THIS WE BELIEVE
WEEK SIX: THE HOLY SPIRIT
Intro: “The Bible is true. The Bible is true for me. The truth of this Bible should change the way I believe and behave.”
We’re in a series called, “This We Believe, Essential Christian Doctrine from a Wesleyan Perspective.” We won’t have time today to recap all that’s been said about the Lordship of Christ, the Primacy of the Bible in our lives, and the threefold doctrine of God’s grace, who calls and connects us before, during, and after our conversion.
Today, I want to spend just a minute on the significance of the Person of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Godhead we know as the Trinity. Not only did the founder of Methodism rely heavily on the work of the Holy Spirit in his life, but he expected that any true follower of Jesus would do the same.
Wesley did not develop a full doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but his “order of salvation,” which we addressed in part when we talked about God’s prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace, is only possible through the inner working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. So, in the short time I have today, I want to touch on the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, a subject that deserves a lifetime of devotion and attention.
I looked back and it was 5 years ago, almost to the week, that I began a series based on Francis Chan’s book called, Forgotten God. I also drew from the teaching of Pastor Craig Groeschel of Life Church. And I want to begin by asking the same question and posing the scenario I posed 5 years ago.
QUESTION : Is the Church today living in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit?
SUPPOSE: You spent your entire life on deserted island with only Bible as your source of information about life and death, sin, forgiveness, love, everlasting life, etc. Now, supposed you are rescued 20 years later and found yourself in a typical American evangelical church.
If all you had was Scripture as your context, you would assume that the Holy Spirit is as essential to believer’s existence as air! You know that the Spirit’s presence and power led early Christians to do amazing things for God…to preach boldly…to heal…to raise people from the dead…things that didn’t look like the culture around them.
But what would you find when you got to civilization? Would it look like what you had read about all your life on that deserted island? No. Likely you would discover what Paul describes in 2 Tim 3:5 (NLT)à “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.”
There’s a huge chasm between what we read in Scripture about the Holy Spirit and how most believers and churches operate today. John Wesley saw this in his day in the early 1800s and we are still seeing the church operating in its own strength. Remember Wesley’s famous quote?
“I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”
Without the Holy Spirit, the church will only accomplish human-size results. We cannot walk in the power to live differently than any other group of people if we don’t have the presence of the Holy Spirit.
One of the three pillars of the Methodist movement, alongside sound biblical teaching and attending to the disciplines of following Christ through the means of God’s grace, was the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Some may ask, “Why do we NEED the Holy Spirit?” Because the Holy Spirit is the presence of the risen Christ in the life of every believer and follower of Jesus until Christ returns to take his Bride, the Church, into the throne room of Almighty God on the Last Day. Jesus not only promised the gift of the Holy Spirit, but He delivered! Ever since Pentecost—marking the birth of the Church—the Holy Spirit has been the active Agent in our lives.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus said these things of the Third Person of the Godhead:
John 14:15-17à15“If you love me, keep my commands. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
John 16:8-11à 7But 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. 8When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:
The NT writers speak much about the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church:
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Romans 8:16
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Cor. 3:17
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 1 Cor. 6:19
Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. 2 Timothy 1:14
Who IS the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit—the Third Person of the Trinity—is a Person of POWER. One of the marks of the Holy Spirit in our lives is the power to love. God’s kingdom, love is the very essence of power. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love conquers death. Love perseveres and eternally endures. To love others as God loves us is a powerful thing, and something we cannot do apart from the Holy Spirit.
When counseling Christ-followers who struggle to reconcile with a spouse or a friend, I often ask them if they believe in the power of the Gospel? “Of course,” they say. And it is the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, right? “Right.” So, if the power of the Holy Spirit raised Christ from the dead and dwells in our mortal bodies, is it not possible for the Spirit to resurrect your marriage? Your friendship? “Yes, He is!”
The scriptures tell us that it is the Holy Spirit who POINTS us to Jesus. In fact, that is the purpose of revival power—to exalt the name of Jesus. “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father–the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father–he will testify about me.” (John 15:26).
The Holy Spirit PROPELS us toward Christ-likeness. In other word, He Sanctifies us. He enables us to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. When Wesley speaks of growing in grace…of becoming fully sanctified (set apart) for God…loving God with an undivided heart and loving others…it can only come as we yield to the work of God’s Holy Spirit within us.
But, sadly, for most of us, we prefer to walk through life with a half-hearted devotion to God and his Kingdom. It would seem that—day by day—the people called Methodists are looking more like the dead sect Wesley feared.
