The New Testament paints an amazing picture of the possibilities of the Christian life. In the Bible we find promises of a life of:
- overwhelming victory
- indescribable joy
- unshakeable confidence
- unquenchable hope
- uninhibited love and unity
- freedom and power
- deep abiding peace
Many of us have a different experience of life however. Our experience often feels more like:
- doubt and timidity
I believe that the most common and most significant cause for the gap between our experience and the promise of the New Testament is a failure to understand, receive and walk in the life changing power of the Holy Spirit.
In the coming months we will be looking together at key passages in the Bible on the Holy Spirit.
If you will receive and apply what we see, it will change your life forever.
Before we begin, a ground rule:
Rule #1: You do not study the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit studies you.
“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.”
1 Corinthians 2:10
A few weeks ago, my friend Steve was hiking in the Franklin mountains overlooking El Paso. Along the way he encountered this beautiful specimen of a rattlesnake.
Now, you may have some knowledge of snakes, you might be able to tell me about the genus and species of a rattlesnake, or about the patterns of its scales or the mechanics of its rattle. But in the moment, none of that is terribly important. What matters is that that snake is there and is looking at you.
It is only when the person who is searching for knowledge of God in the Bible becomes aware that God is in the room with them that they begin to gain a sense of God.
CS Lewis called this an experience of the numinous:
“Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear.
But if you were told ‘There is a ghost in the next room,’ and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind.
It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is ‘uncanny’ rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous.
Now suppose that you were told simply ‘There is a mighty spirit in the room,” and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking — a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant of prostration before it — an emotion which might be expressed in Shakespeare’s words ‘Under it my genius is rebuked.’
This feeling may be described as awe, and the object which excites it as the Numinous.”
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Let me share with you a couple of examples of the numinous, one in fiction and one in history.
In the book Wind in the Willows, in the chapter titled Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the characters Rat and Mole experience something transcendent:
“This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,” whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. “Here in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!”
“Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror—indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy—but . . . he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near”
“Rat!” he found breath to whisper, shaking. “Are you afraid?”
“Afraid?” murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. “Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet—and yet—O, Mole, I am afraid!”
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.”
The second illustration comes from the life of Thomas Aquinas.
Aquinas was a theologian and scholar in the 13th century. He had an enormous intellect and sought to bring together Aristotle and the Bible to create the ultimate and definitive textbook on reality. His works became the foundation of education for centuries.
What isn’t well known is that towards the end of his life, Aquinas suddenly and mysteriously stopped writing. Friends begged him to finish his writings. He replied in a letter to one of those friends that he had experienced something with God that had left him permanently changed.
“I adjure you by the living almighty God, and by the faith you have in our order, and by charity that you strictly promise me you will never reveal in my lifetime what I tell you. Everything that I have written seems like straw to me compared to those things that I have seen and have been revealed to me.”
You don’t study the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit studies you.
We begin our study of the Holy Spirit in John chapter 14. Let’s turn there.
The context of our passage is the last dinner conversation Jesus had with the disciples.
It takes place three years into the ministry of Jesus. The disciples have had three years of walking the roads of Galilee with Jesus. In those years they learned that Jesus was not just a good rabbi.
He spoke with an authority that transcended what any human leader had ever expressed. He demonstrated an authority that no human leader had ever expressed – commanding evil spirits, wind and human bodies to do whatever he willed. Most recently they had seen him command a man who had been dead for three days to get up and walk.
The disciples had done the only reasonable thing to do when you encounter a person like that – they left their homes, their jobs and their families to follow him.
Jesus told them he was going to build the kingdom of heaven on earth and he invited them to help him do it. In his presence those 12 ordinary people were transformed into leaders of the greatest movement in the history of the world.
John 14 is the record of a conversation over dinner on the night when everything would be turned upside down.
Let’s read John 14:15-21.
Jesus has just told the disciples he is leaving them. It is impossible to imagine anything more discouraging than that. It’s like a child hearing a parent say that they are leaving. What are they supposed to do without Jesus? Without him they are just 12 very ordinary people. Without him the whole idea of building the kingdom of heaven on earth is a joke.
