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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Holy Spirit is Given to Me
Text:LD 20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-01-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 139:1,2,4                                                                                 

Hy 6:1,2  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Romans 8:1-27; Galatians 5:16-26

Ps 51:4,5,7

Sermon – Lord’s Day 20

Hy 49:1,2,3,4

Hy 48:1,2,3,4

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


Brothers and sisters in Christ, where would you be without the Holy Spirit? If God hadn’t sent the Spirit to fill the hearts of his people, where would we be? I doubt that we’d be here today for worship. More than that, apart from the Spirit we’d be lost. Dead in sin, without hope and without God in this world. The Nicene Creed describes the Holy Spirit as “the Lord and giver of life,” because it is the Spirit who brings us to new life in Christ.

All this makes the story in Acts 19 so interesting. In this chapter, Paul is on one of his missionary journeys, and he comes to the city of Ephesus. And finding a group of disciples there, he says to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (v 2). And they reply in a really surprising way: “We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (v 3). Imagine—no knowledge of the Spirit—they were missing one third of the Trinity!

In fact, Paul finds out that their knowledge of the gospel only extends as far as John the Baptist. So Paul instructs these disciples, and he baptizes them in Jesus’s name. And for a fitting finish, Paul lays his hands on them, and the Holy Spirit comes upon them, moving them to speak in tongues and to prophesy. In just a short time they travel from ignorance to knowledge, from deficiency to a real fullness and power. All through the work of the Spirit!

We, of course, have heard all about the Holy Spirit. Today I have nothing really new to tell you about the Spirit. But just like those disciples in Ephesus, we still need instruction in God’s truth: reminders and encouragements, exhortations and warnings. Just like them, we need the gift of the Spirit, each and every day.

And so we turn to Lord’s Day 20 and its lesson on the Holy Spirit. It’s a short Lord’s Day, only seven brief lines long. Yet each brief statement is loaded with Scriptural truth. This afternoon I preach God’s Word to you on this theme,

I believe in God the Holy Spirit:

  1. He is given to me
  2. to make me by true faith share in Christ
  3. to comfort me
  4. and to remain with me forever

 

1) is given to me: Whenever we talk about salvation, we have to constantly return to one simple word: grace. “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” This is true also when it comes to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. For the Holy Spirit, like everything else that God bestows upon us, is a gift of his amazing love.

For God grants us the Holy Spirit, though we didn’t ask for him and did not deserve him. He sends the Spirit to dwell within our hearts, though we don’t always make him feel welcome, but sometimes grieve him. It is God who decides to bless us with the Spirit, in his way, at his time, and because of his grace. “He is given to me” says the Catechism (Q&A 53), for we’d never merit the blessing of the Spirit. He’s a free gift, unexpected and unearned.

And if we didn’t have the Spirit, what would we have? What would occupy us? Jesus once spoke about a house that was swept clean after an evil spirit leaves the residence. And He says that such a house—such a person—cannot be left empty, but it must always be filled with something. What fills us will be either be good or evil.

In Galatians 5, the apostle lays out the two options that are available. He sets it up as an uncomfortable contrast: “Walk by the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (v 16). Is yours a life led by the Spirit or by the flesh? Is it a life of growing holiness or escalating sin?

We need the Holy Spirit, Paul says, or the only thing we’d do is gratify our sinful desires. Just look at the world to see this truth in action. Those who do not have the Spirit of God are captivated by a spirit of wickedness, every day driven along by their desires, in this mad rush to find a moment of happiness before they die.

“Possessed” is a strong word, yet so many people are driven, shaped and motivated—even possessed—by one thing: the pursuit of pleasure. Frantically, people without the Spirit chase down these empty feelings and temporary escapes. Don’t be surprised that the world is flooded with sin of every kind—blasphemy, adultery, murder, theft, rebellion—because apart from the Spirit, that’s all the human heart can do: churn out wickedness and more sin.

Let’s realize how much we too need filling with the Spirit of holiness. Without him, we’d be devoid of any good. Sometimes we get a horrible glimpse of how twisted our hearts still can be, the kind of evil that our minds can generate in just a moment, and it’s frightening. So we pray: ‘Merciful God, help me! Send me your Spirit!’

And when God sends his Spirit, He gets to work, and begins to perform the miracle of new life wherever He goes. For instance, the Holy Spirit gets to work in the home. He gives parents the wisdom and patience to raise their children. He helps husbands and wives to forgive each other, to love and to serve, to lead gently and to submit lovingly. The Spirit causes that “house swept clean” to become full of the aroma of Christ.

The Holy Spirit also gets to work in the church. Among believers, He spreads the rich blessing of communion. He equips us so that we can serve each other. He gives us a wide range of talents, and supplies us with resources that we can share.

And the Holy Spirit gets to work in individual believers. That’s the emphasis of the Catechism, very personal and real, “[The Spirit] is… given to me.” Underline that word ‘me’ and relate it to yourself today. The Spirit is given to you! You used to be a lowly wretch, one inclined by nature to hate God and to hate other people. But Almighty God has taken up residence in your heart. Now He’s at home with you, slowly sanctifying your thoughts, changing your desires, renewing affections—giving new life through the love of God.

