and understand the truths in the Bible. It is important that we use our minds and these lectures are proving to be exceptionally helpful to us. But as Fee points out, even in commentaries, there are false understandings and we need to be able to distinguish between good and bad insights into Scripture.
The Holy Spirit guides us and leads us to the truth necessary for us to be saved and necessary for us to work with Jesus for the salvation of others. Christians do not all agree on every point, but the Spirit works to lead us into agreement on the essential truths for salvation of ourselves and others.
The Holy Spirit brings us life, convicts us of sin and leads us into truth because this is the way we become transformed into men and women who reflect Jesus in their lives. In this way Jesus is lifted up and receives glory.
As we become more like Jesus, we have more of what Paul called in Galatians, the fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22–23)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
The fruit of the Spirit is a description of the ways we become more like Jesus. These are not gifts given to us. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are something else. The fruit of the Spirit is the result of our cooperation with the Holy Spirit in our transformation into being more like Jesus.
An apple tree does not receive the gift of an apple. It sends roots deep into the soil and absorbs water and nutrients. It takes the rays of the sun and grows and then apples are what happen. In the same way, we are led by the Holy Spirit into conviction of sin and into truth and as we cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit, the result is we become more patient, more kind, more faithful, more loving and so on. The fruit of the Spirit become more and more evident in our lives.
If you decide you need to have more joy in your life, the answer is not to do things to make yourself more joyful, the answer is to devote yourself to Jesus, cling to the vine and his life in you will make you a person with deeper joy.
God wants you to grow in faith and become more like Jesus but his desire for you does not stop there. God wants you to have the privilege of working with him to encourage those around you to consider faith in Jesus and to grow in knowledge of him. For this reason the Holy Spirit gives us gifts.
Each Christian receives from the Holy Spirit at least one spiritual gift. It may be caring for others, teaching, supporting and encouraging others, healing, or one of the many other gifts mentioned in the Bible.
But these are given to you; they are not the natural consequence of growing in faith and becoming more like Jesus. They are tools for you to use as you work alongside Jesus as he builds his kingdom. Spiritual gifts are given so the whole body of Christ will grow and become more like Jesus and once again, Jesus will receive glory as the church reflects who he is.
Spiritual gifts are not given to make you more important or to give you a more exalted position in the church, they are given to build up the church so that Jesus will receive more glory.
As you can tell, I am moving along quickly, giving a brief overview of the work of the Holy Spirit. If you are not familiar with the fruit of the Spirit or with spiritual gifts, then there are some excellent resources for you to study. Talk to me and I can help you with these.
My point is that spiritual gifts and all the rest of the work of the Holy Spirit is directed toward Jesus being glorified. This is the primary work of the Holy Spirit and the glorification of Jesus needs to be our focus and goal as well.
Let me speak about three warnings in the Bible about what not to do with the Holy Spirit.
The first is found in Ephesians 4:29–32
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.
What does Paul mean by that? Well, look at the context. The verse before talks about not allowing corrupting talk to come out of our mouths. The verse afterwards talks about putting away bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice. And then the next verse gives the positive. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
When you become a follower of Jesus, you no longer travel alone. The Holy Spirit dwells with you. So wherever you go, the Holy Spirit goes with you. If you step into a meeting and are meanspirited or gossip, you bring the Holy Spirit with you into your evil behavior. If you are bitter or angry, you are bitter and angry in the presence of the Holy Spirit. And when you drag the Holy Spirit into evil behavior, you grieve the Holy Spirit. We grieve the Holy Spirit by sinning.
Paul talked about this in his letter to the church in Corinth. Prostitution was an important part of the daily life of the Corinthians. Prostitution was part of the worship at the temple to Aphrodite. So some of the new believers thought since faith in Jesus was spiritual, it did not matter what they did with their bodies and they could continue with the cultural practice of prostitution.
But Paul wrote to them: 1 Corinthians 6:15–2
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
When you go to a prostitute, you drag the Holy Spirit along with you. When you have sexual relationships outside of the covenant of marriage, you do this with the Holy Spirit’s presence. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit with your sin.
When you sit down at the computer and begin clicking your way into pornographic websites, you are not alone; the Holy Spirit is being pulled along with you. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.
When you sin, you sin against God because God is present with you and you bring God into your sin. This is why when we sin, we sin first and foremost against God. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.
