The Power of the Holy Spirit
Wind and Fire – Part 3
Throughout the course of my high school and college years one of my passions was acting. During those years I played roles in a couple of dozen different plays and musicals. In one of my favorite roles I found myself playing the part of a tough guy in the musical production “Man of La Mancha.” Has anyone ever seen that musical? Even if you’re not familiar with the musical, you’re probably familiar with its most popular song “The Impossible Dream.” Anyhow, to portray this part of one of a group of tough guys, the director had us work with a martial arts instructor for a number of sessions to learn some of the basics of effective hand-to-hand combat in the hopes that when it was finally showtime it would appear that we actually knew how to fight – even though in real life, most of us were anything but fighters. But that training—coupled with the efforts of some good makeup artists, costume designers, and theatrical lighting engineers—allowed us to appear on stage to be some pretty tough guys. In reality, however, it was all built on a lie, right? Like, none of it was real. It was all just a show we were putting on, trying to appear like we were some pretty bad dudes who were not to be tangled with.
And you know, I think sometimes… I think sometimes that happens in church. That we put on a show. We try to mask the lack of power with a certain standard of performance, and we’re hoping that nobody will notice that there really isn’t much power or strength at the foundation—if the show was good enough and if the performance is quality enough.
Sometimes we do this in our own personal lives. We want to impress people with our strength and our power, and so we put on a show. And we’re hoping that our posts online, on social media, won’t give away the fact that there’s not actually any power. We try to put up a good front, but there’s nothing that it’s standing on.
And so one of the things I’ve asked you to wrestle with in this series is: If the Holy Spirit were to leave would anybody notice? Would you notice? If the Holy Spirit were to pack up and leave this church, would it just be business as usual? Would anybody even pay attention? Would we just kind of stick to what we’ve always done because we’ve done it a certain way a long time and now it’s just business as usual? If the Holy Spirit left would we even notice?
But what we see in the New Testament church is that they were completely dependent upon the power of the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t about the show. It wasn’t about the performance. It was the power of the Holy Spirit. That was the only way to explain it.
A.W. Tozer put it this way. He said, “If the Holy Spirit had withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95% of what they did would stop and everybody would have noticed.” And we want that to be true in our own lives and in this church. We want to understand that what God has called us to do as a church and who God has called us to be as followers of Jesus is not possible without the power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t want to just put on a show or a performance; we want it to be real.
So we’re in this series called “Wind and Fire,” and this week we’re talking about the power of the Holy Spirit. And one of the things we’ve said in this series on the Holy Spirit is we don’t want to just learn about the Holy Spirit; we want to experience Him, to personally encounter Him. And we don’t want to just learn about the power of the Holy Spirit; we want it to be experienced in our own lives.
And so Jesus, just before He ascended into heaven, He told His followers in Acts 1:8, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses….”
The word power here comes from the Greek word dunamis. It’s from where we get our word dynamite. It’s this explosive power, this strength. And as you’ll see in the Book of Acts, the power of the Holy Spirit is consistently tied to being a witness. That the power of the Holy Spirit does not overcome odds for our own sake or our own edification but as a way to be a witness and a way to be a blessing to others. And so Jesus speaks of this Holy Spirit power that these followers and that His Church should be dependent on. And when we try to be who He’s called us to be and to do what He’s called us to do without that power, it’s like trying to cut down a forest with a Swiss Army knife when there’s a big chainsaw, brand new, boxed up. It’s like trying to row a large sailboat across the ocean when there’s this huge sail on the deck that’s just waiting to be hoisted. It just doesn’t make any sense to live life that way.
And so your relationship challenge or your behavioral struggle or your addictive issue or your anxiety disorder—whatever it is—the tendency is to think that the way out is to work harder, to muscle our way through it, put the emphasis on “self help.” But what we know in Scripture is that it’s not about becoming more and more self-reliant; it’s about becoming more and more Spirit-dependent. And so we want to learn to do that as followers of Jesus.
