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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church
 St. Albert, Alberta
Title:Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit
Text:LD 20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 139:1,2,4

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

Ps 51:4,5,7

Sermon – Lord’s Day 20

Hy 47:3,5

Hy 4:1,2,3 (after Nicene Creed)

Hy 48:1,2,3,4


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

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s been said many times that the Holy Spirit is the neglected or forgotten person of the Trinity. For we hear so much about God the Father: it’s He who created all things and who sustains all things; it’s to the Father hat we pray the Lord’s Prayer; it’s He who declares us innocent in Christ. And indeed, we also hear so much about God the Son, for it’s He who became man and died on a cross, who rose, ascended and now reigns over all.

With so much to say and adore about God the Father and God the Son, it might even be expected that God the Holy Spirit is somewhat sidelined. And, some will also say, by God’s own design the Spirit’s main task is to point us, not to himself, but to the Father, through Jesus Christ. "[The Spirit doesn’t] speak on his own," says Christ in Jn 16:13, but He speaks only what He hears from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit doesn’t want to be in the centre!

Yet do we give enough attention to the third person of the Trinity? For we know, "He is, together with the Father and the Son, true and eternal God" (Q&A 53). The Spirit is God, therefore He still wants our praise and our worship. And though the Spirit’s delight is to point away from himself, as God He too, demands our honour, submission and thanksgiving.

So why is it so hard to speak of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives? Or why is it that Christians might neglect four times out of five to pray for the Spirit? Why is it that He is called the forgotten person of the Trinity?

Certainly the fault lies not with the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit is revealed throughout both the Old and New Testament, with his work becoming far deeper and richer in the New. If we read our Bibles carefully, we’ll see just how much the Spirit does!

Maybe the fault lies with the Heidelberg Catechism, then. Is it because of our beloved Catechism that especially in Reformed churches the Spirit is said to be forgotten? For look at this short Lord’s Day, #20: Only seven brief lines long! To be sure, the next two Lord’s Days also belong to the section on God the Holy Spirit, but when it comes to who He is ("What do you believe concerning the Holy Spirit?"), the Catechism is dramatically short.

And maybe this Lord’s Day should’ve been longer – it certainly could’ve been longer. Yet make no mistake, each brief statement is chock-full of Scriptural truth and comfort. And so this afternoon, we’ll examine each part of the second half of Lord’s Day 20,

                                   God the Holy Spirit:

                                            1.  is given to me 

                                            2.  to make me by true faith share in Christ and all his benefits 

                                            3.  to comfort me

                                            4.  and to remain with me forever

1. God the Holy Spirit is given to me: Whenever we talk about our salvation, we must constantly and humbly return to that one simple word: Grace. "There, but for the grace of God, go I." Also when it comes to the person and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we stand in awe and exclaim: "Amazing grace!" For the Holy Spirit, like everything else that God bestows upon us, is God’s free gift.

That is, the Holy Spirit is granted to us, though we don’t deserve him. He is sent into our hearts, though, in our view, He’s actually unwelcome. Yes, it’s God who decides to bless us with the Spirit, in his way, at his time, and because of his love. "He is given" says the Catechism (Q&A 53), for we’d never have the Spirit of our own accord.

And if we didn’t have the Spirit, what would we have? Who or what would occupy us? Jesus says that even the house that’s swept clean must be filled with something – whether good or bad. And in Gal 5, the apostle lays out the two options available to us, painting a stark contrast: "Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature" (v 16).

We need the Holy Spirit, or the only thing we’d do is gratify our sinful desires. Just look at the world to see this truth in action. Those without the Spirit of God are captivated by a spirit of wickedness. "Possessed" is a strong word, yet so many people today are driven, shaped and motivated – possessed – by one thing: Pleasure, and its pursuit. Frantically and incessantly, people without the Spirit chase down empty feelings and temporary escapes. We shouldn’t be surprised that the world is awash with sin of every kind – blasphemy, adultery, murder, theft, rebellion – because apart from the Holy Spirit, that’s all the human heart can do: Churn out wickedness and more sin.

Dear friends, we need to be filled with the Spirit of holiness, or we’d be empty of any good and stuffed full of pollution. Let us faithfully pray: "Merciful God, save us from ourselves! Send us your Spirit!"

And when we pray this, we must remember the gift of the Spirit cannot be earned. He can only be given. This treasure of God’s amazing grace rescues us from a life on the never-ending treadmill of chasing our own salvation. For how could we ever hope to earn the Spirit from God, if left to our own devices? The Spirit can’t even be invited into your heart, for what darkened sinner knows enough to look to the one true God for light?

The Spirit of God must be given, and He must be sent. And He unfailingly gets to work. The Holy Spirit gets to work in the home, giving parents wisdom to raise their children, helping spouses forgive each other, making that "house swept clean" full of the aroma of Christ. The Holy Spirit gets to work in the church, spreading fellowship abundantly, equipping the saints for service, giving elders and deacons the love and insight they need for their tasks.

