Allen Jackson - Life In The Spirit - Part 1
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We're gonna continue the theme that we've been working on the past couple of weeks, talking about "Unleashing the Power of the Holy Spirit". And the premise is very simple. I've repeated it each week. In Scripture, from the beginning opening verses of the Bible to the concluding chapters, the power of God and the Spirit of God go together. I have belabored the point a bit because almost universally we acknowledge our need for the power of God. We have said that in this calendar year, almost all of us have asked God for a breakthrough, that there's some circumstance or challenge or obstacle that, for us to arrive at a suitable outcome, an acceptable outcome, we need the power of God to help us. And there is no power of God without the presence of the Spirit of God.
So what we're wanting to do is become more comfortable, more familiar, more welcoming, of the Holy Spirit. And on a typical weekend, we gather here, thousands of us, from more than 60 different Christian traditions, everything from the Orthodox churches to people that this is the first time they've ever been to a church. I happen to think that strengthens our community of faith, but the reality of that is we've been taught many, many different things with regard to the person of the Holy Spirit, some negative, some not so negative, just all over the spectrum. Again, not bad or evil, but I wanna make a suggestion. That the place I would like to invite you to is something as simple as this: a prayer that you would say, something like this: "Holy Spirit, you're welcome in my life".
And then just put your hand over your mouth, okay? Don't qualify it, don't limit it, don't put some boundary on it. "You're welcome in my life". We want to welcome the person of the Holy Spirit. If you want the power of God at work on your behalf, then by definition, you want the person of the Holy Spirit without measure. You don't have to be afraid of him, he won't embarrass you, humiliate you. He won't make you roll on the floor, swing on a rope, or bark like a dog. If you're doing those things, it's 'cause you like to roll, swing, and bark. Don't blame it on the Lord. Now, most of you, some of you, at least, have been around places or groups of people where somebody said, "I didn't wanna do it, and the Lord made me or God made me or the Holy Spirit". No, he didn't. He didn't.
God won't violate your free will. If he was gonna violate your free will, how many of you know he should have stopped you from doing a whole lot of stuff. But he just let us rock on with our bad self. So you don't have to be afraid of the Holy Spirit. He won't embarrass you and humiliate you. In fact, he won't come where he's not welcome. If you're not sure you want his presence in your life, relax, he's not bothering you. He's not a party crasher. He won't come where he's not welcome. So one of my agendas is, hopefully, to cultivate a desire for the presence of the person of the Holy Spirit in your life. And the theme this weekend, very simply, is life in the Spirit. How do we conduct Spirit-led lives? What's that even mean for us? Should we care about it?
And I wanna begin with just a collection of verses. I think it's helpful as you read your Bible, to see the breadth of the presentation of the Spirit of God in Scripture. It's not like there's a singular proof text or a particular chapter or one particular author. The Spirit of God is the fabric of the story of the Bible. In 2 Timothy, chapter 1 and verse 14, Paul is writing from a Roman prison to a young man who is his protégé. He says, "Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you, guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us". He's not talking about a bank account. He's talking about a spiritual deposit. And he said, "You'll be able to guard what God has given to you with the help of the Holy Spirit who is in you".
The Spirit of God, if you're a Christ follower, lives in you. And the Holy Spirit is there to help you. In fact, one of the titles Jesus attributed to the Holy Spirit is he is our helper. So if you wanna know why you would welcome the person of the Holy Spirit, it's so that he can help you. Isn't that good to know? I don't know, I like help, don't you? When I'm at the end of myself or at the limits of my own ability or my own wisdom or my own strength or my own knowledge, it's good to have help. And the Holy Spirit is your helper. Look at Ephesians 4 and verse 30, it says: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption".
Now Paul, this time, writes to the Ephesian church and his counsel to them is to not grieve the Holy Spirit of God. Do you live with that idea that your choices, your life, who you are, and what you do, could grieve the Holy Spirit? Now most of us, if you have any background around church at all, we have some formation of ideas around what's appropriate for church and language that's appropriate for church and dress and behavior and, you know, but I would like to expand that a little bit because when you leave the church building or you leave the church campus, you don't leave the Holy Spirit behind. You don't pick him up when you pull on the campus and check him when you leave. Thank God, or we'd have to build condos on campus, right? He's in you.