Luke also describes this promise of Jesus before He ascended. It’s in Luke 24:49. Jesus said to His followers, “And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven” (NLT).
Jesus says, “Don’t do anything. Don’t go anywhere until the Holy Spirit comes. You just wait here.” He doesn’t say to them, “Hey, you guys go ahead and get started, and when the Holy Spirit comes, He’s going to catch up to you. But you go ahead and get a jump on this.” No, He doesn’t say, “Hey, here’s the five-year plan of how this is all going to work. Go ahead and start on this plan. But when the Holy Spirit comes, He’ll join you in the work.” No, He says, “Don’t do anything until the Holy Spirit comes.”
The followers of Jesus here are excited, right? Their fear has been replaced by faith because Jesus has risen from the dead, and now they get to be a part of this mission. They get to be a part of advancing this kingdom. “So Jesus, what’s our first assignment? What’s our first mission that we get to go on?” And Jesus says, “Oh, no. Yeah. Don’t…don’t do anything until the Holy Spirit comes.” And He wants to underline and make it clear from the beginning that everything they do is dependent upon the power of the Holy Spirit.
So I want to give you a few ways that the Holy Spirit empowers us. We’ll look at a few more ways next week.
But one way the Holy Spirit empowers us is He helps us when we are weak.
He helps us when we’re weak. In fact, it’s only in weakness that we can really and truly experience His power. As long as we consider ourselves to be strong enough, as long as we are not putting ourselves in positions of weakness or vulnerability, then we don’t really get to experience His power. A lot of us kind of approach life with, “Hey, as a parent I’ve got this thing covered. And, Holy Spirit, there’s a little part here that I could use some help with, but I’m pretty good for the most part.” And so once in a while we may ask for some help, but there’s not the dependence that He’s looking for. The Bible says in Romans 8:26 that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” That the Spirit’s power is demonstrated when we’re weak.
And so this might come as a surprise to some of you, but God doesn’t need your help, right? Like, He doesn’t need your help. He never has. He never will. He doesn’t need your help to accomplish His will. You bring nothing to the table that He needs. He doesn’t need your talents. I mean, He’s actually the One who gave them to you, so… He doesn’t need your money. Everything belongs to Him. Your money is actually His. He’s letting you use it, despite what you might think. And He doesn’t need your opinion. He doesn’t need your counsel. Certainly, He doesn’t need your permission. He doesn’t need…He doesn’t need anything from you. You’ve got nothing to negotiate with. You come to the table; He holds all the chips. God doesn’t need you.
Now on one hand this is a beautiful aspect of God’s love for us. Typically, we think of any kind of relationship as some sort of negotiation. In even the purest of relationships here we have expectations of, “You do this for me, and I’ll do this for you.” But God loves us even though we can’t really offer Him anything. He doesn’t need us. And yet for the relationship to work we have to recognize our complete dependence on Him. That we completely need Him. And until we recognize our dependence on Him, it doesn’t work. That’s hard for us, especially in this Western world we live in; because we like our independence, and we like positions of power, and we don’t want to be the needy one in the relationship. But the Holy Spirit’s power shows up most dramatically in weakness.
This is why, as you study Church History, you’ll find that, surprisingly, the Church has the most growth—and arguably the most influence—not when Christians are in positions of power but when the Church seems to have very little power, when the Church is very much in the minority. And I think, in large part that’s because there’s room, then, for God to demonstrate His power, for the Holy Spirit to demonstrate His strength. He helps us in our weakness.
And so that means if you find yourself in a position where you are vulnerable, where you feel stuck, you are in a perfect place to meet the person of the Holy Spirit. So some of you get this. You went through something in life; you would never want to go through it again. But there’s something that happened when you were going through it. The Holy Spirit introduced Himself. You got to know Him in a different way because you were forced to be dependent upon Him. Until you were dependent, until you were forced into that situation, you didn’t realize what kind of power was available to you.
