I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Last week we looked at the secret of the Holy Spirit’s coming into an individual’s life. We saw that this incoming is not something to be awaited. The Holy Spirit comes into the life of every single person who has repented of sin and trusted Jesus Christ as Savior. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit.
I received many responses to last Sunday’s message. Apparently it spoke to a need in the lives of many of you.
There were two specific responses representing reactions from the ultimate ends of the spectrum.
On the one hand, a woman shared with me how she was raised in a Pentecostal background. A strong emphasis was placed on experiencing all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. An enormous stress was placed on the gift of speaking in tongues and the gift of physical healing, two evidences that the Holy Spirit had actually come into a person’s life. Although this extreme emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit had not damaged her and her faith, it had negatively impacted some others close to her who intuitively saw these as spiritual excesses, emphases that pushed them away from a vital faith. In fact, she shared with me that she would be circulating a number of tapes of the message to some of these people for whom she thought last week’s message would be a helpful corrective.
At the other extreme, a woman came in to see me this week to express her appreciation for how God had been ministering to her in recent months through St. Andrew’s. Early in her life, she had committed her life to Jesus Christ. She had had a close, personal relationship with the Lord, and she was very active in her church. She then married. It was a troubled marriage. She did everything in her power to make it work. The church she attended preached adamantly against divorce. She didn’t want a divorce, but there was nothing more she could do to keep the marriage going, and she found herself divorced, much against her own desires. Her church basically disowned her, rejecting her as a divorced person. She quit attending church. She said, “For years, I simply stayed away from the church. Through all those years, I still loved the Lord in my heart but didn’t feel at home until my children introduced me to St. Andrew’s. Here, I found an accepting home. Here, I have renewed my commitment to Jesus Christ. And, after last Sunday’s sermon, I just had to come in and see you, making a public declaration of my renewed faith in the Lord and my joy in being part of this wonderful congregation.
You see, these two situations illustrate the wonderful ways the Holy Spirit works in the lives of people when God’s Word is faithfully proclaimed. God only knows how many other persons were set free as they realized the power of the Holy Spirit in their own lives, as persons who have repented of sin and put their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. What a privilege it is to have the assurance that the Holy Spirit is present in the life of every believer.
Yet, every growing Christian desires a deeper union with Jesus Christ. We can sense our own spiritual poverty. We have heard of those who have experienced His fullness. We yearn to know the second secret – that of the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
You and I can discover the key to the secret. The answer is simple. The fullness of the Holy Spirit in your life will be accomplished when you make an absolute, unqualified surrender of your life to God. Do you catch the distinction?
The Holy Spirit comes into your life when you acknowledge the fact that you are a sinner and that Jesus Christ provides the only forgiveness for sin. This surrender is called conversion. It implies a turnabout. At the point where you repent and put your trust in Jesus Christ, making a public profession of Him as your Savior, the Holy Spirit comes into your life. The infilling is subsequent to this when you surrender not just your sin but your whole self to God.
You and I have to realize that although the Holy Spirit comes into our lives at the point of conversion, we still have that spirit of flesh in us. The Bible says, “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want” (Galatians 5:16-17).
Both of these powerful forces want to take over full possession of our lives.
The Apostle Paul describes his agony of life – this inner spiritual warfare – in the seventh and eighth chapters of the Book of Romans. In Romans 7:19-25, he writes:
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
Before you were converted, this old nature, the flesh, was in charge. Perhaps you have never committed your life to Jesus Christ. You may take pride in the good things you do. This very pride is an index that your life is governed by flesh.
Once you become a follower of Jesus, you discover that there is an internal spiritual warfare.
I remember a friend of mine who came to Christ, coming to me a year after his conversion and sharing with a group of us at a men’s breakfast meeting this astute observation: “My life has become more troubled since I became a Christian. I am more conscious of an internal warfare. In fact, I have discovered sins that had never bothered me before because I didn’t realize these things had no place in my life.”
