INTRODUCTION – Over 40 years ago Billy Graham wrote an article called “Challenge for a Floundering Church”. He cites about seven or so major changes he believed needed to happen in the floundering church in America. These observations came from all of his travels and interactions with church leaders throughout our nation over many years. Here’s his third suggestion for change:
“Third, I would teach the necessity of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. The disciples were nothing before Pentecost. They were everything after it. When we read about famous Christians down through the centuries, we cannot escape the tremendous emphasis of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The church today has all the tools for conquest—money, edifices, organizations, education and methods. But we lack the God-given spark to ignite these things into a spiritual fire that could sweep the world and help bring peace to our desperate world. That spark is the personal infilling of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer, without which the church has no spiritual power.”
A.W. Tozer impacted the church in America like few others in the first half of the 20thcentury. He pastored in Chicago for 30 years and then in Toronoto until he somewhat retired. He wrote 40 books including the classics “The Pursuit of God” and “The knowledge of the Holy”. Some called him a modern day prophet. He said re: the church and the Holy Spirit, “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference”
Samuel Chadwick, one of the greatest ever Methodist preachers and a champion for revival in the late 1800’s said re: the church and the Holy Spirit, – “The root-trouble of the present distress is that the Church has more faith in the world and the flesh than in the Holy Ghost, and things will get no better till we get back to His realized presence and power.”
Francis Chan in an interview in March of 2018 said, – – “There is a big gap between what we read in Scripture about the Holy Spirit and how most believers and churches operate today. In many modern churches, you would be stunned by the apparent absence of the Spirit in any manifest way. And this, I believe, is the crux of the problem.”
So that’s a bit about our problem. But here’s the thing. If the lack of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power is our problem; then His realized or manifest presence and power is our solution! Throughout church history there have been times where the problem seemed insurmountable, but a remnant of sons and daughters of the king didn’t give up, and kept crying out for more of the Holy Spirit, and God the Father granted them their request.
Isn’t that what we see in the book of Acts? Thousands of people had been following Jesus – absolutely awed by His miracles and His teachings as seen in the four gospel accounts. But when He was unlawfully arrested and then ruthlessly crucified, the movement He had started seemed all but over. But the Holy Spirit raised Him from the dead after three days the scriptures tell us. And He appeared over a forty day period to about 500 people helping them all understand that it was always part of God’s plan for Him to die for our sins and then to rise from the dead to continue to lead His disciples forward. Before He ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father in heaven He gave final instructions to His closest band of disciples – the 12 minus Judas and some women who often traveled with them and some other disciples. He instructed them to gather in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit, which they obediently and somewhat fearfully did for days before the Holy Spirit invaded their room and supernaturally enabled all of them to speak in foreign languages they had never learned, which drew a huge crowd, which caused formerly fearful and timid Peter to stand up and preach a sermon so bold and so powerful that 3,000 people repented of their sins, and embraced the risen Christ as their personal Savior and Lord, followed by baptism.
If you’ve read the book of Acts you know almost every page speaks of the mighty works of the Holy Spirit through a group of people who used to argue among themselves about who was the greatest, and who dissed children and who dissed women and who dissed emotional displays of worship and who fell asleep when they were asked by Jesus to pray, etc. It is an amazing and thrilling story of what the Holy Spirit can do in and through His people, and probably the primary reason why these leaders I quoted to you earlier said the things they said.
My contention this morning is the Holy Spirit is yearning to do even greater works than these in and through you and me. So to pave the way for that I would like to review with you who He is and what He is like. Because as Joshua taught us last week, the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force or a vibe or an energy field, or a cosmic genie; rather He is a person; a person that Jesus Christ went to great lengths to reveal to His disciples in those last hours He had with them.
We are going to look at four aspects of His person this morning rather quickly, because I want us to spend some time in prayer afterwards. And the first one is this:
He is fully God – The Holy Spirit is equal in deity with God the Father and God the Son –
Jesus said these words to His disciples, after He had risen from the dead and right before He ascended to heaven, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19,20
Clearly new believers in Jesus were meant to know God as the triune God that He is. Clearly their new identity as disciples was to be grounded in the knowledge and experience of God the Father, God the Son & God the Holy Spirit.
