I want to tell you about a man named John Newton who was born in London nearly 300 hundred years ago. His father was the commander of a merchant ship and as a boy John went to sea with him often. By the age of nineteen he had joined the navy but in the course of time he left and went on to captain his own ship, which he then plied exclusively in the slave trade.
On March 10th, 1748, whilst on a return journey from Africa with his ship fully laden with hundreds of salves, Newton almost lost everything, including his own life. His ship was caught up in a violent storm and in a desperate bid to save himself, his ship, his cargo and his crew, Newton cried out to God to have mercy on him. His prayers were answered and the storm miraculously broke. Everything was saved and the events of that day changed John Newton’s life forever. He was born again, spiritually.
As a direct result of the experience, Newton gave up his life as a slave-trader and, instead, he dedicated his life to serving God. He went on to become an ordained minister in the Church of England and he also became very close friends with John Wesley (founder of the Methodist church) and also William Wilberforce, the man who went on to lead the campaign for the abolition of slavery.
John Newton, the once notorious slave trader turned Christian minister, dedicated the rest of his life to serving God and to serving others. He also wrote many wonderful hymns, one of the most famous of which is…
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound:
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
In this session we are looking at ‘what does the Holy Spirit do?’ and one of the first things He does for the new believer is to bring about new birth. It’s like someone who has been blind all their life suddenly being given their sight, and they are born again; they are given new life and a new perspective. They are born again or born anew spiritually!
In John’s Gospel we read about a man named Nicodemas, who was a Pharisee: a legal beagle and keeper of the law. Nicodemas came to see Jesus because he was searching for answers and he believed that Jesus could help him. “Rabbi,” he said, “we know you are a teacher who has come from God because of the miracles you are doing.” Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ ‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit’ (John 3:2-8). Jesus wanted Nicodemas to grasp that to enter the kingdom of God requires an act of regeneration, renewal, and rebirth. It is only when God opens our eyes and reveals himself to us are we ‘born again’ spiritually.
A caterpillar goes through the process called ‘metamorphous’ before it becomes a butterfly. The word ‘metamorphous’ means a change of form; from one thing to another. Something similar happens when people become Christians; when they accept Jesus, commit their life to following him and receive the Holy Spirit. They go through a process like metamorphous, they become a new person; they are born again or born anew.
‘Every Christian is born again. We may not be able to put our finger on the exact moment it occurred, but just as we know whether or not we are alive physically, so we should know that we are alive spiritually. When we are born physically, we are born into a family. When we are born again spiritually, we are born into a Christian family.’ Citation We become…
1. Sons And Daughters Of God
The moment we come to Christ we receive complete forgiveness. The barrier between us and God in removed. Paul says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Jesus took and paid for all our sins – past, present and future. God takes all our sins and buries them in the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19), and as the Dutch author Corrie Ten Boon used to say, ‘He puts up a sign that saying “No Fishing.”
Billy Graham, the world famous evangelist, said: “I can do something God cannot do! I can remember my sins. God doesn’t.” God forgives us. He removes our sins and remembers them no more.
When we become a Christian we are immediately adopted as a child of God – and the Holy Spirit leads us. Paul says: “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 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… And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:14-16). When the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in a person’s heart we know God as Father. “One of the primary things the Spirit says – and which we find our own spirit in full agreement with – is that we are indeed God’s children, God’s adopted sons and daughters.” Citation We have been chosen and adopted, which means four things:
Firstly, there is no higher privilege than to be a child a God. “Under Roman law an adopted son would take his father’s name and inherit his estate. In fact Nero, who was emperor at the time Paul probably wrote Romans, had inherited the entire Roman Empire because the previous emperor, Claudius, had adopted him.” Citation We have been chosen by God and adopted. We are children of God, and heirs to the kingdom.
Secondly, as children we have the closest possible intimacy with God…
As some of you already know, I was adopted as a child. I was born Robert Ian Collier. Although I was too young at the time to know what was happening, I took on a new name and a new identity and, legally, I was adopted and became a fully-fledged member of a new family. The point I want to make is this: After I was adopted I didn’t call my father, Mr Seymour, as all of my friends did. I called him dad – “Abba, Father.” John says: the Spirit you received brought about your adoption… And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Notice the words, ‘by him we cry Abba! Father!’ By who? This is the internal work of the Holy Spirit.
Thirdly, the Spirit gives us the deepest possible experience of God. When we find rising up in our hearts the cry, “Father God; Our Father in heaven; Abba! Father!” it’s the testimony of the Holy Spirit that we are, indeed, children of God.
Forthtly, Paul tell us that to be a son or daughter of God is the greatest security. Paul says: “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.” (Romans 8:17) Paul is saying that in order for us to receive our great inheritance we also have to suffer with Christ. That means we have to die to self. We are not to live our lives to satisfy our old sinful nature anymore, we are to live for Christ.
2. Developing The Relationship
The Holy Spirit changes us; to make us holy (set apart) and to help us live our new life in Christ. The Bible teaches that God is love (1 John 4:8), that is, it’s God’s nature to love, and so He continues to love us, even with all our failures and flaws. Think of it like this: A painting, even a damaged one, is worth millions if it was created by a great artist. All people, even damaged ones, are created in the image of God and are so valuable and of such worth that God gave up his Son for each one of us. The fact is, if you were the only person in the whole world Jesus would still have gone to the cross just for you. That’s how much He cares about you. That’s how much He loves each and every one of us.
One author wrote, ‘If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, He’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, but He has chosen your heart. And what about the Christmas gift He sent you at Bethlehem? Not to mention that Good Friday at Calvary. Face it, He’s crazy about you!’
God is love and God loves us just the way we, but He loves us too much to allow us to stay the way we are. We are like a stone with a flawed diamond in it! And God wants to free the diamond in each one of us, so that we shine and radiate His glory. God wants to grind away the flaws and polish us to perfection and so that’s one of the things the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit is like God’s engagement ring, His pledge of heaven given to us while we are still on earth. The Holy Spirit is our constant companion (He is never further than a thought away); He accompanies us on our daily walk; He is our comforter and our Counsellor; He blesses us with His presence and peace; He helps us to worship; He encourages us; He comforts us; He teaches us; He strengthens us… and He also convicts us of sin. The Holy Spirit leads us in the way of repentance, again and again, so that we can keep on receiving forgiveness and restoration, again and again… as we go through life and the refining process known as sanctification; that is, the life long process of being sanctified, being made holy and growing in the likeness of Christ.
Let me share an illustration using this glove: If this glove represents our body, or a temple, you’ll see that in and by itself it is empty, pointless and lifeless. It might look nice in appearance but if the glove is not used for the purpose for which it was created, it is ineffective and useless. When we accept Jesus and become a Christian the Holy Spirit comes to live within us. (Put hand into glove.) The Holy Spirit is like my hand that fills the glove and now the glove is full of life, and it’s useful and can fulfil the purpose for which it was created… to glorify God.
You know, the more time we spend in God’s presence the more of His presence remains with us. It’s like being in a room full of sweet smelling fragrance. The longer we remain the more of the perfume permeates our clothing, our skin and even our hair (if we have any, that is)!
But some Christians, it has to be said, are rather like the young boy who kept falling out of bed. Well, eventually, his dad sat him down and asked him what the problem was. The boy thought for a moment and said: “I guess I just remain too close to the place where I got in.” A lot of Christians are like that: they have a belief and they accept Jesus but they don’t really grow in their faith because they don’t get stuck-in; they remain on the side-lines and are reluctant or refuse to get more fully involved. They don’t grow because they don’t go-deeper; their roots remain too close to the surface!
God wants our relationship with him to be real and close up; intimate. He wants us to live our lives with him and for him. He wants to communicate with us and for us to hear from him continually. God desires to be in relationship with us, but it’s not a one-sided affair; God does not pull all the strings. He counts us too important to do that. To find without seeking, to hear without listening, to say yes without the possibility of our saying no is to negate the value of our seeking, our hearing and our participating. God did not make us to be like puppets. The Holy Spirit helps to develop our relationship with God.
Something else the Holy Spirit does: He transforms us into…
3. The Family Likeness
as sons and daughters of God we are also brothers and sisters in Christ.
One young lad asked another: “What does your dad do for a living?” He responded, “He’s an entertainer, a magician. He saws people in half!” “Wow!” said the first boy. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” “Yes,” he said, “I have three half-brothers and two half-sisters!”
We are brothers and sisters and as we spend time in the presence of God, the Spirit of God transforms us, into the family likeness. As Paul writes: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). ‘We are transformed into the moral likeness of Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit is developed in our lives. Paul tells us that ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Galatians 5:22-23). These are the characteristics that the Holy Spirit develops in our lives. It is not that we become perfect immediately, but over a period of time there should be a change.
