The Holy Spirit at Work in Faith


This message was preached by Brent Hudson at River of Life MB Church May 7, 2017


We are beginning a new series today called The Holy Spirit at Work.  Normally Dave would come up with a really cool title for our series but we don’t often teach on the Holy Spirit and sometimes being plain brings clarity. Sure “High Impact” or “Shattered” might be more exciting and make a really cool poster — but it would be hard to know if the series was about the Spirit at work or seatbelt safety.  Or maybe Dave just wanted to remind people what they get when “Boring Brent” comes up with a title. In either case, we will be looking at the work of the Holy Spirit and we are excited about this series.

Let me start with a quote from N.T. Wright:

The Spirit is given so that we ordinary mortals can become, in a measure, what Jesus himself was: part of God’s future arriving in the present…(Tom Wright, Simply Christian (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2006), 105).

Let’s hear that again: “part of God’s future arriving in the present; a place where heaven and earth meet…”  And this in you and in me.  In everyone who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ, God ultimate goal is to make his future arrive in the present in us.  That is a big project. It is, in fact, the greatest feat of engineering this world has ever seen: to change men and women who are self-interested and sinful into people who are set apart for God and filled with both his goodness and his love.  You can’t take a course and that happen.  You can’t take a pill and that happen.  It takes a power beyond this world — beyond human will — to bring about that kind of change.

Today we look at the Holy Spirit at work in Faith.  What is the connection between our faith in Jesus Christ and what the Holy Spirit is doing.  It is a close connection, of course.  In Philippians 1:19, the Apostle Paul calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of Jesus Christ”.  This one of the great mysteries of the Trinity.  Father, Son, & Holy Spirit — three in one.  One God, three persons in perfect communion, perfect agreement, perfect unity.  What Jesus desire, the Spirit desire. What the Father desires, the Spirit desires — there is no division of intent or purpose — just unity in community . . .three in One.  And so as we look at the Holy Spirit, it might be helpful for us to think in terms of the Spirit of Jesus — that the Spirit loves us as Jesus does. That the Spirit power is Jesus’ power — the power to raise from death and bring new life.  And that is where we begin, but first let’s look at our Scripture for today, taken from Paul’s letter to Titus.

4 But—When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6 He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.
(Titus 3:4-7, NLT)

When a person places their faith in Jesus Christ, Paul exclaims: “new creation”!  Certainly a decision on our part cannot make that kind of cosmic event happen. This is the Holy Spirit at work in Faith.  

1. Holy Spirit sets in motion our life with God

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is start something. I’ve dreamt up lots of things. Things that would take a hundred times more than I could ever do in a lifetime.  I even get excited about the idea of doing things. . .of making an impact. The hard part is not having an idea or dreaming a dream. . .the hard part is setting it in motion. Of converting thought into reality.  

We know that is true with our salvation as well.  It was all well and good that the Father loved us but it required him to send his Son into this world of flesh and blood.  It was well and good for the Son to want to show us a different way — to lead us in the ways of God’s Kingdom. . .but it required him to pay a debt we owed because we were unable to pay it ourselves. He had to go to the cross.  It is well and good for the Spirit of Jesus to desire transformation in our lives and to eagerly pursue the ways of God.  But the we are dead in our tresspasses and sins.  We are dead to all the realities of God that make life beautiful and wonderous.  We are captivated by a thousand things and God is not one of them. We are dead.  

The very first work of God in the life of every believer is a great awakening.  God’s Spirit turns the lights on in our hearts.  We may not think that is big deal but it is.  

When I worked at a youth centre in Albert years ago, one of the activities we did was spelunking.  We went inside a cavern and explored a bat cave, literally.  I remember bats flying around me.  I remember the tight squeeze into the cave.  I remember the incredible temperature difference between outside in inside the cave.  But what I remember more than anything else was that there was absolutely no light in that cave.  You could sit there for an hour and your eyes would not adjust. There was nothing to adjust to in fact.  I remember holding my hand to the tip of my nose and not seeing a single thing.  We brought flashlights and extra batteries. But when the other ‘smaller’ leader took the kids into the final part of the cave it turned off my light to conserve power.  I sat there and heard the flutter of wings but could see absolutely nothing.  I know there are some here who have experienced similar darkness. You know what I’m talking about.  

The bible uses lots of metaphors to describe our condition without Christ.  Death, darkness, hopelessness, lost.  It is the Holy Spirit who reaches into that condition of being separated from God and sets in motion life in Christ.  We are not in the dark when we believe in the light of the world.  

One of the main things the Spirit does in our world is to turn the lights on and help people to see Christ for who he is.  Jesus said: “The Spirit will come and show the people of this world the truth about sin…(John 16:8, CEV)  More than that, Jesus said “he will guide us into all the truth” (v.12).

