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When The Spirit Has His Way

The Gift Of Sensitivity

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | November 4, 2012

Selected highlights from this sermon

The Holy Spirit is sensitive; that’s why He is usually depicted as a gentle dove. He will not force Himself upon us so we must become attuned to Him so that we don’t grieve Him.

In this message, Pastor Lutzer details five transformations that conversion should bring about in our lives. Each of these transformations carries with it a way to please the Holy Spirit as well as a way to grieve Him. 

This happens to be number eight in a series of messages entitled When the Spirit Has His Way - Recapturing the Wonder of God Within Us. One of the most important things we can learn about the Holy Spirit is that He is indeed a person. He’s not an influence, He’s not courage, He’s not a feeling, though He may produce some of those effects, but that’s not who He is. He is a person, and when we are inhabited by Jesus Christ by the Spirit, we actually get the Father, we get the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s impossible for us to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit without also being indwelt by the Father and the Son. Jesus made that clear in the Upper Room Discourse when He said, “My Father will come, and I will come, and We, together with the Holy Spirit, will make Our abode with him.” Today’s message is on sensitivity to the Holy Spirit–becoming sensitive to the God who lives within us.

I remember one time Rebecca and I were at a dinner and there was a man there with his wife, and he was very boorish. He spoke without sensitivity to his wife. We could tell that she was actually on the verge of tears, but he didn’t get it. He either thought a) I’m not hurting her, or b) even if I am, it’s no big deal. Now that’s the way we treat the Holy Spirit. You see, we grieve the Spirit and we say to ourselves, “It’s not that big a deal,” and we are grieving Him and we don’t even know it. Today I want the Holy Spirit to uncover ways in which we grieve the Spirit so that we are made more blessable (I came across that word this past week and like it very much. I’m not sure if it’s in the dictionary but God wants to bless us), and how we become more blessable.

You need to open the passage that was read to us–Ephesians 4–so that you can see this for yourself. And you’ll notice that the Apostle Paul says in verse 22 that we’re “to put off (to death) our old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.” Don’t you marvel at how accurate the Bible is and calls these desires deceitful, because they are? I don’t have time to explain it today, but I think it’s very obvious, and we’re to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Conversion to Christ is a big deal because God comes to live within us by virtue of the Holy Spirit whom we emphasize as bringing salvation to us even though the other two members of the Trinity are involved. And what the Spirit of God does is He creates a space, not an actual space that you can measure, within us in which He can live, which is created in holiness and righteousness, and He intends to live there and feel at home there. And He takes up residence there.

If you’ve never trusted Christ as Savior, just understand that it is a great marvelous work of God, and if you haven’t, keep listening to this message because I want you to be encouraged in the direction of Jesus. You may be investigating Christianity and you are not in yet with Jesus, but you are listening. Keep listening. And for those who have trusted Christ, understand that the Spirit of God wants to inhabit us and He does not want to be grieved.

My chief text today is Ephesians 4:30. It says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The last message in the series was entirely devoted to the sealing of the Spirit, so I am interested in that first phrase now–don’t grieve the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is very sensitive. He is likened unto a dove, because doves are sensitive birds, and the Spirit isn’t going to force Himself on you.

You see, one of the mistakes that we make is we think that because we have the Holy Spirit, we don’t have to seek Him, but of course, that’s wrong. In the Old Testament you remember David knew God very well, and yet he kept saying, “I seek the Lord.” Why? It’s in the process of seeking that we make ourselves blessable, where we deal with issues of insensitivity to the Spirit that He reveals to us, and it is there that we are pointed to Christ. It is the Spirit of God whom we must seek in His wholeness and great blessing.

So with that background and with our text in mind–Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit–what I’d like to do is to give you five transformations that conversion is to bring about in our hearts, and each of these will have a way in which we grieve the Spirit and the way in which we please the Spirit. Paul likens it unto putting off the old man, the old clothes, and putting on the new clothes so that that part within us that’s been created within us is a space for the Holy Spirit that He might feel at home and not grieved by our insensitivity and sin. So that’s the agenda: five different transformations that the Spirit brings about.

