Decaffeinated coffee may be good; I have to drink it in the evenings myself, though I really don't like it. Decaffeinated coffee won't wake you up; it won't perk you up; it won't keep you up; it won't get you up; it's just there. It looks like coffee; it smells like coffee; it tastes like coffee; it just doesn't do for you inside what coffee ought to do. It is a coffee substitute. When I traveled in South America, my friends down there say even American coffee with caffeine in it isn't as good as South American coffee. The fact is decaffeinated coffee just isn't real coffee.
There is a form of decaffeinated Christianity in our culture and we buy into it more than we think. We go through the form of what it means to be a Christian but we're a little afraid to get out on the edge because we're afraid somebody might think we're religious fanatics. So we have decaffeinated our Christian faith, cut down the edges, smoothed off the places where it has touched our lives, then we wonder why there is no power in it.
Annie Dillard, in her book Teaching a Stone to Talk said, "As Christians, we play in the floor like children with chemistry sets, not knowing the power we hold in our hands. For if that power should ever come together, we wouldn't be wise to be wearing a straw hat or velvet hat like we wear to church but we ought to wear crash helmets or construction helmets because the power of God is so strong that we would need something to protect ourselves from it."
We play around on the edges of the Christian faith, never knowing its real power. That happened to Paul. Paul, the great apostle and missionary, was preaching and establishing churches. When he was in Corinth, he did the best he could to establish a church there.
Apollos had been there also. I've always seen Apollos as a movie star with a Greek god profile, the sculptured look with a full head of hair. He would stand and debate and people would be overwhelmed by his arguments. He had helped in the refuting of the Jewish law; he had been able to debate with the Jews, and had shown them out of their own Scriptures that Jesus was the Son of God and the promised Messiah.
He was doing a good work but Apollos was baptized with the baptism of John the Baptist. That was a baptism of repentance. Everywhere he went, he baptized people in the name of John the Baptist, though he preached Jesus. Now Priscilla and Aquila, two deacons in the church, took him aside and taught him the gospel. Apollos continued his preaching and then Paul went over to Ephesus where Apollos had been for a long time. When Paul got to Ephesus, all the Christians there seemed to be decaffeinated. They knew the arguments for being a Christian but they had no power.
Have you ever been to church and wondered where the power is? When I was a boy growing up, it seemed like all we did was meet at church, check the roll, and organize to get those who were absent there the next week. We never did anything except work on those who weren't there. It was like a flat tire all the time. That is what Paul found at Ephesus, so he said to these people, "When you were baptized, whose baptism were you baptized in?" They said, "Apollos baptized us and he baptized us in the name of John."
I can see Paul now: "Aha! That's where it is! When you were baptized, did you receive the Holy Ghost?" (The Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit are the same.) The King James Version says, We don't know whether there be a Holy Ghost. Paul said, "Let me tell you about Him." Then he baptized them, God came upon them, they had power, and the church flourished.
Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish theologian, said that the Holy Spirit is the unexplored continent of the Christian faith. We're afraid of Him. It is time for the church to face up to the fact that our power is not in our pocketbooks or in our organization; our power is not in our teaching or oratorical skills. The power that makes all that we do work and change lives is the power of the Holy Spirit, not any of the organized power of man, and we need to understand this power.
Who is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the trinity. In the Bible we see God the Father — the creating, brooding, strong God. If you read only the Old Testament, you would be a little frightened because the God of the Old Testament is the God of vengeance, the God of law. God the Father in the Old Testament is Ruach, the spirit of God, the breath of God, which comes and leaves. "And the spirit of the Lord was upon them," said the prophets. You see that throughout the Old Testament. That is God the Father.
In the New Testament, in the Gospels, we see God the Son, who is Jesus. That is the same God, localized. What did Jesus say? "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father. The Father and I are one." The Old Testament God is distant, unapproachable, but in the Gospels we see God as very approachable, moving among us showing us what God would be like if you could sit down and know Him, which you can. That is the message of Jesus.
Then starting in the Book of Acts — from Pentecost to the Revelation — we see God the Holy Spirit, the energizing power of God among the people. Let me illustrate it this way. As my boys grew up, they saw Bill the father at home. They would go to church and see Bill the preacher. Then they would see me on television. I am the same person doing three different things — Bill the father, Bill the preacher, Bill the television person. The same God is in three persons, although the Bible draws it out in such a way that these persons are more than just personalities.
