Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
Today is Youth Sunday.
I want to congratulate our junior high school and senior high school young people for their worship leadership throughout these entire three services. How fortunate we are to have Dave Rockness, Ivan Klassen and the wonderful team of interns who work so hard with these marvelous young men and women.
Today is Infant Baptism Sunday. What a privilege it is to hold these little ones in my arms, accompanied by your elders, and hear the vows taken by parents, congregation, pastor and God on behalf of these little ones. As we enter into this covenant of infant baptism, we know that these drops of water alone do not guarantee their salvation. Our prayer is that we may be faithful to these vows in the hope that, someday when they are old enough to know what it is all about, they will step forward, making a public profession of their own personal faith in Jesus Christ, confirming these vows taken for them in their baptism.
And today also is Father’s Day. What a great day it is to celebrate these men who have participated in bringing us into this world, provided for us, helped us be the persons we are today.
A woman was walking along with her young daughter. The little girl picked up something from the ground and started to put it in her mouth, but the mother told her to throw it away because it was dirty with germs.
“Mommy, how do you know so much?” the girl asked.
“Well, it’s on the mommy test,” her mother replied. “You have to know all about such things or you don’t get to be a mommy.”
The daughter thought about it a moment, then replied, “OK, I get it. So if you flunk the test you have to be a daddy.”
Being a good father isn’t easy. Many have commented on this challenge. Bill Cosby once observed, “If the new American father feels bewildered and even defeated, let him take comfort from the fact that whatever he does in any fathering situation has a fifty percent chance of being right.”
As a father myself, I would be the first to admit that none of us dads are perfect. I love the way that Charles Swindoll has stated it:
Dad is not perfect; he would be the first to admit it. Nor is he infallible, much to his own disappointment. Nor altogether fair . . . nor always right. But there’s one thing he is – always – he is your dad . . . the only one you’ll ever have. Take it from me, there’s only one thing he needs on Fathers Day. Plain and simple, he needs to hear you say, “Dad, I love you.”
That’s the best gift you can give. Nothing you can buy will bring him anywhere near the satisfaction that four-word gift will provide. “Dad, I love you.”
Frankly, my responsibility at this time is not to spend my time complimenting our young people, talking about infant baptism, or speaking about fatherhood. Instead, it is to preach from the Bible.
Today marks the end of our three-week series titled The Three-Fold Secret of the Holy Spirit.
In the first message, we talked about the Holy Spirit’s coming into the individual’s life. The criteria for having the Spirit are repentance for sin and personal faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. These also are the two conditions of becoming a Christian. If you are genuinely sorry for your sins and have placed your trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, you are both a Christian and one in whom the Holy Spirit resides.
In the second message, we talked about being filled with the Holy Spirit. We noted that it is possible to seal off areas of your life from His presence. We welcome Him into the living room and dining room. They are all spruced up for His presence. However, we seal off other more intimate rooms of our lives, not allowing Him free rein. The result is that we do not know Him in His fullness. His fullness comes from a complete surrender of life. The greatest tragedy of eternity is that of a “lost soul.” The next greatest tragedy is that of a “lost life.” You can be a Christian, born again by the power of Jesus Christ. Yet you can waste your life, never realizing the spiritual potential that is yours.
After church last Sunday, four women from the same covenant group came up to me at the door of the church. They were quite puzzled. One of them said, “I thought that everyone had the Holy Spirit in their life if they were a Christian. That’s why, whenever I have the need, I claim the power of the Holy Spirit in prayer. Is there anything wrong with that?”
No, there is absolutely nothing wrong with what she said. The Holy Spirit is in the life of everyone who has repented of sin and put their trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. The point is, though, that not all of us have the fullness of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Certainly every one of us is entitled to pray, empowered by the Holy Spirit. I’m talking about something more, that surrendering not only of our sins, but ourselves to Jesus Christ, throwing wide open every door to every room and every closet in our lives.
It is possible to surrender your life totally to the will of God. You can say “No!” to the self-life. This does not mean that you will be free from struggle. You will still have it. However, you will not purposely seal off areas of your life from the control of the Holy Spirit.
