Monday, 6 February 2012

What Does the Holy Spirit Do?

Sermon based on the Alpha Course Talk on the Holy Spirit

Last week I began a new series of sermons looking at who is the Holy Spirit.  This morning, I want to continue to reflect on the question what does the Holy Spirit do?

A Sunday school teacher was talking to chldren about being a Christian, and she asked them ‘Are you born a Christian?’ to which one little boy replied ‘No, Miss.  You are born normal!’ 

When you become a Christian, you begin a new life.  Sometimes you hear this as being refered to as being ‘born again’.  This expression ‘born again’ has become a cliché, but it is a way of describing what it is like to become a Christian, it’s about the new life that God gives us.  Jesus said this:

“‘I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.’’ (John 3:5-6).

We are both physical and spiritual beings.  And when we become Christians, our spirit and the Spirit of God come together.  Therefore every single Christian is born again. We may not be able to put our finger on the exact moment it occurred, but just as we know whether or not we are alive physically, so we should know that we are alive spiritually.

When we are born as babies, we are born into a family. When we are born again spiritually, we are born into a Christian family, the church.

Much of the work of the Spirit can be seen in terms of a family.
-                     He assures us of our relationship with our Father
-                     He helps us to develop that relationship.
-                     He produces in us a family likeness.

Sons and daughters of God
The Bible tells us that we are all created in the image of God, but it is only when we enter into a relationship with God through Jesus, that we truly become the sons and daughters of God.  We become sons and daughters of God not by being born, but by being born again by the Spirit.

That is why Paul in our reading today, said “you received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:15).

What is the importance of being a child of God? 

1.            The highest privilege

First of all, there is no higher privilege than to be a child of God. Under Roman law if an adult wanted an heir he could either choose one of his own sons or adopt a son. God has only one begotten Son – Jesus, but he has many adopted sons.

Imagine if as a child you were adopted into the Royal family, and you became a princes or princess.  This is fact is in effect what has happened to us.  We have been adopted into God’s family. There could be no higher honour.

Billy Bray was born in 1794 in Cornwall.  He had a terrible reputation, constantly drinking and fighting, and being unfaithful to his wife.  Then at the age of twenty-nine he became a Christian, and his life was completely turned around.  He changed, and became a new person. 

Crowds of miners would come and hear him preach, and some remarkable healings took place.  Billy Bray called himself a prince, because he said ‘I am the son of a King.’

There is no status in the world that even compares with the privilege of being a child of the Creator of the universe.

2.       The closest intimacy

Secondly, as children we have the closest possible intimacy with God. Paul says that by the Spirit we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ If we were to translate the Aramaic word, Abba into English, the nearest equivalent is ‘Daddy’. It is a term of great intimacy. 

The fact that we are able to call God Abba, emphasises the intimate relationship we can have with God when we receive his Holy Spirit. 

Prince Charles has many titles. He is the Heir Apparent to the Crown, his Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Knight of the Garter, Colonel in Chief of the Royal Regiment of Wales, Duke of Rothesay, Knight of the Thistle, Rear Admiral, Great Master of the Order of Bath, Earl of Chester, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Great Steward of Scotland. We would address him as ‘Your Royal Highness’, but to William and Harry he is ‘Dad’. When we become children of God we have an intimacy with our heavenly King.

3.       The deepest experience of God

Thirdly, the Spirit gives us the deepest possible experience of God. ‘The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children’ (v. 16).

As a parent, I want my children to know and experience just how much I love them.  And the same is true with God, He wants us to know that we are His children and that He loves us unconditionally.

4.       Heirs of God

Paul says that if we are children of God we are also ‘heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ’ (Romans 8:17). Which means that as children of God we are his heirs, we inherit the promise of eternal life. 

Developing the relationship
When a child is born it is the beginning of a new life and new relationships. Our relationship with our parents grows and deepens as we spend time with them; it does not happen overnight.

In the same way, our relationship with God develops as we spend time with him, which we do primarily through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who helps us to develop our relationship with God and he enables us to sustain that relationship. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings God’s presence and reality into our lives.  He is the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, who helps us to understand what God is saying to us through the Bible. 

The Holy Spirit is the fire, that keeps our relationship burning, and without whom are faith would be cold and liveless. 

The family likeness

As I get older, I am realise I am becoming more and more like my father, both physically and in my personality. 

I find it fascinating to observe how children can look like both parents at the same time when the parents themselves may look so different. Even husbands and wives sometimes grow to look like each other as they spend time together over the years!

As we spend time in the presence of God, the Spirit of God transforms us, we become more like God not in outward appearnace, but in our inner selves. We are transformed into the moral likeness of Jesus Christ. The fruit of the Spirit is developed in our lives. Paul tells us that ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Galatians 5:22). These are the characteristics that the Spirit of God develops in our lives. It is not that we become perfect immediately, but over a period of time there should be a change.

The first and most important fruit of the Spirit is love. Love lies at the heart of the Christian faith. The Bible is the story of God’s love for us and His desire is that we should respond by loving Him and loving our neighbour. The evidence of the work of the Spirit in our lives will be an increasing love for God and an increasing love for others. Without this love everything else counts for nothing.

Second in Paul’s list is joy. This joy is not dependent on our outward circumstances; it comes from the Spirit within. Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned for many years and frequently tortured on account of his faith, wrote of this joy: ‘Alone in my cell, cold, hungry and in rags, I danced for joy every night . . . sometimes I was so filled with joy that I felt I would burst if I did not give it expression.’

The third fruit listed is peace, the peace that the Holy Spirit gives is much more than absence of worry.  The Hebrew word to describe this peace is shalom, which ‘wholeness’, ‘soundness’, ‘well-being’ and ‘oneness with God’. There is a longing within every human heart for peace like that.

And so through the Holy Spirit, we receive the reassurance of our relationship with our Heavenly, Father.  The Spirit helps us to develop that relationship, and as we experience more of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives, the more like Christ we become, and becoming more like Christ is what being a Christian is all about.  That is what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

I want to finish now with a prayer, asking God’s Holy Spirit to be poured out afresh on us all.

Come, Holy Spirit,
Spirit of God, Spirit of the Risen Christ,
be with us today and always.
Be our Light, our Guide, and our Comforter.
Be our Strength, our Courage,
and our Sanctifier.
May this year be a time
of deep spiritual growth for us,
a time for welcoming Your graces and gifts,
a time for forgiving freely and unconditionally,
a time for growing in virtue and goodness.
Come, Holy Spirit,
be with us today and always. Amen.

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