Naming The SpiritErwin W. Lutzer | September 9, 2012
Selected highlights from this sermon
The Holy Spirit is a person. He’s not an “influence.” He has all of the attributes of personality. He has intellect. He has emotions. He has a will.
He also has all of the attributes of deity. He is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent.
And for those who have believed in Jesus Christ, He is in them and beside them as a Helper, Comforter and Teacher.
So if we let the Spirit have His way, He’ll consume everything in our lives that isn’t holy. He will purify us.
What would happen if the Holy Spirit had His way among us? What would happen if the Holy Spirit were definitely alive here at The Moody Church? We know that He is alive because we do experience transformations, but what if we experienced many more? I can imagine that what would happen is couples with irreconcilable differences who are headed for divorce would be reconciled, and would be reconciled permanently, if the Spirit has His way. Yes, there would be confession of sin. There would be issues that need to be dealt with, but no issue is insurmountable if the Spirit had His way.
What would happen to us personally among The Moody Church if those with long-standing addictions were delivered? Unconquered sin would be triumphed over, if I can put it that way, so that people can walk free in the joy of the Lord. I don’t expect that it would happen in just one swoosh. Yes, there are struggles because the Bible says the flesh and the spirit are at war, and too often we give in to the flesh, but there is spiritual power available for the most-bound sinner, bound by his own chains. There is help, and there is hope for deliverance, forgiveness and restoration when the Spirit has His way.
What would happen at The Moody Church corporately if the Spirit were to have His way? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we never had to ask for volunteers because each Sunday there would be those lining up asking to be volunteers because they would be so anxious to be able to help, so thrilled to have some small part in the Kingdom that they’d be willing to even extend themselves and sacrifice, if you please? Sacrifice their time! Some of the things that they give their time to would no longer be that important. Even sports would take second place to God and to His Word and to His people, as it was even in the book of Acts when the Church spontaneously gave itself to the Spirit and to one another.
Could you imagine a time here at The Moody Church when we have to move prayer meeting into a larger room on Wednesday evening, because there would be so many answers to prayer? People would see God’s hand in their finances. They’d see sons and daughters that were prodigals restored back to God and there would be so many answers to prayer that people would be excited to go to prayer meeting, and we’d have to have it in a larger room all the time because people would actually believe that God answers prayer. And if you believe that God answers prayer, I tell you, you will pray and you’ll want to pray together. Imagine that!
Imagine what would happen if all of the work of the Spirit were to spill over into our community and into our city, and people would see these strange people who love one another, who are sometimes very hard to love, by the way, and yet they love one another and they love others and they care about other people. And while they live holy lives that repel many people in the world, at the same time there’s a quality of love and acceptance that draws them. That’s what happened in the early Church. The holiness of the Church repelled people. People said, “We don’t want to have anything to do with these people that have such high standards and believe that God’s morality is really important. We don’t want to have anything to do with them.” And yet they were drawn to their love and to their acceptance. Can you imagine that?
And then we can only visualize what would happen if the Spirit had His way and the Holy Spirit began to work mightily in this nation, in the churches of this nation, and then among our politicians. And the whole nation would recognize its need for God and its need for the Word of God. And our national sins would suddenly become important and be addressed. Imagine if the Spirit had His way.
Teaching on the Holy Spirit of God is oftentimes risky, some people believe, because we have in our minds all the extremes. If you watch any television you know that there are those who supposedly touch others and they fall under the power of the Spirit, and you’ve had some very bizarre things happening throughout the ages, especially in the last 30 or 40 years. And so people say, “If that’s the power of the Spirit, I don’t want it.” And the fact is that the Holy Spirit of God has been given to the Church and there is a wing of evangelicalism that avoids the Spirit because of these extremes that are doing things that are unbiblical.
But what we’re going to do in this series of messages, of course, is to concentrate on those issues that the Holy Spirit of God revealed in His Word that He’d like to do among us, and He is available. What makes us think that the Spirit of God who has done some wondrous things in the past can’t do wondrous things now? Of course He can because He is the same, just like Jesus, yesterday, today, and forever.
Today’s message introduces us to the Holy Spirit of God. I am going to be using many different passages. We won’t look them all up. I will ask you near the end of the message to turn to one passage only because I want us to be able to grasp the full scriptural teaching of the Holy Spirit.