Let’s say that you have already turned your life over to Jesus. You have been converted. In the process, you have discovered an internal spiritual battle between the Holy Spirit and that old person, the flesh. As you yield your life totally, unconditionally, absolutely to the Holy Spirit of God, you will be filled with His presence. Yes, the Holy Spirit comes in when you surrender your sins to God, but the Holy Spirit fills you when you surrender your very life. The Holy Spirit who is already in you is now allowed to take full possession of all you are.
The Apostle Paul pleads with you in this respect, writing, “I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification” (Romans 6:19).
He is urging the first century Roman believers and you and me today to a deeper and more thoroughgoing commitment and surrender of our lives to Jesus Christ.
You say, “Well, how can this be? Isn’t my conversion enough? I can remember when I gave my life to Jesus.” Or perhaps yours has been a gradual experience of coming to trust in the Savior. “Hasn’t Jesus taken care of everything in His death and resurrection?” Yes, He has. Yet He has given you the potential for a much fuller spiritual life than one that barely meets the minimal conditions for salvation. You can be a Christian who holds back on a total submission of your life to Jesus Christ.
When Anne and I, back in 1964, stood at the altar in Wylie Chapel at Hollywood Presbyterian Church and were pronounced husband and wife by Dr. Raymond Lindquist and my father, I didn’t say, “OK, Honey, you go your way, and I’ll go mine. All I care is that I didn’t die a bachelor.” No. That was the point where we made a lifetime commitment to each other. We were one-fortieth of where we are to this point today, 39 years later. That was the beginning of a relationship. It has had its ups and downs but has become richer and more meaningful through the years. So it ought to be in your relationship with the Holy Spirit. So many people are presumptuous and act as though: “I got saved. What are you talking about, Reverend? What more is there for me? I have received the Holy Spirit.”
There was an elderly couple whose family had grown and flown. Now they didn’t need all of the house, so they decided they would remodel part of it and rent it as an apartment to have a little extra income. The house was sort of an L-shape, so they just remodeled a section and advertised it for rent. A young couple came, looked it over and said, “We are getting married next week. This is just fine. We would like to rent it, and we will move in when we get back from the honeymoon.” So they rented it. A few months later, the elderly couple was sitting in their living room. She had her favorite magazine. He was over there with the newspaper. She looked up from her magazine and right through the picture window into the living room of that apartment. There was that young couple, snuggling on the couch, whispering expressions of their love. She looked over at her husband and said, “Looks mighty nice, doesn’t it?”
He grunted a little bit.
After a moment, she said, “Maybe we ought to try that again.”
He looked up from his paper long enough to say, “I told you once I love you, and if I ever change my mind, I’ll let you know.”
A lot of people act that way toward God. “I told God once I wanted Him in my life, and if I ever change my mind, I’ll let Him know.” But the relationship of the Holy Spirit is something that is just strange language to them. This morning when I talk to you about this infilling of the Holy Spirit, I am talking about something for which you are responsible to lay your life open to Him. You are just as filled with the Spirit as you are emptied of self. And you are just as emptied as you choose to be. So you are just as filled with the Holy Spirit as you want to be.
Your life is like a home. When you invite guests in for an evening, you don’t necessarily open your entire house to them. In fact, if you are like most people, there are several rooms you would just as soon they did not see. The living room, the family room and the kitchen are all tidied up. They look good. But there may be a room or two that could spoil your image as a housekeeper. So you steer your guests away from that room or those rooms.
You can do this with the Holy Spirit. You can give every impression of yielding your life to His presence. Yet you hold on to some private sins, resentments, evil thoughts, wrong actions. “Holy Spirit, sit down and enjoy yourself in my cleaned-up living room. Come on into the kitchen. Join me in the family room. But, wait a second, don’t go into the office. What I do with my business doesn’t concern you. Stay out of my bedroom. My private life is my own. That hall closet of my private thoughts – stay away from that!”