Yet Jesus tells his disciples that it’s actually going to be better for them when he leaves. How is that possible?
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
It’s possible because the departure of Jesus will signal the arrival of someone else. The loss of Jesus physical presence will be an advantage because it will bring about the coming of the permanent, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
The big ideas this morning is that you do not have to live in defeat any longer because you are not alone.
We are going to see 3 truths about the Holy Spirit in John 14. Before we do that, I want to lay one more ground rule.
Rule #2: The Holy Spirit is a person.
The Holy Spirit is not a force, He is a person. We refer to the Spirit as him and not it. The Holy Spirit is presented to us with full force of personality in the New Testament.
He Speaks (Hebrews 3:7)
He makes decisions and exercises his will (1 Corinthians 12:11, Acts 20:28)
He expresses emotions in relationship (Ephesians 4:30)
Is this important? What’s the difference? I have been saying that learning about the Holy Spirit is not like learning about biology. We are not studying abstract concepts; we are learning about a living person.
It’s the difference between learning about the taxonomy and biology of the Sequoia species in a classroom and standing at the base of one with your hand on the soft fuzzy bark and your eyes tracing its height up into the sky.
Imagine I wanted to tell you about the great trees of the Sequoia forest. Imagine that I began to tell you that sequoias belong to the genus and species Sequoiadendron giganteum, that they are one of three species of coniferous trees called redwood. The leaves are evergreen and the trees reproduce through the production of seed cones, each containing 30-50 spirally arranged scales.
You see the problem? At this point you have made a conscious or sub-conscious decision to stop learning anything about Sequoia trees.
Now what if I told you that the sequoia trees were one of the most beautiful and majestic things I have ever laid my eyes on. They are nearly 300 feet tall and 100 feet around at the base. You walk up to one of the trees and it’s like looking up at a skyscraper, it makes you dizzy to follow it up into the sky. If you lay the palm of your hand on the red fuzzy bark of a sequoia you can almost feel a great, ancient, benevolent spirit emanating from the tree.
There’s a difference.
But it’s a greater difference than that isn’t it?
When you visit the Sequoia Forest you can almost sense a great, ancient, benevolent spirit in the trees. Almost.
But the Holy Spirit is not a tree. He is a person. You don’t know the Holy Spirit through creeds, confessions and verses any more than you know a person by learning their birthdate, height, weight and favorite Taylor Swift song. A person is not statistics. People aren’t known through formulas. People are known through stories and more importantly through direct experience.
The Holy Spirit is a person and must be known and related to as a person.
Now that we have that established, let’s look at three truths about the coming of the Holy Spirit.
You do not have to live in defeat any longer because
1. The Holy Spirit comes to be with and in His people.
“He is with you.” How is that? How is it that Jesus can say to the disciples that the Holy Spirit has already been with them?
The answer is that He was there, in Jesus.
The gospels tells us that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus as he was baptized.
“and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove”
From that point forward, Luke expresses very clearly that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and was able to do everything He did through the empowering presence of the Spirit.
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit …”
They already knew Him, they just didn’t know it yet.
The Holy Spirit was with them, but something much greater than that was coming their way. When the Holy Spirit comes, He will be in you.
This is the great advantage. What an incredible gift to be with Jesus in the flesh. What an honor to speak with Him and watch Him. But even the disciples were limited in their relationship with Jesus. They weren’t always together.
Even the closest human connection is limited by space and time. You just can’t always be together.
Yet the gift of the Holy Spirit was an indwelling, continuous presence. The coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts was visually experienced as tongues of fire falling on each person.
If we were able to somehow see into the spiritual world, if we had a lens that would enable us to see spiritually reality and could look around in this room, I imagine that we would see a flame dwelling in each of our chests.
He is here right now. He is present with and in us. You are not alone. You are never alone.
You don’t have to live in defeat because you are not alone.
2. The Holy Spirit comes to be an advocate for his people.
The word translated as helper in the ESV is Parakletos. It’s a compound word. Para – alongside. Kaleo – summon. It means legal counsel or aid.
The word is translated as helper, comforter and advocate in different translations.