This is what Paul says in Romans 5:5, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” God pours out his generous love on us through the gift of the Spirit, and it’s a transforming love. It never leaves a person the same as they were before, but moves us onwards to holiness, to service, to love, and to faith in Christ. The Spirit is given to me…

 

2) to make me by true faith share in Christ: But how do I really know that the Spirit has been given to me? How can I be sure that the Holy Spirit is filling my heart? It’s a hard question, because when Scripture sets up the contrast between Spirit-life and sin-life, we sometimes seem to find ourselves on the wrong side of the fence.

Looking at my own heart, I sometimes see ‘adultery, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, hatred, jealousy, outbursts of wrath.’ In my life I still see dark shadows of ‘selfish ambition and envy’ (Gal 5:19-21). So have I actually been given the Holy Spirit? Or am I still perhaps filled with sin, with a thin layer of Christian-looking behaviour sprinkled over top?

Here too, we rest in God’s grace. We are reminded that the gift doesn’t depend on us, on the good works we’ve done, or even the good works we aspire to do. Salvation comes only through God’s promise. At our baptism, the Holy Spirit assured each of us that He would dwell in us and make us living members of Christ. He promised it, He performs it, and we also see the sure proof that God has given his Spirit!

What evidence are we looking for, above all? We look for faith. We look for the firm confidence in the unseen God, the sure knowledge that his Word is really true for you. And this saving faith comes only by the Spirit. Listen to how Stephen is described in Acts 6:5, that he was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” The two are essentially parallel, synonymous: full of faith, and full of the Spirit.

For it is through the Spirit that I can confess with all of my heart, “Jesus is Lord” (cf. 1 Cor 12:3). Through the Spirit, I know my weaknesses, I see my sins, but I also know what Christ has done, and I am confident that He did it for me!

Before any other benefit He gives, the Spirit works this bond, from us to Christ, and Christ to us. Here is the Spirit’s greatest task: to point us to the cross, to the empty tomb, and to our Lord in heaven above. We believe, finding in Christ all we need, and appealing to Jesus’s blood as our only hope.

By faith, the Spirit unites us so close to Christ that we even “share in [him]” (Q&A 53). Think of what it means ‘to share.’ Imagine that you get your hands on the last piece of juicy watermelon on a hot summer’s day—and you’re looking forward to enjoying all its refreshing goodness, but for some reason you’re willing to share it with your younger brother. It’s not only yours, it’s his too. In like manner, we get to share in all the blessings that belong to Christ. They’re his, but now they’re ours too! We get to share in Christ’s righteousness. We get to share in his indestructible life. We get to share in Christ’s status as God’s dearly beloved children.

The Catechism mentions “all his benefits.” Because by faith, the blessings of Christ are like a never-ending flow. There is not only the declaration of our innocence and holiness, there is also the transformation of our hearts. And then day by day, our life changes.

In Romans 8, Paul teaches about ‘life in the Spirit.’ And in 8:6 he says that “to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Literally, he says “to be Spirit-minded”—to have your mind and heart that is dominated and controlled by the Spirit—that is life and peace.

First, “life.” How do you know if your mind is alive for God? Answer this: Are you thankful to God for his blessings? That’s the work of the Spirit. Do you understand at least some of what you read in Scripture? That’s the work of the Spirit. Do you hate what is evil? Do you desire to do what is right? That’s the work of the Spirit.

And second, “peace.” It can only be the Spirit’s doing that we can have true calm, even when we have every reason to be upset or anxious. We might be worrying about something, fretting, fearful—but suddenly there is peace. Not that we’ve found the solution, but the Spirit gives, even for a moment, a beautiful sense of peace in him, so that we may carry on. “Be still,” the Spirit says; “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10).

Romans 8 also talks about “putting to death the deeds of the body” (v 13). By relying on the Spirit’s strength, I can put to rest my jealousy of other people. With the Spirit’s power you can kill the bitterness about the past that still lingers in your heart. With the Spirit’s protection I can turn my eyes away from the things that tempt me. The sinful mind that used to be hostile to God and refused to submit to his law, now delights in the same things that delight the holy God.

And one by one, the fruit of the Spirit comes to life. On trees that once were barren, we see branches filled with a harvest for God. If you have the Spirit, you see the beginnings of love for your enemies, and joy in the Lord, and peace with fellow saints, patience in suffering, and a growing kindness toward your difficult neighbour. By the Spirit, there is a new goodness in your motivations and your conduct, and you sense that your faithfulness toward God and others is increasing. There is a gentleness in your words toward other people, and a better self-control, even when you’re stirred up and tempted (cf. Gal 5:22-23).

Do you see this progress in yourself? Praise God! Celebrate his goodness, even as the struggle continues. We have the Holy Spirit, but the dilemma still isn’t fully resolved: Is our life Spirit-led or sin-led? In this life these two “are in conflict with each other” (Gal 5:17, NIV).

