This week we step back from the text of the Bible and look at two major themes that are often misunderstood in the life of believers today: the church and the Holy Spirit. If we can get these two concepts right, I believe that it will change EVERYTHING about the spiritual life for us.
Listen to: The Spirit by Andy Stanley
The Holy Spirit
16 Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever – 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you… 25 “I have spoken these things while staying with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you. (John 14:16-17, 25-26, NET)
7 Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you. 8 When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment: 9 About sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see Me; 11 and about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. 12 “I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 Everything the Father has is Mine. This is why I told you that He takes from what is Mine and will declare it to you. (John 16:7-15, HCSB)
One of the great surprises that the new covenant era has for us is the Holy Spirit. In the past, the Spirit only empowered certain people, but now He indwells and empowers EVERY believer. Do you acknowledge Him, or do you only think of the Father or the Son? Have you ever considered that the strength of Sampson or the wisdom of Solomon is available to you? He is our Helper, Comforter, and Guide.
When Jesus promised a replacement, He used the word, “another” (ἄλλον) which is a word that specifically refers to an equivalent replacement, just like the original one. Everything Jesus was, the Spirit also is. Everything Jesus did for His followers, His Spirit does for you. Jesus taught, the Spirit teaches. Jesus healed, the Spirit heals. Jesus comforted, the Spirit comforts.
God is always present with His people as they pursue His work in the world. God walked with the people who followed Him at the beginning of the world: Adam and Eve, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham. Under the Old Covenant, He was visibly present as the glory of God (shekinah) over the tabernacle and temple. In the new covenant, He indwells every believer through the Holy Spirit. In the millennial kingdom to come, Jesus will return and be physically present. And in the new heavens and new earth, He is throne will be the centerpiece of the world, providing light for all mankind.
“One of the most subtle tactics adopted by the Enemy to paralyze the church has been to make Christians afraid of the Holy Spirit. He has driven groups of earnest believers to adopt extreme positions to the right or left. He laughs as he sees neither group in complete enjoyment of the power and fullness the Spirit delights…In most (mainstream) Christian churches the Spirit is entirely overlooked. Whether He is present or absent makes not real difference to anyone. ~ J. Oswald Sanders
14 But Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them: “Men of Judah and all you residents of Jerusalem, let me explain this to you and pay attention to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it’s only nine in the morning. 16 On the contrary, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:14-18, HCSB)
The Holy Spirit does the following:
- Makes the Bible understandable to us (John 14:26) since He is the one who inspired the writers in the first place.
- Comfort us (John 14:16)
- Prays for us when we can’t pray for ourselves (Romans 8:26-27)
- Gives us the strength to avoid temptation (Galatians 5:16)
- Empowers us with abilities known as spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12) and even does miracles through us.
- Fills our lives with the character of God – fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:21-22)
- Gives us the words to say at key moments (Luke 12:12)
- Affirms and assures us that we are God’s children (Ephesians 1:13, 4:30) and the the promise of heaven is certain for us.
- Convicts the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:7-11)
- Unifies us as He helps us make decisions together, reveals himself in great ways in our gatherings, and gives spiritual gifts that draw us to serve one another.
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God… (Eph 4:30, NET)
We can ignore the Holy Spirit’s guidance and grieve Him with sin. (Acts 7:51, 1 Thessalonians 5:19). He can fall silent in our lives as we harden our hearts and refuse to obey His guidance or even as we cling to a sin we don’t want to give up.
He is also not a replacement for the fellowship and accountability of other Christians who need to be in our lives. He was not given to us so that we could live our lives independently from the church. He is the very powerful, unpredictable, presence of God in our lives and in the midst of our gatherings with other believers. He is the one we should know best, and the one who should make our lives transformational each week, if we will listen to and respond to Him.
6 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to do this, 8 so they passed through Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 A vision appeared to Paul during the night: A Macedonian man was standing there urging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 After Paul saw the vision, we attempted immediately to go over to Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. (Acts 16:6-10, NET)
8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is your life because of righteousness. 11 Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you. 12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh 13 (for if you live according to the flesh, you will die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ) – if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him. (Rom 8:8-17, NET)
16 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another. (Gal 5:16-26, NET)
God the Father
Pray to God the Father, as Jesus did. See God the Father as the one who has the chief responsibility and role in directing history. Remember that though the Father speaks from heaven on occasion, it’s the Holy Spirit’s voice you’ll hear most often.
God the Son
Jesus is our savior, the one who died for us and serves as our advocate. He is the physical manifestation of God, the one who showed us who God was like by living a human life. Jesus is our high priest, the one who intercedes for us in heaven.
God the Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the daily presence of God in us. He’s not one we don’t need to address with prayers most of the time, but the one we depend on and feel with us each day. He’s the one who is hurt most deeply by our daily thoughts and actions, and the one most visible working through us when we will let Him. Let Him be your companion. Talk with Him throughout the day, listen for His guidance. Rely on Him when you read the Bible or meet with other people to help your communication build each other up.
