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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Be filled with the Spirit!
Text:LD 20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 19:1,6                                                                                

Hy 5:1,2,3,4  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Psalm 139; John 16:5-16

Ps 139:1,4,5,10,13

Sermon – Lord’s Day 20

Hy 50:1,2,3,4

Ps 25:2,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, what’s filling you? What’s inside of you? I’m not talking about your internal organs or five litres of blood, or even the sandwiches you had for lunch. No, what fills your spirit? What’s the fuel for your life and what you do?

The question of what fills us is vital. We know the words of Christ in Matthew 12, where He says, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (v 35). What’s stored up within has much to do with how we’re going to act, and what we’re going to say. Proverbs calls it the well-spring.

We’ve all got a life that others can see, of course. But what lies beneath? It’s a simple question. The Bible says it boils down to just two alternatives: Either a person is filled with the Holy Spirit, or he isn’t. Either a person walks with God, or she doesn’t.

Which invites the question: If you don’t have the Spirit, what do you have? Who, or what, fills us? In Galatians 5, it is set up as a pointed contrast: “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (v 16). Holy Spirit, or sinful nature. We would say that’s binary, uncomfortably so: it’s either one that directs the course of our life, or it’s the other.

And as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12, “I tell you that… no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (v 3). To make the good and saving confession, we need the Spirit of God. To serve our Lord, it is the Spirit who must rule our hearts. No wonder Scripture urges and exhorts: “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). Our lives depend on it! As we look at Lord’s Day 20 today, this will be our theme,

Be filled with the Spirit! The Holy Spirit:

  1. reveals the Father
  2. points to the Son
  3. dwells within us


1) He reveals the Father: Earlier we confessed our faith with the Nicene Creed. Towards the end of that ancient creed, we confess, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Spirit proceeds. What does that mean? When something proceeds, it moves forward, it advances: ‘The car proceeded quickly down the highway.’ So for the Spirit: He comes into this world, He advances into our hearts—there’s a movement, from God to us.

Now, at times in the church’s history, people have struggled with this concept. If the Spirit comes to us from the Father (and from the Son), then this seems to make the Spirit a little less than the others. The one who sends is always greater than the one who is sent—that’s how we tend to look at things. So is the Spirit on a lower rung of the ladder?

But Scripture, and the Catechism, are clear about the full divinity of the Holy Spirit: “He is together with the Father and the Son, true and eternal God” (Q&A 53). We confess that He is God—just as eternal, just as almighty, as glorious as the other two persons of the Trinity.

Yet within the Trinity there are different roles and special tasks. In the perfect wisdom of God, there is “a division of labour.” The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are entirely unified in the work of creating, saving, and renewing, but each person of the Trinity contributes to this project in unique ways.

So the Spirit is sent by the Father into this world. This was true already in the beginning, when the Spirit was busy overseeing the Father’s creative activity. Recall that He was “hovering over the waters” in Genesis 1:2, caring for all things as they came into being. Since then, Psalm 104 says that the Spirit maintains the world; He renews it year by year, guiding the rhythm of creation in its times and seasons.

But the Spirit is involved with creation on another level too—it’s at the level of individual creatures, like you and me. The Father sends his Spirit in order to renew the corrupted hearts of sinners. We know the sad story of what happened, how with mankind’s rebellion, death invaded every life, and Satan put his claim on every heart. Within us, all is darkness. But through the Spirit comes light: Paul says that the Spirit is like a new dawn for our hearts, and He sheds everywhere the glory of the knowledge of God.

We want to focus on that aspect now, how the Spirit is sent to reveal the Father. He shows God the Father as He always has been, and as He really is. Though all people have closed their eyes to God, have turned out the lights to try and hide from him, God sends his Spirit to illuminate our hearts.

One way that the Father reveals himself is through his great works in this world. Everywhere God has left the evidence of his power and majesty! And all this testimony to the Creator could hardly be denied, you would think. Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands… Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (vv 1,4).

You can hear the Spirit’s voice cry out in testimony: “This is the Father’s world!” For we see the bold colours of God’s creativity, marveling at brilliant blue skies, seeing vibrant green leaves on the trees, being impressed by a luxurious carpet of wildflowers. We hear the magnificent sermon announced by creation—and when we have the Spirit, we know who this sermon is all about. It declares the glory of God, the work of his hands, even to the ends of the world.

Even so, creation’s testimony is not enough. There is far too much about the Father’s glory that can ever be expressed through pretty blossoms and pristine beaches. So the Father also reveals himself through the Spirit’s Word.

Already from ancient days, the Spirit was sent to fill the men of God like Moses and Samuel and Asaph and Ezekiel. The Spirit filled them, so that they could fill others with the knowledge of God. “This is your Creator,” the Spirit said, “and this is your covenant God, your King.” Then in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit continued to speak through the prophets and apostles. “This is what God has done for his people,” the Spirit said through Matthew and Peter and Jude. “These are his promises, his plans. This is the God who’s become your Father in Christ.”