We don’t always do what God wants, because we’re still torn between following the Spirit and surrendering to sin. You know how one day we see the devil’s temptations so clearly, like the ambulance coming up behind us on the highway, with its lights flashing and siren sounding. We know to get out of the way and flee the devil. One day we’re ready to resist the deeds of the sinful nature, but the very next day the devil sneaks up quietly, and we give in without a fight.

It is a constant battle, but the battle is good. Beloved, there must be some kind of conflict within your heart, or you’ve already lost. So keep fighting the devil. Keep putting your sin to death. And be encouraged that the Spirit has already joined you to Christ by faith, that all his benefits are surely yours. For as long as you keep fighting in this life, the Spirit will be with you, to comfort you.

                       

3) to comfort me: During our spiritual warfare, the Holy Spirit gives reassurance. Down in the trenches, in our fear, in our wounds, the Spirit comes near with comfort for the troops. What is comfort? To many, it’s just a happy feeling, a good vibe in a friendly place.

But when Scripture (and the Catechism) speaks of the Spirit as Comforter, it doesn’t just mean something fuzzy and sentimental. Jesus says in John 14, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you the Spirit of truth” (v 16). In older translations, the Spirit is called the Comforter or Helper: “I will give you another Comforter to be with you…”

Counselor, Comforter, Helper—common to all these titles is that the Spirit speaks. First, that means He is the intercessor who asks on our behalf, the advocate who comes alongside and pleads our case. From Lord’s Day 18 we learn that Christ is our advocate at the Father’s right hand, asking for the things we truly need. So how greatly aware is God the Father of our small lives, for not only does Christ pray for us, but the Holy Spirit also prays! As Paul says in Romans 8, “We do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us” (v 26).

If you will pray for someone in a meaningful way, then you need to know that person. What are their needs? What’s their situation? How are they being tempted? So think about how well the Spirit knows us! He dwells within our hearts. He goes wherever we go. If we make our bed in the depths, He is there. If we rise early and even travel to the other side of the world, He is there (cf. Ps 139:8-10).

In other words, the Spirit sees what’s going on with you, even if no one else sees. The Spirit hears what we murmur in our minds, even if no one else hears. The Spirit knows the deepest places of your life, even if you’ve buried it way down. Even if we haven’t faced it yet, or put our trouble into words, the Spirit knows. This humbles us, and it comfort us.

For the Spirit knows us perfectly and prays for us perfectly. Between him and the Father, “with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom 8:26), the Spirit tells about our guilt, our misery, our need for help. God knows, because the Spirit is praying for you.

It’s a great comfort to know that the Spirit speaks to God on our behalf. And second, it’s a great comfort to hear what the Spirit says to us. For, says Paul, “[He] bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16).

Think about why we need the Spirit to bear witness to this amazing reality. We tend to believe that we are the children of our parents because we look like them, and we act like them. My parents tell me I’m their son, and I believe it. But if God told me ‘out of the blue’ that I was his child, I’d have no reason to believe it. What would the holy God want to do with me, a lowly sinner? I don’t resemble him in any way!  

But the Spirit testifies to us what would otherwise be unbelievable: “Truly, you are a child of God. You do belong to him.” This happens especially when we read Scripture, when the Spirit echoes God’s Word in our hearts: “This forgiving Father is your Father in heaven. This patient God will be patient with you. This wise Father will instruct you and guide you. You can call him your Abba.”

What a rich comfort to hear this testimony, to know that we’re not orphans, no longer children of wrath, but children of God! By the Spirit, we cry out to God, “Abba, Father!” (Rom 8:15). The Spirit puts those words in our hearts and on our lips, and He comforts us with the truth that we belong to God as beloved sons and daughters.

 

4) to remain with me forever: We begin this last point with the question from our introduction: Where would you be without the Spirit? We’d be lost. We’d be possessed by the devil and enslaved to sin. If it was up to us, we’d so quickly run out of energy and faithfulness for the Christian life. So how good to know that the Spirit remains with us forever! Jesus says, “The Father will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (John 14:16).

He will be with us forever. This means that the Spirit will continue to nourish those fruits in your life slowly growing. He will continue to offer his perfect prayers on your behalf. He will bring to completion in you the good work that He has started!

The Spirit remains with us forever. But do we remain with him? Paul encourages us, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:25). Keep in step! That’s a military image, troops marching in formation. A good soldier will make every effort to keep in time, to walk in line, to follow the lead of his commander—always.

To keep in step with the Spirit means we have to stay close to him, close enough to hear his Word: listening to the Spirit’s commands and believing his promises. Don’t fall behind the Spirit or try to take another road. Too often we forget the Holy Spirit. Too often we do not go with the Spirit, but we live simply by reacting to whatever comes across our path. We react in anger or fear or evil desire.

But stay with him. Pray for the Spirit to fill you every day. Listen to the Spirit’s words in Scripture, believe them, and put them into practice. Remain with the Spirit always, and the Spirit will remain with you! If you seek him, know that the Spirit will lead you safely onwards, and will even bring you to eternal life.

Beloved, let us praise God daily for the amazing gift of his Holy Spirit. Praise God that the Spirit has been given to us, to make us by true faith share in Christ and all his benefits, to comfort us, and to remain with us forever!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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