Pentecost is important for us to understand and to celebrate. When you have Easter, what do you have? The power of God at Easter came from the grave. But look at the disciples. They were disillusioned at Eastertime. He came from the grave and they didn't know what to do. If the gospel had stopped there, if our religion had stopped at Easter, that would be glorious, but we wouldn't have a church. God needed to do something more, not more for our salvation but more for His purposes in the world. So for forty days, Jesus was with His disciples, and then He went to the Mount of Olives and ascended to His Father. Ten days later at the Feast of Pentecost where the people had come from all over the world, He came back as the Spirit. First we have the resurrected Jesus, now we have Jesus in all of us and dwelling in the body of Christ, the church.
I get a little testy when people explain the church as an organization or a business. We have organizational sides to us and we do our work in an orderly manner but we are not a business. We are the body of Christ. We do things differently. We are a church, the body of Christ, and that's sacred. He came to dwell with us at Pentecost. The church was born at Pentecost. Peter preached and people came from all over the world. They heard in their own languages, 3,000 were saved, and the church was born that day at Pentecost. Our church and all churches need Pentecost in order to be complete.
Baptists have made the mistake through the years of stopping at Easter without understanding that Pentecost is as necessary as either Christmas or Easter. I'm not a holiness, nor a Pentecostal, nor a charismatic in the popular sense, nor a neo-Pentecostal. I'm a New Testament Christian and I'm not ready to give the Holy Spirit over to one segment of the Christian faith, give them all the power and let them have all the fun, while we trudge along with no power and decaffeinated faith. We have decaffeinated our religion by giving away the power because we are afraid of what the power will do to us. I don't have any fear of what the power of God will do to us. I have fear of what we will do if we don't have the power of God in our lives.
What Does the Holy Spirit Do?
First of all, the Holy Spirit brings comfort. The Holy Spirit is God, is of God, does the work of God, and part of that work is bringing comfort. You stand at a graveside, putting a loved one into the ground, your heart is broken. Not a word that I say, or that a counselor says, can make your heart not be troubled. Some of you have been through losses as great as the loss of death — the loss of business, the loss of a spouse. Some of you will say that is not as bad as death. Oh, yes, it is. Don't ever try to judge the value of someone else's pain. Their pain hurts them just as your pain hurts you. Only the Holy Spirit of God can mend a human heart. Jesus gives us five of what we call the paraclete, or comforter, sayings in the Book of John — five places where He outlines the healing, comforting ministry of the Spirit of God.
The Spirit of God also converts. I'd like to think I convert people, but I don't convert anybody. I would like to think that God called me to convert people, but He didn't, and I don't. He called me to speak His Word. I have to trust that His Word converts, that His Word strikes in the human heart, that His Word carries its own power. When you are saved, when God changes your life, it is the message of God, the ministry of God, that does it. It is not the ministry of the preacher but the ministry of God that actually makes it happen. We are just vehicles. I don't make it happen; God does the converting.
That is why some people get all upset over the passage about the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin is a sin against the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit's message to you is that you need to be converted but God doesn't force His salvation on you. If you say, "I don't want to be converted," then you have condemned yourself to live without God here and hereafter. You have chosen not to be pardoned of your sins. The unpardonable sin is simply saying no to God. God is not condemning you; you are condemning yourself because the message of the Holy Spirit is the message of conversion.
The Holy Spirit gives us guidance. You don't know what to do. You have to make a business decision, a family decision, a personal decision. You want wisdom so you pray and God gives you guidance. Out of that guidance, you begin to find the truth, help through whatever it is you are working with.
The Holy Spirit is the mediator between you and God. The Holy Spirit right now is at the throne of grace, talking to God, calling our names before God, interceding for us. That's power. And every time I preach, I know the Holy Spirit is not only alive in the congregation but is interceding with God as we worship together.
The Holy Spirit brings joy. I love humor, but real joy is different from deep laughter. Real joy is the sense of getting up and knowing that the universe is not working against you. You are not the world's pet hate. Real joy is knowing that within you there is a sense that you can rejoice even when the wind is blowing in your face. That is something God gives you through the power of the Holy Spirit. If there is no joy in your life, I guarantee you, you are not in step with God.
What Does the Holy Spirit Not Do?
