Sunday June 5th, 2022…
This past Sunday was the day of Pentecost, the day the church celebrated the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus had been with His Disciples through three years of ministry and John Stott* states that notable Disciples did not seem to get His message. Several times He had urged them to humble themselves like little children but Peter could not accept the idea of humility. He was a proud and confident man all the days that he was with Jesus. John got the same message but he truly earned the title “son of thunder” to the end of Jesus’ life. These two did not seem to comprehend what it meant to be loving.
Then Jesus told the disciples that He was leaving them so something better could come in His place, a Comforter, a Helper, a Counsellor. “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” John 16: 7. Can you imagine the consternation among the disciples? You know they would rather have Jesus than some strange power they did not understand.
That power came.
For Peter and John the change was amazing. Read Peter’s first letter and notice how much he speaks of humility. Read John’s letters and attend to the fact that they are full of love. Is this evidence that the Holy Spirit came to these two men and changed them from within?
Is that same Spirit available to you and to me?
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” John 3: 3.
That is the beginning.
Sadly many Christians think that salvation is enough.
But it is not. The Holy Spirit is not stagnant. It is a Change Agent.
God does not give us the Holy Spirit because He wants us to declare our love for Him and stay the same.
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want” [Galatians 5: 16-18]. What is Paul talking about here? He is addressing the battle that happens once someone is saved and the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the new believer. The Holy Spirit is sent into our hearts and makes our bodies His temple. This conflict is the daily experience of the Christian as temptation is all around us: give into our worldly desires [the flesh] or obey the calling of the Spirit to a higher purpose. Stott writes strong words when he says this is not “arid theological theorizing,” this is everyday life. We are pulled down by sin while the Holy Spirit is trying to pull us up. Some days we may feel good about what we have accomplished; maybe we have done more good than bad. Other days we don’t feel so good. Maybe we have succumbed to the flesh and have done some of the things on Paul’s partial list: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” [from Galatians 5].
What’s a Christian to do?
Engage in the battle, knowing that sometimes we will fail. When we fail we need to ask for forgiveness for our weak moments. We need to repent, have faith that God still loves us and try to use Holy Spirit power to continue on down the road to growth in Christ. I once had a friend who put it in plain language: when you fall, pick yourself up, ask God to forgive you and keep walking forward in the light of His grace. The worst thing a new believer can do is wallow in guilt and stay “down on the ground”. God knows how weak we are and Satan knows how to trip us up. Holy Spirit power and God’s forgiveness can overpower anything that the devil can throw at us.
Engage in the battle, using what you have learned. Jesus said in Luke 10: 27 “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” I have always taken this verse as a challenge. It is a call to action. Love the Lord your God is the biggest command obviously but loving your neighbors is probably the hardest thing to do in a world that seems to thrive on hate of others. For many reasons, expressing disdain for our fellow human beings has become a sport. This subject is too big to expound upon but all of us know it is a real problem. Maybe it is a very romantic notion, but the heart is seen as the center of love but the soul is essential for all types of love to be effective. Let’s not forget the “all your mind” part. In my view, God has given us a mind for a reason. He wants us to use it. In another book by John Stott [Your Mind Matters], he writes “If we do not use the mind which God has given us, we condemn ourselves to spiritual superficiality.” For many Christians being born again is it. Salvation is the end of the process. What about the study of the Word of God? What about the study of faith in so many books that are written to stimulate our Christian growth? What about attendance in worship services and Sunday school classes? Growth opportunities abound. There are so many resources available for Christians to deepen their faith, to grow beyond the baby stage of being saved. In Hebrews the Apostle Paul states that new Christians should be given milk as they begin their lives in Christ, but the intent is that they should move beyond milk to meat leading to maturity.
I love the way Stott uses such clear language to explain our challenge and our limitations in the lives that we all lead. We want to live better lives and we strive to do that. “If the Spirit of Jesus could come and live in me, then I could live a life like that [Jesus]. This is the secret of Christian sanctity. It is not that we should strive to live like Jesus, but that He by His Spirit should come and live in us. To have Him as our example is not enough; we need Him as our Savior” .
Finally Stott says it best: “It is through His atoning death that the penalty of our sins may be forgiven; it is through His indwelling Spirit that the power of our sins may be broken.”