A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., May 27, 2012.
We thank you, God, for the way that your spirit inspires our hope in life after death. We give thanks for the saints whose names we have called here this morning and pray for them in our hope of everlasting life. We ask that you would grant them rest and peace. Welcome them into that eternal city whose gates are never closed and where people have no need of sun by day or moon by night, for you are all the light they need. With early labors complete, may they join in the celestial chorus that praises you eternally? We thank you for how these have demonstrated the power and presence of your spirit when they walked among us. We thank you for the gifts of your Holy Spirit which we saw demonstrated in them regularly. Most of all, we give thanks for the greatest gift of the spirit—the gift of love—and how we have seen that in each of these lives, how they loved you, and how they loved us. We pray as well that the same spirit will be evident in our lives. We admit that we are not sufficient in and of ourselves and that we need you. May we set aside all pride? May we set aside all distraction, and turn wholly unto you. By your spirit, make us more than we are. O God, how could we ever do by ourselves what you can do through us if we but allow it? We pray also in thanksgiving for those who have given their lives for our country. We also use this moment to think of those who are in service in various places and pray for their safety. O God, you love us in ways that we cannot imagine. We thank you most of all for your son, Jesus Christ, who came, died, rose again, and teaches us still how to pray when we say: Our Father, who art in heaven hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thane are the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
There is a statement made about preaching that is often told as a joke, but I take it very seriously. People will ask, “How many points should a sermon have?” My answer is always, “At least one.” I want you to know what the point of today’s sermon is. A lot of times it takes a while to get to it. Sometimes I do that to keep you guessing, but today I want to tell you up front. I hope that when we leave today everyone could immediately say what the point of the sermon was. Here it is: You have the Holy Spirit. Each and every person here has the Holy Spirit. In the balcony, on the floor, in the choir, those watching by television, those who read the sermon on the website, and those who record the service and play it back later in the week, each of you has the Holy Spirit. The only assumption in all of this is that you are a Christian, a follower of Christ, and that you love God as Christ makes God known to us. If that is the case, then that’s it. You have the spirit. There is no second step, no mysterious transaction. Once you have experienced the conversion with Christ, you have the Holy Spirit.
This fact seems lost on many Christians today. There are traditions that have a different style of worship than we do, a style that is often called Pentecostal. Some of you may have grown up in that particular style. People often think of it as more enthusiastic than we are. Personally, I think we have a lot of energy in the room. People think if you don’t applaud or do certain things that you don’t have the spirit because we are not Pentecostal. If you have the spirit, you are, therefore, going to “get happy.” But that is simply not so. By the way, I don’t have enough rhythm to be Pentecostal. I will just let you know that.
In Luke 4, Jesus comes into Nazareth, opens up the scroll to the Prophet Isaiah, and reads, “The spirit of the Lord is upon you. I have been anointed to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to the captive, to recover sight to the blind.” He goes on and lists these aspects of ministry. Nowhere in that list is there a statement that says, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me and, therefore, I shall worship a certain way.” He is called to serve us. It may be very rewarding, but it is not all that necessarily fun nor is it necessarily that spectacular. You may have the spirit in order to worship a certain way, but we all have the spirit when we are invited to service in Christ’s name. It may be enthusiasm one place and it may be a lifetime of service and dedication in another place.
An interesting experience that I have had since the beginning of the year is that I have gotten to know a Pentecostal preacher who lives in another part of the state. In talking to him, I have learned that he is concerned about the enthusiasm that takes place in their worship service. He said, “I wish more people would understand what they believe about the spirit than just simply being enthusiastic about it.”
Are you familiar with being slain in the spirit? If you watch TV, typically a minister will place his hands on someone’s forehead and the person seemingly goes unconscious or blacks out and falls down and they are deemed to be slain in the spirit. It is one of the hallmarks of Pentecostal worship. My good friend says, “I tell our folks, ‘You can get slain in the spirit, but (1) I will not touch you, and (2) nobody is going to catch you.’ It is amazing how many fewer people get slain in the spirit in our church.” If you have the spirit, it is because we are Christians and it has nothing to do with the way we worship. Let no one tell you that you don’t have the Holy Spirit because you do not worship a particular way.