There is a second warning in Mark 3:28–30
“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
There are a lot of Christians who are concerned with this warning because the Bible says this is the only sin for which there is not forgiveness.
One of my problems with Christians being preoccupied with this verse is that it is like stepping into a Garden of Eden, only this garden is a Garden of Sin. And God says, you can eat the fruit of any tree you want and you can be forgiven, but do not touch the one in the middle, for that one, there is no forgiveness.
It is as if Christians are saying, “Let me know which sins I can get away with and when I know which one is an absolute forbidden sin, then I will take special care to make sure I do not commit that sin.” How ridiculous.
We are to avoid all sin. All sin grieves the Holy Spirit. All sin weakens our witness for Jesus. All sin diminishes the glory of Jesus.
So what is the sin of blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? Once again, look at the context.
What were they saying about Jesus? In verse 30 they were saying Jesus had an unclean spirit. They were saying Jesus came from the devil.
The Holy Spirit came to lift up Jesus and give him glory. When someone rejects the testimony of the Holy Spirit about Jesus, they reject Jesus and to reject Jesus is to suffer the consequences of refusing the gift of salvation. Eternal separation from God, eternal hell is the consequence of rejecting Jesus.
The sin of blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is not a specific action, it is a rejection of Jesus who came to save us. So don’t refuse the gift of salvation. Grab hold with gratitude and persevere.
As to all the other behaviors for which you can receive forgiveness, resist sin. Don’t think for a moment that you can pull one over on God, that you can beat the system. God looks in your heart. He knows your deepest thoughts. Avoid any of the fruit in the Garden of Sin. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit.
The third warning is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:19
Do not quench the Spirit.
What does this mean? Once again, look at the context.
Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
There was a problem in the church in Thessalonica with the gift of prophecy and Paul urged the church not to reject or limit the use of the gift of prophecy. He encouraged the use of the gift of discernment to make sure the prophecy was from God, but the gift was not to be discouraged.
When we set limits on what the Holy Spirit can do and cannot do, we quench the Holy Spirit. I understand there is a range of views within RIC about spiritual gifts. All I will say here is that we need everything God can give us to live our lives for him and be useful to him in his work as he builds his kingdom. So be open and trusting and ask God for every gift he has for you. If you ask him for bread he will not give you a stone.
Let me end this sermon with an encouragement.
What would have happened to you if God had reached down to you, rescued you, saved you, patted you on the back, said, “Be good. I’ll see you at the end,” and then left you to yourself? Where would you be today?
I know where I would be, back where I was before I was rescued. I am not capable of living a life pleasing to God on my own. I need help and over the years, I have been amazed at how patient God has been with me, picking me up when I have fallen, helping me once again to get on with living my life for him.
The presence of the Holy Spirit in your life is an amazing gift. This is why we are cautioned not to grieve or quench the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is with us on the most exciting adventure we could ever have. We are on our way to the Eternal City and we are not alone.
When we first surrendered to Jesus and gave him our lives, we received the gift of salvation. But there is far more in that gift than we imagined. Michael Horton, in one of the books I am using in this series of sermons on the Apostles’ Creed, points out that many Christian self-help books promise paths to spiritual power. They tell us we need to do certain things and then we will receive the power of God in our lives. But Scripture assures us that spiritual power is not our goal, it is our possession. Every believer already possesses every spiritual blessing in union with Christ.
When we received the gift of salvation, the Holy Spirit came to dwell in us. With his presence we have all the spiritual power we will ever need to live our lives with Jesus and to work alongside him as he builds his kingdom. All we need to do is dig into the present we were given and discover what we already have been given.
It is like me getting a new laptop. I open it up and begin using it but I am only using a very small part of all that it is capable of doing. The Holy Spirit helps us to find what we need and teaches us how to use what we have been given. There is so much more we are capable of than what we presently are doing. If you have given your life to Jesus, then the Holy Spirit has an incredible adventure ahead of you.
Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, The Message, captures this sense of adventure that is ours when we open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, when we turn from the world and are led by the Holy Spirit into God’s plan for us. (Romans 8:12–17)
12–14 So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!
15–17 This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!
Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit by dragging him along in your sin. Don’t quench the Holy Spirit by limiting his work in your life. Cooperate with the Holy Spirit in his work to bring life to you, to open you to the full potential of the gift that was given to you when your first opened yourself to Jesus. Cooperate with the Holy Spirit and bring glory to Jesus.