Sermon: Holy Spirit
I don't know of anyone who's more magnetic or more attractive than an authentic Christian. The longer I live, the higher priority I place on authenticity. As an authentic believer, you live what you believe. You speak the truth. You love generously. You admit failure quickly. You acknowledge weakness without hesitation. Among our highest callings as Christian men and women is that we know who we are, we accept who we are and are who we are.
Are you? The absence of such authenticity explains why the world around us has stopped believing a lot of our claims. People have seen too much phoniness, which gives them good reason to question the authenticity of today's Christianity.
My hope is for us to understand how to live that kind of authentic life, resulting in our lives verifying the truth of Holy Scripture.
First and foremost, we must realize the authentic Christian life is impossible and unexplainable without the Holy Spirit. God's Spirit is the power behind authenticity…behind genuine living of every description. It has nothing to do with your circumstances. That's what makes it so phenomenal.
If you don't know Christ as Savior, as hard as you may try, you simply do not—you cannot—know what I'm talking about. As a matter of fact, chances are good you will call all of this foolishness. That's understandable; as 1 Corinthians 2:14 explains, because you don't have the Spirit within you, you can't accept the things of the Spirit of God. They are moronic, a good translation of the Greek word meaning "foolish."
The sad truth is most Christians know little of this kind of abundant, Christ-like, authentic life either. Very few believers are accurately taught from Scripture how to let the Spirit fill them. There might be a lot of talk on the street and in the pews, and a lot of equally phony displays of the Spirit's power, but precious few truly understand the process of being filled by the Holy Spirit.
So here's the secret—which is really no secret at all. Tucked away in the fifth chapter of Ephesians is the clear and unmistakable direction about what it means to be filled with the Spirit.
Where's the Power?
Jesus had a conversation with the disciples after the Last Supper. It was their last meal together before Jesus went to the cross. The Lord promised to send His Spirit so He always could be with them (and us). John 14:16 says, "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever." In fact, He said a little later, He would not only be with the disciples, "He…will be in you" (v. 17).
So Jesus promised the Spirit at that last meal and reminded them as He left the earth that His followers would "receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (
We live our lives with an eye toward the world around us. We're not supposed to be a closed clan, a tight little clique of people living unto ourselves. Cults do that, but not the church. As an authentic, Christlike community, we live for the purpose of reaching the entire world with the message of the Savior.
People are watching…but they're not always impressed. They want to see that what we believe makes a transforming difference in our lives. More than just coping with life's challenges, they want to see a remarkable response that cannot be forged. The difference in your life comes down to how, as a Christian, you respond when…
• you face a dreadful trial from which you cannot escape;
• a doctor tells you she's concerned about the X-rays;
• the phone rings in the middle of the night with news about someone you love;
• you are the target of a complicated and ugly attack.
In that topsy-turvy moment, the Christian's best response is, "God, I need You." You need Him to step in, calm your fears and take charge. More than all that, you need the confidence that He is there at that very moment. You're not expecting an audible voice from heaven or a vision of the future in hi-def. Not that. What you need most is the unmistakable inner reassurance that He is there, that He cares, that He is in full control.
For this we need the Spirit, and for this we have the Spirit. The Spirit in you, and in control, makes a noticeable difference. Too often we concede with just getting by when the Spirit wants to enable us with an abundance of what we need. How many times have we settled for a little relief when the Spirit promises to give us a peace that is so pervasive it passes understanding (Phil. 4:7)?
When you have experienced His supernatural power, you remember it for a lifetime.
When the Spirit Took Over
Allow me to tell you a personal story that speaks to this. It's really every parent's fear. Some years ago, my phone rang on a warm, quiet Friday afternoon. It was someone at the high school telling me that our oldest daughter, Charissa, had been in an accident. She had been practicing a formation with her cheerleading squad when the whole human pyramid collapsed. Charissa had been at the top and, consequently, fell the farthest, hitting the back of her head with a sharp jolt. Her legs and arms had gone numb. She was unable to move even her fingers. After notifying the paramedics immediately, the school official had called me.