Number one, you’ll notice it is from lying to truthfulness. Verse 25 says, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor.” If you were brought up in a home where there was lots of lying, where there was covering for an alcoholic and you had to lie for him, or lie for your mother, and you lied as a family, you’ll grow up wanting to tell lies, and [hopefully] at some point you think that these lies don’t make any difference. And if you were brought up in a home where truth was important, you may still become a liar, and you may lie because of self-protection. You want to guard what you have done. You want to look good and you don’t want to admit the truth.

Or you may lie for self-aggrandizement, to make yourself better. Either way, we are all tempted to lie, and the Bible says that we should speak truth to our neighbor, to our friends, to our wives and to our husbands. Now, it’s interesting that somebody gave me an article the other day that said the average American tells eleven lies every week. Of course I look at that rather skeptically and say, “Can you trust the survey?” (laughter) Do you remember, if you are reading through the New Testament, you came to Titus where Paul says, “A Cretan told me that all Cretans are liars.” I’m saying, “Hey, you heard it from a Cretan. Was he telling you the truth or wasn’t he?”

Now here’s the point. The Apostle Paul says, “Put all lies aside. Don’t lie to yourself and don’t lie to others because in the end you are lying to God.” Do you remember Ananias and Sapphira? They thought that they were lying to the church and Peter comes along and says, “You’ve not lied to men. You have lied to God.” Those fibs that you tell, you’ve lied to men, and you have also lied to God.

Some of you perhaps are living a lie for whatever reason and God wants you to clean it up because, you see, the Spirit is a Spirit of truth and He is sensitive to it. And the Holy Spirit brings it to the surface so that we can deal with it. I’m thinking, for example, of a mother who changed the date of their wedding. They moved to a different town and she thought nobody here really knows us, and nobody is going to investigate it, so she changed the wedding date by a couple of months so that her oldest daughter would get the impression that she was conceived within marriage rather than outside of marriage. And the woman’s husband kind of went along with it, but now this woman really wants to serve God, and there it is. You lied and that lie is still there on your marriage certificate.
It’s amazing what price people are willing to pay to be fully right with God when the Spirit has His way.

Well, let’s go to a second transformation, and by the way at no extra cost, I can tell you exactly how to stop lying if you are a liar. I mean, you can stop this habit in two weeks, or probably one. Here’s what you do. Every time you tell a lie and you become conscious of it stop right there and tell the person you are talking to, “I want you to know that I just lied to you (laughter) and I’m going to tell you the truth now.” And it’ll work. Just do that regularly and pretty soon the lies won’t come out of your mouth because the Spirit will prompt you ahead of time, “Lie coming up; tell the truth.” (laughter) Really!

Second, we have from anger to self-control. Why? Anger to self-control, because the Holy Spirit of God enables us to have self-control. Here it is now. Verse 26 says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” When angry do not sin. There is a legitimate anger. We should be angry at child abuse and all of the injustices of the world. There is such a thing as righteous anger (In fact, God is angry with the wicked every day legitimately, we read in the Bible in the Old Testament), but don’t sin when you get angry. Don’t respond in a way that you are going to regret when angry. Do not sin. Don’t go to bed angry.

I always say that you know Rebecca and I had that as our motive and we have never gone to bed angry, but I do recall one summer when we were up for two weeks, okay? (laughter) For those of you who are literalists, that is a joke. (more laughter) I just want you to know.

The Bible says, “Don’t become angry and give the devil a topos–an opportunity.” Let me say a word to those of you who are abusers. You were abused and now you are abusing, and you keep promising yourself you aren’t going to do it again. You need help. You need the help of the Holy Spirit, but you also need deep repentance and accountability. If anybody is listening to this and you are abusing a child, stop it! Stop it right now and get help because you are not only lying to God. You are destroying a child.