When Peter rebuked Annanias and Sapphira for lying and pretending to be someone they were not in the early church in Jerusalem, he said these words, “…Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spiritand to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God?” Acts 5:3,4;
In Peter’s mind, the Holy Spirit and God were one and the same.
So this means that when the Bible says “Nothing is too difficult for You” this is true of the Holy Spirit; and when the Bible says “Nothing will be impossible with God” – this is true of the Holy Spirit; and thus when the Bible says He will convict the world of sin and judgment and righteousness, no amount of post modernism or central coastianity or new age fluff or any other ism will prevent Him from accomplishing His convicting work. Or When the Bible speaks of His sanctifying work in the lives of we believers, no amount of sin or corruption or defilement in our past will keep Him from accomplishing this precious sanctifying work – making us more and more like Jesus.
Well not only is He fully God; He is also HOLY.
The Spirit of God has a number of names or titles in the scriptures, but by far the most prevalent one in the New Testament is He is the Holy Spirit. 92 x’s He is referred to as such in the New Testament.
So what does it mean when the scriptures say He is the HOLY Spirit?
Well the greek word translated Holy has the idea of “distinction” or “apartness”. One theologian spoke of Him as “Wholly other”. Another scholar put it this way: “God the Holy Spirit is apart and distinct from all that is impotent and impure. He is distinct and separate from all created beings and false gods; there is no one like Him in any way or in any place. The evidence for this is found in His righteousness and His power; He is not sinful and impure as man or gods, neither is He impotent as man or gods.”
Thomas Watson, the prolific Puritan writer of a few centuries ago spoke of the holiness of God as follows: “Holiness is the glory of the Godhead. It is primarily and originally in God as light is in the sun; you may as well separate weight from lead, or heat from fire, as holiness from the divine nature; God’s holiness is that whereby His heart rises against any sin, as being most diametrically opposite to His essence, “You are of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.” Hab. 1:13
Thus when the apostle Paul commanded the Corinthian believers to “Flee immorality” in I Cor. Ch. 6, He supported that command with two reasons. First we should flee all forms of sexual immorality because of the destructive effects this sin has on one’s body. And second because of the reality that the Spirit who dwells within us is the HOLY Spirit, and our body belongs to Him now.
“Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” I Cor. 6:18, 19
Were the Holy Spirit merely a force or energy – what you do with your body probably wouldn’t matter. But because he is a person who is holy through and through, and because He lives inside of you, what you do, what you think, what you say matters greatly.
I’ve had to come to grips with the reality in recent years that a major reason we believers struggle to experience the power and vibrancy and reality of the Holy Spirit in our lives is because we are blind to His holiness, and thus very weak in our own holiness. This was certainly true in my own life.
And I think one of the reasons we so struggle with this is because we see the Holy Spirit use unholy people – even ourselves, and we therefore conclude their lack of holiness (or ours) is no big deal. One of the things I used to justify my own lack of holiness was the fact that God was using me in people’s lives. Therefore He must have been pleased with me.
One of the men God used in a powerful way in my life 30 or more years ago when I began to get acquainted with the Holy Spirit was John Wimber – the founder of the Vineyard movement. God used the Vineyard in a huge way in our nation in the late 70’s and 80’s and early 90’s to help the evangelical non charismatic arm of the church in the West rediscover the gifts of healing, prophecy, tongues, and rediscover that our God is a supernatural God who has always performed signs and wonders and always will. But He could have used them in far greater ways if they had known the Holy Spirit as the HOLY Spirit.
Listen to John’s own words, “…If the time of the Lord’s return is close (and he believed it was), doesn’t He expect us to prepare ourselves with righteous acts, so that we might be a bride fit for the wedding with the Lamb of God (Rev. 19:7-9)? If His return inaugurates our being in His presence forever, shouldn’t our highest priority today be seeking God’s face?