Notice the word another. The Holy Spirit is not the only Helper
The Word is used for Jesus in 1 John 2:1.
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
1 John 2:1
The sense of this word in 1 John is legal representative.
Another way to say this is that we have one who speaks to the father in our defense. Jesus stands at the father’s side to speak for you and I. A wonderful illustration of that is the apostle Paul who became an advocate for the slave Onesimus,
“I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.”
“(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.”
“So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.”
If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.
- Paul found Onesimus, who was worthless, and had compassion for him and loved him.
- Paul opened a place in his heart for Onesimus and adopted him as family.
- Paul leveraged his own good name as credit for Onesimus’s bad name.
- Paul was happy to take on Onesimus debt.
- Jesus helps us because he is with God, at his right hand interceding for us.
- Jesus finds us when we are useless and he loves us despite our condition.
- Jesus opens a place in his heart for you and for me and he adopts us as family.
- Jesus leverages his own good name as credit for my bad name.
- Jesus takes on my debt to the father.
- Jesus stands at the right hand of the father advocating for us.
In what sense is the Holy Spirit an advocate?
If Jesus is our helper because He is with God, the Holy Spirit is our helper because he is with us.
I think we can learn something from the context of John 14 and the problems Jesus is solving in the hearts of his people.
- Verse 1: Let not your hearts be troubled. There is anxiety.
- Verse 18: I will not leave you as orphans. There is loneliness and isolation.
- Verse 26: He will teach you all things. There is confusion and ignorance.
- Verse 27: Do not be afraid. There is fear.
The word comforter fits the context because the Holy Spirit comes to relieve of us of fear, confusion, loneliness and anxiety.
Paul in Philemon is a great illustration of Jesus as Advocate.
Here is an attempt at illustrating the Holy Spirit as Advocate:
We have an organization in town called the International Rescue Committee. They work with refugees who are displaced from their homes due to violence and persecution.
When these refugees arrive in the US they are helpless – most don’t know the language, they don’t know the laws or the culture, they don’t know anyone.
Advocates with the IRC come alongside them to help, meeting arrivals at the airport, providing housing and food, access to health care and education, job readiness training, ESL instruction, immigration legal counseling. And more importantly, they provide friendship and compassion.
As the IRC comes alongside refugees in their need, the Holy Spirit comes alongside believers in their need.
Here are some of the ways he helps us:
- Washes us and gives us new life. (Titus 3:5)
- Dwells inside of us. (1 Corinthians 3:16)
- Gives us the character of Jesus. (Galatians 5)
- Convicts us of sin. (John 16:8)
- Cancels out the temptations of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16-18)
- Gives us freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17)
- Gives us gifts for ministry. (1 Corinthians 12)
- Empowers us to witness boldly about Jesus. (Acts 1:8)
- Teaches us and reminds us of truth. (John 16:13)
- Gives us comfort when we are persecuted. (1 Peter 4:14)
- Gives us the right words to say at the right time. (Luke 12:12)
- Prays for us when we don’t know what or how. (Romans 8:26-27)
- Gives us assurance that we are God’s beloved children. (Romans 8:16)
- Gives us abounding hope. (Romans 15:13)
- Seals us and guarantees our salvation. (Ephesians 1:13)
You do not have to live in defeat, because the Holy Spirit is with you and in you as your advocate.
3. When the Holy Spirit comes, He comes permanently.
Forever. I think there are two senses to this word.
When he comes to an individual believer in Christ, it is permanent, and he will never leave.
The Holy Spirit, like salvation, can only be received as a gift.
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”
God’s gifts are irrevocable.
“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”
The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in a believer is an irrevocable gift. He will never leave.
I think there is also a corporate sense of this permanence.
When he comes to the church, it is permanent, and He will never leave.
The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost to empower believers in order to testify to Jesus in the world and accomplish the great, eternal task of building the church of God.
That work remains. The Great Commission is yet to be completed; the church is still in progress.
The church is just as dependent today on the Holy Spirit as she was in her infancy in Jerusalem.
The Holy Spirit is with us today just as He was with the early church in the book of Acts.
Let me tell you a story to illustrate this reality:
The story begins on Tuesday, February 3, 1970 at Asbury College in Wilmore Kentucky.