One winter a number of years ago now, I was on my way home one particularly snow and icy day when I came across a woman who had tried to turn into her driveway, but had instead slid two of her wheels into a little ditch that was in front of their property. I could see she was spinning her wheels trying to get unstuck, so I stopped to see if there was anything I could do to help her out. I asked her if she minded me trying to drive her vehicle out of the ditch, and she said, “Please do.” So I seated myself in her SUV, put it into gear, give it a little gas, and the wheels start spinning. Then all of a sudden I notice this little button on the dash that said “4WD.” And so I stuck my head of the car door and asked the woman, “Did you try the four-wheel drive?” And she said, “I didn’t even know it had four-wheel drive.” So I showed her the button that read “4WD,” and she said, “I wondered what that button did.” So I push the button, engaging the four-wheel drive, step on the gas, and right out of the ditch the car goes. The four-wheel drive was there the whole time. She didn’t know it because she had never needed it. She didn’t realize it because it had never been required. But in the place where she needed it, when it was necessary, she realized it. Suddenly what had always been there, what the vehicle was equipped with came to the surface because it was necessary. It was needed.
There are certain times in life where we’re stuck, we’re weak, we’re vulnerable, and this is where the Holy Spirit has the most space to demonstrate His power. He helps us when we’re weak.
Another thing we see in Scripture is that the Holy Spirit empowers you when He sanctifies you.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:11: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.”
Sanctified is “being made more and more like Jesus.” It’s not a matter of you trying hard enough to become like Jesus; it is a matter of you and I learning to walk in the Spirit and trust the Spirit to grow us into becoming more and more like Jesus. He is the One who does this work in us and through us.
Last week we talked about the fruit of the Holy Spirit. That when it grows in us it’s evidence of the Spirit’s work in our lives, and that the greatest manifestation of the Spirit is likely not the gifts of the Spirit but the fruit of the Spirit. Because Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, “If you have the gifts of the Spirit but you don’t have the fruit of the Spirit, if you speak in tongues but you don’t have love, then you’re just making noise. You’re nothing.” It’s what he says. And so when we grow in the fruit of the Spirit, when we are in the process of sanctification and people see we’re becoming more like Jesus, then it is a witness. Jesus says, “The Spirit will come and you will be my witnesses.”
And it’s a powerful witness, right? Like, when you used to react in anger but now you respond with gentleness, when you used to act selfishly but now you act with kindness, when you used to be demanding and now you’re more patient, when you used to be constantly on edge and always stressed out but now you have a peace about you, when you used to act impulsively but now you demonstrate self-control—these are all powerful indications that the Holy Spirit is at work in us.
Now I could fill this stage with people who would say…children who would say, “When my dad became a Christian, he became a different person, and I thought, ‘If that’s what God does for somebody, that’s what I want Him to do for me.’” “When my mom became a follower of Jesus, she became somebody completely different. And if that’s what…if that’s what God does, then I want in on that.” People who would say… “When my husband became a follower of Jesus,” or, “When my wife became a Christian, I was skeptical; I was cynical; I wasn’t supportive. But I started to see this change in them.” What is that? That is the power of the Holy Spirit that is at work within us.
The Holy Spirit empowers us by helping us know God’s will.
Jesus said to His disciples in John 14:26, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, he will teach… (Or maybe your version says, “will guide.”) …you in all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you” (WEB).
And so, the Holy Spirit counsels us. He directs us. He guides us.
And where so many people want to know, “Hey, what’s God’s will for my life?” It’s less of a revelation and it’s more of a relationship. It is in keeping in step with the Spirit that we find ourselves in line with the will of God. And you see this throughout the New Testament. In the Book of Acts, it’s what describes the Early Church, right? That they…they were being guided by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is mentioned more than fifty times in the Book of Acts. It’s been called “The Acts of the Apostles,” but someone said, “It should really be called ‘The Acts of the Holy Spirit,’ because He is the One who is directing and guiding.”
