We are going back to the basics, back to our foundation with a series called “What Christians Believe.” One reason we are doing this is because it never hurts to review our believes, but with all the crazy things of our world today, I think we can all use a good dose of the basics so we don’t get lost.
And over the next several months, we will be learning the steps of a Disciple’s Path, and if you are going to be a disciple, someone who learns and imitates the life of Jesus, you better know exactly who it is you are following and what He’s all about. So in this series called “What Christians Believe,” we’re talking about what Christians actually believe, why they believe it, and why it even matters.
To help us break it all down, we’re taking a closer look at the Apostle’s Creed. Every week, we’ll recite it to help reiterate what we’re learning. So let’s just take a quick look at the creed. Please turn to page 881 in the hymnal.
We are 2/3’s of the way through the Apostle Creed, yet we’re only two weeks in, and we have four more big topics to cover. Today, we come to the line that says, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Today, we are going to talk about who the Holy Spirit is, what the Holy Spirit does, and why the Holy Spirit matters.
Now when you look at the Apostle’s Creed, you’ll notice that most of the Creed is about Jesus.
And it gives only one little, simple line about believing in the Holy Spirt. It may feel a little off balance. Although, if we look a little closer, we could say the Holy Spirit is in there twice…. “Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit” and the rest of Jesus wouldn’t have been possible without the Holy Spirit. In fact, I believe you could even say that about what comes after the line of “I believe in the Holy Spirit”.
But before we get too far, let’s recap, especially about the Holy Trinity. So far we’ve talked about God being all powerful and the source of everything. Then we talked about Jesus, as being God in human form, who came to walk among us to reveal to us who God is and to show us God’s will, and to ultimately triumph over evil, sin, and death.
The first time we hear of the Trinity: The Father, Son and Holy Spirit all together is in
16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
Christians believe in one God, the Father Almighty. However, we also believe the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. How does any of that make sense? How can three beings be one? The simplest way to put it is that it’s God in different forms.
On the theological side, some try to explain this in way to many words. And if you are someone who struggles with, I want you to give yourself a break. Because sometimes we are not meant to totally comprehend the nature of God. And I believe that when I die and you all die, we will all fall to our knees alike in awe and wonder and will finally comprehend what on this side of eternity seems nearly unfathomable.
But what I do know for now is that God is the Father, God is the Son, and God is the Holy Spirit.
At this moment, I want you to just focus on the Spirit. Before diving into what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit, I’d like us to think together about the voices we hear in our heads. What voices do you hear? No, we’re not crazy. I am not going crazy. I’m talking about the voices that shape and influence our lives, the voices we hear in our minds or deep down in our hearts.
Some voices are good, some are not so good. Sometimes we hear old memories from our childhood of someone telling us something positive or uplifting. Or sometimes we hear the negative statements that say we are bad or worthless. Sometimes we hear voices telling us there’s no reason to keep on living, or that we’ll always feel as depressed as we feel right now.
Of course there are actual human voices we listen to in life as well. Some of those voices influence us in positive ways, making us more loving and compassionate. Others influence us to harden our hearts and to do things we shouldn’t do.
But among the positive voices we are led to love, inspired to serve, and challenged to be more than we otherwise would be. These voices help us to know that our lives matter and that we are valued and loved. Loving parents and grandparents provide these voices. The best leaders in religion, politics, and business do the same.
So what voices are you hearing or a better question, are you listening to right now? How are those voices shaping your soul? The apostle Paul speaks of a spiritual warfare, the battle that goes on for our hearts and minds.
I think of the opening story in the Bible captures this battle in terms of voices that we hear, pretty accurately. The story describes God’s command to Adam and Eve to not eat the fruit. But after a conversation with the serpent, they choose to listen to the serpent and eat what God had taught them to leave alone.
Today, the same tempter continues to whisper in our ears, for most of us daily, gesturing us to do the very things that will bring harm to ourselves and the people around us. But on the flip side of that, is the Holy Spirit.
You’ve probably seen cartoons of the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, with each trying to influence the person. I believe that this image is somewhat true. We do have the devil trying to temp us, trying to convince us to go the world’s ways. But on the other shoulder, the Holy Spirit convicts us and speaks through our conscience when we’re doing wrong. The Holy Spirit makes us long to be more than we are at the present time, and to become more like the people God intends us to be.
Because when we speak of the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of God, we are speaking of God’s active work in our daily lives. It’s God’s way of leading us, guiding us, forming and shaping us. It’s God’s power and presence to comfort and encourage us. The Spirit is the voice of God whispering, wooing, and motioning us. And in listening to this voice and being shaped by this power, we find that we become the way we were meant to be.