So if there's a joke you wouldn't tell at the altar of the church, I would suggest you probably shouldn't tell it anywhere else. Some of you just got a lot duller. You see, I wanna expand your imagination. Live in such a way in your home, do business in such a way, recreate in such a way, that you have this imagination, this category, that you're pleasing to the Spirit of God. If you want his help, it might be a worthwhile adjustment to think how can I live in a way that would please him. Not that you earn his blessing, you don't qualify, you don't score points or it's not like collecting trading stamps. But we don't wanna grieve him. Then I brought you a passage from Psalm 51. Psalm 51 is David's great prayer of repentance.
King David, he's the king of Israel, and he commits adultery. And then to cover up his act of adultery, he commits murder. I mean, he's not on a good roll. And God sends a prophet to the king's palace and says, "What you've done is not a secret". That's a very dangerous assignment for a prophet 'cause an ancient near-Eastern monarch was an absolute authority. David could have had him executed as easily as he had had Bathsheba's husband executed. But the prophet goes, nonetheless, and David knows that his sin is exposed and, to his credit, he repents. And Psalm 51 is a marvelous prayer of repentance. It's a template, it's a pattern prayer for repenting. I just borrowed one verse.
In Psalm 51:11, David says, "Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me". I wanna invite you to this notion that the Spirit of God is not your right. You know, we live in such a rights-conscious culture. I think it's because we have so much. We're so privileged, we have so much affluence and so many opportunities and such liberty and freedom. You may not have what you want but you have more than almost anybody that's ever lived on the planet. And from that, we have derived a sense of entitlement that's just about to overwhelm us. And I don't want you to imagine that you're entitled to the Spirit of God. His presence in your life is a tremendous gift. It's a gift and we need a little adjustment in the church, not to presume upon him. I want you to hear prayer: "Don't take your Holy Spirit from me". "Don't take your Holy Spirit from me".
See, what I wanna cultivate in my heart and invite you to consider for your own, is this desire, longing, for the presence of the Spirit of God. Not some precondition, not some boundary, not some limit: a desire for his presence. What could I do, how could I respond, where could I stand, what prayer could I pray, that would cause the Spirit of God to come more fully upon my life? It's a good place. It's a good place. In fact, David, for all of his power and all of his wealth and all of the things, the attributes, that he had at his disposal, his primary concern when he recognizes the condition of his life is, "Don't take your Spirit from me". You can have troops, in fact, when the judgment of God came, David forfeited many things, but don't take your Spirit from me.
And then finally, I gave you a verse from Isaiah chapter 63. Isaiah is speaking about the exodus generation, a group of people who had lived hundreds of years previously, but he says, "They rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them". They rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. A group of people who experienced the miraculous, the supernatural, that the involvement of God in their lives they rebelled. What did their rebellion look like? They refused to believe God, they refused to go any further. They said, "We've gone as far as we wanna go. We don't want any more. We're done".
See, I think we're pretty casual with belief. We think of belief as kind of a smorgasbord or a menu and we're allowed, you know, we can choose item 1 and 7 and 11, but we don't have to pay any attention to the rest. And the opportunity to live a life in conjunction with Almighty God, empowered by the Spirit of God, is a privilege, and we wanna grow in belief, we wanna let that emerge in our hearts. We don't wanna stand back in rebellion and pride and our own self-absorption and say, "Well, you know, I don't know. I'm just not so sure".
And if you're learning about the Lord and you're beginning, that's an appropriate beginning point but you don't wanna do that as you, if you imagine you're growing in the Lord. I think we've rather arrogantly had this notion, you say, "Well, you know, God, what I really wanna do is not go to hell. You know, I don't know if I really wanna serve you. I'm not really too excited about being, like, an over-the-top Christ follower, but in the event you're real and there is someplace else, I don't wanna go someplace else, so you know, what's, like, the minimum requirement"? We may not say it out loud, but we tend to approach our faith like that. And I wanna invite you away from that to a life in the Spirit.
I wanna take the balance of the time we have and just walk through some ideas that will help you perhaps, help me gain some insight into spiritual things, to conceive of spiritual things. I think oftentimes we're kind of spiritually illiterate or, if not illiterate, just unaware or perhaps just unconcerned. They just don't matter than much to us. We haven't really attached that much significance to them. And the Bible invites us to a very different response to our lives. So let's just walk through these really quickly. I'm gonna hand them to you. The first one is in John chapter 4 and verse 24 and it says: "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth".