Once you have discovered the indwelling and the infilling of His Spirit, you will yearn to know His continuing fullness.
Perhaps you have discovered the fact of His indwelling and His fullness. For you, this deeper experience of His fullness has been a come-and-go affair. You sense His fullness at times, then it drifts away, and your life is left powerless. There is no permanence to this fullness.
Why do so many Christians fail to experience the continuing fullness of the Holy Spirit?
First, they don’t realize that the initial surrender of one’s life is only the beginning of an entire life of surrender.
Since the manifestation of fullness of the Holy Spirit comes to the person who surrenders himself fully to God, the continuing fullness comes to the person who continually surrenders to God. I know many a frustrated Christian who places his spiritual climax at the point of surrender or consecration of self. Surrender is only the threshold of living a life in the Spirit. It is not the climax.
You and I are familiar with the high-salaried contracts being paid to many professional athletes. When an athlete, whether the sport be basketball, football or baseball, signs a contract, they become noted as high-paid players. There is fanfare and publicity surrounding the signing of the contract. But you know what? That player didn’t receive all that money on the day he signed his contract. That’s the day he begins to receive it. Signing up was just the beginning. The mutual commitment of two contractual signees is only the beginning of something which will be worked out together over the seasons of future play. Kobe Bryant will continue to receive the benefits promised to him as he follows through on his part of the contract.
Also, an athlete cannot rest on past laurels. The one who tries to is a “has-been.” I know former athletic heroes who have never fully adjusted to the fact that their careers are behind them. They lean on the glass crutches of the past. Many a team has fallen apart trying to recreate a previous championship season.
Many a believer in Jesus Christ has found himself powerless as that one has endeavored to recreate the feeling of a previous spiritual experience. The failure to continue in the fullness of the Holy Spirit often comes from your failure and mine to realize that our initial surrender is only the beginning of a life of full surrender. Our success or failure is not measured from the result of opening day. It is judged on the day-in, day-out, long-haul performance.
Second, a person who fails to experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit is often one who does not realize that his struggle with the flesh continues.
In our last message, we quoted from the experience of the Apostle Paul who described his inner conflict. The things he wanted to do, he so often failed to do. Those things he didn’t want to do, he ended up doing. He found that it was only in a day-in, day-out surrender that he was able to find that peace and strength, that victory that is promised through Jesus Christ.
It is so easy to fall back to a point where you are walking “in the flesh,” instead of “in the Holy Spirit.” Everything that you do that is based on the impulse of the flesh limits the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s access to your life.
It doesn’t mean that you are no longer a Christian. You still are. You can be living a life that no longer experiences the fullness of the Holy Spirit and still be a son or daughter redeemed by His grace. You can still have your spiritual gifts. However, you now exercise them in the flesh.
I know a young man whose life has been torn apart by drug usage. He has gone the gamut from marijuana to amphetamines and, ultimately, to cocaine and now heroin. For several years, he listened to warnings, reprimands and pleadings from his father. At some points, he accepted help from his father. At other points he has sped on down this road of personal tragedy. My friend is still the son of his father. There is always the home to which he can return. He will always find the waiting embrace of the parents who brought him into this world. No matter how alienated he may be from them, he is their son by birth. In spite of his struggle with drugs, he will always be a son and have the help of his father. The days of closeness, tenderness, intimacy and love are days of the past. Now there is a broken relationship. They are out of fellowship. However, that relationship can be restored.
Does this describe your relationship with Jesus Christ? Do you look back to a better day when you experienced the fullness of His Spirit? Have you known a time of complete surrender? Were you caught off guard by the struggle with flesh that seemed to hit you immediately on the heels of that spiritual peak? The struggle with the flesh is normal. Yours can be victory instead of defeat.
If you want to really experience the continuing fullness of the Holy Spirit, you need to latch on to an exciting concept. This motivating concept is that of abiding in Christ.