Back in 1968, Anne and I moved into a beautiful new manse in Key Biscayne, Florida. It had a clean, cheery atmosphere. It had been freshly painted inside and outside. It was well aired by the invigorating, tropical salt-air breezes that wafted through open windows and sliding doors. Its atmosphere was enhanced by the constant circulation of cool air blown from the air-conditioning vents. We moved into this delightful home. We unpacked our belongings. Then we put whatever we didn’t need into a storage closet in the garage. A few months later, we went to retrieve our suitcases to leave on summer vacation. We opened them only to be confronted by the horrible stench and ugly sight of mildew. Then we realized that this large room, used for storage, had no windows or air conditioning vent. It was never touched by fresh air, as was the rest of the house. It was sealed off. Years later, most of what was stored in that closet retained the marks of mildew. Finally, we gave up and simply threw those suitcases and other stored objects away.
Your life can be the same way. You can be a Christian. The Holy Spirit can have access to part of your life. Yet you can live unrefreshed by the Holy Spirit in those private areas sealed off from His access. He refuses to go into those areas without your permission. Holy Spirit sees himself as a guest in your house. There are closets and storage rooms that we seal off from His breath of cleansing vitality. There is a sign on each door that reads, “Stay Out – This Room Is Reserved for SELF!”
Have you sealed off certain compartments? Are you unwilling to yield everything to Jesus Christ?
Paul urges a total yielding of yourself to God.
In our text of today, he writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).
This is the big breakthrough you are looking for as a Christian.
So often we tell a new believer to study the Bible, pray, do good works, tithe and attend church faithfully. Every single one of these is essential to a vital, growing, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
But what we often forget is the most important step in a person’s life next to one’s initial commitment to Jesus Christ. We forget to challenge you to a total surrender to the fullness of the Holy Spirit. This is not a partial matter. It is a radical openness to all God dreams to do in your life.
The men and women through human history who have stood out as individuals of spiritual power are men and women who have discovered this secret. They have come alive to the fact that following Jesus is more than a fire escape from hell. Following Jesus is more than a one-way ticket to heaven. It is great to have the assurance of salvation, claiming God’s promise of eternal life with Him in heaven. Yet you may be one of those tragic individuals who goes all the way through life spiritually blindfolded, never sharing those exciting experiences God has available for you right here. The fullness of the Holy Spirit in your life and the power for which you yearn come only from an unwavering surrender of your life in its totality to the fullest extent of your ability as enabled by the Holy Spirit, to Him. I am not talking about human perfection. I am not talking about a totally sinless life. You and I will always need to claim the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ purchased on the cross on our behalf. We will always need to be clothed in His righteousness. What I am talking about is throwing wide open every door, every room and closet in your life to the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
This kind of surrender involves a death struggle.
It is no easy thing. James McConkey, in his book, titled The Three-Fold Secret of the Holy Spirit, writes:
Immediately how the powers of the Flesh will assail this decision! What clamorous protests! What fierce hostility! What agonizing struggles! What deathly swoonings of the soul at the mere thought! What bitter tests of pride and reputation! What sweeping sacrifices loom up unthought of before! The pulpit; the mission field; yielded idols, surrendered professions, or occupations or possessions; how these all start up like spectres before the trembling soul! That day on which a child of God decides to yield his will to God will scarce have passed its meridian ere he will stand appalled at the revelation of his own unwillingness to do God’s will; will be astonished and humiliated beyond measure at the desperate and repeated onslaughts of the self-life, to drive him from the new stand he has taken. Just as the frantic cries and wild flutterings of the mother bird prove that your disturbing hand is near her nestlings, so does the passionate resistance of Self to the consecration of your life prove that through that act the self-life is in deadly peril of overthrow under the mighty hand of God.
A friend of mine, Howard Butt, was once a top executive in a large Texas grocery chain. He left that work to give his life to full-time Christian service. In his book, The Velvet Covered Brick, Howard tells how for years he yearned to surrender his life to the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Yet he kept holding on. He said that deep within him was a fear that the minute he surrendered his entire life God would crate him up and ship him off as a missionary to Africa. The one place in the world he did not want to go to, even if it was for God, was Africa!
What he discovered was that God also wasn’t the least bit interested in sending him off to Africa. What God wanted to see was whether or not he was willing to go anywhere.