The Holy Spirit does not send religious ecstacy for the sake of religious ecstacy. I get a little upset with people who run around on Sunday mornings looking for God. Do you know those kind? They run around, trying to find where God will be because they want to be "zapped" everywhere they go. Then they get together and talk about their experiences at the various churches. God is not in that kind of business. They are making a perversion of the gospel by making salvation a collection of religious experiences in the same way you gather up apples in the fall.
God gives religious experiences so that we may be energized to do His work. You couldn't do this work if God didn't occasionally energize you to do it, could you? God isn't concerned about how high any of us jump. God doesn't have some kind of scale or standard in heaven to measure how high you jump; God is concerned about how straight we walk. I really don't think God cares a bit about whether I get pumped on Sunday, but He is concerned about whether I do His will on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There is a connection about what I do during the week and how I worship Him on Sunday and during the week with the people of God.
I believe the church is holy. It is the family of God, nothing less than that. The Holy Spirit doesn't split churches, and the Holy Spirit doesn't give bad attitudes. Read the fifth chapter of Galatians: "Now the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, patience, kindness, against such there is no law … but the work of the flesh, emulations, hatred, strife, party spirit." If you want to test the spirits, the Scripture gives it to you; it is a measuring rod. An apple is the fruit of an apple tree. Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, patience are the fruits of the Spirit, the fruits that God has given as gifts to Christians.
I have some dear friends who are Pentecostals. I called one of them and said, "I want you to explain to me what you mean by the second blessing." He replied, "We believe you are saved, then God does something else to you; He gives you the second blessing." I told him I didn't believe it. I believe when you are saved, God continues to work in you, and you have fillings. There are many fillings but you have only one baptism and that comes at the front. On that issue we disagreed.
I think we have put different labels on the same phenomena. Let me explain it this way. When Carolyn and I were married, we were 21 years old. I was in college and she graduated early so she could support me while I went to seminary. I loved her with all I had when I married her. At 21, you don't know much about love; you think you do, but you don't. I gave myself to her and she gave I herself to me, and with all I had to bring, I brought it.
We have been married a long time but when I look back at the way I loved her when we got married, I didn't know anything. I thought I loved her those years ago but I didn't even know what love was. Since then, I have had college, seminary, graduate school. We have had two children and have suffered mal-tuition with college educations. I have had four churches and we have lived in several different houses. We have been through a lot of life — some of it has been up; some of it has been down. Always, I've had too much month at the end of the money. But as I look back, I didn't love her at all compared to the way I love her now.
When I met Jesus Christ at eleven years of age, I thought I knew all there was to know. I gave all there was of me to Him at that time. I know a lot more about Jesus now than I did when I was eleven years old so I have a bigger capacity to understand what God is doing.
Occasionally, I fall in love with Carolyn all over again. We get swamped by a tidal wave of love. Occasionally, the same thing happens with my commitment to Jesus Christ and I get overwhelmed with what God has done. We call it fillings of the Holy Spirit — God does something special in you and you get overwhelmed and see new vistas that you have not seen before.
How May I Have the Holy Spirit?
You receive the Holy Spirit when you are saved. Baptism is a symbol of that. I think baptism is deeper than even we understand and articulate. We receive the Holy Spirit when we are saved. God lodges in our hearts then and grows with us as we grow — sometimes up and sometimes down. The problem is that we go to war with Him because we don't want to give up the strongholds of our lives.
I'm saying to you that if you want to have real coffee and not decaffeinated, if you want to have a real faith and not a semblance of a faith, if you want to have a force in your life and not a form that you have been poured into, then open up your heart to what God can do.
Dwight L. Moody was a Sunday School worker in the 19th century who later became a great evangelist. He was the evangelist on whom Billy Graham modeled his own ministry. When Moody was a Sunday School worker, he was in New York holding a Sunday School rally. There were two women sitting on the front row who were Free Methodists. They said to him, "We are praying for you." He said, "Why are you praying for me?" They said, "We are praying that you will be filled with the Holy Ghost." He said, "I don't know what you are talking about but if it's good, I want it." According to his biography by Pollock, two or three days later, he was walking down Wall Street and was overcome with the sense of God's presence. He ran, stormed through the front door of the house of a friend, fell on his face, and there God came upon him. He asked God to stay His hand and said, "That's all I can take."
He got up and went to the rally he was to have that night. He said the same thing he had planned to say, but this time the words had new power. Things began to happen differently from that moment on.
We can have more power in our lives than we know, and God has it for us.

Acts 18:24-19:7

Share This On: