One of the most challenging concepts in all of the Christian faith is the Doctrine of the Trinity.  The Christian faith is definitively monotheistic (we only worship the one true God), and yet we affirm what we see revealed to us by God in the scriptures; that God is triune in nature (one God in three persons).  Articulating what we believe is fairly simple and straightforward.  We believe that God exists as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and that while three persons, they are of one, the same in nature and essence, equally God in every way and worthy of all praise, honor, and worship.  Now, wrapping our heads around that is another story all together!

     So, when Paul rolls into Ephesus and starts asking people if they have received the Holy Spirit (vs. 2), we can sympathize with their confusion and understand their response (vs. 3), can't we?  Like these disciples in Ephesus, many of us struggle to fully understand the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  We get God the Father, and we (as Christians) must be aware of Jesus the Son, but the Holy Spirit is the mysterious and often overlooked "Helper."  What does that mean???  How does he help???

     In our confusion, we don't properly give reverence to the Spirit as we should.  Thus, we often neglect him in our worship when we gather together corporately.  At the same time, we often fail to rightly understand the vital role he plays in our own spiritual vitality and well-being.  Additionally, this lack of proper understanding, as Cody explained in this week's lesson, has led some to fall into mysticism and to affirm things contrary to the teaching of scripture.  This can, and has, clearly been problematic and, I believe, led to a number of dangerous, yet pervasive, beliefs in and among evangelical Christian circles.  Therefore, it may be helpful to briefly look at a few key points of doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit specifically, so that we might, unlike the Ephesian disciples, rightly know and worship God the Holy Spirit.

1.  The Role of the Spirit

     Scripture most often refers to the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete (or "helper").  In John  chapters 14 and 15, Jesus instructs his disciples concerning both the coming of this promised helper and what he will do.  He points to three very important aspects of the work of the Spirit in the lives of believers.  First, we see that the Spirit will dwell within us (John 14:16-17).  To understand why this is so important, we must go back to our understanding of the Doctrine of the Trinity.  Remember, if all three persons of the Trinity are of the same essence, then they are one in the same.  In other words, Jesus was assuring his followers that even after he was no longer with them physically, his Spirit would continue to dwell with them.  The indwelling of the Spirit is the transforming power of Christ that is at work in redeeming and restoring us through the hope and power of the Gospel.  It is the spiritual tether which binds us to our Savior.

     Second, we see that the Spirit will instruct us (John 14:25-26).  We worship a God who is revelatory in nature.  He desires that we know and worship him in both spirit and truth (John 4:24).  To know of God requires only that we observe his creation and look for his fingerprints upon it (we call this general or natural revelation).  However to know God personally and salvifically requires much more.  It requires the work of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the truth of God's word to us (we call this special revelation), as well as vivifying our hearts and minds, which are so totally dead and depraved by the effects of sin that we are unable to respond in our flesh, so that we might believe and trust in the promises of scripture...most notably the free offer of grace found in the Gospel.  When/if you came to faith in Christ, that was fully the work of the Holy Spirit.  When you read your Bible and understand the truth of it...that's him as well.  When you face temptation or adversity and find hope or peace in the moment through the encouragement or admonition of God's word...yup, that's the Spirit!

     Finally, we see that the Spirit will "bear witness" about Jesus (John 15:26-27).  This can mean a number of different things, but I believe the sense in which it is most fully understood is in the sanctification of God's people.  In other words, as we experience the work of the Spirit in our lives, they begin to bear fruit.  This is why Paul calls these manifestations of the image of Christ in the lives of believers the "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-23).  Everyone longs for the peace and security that is found in assurance.  We want to know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we are counted among the sheep.  Our greatest assurance is found through the outworking of the Spirit in us and through us.  When we see our lives being transformed day by day to look more and more like our Lord and Savior, we find the peace and assurance we are looking for.  Additionally, the transformation of our lives serves to also bear witness to the watching world about the hope and power of the Gospel of Christ.  All of this is part and parcel to the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

2.  The Eternality of the Spirit

     One way in which we most often err in our understanding of the Spirit is in regards to his eternal nature as God the Holy Spirit.  Because so much of our understanding of the Spirit revolves around his role in the lives of believers, we often mistake him as being a temporary manifestation of God for the Church Age.  When Jesus promises the coming of the Spirit in John 14 and when we study occasions of the pouring out of the Spirit upon believers in the book of Acts, we are tempted to think of the Holy Spirit as a new creation of God.  This couldn't be further from the truth!