An example of that is in Acts 15, where you have the church leaders writing a letter to some new Gentile converts, giving some instructions. And there’s this little phrase in their letter, and it says, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (v. 28). I love that. I love this. I think I love this because it’s not like, “And then we heard this audible voice and the Earth shook and…” No. It’s just, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us. We were keeping in step with the Spirit, and this seems like the right thing to do.” And it’s more of a relationship than it is a revelation.
Another example of this is in Acts chapter 8, where Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch, and he discovers what maybe you’ve discovered. That when you are being led by the Holy Spirit, He likes to lead you out of your comfort zone. And so Philip sees this Ethiopian reading. He doesn’t know what he’s reading. But the Holy Spirit says to Philip in verse 29. “The Holy Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and walk along beside the carriage (beside the chariot)’” (NLT).
And the Bible doesn’t say that Philip said, “Well, okay, I’m open to that but…where’s this all going? Once I get there what’s the plan? What do you want me to say? What’s he going to say? How’s this all going to happen? Explain it to me and then I’ll do it.” No. The Holy Spirit says, “Go over.”
Verse 30 says, “Philip ran….” I love that. “Philip ran over and [he] heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah (in the Old Testament)” (NLT). The man was reading about the Messiah, but he didn’t know it was the Messiah. “[And] Philip asked, ‘Do you understand what you’re reading?’” And then Philip begins to share the Gospel with him.
And then, at the end of that conversation, the Ethiopian, as they’re in this chariot…the Ethiopian says, “There’s water here along the side of the road. Can I just…? Can we just do this now? Can I just get baptized here?” And Philip doesn’t say, “Well, actually, no. You can’t because you have to come on Sunday. And we have some white robes. You’ve got to wear one of the white robes.” No, it’s none of that. They go right there…right there and then. It’s not this big crowd. Just Philip and the Ethiopian go down to the water, and the Ethiopian is baptized.
And the Spirit will lead us out of our comfort zone. Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit is like the wind. You don’t know where the wind is going and you don’t know where it’s coming from.” And that’s a little scary for us because it’s not predictable. And if there’s one thing we like it is predictability, right? We like to know. This is why we like what we have grown accustomed to. When we’ve done it a certain way for a certain amount of time, it’s comfortable. But the Holy Spirit is not really into those boxes. He will oftentimes draw you away from what you’re comfortable with.
As a church we want to be committed to trying new things and taking new approaches as a way to gauge the wind, as a way to get a sense of what God is up to and what God is doing. We don’t want our programming and planning and our traditions and opinions to be more important than how the Holy Spirit is leading us. So we’ll try new things. We won’t always get it right. We’ll learn along the way. Our question is always going to be: “Okay, does that align with Scripture? Is there anything in Scripture that would prevent us or keep us from trying something a little bit different?” We want to stand on God’s Word as our foundation, but we understand that there’s a lot of freedom. And so our prayer is that we would never let our programming, planning, our preferences, our traditions or our opinions be the determining factor; but that we would keep in step with the Holy Spirit, we would test everything with the Word of God, and we would proceed with courage.
So we remember that the Holy Spirit will never contradict the Word of God. Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “Well, hey, God told me,” or, “The Holy Spirit said.” And whenever you hear that, there’s a tendency sometimes to dismiss it, but really what we want to do is just test it. We just want to say, “Okay, well, is that consistent with what the Bible teaches? Does the voice that that person seems to hear or the leading that I seem to have—does that match up with Scripture?”
I got a voicemail recently that was a little bit scary. I’ll play it for you. Maybe you’ve received this voicemail before.
“We have just received a notification regarding your tax filing from the headquarters which will get expired in next twenty-four working hours. And once it gets expired, after that you will be taken under custody by the local police as there are four serious allegations pressed on your name at this moment. We would request you to get back to us so that we can discuss about this case before taking any legal action against you.”