The Scriptures are breathed out by the Spirit, so that as we read Scripture, we can know the Father, and trust and love the Father. Yet sinful people still have hearts of darkness. Even with the burning lamp of the Word in front of us, the blackness can hang heavy. So the Spirit does something else, and He opens our eyes.

Consider Paul’s words about the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 2. He says there are things that the wisest people of this world will never get, never even imagine, “but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (v 10). It’s through the unveiling work of the Spirit that we may understand. By his transforming and his teaching, we may grasp a little of what the Father has done in this world and in our salvation. Despite our shallowness, we may fathom “the deep things of God.” We may see and believe the simple beauty of the gospel.

Listen to how David sings about this in Psalm 139: “How precious also are your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” (v 17). Because the Spirit of God was with David wherever he went, he was filled with the thoughts of God—his truth, his wisdom, his character. Through the Spirit, God’s truth becomes portable and it becomes accessible. David can take God’s words with him, day and night, constantly.

If you asked David what fills him, he would say that through the Spirit, it is the LORD’s truth which ever occupies his mind and cheers his heart: “When I awake, I am still with you” (v 18). That’s his first thought when he rolls out of bed, “It’s a new day. And God is with me.”

So for us. As we read the Scriptures, the Spirit makes real the Father’s care—so that we can begin to have a greater confidence. When we pray, the Spirit makes real to us the Father’s wisdom—so that we can begin have a firmer peace. When we worship, the Spirit makes real the Father’s glory and majesty—so we sing our psalms and hymns with a more exuberant joy.

Through the Spirit, we’re allowed to know this precious truth: God is with us, and He is for us. David speaks of this nearness to the LORD, “[You have] laid your hand upon me” (v 5). You’ve probably seen a parent do that before, maybe done it yourself: resting a hand on one’s child to calm her, to soothe, to guide. That hand says so much. In the same way, David says, God puts his hand on us.

Beloved, the Father’s hand is on you to guide, to comfort, to discipline, to provide for you and to bless you. Don’t brush off the Father’s hand. Don’t ignore it, but cling to it. The Father’s hand is on you, and the Spirit lets you feel it!


2) He points to the Son: Let’s go back to the Nicene Creed. We confess there that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Father sends the Spirit, and He’s also sent to us by the Son. We see this, for example, in John 20. Jesus there mandates his disciples to go out in all the world. And to equip them for the task, John tells us, “[Jesus] breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (v 22). Jesus pours out the Spirit as He promised.

It was the promise made in John 16. “When He has come,” Jesus says about the Spirit, “He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (v 8). Jesus says that He will send the Spirit with a convicting mission. Now, we know that language from the courtroom. When the evidence is presented, and the arguments have been made, sometimes the verdict is totally clear—and a conviction is handed down.

In the same way, the Spirit presents the evidence of Christ. He unfolds what Christ has done. Through his Word, the Spirit lays it out for us, and He tells us: “Christ achieved the righteousness that you could never attain. He demolished the devil, so you could be set free from sin’s power. He endured God’s judgment in your place.” By his testimony, the Spirit reveals to us Christ the Saviour.

Think about how we need this ministry of the Spirit. In the short time Jesus spent on earth, He couldn’t say everything. He couldn’t preach to everyone. So his Spirit is here to continue the task. As Jesus said, “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (v 13). He tells people about the Truth that is Christ.

And if the Spirit is going to fill us, then He’s the one we need to listen to. There’s always a thousand voices to listen to in this world. There’s an endless playlist for our earbuds, such that we’d never run out things to listen to. We can be filled with the content and opinions and values which are promoted by so many people in this world—some wise, many foolish—but the Spirit’s voice must rise above it all. For He tells us about the one with a measureless love for sinners. He tells us about the almighty power of our King and the amazing grace of our Saviour.

This is why Paul prays in Ephesians, “I pray that out of [the Father’s] glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (3:16-17). Through the Spirit, we know Christ and are connected to Christ. Through the Spirit, it is Christ who fills us!

It’s like what Jesus promised in John 16, “[The Spirit] will glorify me, for He will take of what is mine and declare it to you” (v 14). The Spirit draws from that vast resource of Christ’s grace and mercy and He shares it with us. More than anything, the Spirit points us to Christ!

Compare the Holy Spirit to a spotlight, like the ones which light up a building or a statue at night. When you have spotlight that is turned on, the idea is not to look at the light itself. You’ll only hurt your eyes. But you look where the light is pointing, you look at what it’s illuminating. And now picture a spotlight on the outside of a church building, lighting up a large cross. That’s where the Spirit is always pointing. He focuses the eyes of our heart on Christ and his glory. He’s always lighting up the cross, so that we see it and go to it!

The Catechism explains it this way, “[The Spirit] is given to me to make me by true faith share in Christ and all his benefits” (Q&A 53). The Spirit impresses on our hearts this wondrous message so that we humbly accept it and have confidence in it.

Remember what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I tell you that… no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (v 3). If we weren’t filled with the Spirit, that’s a confession which would never cross our lips. But when the Spirit fills us, when He lights up Christ before our eyes, now we can say it: “Jesus is Lord. He is the Lord of all creation, and He is the Lord of my life.” By the Spirit we confess, “Jesus is my Lord—so I’ll serve him for all of my days.”


