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Holy Spirit, Part 4: Assurance

June 29, 2017

June 25, 2017

Romans 8: 14-17

In 1989 Universal Pictures released a movie about a farmer on a mission to build a ball field.  It was based on the book Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella.  And starred Kevin Costner – only with a lot more hair.  The name of the movie?  Field of Dreams.  In the movie, Ray is out walking his fields in Iowa when, across the rows of corn, a voice rings out.  Take a look (http://www.wingclips.com/movie-clips/field-of-dreams/hearing-voices).   Initially Ray looks around in confusion.  But eventually he comes to believe that the voice isn’t just in his head.  So, he plows his corn under.  His neighbors worry that he is cracking up from the financial pressures.  His brother in law urges him to sell the farm.  But Ray perseveres.  And eventually, baseball players begin to show up – including Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of the players from the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.

I share that with you because we have been reflecting on the work of the Holy Spirit.  We started on Pentecost and the appearance of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire.  And Pastor Jayne talked about how the Holy Spirit empowers us to live out the reign of God in our lives.  Two weeks ago, Pastor Craig talked about the work of the Holy Spirit to build community.  And how the Holy Spirit is the antidote to our disconnection with one another.  Last week, I shared with you that the Holy Spirit is like Gandalf in Tolkien’s classic novel, The Hobbit.  That the Holy Spirit is the presence of God’s in-breaking grace who guides us on our hero’s journey.  So, that we eventually come to change the lives of those around us.  Today, I want to wrap up our series by thinking about what this in-breaking grace looks like.  Specifically, I want to look at how we can be sure that it is the Holy Spirit at work within us.

Does the Holy Spirit call to us like the voice in Field of Dreams?  Is the Spirit’s presence discerned through a quiver in our liver?  Or is the Holy Spirit more like the hologram that Obi Wan Kenobi had of Princess Leia in The Return of the Jedi?  So, all we need to hear from God is a good droid?  A. W. Tozer once wrote that to many Christians the Holy Spirit, “…is some nebulous wisp of smoke” which is present in churches and hovers over good people when they die.  What do you think?  What does it look like when the Holy Spirit is at work in you?

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the New Testament letter of Romans, chapter 8.  We will be reading verses 12 -17.  Jesus has risen from the dead.  He has appeared to the disciples.  And he has returned to heaven.  Just as promised, the Holy Spirit has come.  And filled with the Spirit’s power, the disciples have boldly proclaimed the Gospel.  And churches have sprung up across the known world.  Now, Paul is writing to the Christians in Rome.  Among other things, he wants them to be informed about the work of the Holy Spirit.  Because he says, the Holy Spirit bears witness to our identity.  In particular, the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.  As students of the Bible we know that in first century Palestine, for a testimony to be valid, two witnesses were needed.  Paul says that this is basically where the Holy Spirit comes in.  The Spirit confirms that what we sense in our own spirit is authentic.  And that the Spirit does this in two specific ways.  Let’s see if we can identify them as we read, Romans 8:12-17.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.  14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

So, Paul says that there are two ways that the Spirit is at work in us.  Two ways that the Holy Spirit testifies we are the children of God.  And the first is that we develop a growing aversion to sin in our lives.  13If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.  14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.

The key word here is FOR.  The word FOR connects verse 14 with the verse before it and explains it.  Verse 13 – If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.  FOR or BECAUSE those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  In other words, being led by the Spirit is to put to death the misdeeds of the body.  It is to overcome sin through the help of God’s Spirit.  Or as John Piper puts it in his sermon on Romans 8, to be led by the Spirit is to fight against sinning by trusting Christ is superior to what sin offers.

Which makes sense.  God’s children will embrace the same values and priorities as their Heavenly Father.  They will seek that which pleases Him.  And work to avoid that which doesn’t.  And the Bible is clear.  God hates sin.  At times the Bible defines this as rebellion against God’s authority.  At other times, it describes sin as missing the mark of God’s design for our lives.  At still other times, it paints an image of sin being twisted and bent.  But in each case, it’s clear that God and sin do not mix.  Psalm 5:4 – For you are not a God who delights in wickedness.  No evil may dwell with you.  Sin is the antithesis of God’s nature.  It separates us from Him.  And therefore, blinds us from His truth.  So, the first sign that we are being led by the Spirit is a change of heart and mind toward the sin in our lives.

In Mark 1:9 Jesus says – “The time has come.  The Kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the Good News!”  Jesus has been baptized.  He has been tempted by Satan in the wilderness.  Now he begins his ministry.  And he begins with a call for repentance.  The Greek word for repent is meta – naw – A – O.  Meta meaning beyond.  And Nous which means mind.  So, that repent means to go beyond the mind that you have.  It means to think differently.  To see things in a new way.  (And Now I See, Robert Barron, p. 1).  Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 4:22 – You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

The image that speaks to me about this is the son in Jesus’ story who comes to his father one day and asks for his half of the inheritance.  And even though it is incredibly disrespectful – in essence saying I can’t wait around for you to die – his father gives it to him.  And the son takes the money and travels to a faraway land where he squanders it away partying.  Until there is nothing left.  And the rebellious son is forced to eat pig chow in order to survive.  And then one day, he has a change of heart.  Or more to the point, he has a change of mind.  The Scripture says he comes to his senses.  And he decides to return home and beg for another chance – this time as a servant.  Only to find upon his arrival the open arms of his father’s grace.  And his restoration as a son.

How do I know if the Holy Spirit is at work in me?  There will be a growing aversion to the presence of sin in my life.

The second way the Holy Spirit works within us is to increase our love for our Heavenly Father.  15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.”

I grew up in a large Evangelical church in Chicago.  On Sunday nights during the summer, the church would show movies out in the parking lot.  Being Chicago it wasn’t surface of the sun hot as it is here.  And folks would bring blankets and lawn chairs and have a picnic while a movie was projected up on the wall of the fellowship hall.  One movie that I particularly remember was called –  A Thief in the Night.  It was about the end times.  The main character was a woman who considered herself a Christian because she occasionally read the Bible and went to church.  She refused to believe the warnings of her friends and family that she would go through the Great Tribulation if she did not accept Jesus.  One morning she awakens to find that her family and millions of others have suddenly disappeared.  Gradually, she realizes that the rapture has occurred and she has been left behind.  And for the rest of the movie she struggles to avoid taking on the mark of the beast in order to keep from being persecuted (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Thief_in_the_Night_(film).  At 8 years old, the movie scared the snot right out of me.  For years, I had no snot in me.  And I had nightmares of being in a plane during the rapture and the pilot just disappearing.  If I came home from school and no one was around, there was this brief moment when I worried I had been left behind because my faith wasn’t authentic enough.

Over the years, I have come to understand that this was not the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit does not operate by increasing our fear.  When we encounter someone trying to scare us into following Jesus we can be confident that it is not the work of God’s Spirit.  Because the Holy Spirit bears witness of our being God’s children by removing our fear and growing our love for our Heavenly Father.  Paul says that the Holy Spirit literally leads us to cry out Abba!  Abba is the Aramaic name a child would use for their father.  It means daddy!  We find it only once in the Gospels.  Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed, Jesus prays that he might avoid the suffering that is about to take place.  Abba, father, he says, take this cup from me.  Yet, not what I will.  But what you will.  Jesus prays the intimate prayer of a child asking for his daddy to save him.

My point is this:  The testimony of the Spirit is not claiming a doctrine about God.  And it’s not an acknowledgement that God exists.  The Bible says that even the demons acknowledge that God exists.  Rather the testimony of the Spirit is a cry of affection.  It is a cry of love in our hearts that comes as the Holy Spirit helps us live into to our identity as the adopted children of God and joint heirs with Christ!  Did you catch Paul’s words?  Through the work of the Holy Spirit we have a new reality.  The very power and the very life and the very love that has been given to God’s Son Jesus has been offered to us.  The question is – are we claiming it?   Are we claiming our identity through the Holy Spirit?