I raced to the school, not knowing how seriously our daughter had been injured. En route, I prayed aloud. I called out to the Lord like a child trapped in an empty well. I told Him I would need Him for several things: to touch my daughter, to give her mother and me strength, to provide skill and wisdom to the paramedics. Tears and feelings of fear were near the surface, so I asked the Lord to calm me, to restrain the growing sense of panic within me.
As I drove and prayed, I sensed the most incredible realization of God's presence. It was almost eerie. The pulse that had been thumping in my throat returned to normal. By the time I reached the school parking lot, not even the swirling red and blue lights atop the emergency vehicles disturbed my sense of calm.
I ran to where the crowd had gathered. By that time, the paramedics had Charissa wrapped tightly on a stretcher, her neck in a brace. I knelt beside her, kissed her on the forehead, and heard her say, "I can't feel anything below my shoulders. Something snapped in my back, just below my neck." She was blinking through tears.
Normally, I would have been borderline out of control. I wasn't. Normally, I would have been shouting for the crowd to back away or for the ambulance driver to get her to the hospital immediately! I didn't. With remarkable ease, I stroked the hair away from her eyes and whispered, "I'm here with you, sweetheart. So is our Lord. No matter what happens, we'll make it through this together. Your mother is on her way. We're going to be with you no matter what happens. I love you, honey." Tears ran down the sides of her face as she closed her eyes.
I followed the ambulance in my car, again sensing the Spirit's profound and sovereign presence. Cynthia joined me at the hospital, where we waited for the X-rays and the radiologist's report. We prayed, after I told her of my encounter with the Spirit's wonderful presence.
In a few hours we learned that a vertebra in Charissa's back had been fractured. The doctors did not know how much nerve damage had been done. Neither did they know how long it would take for the numbness to subside—or if it ever would. The physicians were painfully careful yet honest with their words. We had nothing solid to rely on, nothing medical to count on and nothing emotional to lean on except the Spirit of God, whose presence was tangible with us through the entire ordeal.
Sunday was just around the corner (it always is). By Saturday night I was exhausted, but again God's Spirit remained my stability. In human weakness and with enormous dependence on the Lord, I somehow put a sermon together, which I preached on Sunday morning. The Lord gave me the words, and He proved His strength in my weakness. I was told later by our media folks that more people requested a copy of that sermon than any other up to that date. I found that amazing. It was a demonstration of the Spirit's power through a very weak vessel.
Here's what happened, plain and simple. God the Holy Spirit filled me, took full control, gave great grace, calmed fears and ultimately brought wonderful healing to Charissa's back. Now, a couple decades later, the only time her upper back hurts is when she sneezes. If I am with her when that happens, I usually look at her and ask, "Did that hurt?" Invariably, she nods and says, "Yeah, it did." I smile, she smiles back, and for a moment we mentally return together to that original scene where she and I felt a very real awareness of the Spirit's presence.
All of us desperately need the Spirit's filling in those crisis moments. At such times, our natural strength will crumble; but you also need to be filled with His Spirit in your normal, everyday-life moments. I'm not sure where authenticity speaks the loudest—perhaps it's a tie. Most of life happens in the middle, and that's also where we need the Spirit's filling. The Spirit of God provides us with the power to live a normal Christian life—an everyday, believable, Christlike life, authentic from one day to the next.
The Christian Life Is Like Marriage
I like to compare the authentic Christian life to a marriage. A normal, solid, reliable marriage is not filled every day with soft, romantic music wafting through the rooms of your home, accented by dreamy, scented candles and bouquets of fragrant roses. A good marriage doesn't mean you frequently sit for hours in a bubbly hot tub, kissing and hugging each other. After awhile, both of you can't even fit in the same tub together, and you don't even want to. After so many years together, truth be told, that's just not normal.