Perhaps this is why I have sensed God saying, “Get ready; Get ready; Get ready.” Call the people to account. Prepare them! They must be clean. They must be holy.” I’ve never known such urgent leading from the Lord.
I’m particularly sensitive to the call to righteousness, because for years I have been aware that few people in the Vineyard are truly holy. Very few lives are set apart – set apart from sin and impurity, and set apart to God.
When the Holy Spirit first came on the Vineyard I shook my head and said, “Wait a minute. I’ve been taught all my Christian life that God doesn’t use an unclean vessel, yet look at this thing: it’s unclean.” I knew our church was unclean, because I was pastoring it. I couldn’t’ understand how the favor of the Lord could be on a people like us.
In the early years of the Vineyard (and this was after it was known nationwide for miracles of healing and other miracles taking place) people asked me, “Do you and your people have a strong prayer ministry in your church?” “No,” I’d say, “only a few people pray. Very few.”
Then they’d ask, Surely your people endeavor to be holy, don’t they?”
“Well only a few are. Many of them could care less. They’re more interested in the cares of the world than in God’s affairs.”
Oh we responded to the Lord and had some great meetings. But there was very little consecration on the part of the people. During this time a brother in the church prophesied, “We’re riding on someone else’s credit card.” Looking back, I believe that’s accurate; …” I assume someone else prayed for us….. And we received the blessings.” (end of quote)
One of the Holy Spirit’s passions is to prepare the bride of Christ to meet her groom without spot or wrinkle. The great revivalist – Leonard Ravenhill said it best, when he exclaimed, “The greatest miracle that God can do today is to take an unholy man out of an unholy world, and make that man holy and put him back in to that unholy world and keep him holy in it.” I firmly believe He is going to do that increasingly with our congregation, and with His church in this region as we get to know Him as He truly is!
He is God; He is the Holy Spirit; and thirdly He is Spirit.
Jesus said of God and thus the Holy Spirit, – “God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:24
The Holy Spirit is not confined or limited to a body like Jesus was while He walked and ministered on the earth. Thus He can minister to millions of people at the same time. Thus when Jesus said to His disciples in John 16:7, 8 “But 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. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;” The advantage the Holy Spirit had and has is He is Spirit. He can be everywhere at once. He has no time or space limitations.
Finally He is the Spirit of Truth
Jesus said to His disciples, “ I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” John 14:16,17
“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spiritof truthwho proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me,” John 15:26
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” John 16:13
The apostle John goes even farther in his first epistle and states, “…..It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.” I John 5:6
Do you want to be intimate with the Holy Spirit? Do you want to filled with all His fullness? Do you want to be the kind of vessel or temple or instrument that the Holy Spirit can do those greater works through that Jesus promised?
Then we are going to have to allow Him to purge and cleanse us from all the rationalization, and minimizing and embellishing and stretching the truth and falsehood that we have walked in for most of our lives. I don’t know about you but I learned to lie and stretch the truth and beat around the bush and divert attention from my sins as a child and really got pretty good at it. It sadly became a way of life for me.
But even David knew as he prayed in Psalm 51;6, “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,….” Perhaps that’s why a little later in that passionate prayer he pleaded, “Do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.”
Now thankfully in this New Covenant relationship we believers have with and through Jesus Christ and through what He has done for us on the cross, we do not have to plead with Him not to be taken from us. But we should be pleading for Him to purify us of all of our corruption and defilement and falsehood so He can fulfill His highest purposes in and through your life and mine.
Being a temple of the Holy Spirit and a temple of the Spirit of truth is a great privilege and honor. It means each of us has the potential to be used by Him beyond our wildest dreams. But that doesn’t happen automatically.
Perhaps that’s why the great church father Augustine, prayed prayers like this re: the Holy Spirit – “Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy.”
“O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams.”
Jesus’s promise for His church is this: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” Let’s ask Him now!