Real Faith for a Real Life in a Real World.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What is the Holy Spirit Like?

18 August 2013
Matthew 7:15-20
Galatians 5:16-25


Over the two years I've been attending here, and possibly longer, a number of preachers have mentioned the Holy Spirit almost in passing but nonetheless purposefully.  Today, we are focussing our attention specifically on the Holy Spirit.  The are at least three good reasons for doing that.

First of all, our mission statement sets down in writing our aim to be a church that 'expects the Holy Spirit to be at work.'  Did you know that?  Our mission statement is pinned to the notice board in the corridor.  Have a look at it before you go home today.  It's an excellent mission statement, and the point I've just referred to, about 'the Holy Spirit [being] at work,' is what will make possible our living out the whole of that mission statement.

Secondly, we have our 'Room to Grow' building project.  To me, this project is a symbolic declaration of God's intention to grow this church both numerically and in maturity.  For that to happen we will certainly need the Holy Spirit to be at work.

Thirdly, I hope that what we think about this morning will help us to overcome any apprehension we feel about engaging with the Holy Spirit and to raise our level of expectation of what the Holy Spirit may do here.

I'm going to attempt to answer two big questions.

 1. What is the Holy Spirit like? Because the answer will affect our willingness to be open to the Holy Spirit.
 2. What's it like to be in relationship with the Holy Spirit? Because the answer may help us to recognise the Holy Spirit at work.

Obviously, with the limited time available, the best I can hope to achieve is to set you off on your own voyage of discovery.  If I achieve that, I'll be more than happy.

What is the Holy Spirit Like?

In our first song this morning we declared our belief as Christians in the Trinity.  We believe that our one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We understand the Holy Spirit to be a distinct member of the Trinity and yet at the same time be identical with God.  Blows your mind, doesn't it?

Now, we have some understanding of God the Father not least because our referring to him as 'Father' gives us a way of relating to him.  I appreciate that may be a problem for some whose earthly fathers have given a less-than-helpful understanding of fatherhood.  Nevertheless, with a right understanding it's a helpful model.

We have perhaps more insight into the nature of God the Son because he became one of us as Jesus Christ and so we can sort of relate to him more easily.

God the Holy Spirit we have more of a problem with.  We have no way to 'embody' him, so to speak. 

We can see him at work throughout scripture from the beginning of Genesis – where we read that the Spirit of God hovered of the waters of the formless Earth at the dawn of creation – all the way to the end of Revelation – where we read the Spirit's invitation to all who are willing to come and take freely of the water of life.

For all that, he remains mysterious and for some of us, perhaps, a bit scary.  And some of us, who in the past may have been hurt or damaged by things done in the name of the Holy Spirit, may want to keep him at arm's length.

But scripture does show us clearly something of the character of the Holy Spirit and, with the understanding it gives, we can welcome him with open arms.

Interactive:  Is there anyone here with a fruit tree in their Garden?  What kind of fruit do you get from it?  What sort of tree is it? 

So we can recognise a tree from the type of fruit it produces.

In our first reading, Jesus gave the same principle to recognise the character of people.  We can recognise what they are really like by looking at the fruit of their lives. 

We can see what the the Holy Spirit is like by looking at the fruit he produces.  The fruit of the Spirit is described in our second reading: love, joy, peace; patience, kindness, goodness; faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

These things give us a very good idea of the character of the Holy Spirit.  He is full of love, joy and peace.  He is patient, kind and good.  He is faithful, gentle, and self-controlled.

I don't know about you, but I'm very happy to have someone like that at work in my life, and I'm very grateful that he is.  And I'm really happy that he wants to produce the same characteristics in me.  Obviously, I'm very much a 'work in progress'.

What's it like to be in relationship with the Holy Spirit?

The first thing to say is that everyone who truly owns Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour already has a relationship with the Holy Spirit.  That may range from a very quiet relationship that we haven't given much thought to to a lively, intimate relationship; and everything in between.

Knowing the Holy Spirit on a Personal level

The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us the assurance of our salvation.  As Paul writes in Romans 8 '[we have] received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our Spirit that we are God's children.'  This is the kind of thing that John Wesley reported when his heart was strangely warmed and he felt that he did trust in Christ and knew that his sins were forgiven.

Also, in 2 Corinthians 1.22, Paul wrote '[God] set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.'  This too is something tangible.  It's like someone telling you you have a huge inheritance coming your way, but in the meantime, here's a copy of the will and £5000 to be going on with.  And God says to us, “In the next world you will have unlimited access to everything I am.  Meanwhile, I' give you my Holy Spirit to dwell in you.”

The Holy Spirit also reveals truth to us to help us grow.  As Jesus tells us in John 16, 'when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.'  When you read your Bible, ask the Holy Spirit to bring its truth alive for you.  I love it when the Spirit draws attention to a verse I've read a hundred times, and shows me something I've never seen before, such as when I realised the fruit of the Spirit tells us something of what the Holy Spirit is like!

As well as giving us assurance and revealing truth to us, the Holy Spirit makes us fruitful.  He looks to grow all nine segments of that fruit in all our lives, not just one or two of them.  We don't see them all in the same measure in everyone because we are all different and are in different stages of advancement in our Christian walk; but we all need all the fruit.

Just look at what he wants to develop in us.

Love  The Holy Spirit wants us to know the vastness of God's love for us; and he wants us to show others that vast love.

Joy  The joy of the Spirit is a wonderful thing.  When he touches your life, it's thrilling. It's an emotion much better than plain old happiness and is there even when we feel unhappy.  At my father-in-law's funeral earlier this year, in the midst of the sadness of our loss, I felt tremendous joy because of our Christian hope and the certainty that this godly man had entered into everlasting life.