First of all, the Holy Spirit is a person. I was shocked to discover that according to one opinion poll, even evangelicals thought of Him only as being some kind of an influence. They thought He was something impersonal, something like electricity—some influence. No, no, no, He’s a person just as much as you are a person. The Holy Spirit has all the attributes of personality. For example, He has intellect. You know, the Bible says that the Spirit of God knows the things of God. The Spirit of God has emotions. One whole message in this series will be devoted to the fact that we can grieve the Spirit. There are those who blaspheme the Spirit. We can insult the Spirit, the New Testament says, because He’s a person and He has feelings. He not only has feelings and has an intellect, but also the blessed Holy Spirit of God has a will. One of the messages later is going to be on how spiritual gifts are distributed, the Bible says, by the Spirit as He wills. You have the gifts that you have today because the Spirit of God willed it. He is a person.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the second message in this series, because I am going to speak about the companionship of the Spirit. I want you to develop a friendship with the Spirit. I want you to recognize that He is in you and He is beside you as a helper. And I want you to develop a relationship with this friend that Jesus said is given to those who believe in His name. I want you to come to know the Spirit, to enjoy the Spirit of God, this person whom God has given to us.
He is, of course, also God. Need I even mention that? If you look at the Bible He has all the attributes of deity—omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence. All of those attributes belong to the Spirit. Why? It’s because the Spirit is God. One of the best verses (and we must hurry on here) is the great commission. The great commission says, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, baptizing them in the name (singular—not the names, but the name—singular) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” because the Spirit is a part of what we call the Trinity. There’s only one God to be sure, but one God in three persons—blessed Trinity.
So the Holy Spirit is God. You have God inside of you. The Scripture makes that very clear. If you are a believer in Jesus, God resides within you and with you. Are you aware of that, or are all of the pressures of life so overwhelming that you’ve forgotten that God is in you and with you? That’s why the subtitle of these messages is “Recapturing the Wonder of God Within Us.”
Now when you look at the Spirit you also notice that He is the Holy Spirit. This message is called “Naming the Spirit,” and if there would be a name that we would give the Spirit, it would be the name Holy. And Holy isn’t merely, you know, separate. Of course He’s separate because He is distinct as God is, but rather it has that moral quality of purity, of holiness, complete absence of darkness. The Bible says regarding God there is no darkness in Him at all. Now I have to warn you (because this will separate some of you) that as you get to know the Spirit, one of the things that the Holy Spirit of God will work on in your life, as He does in mine, is the matter of purity and holiness. You can’t experience the companionship of the Spirit unless you deal with issues in your life. Some of you have a conscience that troubles you because of things in your past, and God may have forgiven you if you have received Christ as Savior, and maybe you’ve dealt with it, but maybe somebody needs to know about it. There have to be all kinds of things. What the Holy Spirit of God will do, and I’ll just lay this out for you, is He’ll go into every closet of our life and He’ll open those closets. And, you see, unless there is some willingness of deep repentance and facing of issues, the Spirit will be stifled. But the result of deep repentance, I can promise you, will be such joy that you won’t be able to contain it.
I remember during a time of great revival in Canada when the Holy Spirit was working mightily, one woman said, “I was so filled with joy I said, ‘Oh God, turn off the joy so that I can get some sleep.’” How long has it been since you asked God to turn off the joy so that you could get some sleep? That’s the result of the Spirit. One of the messages is going to be on the fruit of the spirit—love, joy…— because that’s what happens, you see, but it can’t happen with all of these issues, and all of these sins that we have so confidently tucked in the secret part of our lives that we aren’t willing to expose to God.
So the Holy Spirit is holy. He is going to birth holiness in us, He’s going to move us toward holiness, and our lives are going to be changed because we’ll be on a different trajectory.
Now when you look at the Bible the Holy Spirit of God has different figures of speech in the Scripture. For example, oil; it talks about the anointing of the Spirit. In the Old Testament the priests were anointed for ministry and that represents then the anointing that all of us now have. I just looked up the verse this morning and it’s in 1 John where it says, “You also have an anointing.” Imagine that! You’ve married a Christian. Good for you. He or she has an anointing from God because you’ve received the gift of the Spirit, so there is an anointing.
But there’s another reason, I think, why oil represents the Spirit and that is that in the Tabernacle there was this oil lamp, and it was lighted, and it gave light in worship, and the Holy Spirit of God always gives light and shines a spotlight on Jesus. Wherever the Holy Spirit of God is, Jesus is going to be exalted because the Spirit does not speak of Himself but He keeps pointing us to Jesus and gives us the light to do so.