I was with one of my children recently and somebody said, “They look just like you!” Guess what the Father wants to say about you? He wants to look at Jesus, look at you, then back at Jesus again, and say to Him: “That disciple looks just like You!” [That’s what the Holy Spirit does, He brings] you to the place where you act just like Jesus. Citation
And God’s desire, like that of every normal parent, is that there should be…
4. Unity In The Family
‘Jesus prayed for unity among his followers (John 17). Paul pleaded with the Ephesian Christians to ‘make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:3). We are to make every effort to maintain unity in the essentials of the Christian faith – such as sound doctrine and adhering to the teachings of the Bible: we are to make every effort to maintain unity in the essentials, liberty in non-essentials and to be charitable in all things.’
‘Although there’s often a family likeness and, hopefully, unity in the family, there is also great variety. No two people are identical and so it is in the body of Christ. Every Christian is different; each has a different contribution to make’ and God has different…
5. Gifts For All His Children
Let me read to you from 1 Corinthians 12 (from the NLT): Now, dear brothers and sisters, regarding… the special abilities the Spirit gives us, I don’t want you to misunderstand (NLT)… about spiritual gifts I don’t want you to be ignorant (NIV) says Paul (v1). Paul’s aim here is to make clear what the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for. Unfortunately, there were divisions in the Corinthian church, and people had been using their spiritual gifts for their own purposes, to puff themselves up, to make themselves look good and feel important; superior! But Paul makes it perfectly clear that the nature and purpose of God giving us spiritual gifts, is for the benefit of the church, not the benefit of oneself. Paul is promoting ‘the oneness of the church’… we are one body with many parts and many gifts.
As a working definition: a spiritual gift is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit enabling a person to minister to the needs of Christ’s body, the church.
Staying in 1 Corinthians 12 (v4-6): “There are different kinds of gift,” says Paul, “but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in men.” – Same Spirit, same Lord, same God… these verses, reflecting the Holy Trinity, show the diversity and unity of the different kinds of spiritual gifts. In the church there is meant to be unity in diversity. Just as the Holy Trinity; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are a community in diversity, so is the Christian church; we are a community in diversity.
- Our unity means that our diversity does not become division.
- Our diversity means that our unity does not become uniformity.
Division and dissension in the church only weakens our united testimony! We are not created to be the same. We are not meant to become carbon copies of each other. We are created with differences. There is variety between us and this is meant to be complimentary. We are a community in diversity.
Paul continues: ‘Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good’ (1 Corinthians 12:7). Every member of the church, the body of Christ, is given spiritual gifts and that in itself is evidence of the Spirit’s working in his or her life. All spiritual gifts are intended to build up the members of the Christian community. They are not to be used for selfish advantage, as some in the Corinthian community apparently were doing.
There’s a story told of a bodybuilder on holiday in Africa who visited a local village. Impressed by his size the tribal chief asked him what he did with all his muscles. Rather than explain verbally the bodybuilder decided to demonstrate how he performed in competitions, and so he took off his shirt and began to strut his stuff with various poses all the time flexing his bulging muscles. It was an awesome sight but after a few minutes the chief looked puzzled.
He asked, “What else do you use your muscles for?”
“Well, that’s about it,” replied the body builder.
“You mean that’s all you use your muscles for; just for showing off? asked the chief.
“Yep,” relied the bodybuilder.
The chief nodded his head in bewilderment. “What a waste!” he said as he turned to walk away.
Our God-given gifts are not to be used for selfish advantage or to draw attention or credit to ourselves but to serve the church. Our gifts are given to us for the good of the whole church. They are not for individual enjoyment, but for corporate employment.
If you are taking notes, the various spiritual gifts are named in 1 Corinthians 12v8-10, and v28, and also in Ephesians 4v11 and Romans 12v6-8. When you combine these lists, you end up with nineteen different gifts and church offices. Now, given that the list in Romans is not identical to the list in Corinthians we know that Paul was not intending to make exhaustive lists; rather he was giving us examples of spiritual gifting. God is not limited to these or any lists and He can give other spiritual gifts to anyone as and when He pleases.