What is normal? A Christian life that's real is transformational—the Spirit of God does more than just help you out a bit. He provides the complete enablement to live a life that those without Christ can't even imagine. It includes such practical things as the power to control your tongue, the strength to face each day's challenges, the ability to clean up your thoughts, a way to guard yourself from temptation so that you don't plunge after one lustful lure then another. The authentic Christian life offers you hope beyond the downward drag of the flesh. Let's face it: The Spirit life and the flesh life are always in opposition to one another.
The Christian Life Is Like a Car
Two things are essential for you to enjoy any car that you buy. The first is a set of keys. The key lets you into the car. It'll help you open the trunk or the glove box or whenever necessary to lift the hood on the car. It's what you need to crank up the engine. You can admire the car from the outside or even sit quietly inside it, but you're not going anywhere without the keys.
What the keys are to the car, conversion is to the Christian life. You don't enter the Christian life because you're born into a Christian family or because you attend a church where the Bible is taught, or even because you learn verses from a book called the Bible. You enter the Christian life through only one way: the key—Jesus Christ. John wrote it this way, "He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:12).
You either have the key that gets you into the car or you don't. You either have life in Christ or you don't. There is no in-between ground to stand on.
The second essential you need for your car is fuel. Don't try to save money by filling up your tank with water from your garden hose and hope your car will run. The engine was designed to run on fuel. What the fuel is to the car, the Spirit of God is to the authentic, normal Christian life. Colossians 2:6 explains it like this: "As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him." As you have received Christ (that's the key that gets you inside), so walk in Him (that's the fuel, the Spirit of God engaging your life in an authentic manner).
Jesus said He would send the Spirit of God, and by sending Him, He would provide the power to live as His witnesses. Some folks today have taken that word power and made it walk on all fours. Today, there's power everything. There's "power evangelism," whatever that is. There is "power prayer," "power preaching," "power healing," "power encounters," "power ministry" for every size and shape there may be. You can even wear "power ties" to carry out your "power ministry" on "power Sundays." If ever a word has been overused and abused, it's power.
We get our words power and dynamic/dynamite from the Greek dunamis. It's a word that refers to "divine enablement." Because I have the Spirit, I have within me sufficient enablement to handle my flesh. I can't handle it on my own. All the time I was without Christ I couldn't, but once I came to Christ, I received the key to the car. I also received the fuel for the tank, which enabled me to engage the gears. When the Spirit of God takes over, His power overcomes the fleshly forces within me—the drive to react, the drive to strike back, the drive to get even, the drive to throw a temper tantrum, the drive to have my own way and on and on the list goes. This is the work of the Spirit as He now provides divine enablement.
Your Body: The Holy Spirit's Temple
First Corinthians 6:19 paints an interesting metaphor that further explains the indwelling of the Spirit: "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit." What does that mean? Simply, He lives inside your life. You don't have to ask for Him to come in. He came in when you trusted Christ, when you were converted. Because He dwells within, His desire is to be in control of your lips, eyes, ears, actions, thoughts, reactions and motives.
Never forget this: Jesus promised the Spirit will be in you (John 14). If you're a Christian, you don't need to pray "Lord, send me Your Spirit" or "Please be with us today." Those are very common prayers, but they are unnecessary. He is with you. In fact, His Spirit lives within every believer.
Because the believer's body is considered the temple of the Holy Spirit, it stands to reason that He should be glorified in it and through it. After all, He owns it. We do not belong to ourselves, we are the Lord's. As our Master, He has every right to use us in whatever way He chooses. In living out the Christian life, we have one all-important objective: to glorify God in our body.