Disclaimer about the Practices of other churches:
Many people seek a second blessing from the Spirit of God, either as an overwhelming emotional experience referred to as the baptism of the Holy Spirit or as a “special” spiritual gift that causes you to mumble words that only God understands. We covered some of this ground in our lesson on doctrine…but these two practices seem to do far more to divide the church and make it unproductive, than they do to fulfill the goals of the church. So why I don’t discredit them entirely, we don’t leave room or push for them at oneChurch because we see no command to do so and no great profit in adding them to our mission to reach the world and make disciples. See the article below for more information.
23 They wrote this letter to be delivered by them:
From the apostles and the elders, your brothers,
To the brothers among the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:
Greetings. 24 Because we have heard that some without our authorization went out from us and troubled you with their words and unsettled your hearts, 25 we have unanimously decided to select men and send them to you along with our dearly loved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who will personally report the same things by word of mouth.
28 For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours—to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from food offered to idols, from blood, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. You will do well if you keep yourselves from these things. Farewell. (Acts 15:23-29, HCSB)
By now, I hope that our journey through church history, doctrine, and the New Testament has cemented the idea in your heads that church is a movement–not a campaign to create a single world nation or the expansion of a company across the globe, but rather the spread of the message and Spirit of salvation to people of every tribe, tongue and nation. Just as it did in the time of the first church, it looks messy as people slowly learn to look and act more like Jesus as they fall in love with Him, and it looks different everywhere you go because worship, teaching, and discipleship must be adapted to fit the culture that people are engaged in.
The New Testament contains a crystal clear presentation of Jesus as well as good advice on aspects of church organization, but it leaves us with great freedom in the forms of worship that we pursue. There is no template for sermons, no mandate for days and times we must worship, and only two key traditions we are told to pass on: communion and baptism. The moment we begin arguing that a form of worship or sermon is Biblical, we have elevated a personal preference in a way that only confuses and divides people as well as hinders our ability to adapt worship to a new generation of people or a different culture.
The killer question for any church beyond whether it is preaching the right gospel is, are they “doing church” in a way that is effectively reaching people and making disciples? If the answer is “no” then it does not matter how sacred they feel their practices are. And in these conversations, we need to urge people to consider what is effective, not what is Biblical.
Churches in the past have tried to make the following required for church, and destroyed the work of God in many places because of it:
- The King James translation of the Bible is the only one worth reading. (Basically: If you can’t understand language as it existed in 1611, then the Bible isn’t for you)
- Clapping, dancing, and certain instruments (drums, electric guitars, etc) are all illegitimate ways to worship God. They are not allowed in church.
- Suits and ties for men, dresses and hats for ladies are required for proper worship of God.
- Communion must be offered every time you worship for it to be a legitimate church gathering.
- All men must be circumcised and begin following all the Jewish practices to worship in the church. (Acts 15)
- You have to explain the gospel and call people to salvation at the end of every event to have “done church” properly.
- You must worship alongside your kids, not separately, for worship to be appropriate.
Are you doing church in a way that is effectively reaching people and making disciples?
- Does communion every Sunday engage your people in worship or create a false sense of spirituality for believers and scare visitors off?
- Does your music engage people and open their hearts and minds to the message of the morning, or distract them from the message God wants them to hear?
- Do you communicate what the Bible says in such a way that they want to read it for themselves, or is the only thing they remember the movie clip or funny story you told?
- How often do you need to present the gospel from stage, and how do you go about it, to ensure that you reach the lost people sitting in the audience?
- Do you have a greater impact with kids and parents together, or separate?
The truth is, the early church was being revealed to the disciples by the Holy Spirit as they went. It was full of surprises. If there had been a specific template that church was meant to follow, you can bet that Jesus probably would have both modeled it and been recorded giving instructions for it in the gospels. Instead of commands in the Bible regarding how to do church, we have lots of descriptions of ways that it was done, and many warnings on things that people did that clearly violated the moral standards that church was to represent.
8 This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God might be careful to devote themselves to good works. These are good and profitable for everyone. 9 But avoid foolish debates, genealogies, quarrels, and disputes about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning, (Titus 3:8-10, HCSB)
Recommended Reading: Deep and Wide by Andy Stanleyhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRLVMTJIhjU
- How can you relate better to the Holy Spirit?
- In what ways does the Holy Spirit show up in your life?
- What personal preferences about church would you be tempted to argue are essential for the experience to be legitimate?
- What preferences have been placed upon you as you try to worship at churches?
Personal Examples of things I have experienced:
- A church must always have 100% agreement from the congregation or from a committee before they can take action on something significant.
- Men must wear pants, a suit, and tie to be allowed to worship.
- You must only read from the King James Bible.
- We must recite the Nicene creed for our worship to be legitimate.
- We must take communion for our worship to be official.
- We cannot take communion because a priest is not here to administer it…and no one else can do it.