That’s a little disconcerting, right? Man, you hear that voice telling you the local police is going to be showing up within the next twenty-four working hours. I don’t really know what that means. And that headquarters… I don’t know which headquarters but… But it’s a little disconcerting, too, because you listen to it and you wonder, “Who’s teaching grammar to IRS agents these days? Because they… I mean, it’s a mess.” And so I listened to that, but I wasn’t nervous about it. It didn’t make me too apprehensive, because I knew it didn’t match up with what I already knew was true of the IRS. The IRS isn’t going to call you until they send you a bill, and I knew I hadn’t gotten a bill. And the IRS isn’t going to send the local police to arrest you. No, they’re just going to show up. I think that’s how that works. And so I knew that there were some inconsistencies. If you test the voice, you think, “Well, this isn’t…this doesn’t match up with what I know to be true.”
This is why we want to know the Word of God well. So that it’s not our opinions or our preferences—it’s not just the feeling we have—but that it’s the Word of God that is testing and the Word of God that is guiding. And so we don’t want to be cynical, but we do want to be careful, cautious.
The Holy Spirit also shows His power by giving us gifts for others
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about some of the gifts of the Spirit. And the church in Corinth was misusing them. They were using the gifts of the Holy Spirit as a way to create a class system within the church, as a way to say, “Hey, if you have these gifts you’re varsity, but if you don’t have these gifts…JV at best. Like, you’re on the team but on the bench. You’re not going to really…you’re not going to really be a part of things.” And so they were dividing each other based on the gifts that they had been given, which is ridiculous because the whole point of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit is to bring unity to the church. It’s for the good of other people. It’s not to edify one’s self. The Holy Spirit is not in the business of drawing attention to you. The Holy Spirit is given to bring unity and to be a blessing to others.
And so in verse 4, Paul says to this church in Corinth, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it’s the same God who does the work in all of us” (vv. 4-6, NLT).
Paul says, “Look, there’s no room for pride or self-righteousness based on a gift that you’ve been given. It’s a gift.” You didn’t earn it. You didn’t pay for it. You didn’t even choose it. The Spirit chose to give it to you. You should be humbled by that. And nowhere in Scripture are we ever told to seek a certain experience or a certain gift as some proof or as evidence that we really have been filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s just not in there.
Verse 7: “A spiritual gift,” Paul says, “is given to each of us…” Why? “…so we can help each other.” That’s why. “To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. [And] He alone decides which gift each person should have” (vv. 7-11, NLT).
So when you’re treating people as less than because they don’t have the gift that you have, when you’re critical towards someone because they don’t have the gift that you have, who you’re really critical towards is the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit alone has decided who gets what gifts.
Then Paul goes on to use a metaphor of the human body that has many parts, but each part is important. The function of each part matters. And one part shouldn’t feel insecure because they can’t do what another part does.
Verse 20: “Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’ The head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you’” (vv. 20-21, NLT).
And Paul concludes this section by saying in verse 29, “Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not!” (vv. 29-30, NLT).
No, there are a lot of different gifts. What we want to do is to pray. Pray for the Holy Spirit to fill us. Pray for the Holy Spirit to give us His gifts for the good of others.
We also see that the Holy Spirit empowers us when He calls us to salvation.
I would argue this is the greatest demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit – calling someone to salvation. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 12:3, “…no one says Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit” (NLT). So every time someone says, “Jesus is Lord,” it is a demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.
Francis Chan talks about one of the challenges for him as a pastor and as a father was when his teenage daughter didn’t love Jesus and wasn’t interested in Jesus. And he said he’d spend nights crying and praying to the Lord, and he realized that as much as he wanted to force it, as much as he wanted to preach that into her, that that’s just not how it worked. And he said, “God, either Your Spirit has to win her heart or not, because I don’t have the power to do it.” Certainly, as a father you can influence and you can encourage, but Francis Chan said, “I can’t make this decision for her. It’s going to have to be Your Spirit.” For eighteen months…just praying but learning it’s not in his power; it’s only in the Spirit’s power. And then eventually the Holy Spirit beckoned her, and she responded. And the fruit of the Spirit began to grow in her life, and they could see the evidence.