3) He dwells in us: We’ve spoken about how the Holy Spirit reveals the Father, and how He points to the Son—now for the Spirit himself. The Catechism doesn’t say a lot in Lord’s Day 20, yet it gets to the heart of the matter: “The Spirit is given to me… to comfort me, and to remain with me forever.” Beloved, this is a life-shaping truth: the Spirit is always near us.

Think of how David puts it in Psalm 139. He asked God, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (v 7). What’s the answer? “Where can I go from your Spirit?” Nowhere! Though the Father is Almighty Creator, He is always with us, his creatures. Though Christ is the King of the Universe, He never leaves us, his church. And it is through his Spirit that God remains with us.

David describes the presence of God’s Spirit with a whole set of situations and locations. “If I ascend into heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in hell [or the depths], behold, you are there” (v 8). From the greatest heights of creation to the lowest depths, the Spirit is with us. If you hired a Sherpa and ascended Mount Everest, or took a submersible and descended into the deepest trench of the ocean, He’d be there.

This is true physically, and also in other ways. Sometimes we can have the best day, when it feels like we’ve ascended to the pinnacle of life and everything is right in our world—well, God is there. For then we need to know that it’s his blessing, that it’s his favour that has brought us here. The Spirit is with us even at the highest heights.

Or we can have an awful day, even a terrible year, where you’re trudging in the lowest place. For we can face a lot of darkness in this life: you have guilt for something you’ve done wrong, you’re scared, you’re sad, or you’re desperately lonely. But even then, the Spirit is near. Even if you’ve descended to the lowest depths, the Spirit can encourage and uphold you. It may not be immediate. He may not cause every problem to disappear. But here is his sure promise: the Spirit remains with us forever! The Spirit will bring us through and bring us back up.

And now see David’s response to the nearness of God’s presence by his Spirit. In verse 19 he shifts his attention to the wicked, and he wants nothing to do with them: “Depart from me, you bloodthirsty men!” This might seem out of tune with the rest of the psalm, which has been so focused on the goodness and care of God. Yet David knows that God hates wickedness, so David has to hate all wickedness too. If God is always so close to us—as close as his Spirit—then we have to live God’s style and manner of life.

Sometimes we do that when we’re in the company of godly people. We just know they this brother or sister will not tolerate some kinds of conversation or behaviour. They have an air of holiness about them—and that’s a good thing! So we hold our tongue, and we watch what we do. Their holiness has a quiet influence on us. Think then, of the holy God being right beside us, even residing within us. He is holy, so we have to be holy. If the Spirit will dwell with us, we have to make sure we’re a good home for him by putting away all sin. “Depart from me, you wicked men!”

That brings us back to Paul’s words in Ephesians 5. “Be filled with the Spirit.” In the original, Paul uses a verb tense that means something like “Be continually filled by the Spirit.” Receiving the Spirit isn’t a once-for-all experience, like getting your knee replaced—once and you’re done. You didn’t get the Holy Spirit around the time you professed your faith, for example, or when you first began to pray sincerely—you received him once and for all. No, we have an ongoing and daily need to be filled and strengthened with the Spirit.

We depend on God to do this filling. But being filled isn’t just a passive activity. That’s usually how we think of it, that “filling” is what you need to do to or for something else. If you’re running low on gas/petrol, you don’t just pull into the service station and tell your car, “Be filled.” Nothing’s going to happen! 

Yet this is what God tells us: “Be filled with my Spirit.” Because we’re going to have a role in this! We have a task here. We must let our life be governed completely by the direction of the Holy Spirit, opening our life to his work. How can we? Beloved, there is no secret. Fill up with Scripture, and fuel up with prayer. Fill up with Christian fellowship and communal worship. These are the things that the Spirit uses to drive us and move us. These are the things the Spirit uses to give the energy to live as his thankful people. Remember: good things come from the good that’s stored up inside you!

When we live by Spirit, when we are filled with the Spirit, it actually becomes possible to walk in holiness and live by faith. As Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 1:17, “For God gave us a Spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” His Spirit in us is mighty!

Which means we should check our levels daily. Are we filled by the Spirit? Or are we soon going to run dry? Maybe we’re filling ourselves day after day with things that only clog our engine and corrode our gears. What are we listening to, and what are we reading and watching? What are we always thinking about? Are these things useful? Can we convert these things into the fuel of the Spirit?

See how David ends Psalm 139 with a bold prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties. And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (vv 23-24). He’s asking God himself to see what fills him, to check what’s in the tank, and to help him improve.

It can be our prayer too, “Search me, O God, and know my heart.” We say to God, “See how I need your help, every day—every hour. See how I’m helpless on my own. See the wisdom that I need, and the patience, and the strength to carry on. Search me, O God, and fill me. Help me to be holy. Please fill me to overflowing with your Spirit. Father, by your good Spirit and Word, lead me in the way everlasting.”  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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