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." The Holy Spirit, true and eternal God, has been granted to me, a wretch, and has taken up residence in my heart, as in a glorious temple. "He is given to me…"

2) to make me by true faith share in Christ and all his benefits: "But hold on," someone might object, "Is the Spirit given to me? Do I have the Spirit; do you even have the Spirit? How can I say with such confidence that the Holy Spirit has been sent also my way? For when Paul paints that contrast between Spirit-life and sin-life, don’t his words find me on the wrong side of the fence? After all, those selfish desires of my heart are so powerful – I can’t possibly deny all of them all of the time!"

And looking at my own heart, the acts of the sinful nature that Paul describes are obvious. Within I see "sexual immorality, impurity… idolatry… hatred, discord…"; in my own life I see "jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition and envy" (Gal 5:19-21). Am I really filled with the Holy Spirit, or am I still filled right up with sin, with some nice-looking behaviour sprinkled over top?

Yet we again rest in the grace of God. He gave His promise, and we believe God always keeps his promises. At our baptism, the Holy Spirit assured each one of us that He would dwell in us, and make us living members of Christ. He promised it in his Word, and we see it in our lives – even in tiny ways – that He’s delivered on what He said. We see the evidence: God has given his Spirit!

For, Paul says, "the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace" (Rom 8:6). Look for the evidence, beloved: Is your mind alive; is your mind being renewed? Well, answer this: Are you thankful for God’s blessings? That’s the work of the Spirit. Do you understand at least some of what you read in Scriptures? 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 it can only be the Spirit’s doing that we have true calm, even when there’s every human reason to be upset or anxious. We might be worrying, fretting, trembling – but suddenly there is peace. Not that we reached a conclusion by our own thoughts, nor had a solution given from above. But the Spirit gives to our minds and hearts, even for only a few moments, a beautiful sense of peace, that we may carry on in our troubles with good courage. "Be still," the Spirit says; "Be still and know that I am God" (Ps 46:10).

And I know the Spirit has been given me when I can confess, with all of my heart, "Jesus is Lord" (cf. 1 Cor 12:3). I 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. Yes, by the Spirit’s power and grace we believe a foolish, unbelievable message! By the Spirit we find in Christ all we need; we appeal to his blood as our only hope.

It’s this bond of Spirit-worked faith that unites us with our Saviour. It unites us so close we even "share in [him]" (Q&A 53). We convicts share in Christ’s righteousness. We corpses share in his indestructible life. We children of the devil share in Christ’s status as God’s dearly beloved.

And the benefits of Christ, conveyed through Spirit, just keep on coming. First is that gracious declaration of our innocence through faith. Then is the unfolding of new life. For one by one, the misdeeds of the body are put to death (cf. Rom 8:13). With the Spirit’s resolve I can put my jealousy of others to rest. With the Spirit’s power I can kill that hatred lingering in my heart. With the Spirit’s protection I can turn my eyes away from all those things that tempt me. My sinful mind, once hostile to God, and opposed to his law (cf. Rom 8:7), now delights in the same things that delight the holy God!

And one by one, the fruits of the Spirit bud and blossom and come to life. On fig trees that once were fruitless, we see branches filled with the beginnings of love for enemies; joy in all circumstances; peace with fellow saints; patience under suffering; kindness to all people; goodness in heart; faithfulness to God; gentleness in speech; and self-control, even when stirred up by all our passions and desires (cf. Gal 5:22-23).

The spiritual fruit on our branches is small, it is maybe a bit sour, it is sometimes even spotted with disease – but it is fruit, when before there was none! And this means the Holy Spirit is near! To be sure, our assurance is never in ourselves or what we do. But our assurance is in the Word of God – in the Word of God powerfully confirmed by God, in our lives.

No, that contrast described by Paul is still not fully resolved: Is our life Spirit-led or sin-led? As he says, in this life these two "are in conflict with each other" (Gal 5:17). We don’t always do what we want – or what God wants – because we’re still torn between following the Spirit, and following sin. It’s a see-saw battle: one day we can resist the deeds of the sinful nature, and the next we give in to them without a fight; one day we show kindness to our brother, and the next we hate his guts like never before.

It is a battle, but that there is a battle is good! There must be conflict within your heart, or you’ve already lost. So then beloved, keep fighting the devil! Keep resisting sin! Keep putting to death the misdeeds of the body! The Spirit intensely desires that you share in Christ – therefore expect to follow the same road as Christ: the road of self-denial and suffering, the road of temptation and trial. Follow this road and you’ll also reap the glorious benefits of being united to your Saviour!

 3. to comfort me: Through the Holy Spirit we’re also comforted during our spiritual warfare. In our trenches, in our fear, in our wounds, the Spirit comes near and gives comfort to the troops. Unfortunately, this word "comfort" has taken on very a vague meaning today. What is comfort? To many, it’s a happy feeling given. A setting of ease and relaxation. A meal of those tasty familiar dishes.