God is a spirit. The first chapters of Genesis tell us that God brought order to this world. It identifies God as the creator, the sustainer of all things, that the spiritual gave rise to the material or the physical. So, spiritual things are real. God is spirit. We worship not something carved out of stone or something in the image of an animal or a human being. We worship an Almighty God. It's the reason graven images were forbidden because any image you would make of something on earth, you'd be worshiping something that the Creator made. It's backwards. So God said, "Don't do that". Spiritual things are real. God is spirit.
Now let's add to that a second idea that has, it's more personal this time. It's a description of ourselves. You are a spirit, you live in a body, and you have a soul. We are complex persons. We're not just a collection of molecules, we're not just a formulation of dust from the ground. You are a spirit. Look at Zechariah 12 and verse 1. It says: "The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundations of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him". In Jeremiah it says: "God knows you when you're knit together in your mother's womb". He acknowledges the biological process of growth and maturing physically, but he says that God forms the spirit of man within you. Your spirit is as much a part of you as your thumbprint, created by God.
Now, you live in a body. I like to refer to it as your earth suit, 'cause to have spiritual authority under the sun, you need an earth suit. It's why we have that incarnation story that the Son of God became a human being, born of a woman, the Bible says. Because in order to be our Redeemer, he needed a body. And so, he became one of us. Seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty today is the man Jesus Christ. It's the great expression of the love of God for you and me, and it's centered in the fact that he became one of us. He got one of these bodies. But when you're born, your body is born, you're born with a countdown clock. It's not eternal. Your spirit is eternal. When your body ceases to function, your spirit will not cease to function.
So it has an expiration date on it. We all do. The Bible says there's two appointments we all share: death and after death to face judgment. You know, around the front of the platform they've got these big plasma screen TVs. They use 'em for the worship and the choir and to send me messages if I'm in real trouble, but there's this one place I go to present and they have, right in front of the podium, two big plasma screens and when you step to the podium, they start a countdown clock. Isn't that rude? You know, like, if you get 30 minutes, you step up and it's at 29:59 and it's counting down. They don't know how, I'm really good at ignoring stuff like that, but I have a friend, he is British.
One of the finest Bible teachers I know in the world. He was invited to the same conference and the countdown clock really, really annoyed him. I bet he referenced it a dozen times in 30 minutes. In fact, he started negotiating with them for more time, from the podium. I could have told him that's not gonna help, they're not gonna, it's not gonna happen. But you and I are born with a countdown clock. Your body has an expiration date, but your spirit doesn't. Your soul, your mind, your will, and your emotions, they're very much a part of you. They're not a weaker part of you, or not important part of you. We're complex beings.
Now, most of us have some awareness of how to care for ourselves physically. You prepare yourself for the day, each day, I hope. You know how to do that. You have some consciousness of how to, your emotional wellbeing and your mental wellbeing and the things that are required with that. But I'm a bit concerned 'cause I think we have very little awareness of what spiritual health is about. We just don't give it much... what if you spent as much time on a daily basis with your spiritual wellbeing as you did with your physical wellbeing? Boy, that'd be a dramatic change in life, wouldn't it? And we're church folks. You are a spirit, you live in a body, and you have a soul. Look at Luke 8. Luke is a physician, you'll recall. And he writes this little vignette. Jesus is invited to pray for a girl who's sick and before Jesus arrives, she dies. That's not good. That's poor pastoral care. But Jesus is not daunted because he isn't intimidated by death.
That's where we step into the narrative. It says: "Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. And 'Stop wailing,' Jesus said. 'She's not dead but asleep.' But they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and said, 'My child, get up!'" And in verse 55, Luke makes a very unique observation. He says: "Her spirit returned". The implication is clear: her spirit had departed. You see, physical death, when your body ceases to function, is not the end of your existence. You've heard of Leonardo da Vinci, the Renaissance man, great artist, great scientist, thinker, student. It's reported that he conducted a number of experiments with people that were at the point of death. He would put them on a scale to see if there was a discernible change in their body weight when their spirit departed. And we think we're so smart. You are a spirit, you live in a body, and you have a soul.