Another figure of speech is water—cleansing. Old Testament references: “I will pour clean water on you and you shall be cleansed from your iniquity.” It’s a figure of speech, but you do get the point. I remember a young woman involved in immorality told me, “As I look into my life and in my heart, it’s like a sewer.” You know, when you have rain and the sewer backs up you know how awful that can be, and then after the rain subsides and the water goes down, what do you do? You take a hose, right? And you go out into the street and you hose it down, and you cleanse it. That’s what the Spirit of God does. He is like water to cleanse the heart. You know, it’s one blessed thing to be forgiven, but I know Christians who are forgiven but they are not cleansed, so they are hounded by their conscience, even over sins that they have confessed because they don’t understand the cleansing of the Spirit.
And then there are two other figures of speech, and for this I am going to invite you to take your Bibles and turn to Acts 2 where you have the birth of the Church. And I’m going to read and then I am going to comment on the two other figures of speech that are used here in the famous chapter of Acts 2. It’s famous because it is the beginning of the Church, and it’s the descent of the Holy Spirit.
You’ll notice Acts 2:1 says, “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.” Just that far! Notice the two figures of speech that are here. The first is, of course, the figure of speech of wind. Now it doesn’t say that a wind blew in the upper room here. A wind didn’t blow, but it was a sound like wind. It doesn’t say that there was fire. It says that tongues as of fire (and you know that when you have a flame that is sort of forked, these forked flames, as it were) rested upon each person, symbolically speaking, because there wasn’t fire. It looked like fire.
But nonetheless in the Scriptures these are two other figures of speech that are used here for the Holy Spirit. The first is wind. Yesterday I was trying to put some potted plants at the back of our house, and it wasn’t supposed to be windy there, and yet gusts came and blew them over. And I wondered about that. I thought to myself, “Why is wind gusty? Why doesn’t it just go at the same speed all the time?” You know, Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it wishes, and you see it, but you don’t know exactly where it’s coming from or where it’s going. Maybe the meteorologist, Tom Skilling, does but you and I don’t know too much about it and it goes kind of wherever it wants. And I look at this and I say, “You know, this means that there’s a great deal of mystery connected with God and the Holy Spirit,” and there really is.
I don’t understand why God saves some people. In a minute they are saved. They get rid of drugs and all the other things that never touch them again. And others are saved and struggle with it. I don’t know why it is that some people, who seem to live rather self-centered lives, pray to God and get a rather miraculous answer, and then there are others who pray the same prayer, and nothing happens. I don’t know. There’s a great deal of mystery connected with the Holy Spirit, and we should embrace that mystery and not pretend that we know everything about the Spirit.
This series of messages is not intended to teach you everything about the Spirit. It’s intended to get you acquainted with the Spirit, to get you excited by the Spirit, and to walk in the Spirit as the Bible says we are supposed to be doing, and so that’s the intention. But wind also has a tremendous amount of power, doesn’t it? I mean, you think of it being unpredictable. It is powerful. Boy if you get a windstorm we know what hurricanes can do, and the like.
But there is another figure of speech, and that is fire. Fire frequently represents the Holy Spirit in Scripture, and the reason for that is fire sometimes has various meanings. Sometimes it represents the very presence of God, and people are brought into the presence of God. In fact, it says in the book of Hebrews, now speaking of fire as a judgment, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, for our God is a consuming fire.” Wow!
I say to those of you who are listening to this message, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God unprepared because God is a consuming fire. I personally would want to make sure that I am shielded from that fire, and the only shield is Jesus Christ and His work on our behalf.
But now we see that fire represents the presence of God, but sometimes it represents the approval of God. In the case, for example, of Elijah on Mount Carmel, it was the fire that represented God’s approval. Mostly though, in the Scripture, fire often represents the purifying effect of God. We all know what happens when there is wind and fire together, don’t we? We think of what happened in Colorado where you had so many homes that were destroyed, and you can go through those areas and all that you’ll find is a chimney and a basement and a few other things that survived the fire. That’s a good way to look at a purifying fire.
If the Holy Spirit of God had His way here at Moody Church, what He would do symbolically speaking is go through the congregation—my life, everybody’s life—and He would want to consume everything that isn’t holy. He’d want to consume and to burn out all of our sins and our rationalizations that we bring to ourselves and we tell ourselves and all of the things, and what He would do is to purify, to purify, and to purify. The Spirit always purifies, and a symbol of that purification is fire.
Now it says here that after this (verse 4), “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” I have to take out a few moments and comment on this, and wish I had more time, but it will have to be done in another message actually. But there are many dear people who say that we should speak in tongues today as a sign of either the filling or the baptism of the Holy Spirit, so I must comment.