So what he says (Yes, you can go ahead and clap.) is, “When angry, do not sin.” Do not give the devil a topos-an opportunity. The imagery there is to give the devil a place. You open the door. You’ve maybe had this experience. Somebody is out there that you don’t want to let in but they get their foot in the door and now what are you going to do? The devil loves to instigate, to aggravate, and to cause anger. Why? It’s because it’s so destructive. You do things when you are angry that you later regret, that you cannot undo. And somebody says, “Well you know, I just blow up and get it over with.” Oh yeah, yeah, and all the pieces lie there, and you can ask forgiveness, and forgiveness may be granted, but you do that a number of times and it all becomes very hollow, and the anger is destructive and goes from one generation to another–a whole generation of angry children–because of some angry parents. Deal with that anger. Recognize it to be sinful, and the Holy Spirit will help you. The Church will help you. Accountability will help you, but when angry, do not sin because the devil wants to use your anger to kill, to destroy, and to wreck homes and marriages and families and children. It is terrible. The Spirit will help us.

Third, it says, don’t steal. Don’t be a taker but be a giver. You’ll notice in verse 28 it says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hand, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”

People steal today. They steal from their employer by the time they waste, or the supplies that they take. They steal from the government. They steal by having illicit and wrong lawsuits. People steal. It’s amazing what even good people will do when big money is flashed in their face. And so what he is saying is, “Do not steal, but rather work with your hands.” Some time ago I heard a report that it is true that if thieves work with their hands it becomes helpful. Of course, in those days that was the only kind of work they could probably do, and it says, “Work in such a way that you can give.” Replace your stinginess and your thievery with being generous.

By the way, if you want to spend a thousand dollars at a casino, don’t do that because you are going to lose it anyway, and if you do win, you are winning somebody else’s money that you don’t own or deserve. So what you do is you give it to Christian ministry, and then you know at least you’re going to get an awesome return. It’s going to meet you again in heaven. And what you do is you become generous. Why? It’s because that is really the opposite of stealing.

Maybe I am speaking to somebody today and you say, “Well, you know, I don’t steal.” You don’t steal, but if you aren’t giving, there’s a sense in which you are still a thief because you are not acknowledging God to be the owner of all that you have, and so giving becomes very, very important, not stealing.

Let me tell you that when the Holy Spirit has His way in a church or in a community, there are all kinds of issues that people have to deal with. For example, I’m thinking of somebody who, during a time of revival, had a 99 cent bag of potatoes go past the check-out counter without the checkout lady seeing it. “Well, you know, it’s 99 cents. The store is big. It’s not that big of a deal, stealing 99 cents, and I didn’t intend to steal it. It’s just that she didn’t see it at the bottom of my shopping cart.” But now when the Holy Spirit of God begins to work, the Spirit of God who makes us sensitive, begins to speak to people, and they say, “You know, I have to make that right,” so this lady did, and because there was revival going on in the community, the store manager said, “Either something is going on in this town or else this is my lucky day, because you are the second person who has come to confess stealing from the store.” She told them, “Something is going on.” She was visibly shaken. Why? When those who do not know God see righteousness like this, they are terrified.

Years ago I told you the story about the man bent over in his office weeping. His pastor came over to him and thought for sure a child had died, wondering what in the world had happened. He couldn’t even talk to the guy, he was sobbing so much. He said that the Holy Spirit showed him his heart, and he said it was like looking into hell, and he had been dishonest in terms of his reporting cards, you know the business accounts. All businessmen steal, don’t they? Don’t they fill their cars with gasoline on the company credit card? Isn’t that just kind of accepted if you can get away with it? It’s no big deal, but when the Spirit has His way, it becomes a mighty big deal.

You see, you and I become so insensitive to the Spirit that we wound the Spirit. We displease the Spirit. We grieve the Spirit and we do not even know it, having justified what we have done. So that’s the third change. Let’s go on to another.

Let no corrupt talk but encouraging words come out of your mouth. No corrupt talk! The Bible says regarding the tongues of the wicked in the book of Romans that the throat is an open sepulcher. What it means is stench. Have you ever met with somebody and all that can come out of his mouth is that which is evil and foul? We talk about a foul tongue. And Jesus said, “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” and so you have obscenities, and you’ve got all that, but I want to talk to you about slander, criticizing other people.

You see, the reason that we all do this is because if we can chop other people down, if we can take them off the pedestal, maybe we ourselves look just a little better. When I was in Bible College I was at the table, and I guess I was waxing eloquent regarding somebody, criticizing them. I certainly forget the details, but I remember a student walked with me out of the dining room later and said, “You ought to go to your room and memorize Psalm 141:3.” Oh, okay! Psalm 141:3! Nothing came up on the computer as to what that might be so I looked at the text and what does it say? “Set a guard, oh Lord, before my mouth, and guard the door of my lips.” How I wish that I had done that ever since then. We are all guilty of wanting to exalt ourselves by the criticism of others, by saying, “I’d never do that. Look at what they have done.”

Paul says, “Let no corrupt talk come out of your mouth but only encouraging words, words that build up.”

Years ago I read about a man who was going to divorce his wife. He went to his favorite attorney and said, “I can’t take it anymore. She does this, this, this. I’m going to divorce her.” And the attorney said, “You really hate her, don’t you?” He said, “I hate her.” The attorney said, “Do you want to hurt her?” He said, “I want to really hurt her. I want to sock it to her.” The attorney said, “Well, if you really want to do that let me give you a suggestion.” He said, “You can always divorce her. If you divorced her now she’d kind of be expecting it. Here’s what you do. Postpone your divorce for a month or two and during that period of time, don’t utter one single criticism. Just build her up. Tell her how beautiful she looks. Tell her what a wonderful cook she is. Commend everything she does. Remember: do not criticize her. You’ve got plenty of time, and then, you see, as you build her up she begins to think, ‘Oh this relationship is going very, very well,’ and then you can give her the divorce papers and sock it to her, and it will hurt her more.” He thought about it and said, “Well, that’s a possibility. I’ll try it. I can always divorce her.” So for a month or two he commended everything. Rather than coming in while she was making dinner and telling her that the thing in the pan looked like an unidentified flying object (laughter), he now said, “I just love the way you make dinner. I love the way you dress. Thank you so much for doing this. Thank you for doing that.”

Well, you know what the story is. It’s that a month later, rather than get divorced, they decided it was time for a second honeymoon. Imagine the power of encouraging words (applause) that build up rather than tear down.

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth but only that which is good to the edification for the need of the moment. If you talk about somebody it should always be with the intention of talking to somebody who is part of the problem or part of the solution. If not, the Spirit is grieved because the Spirit is sensitive.

Number five is bitterness and anger. I’m going to skip the verse here regarding grieving the Spirit because it’s the heart of what I’ve been preaching, but notice this in verse 31. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” I’m going to stop there in verse 31. There are six different words to refer to the resentments, the anger, and whatever is in the human heart to describe it. Paul wants to get it all.

A message or two ago I preached on sexual purity, and how impurity grieves the Spirit, but I think next to that, or maybe equal to it is the kind of resentments and anger and self-protection that people have because of the way in which they have been treated, because of the injustices of the world (either from others or from God). And so Paul wants to encompass it all. He says, “Let all bitterness and wrath….” There are two different (Greek) words for wrath. Thymos is the first, and then second is orgē – anger.” You know the first is the wrath that blows up. “I just blow up and then I get it over with.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, and then everybody picks up the pieces. It’s an anger that is more of a steadied desire that can also be the kind of anger that (The word doesn’t come to mind immediately) refers to a consistent kind of anger.

And then clamor. Do any of you live with a guy or a woman and they can be described by the word clamor, always criticizing, always having to be in the seat of the middle, always having to be the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral? (laughter) You know, always the center of attention, in case you missed the figures of speech.

“… and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Come with me to the crucifixion. Jesus is carrying His cross. He gets to Golgotha. They lay the cross down, and they nail Him to it. And He is nailed to that cross, and while He is being nailed to the cross, the first of the seven words at the cross are what? He’s talking. His lips are moving. What is it that He is saying? He is saying these words: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Can you say that when you are being crucified, when you are treated unjustly, when your friends run away from you, as the disciples fled during this period of time? Can you say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”?

Jesus didn’t say, “Well, I’m sure going to get even with them. I’ll teach them a thing or two. Wait till my Father gets ahold of you, and then you are in deep trouble.” No, He said, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” What do you mean? Judas knew he betrayed innocent blood. Pilate knew that he was guilty of betraying someone in whom he found no fault. What do you mean, “They knew not what they do”?