Rev. Carolyn Moore, contributor in the book, A Firm Foundation, makes an analogy of wood and fire when thinking about the spiritual life of individuals and churches. She asks this question: How long does it take for a log to catch fire? Depending on the type and size of the wood, the log needs to be at a temperature between 300 and 580 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a big leap from room temperature and it takes time. The bigger the log, the longer it takes. And if the wood is wet, it will take even longer.
People are like that. Some of us are bigger in our faith than others. We’ve already heated up above room temperature. So, when the Holy Spirit moves, we ignite with the fire of God’s love quickly and brightly. Others…well…let’s just say…their wood is wet!
“The power to live abundantly and fruitfully is not in our effort,” says Moore, “but in the presence of the Holy Spirit. What separates the Church of Jesus Christ from any other non-profit is the power of God.” But we must call on Him…seek His presence and power in our lives…and walk in His ways. This can take time to get our wood ready to be set ablaze.
Evan Roberts was the evangelist whose preaching sparked the 1904-05 Welsh revival , the most widespread Christian awakening in Wales in the 20th century. But Roberts spent the years in prayer and preparation before God set his soul on fire. He attended prayer meetings daily and had others praying for him as well. Years later he felt his spiritual temperature rising. During that season, Roberts wrote, “I have only to wait for the fire. I have built the altar, and laid the wood in order, and have prepared the offering; I have only to wait for the fire.” That’s a reference to the passage in 1 Kings 18 when Elijah built and altar to the Lord and waited for the fire after the prophets of Baal failed to see fire from their god.
“Waiting for the fire is an act of faith,” she says. But most of us (me included), are an impatient people. We want to see God move in our lives. Some of us even gather on Thursday mornings and pray for revival as if, with a little lighter fluid, that wet wood will just flare up!
And while the Holy Spirit can come in an instant and our hearts can be set on fire, more times than not revival happens over time, like Evan Roberts and the Welsh Revival. There is a season of “heating up,” of spiritual preparation. And the things that dampen our spirits—sin circumstances, self—has to burn off before there’s enough heat to catch fire.
Let me ask you another question: What if we Methodists are in one of those heating up periods? What if, through the process of schism within the United Methodist Church, God wants to set our hearts ablaze with the love of God and love for others?
What if, this is a pruning period? What if this is a season of repentance? A season of praying, watching, waiting, and expecting? Would that change the way you think of “Church” and your part in it?
Rev. Moore rightly suggests that Methodism was launched as a Holy Spirit-infused global renewal movement. We don’t trace our roots to one spiritual gift like speaking in tongues. We don’t claim a prosperity gospel or signs of abundance as the focus of the Methodist revivals of the past. In Methodism, we invite the Holy Spirit to tabernacle within us in order to raise up out of the messiness of a human life a fiery, dynamic, fully alive faith that transforms the spiritual atmosphere within us and around us.
But our wood is wet! We drank the Kool-Aid that said we could reason our way to a better life. We could solve our own problems with committees, resolutions, and constitutional amendments to our Book of Discipline. We can find ways to “get along” under one roof—those who hold to a life of Spirit-filled, evangelical, biblical orthodoxy in the Wesleyan way, and those who reinterpret the scriptures according to pluralistic, humanistic, and secular ideals using language that “sounds” Wesleyan.
No, my friends. We owe our lives to a Holy God who will not be mocked! Our wood is wet! And IF we ever expect to catch fire for Jesus by the Holy Spirit, we had better start living according to His guidance and His truth! We had better start praying for hearts of humility and obedience, beginning with our own. We had better start seeking the things of God according to the Word of God.
I’ve got good news. It may not be happening overnight, but it IS happening! It’s not by accident that churches in MS are being led by the Spirit to follow the Spirit rather than a man-made institution. It’s not by accident that men and women from around this community sense a new thing God is doing in Marshall County. It’s not by accident that we were led to start a 24-7 prayer ministry at Byhalia UMC. And, even though it may seem a waste of time because few people occupy that space, to borrow from the prophet Zechariah (4:10): “Who dares despise the day of small things.”
The people called Methodists are not only a people of One Book, the Holy Scriptures. We are not only a people saved by grace through faith and growing in our love for God through grace, but we are also a people moved by the Holy Spirit to connect a lost and broken world with a loving, forgiving, and holy God.
Friends, if we are truly the people of God then we are a “peculiar people,” says the apostle Peter. We are a special possession. And we don’t look like the rest of the world. We have the audacity to believe we are able to do the works that Jesus did by the power of His Holy Spirit since Christ sent His Spirit to us. We are at our best when we are advancing the kingdom of God through love and truth.