Some people have categorized the various gifts as the speaking gifts, the sign gifts, and the serving gifts, which can be helpful but we shouldn’t be so fascinated by the individual gifts that we forget the main reason why Paul listed them in the first place: to remind us that they unite us in our ministry to the one body. The Holy Spirit bestows spiritual gifts as “he determines” (1 Corinthians 12v11), and not as we choose. God is not in the business of off the peg. He is in the business of tailor made! God endows us with gifts so we can make him known – If we see our gifts as a means of self-fulfilment we have missed their main purpose. All Christians receive the Spirit. All Christians have spiritual gifts.
Something else the Holy Spirit does: He seeks to grow the family of God…
6. The Growing Family
Jesus said: ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).
Notice the link between ‘you will be my witnesses’ and ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you’. The implication is that bearing witness to Jesus is the main reason for our receiving the Holy Spirit, to empower us, and give us the desire and ability to tell others. The Holy Spirit provides us with opportunities and nudges us into action; He gives us insights and He communicates His will and purposes for us; and He gives us the ability to speak and to tell others about Jesus. If we try to tell others in our own strength then, at best, our efforts just become an exercise in recruitment. But when empowered by the Holy Spirit our witnessing takes on divine authority and becomes a joyful and exciting adventure as God breaks down barriers and penetrates people’s hearts. We must be open to the Spirit’s prompting and leading us this way. Philippians 2:13 says: ‘It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.’ We must be tuned in to listen to the Holy Spirit. We must be willing to step out and share the good news of Jesus with others, and we must be willing to take risks. It’s as if God says to us: ‘Your gift to me is availability. My gift to you is ability… You go first!’ Let me close by reading a testimony; a true story shared by Nicky Gumbel about someone who encountered the Holy Spirit in a life-changing way…
Gram Seed lay dying in Middlesbrough hospital. Three years of living on the streets had taken its toll. He had hypothermia, pneumonia and septicaemia. The doctors sought permission from his mother to switch off his life-support machine. He says:
‘I spent nearly all my life in jail. I was a skinhead, I was a football hooligan, I was in the rave scene, I was charged with murder. But I was searching for love all my life and I couldn’t find it. My mother gave up on me when I was twenty-one. She said I was the son of Satan. She said I was evil like my father who I’d never seen. He used to rape and beat my mum up and he went to prison. She said, “You’re more evil than your dad and I don’t want nought to do with you – you’re dead as far as I’m concerned.”
I grew up with my nanna and my granddad. My nanna was drinking and taking drugs all the time. I didn’t have hope. I didn’t know what it was but I was always trying to fill this hole inside me with things – drugs and alcohol and sex and violence.
It was a vicious cycle of prison and outside and prison and outside. I ended up in a coma and it looked as if my life was over.
Then these lads who had been trying to tell me about Jesus on the streets turned up in the intensive care room and prayed for me.
They said, “In the name of your son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, give this man new life.” And I woke up and started breathing myself. That evening I opened my eyes for the first time in six days. They came back later and told me of God’s love for me and that Jesus came and died for people like me. I felt a freedom that I had never known before.
I went along to this Alpha course at the church. I had four front teeth missing and I was a right rebel. I hated myself and I remember saying, “Jesus – if you are real, come into my life. These people tell me that you can change me and give me hope and set me free.” I had my hands out and I fell back and started crying. From that day on I was totally transformed.
I said to Jesus that day, “You’ve given me hope. Help me to give other people hope.” From then on I had a desire to tell people about Jesus.
Three years later I started a ministry in our church called Emmanuel Prison Ministries. I was asked to go into the prison that I was released from in 1995. I spent ten years of my life in jail trying to get out and now every day I’m trying to get in. I run Alpha back-to-back now in seven prisons in the North East.
I talk to all the kids on the estates to tell them there is a better way of life. Stealing and taking drugs is not the way to go. I wanted them to know Jesus the way I had got to know him.’ Citation
‘When we experience the Spirit of God we want to tell others, and as we do the family grows. The Christian family should never be static. It should be continually growing and drawing in new people, who themselves receive the power of the Holy Spirit and go out and tell others about Jesus.
I have stressed throughout this session that every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.’ Paul says, if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ (Romans 8:9). Yet not every Christian is filled with the Spirit. Paul writes to the Christians at Ephesus and says, ‘be filled with the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:18). The Holy Spirit is already present in every believer’s life, but there are levels of indwelling. – Some people live at home just a few days a month, others all the time. There are levels of indwelling. – And Paul uses the present tense here to indicate the infilling of the Spirit is not a once for all experience, but that we are to go on being filled. In the next session we will look at how we can be filled with the Holy Spirit.