When you operate your life from this perspective, it changes everything. That explains why it is so important to view every day—sunup to sundown—from the spiritual dimension. When we do, we begin to realize nothing is accidental, coincidental, meaningless or insignificant. Things that happen to us are under our Lord's supervision because we are His, and we are to glorify Him, regardless. Because we belong to Him and His Spirit lives in us, we are in good hands. Truth be told, we occupy the best possible situation on earth.
This means that words such as accident or coincidence should be removed from our vocabulary. Seriously! When events transpire that we cannot understand or explain, we are reminded we are not our own. Rather than being anxious, frustrated or confused, we should step aside and allow His Spirit to fill us with the divine fuel we need to press on to honor Him in those events ultimately to glorify Him.
Are you ready for more? When you are inhabited by someone else, you're able to accomplish what you could never do on your own.
I love the piano, but when I sit down to play, those black and white keys groan. The piano knows it's not being played well. However, if I were to bring into our home the Maestro Van Cliburn and have him sit down at that same piano and begin to play, our piano would sound the way a piano ought to sound. I would stand back, shake my head, and say, "How wonderful! Our piano is so happy and so are all of us who are listening to you today."
Let's go further. What if Van Cliburn said to me, "You know what, Chuck? I have the supernatural ability to give you my skill and my heart so you can play like I play."
I would say, "You're kidding."
"No. Are you ready?"
I'd say, "Yeah, of course!"
He'd do his magic and suddenly, I'd be Van Cliburn! I would sit down and begin playing Chopin's "Polonaise," Beethoven, Bach and all kinds of fancy Mozart finger work. I'd be improvising up and down the keyboard on some of the great hymns, as well. It would be wonderful. I'd be amazed at this ability to do what I never could have done on my own.
Then I'd start thinking, Hey, I'm pretty good. Hey, honey, Cynthia…come in here and listen to me! Suddenly, my Chopin pieces would change back to "Chopsticks."
Why? Because when you're operating in the power of the Spirit, you don't operate for your own glory. If anything is being carried out, it's being carried out for God's glory. When the flesh takes over, the enablement of the Spirit ceases.
First Corinthians 6:19 reminds us that "you are not your own." If you try to play Chopin on your own, you're going back to playing "Chopsticks." In a simple and fragmented way, that is what it is to be filled by the Spirit. You're not operating on your own. You must operate your life under the control of the One who has come to live within you. Your goal in life is not to get what you want, but to do what He wants you to do. It's not all about you—it's about Jesus. Beware all those self-help books that tell you that you can rise to some great heights on your own; if you're not careful, your pride will kick in and take charge. When you look deep enough, what you'll find is nothing but gross depravity.
You're not your own; you've been bought with a price. Isn't that a helpful reminder? In other words, God is still God and I am still not.
So, what are we supposed to do? We're to "glorify God in [our] bodies" (1 Cor. 6:20). Think like this: "Lord God, I'm Yours. You have gifted me in ways that I wouldn't ever have expected, and I thank You. I'm here to serve You. May my service be for You and for Your glory. May it be authentic. May it magnify Your name. I want to honor You, O God."
In order for me to live the life God would have me live, I need His fuel. I need His empowerment. I need His transforming power. I rely on His control. Without His life, I'm sunk.
What It Means to Be Filled
I don't know of a more important verse in the New Testament for the Christian than Ephesians 5:18—honest, no exaggeration. This verse tells the believer how to live an authentic, empowered life: "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit."
It begins with a negative command: "Don't get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation" (which means excess, existing hopelessly out of control). When you're drunk with alcohol, you lose control. You also lose self-respect and the respect of others. "Don't get drunk."
A positive command follows: "But be filled with the Spirit." Let's be very careful to analyze precisely what this says. To do so, I want to underscore four significant factors about the construction of that command. Careful, meticulous Bible study is important if we hope to grasp what God's Word says.
Be filled with the Spirit. This is a command, not a suggestion. It's an urgent imperative, not a casual option. This instruction is part of a longer list of instructions; we have no more freedom to ignore this "be filled with the Spirit" than we do to overlook the ethical commands that surround it, such as "work hard," "speak the truth," "be kind" and "forgive."