Jesus described this principle in a homey way. Dotted along the hillsides of Palestine there have always been vineyards. The grapevine grows swiftly. So much so that the tiny shoots are planted as much as twelve feet apart along the terraced hillsides. The soil has to be kept perfectly clean. The plants need a great deal of attention if the best fruit is to be produced. The young vine is not allowed to bear fruit for the first three years. Each year it is drastically cut back, so that it might develop, conserving its life and energy. In its mature years it is pruned during early winter. The vine has two kinds of branches. One kind of branch is fruit-bearing. The other is non fruit-bearing. The non fruit-bearing branches are mercilessly pruned back so that they will not drain away the fruit-producing strength of the plant. These fruitless branches are worthless.
It is out of this background that Jesus spoke these words recorded in
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
This abiding is not a mystical experience. It just involves walking with the Lord in a life that is marked by trust and obedience. Some of us don’t know how to live lives that are disciplined. The Christian life is a disciplined existence in which we do, with the help of the Holy Spirit, keep Christ’s commandments.
You may be saying to yourself, “Impossible! I want to lead the Christian life. I have given my life to Jesus Christ. But if this fullness of the Holy Spirit is based on keeping the minute commands of God, I am going to have to throw in the towel right now. I can’t even remember all of His commands, much less keep them all.”
The exciting and amazing thing is that you need not get hung up in total frustration. No one can remember all the commands of God. The more you know, the better off you are because His commands are not geared to spoiling your life. They are given to free you to a much more productive, happy style of living.
The commands of God, as numerous as they are, boil down to one basic commandment that has two offshoots. The Apostle John states it succinctly in
When Jesus was confronted with the multiplicity of biblical commands, He rolled them all together into this two-fold principle.
One is the vertical, “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.” The other is the horizontal, “. . . and love thy neighbor as thyself.”
The first principle is that of faith.
This involves the constant looking to Jesus Christ for continuous direction. The believer himself is spiritually dead. You and I cannot be self-improved. You and I need to be born again by His Holy Spirit. You and I need to be directed by Him. You and I need to draw upon Jesus Christ on a daily basis. He let us know that apart from Him, we can do nothing. He has told us that “It is the Spirit that quickeneth.” The most beautifully prepared sermon means nothing unless it is empowered by the Holy Spirit of God. The most carefully designed life amounts to nothing unless it is touched by the Holy Spirit. And this empowering is not a once-and-for-all thing.
For example, take two clocks. One is battery driven. It works well for a while. Finally, the source of energy wears out.
I learned that the hard way when I was a pastor in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There, the clock in the pulpit was battery run. One Sunday it ran down in the middle of the sermon. If you think I preach long now, you were fortunate not to have been there that Sunday morning. I preached at least fifteen minutes longer than I usually do. How embarrassing! What stopped me was hearing the bells of the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral next door.
Unless the battery is replaced, the clock is useless. The battery does not have a continuing resource in and of itself. It can go on its own power for a while but not forever.
Another kind of clock is electric. It has no power in and of itself. It has to be plugged into an electrical outlet. As long as that clock is plugged into the flow of current, there is an endless supply of energy. Nothing needs to be replaced. Nothing will wind down. There just needs to be a dependable external supply of energy.
God doesn’t store you and me up forever with a life-long supply of His Holy Spirit induced power, either the day on which the Holy Spirit comes into our lives or that day when we fully surrender ourselves to the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
You and I need to look to Jesus Christ in faith on a daily basis. He calls you and me, saying, “Abide in me and I in you!” Plug in today! Stay plugged in! Don’t think your previous experience with the Holy Spirit is an automatic permanent battery pack.
Second is the principle of love.