And so, as a church, it’s our prayer the greatest demonstration of the Holy Spirit would be in people responding to the Gospel. So one of the things I’ve been praying for is not just, “Lord, fill me with Your Spirit,” but, “Lord, help me experience the power of Your Holy Spirit in my life.” I know that I’ve received the Holy Spirit, and I know that I am being filled with the Holy Spirit. But I think sometimes I miss out on experiencing His power because I refuse to put myself in places where I’m dependent on it. I don’t like being dependent. I don’t like being vulnerable. And so, as I’ve prayed, “Lord, fill Me with Your Spirit and teach me to experience Your power,” I know that’s kind of a dangerous prayer because it inevitably is going to put me in a position of weakness.
I was watching a church service online the other day from Menlo Church in Menlo Park, California, where pastor and Christian author, John Ortberg, was preaching. He concluded his message by telling of how not long ago on a Monday morning he went to speak at a nearby women’s prison where a group of volunteers from the large church he serves carries on a regular ministry to the inmates housed there. He said he prayed about what God would have him say. He took some notes down on his iPad, and then he headed off for the prison. When he pulled into the parking lot he suddenly remembered that, “Oh, yeah, you can’t do that. You can’t take anything electronic in there with you. No iPads or phones…etc.” So it had to stay in the car. And he thought, “That’s okay. That’s no problem.” Because, like most preachers, he’s got like a half a dozen sermons on the internal hard drive (his memory) just in case there’s a situation like this, an emergency preaching situation, which doesn’t happen a lot. Not a lot of clambering for surprise sermons but…you have them in there. And so he thought, “That’s fine. I’ll get up there and push play on one of the sermons that’s in there.”
He went on to say, “I was standing in the back while these ladies were worshipping God. It’s just pretty evident to discern that many of them had lived a very hard life. And they stood there worshipping God in their standard prison uniforms. And as I was praying for them, I sensed the Holy Spirit saying to my spirit, ‘John, these are my daughters. I love them the way you love your daughters. Make sure they know that before you leave.’” He said, “Oh, okay. Let me see what I’ve got. No sermon titled ‘Dear Daughters of God.’ It wasn’t in there. I walk up towards the front not knowing exactly what I was going to say, and then the Holy Spirit reminded me of a verse that I’d memorized years ago – Romans 8:16: ‘The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.’” He continued, “The Holy Spirit says in that verse, ‘Hey, I want you to know that I’m the One who affirms that these are daughters of God. You tell them that and I’ll make sure they know it.’”
So, he said to himself, “Okay, deal.” And he got up there and he began his talk with, “Dear daughters of God.” And he talked to them about their identity in Christ and being adopted daughters and that they are heirs of the inheritance that awaits in heaven and the hope that they have.
And after he finished speaking, he went back and he sat in his seat towards the back of the room. And there was a song…he said he didn’t know this…but there was a song sheet that had been handed out before he got there, and they had been singing off this song sheet. There was no screen…just a song sheet with lyrics and such. And they picked up the song sheet and they start singing; and the song they were singing was the song, “Good, good Father.” Remember the chorus of that song? “You’re a good, good Father. It’s who you are. It’s who You. I’m loved by You. It’s who I am. It’s who I am.” And John Ortberg said he watched God’s daughters singing to Him about what kind of Father He is, and he thought to himself, “How amazing, the Spirit of God who orchestrates all things for the glory of God.”
And as I listened to John Ortberg tell that story, I thought to myself, “Ah…I want to go sailing a lot more often.” It’s a little scary because the wind blows where it wants, right? You can’t catch the wind, but the wind can catch you…and that is so much better.
First Church of Christ
June 7, 2020