Sermon on June 5th, 2020
Andreas Latossek, Kirche am Bahnhof
Connected to God through the Holy Spirit
Today is Pentecost and that is a reason to celebrate.
Most people in our country probably have no idea what Pentecost actually means and many Christians cannot really classify the dimension of what happened at Pentecost.
At Pentecost we celebrate that the Holy Spirit came to the first Christians and that he still dwells in those who believe in Jesus today. But often this Holy Spirit only appears in some way at Pentecost and otherwise hardly plays a role in the life of Christians.
So this morning I would like to remind ourselves of who the Holy Spirit is, the important role He plays in our lives as Christians, how He guides us and how we can live filled with the Holy Spirit.
1. What is the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian
In the Acts of the Apostles we read how on Pentecost the disciples were praying together in Jerusalem and suddenly a mighty roar from heaven filled the house and something that looked like tongues of fire came upon the disciples.
As a result, they start speaking in foreign languages, and people who overhear this outside the home wonder what’s going on. There are reports from other places where this has happened even today, where people have even called the fire department.
And now Peter, the illiterate fisherman, gets up and starts preaching.
He explains that they are experiencing the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy and that it is directly related to Jesus’ death and resurrection. He tells them about the love of God, that Jesus died for the sins of man, that forgiveness is possible and that all who believe in him will not perish but have eternal life. And he preaches with such authority that people turn to Jesus. On this day more than 3000 people are baptized and the church is formed.
And then in Acts we read how people are healed like Jesus, how angels deliver apostles from prison, how people are delivered from demons, how the Holy Spirit leads the disciples through dreams and visions unusual ways, how he preserves them, as miracle after miracle happens and through it all the message of God’s saving love spreads, many convert and many churches spring up.
Jesus had promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit would descend from heaven in such power that he would enable them to be his witnesses and endow them with supernatural abilities.
But this I’ll call it outer dimension is just one side and it’s a sign of what the Holy Spirit does in a person. And this side, even if it is not so visible and so spectacular, is even more important.
I read a few verses from the Gospel of John:
The Father will give you another helper in my place, who will be with you forever; i will ask him. He will give you the spirit of truth that the world cannot have because it does not see and does not know. But you know him because he stays with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as helpless orphans; I’m coming to you.
Believe me, it’s good for you that I’m leaving. For if I did not go away from you, the helper would not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will show the world they are wrong; he will open people’s eyes to sin, to righteousness and to judgment. He will show them what their sin is, that they do not believe in me. He will show them how God’s righteousness is demonstrated: that when I leave you and you see me no longer, I go to the Father. And as for judgment, he will show them that the ruler of this world is doomed. I still have a lot to say to you, but you would be overwhelmed now. But when the Helper comes, the Spirit of Truth, He will lead you to the full understanding of Truth. For what he will say, he will not say of himself; he will say what he hears. And he will tell you the things to come. He will reveal my glory; for what he will announce to you, he will receive from me. Everything that the father has is also mine. For this reason I say: what he shall declare to you, he shall receive from me .”
Whenever the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit, it is speaking of a person.
The Holy Spirit is addressed as a person, can be treated as a person, acts as a person himself, and has characteristics of a person. It is the Spirit of God, the third person of the Trinity.
Jesus says that he does not leave us alone when he ascends to heaven, but that he will return, so to speak, in the person of the Holy Spirit.
He says it’s good that he’s going because otherwise the Holy Spirit wouldn’t come. But what’s good about it? Jesus could only be in one place at a time, but the Holy Spirit dwells in each of us. So God is very close to each of us.
“The love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” Romans 5:5, we heard two weeks ago in the sermon. How good that God and his love are so close to us. But when did that happen? Most of us haven’t had an experience like the disciples did at Pentecost with tongues of fire visible.
In Ephesians 1:7 we read:
In Jesus Christ are you also, who heard the word of truth, which is the gospel of your salvation – in him you also, when you believed, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.
Like us, the Ephesians heard the message of God’s salvation and we have already spoken about what faith means:
accepting the forgiveness of my sins that Jesus brought about on the cross and reconciliation with God and then
- that faith in Jesus is more than a decision for a correct teaching, but in the Christian faith it is about a person that I follow and trust
Behind the word faith in Greek is always the meaning of trust and trust is about living a relationship, taking God seriously, listening to him and then doing what he says.
If I want that with all my heart and I decide to do it, then I get the Holy Spirit and then the Bible says:
Know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God, and that ye are not your own?
So we are a temple for the Holy Spirit.
That was something completely new back then. In the beginning, God bound himself to the temple where he was present, then to make it clear to the Israelites that it is much larger than a building, and finally, God dwells in the people who belong to him.
The main task of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Jesus, that is, to magnify Jesus in our lives. Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Parakletos, the advocate, the comforter, the helper, the helper.
He knows our thoughts, he knows exactly how you are feeling right now.
He knows what you need.
He studies you and is like a good counselor.
The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit translates our prayers.
We try to pray to God with our best possibilities but sometimes, maybe you know that too, you feel like you can’t put into words how you feel at the moment, what you need, what you want. But the Holy Spirit knows that exactly and then translates it.
I find that incredibly calming. And conversely, he knows God’s plan so well that he can transmit it to us and open it up.
He teaches us, he shows us the truth, he shows us how God thinks and he reminds us of what Jesus said.
He prepares people and He convicts them of sin.
He opens people’s eyes so that they understand what Jesus did on the cross.
He uses us and speaks through us.
We don’t have to understand everything to do that. Peter didn’t have that either when he gave his Pentecost sermon. But the Holy Spirit speaks through him.
He gives us the inner assurance that we are God’s children.
It is like a pledge that God will really take us into eternity.
He guides us, he gifts and enables us, and he encourages and corrects us.
God announced through the prophet Ezekiel:
Hes. 36, 25-27: I will pour out clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all impurity and from all your idols. I give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I take the heart of stone from your breast and give you a heart of flesh. I put my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my laws and heed my commandments and keep them.
A completely new, a completely different quality of strength and willingness to follow God is to come into our lives.
Through his death and resurrection on the cross, Jesus invalidated sin’s claims on our lives. Through this we have forgiveness. But forgiveness does not automatically mean being able to live redeemed.
For this we have received the Spirit of God, which changes and reshapes us from within, so that we become more and more like Jesus. He causes the fruits of the spirit, divine qualities of character, to grow in us.
Let’s imagine this balloon is a picture of a person. Not a limp person, although we sometimes run out of air, but like a well-filled balloon. A force acts on this balloon. That’s gravity. No matter what I do, no matter how high I throw this balloon: There is always only one movement: down. That’s the law of nature, I can’t fight it.
This is a picture of our unredeemed heart:
Something in us pulls us away from God, down. Out of ourselves we cannot come to God, sin in our life draws us away from God, it separates us.
What miracle did God do at Pentecost? What does it look like, the offensive on our hearts? God didn’t do away with the natural law of gravity, but He placed a stronger law within us: the law of buoyancy.
When I fill this balloon with helium, it rises.
This is how God wants to bring his Holy Spirit into us. And now the balloon lifts, the renewed man moves up, towards God.
So on Pentecost we celebrate that God moves in with us.
And we’ve seen that it makes a huge difference.
Without the Holy Spirit we could not live as Christians. It changes our lives and aligns us with God. We get spiritual lift, our life becomes a movement towards God. He guides us and uses us to be a channel of blessing to those around us. It’s an inside-out movement.
And then we also experience a piece of what we read in the Acts of the Apostles.
And right now we are hearing about miracles in different countries to an extent like never before and especially people from Islam who report dreams and visions, often from a white man who appears to them and calls them and they know this is Jesus and start following him. Some of our Persians have experienced just that.
But we must read Acts. also be careful a bit, without wanting to limit God’s possibilities now.
Because reading it sometimes gives the impression that a miracle happens every day. And it is reported about it in almost every chapter. But from very different places and sometimes in a chapter it also says in a sentence that Paul stayed in Ephesus for three years, so there is quite a time in between.
I’m sure many of us here have seen miracles, and some have reported them. So we should not be discouraged if we are not constantly experiencing something with God.
At the same time, I also believe that if we get more involved with the Holy Spirit and thus with God, that we too can and will experience even more in this regard.
So we have seen the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian and that it is good that we have it. But how does the Holy Spirit guide us in our daily lives now?
I would like to look at that as a second point.
2. How does the Holy Spirit guide us
Do not conform to the standards of this world. Rather, let yourselves be transformed by God, so that your whole thinking may be renewed. Then you can form a sure judgment as to what conduct is in accordance with the will of God, and know what is good and godly and perfect in each individual case.
The transformation of God, which is spoken of here, happens through the Holy Spirit, when we make our life available to him, as it says a verse before, and when we concern ourselves with God’s thoughts for our life.
The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, which means that he makes us understand more and more how God thinks and we begin to see things the same way he does. Then we can examine what is in accordance with the will of God and what is good in each individual case. Because God is good to us and has an overview, he wants to lead us on the right path and gift us with his closeness and fulfilled life. So we can trust the Holy Spirit as he guides us.
He uses the Bible to speak to us.
Many of us have had the experience of reading the Bible and suddenly understanding something that we have often simply ignored. Or that the Holy Spirit draws our attention to what God wants for our lives.
On the last Sundays we have dealt with the 1st letter of John and have seen what life corresponds to, how God imagines it and where the Holy Spirit wants to change us. He corrects us, but he also encourages us to keep at it, to implement and live what we have already recognized, and he then gives us the strength to do this.
He reminds us in everyday life of what God has said to us in his word.
Even if we don’t have a Bible to hand, we still experience how God speaks to us. Karl-Heinz related this a few Sundays ago, how he experienced it impressively with the topic of charity and forgiveness.
At the same time we read in Proverbs:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not trust in your own understanding, but remember him in all your ways, and he will guide you in the right way.
God gave us a mind to judge things.
But at the same time we live in a spiritual dimension where there is more than our mind.
So it’s good to include God in our decisions and to ask him every morning to guide us through his spirit. Then we can trust that he will do the same. And sometimes it can be that He speaks to us in a different way than the Bible or our minds. In Acts we read of dreams and visions.
He speaks through other people, through nature, through our conscience, through impulses and impressions.
A person from our church recently experienced what she actually wanted to do for a job change. The person had the contract to sign at home. Then she suddenly gets a very clear inner stop not to do that. Intellectually, that doesn’t really fit, but she gives in to this inner urge and in retrospect this decision turns out to be spot on, since things would have gone haywire at the new job a short time later.
We don’t always make the right decision.
This is because we must learn to discern between God’s small voice and the many other voices within us. But I am sure that God sees our attitude of honoring and taking Him seriously and He is blessing that.
Sometimes we may also get the impulse to call a person and say a word of encouragement.
I have often experienced how God spoke through me into the life of this person at exactly the right time. Or when we hear a quiet voice in everyday life that tells us: Don’t touch it, it’s not good for you.
All of this is the Holy Spirit guiding us.
Jesus compares the Holy Spirit to a wind that blows where it wills.
So he cannot be determined when he speaks and how he speaks. But we can test his speech by the fact that it always agrees with the Bible and draws us or others closer to God.
A few years ago, at the Exit youth service, we had a preacher who reported that when he was filling up with gas, he had the impression that he should do a handstand in the gas station. He found it so absurd that he didn’t do it and drove away from the gas station.
But the thought didn’t let go of him. He wondered where he came from so suddenly and so completely out of context and had no explanation other than that God was speaking to him. So he turned around and he was really embarrassed, but he wanted to obey God at the risk of making a fool of himself and he did it.
What he then experienced left him speechless because the person behind the counter burst into tears and asked what he was doing there. When he said that God told him that, the man said that he said to God this morning that if he is real, someone should do a handstand in his gas station or he would end his life by tonight put. Now this man is a child of God because a man was sensitive and followed the speaking of the Spirit.
That sounds crazy and it is.
Most of the time, the situations are not as blatant as the Holy Spirit directs us to be. But it can also take an effort for us to do what he says. Some of us are reluctant to do that. I’ve often heard the sentence that God is a God of order and therefore doesn’t do anything like that. But can it be that we sometimes confuse order with control?
We want to be in control of what is happening, but we cannot control the Holy Spirit and His work. But we can very well decide whether to listen to him or not. And that brings me to my final point this morning:
3. Live filled with the Holy Spirit
Let the Spirit of God rule your life and you will no longer give in to the lusts of your selfish carnal nature.
Paul writes about our carnal nature and about letting the Spirit of God rule our lives.