When you are abiding in Jesus Christ through faith, you have a much greater capacity for love. Jesus said, “‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another'” (
This is where the church of Jesus Christ so often falls so short. I preach not only to you. I sense my own inadequacy at this point. James H. McConkey writes:
We are to make “Love One Another” the touchstone by which to test every thought, word, and deed of our daily lives, until all are brought into conformity to the law which was supreme in the life of Jesus Christ Himself. The rebuke you administered yesterday to a brother in Christ – was it done in love, or vexation? The counsel you gave – was it proffered in love, or pride of opinion? The meeting you led, the address you made – were they in love, to help others or to add to your own reputation? The money you gave – was it in love to the lost, or in pride and self-esteem? The remarks you make about others – are they in love? The thoughts you cherish in your secret heart concerning them – are they, too, full of love? Your giving, spending, ministering; your praying, and purposing: are they all in love? This is the supreme test of every detail of your life by which you may know whether it is ‘God that worketh in you,’ or Self . . .
It is equally evident to us that Christ cannot manifest Himself through any act that is selfish or un-Christlike. Every root of bitterness, every yielding to selfishness, every harsh judgment in our daily walk must and does, of necessity, break Christ’s communion with us . . .
Wherefore if some grievous wrong, insult, or unkindness goad you from your attitude of love, justify it not, but hasten to confess, and find forgiveness from Him who prayed for those who murdered Him, as well as for those who loved Him.
You see, faith and love oscillate in beautiful tension. It is not a matter of either/or. Both are essential. You and I are privileged to live with the continual manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Some try to divorce faith from love. One group emphasizes a hermit-like Christianity that lives in a cloister or ghetto, constantly striving to learn more about God. This is an inward existence.
Others emphasize the outward. They are always busy in Christian action, doing good works for other people.
The Bible warns that “faith without works is dead.” Where there is an inflow without an outflow, there is stagnation. Those who give themselves wholly to Christian service without developing the inward life have missed the secret of spiritual power. Faith and love go together in the life that abides in Jesus Christ.
One footnote of warning. Watch out for the “after-you-have-walked-on-the-moon syndrome.” Sometime ago I read an article about what has happened to the astronauts who have walked on the moon. Each of them has had to cope with a problem. The problem is this: Just what do you do after you have walked on the moon? You have geared your life for that great experience. You have had it. You have successfully returned. Then you don’t suddenly stop living. Your name may be etched in history forever with that accomplishment, but you still have to continue living. I remember hearing the astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, describe how he went through an emotional breakdown. He told how he occasionally gazes up at the moon and mutters an oath of resentment, followed by the words, ” . . . you’re the one that got me in all this trouble.”
My point is, once you have experienced the fullness of the Holy Spirit, life continues to go on. You have had your spiritual high. This can be subject to diminishing returns. You can’t live all your life on an emotional high. One spiritual high, placed back at some previous point in your life experience, can be destructive to your spiritual equilibrium if you try to keep re-experiencing that same high. However, if you keep your life open to the Spirit of God, and daily surrender to Him, you will experience His continual fullness. The Apostle Paul gives us these practical words of admonition. He writes, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (
I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior as a five-year-old child. At that moment in time, the Holy Spirit came into my life. I had a normal childhood as one who loved Jesus.
But I remember clearly, at age fourteen, when I was struggling with intellectual and moral temptation, that I made an absolute total complete surrender of my life to Jesus Christ and experienced the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
Since that day until now, my life has had its spiritual ebbs and flows. The Holy Spirit has always been in my life, but not always in all of His fullness. I have had times when months have gone by when basically I was living in the flesh, not in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
Then there were those crisis times of decision as to what career, who to marry, a particularly overwhelming doubt, a physical crisis or the death of a loved one in which I have been reminded of my total dependence on Jesus Christ. I needed the fullness of the Holy Spirit to make the right decision or to get through some horrendous difficult situation. Again, I can look back on my life and almost date on the calendar the times which I have known the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
What I have learned is that you don’t have to wait for the crises moments. It is possible, although I do not always practice it, to live in the daily fullness of the Holy Spirit. I thank God as I look back on my 63 years of life, 58 in which I have been walking with Him, for those times, more frequent the older I get, in which I am able to live in complete surrender to Him.
Paul’s command in
Are you willing to live this life? Don’t settle for anything less!
John A. Huffman, Jr., is Pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA. He is a Contributing Editor to Preaching.