There is no way a spiritual corpse can experience spiritual life — first we must become spiritually alive.  The very fact that we can experience eternal life and life in Jesus is because of the Holy Spirit at work.  

2. The Holy Spirit pulls heaven and earth together in us.

I started with a quote from N.T. Wright but I ended it early and I would like to read it again, this time the entire quote.   

The Spirit is given so that we ordinary mortals can become, in a measure, what Jesus himself was: part of God’s future arriving in the present; a place where heaven and earth meet; the means of God’s kingdom going ahead. The Spirit is given, in fact, so that the church can share in the life and continuing work of Jesus himself, now that he has gone into God’s dimension—that is, heaven. (Tom Wright, Simply Christian (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2006), 105.)

When Paul talks about this he calls it “New Creation”.  Richard Hays captures the amazing depth of Paul’s statement.  We want to say “they are a new creation” but that is not at all what Paul is talking about. Listen to Hays:

Paul is not merely talking about an individual’s subjective experience of renewal through conversion; rather, for Paul, ktisis (“creation”) refers to the whole created order (cf. Rom. 8:18–25). He is proclaiming the apocalyptic message that through the cross God has nullified the kosmos of sin and death and brought a new kosmos into being.

That might seem complicated or overly theological — but you can’t escape the fact that this is big!  God’s purpose in us is not related just to religious ideas or economic choices, career options or how to raise our children — although it definitely includes all of those things it is something profoundly bigger than all of that.  As Hays points out, there is a cosmic scale to the work that God is doing.  The Work of the Holy Spirit.  When Paul writes to Titus and says that God is …giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5b), he is describing the beginning and on-going reality of God’s work in us.  It is a new life.  New Creation. It is a foretaste of what is to come — heaven and earth coming together.  That is grand vision of John in the book of Revelation — and Paul declares that starts now when we put our faith in Jesus.  

New birth.  New life.  New creation.  “God’s future arriving in the present; a place where heaven and earth meet” (Wright)

3. The Holy Spirit allows us to experience God’s love

When we think of all that God is doing in people’s lives it demonstrates afresh the amazing grace and love of God in Christ. Just consider that rather famous passage in Galatians where Paul speaks about the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life. It kind of unfortunate that we pull that out of its context and focus on it alone because Paul is contrasting about how God’s Spirit in us produces certain character outcomes just as sin in us produces certain character qualities.  He sets up a contrast of these two realities — flesh and Spirit — because they are always struggling against each other inside of us.  We do not get to a place where the fight is not happening — it just happens in different ways.  I love the NLT translation of Galatians 5:16-17 because it captures the heart of the Greek text in compelling English:

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. (Galatians 5:16–17, NLT)

Tim Keller, former pastor of Redeemer Church in NY City puts it this way:

Everyone has a war within themselves. We all want to live according to a high moral code, but none of us can meet the demands of our moral code. The reason for this is that inside of ourselves there is a desire for evil as well as a desire for good. Therefore, none of us can win the battle. But the battle changes when we become a Christian. The deepest parts of ourselves change so that for the first time our most inner being delights in the law of God. We move from a battle we cannot win to a battle in the Spirit of Christ we cannot lose. (Timothy Keller – Sermon THE WAR BETWEEN OURSELVES)

Yet even though we cannot lose, the fight continues.  But here is the part that changes everything.  The Spirit is not just helping us to will and to do what is righteous and good. The Spirit opens our very being to experience the love of God.  Not just as a concept but as a full-orbed human experience of God’s love and acceptance. God makes it personal to us. It is not just words and theology.  It is not just ideas and concepts.  God’s Spirit lives in us.  And because he lives in Paul says:

16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:16, NIV)

That is as personal as it gets. God communicates his acceptance and love for us internally by his Spirit communicating with our spirit. Do we understand all this that this entails? No! Of course not, but it is clear that this is intensely personal and intimate.  We are people who experience alienation in our own families and at work — people feel alone and rejected in various ways and it is a burden to bear.  But God has placed his Spirit in us not as some impersonal force for good but to speak to our spirit.  He communicates God’s love to us that words alone cannot do.  Hearing someone say: “I love you” is a beautiful experience — but embracing one another in support and love ramps it up a notch.

The world of the mind and reason becomes tangible in an embrace. God shows us his love in that he sent his Son (1Jn 3:16) but our experience of that love, the tangible embrace, is his Spirit’s work in us. By the Spirit of Jesus, our experience of God becomes profoundly personal but also it is a shared experience with all of God’s people.  

The battle of flesh and Spirit continues but we know the battle has already been won in Christ.  With all of this in mind, let’s go back to our opening Scripture passage.

4 But—When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6 He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.
(Titus 3:4-7, NLT)

As we come to the Lord’s Table, we are reminded that we are indeed God’s children. As we consider the bread and the cup, we are reminded of God’s embrace for his Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are His children.