How easy it is for us to put conditions on our surrender. We pray the prayer, “God, you can have everything . . . but ! ! !” There is no substitute for complete surrender. No amount of money. No amount of work in the church. No amount of prayer will take the place of full surrender. Obedience is the key. God wants your everything as ” . . . a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Don’t wait for God. He is not going to do it for you. You must take the initiative and yield. Don’t say that you have prayed. Don’t say that you have waited. Don’t say that you have wrestled. Don’t say that you have agonized. Don’t say that you have believed. The simple question is: “Have you yielded your life fully to Jesus Christ?” Have you taken your hands off of the control levers in your life? Or are you endeavoring to maintain control?
It boils down to this. Is Jesus Christ worthy of all your trust? If He isn’t, you had better hold on to all of those levers. If He is, you can trust Him to work in you to the fullness of the power of His Holy Spirit.
This is a battle. Because it involves not only the surrender of you. It demands the surrender of self, which involves both you and all that is yours. This has implications for your finances, for your position in the community, for your family, for your sex life, for your habits, for your time, even for your geography.
This surrender will be the most revolutionizing factor, next to the saving grace of Jesus Christ, in every encounter and relationship in your life. This surrender will bring spiritual release.
Yes, it’s costly. It demands your all. It is a call to “expendability.”
You and I have watched as the world has become immobilized by a group of people who call themselves the “Fedayeen,” those controversial Arab guerillas of the Middle East. This word in the Arabic means “men and women of sacrifice.” They are so committed to their cause that they are willing, literally, to become suicide bombers to accomplish their distorted goals. They have a vision. It is very different from ours. Their methods are wrong, but they are so committed to their cause that they refuse to let even their own earthly existence stand in the way of accomplishing their goal. They put their lives on the line for that cause.
In a much different way, Jesus Christ wants “Fedayeen” for Him – men and women who will give their all in positive ways as living sacrifices for Him.
Perhaps you are ready to check out at this point. You have heard enough. You feel that this life isn’t for you.
This is your option. But let me guarantee you that you will never be the person that you inwardly yearn to be if you now close your heart to this message.
The key to this obedience is a willingness to trust Jesus Christ. You know the old Gospel hymn, “Trust and Obey.” Its third stanza reads:
But we never can prove the delights of his love until all on the altar we lay; For the favor He shows and the joy he bestows are for them who will trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
First, you need to trust His indwelling spirit.
The Holy Spirit has entered your life. This is not based on a feeling you have.
Some of us want ecstatic feelings. Instead, we need to trust the Word of God as the authority. You and I need to distinguish between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the manifestation of that Spirit. Indwelling means the fact of His presence. The manifestation means the consciousness of that presence. We have to learn to trust Jesus Christ for that presence.
I don’t always feel loved by Anne. During the first couple of years of our marriage, I was extra-sensitive. When the first blush of sentimentality wore off, and she was not quite as romantically demonstrative as in the period immediately surrounding our wedding, I would at times question her love. Now I am maturing to the point where I can realize, most of the time, the depth of her love, both in embrace and out of it. In the human realm, I am sensing an increasing security in the simple trust of her love.
You are not to surrender your life in order to have the Spirit of God enter. The Holy Spirit has already entered. But your life does not climax with the incoming of the Holy Spirit. It starts with it. This indwelling is not the capstone. It is the cornerstone of your entire Christian life. As McConkey writes:
Now it is as against all this that we urge the child of God to trust in His indwelling. Do not await it, believe it; do not expect it, accept it; do not seek it, recognize it; do not build up to it, build upon it as a sure foundation.
Second, you need to trust His manifestation of himself.
Be careful not to expect a certain kind of manifestation from God. This comes to the heart of a contemporary problem in this area. We hear much about the gift of tongues and the gift of healing. Unfortunately, some ministers minimize the contemporary availability of these gifts. I believe it would distort the Word of God to say that His Holy Spirit cannot work today in the same way that He did in the New Testament church.