Last Sunday, when it came to whether we love God or the world, we looked at what the Bible means by carnal nature, carnal behavior. These are people who, on the one hand, have invited Jesus into their lives, but on the other hand have their hearts attached to worldly things, have other priorities, hardly spend any time with God and are not so careful about listening to him and doing things take. The carnal man still lives by the standards of this world instead of consistently following Christ. He relies on his own abilities and trusts in his own strength to live as a Christian.
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30).
Paul writes this in connection with behavior that is not pleasing to God. The Bible makes it clear to us that the Spirit of God withdraws in our lives or in individual areas of our lives if we do not give it space, if we do not listen to it and do not allow ourselves to be guided by it.
Conversely, the apostle urges us:
Let yourself be filled with the Spirit of God! Ephesians 5:18
And how does it work?
First, by confessing sin that stands between God and us. Things we have done, areas we have withheld from God, where we have not listened to His word. He tells us:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
And we’ve seen him do it over and over again, every time and no matter how many times we come to him. So we become free for the Holy Spirit.
The second step is then to make our life available to him with everything that goes with it:
I have shown you, brothers and sisters, how great is God’s mercy. The only proper answer is that you offer your whole life to God and present yourselves to him as a living and holy sacrifice, in which he delights. This is true worship, and I challenge you to it.
The third step is to ask God for more of his Spirit:
If you, hard-hearted people, give good things to your children, how much more will Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him
And then because it is good that the Holy Spirit is in us and he wants to guide us, that we learn to listen to him, to trust him and to do what he tells us.
And that’s actually always a cycle, because we’re not perfect people. But little by little we are transformed by the Spirit and we trust more. And then let’s see what God is doing through His Spirit in our lives and through our lives.
Finally, I would like to clarify this with an example that Michael Bendorf from the Braunschweig Friedenskirche once used in a similar way:
I brought a sponge with me for this.
A sponge like that is a very exciting thing. It’s quite a lightweight. It’s made up of many fibers with lots of cavities in them, and they look like lots of whole tubes that are tightly packed together. They are also called capillaries. If you now dip such a sponge in water, the water molecules combine with these capillaries to form a unit and the sponge is full of water. Now the sponge is no longer a lightweight but has become really heavy.
And that’s what God wants.
- He wants to get deep inside you like this water.
- Ezekiel 36
- He wants to fulfill you.
- He wants to connect with you to become a real unit.
- He wants to live in you.
- You shall become a spiritual heavyweight.
However, if you immerse the sponge so compressed in the water, then nothing happens.
And you remember that last Sunday I spoke of a fist. When God gives us something and we close our hands because we want to keep what we have and don’t want to let go. Because we put our hearts into it. Because we withhold parts of our lives from God and don’t want to make them available to him for various reasons, mostly distrust and because we seek our happiness in things and not in God. But you see what’s happening.
The Spirit of God doesn’t come in, the power of God, the fullness. And where there is nothing in, nothing can flow out. Life is completely different where God’s spirit can unfold.
If you want the water to come out again, you squeeze the sponge and the water flows. And so we should not just take in a lot of spirit and then keep it in us. No, he wants to flow out of us.
The New Testament speaks of rivers of living water pouring out from us into dry land. To touch people with the love of God, to encourage, to heal, to strengthen, whatever. The spirit loves it when it can flow out of us.
Spiritual life like a sponge.
We long to be filled with the presence of God. That’s what we’re here for, to be filled with him. But this Christian life is also expressed in the fact that the Spirit of God flows away from us so that God’s kingdom can spread around us. That life can arise around us.
The example lags a bit because the spirit doesn’t go away from us and God isn’t pressing on us now either. But we do realize that living the way God wants is not always easy because we live in a world that lives opposite to how God wants it to be. That’s why it’s important for us that we allow ourselves to be filled again and again by him, that we spend time in his presence and thus receive rich gifts from him again. This is how we live connected to God through the Holy Spirit
I want to invite you this morning.
Today is Pentecost and I am convinced that God’s Spirit wants to work among us today. We have seen that it is good that he dwells in us and that he wants to lead us. And that’s why I would like to invite you to open yourself to him and his work this morning, to be forgiven, and to immerse yourself in the sea of his grace and love. Make yourself available to him again.
During the next songs you can ask God to give you more of his good spirit in your life. That it fills and saturates you. And also from your life rivers of living water flow to others. Let’s rise to it and reach out to it.