Sermon: Pentecost: If Ever We Need the Power of the Holy Spirit, It's Now!
We live in a very needy nation. There is widespread breakdown of the family with all the trauma and social problems that produces. There is a very high abortion rate. There is a growing problem of violent crime, particularly amongst young people.
We are experimenting with genetics without knowing the long term results or dangers of what we are doing. We’re facing the big challenge of global warming. We are confronted with an economic challenge which is causing traumas for many and disasters for some.
Many of us vaguely believe in God but such vague faith achieves little. It qualifies for the New Testament description: “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” In practice we are an increasingly godless nation – without God and without hope. One tragic evidence is the suicide rate amongst young people.
If ever we needed the supernatural power of God’s Holy Spirit, it is now.
A truth which is often obscured by the church is that Christianity is fundamentally supernatural. The church isn’t meant to be merely a religious club for those who like that sort of thing, and open to everyone without making any demands on them.
In fact, you can’t even become a Christian without supernatural intervention. This passage shows that:
The Holy Spirit empowers every Christian
Paul writes: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (verse 3). Obviously anyone can mouth those words. What he means is that no-one can say Jesus is Lord and mean it with conviction without God’s Spirit having come to dwell within him.
We may think that becoming a Christian is purely a matter of personal choice and intention, like turning over a new leaf. But it isn’t. It is God’s initiative with which we co-operate. We can’t take any credit for this: it is something supernatural.
Paul explains elsewhere that becoming a Christian requires a resurrection. By nature we are spiritually dead: separated from the life of God. That’s why you can’t argue or browbeat someone into the kingdom of God. It doesn’t work.
As Paul puts it: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world …. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:1-2)
Similarly he writes: “When you were dead in your sins …. God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins (Col 2:13).
This is why the church will not achieve its purpose unless it is founded on corporate intercessory prayer (and most churches aren’t). We shall not win people to faith or meet their deepest needs or provide an alternative to our decaying secular society unless we really pray, because prayer releases the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
I am an activist and am never happier than when I am doing three things at once. So I have to discipline myself to remember that:
- Activity without extensive prayer won’t achieve God’s purpose
- Ministry without extensive prayer won’t achieve God’s purpose
- Evangelism without extensive prayer won’t achieve God’s purpose
The Holy Spirit endows every Christian
The church is not some one man/woman show with an audience (small or large). That is what some people seem to think. God doesn’t only work through specialists: he works through every churchmember. It’s meant to be every member ministry. The professional clergy person is not in office to do all the ministry but rather to facilitate the whole church doing the work of ministry.
Paul makes it clear when he writes: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines” (verses 7-11).
My definition of these gifts is as follows:
- Message of wisdom: a supernatural revelation of the solution to a particular problem or crisis.
- Message of knowledge: a supernatural revelation, concerning a difficulty or need, of facts not known naturally.
- aith: a supernatural ability (different from saving faith or living by faith) to believe that the "impossible" will happen in a particular situation.
- Healing: a supernatural ability to bring Christ's healing and deliverance to those who lack mental, emotional or physical wholeness, or are in spiritual bondage.
- Miraculous powers: a supernatural ability to bring God's power to bear on an "impossible" situation so that a miraculous event takes place.
- Prophecy: conveying a specific vision of God's will for the present and plans for the future so that God's people are challenged, warned or comforted.
- Distinguishing between spirits: a supernatural ability to discern whether a particular manifestation comes from the Holy Spirit, the human spirit or a demonic spirit
- Tongues: the supernatural ability to praise God in a language never learned; an earthly or a heavenly language
- Interpretation of tongues: the supernatural ability to interpret a public message in tongues. (It is an interpretation not a translation and so may be a different length from the message in tongues).
There are other gifts not mentioned here.
The Holy Spirit incorporates every Christian
Christianity has a strong individual aspect. On that level it is fundamentally a relationship of love and trust between the individual and Jesus – a very personal matter.
But Christianity is also fundamentally corporate. Just as we are individually born into a family, so we are spiritually born (or “re-born”) into the family of God. So Paul writes: “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (verse 13).
He adds: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ” (verse 12).
We are all parts of one Body: the Body of Christ: the church. Just as in any action the different parts of the body do different things but in harmony, so as members of the church we have different gifts but all pulling together for the glory of God.
Little wonder then that the New Testament urges us: “Go on being filled with [fully controlled by] the Spirit.”
Are you thirsty for the filling?
Are you open to the filling?
Do you pray for the filling?
© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page