But when Scripture (and the Catechism) speaks of the Spirit as our comforter, there is nothing fuzzy about it. Jesus says in Jn 14, "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you… the Spirit of truth" (Jn 14:16). In older translations of this verse, the Spirit was sometimes called the Comforter or Helper.

Counselor, Comforter, Helper, Paraclete: this is the Spirit’s task. Common to all these titles is that the Spirit speaks. He is a defense counsel who protects us with his arguments. The Spirit is an advocate or paraclete who comes alongside us and who pleads our case.

We know already how Christ is our advocate at the right hand of the Father. He’s in heaven pointing to his body once-broken, asking for the things we always neglect, and for the things that He knows we need. Beloved, then how deeply aware of our small lives is God the Father, for not only does Christ pray for us, so also does the Holy Spirit! As Paul says in Rom 8, "We [don’t] know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us" (v 26).

God’s Spirit fills us. Therefore we cannot run from the Spirit; we cannot flee from his presence; 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). The Spirit sees what’s going on in your heart, 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 recesses of your life, even if it’s buried under a mile of rock. This humbles us – and even shames us – but this also comfort us.

It comfort us, for the Spirit, dwelling in our hearts, knows us perfectly and prays for us perfectly. Between him and the Father, "with groans that words cannot express" (Rom 8:26), there is told my secret confession of guilt, your anguished confusion, our unspoken cry for help. Beloved, God knows! God knows, because the Spirit is given to you, and because the Spirit is praying for you.

We’re richly comforted by what the Spirit says to God on our behalf. And we’re also comforted by what the Spirit says to our hearts. For, says Paul, "[He] testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children" (Rom 8:16). Now, I believe that I’m a child of my parents because I look like them, and act like them. They tell me I’m their son, and I believe it. But if God told me "out of the blue" I was his child, I’d have no reason to believe it. For what would the almighty God want to do with me, a lowly human and sinner? I certainly don’t resemble him in any way!

But the Spirit testifies directly to my heart what otherwise would be unbelievable: "Truly, you are a child of God." As we read the pages of Scripture, the Spirit unmistakably 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 every one of his children, including you."

By the Spirit, we hear an inner testimony that we’re not orphans, we’re not children of wrath, but we are children of God! Unto God, by the Spirit of sonship, we cry, "Abba, Father!" (cf. Rom 8:15). Let us cry it with all our heats, because we believe: God is our Father. Christ opened this door for our prayers, and the Spirit confirms that this door will never be closed!

4. to remain with me forever: We’ve now seen just a glimpse of what the Spirit is doing in the lives of believers. But knowing what we do have, we might fear all the more that God would take it all away. For who’d want to go back to life without the Spirit? All we could do would be deeds of death. All we could think would be selfish thoughts. Without the Spirit, all we could look forward to would be a reunion with our father, the devil.

And in our defeats, in our moments of heavy guilt and sadness, we might indeed feel the Spirit has left us. For sometimes we can no longer say those words, "Abba, Father." Sometimes we can’t rejoice anymore in the table of the Lord. We might even think we have sunk into the depths, or gone to the far side of the sea, without God’s Spirit being anywhere near us. Such thoughts must’ve crossed David’s mind too, after his sin with Bathsheba. He prays desperately for the Holy Spirit, lest David lose that sense of God’s nearness forever. "Do not cast me from your presence, or take your Holy Spirit from me" (Ps 51:11).

Without God’s promise that the Spirit will remain, we stubborn sinners would wither in uncertainty. But Jesus says, "[The Father] will give you another Counselor to be with you forever" (Jn 14:16). Beloved, the Spirit will not ever leave us. He will not ever abandon us to the Pit. He will not ever let our hearts be completely overgrown by thorns and thistles again. Those fruits that are slowly growing He will continue to nourish. Those perfect prayers that you still need He will continue to offer. The Spirit will be with us forever, lest Christ lose any of the sheep the Father has given him.

The Spirit remains with us – but beloved, do we remain with him? Paul encourages us, "Keep in step with the Spirit" (Gal 5:25). Paul uses a military image of troops walking in a straight line, in formation. Christians must "keep in step with the Spirit," following his lead, keeping his time. Where He leads, we must go. What He directs, we must do.

Indeed, if the Holy Spirit is neglected, it’s not the doing of God. If we fall out of line, it’s not our commander’s fault. Too often it is we who forget the Holy Spirit. We forget and we follow the pattern of other spirits.

But instead, let us "live by the Spirit." Let us "keep in step with the Spirit." And Scripture tells us what way the Spirit is going. Scripture tells us where we have to put our feet, if we’re going to keep in step with the holy God. So then, pray for the Spirit to fill you! Read in the Bible your marching orders for the new week! Remain with the Spirit, and the Spirit will remain with you. He will always lead our feet on level pathways, until we finally reach our home. 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 2005, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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