     The Holy Spirit, as one of the persons of the Trinity, has been, is, and forever will be eternally God.  He is eternally uncreated and he has been active since before the dawn of time, in creation, throughout redemptive history, and continuing into the eternity that is to come.  Old Testament believers depended as much upon the work of the Spirit as we do today.  There is a common misconception that people were saved differently before the incarnation of Christ, as compared to after.  The overwhelming testimony of scripture is that sinners are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and in him alone.  For Old Testament believers, their faith was in a hope yet to come, ours is in a Savior revealed, but the focus of both is Jesus.

     Furthermore, the work of the Spirit in sealing believers and uniting them with Christ, and mining the depths of the glory of God revealed will continue on through eternity.  One day, Christ will return and complete the work of redemption for all time.  He will inaugurate a completely renewed and restored creation where we will be his people and he will be our King forever.  The words of the famous hymn, Amazing Grace, capture vividly what that reality will look like when the hymnist writes, "When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun."  We will spend eternity "getting to know" God more fully and the Holy Spirit will be intimately involved in all of it!

3.  The Gifts of the Spirit 

     No one area of Pneumatology (that is the branch of theology that focuses on the Holy Spirit) is more fraught with disagreement, error, and confusion than the gifts of the Spirit.  Scripture teaches clearly that the Holy Spirit does impart special abilities (or giftedness) to all believers for the edification of the Church and to accomplish the work of the Kingdom.  These gifts come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but all share a few things in common.

     First, they are supernatural in nature.  We understand this clearly when we see record in scripture of miraculous healings, the casting out of demons, or speaking in tongues.  However, we fail to properly see the supernatural nature of the gifts of the Spirit in the "common" practices of the Church, such as evangelism, preaching/teaching of God's word, and acts of service.  The important thing we need to remember is that in every case, a Spiritual Gift is one that, apart from the gifting, is not present in the life of the recipient.  Sure, you might say, anyone can learn information and teach it to others, or give of their time and resources to serve others.  This may be true, but it doesn't diminish the supernatural power of the Spirit in manifesting these abilities in the lives of individual believers.

     Often times, it is in our sinfulness that we desire most of all the sign gifts.  This was the problem in the early church at Corinth.  So much so, that the Apostle Paul devoted a large portion of his first letter to the Corinthians towards correcting both their understanding and practice of the gifts.  Regardless of where you land on the debate over the cessation or the continuation of the sign gifts, the fact remains that there has been a lot of misuse and abuse in both teaching and practice in relation to them, especially over the last 100 years of Church history.  These gifts themselves, as well as the teaching about them, has been appropriated by many men and women who desire to exercise them more for their own fame and glory than that of the Holy Spirit who gives them.  The question we all must ask when assessing the validity of signs is, "What do they signify?"  Every time God works through a sign or wonder, it is to add legitimacy to the divine work in either the message or the messenger.  In other words, if a miracle doesn't serve to magnify and glorify God, it isn't a real miracle.  There is much more that could be said, on this topic for sure, but we don't have the time or space here.  For more information about the topic of miracles and sign gifts, check out these two previous blogs/sermons ("Say What?" and "The Ultimate Purpose Of Speaking In Tongues") from earlier in our study over Acts.

     The Holy Spirit may be in many ways a mystery to all of us, but he need not be.  In fact, his presence in our lives is perhaps the most tangible part of our relationship with God.  God always communicates from the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  When thinking about how the triune God of the universe has revealed and is revealing himself to his creation, it is best to remember this simple "flow chart" per se.  Each person of the Trinity is always acting and active in everything that God has done and is doing.  May we join with the chorus of angels in heaven saying, "Amen!  Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!  Amen" (Revelation 7:12).

In Grace,
Chris Morris

If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.

Part 42 - Did You Receive The Holy Spirit?

Questions discussed in this sermon:

1.  Why does Paul ask these disciples if they've received the Holy Spirit?
2.  How has this passage been historically abused?
3.  What gives you hope as a believer? 

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