In our endeavor to protect the unity and harmony of the church, we can deny the Holy Spirit of God His right to manifest himself with exciting individuality. For you, it may involve one of these gifts.
I have a close personal friend, one I’ve known for almost 40 years. It was only last Sunday that I discovered that she has had, throughout all these years, the gift of speaking of tongues. It is a meaningful part of her private prayer life. She has never forced it on me and others of her close friends. She has thanked God for this gift that she has found so helpful and edifying in her own personal prayer life.
Don’t tell God what He is supposed to give you that He hasn’t already promised you in His Word. He will give you those spiritual gifts that He wants you to have. Trust Him for what He wants to give. Don’t try to be a carbon copy of anyone else. Resist the temptation to mimic the authentic experience of someone else. Be open. Do not negate what God is doing in the lives of others.
Don’t limit what He can do in yours. Be open to anything that is biblical. On the other hand, be fair to the one who loves Jesus just as much as do you but does not have the same gifts that are yours.
Your primary concern is meeting the conditions of His promise. Complete surrender is all that is expected of you – not a duplication of some emotional experience. Let God take care of the fulfillment. Leave the experience to God.
If God has blessed you with some of these more ecstatic gifts, remember these are not for your own personal entertainment. These gifts are not a hobby to play with. They are tools to use in the service of Jesus Christ. They are to help you in the upbuilding of His kingdom.
There is nothing more harmful than to be constantly inspecting your inner spiritual life. You will ultimately drive yourself to distraction. Meet the condition of surrender. Leave the rest to God.
You have seen little children plant seeds. Their curiosity gets the better of them. They dig up the seed to see if it has sprouted. They simply do not trust that something is going on beneath the ground that they cannot see. They put the seed back in. A day or two later they dig it up again. Then they place it back. This continual introspective process can only hamper growth.
Just trust Jesus Christ as He works in and through you. God has a plan for your life. As long as you open all the doors to His Holy Spirit, He can breathe through you that fresh breath of air. He can make you the kind of person He wants you to be. He will give you the resources to meet the daily problems of life. However, He can’t work through a person whose life is cluttered with self-made plans and multiple closets sealed off from Him. Let Him put you where He wants you to be.
I remember so distinctly that day in November of 1962 when I had to surrender my career to Jesus Christ. I was taking courses, jointly, at Princeton Theological Seminary and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Relations at Princeton University. I had my own plans for my life. I wanted to go into politics and run for public office. I had to be willing to let go of those plans and let God do whatever He wanted in my life. I had to drop my aspirations in politics and go into the ministry because it became apparent that was clearly His call. Frankly, from a human standpoint, I didn’t want to. Yet I desperately wanted to be in the center of His will. In surrender, I found a release and a spiritual power that otherwise would not have been available. And there have been subsequent times through the years, as recent as this very year, where I have been down on my hands and knees before the Lord and simply declared, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Let God put you where He wants you. You will go a lot farther under His steam than you will your own.
Before you surrender your life completely, there are three final facts you need to know.
One is that you will know the presence of His Holy Spirit. As we have already mentioned, don’t expect any particular manifestation of it. Two individuals respond in two different ways. When their alma mater wins the football game, one jumps up and down, shouting and ecstatically waving his pennant. The other calmly and mildly contemplates internally the satisfaction of the victory. Both know they won. Both are enjoying the victory. You will know His presence and all His fullness. You will inhale deeply that fresh air that sweeps through the musty rooms.
Two, this fullness of the Holy Spirit can be yours at any time. Some surrender their lives very close to the time of conversion. For others it comes much later in life, after a great time of struggle. You are neither too young nor too old. Now is the time to surrender.
Three, this life of surrender has a progressive quality to it. You will find new areas of your life that need to be turned over to Him after you have made the initial surrender. You may, later on, discover dimensions to your existence of which you were never aware. It then will need to be surrendered.
The secret of the fullness of the Holy Spirit is the absolute, unqualified surrender of your life to God!
Are you willing?
John A. Huffman, Jr., is Pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA. He is a Contributing Editor to Preaching.