Now the Bible talks to us about being born of the Spirit. In the same way that you have a physical birth, the Bible says you can have a spiritual birth. It's a interesting notion. Jesus talked about it. In John chapter 3, Nicodemus comes to see him. Nicodemus is a leader amongst the religious Jewish community, and he wants to talk to Jesus but he's a little afraid of the opinions of the others, so he comes at night. He comes in a covert way to see Jesus. And the point of the discussion becomes: How do you participate in the kingdom of God, because the Jewish people believe they're the chosen people and Nicodemus is a leader of the chosen people. And he recognizes Jesus's unique authority and the unique power invested in Jesus, so he wants to have a dialog with him. And we're gonna step into the middle of the narrative. It says: "In reply Jesus declared, 'I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he's born again.'"
Now, the "no one" carries a special significance here. Nicodemus, not even you. Not even the Jewish people. "No one can see the kingdom of God unless he's born again". And then Jesus goes on to amplify. He says, "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit". There's a correlation, he says, between a physical birth and a spiritual birth. "You shouldn't be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you can't tell where it comes from or where it's going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit". It's an interesting parallel. Jesus says, the wind, you don't know its origin. You're not sure, you can't control it, but you can certainly experience its impact. You can benefit from it. He says, "So is the Holy Spirit. You don't know fully where he's coming from and you don't control him. You certainly don't manipulate the Holy Spirit".
Don't try. You won't do it. But you can benefit from its impact, from his presence. And he uses a context to describe the spiritual birth. To be a participant in the kingdom of God, you have to be birthed into it. You don't become a Christ follower by joining a church. You don't become a Christ follower because you get an appropriate doctrine or theological statement or by a moral position or an ethical creed. To be a Christ follower isn't joining a group. There's really good news in that. If joining a group, a particular denomination or tradition, made you a Christ follower, then they would have the ability to keep you out. The birth into the kingdom of God is a very personal decision. The Bible says it's available to every human being, that no one is excluded, that God has made a revelation of himself to every person, that any person can choose to be birthed into the kingdom of God.
And it describes the process. It says it takes place by a decision you make about a person, his name is Jesus. Specifically, Jesus of Nazareth. That winnowed out many people named Jesus in the first century; the one we're referencing grew up in a little village in the northern part of Israel called Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth, we're told, was the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of God. Now, you can believe that and not experience a spiritual birth, because at that point, it's just an historical acknowledgement, it's a statement. But you can take a step beyond that and say, "I believe Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ and I would accept him as Lord of my life". In essence, what you're saying is, "God, I'm a sinner, and I need help. I can't save myself. I can't be good enough or kind enough or moral enough or generous enough or anything else enough. I need help. Forgive me of my sins".
That's what the Jesus story is all about. He took the price that I deserved for my rebellion and my godlessness, that I could have all the benefits through his perfect righteousness. And when you choose Jesus as Lord, that's about priority. You see, if he's Lord, he gets to call the cadence of your life. It's what Jesus taught us to pray, not my will but your will be done. See, Jesus being Lord of your life means the priorities for your life are established by our Lord. And then we serve him as King. And the Bible says if you're willing to do that, you can be birthed into the kingdom of God.
Isn't that magnificent? Nobody can keep you out if you wanna be a participant. But I think one of the great limits that we've had in American Christendom and I've been a part of that most of my life, so I'm not throwing a stone, is we tend to stop the discussion at that point. The emphasis tends to be on how to be birthed into the kingdom of God, so we talk to people about, "Have you said the sinner's prayer? Have you made a profession of faith? Maybe have you been dunked in the tank"? And that's important. If you haven't been, get in the line. We're gonna do it real soon. But we kind of stop the discussion at that point.
Folks, that's not the objective. We go to the hospital to see newborns and we celebrate the life. The real celebration is about the potential that that life represents, the future that comes with maturing and the developmental skills and the emerging personality and the gifts that will be resident there, and all that life's going to afford. That's why we celebrate. Truth be told when you first get here, you're just kind of a hot mess, right? You just make noise and odors and consume stuff and, you know, we're waiting for the payoff. I did not call your newborn a waste. Don't write me. But in a similar way, we're birthed into the kingdom of God to grow up, and we need the help of the Holy Spirit to do that.
I interact with a lot of people and I've come to the realization that many, many people are a bit ashamed of the supernatural, and by that, I mean the spiritual. We're reluctant to admit to our friends or our neighbors or our co-workers that we believe spiritual things impact our lives. Well, just a quick reminder: God is a spirit. So our whole spiritual lives are dependent upon that premise that spiritual things are real. I wanna pray that God will open our hearts in a new way.
Heavenly Father, I pray you will give us receptive hearts to your truth beyond anything we've ever known before. In Jesus's name, amen.