Jesus is saying this. Yes, of course, they knew that it was unjust, but they did not understand the extent and the enormity of the crime that they were committing, and Jesus said in the middle of that, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Be tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave us. Latent anger–bitterness and resentment-hinders the work of the Spirit and makes us much less blessable because the Spirit is a Spirit of forgiveness, not a Spirit of revenge.

There is a story about a man in seminary who loved to do creative things to get a point across to his students, and what he did is he had a dart board and then a table full of darts. And he said to the students, “I want you to draw a picture of somebody that you hate, and then what we are going to do is we are going to take that picture and we’re going to put it above the dart board, and then you can throw as many darts at that person as you want.”

The kids had a ball. There was a girl there who drew a picture of a girl who stole her boyfriend. There was a young man who drew a picture of his father whom he hated. And on and on it went. The question was not, “Is there somebody that I hate?” The question was, “How do I choose among those that I hate?” The kids really loved this.

Well, picture after picture was put up there and they took those darts and threw them as hard as they could. And then the professor said, “Enough,” and he took down the dartboard and behind it was a picture of Jesus. And the students stood in stunned silence. Here was the mangled picture of Jesus. His cheeks were cut, His eyes were pierced out, and His teeth and His mouth were unrecognizable. Even when the bell for recess came, they still sat there as the professor said to them very simply, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto these, my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.” Every dart that we throw at people that we hate ends up being a dart thrown at the heart of Jesus.

“Be tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you,” the Scripture says. If not, we grieve the Spirit. That’s the context in which the famous verse is there in verse 30. We grieve the Holy Spirit of God who is a forgiving Spirit. Oh, judgment will come, but now, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

You know, I memorized Psalm 139 years ago (You don’t need to turn to it.) and used to actually teach it without opening my Bible. I could still do it I think, but it’s that Psalm in which David begins by saying, “Oh Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.” And then you get to the end of the Psalm to about verse 23 and David says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me.”

We say, “Hey, wait a moment, David. Verse 1 says, ‘O Lord, you have searched me and known me.’ Verse 23 says, ‘Search me.’ What’s going on? You’ve been searched, David.” What David is saying is this: “I know that God has searched me and knows all about me-every single detail, but now at the end of the Psalm I want Him to reveal to me the wicked way that He sees that is in me that I need to take care of.”

And that’s why we need to seek the Holy Spirit, and that’s why some of you need time alone with Him this week when you truly seek God, because within you, as often is within my own heart, is that which grieves the Spirit of God, and it makes us difficult for the Spirit to bless. Now the Spirit will reveal to us that which grieves Him, and the Spirit will point us to Jesus because when we see our sin we run to Him and are so grateful that He died for sinners. And if you’ve never received Him as Savior, that’s what you need to do–to accept Him so that this transformation begins its process in your life. And then the Spirit helps us do what is right-a tremendous price that has to be paid for honesty.

I think of a friend of mine who actually taught me years ago in high school. Now he was a professor and all, and he was really going to pray for his daughter because she was getting married. And this wasn’t just a little prayer like “God, help my daughter.” He really wanted to seek God, and what happened is he knelt to pray, and it was as if God just said to him, “Don’t bother.” Years ago when he graduated with his master’s degree he had cheated on a term paper. He said that when he walked across the platform he received an award for high achievement, but every time he thought back: “I cheated, I cheated, I cheated.” The Spirit of God said, “Take care of that.”

And so he went back to the university. He didn’t know but that his degree might be taken away from him, but you are willing to pay any price once the Spirit has His way. You soon discover that the Spirit of God helps us and leads us.

I wish that after a message like this I could give an invitation, but you know that we are going to be having communion in just a few moments. But would you promise me that if God has talked to you, that you will talk to God and do whatever the Holy Spirit has shown you must do so that the Spirit who loves us, who desires the best for us, who wants to bless us, can freely have His way?

Let’s bow together in prayer. Would you talk to God now? What is it that you need to say to Him in light of what you have heard? You tell Him right now wherever you are seated, and if you have never believed on Jesus, would you trust Him as Savior even right now?

Father, our temptation is to forget, to walk out of here and go back to our old ways. Enable us not to do that as a church, as your people. Teach us, Father, that the Spirit might have His way, and search us, we ask. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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