"Be filled" is a command, which means I play a part in it. For example, I cannot be filled with the Spirit while I have unconfessed sin within me. I cannot be filled with the Spirit while at the same time conducting my life in the energy of the flesh. I cannot be filled with the Spirit while I am resisting God's will and relying only on myself. I need to be sure I have taken care of the sins that have emerged in my life, that I have not ignored the wrong I have done before God and to others. I need to walk in conscious dependence on the Lord on a daily basis.
Be filled with the Spirit. It's hard to tell in English, but in the original Greek, it's easy to see this command is plural. In Texas we say, "y'all." As in, "All y'all be filled with the Spirit." It's for all of us. There's no unique group that qualifies to be filled. If you're a believer, you get fuel in your tank. You're able to drop your car into gear and drive. If you don't, it's your problem, not God's. The fuel is inside. You're engaging the gears.
We don't need to spend our days wondering why some people have an edge on the power. You and I have it, too. We don't need to toss and turn through sleepless nights, struggling over our inability to claim the same super-dynamic power that some televangelist seems to have and we don't. Let me repeat: As a Christian, you have the Spirit of God.
Be filled with the Spirit. It's also given in a passive voice—grammatically that means something is done to us. You're not doing the filling; you have to be filled. One Bible translation says, "Let the Spirit fill your life." He knows what you really need in the moment, so be at peace. Find your comfort, wisdom and confidence in Him. He is able to bring you those things through the filling of His Spirit, but He's not a coercive God. He waits for you to ask Him: "Lord, I'm Yours today. Lord, I want to glorify You today. Please enable me to accomplish that. Fill me with Your power…strength…peace…love. I need You to do that."
Be filled with the Spirit. It's in the present tense—literally "keep on being filled." It's not once in a lifetime or once every year; it's every so often. Get to the place where you are aware moment by moment of who is controlling you. Asking God to fill You with His Spirit is an essential part of walking by faith and not by sight.
Not too long ago I was facing a very difficult task. I remember driving in my truck to the destination where I'd be dealing with this hard issue, and all along the way I prayed out loud. No radio, no news, no music. Just peace and quiet. I said, "Lord, I'm not sure what I'm going to encounter here; and without Your help, I'll be in way over my head. Take over. Fill me with Your words. Give me the right response. Restrain any reaction that would be inappropriate. Speak through me with wisdom and with grace. Let me be Your voice in this situation."
You may be agreeing with me right now, saying, "Lord, I want to be filled by You. I want to be used by You." Two hours from now, you may need to pray that again. There's no singular moment when you experience the fullness of the Spirit and from then on you are on an all-time high that never wanes. This is by God's design. He wants us to be aware of our moment-by-moment dependence on Him. Instead, we are regularly to pray, "Fill me, Lord, for this moment. Fill me in this hour. Fill me as I'm facing this challenge. I want to be used. I want to be available. I deliberately make myself dependent upon You."
The Spirit's filling is like walking. When we were young—very young—every tiny step was a conscious effort and a magnificent achievement. Soon we learned to link two or three steps together before we fell. Then before you know it, we were walking and not even thinking about it. Walking simply became a part of life.
In time, as we experience His filling, it becomes a constant part of our consciousness and our life. We begin deliberately, slowly and carefully. We need the Lord to enable us with discernment, to walk in obedience, to sense wrong when we encounter it and stay away from it. To keep us strong when temptation comes. To guard our tongues from saying the wrong things or saying too much or speaking too quickly. We need the Spirit to take our eyes, take our tongues, take our emotions, take our wills and use us, because we want to operate under His control on a continuing basis.
This, my friend, is called the Christian walk.
Taken from Embraced by the Spirit by Charles R. Swindoll. Copyright © 2011. Used by permission of Zondervan. Zondervan.com.