I have other people who think they do not have the Holy Spirit because they think, My life is unworthy. How could anything holy reside in me? I can’t have the Holy Spirit because I have too much sin. Perfect! That is absolutely a perfect example that you do have the spirit. Another act of the spirit is to convict us of sin. There are certain things in our life and in our relationship to God that if we are doing them, they damage us. The spirit comes to our hearts, speaks to us, calls us away from those things, and calls us back to God. The spirit is at work in us when we have those moments where we understand our sin and we think, This is not the way I am supposed to be. I don’t celebrate the fact that those things are going on, but I celebrate the fact that we can feel that way because it is the convicting work of the spirit. You have the Holy Spirit. In those moments when you wonder, How indeed can God forgive me, and forgive me again, and forgive me again? rejoice because the spirit is in your life. Now simply pay attention and turn away.
Some people say, “I can’t have the Holy Spirit because I have never had an experience like what is described at Pentecost.” It is an amazing event in which Luke, who is the writer, tells us that the spirit descended and it looked like tongues of fire on people’s heads.
Sometimes you see stained glass windows in older churches or in cathedrals in Europe where they look like the disciples are birthday candles. They have the flame up over their heads. We see these things and we hear about the wind and the power. Listen! This is an historical moment. This is not the way the spirit acts all the time. There is no evidence that the disciples ever expected Pentecost like that to happen again. There is no sense that they were ever waiting for it to repeat itself. There are a lot of things that take place here. That is the way the spirit demonstrated itself that day.
Do you realize that Paul said, “It is by the spirit that we can pray and call God Father.” It is by the spirit that we can say, Jesus Christ is Lord. It is by the spirit that in those moments of our deepest grief, the peace of God comes to us. Jesus said, “I will send the Comforter.” When we have that time when we read a passage of scripture and we have read it a dozen times and heard it in Bible study and in worship service and, all of a sudden, it comes alive to us in a way that it never has before, that is the spirit. Jesus says, “The spirit of truth will come and lead you.”
One of our daughters has a friend that does not always act right and does not always treat her right, but she loves her anyway. She said, “I guess she is just one of those people that God puts in your life that no matter what they do, how they act, or how they treat you, you just love them.” That is the love of God in us. What is it that Paul says, “The greatest of these gifts is love”? If you love someone like that, you have the spirit. Paul calls kindness a fruit of the spirit.
If you have ever prayed and said Father, ever called Christ Lord, ever had the peace of God come into your life as comfort, ever been made aware of a passage of scripture that now comes alive, ever loved somebody that seemed unlovable, or demonstrated kindness, you have the spirit. It does not have to be this something that happens to us far and away after we have accepted Jesus Christ. If we have accepted Jesus Christ, we have the Holy Spirit.
Let me give you a one minute theology lesson. This is one of the least understood things that we have in our scripture as Christians. We sometimes just wonder what all this means, but think about this. We believe in the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are expressions of God that we think of and describe as persons, but we have one God. If we accept Christ and have access to the Father, then how on earth does God separate himself and not give us the spirit? It is either all of God that we have given ourselves to or none. It is not some mystery or some trick that we have to do later and people decide, “Yes, that was satisfactory and now we can say, Yes, you have the spirit.” It is all. God gives all of himself to us when we give ourselves to God.
The point today is, if you are a Christian, you have the spirit. You don’t have to go out and look for it. You don’t have to undergo some other big transformation in your life. It is here. The only question is, How much attention do we give it? How much do we allow it to speak? How much will we follow it day by day? It is not that it is far away and we have to go find it. It is here and will we pay attention?
So now what? We allow the spirit to work. We allow the spirit to empower. We allow the spirit to deepen our understanding of scripture or prayer. We allow it to work in us so that we might love other people and be convicted of our sin and turn away from it and love God more deeply.
All of you look Pentecostal because you are Christians. As Christians, all of us have the spirit. What will we allow the spirit to do today? This week? Tomorrow? If we are Pentecostal, it might be something amazing.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.