Peace  I once met a man who had a tangible sense of peace and well-being around him.  He entered the room and filled it with peace.  It was a pleasure to be in his company.  God wants us all to know peace and well-being, and if it spills over to others, wouldn't that be special?

Patience  Some of us have more need of patience than others – especially when I'm driving!  Haven't we all needed to be on the receiving end of the Holy Spirit's patience?

Kindness  Doesn't the world need more of this?  I find that people take notice when they encounter unexpected kindness; I know I do.  The Holy Spirit wants to display the difference that following Jesus makes.

Goodness  We can say the same about Goodness.  God is concerned for the disadvantaged of the world.  Social justice matters to God, and you'll be glad to know that our mission statement includes something about that (don't forget to read it before you leave).  Do-gooders get a bad name these days but this world needs us to do good, to show the goodness of God.

Faithfulness  The Greek word here is literally, 'Faith'.  God wants to grow faith in us that keeps us true to him and true to each other.  Faithfulness is very precious to God; it means a great deal to him.

Gentleness  Other translations have 'meekness' here, which I've heard defined as 'strength under control'.  The Spirit wants to bring a gentleness into our dealings with others so that even when we are correcting or admonishing, there is no bullying or manipulation or coercion.  How different that will look in our modern society.

Self-control  The Holy Spirit himself is self-controlled.  He's not capricious or volatile.  If we open ourselves up to him, he won't dominate us and force us to do things we don't want to do.  On the contrary, he wants to give us control of ourselves and the ability to choose our behaviour, so we are not enslaved by the horrible things listed in verses 19 to 21.  Living by the Spirit keeps us from gratifying the desires of our sinful nature.

All these things are grown in us as we walk with the Spirit.  None of these wonderful characteristics of the Spirit come by gritting our teeth and trying to make them happen.  They are all the fruit of living in co-operation with the Holy Spirit. 

I'm concerned not to make all this sound too easy.  Fruit grows over time; it isn't instantaneous.   As we co-operate with the Holy Spirit, he'll lead us through a process of refinement that produces fruit in us. 

It's no all easy.  I have to be honest, if there are serious issues in our lives, such as the things in that other list, we could find the process unpleasant, with the Holy Spirit laying siege to our lives.  That's because he is faithful and full of love.  He loves us very much, but he will have things right.  Always, his intention is to make us more fruitful. 

A couple of weeks ago I was camping, and beautiful peacock butterfly was trapped in my tent.  It was beating its wings against the tent, trying to escape towards the sunlight.  But it couldn't get free.  I tried to cup my hands around it so I could take it out and release it.  It saw me as a threat and tried to get away from me, avoiding my efforts to help.  Eventually, I caught it and took it outside.  It could have been free sooner if it had cooperated.

So, if there are things you need to put right, give in: co-operate with the Holy Spirit.  After all, the Holy Spirit is the one who brings us life, and 'Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.'

Knowing the Holy Spirit on a corporate level

I've recently read a book about a retreat centre in rural South Wales called Fald y Brennin.  Some amazing things have happened there, and I've no reason to doubt what I've read.  Passers-by have been strangely drawn to go in and ask what's going on there, and have had deep encounters with God on entering the centre's chapel, often without anyone saying a word.  People have been healed and lives have been changed.  Even the local economy has been blessed.  These kinds of things can happen in a place where the Holy Spirit's at work.  How about some of that here?

How big is our expectation?

Fald y Brennin is perhaps an extreme example, but we can see more of the Holy Spirit at work than we do now.  He can equip us with spiritual gifts which, used properly, will help our church grow.  He'll lead us, prompting us to good work, to helping and supporting each other and people in need.  He'll help us show our community the love of God. 

For me, the prospect of the Holy Spirit being at work here is an exciting one!  And our God can do immeasurably more than anything we can ask or imagine!

Coming in to Land – Inviting a Response

The Holy Spirit isn't someone we should be terrified of.  He is God's gift to us, and God gives only good gifts.  As we draw to a close, in a prayerful attitude, let's reflect on being a church that expects the Holy Spirit to be at work.

Ministries  Think of all those things you are involved with: welcoming people at the door, cleaning, serving tea and coffee, visiting people, children's work, leading worship, preaching, whatever.  Invite the Holy Spirit to be involved in all you do.

Services and Meetings  Think of our Sunday morning service, our Sunday evening fellowship, our prayer meetings, Sundae Special, the Ladies' meeting.  Invite the Holy Spirit to be present in all these things.

Relationships  Think of the people in your lives: at church, your neighbours, those you work with, family members.  Invite the Holy Spirit to be involved in all your relationships.

Witness  Think about our mission and invite the Holy Spirit to inspire and equip us to share God's love with our community.

Let's co-operate with the Holy Spirit.

And now let's reflect on ourselves as people who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Devotions  Think of your personal relationship with God.  Invite the Holy Spirit to speak to you as you read Scripture and to guide you in your prayer life.

Issues  Think of those things in your life you know need sorting out.  Invite Holy Spirit to help you find freedom.

Fruitfulness  Invite the Holy Spirit to grow more of his wonderful fruit in your life.

Let's co-operate with the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps you don't really know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.  You have no assurance of salvation;  you don't know what it is to have peace with God; you don't know the Holy Spirit.  Invite the Holy Spirit to begin making Jesus known to you.

Let us pray

Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove,
Wind and Fire of God,
Guarantee of the believer's inheritance,
We need your presence
That our lives may glorify Jesus;
We need your power
That we may be emboldened to share our faith,
That our witness may be more than words.
We invite you to fill our lives;
Hover over us in renewal,
Rest on us with power to serve,
Dwell in us and make us fruitful.
To the glory of God the Father Almighty
And in the name of Christ our Saviour.