There’s an old story of a chicken farmer who found an eagle’s egg.  He put it with his chickens and soon the egg hatched.  The young eagle grew up with all the other chickens and whatever they did, the eagle did too.  He thought he was a chicken, just like them.  Since the chickens could only fly for a short distance, the eagle also learnt to fly a short distance.  He thought that was what he was supposed to do. So, that was all that he thought he could do.  As a consequence, that was all he was able to do.  One day the eagle saw a bird flying high above him. He was very impressed. “Who is that?” he asked the hens around him.  “That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,” the hens told him. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth, we are just chickens.”  So, the eagle lived and died as a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.

In his book, Knowing God, J.I. Packer says that we have been given the highest privilege that the gospel offers.  We have been adopted as God’s children.  Which is even better than God’s forgiveness of us.  Being forgiven, he says, is definitely necessary, and it definitely meets our deepest spiritual need.  But adoption is even greater, because of the rich relationship with God that it signifies. He goes on to say that just being forgiven by God would not necessarily mean that God loves us.  Simply being forgiven doesn’t imply any deep relationship or intimacy.  A judge can pardon you, but that doesn’t mean that he has to like you.  But that’s not what God does.  God justifies us.  He forgives all of our sins.  But then he does something unbelievable.  He brings us into his family.  He loves us, and he becomes our Father.  Our relationship becomes one of closeness, affection and generosity. “To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater” (Packer).

I ask you this morning, how significant is your identity as a child of God?  What does it mean to you to be an heir of the Most High God?  In what ways does it impact your everyday life?  Are you fully living into the love and care of our Heavenly daddy?  The Holy Spirit bears witness that we are children of God.  He does this by changing our heart and mind and making us increasingly dissatisfied with sin and brokenness in our lives.  And by driving out fear and increasing our love for God.

SO, my challenge this week is to be willing to be led by the Holy Spirit.  Again, we don’t control the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit moves and leads where the Spirit wills.  Jesus said to Nicodemus that the Spirit or breath of God blows where it wants.  And the Holy Spirit is not some tool or instrument we manipulate to get what we want.  The Holy Spirit is God.  We don’t create our identity as adopted children.  Rather we receive it as we open ourselves to the Spirit’s work.

With that in mind, I challenge you to pray a simple sentence each morning this week and reflect on it.  It goes like this.  I am no longer my own but thine O Lord.  Say that with me.  I am no longer my own but thine O Lord.  Once more with passion!  I am no longer my own but thine O Lord.  It’s the first line of a prayer written by John Wesley, who was the founding father of the Methodist movement.  It’s known as Wesley’s covenant prayer.  In it, Wesley renews his covenant with God and reaffirms his commitment to following God’s will.  The point of praying I am no longer my own but thine each morning is to develop a willingness for the Holy Spirit to in you.  And that in doing so, your identity as God’s child will be confirmed.  That the Spirit’s witness will bear witness with your Spirit.  That you are an heir with Christ.  I am no longer my own but thine O Lord.

It’s interesting to me, that like many forefathers and foremothers of our faith, Wesley struggled for a long time to feel assured of his salvation.  He was the poster child for good works, discipline and self-denial.  He threw himself into assisting the poor and the sick, visiting those in prison and doing whatever good he could.  And yet he could not, in his own words, find assurance of his acceptance of God.  It wasn’t until one evening at a worship service at a church on Aldersgate street in London that he experienced what he was longing for.  The priest was reading from Romans 3.  And the Spirit moved.  And Wesley knew in his heart that Christ had died for him.  He said I felt I did trust in Christ.  Christ alone for my salvation.  And an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sin, even mine, and saved me.

That assurance doesn’t come from a voice telling us to build it and he will come.  And it isn’t a quiver in our liver.  We don’t find assurance in a wisp of smoke or hologram.  Rather it comes through the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. So, I am going to make myself available. I am going to be willing to be led and in doing so, I am trying to live into my identity as a son of God. How about you? How about you?

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