That morning students gathered in the chapel for the regular 10 A.M. service.
The presiding faculty member, Dean Reynolds sensed God’s leading to set aside his message and share his personal testimony at the service.
When he finished, he invited anyone who wanted to come to the microphone and share what God had been doing in their lives.
A student named Larry Sutherland came forward and spoke. “I want to confess. I’ve been a hypocrite, but recently God got a hold of me and I’m a new person. I love Jesus and have turned my life over to him. It’s real. I am a different person. Last night the Holy Spirit flooded in and filled my life. I wouldn’t go back to the emptiness of yesterday for anything.”
After Larry, several students moved to the stage and began to share about God working powerfully in their hearts.
As those students spoke, those present in the room reported an overwhelming sense that God was with them in the room and that something special was happening.
At the end of the hour the Dean announced that all classes were canceled for the rest of the day and that anyone who wanted to pray could come to the front of the chapel.
In that moment the whole room stirred, and a mass of students rushed forward. Someone started singing Just As I Am and the whole room joined them.
Students continued to pick up the microphone and confess sins. One confessed to stealing, another to having animosity towards another student. A professor confessed that his heart had been cold, and he had neglected his work.
Individuals moved around the room confessing sins and asking for and giving forgiveness.
After two hours one student went to the dining hall to have lunch and found only a handful of people there. No one wanted to leave the chapel. And they didn’t. The next day the chapel remained filled with people praying, singing, confessing and testifying to the power of the Spirit working in their lives.
Word began to spread about what was happening. A local news station from Lexington sent a film crew to capture what was happening.
Reporter Billy Thompson began the segment with these words: “What is happening in Wilmore has touched me more than anything in my 34 years of news reporting. Normally, when you are watching television, you have one eye on television or one ear to someone else in the room; perhaps you are fixing the evening meal. But for the next two and a half minutes I wish you would stop everything that you are doing.”
Curious people began to come to the campus. They reported experiencing a deep and overpowering conviction of sin when they walked onto the campus.
Here’s a student name Jeannine on her experience:
“I just stood in the back of the auditorium laughing, rejoicing and just overwhelmed with joy. I witnessed the power of prayer like never before. It was glorious. Deep holy awe enveloped me. How can I begin to tell what it was like to have the manifest presence of God in our midst? God had given us His supreme gift . . . Himself. We were riveted in our seats. Time evaporated. What seemed like just a few minutes, actually it was hours. You just couldn’t leave.”
Another student named Nancy wrote, “To God be the glory . . . great things He has done!” SO many times, I have sung this song without fully realizing what truly great things the Lord can do. He has given me a love for others that I never knew possible. After I took my eyes off people and focused them on Christ, He was able to show me deeper things, which He had in store for me. It is as if Jesus and I have become friends instead of casual acquaintances.”
The president of the college, who was away at the time received reports of what was happening and called in to discuss the situation. This is how he described that moment: “In all of my life I have never known a heavier sense of the presence of God than in that small telephone booth in Banf Alberta Canada, it was as if God himself came through that telephone line and it was as if I was encompassed in God.”
The Holy Spirit was with His church in the first century, He was at Asbury in 1970, He is with us today.
So, what’s the difference?
What’s the difference between that kind of experience and regular people like us at a regular church on a regular Sunday?
I don’t know. But it might just be a matter of paying attention. It may be a question of sensitivity.
There are three things the NT tells us to do in terms of the Holy Spirit – we are to receive the Holy Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, and keep in the step with the Him.
He is in you. He is with us. He longs to help us. Are you open to Him?
Negatively, the NT tells us three things we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t grieve the Spirit, resist the Spirit or quench the Spirit.
Are you grieving Him? Is there sin in your life that is grieving your Advocate?
Are you resisting Him? Is He guiding you in a direction you are afraid to go? Are you pulling back from His leadership in your life?
Are you quenching Him? Is doubt and unbelief and distraction dousing the fire in your heart?
Let go and receive Him today.
Maybe you need to repent, confess your sins and open yourself to a new experience of God in your life.
Holy Spirit come.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown