by Chris Ritter
Do you ever look back on life and laugh at things you used to worry about? I agree with the person who remarked that he grew up thinking quicksand was going to be a much bigger problem than it actually turned out to be. Maybe I watched too much Gilligan’s Island growing up. I was led by some teachers to worry that I would be doing a lot of algebra in everyday life. That turned out not to be the case. Disclaimer to any students reading this: If you go into the growing fields associated with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, you will certainly need and use algebra. I went into the field of theology where math is fuzzy… three is one and one is three. I can’t think of one instance where I have used algebra outside algebra class. My elementary teacher told me I needed to learn long division, “because I wouldn’t always have a calculator with me.”
“Actually, Mrs. Smith, I do always have a calculator with me on my cell phone.”
Then there are things you wish people had told you to be more concerned about. No one really prepared me for how big a deal paying taxes would be, for instance. From my perspective at age fifty, saving for retirement is something we should always talk about more.
There are also those shifting concerns that come with our changing times. Some of you may be old enough to remember nuclear attack drills. We all dutifully hunkered under our desks until the “all-clear” sounded. Today our students today prepare for active shooters.
Worries are fluid, I guess… even for pastors. I started ministry in a time when the most prominent divides in the church were described in terms of worship style: Pipe organ or praise band? All of the sudden, none of that seems to matter. Today, churches are divided on how to approach COVID. There seem to be four new worship styles:
- COVID Conspiracy. “The virus is not a real threat and wearing a mask only serves to perpetuate the lie. We will look at you cross-eyed if you wear one.”
- COVID Casual. “We wear masks… sort of… when we are supposed to.”
- COVID Concerned. “We are meeting (very carefully), but following all health and safety regulations for masks and social distancing.”
- COV-ageddon. “We are not meeting in person at all, but are staying home under lock-down conditions.”
As a young pastor I thought combatting cults was going to be a big part of my ministry. I read up on all their different beliefs so I would be ready to refute them. Now, thirty years later, I see that the “cult of comfort” would be the real barrier to authentic discipleship.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I am at a stage in life where I feel I have some perspective on things:
- I am over big tent, bureaucratic denominations and into genuine, historic Christian connection and accountability.
- I am over the “attractional” model of church that is about putting on a great show so that more people will want to watch. That has raised up a generation of consumers instead of disciples. I am more into Holy Communion these days.
- I am over the last 100 years of American Christianity and more into the first Three Centuries.
Past worries and misses aside, I unreservedly want to double-down on emphasizing the person and work of the Holy Spirit. I don’t remember hearing much about the Holy Spirit growing up. It is a shame that I had to go outside the Methodist tribe to learn about Him because the Holy Spirit is so prominent in our heritage. I pray we recover that and this message series will, in some small way, contribute to that. In Week #1 we talked about the Holy Spirit as our guide and were challenged to give the Holy Spirit a quick “yes.” Last week we were in Galatians 5 and we contrasted Walking in the Spirit with Walking in the Flesh. Keeping in step with the Spirit crowds sin out of our lives.
Jesus on the Spirit
Today I want to take you to John’s Gospel. We are going to study the last message of Jesus to his disciples before his arrest and execution. This message stretches through John 14, 15, 16, and 17. The setting is the Last Supper and journey to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knows this will be his final opportunity to spend time extended teaching time with his disciples before his death.
In Chapter 13 he washes their feet and teaches them about Servant Leadership. The discourse that follows touches on many topics, but the great unifying theme and promise is that He will be continue to be with them, and us, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus doesn’t paint a rosy picture of the days to come. He is honest that his followers are going to experience great struggles. Jesus was hated and his followers could expect the same. But he also sets huge expectations for the good they will do in the world:
12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.John 14:12
Can you see the expression on the disciples’ faces? Greater works than Jesus? How are we supposed to pull that off?! He healed the sick, raised the dead, fed the multitudes, and calmed the storm with a command.
They would do great things, but they would not do great things on their own power and abilities. They would have the Holy Spirit:
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.John 14:15-18
The Holy Spirit in Us
Jesus will ask the Father to send the Spirit. This is the Spirit of Truth that a world thirsty for lies would not accept. But the followers of Jesus would receive him: “He lives with you and will be in you.” This relationship with the Holy Spirit will be extremely intimate.
Because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, the “children” Jesus left behind would not be orphans. Romans 8 says the Spirit bears witness with our Spirit that we are the children of God. One of the ways we know we are in relationship with God is through the ongoing witness of the Spirit.
26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.John 14:26-27
The Holy Spirit is our teacher and our provider of supernatural peace.
This weekend my son and I undertook the task of mounting a TV to the wall using a bracket kid. I opened the instructions, which were written in German, French, Spanish, and English… but it was all Greek to me. These days, there is another way to learn to do something: Youtube! There is a video for everything, including hanging a TV with the particular bracket we purchased. The instructions made infinitely more sense once I saw the 12-minute video of a handyman masterfully completing the process.
Sometimes Scripture is difficult to understand. That is why the life of Jesus is such a treasure. He showed us what a perfect life looks like. But now Jesus is taking things a step further. What if the guy who wrote the instruction manual and starred in the video video could show up my house and walk me through hanging my TV step by step? That is what the Holy Spirit offers us. He inspired the scriptures. The life of Jesus was lived under the perfect influence of the Spirit. Now that name Spirit comes to live in us.
This same Holy Spirit will provide us with supernatural peace… a peace the world can’t give and the peace the world can’t take away. Galatians says that peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Philippians says this peace will guard our hearts and minds. Romans 8:6 says to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 14:17 says, “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Peace is a fruit of the Spirit, but let’s not conclude that the Spirit just exists to give us good feelings. Trees don’t bear fruit for themselves but for others. Jesus teaches here that the vital connection we maintain with him will keep us abundantly fruitful:
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.John 15:5-8
Abiding in Jesus and Walking in the Spirit and two ways of talking about the same thing. If we want to bear fruit, we need to maintain a living, vital connection with our source. In Chapter 14 Jesus says we will do greater things that him. But in Chapter 15 he sobers us up by saying that, on our own, we can do nothing.
Our life comes by the Spirit of Jesus. Our direction comes through the Spirit. Our fruitfulness is a manifestation of the Spirit.
26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.John 15:26-27
If your life is all about Jesus, then it is all about the Holy Spirit. If your life is all about the Holy Spirit, it will be all about Jesus. No separation is possible.
The Spirit Working Through Us
7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.John 16:7-11
We just read one of the most amazing statements Jesus ever made: “It is to your advantage that I go away.” What could be better than walking and talking with Jesus? Having the Holy Spirit of Jesus inside us is better. In his earthly ministry, Jesus was limited by time and space. Through the Holy Spirit, he can inspire the church worldwide to move forward in ministry.
Jesus is clear that his followers can expect the Spirit to make a great impact upon the world through them.
Having the Spirit in us is wonderful. The Spirit working through us is likewise amazing. But we close by looking at the greatest aspect of Walking in the Spirit:
15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.John 15:15-17
The goal of life is such a close friendship with God that we radiate His love. Walking in harmony with the Holy Spirit is the path to this friendship. We get a glimpse in the opening chapters of the Bible of Adam and Eve walking with God in the cool of the evening. By sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus and the Father open up the path of restored fellowship. This. isthe life we are intended for.
In his great High Priestly prayer in Chapter 17, Jesus concludes with these words:
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”John 17:25-26
Salvation from sin is needed, wonderful, and necessary. But that is not the purpose of life. It is only a step. The purpose of life is restored fellowship with God. Walking in the Spirit allows us daily intimate friendship with the God who created us. Our lives become the living partnership that God intended.