I believe that Pentecost was an event that need never, and will never, be repeated. Just like the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem was a one-time event and Jesus doesn’t have to be born again in Bethlehem, in the very same way, we don’t have to gather in a room somewhere and wait for the coming of the Spirit. The Spirit came at Pentecost. Now He came at Pentecost, and He came among His people as Jesus explained, and this will become a little clearer in the next message. But the point is, what about this tongues speaking? You know, suddenly people are able to speak languages they never learned, and by the way, they are languages, and I believe all through the New Testament where it refers to tongues, it’s talking about actual dialects. I think there are about 13 different nations represented here, and the question is, do we have to speak in tongues today as a sign of the Spirit? Let me tell you why I think the answer is no.
What’s happening here on the Day of Pentecost is God is dramatically showing that the good news of the Gospel, the wonderful works of God, will no longer be confined just to one area of the world, namely the land that we call Israel and the Jewish people. But now the Gospel of Jesus Christ is going to go out to the whole world in all the different languages of the world. The wonderful works of the Gospel will be proclaimed. You see, Isaiah predicted this in chapter 28, verse 11. God says the day is going to come when I am going to speak to this people, namely the Jews, in the stammering lips of Gentile languages. And Paul quotes it in 1 Corinthians 14 as having been fulfilled at Pentecost or through the gift of tongues.
So, you see, what God is saying here is that this is a dramatic way of saying from now on in all the areas of the world, to the ends of the earth, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is going to be proclaimed, not just in the beautiful language of Hebrew, but in all the Gentile languages that there are. And so every place where tongues is spoken of in the book of Acts, and there are least two other places where it occurs, the Gospel is going to a new ethnic and racial group. And as it spreads out, God says, “This is the sign that the Gospel is going throughout the whole world to all the different districts of the world, to all the different people of the world.
Now I could give you more Scriptural support for that but we must hurry on, except to say this. I don’t believe that tongues is a sign today of the filling of the Spirit, or even the baptism of the Spirit, as we shall see in subsequent messages.
I have a sister who worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators, and she and her husband were in Southern Mexico, 250 miles south of Mexico City, for about 25 years, taking an Indian language and breaking it down and translating the New Testament into their language. How they longed for the gift of tongues, but God didn’t give it to them. And if he does it today miraculously—if somebody stands up and speaks Chinese because Chinese are present—certainly God can do those miracles. But it is interesting that the gift of tongues died out very early in the Church after the first century because it no longer was relevant to what God was trying to demonstrate. But the effects of the Spirit, the transformation of lives that we find in the book of Acts, that response of the Spirit is still very relevant today. Notice for example the Scripture says, “First of all they opened their mouths.” It says in verse 11, “Both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians (You’ll notice many of the different language groups were there)—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
Do you know what would happen if the Spirit of God had his own way at Moody Church? Businessmen who work with other businessmen, who have never witnessed to their faith, would suddenly spill over with the joy of the Lord and tell others about the wonderful works of God, namely the redemptive plan that we have in Jesus Christ, our Lord. That’s what would happen if the Spirit had His way. We would be talking about the things of God, and we’d be glad to do so because we’d have a testimony of what God did in our own hearts. And we can’t help but share good news with others. So that’s what would happen.
Generosity! We’ll look at this later in a message, but you know that they sold everything and they said, “Apostles, you take care of it.” This is not normative for the Church. This would not possibly work today and nowhere in the New Testament is it prescribed. But they were so filled with joy they said, “Who cares about owning anything? Let’s sell it and let’s give the money to the Apostles and let them distribute it.” Could you imagine a church in which people were not asking how much should I give but rather asking a different kind of a question, namely, “How much am I really willing to sacrifice to give?” This happened in the book of Acts, and remember the Spirit of God has not changed. He changes people’s values. He changes their hearts. He brings about transformation that you and I can scarcely understand when the Spirit has His way.
As I conclude this message today, I want to make a couple of comments. First of all, do you pick up on the fact that when the Spirit has His way, as I’ve mentioned, the real transformation is an inner transformation? This is not behavior modification. This is not a situation in which you try to structure people or talk them out of one set of desires and to have another (You can’t do that, by the way) but rather that the Spirit of God changes our desires. Now when you trust Christ as your Savior, one of the first desires that He changes is you begin to love God. You can’t wake up in the morning and say to yourself, “Well, today I am going to love God because that’s the first commandment.” That ability must be supernaturally given and it is given by the Spirit. The desire of reconciliation, the desire to give up bitterness and anger which grieves the Spirit and stands in the way of His intentions and His agenda for us, all of that, you see, is all Spirit directed and Spirit given. That’s why before I come to the pulpit here I pray and I always pray, “Oh God, open my eyes, and open the hearts and the eyes of all who listen,” because if the Spirit doesn’t do it we are totally helpless. I can’t change your desire. I can’t make you into a God-lover. I can’t make you into somebody who loves righteousness and hates iniquity. That is impossible, but the Spirit of God can because the Spirit can do the impossible in your life (applause).