I‘ve listed several scriptural references in your bulletin about the Holy Spirit. In just the Old Testament alone, there are 80 to 90 references to the Spirit of God, depending on how one translates the Hebrew word to English and if whether the word spirit, wind or breath is used.
- Some of these scriptures describe the Spirit of God as what gives us life.
- Some teach that the Spirit is a source of superhuman strength, wisdom, and leadership.
- As early as Deuteronomy 34, we find leaders passing on the Spirit by laying hands on their successors. Ex. “Joshua son of Nun was full of the Spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him” (Deut. 34:9)
- Later, it’s God’s Spirit that ‘rested on’, or was ‘in’, or ‘came over’ judges, great warriors, and leaders.
One of my favorite pictures of the Spirit in the Old Testament comes in the story of Samson who had superhuman strength and was a great warrior delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines. Over and over again, when Sampson was faced with danger or confronted by overwhelming odds, Scripture says,
Judges 14:6 (CEB) The Lord’s spirit rushed over him, and he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as one might tear apart a young goat.
Judges 15:14 (NLT) As Samson arrived at Lehi, the Philistines came shouting in triumph. But the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon Samson, and he snapped the ropes on his arms as if they were burnt strands of flax, and they fell from his wrists.
Each time the Spirit gave Sampson an amazing strength. But while the Spirit often is described in the Old Testament as empowering and giving special gifts and abilities, the Spirit’s most frequent work was in assuring that God’s voice was heard, so that God’s purposes and will could be conveyed. Like with the prophets.
The prophet Isaiah’s quotes in 61:1, one of the most famous references to the Spirit in the Old Testament because it’s the one Jesus used to show His purpose for being here. “The Lord God’s Spirit is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor.”
In Ezekiel 36:27, who was also a prophet, God promises the new covenant to come, “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
In these examples, we see that the Old Testament shows God’s Spirit working primarily through leaders – guiding, influencing and speaking through them, so that God’s people would pursue God’s will.
But in the New Testament, God’s Spirit plays a different role, and we get a glimpse of that in Joel 2:28, who is in the Old Testament, but looks ahead to the early church’s expectation and experience of the Holy Spirit. There God says, “I will pour out my Spirit upon everyone, your sons and your daughters will prophecy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.”
Among the key differences between the Old Testament and New Testament understandings of the Holy Spirit is that most often in the Old Testament, the Spirit’s work is in the leaders of Israel. Where is in the New Testament, Joel’s words are fulfilled, and it’s the ordinary people who receive God’s Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is God’s being, God’s very presence and power working within those who are open to Him. The Spirit does for us what the Spirit did for those of old: The Spirit empowers us, instills us with gifts and abilities to help others and to serve God, and the Spirit uses us and speaks through us.
Just before Jesus’ death, His crucifixion, He told His disciples that He would not leave them alone as He would send them the Spirit. And after His resurrection, just before He left this earth, He told His disciples again that He would send the Spirit. He told them to wait, and it will come. Let’s look at what happened when they received it. And as we read this passage, remember that the word for Spirit also means wind or breath.
On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. 2 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting.
Imagine this, they were all hiding in one place, and this huge gush of wind comes sweeping in the room from like nowhere (that’s why they say it was from heaven), I picture it blowing everything around….
3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
I love this image of the Spirit: A rushing, violent wind comes in a very powerful way! And there’s a connection between this image and the creation story in Genesis. In the creation story, God breathed into the man and woman filling them and giving them life. Here God breathes upon the followers (over them) and fills them and makes them new.
I think many Christians live Spirit-deficient lives, a bit like someone who is sleep deprived, or oxygen deprived. Many Christians haven’t been taught about the Holy Spirit, nor encouraged to seek the Holy Spirit to work in their lives daily. As a result, our spiritual lives are weak, and we continue to try living the Christian life by our own power and wisdom.
BUT when we listen to the voice of the Spirit and open ourselves to the Spirit’s work, it’s a huge difference. We find that we are led to a very different place and become very different people.
Paul describes the Spirit’s work and its impact on our lives as the “fruit of the Spirit.”
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
How different is this fruit than the fruit of the culture around us? Cause it makes a difference. Everything around us influences us in one form or another, good or bad. Every show you watch, every movie you watch, every song you listen to, every voice you hear at your work, everything you read in a book or the newspaper or the bible all influence us and shape us.
