2 Corinthians 3:17-18
We’ve spent the last two weeks talking about God – the Father, the Son, and today we’ll spend some time talking about the Holy Spirit.
In a discussion about God, you must realize that we are speaking of one who defies our understanding, our vocabulary, our ability to describe in any complete way. Though we are made in his image, he is unlike us in every way. He is not limited by time or space; he is perfect in power, in knowledge, in holiness. Even the designation “He” is inadequate, because though God is one, he exists in three distinct persons. He is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each is independent of the other, yet each is inextricably connected with the others. In John 17, in Jesus’ prayer for unity, he prayed this way: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23) Jesus describes this unity that has existed between the Father, Son and Spirit before the creation of the universe.
In Genesis 1 we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
From the very first verse of the Bible on, the Spirit of God is a constant presence throughout the Old Testament as God works in and among his people. There are 145 mentions of the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of God in the OT. So, he isn’t a newcomer on the scene when we open the pages of the New Testament.
But it is in the NT that we see the Holy Spirit in more detail and his role more clearly defined. You’ll find 388 mentions of the Holy Spirit in the NT, mentioned only slightly fewer times than Jesus or the Father. After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, he takes a prominent role in the life of the church, from the day of Pentecost forward.
As Jesus prepared his disciples for his death and his departure, he made a promise to them that he would not abandon them and leave them as orphans. And he tells them in John 14:16, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” After his resurrection as he appeared to his disciples he told them, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5)
They sat, they waited. I’m sure that morning of Pentecost didn’t have anything written on the calendar that said, “Holy Spirit comes today.” But as the 120 disciples were in the house where they gathered, Luke writes in Acts 2: Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Pentecost was a festival where thousands of Jews were gathered, and all of the disciples go out into the Temple courtyards where these festival goers gather around to see the spectacle. Peter stands up before the crowds and explains that what they are seeing is the promises of God in the OT being fulfilled that God would send his Spirit upon his people. Then he begins to tell them about Jesus and concludes by telling them that they had crucified the very Son of God only 50 days earlier.
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “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 promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:36-39)
That “gift of the Holy Spirit” which Peter promises is exactly what Jesus had spoken about just a few weeks earlier. This is God’s continuing, constant presence in our lives. When you are baptized into Christ, God’s Holy Spirit takes up residence and lives within you. It is more than just the influence of the Word as some try to explain it. This Spirit of God actually lives within you. That fact is confirmed over and over again in Scripture:
Paul will write in Romans 8:9, You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.
1 Cor. 3:16 – Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?
1 Cor. 6:19 – Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
Eph. 1:13 – Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.
In those early days of the church, we see a number of miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit as he confirms his presence and affirms the direction of the believers. We see miraculous signs and wonders and healings. People spoke in tongues (and you need to know that those tongues were actual languages that others understood – just read Acts 2 again – not the gibberish that is passed off as tongues in the modern Pentecostal movement). Healings were real healings – (you don’t see modern day faith healers show up at St. Jude Children’s Hospital and clear out the cancer ward.)
The miraculous gifts had a specific purpose – to affirm the work of God and legitimate the people who were being used by God in that work. The New Testament documents those occurrences and relates the events to which those miracles attested. As the time of the apostles drew to a close, those miraculous gifts came to a conclusion. By the time of the second century writers in the church, there was no more mention of these miraculous works of the Holy Spirit.
But don’t assume that the miraculous gifts were the only or even the primary way in which the Holy Spirit worked. In fact, the normative, daily workings of the Holy Spirit are much more impressive and powerful in their scope. If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit is working in you, or wants to work in you to make you the man or woman God designed you to be. But he will not work against your will and cannot force you to be something you don’t desire to be. So, it is vitally important that we know what the Holy Spirit does and how he works in God’s people and in his church today.
Let me help you think systematically through the New Testament as we consider the ways the Holy Spirit works in your life and my life today:
Let me try to group them under three large umbrellas:
• He Helps Us Do the Undoable
• He Helps Us Know the Unknowable
• He Helps Us Bear the Unbearable
He Helps Us Do the Undoable
What I mean by that is that the Spirit transforms and empowers us to live the life of a child of God and a follower of Jesus. Without the Spirit we are incapable of living that life.
2 Cor. 3:17-18 - Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Paul reminds us in Eph. 2, that we are dead in our transgressions and sins. We are incapable of living in any real sense because Satan has enslaved us. Only in Christ and through the power of the Spirit can we say no to Satan and be victorious over sin.
Romans 8:1-2 - Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
Romans 8:9-11 - You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
More than victory over sin, the Spirit makes it possible for us to live a life of holiness. In 1 Cor. 6, Paul describes the life of people in this world, consumed by sin, dominated by selfishness, completely without God. But then Paul says, something amazing happens:
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:11)
When Paul wrote that the Holy Spirit is transforming us into the likeness of Christ, what was he talking about, what does that look like? We get some more specifics in Galatians 5:22, where Paul describes our life in the Spirit in which the fruit of the Spirit begins to grow and develop in us: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Another part of our life in Christ and in his church, is our role within the body of Christ as he gives us gifts for serving. In 1 Cor. 12, Paul writes, There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Cor 12:4-7,11)
Speaking of the body of Christ, when you think about the difficulty of keeping unity and harmony within a diverse group of people who have nothing in common, [unity in the Spirit] Paul says we have one thing in common: Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4:3-6)
It is the Holy Spirit that makes unity in Christ possible. In so many ways we see the Spirit enabling us to do the undoable.
He Helps Us Know the Unknowable
What I mean by this is that the Bible tells us that the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
Let me share four scriptures that describe what that looks like:
In John 16, when Jesus was telling his disciples that he would die, but he would not leave them orphans, he told them that the Spirit would complete his teaching: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now 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.” (John 16:12-14)
How does he do that, in what way does he impart this truth? The apostle Peter would write: Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
In fact, Paul will call the Word of God the sword of the Spirit, and in 2 Tim. 3:16-17 will write, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
But it is more than simply words on a page. The Spirit brings an understanding and a perspective into our lives that the worldly person can never understand. Listen to 1 Cor. 2:9-16: However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”— but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 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, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord
that he may instruct him?”But we have the mind of Christ.
Only in Christ and through his Spirit can you really understand the Word of God and his will for your life. He is the one who teaches you and guides you through life.
He Helps Us Bear the Unbearable
One final way in which the Scripture says the Holy Spirit works in our lives is as our Counselor and Comforter.
Again, in those final days with his disciples, as he prepared them for his departure, when he told them about the coming Holy Spirit, he used these words to describe him: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The word that Jesus uses, translated “Counselor,” is the Greek word, parakaleo – one who is called alongside. He comes alongside us and helps us. He bears our burdens and makes the difficult times bearable. Paul describes what he does in Romans 8:26-27: In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
I don’t know whether you have ever really given much thought to the Holy Spirit and what he does in you and through you, but I hope this morning, you will commit to yielding your life to his work, his guidance and his transforming power.
I hope that you stand in awe of our awesome God.