So the Spirit transforms us, but we also have to seek God and seek the Spirit. You say, “Well, you know, as you develop this idea of companionship of the Spirit (which I’m going to do next week), should we pray to the Spirit because He is God?” It’s not wrong necessarily to pray to the Spirit, because the Spirit is God, but prayer should be offered to the Father in the name of Jesus, but by the power and the direction of the Spirit. That’s what Paul means when he says, “praying at all times in the Spirit.” So you see, the whole Trinity is involved in our praying, but the Spirit is there to help us.
Oh, I get so excited about next week’s lesson (sermon) I might give it to you now. (laughter) So the fact is that the Spirit of God must be sought. We have to be serious because I’ve already told you that there are issues that we need to deal with in all honesty if we want to experience the fullness of the Spirit, because the Spirit does not enter closed doors.
Some of you have never trusted Christ as Savior, by the way, and you are asking the question, “How do I get the Spirit that you are talking about?” Well, the good news is that when Jesus died on the cross His death was a sacrifice for sinners just like you and like me. And if we trust Him and transfer our trust to Him, and recognize that we are helpless apart from His grace and mercy and substitution, we then receive the Spirit of God when we receive Jesus. But if you’ve never trusted Christ as Savior you may have a different spirit, but you don’t have the Holy Spirit. The Bible is very clear that the world cannot receive the Spirit, and those who do not have the Spirit of Christ do not belong to Him. It is one of the many gifts that God gives to those who believe on His blessed Son. So even today as you listen, no matter which way you are listening to this, whether by radio, CD, or the internet, you can say right here today, “I want and desire this Holy Spirit. I receive Christ as my Savior. I believe He died for me, and today He is mine.” That’s the way you receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and other gifts such as the earnest of the Spirit and the sealing of the Spirit, all of which we hope to explain in subsequent messages.
When I was in college, which is getting further and further away in terms of years, I remember reading a story that I still remember the essence of it. There was a woman who lived in great poverty and squalor. Her husband was killed in the war and she had basically no money. And somebody said to her, “Doesn’t the government help you?” She said, “No, I’ve not received anything from the government, but the government does send me a letter every week with a few things on it and a strange looking piece of paper, but that’s all. I’ve not received any money.” So the person said, “Show me one of those,” and he discovered that it was a check—a whole stack of them uncashed.
I wonder if you and I sometimes say to God, “God, what have you done for me recently?” Maybe you are out of work. Maybe a relationship has gone sour. You’re going through some trial and you feel as if you are going through it all alone, and you are saying, “God, what have you done for me recently?” Do you know what God says to you? “I have given you the Spirit, and you have not opened my gift. I’ve given you the blessed Holy Spirit of God who is there through your trials, who is there amid your tears, who walks with you in the difficult times of life. I have given you a companion who is going to abide with you forever, and you have never entered into it. The letter still is sealed and you are acting as if I have left you alone. But I have not.” “I have not left you orphans,” Jesus said. “Oh no, no, I come to you,” as we’ll explain next week.
Are you willing to be open to the Spirit to let Him have His way? There’s a cost involved. Oh, receiving the Spirit is a gift that is free but there’s a cost to walk in the Spirit, and that is to get serious. I hope that you read the Scripture that we’ve outlined, you’ve memorized the text, and each time you open the Bible you pray Psalm 119:18, “Oh Lord, open thou my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.”
The Spirit has been given not just to be resident, but also to be president and lead us all the way to our heavenly home. Will you join me as we pray together? And even as we bow our heads in prayer I do have to ask the question: What is it you need to talk to God about right now? What has He revealed to you that is very clear? Why don’t we just take a moment of silence and you talk to the Lord. Some of you have never received Christ as Savior. You could reach out right now and say, “Jesus, I receive you as Savior.” Others of you say, “I’ve been living in such defeat for so long, Lord. I am open to the instruction of the Spirit, to finally walk away free.” Whatever it is that God has talked to you about, you pray about it right now.
And of course, as I speak to the congregation, you can’t deal with all these issues in 30 seconds of prayer. This is only the beginning.
Father, meet with us, we pray. Come to transform us. Don’t leave us as You found us, but may Your Holy Spirit have His way regardless of the personal cost. We long for the work of the Spirit, for the power of the Spirit, for the gift that You have given to us. In the Spirit we thank you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.