SHAPED BY THE SPIRIT
No doubt, each person in this room has experienced the Holy Spirit. Even if you didn’t know it. Christians believe the Spirit is at work all around us all the time. From birth to death, the Spirit is always around us nudging us to turn to God, nudging us to know who Jesus is, nudging us to live a life that follows God’s purposes. But once you except Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you not only have the Holy Spirit around you, but you then have invited the Holy Spirit to live inside of you.
And when you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you, those nudges don’t stop. You just know what they are now. On a regular bases, Christians feel the nudge. I’ve learned to pay attention to the nudges, as almost always something important happens when I follow it. Yes at times, I’ve ignored them, and when I do, I miss out on something great.
- Sometimes it’s a thought that comes across my mind to call someone I haven’t thought of in a while, or a nudge to speak with someone I might otherwise walk by.
- There are times when a new insight comes to me that I’ve never thought of before.
- There are moments in my life when I feel the presence of God in the form of warmth, comfort, or a sense of peace.
I believe all of these are the Spirit’s work. Many times after worship, someone will say, “I feel like your message was just for me today. It was exactly what I needed to hear.” That too is the Spirit’s work taking my feeble attempt at a sermon and using it as a vehicle to speak to God’s people.
Long before people become Christians, the Holy Spirit is working to woo and beckon us to God. We speak of this as God’s Prevenient Grace. As I look back over my life, I can see moments when God was at work long before I was a true Christian.
When we finally decide to come to Christ, give Him 100% of ourselves, whether that is a slow-moving process or a powerful hit, it is the Holy Spirit that works in us to reconcile us to God. We describe this work of making us right with God as God’s Justifying Grace.
And after being brought into a right relationship with God, we are meant to be transformed, becoming the person God intended us to be. This process of transformation, which continues the rest of our lives, is called Sanctifying Grace. And this too is the work of the Holy Spirit.
To recap, in our daily Christian life, it is the Holy Spirit that nudges and beckons us. It is the Holy Spirit that helps us to pray. It is the Holy Spirit that equips us with gifts to serve others. It is the Holy Spirit that grants us the strength and grace to become increasingly like Christ, a disciple of Christ. When we open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit, we find the power to be transformed and to be useful in filling God’s greater purpose.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19 Paul writes, “Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?”
Here, the word you is singular. Paul says that the Spirit dwells in every believer, and that each of us is a living, breathing carrier of God’s presence. Paul goes on to unpack that concept by saying that because your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, you must “honor God with your body” 1 Corinthians 6:20.
This implies that what we do with our bodies does matter and affects the Holy Spirit’s work. However, the power of the Holy Spirit can be felt not only in individuals, but in the church. And when the Holy Spirit moves in the church, you better watch out!
Paul also wrote to the Corinthian’s, “Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and God’s Spirit lives in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:16
Now here the you is plural. Paul was referring to the church, the gathering of believers. In Corinth, there were temples to the pagan gods on every street corner, physical reminders of false gods and places where those gods were thought to live. Paul wanted the small Christian community in Corinth to know that they, as a group of believers, where a temple themselves. And the Spirit of God lived within their community, just as It lives in ours today.
Next week we’ll talk more about the church and how the Holy Spirit works in and through the church to move. But again, the Holy Spirit is already at work in our lives, seeking to speak to us, to call, form, shape, and empower us. But beware, the Holy Spirit will not force Himself upon you. You can resist the Holy Spirit, or you can invite and welcome the Holy Spirit to work within you.
Every time we baptize or confirm someone in the church, we pray for the Holy Spirit to be at work in them. However, the invitation for the Holy Spirit to work in us is not limited to baptism or confirmation. Every morning, we can invite the Holy Spirit to work in us. And we can pray that the Holy Spirit will use us and speak through us. And when we do that, we then need to listen carefully.
Listening carefully is important. My experience is that the Holy Spirit usually whispers rather than shouts. Ever try to talk someone and they’re on their phone, you’re talking and they’re not listening. I believe the Holy Spirit regularly experiences this with each of us. The Holy Spirit whispers, but the noise and distractions in our lives drown out the Spirit’s still, small voice.
In the beginning of this message I asked, what voices do you listen to? I want to invite you to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and to invite the Holy Spirit to be at work in you, comforting, guiding, shaping, and empowering you. If you’ve never prayed to receive the Holy Spirit, you can pray this prayer with me now.
Come Holy Spirit, I need you. Breath of God, fill me wholly and completely. Form and shape me into the person you want me to be. Lead me to do what you want me to do. Empower me and use me. Speak to me and through me. Produce your fruit in me. Help me to listen to your voice above all of the voices that compete for my attention. Come, Holy Spirit, I need you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.