The Holy Spirit
05/11/2000 at 6.30pm
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by Jonathan Pryke
A while ago my wife Vivienne was teaching a girl, and Vivienne realised that there was something different about her. She had very little in the way of qualifications. She could hardly read. On the face of it, you would have thought, as you got to know her, that she probably came from a poor and disadvantaged family. And yet she seemed to have all the material possessions anyone could want. She spoke about going on what must have been extremely expensive holidays. One day Vivienne dropped her off at her house, which was large, detached, and obviously would have cost a very great deal of money. Then after a while this girl revealed her secret: her family had recently won the lottery in a big way. Their lives had been transformed. This girl had riches beyond her wildest dreams. Mind you, she was finding it difficult to handle. The money had transformed her life outwardly, but inwardly it had left her unchanged. It had not satisfied her. In fact, she said that she had preferred the small, house that they used to live in before. It had been home in a way that the new house wasn't.
We're thinking this evening about a passage from Titus that explains the secret of the Christian life. Please find it. It's Titus 3.1-8. These verses talk about the way a Christian's life is transformed. It's a transformation that other people will become aware of. They might not understand quite what has made the difference at first. Unlike that lottery winning girl, this transformation doesn't immediately affect our possessions or our bank balance. It leaves the outward circumstances of our lives unchanged at first. It is an inward transformation. It brings about a far more profound change than any massive roll-over jackpot could ever do. And it doesn't leave us dissatisfied and feeling that we've been catapulted into an alien environment. Instead, it feels like we've come home. It's the dregs of the old self we used to be that cause us grief, not the new person we've become.
What is the open secret that causes this transformation? It is God's gift of his Holy Spirit. It is a free gift – no purchase required, not even a ticket. God does not take us away from home and put us in a strange place. He comes into our lives and makes his home with us. And that brings about the greatest transformation possible, both now and for all eternity. The change is so great that it can take a long time for the extent of it to sink in. It is a long-term challenge for us to make the necessary alterations to the way we think and behave and live to match what has happened within us.
But what exactly is the nature of the transformation that the Holy Spirit makes in the Christian's life? These verses in Titus 3 give a summary of it, and I want to look at what they have to say under three headings. First, life without the Holy Spirit is bad. Secondly, the Holy Spirit makes us new. And thirdly, life with the Holy Spirit is good.
Before we get into that, though, just a little bit of background. This is a letter from the apostle Paul to Titus. Who is he? He was a Christian who had been converted to Christ through Paul's own teaching, and from a non-Jewish background. Paul calls him in 1.4: "my true son in our common faith". Titus used to travel with Paul on his church-planting team. They must have worked together in Crete, because Titus has been left there by Paul to get the communities of new Christian converts established and on their feet. So Paul writes to Titus (1.5):
The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.These young Christians were facing two main issues. For one thing, there were already amongst them people who were leading them away from Jesus with lies. 1.10:
… there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers… They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach – and that for the sake of dishonest gain.And for another thing, they were used to a lifestyle that was no good for those who now belonged to Christ. 1.12:
Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true.Nothing if not blunt! So they needed to be constantly reminded of the truth of the gospel that they had learned, and they needed to be helped to grasp the implications of that good news of Jesus for the way they lived. And that's just what Paul is telling his co-worker Titus to do in these verses. Keep reminding them of the gospel; keep reminding them how to live in the light of the gospel. That's the background. And the truth is we need exactly the same reminders, which is what makes this passage so valuable and exciting for us. If you like to think of yourself as an ex 'liar, evil brute and lazy glutton', then this is right on the button for you. So, to my headings.
First, LIFE WITHOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT IS BAD
Maybe your reaction to that is 'Well, it's not as bad as all that'. If so, you're up against God's perspective on what life is like without him. Look at what God says through Paul here in verse 3:
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.'I was like this!' Paul is saying, 'And you were like this too'. So there's absolutely no sense of any kind of moral or spiritual superiority in this analysis. He makes crystal clear in verse 5 that the transformation of the Christian's life was, as he puts it:
… not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his [God's] mercy.In other words, unless God had acted, we'd still be like this. If things have changed, it's no thanks to us. It's thanks to God alone.
How does this Godless life seem to those who are living it? It seems to me it would appear to those in the thick of it to be a life of independence, and a life lived in pursuit of passions and pleasures that appeal to us. It's a life of independence in the sense that we say to ourselves, 'I don't need anyone telling me what to do, thank you very much. It's my life. I can do with it whatever I want. I will decide what I think is right for me, and that's what I'll do.'
The word Paul uses for that kind of attitude is 'disobedience'. We do need God telling us what to do. He knows best what's good for us. And our life does not belong to us. It belongs to God, who made us and gave his Son for us. And as for our passions and pleasures – the things we want above all else, the things our minds dwell on, and that consume our energies – we think we choose them and have them under control. But no, says Paul. They enslave us. They control us, not the other way around. An independent life pursuing our own passions and pleasures sounds alright to someone without the Holy Spirit. But the underlying reality of life apart from the grace of God is very different. And it's not just that it's a life of disobedience that brings God's just condemnation in its wake. It's not just that it's a life of slavery to passions that overwhelm and engulf us.
It is a life without love – that is to say, 'lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another'. We want what others have got, and we wish them harm. It is a life without contentment (because of our pursuit of passions and pleasures that never satisfy). It is a life without freedom (because we are enslaved). It is a life without direction (because we reject God's guidance). It is a life without wisdom (we are foolish). It is, in short, a kind of living death.
And what is more, we cannot see it, because Satan blinds and deceives us. The other day I heard an ex-soldier talking about his wartime experience. He described how in the thick of battle he suddenly fell and found he couldn't move and he thought he'd been hit but the couldn't feel anything. He struggled to move and after a while as he looked down to where his feet should have been he realised that half of one of his legs had been shot away. It didn't hurt at all. He was desperately wounded and all but bleeding to death. But at first he didn't even realise it. And even when he did, unable to move, with the battle raging but no one near, he couldn't do anything at all to help himself.
Life without the Holy Spirit has some similarities to that man's experience. Without God's Spirit our situation is critical. But we don't feel it. We don't see it. We think we're relatively OK. But we're not. We are dying. Life without the Holy Spirit is bad.
Secondly, THE HOLY SPIRIT MAKES US NEW
Paul has delivered his damning indictment of rebellious, godless human nature. Notice, though, how he started it: 'at one time we…' were like that. He's talking to believers, and he's contrasting the old with the new: life before the Holy Spirit and life after the Holy Spirit. So now there's one of these glorious Biblical 'buts'. Because the astounding good news is that God saves us. He rescues us from this bad, hell-bound life. From verse 4:
But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour…This is what those ex liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons need to be reminded of again and again. This is what needs to be continually at the forefront of our minds. Paul effectively answers four questions here: Why does God save us? How does God save us? What happens to us when God saves us? And when does God save us? We'll go through those in turn.
First, why does God save us? Because of his love and his mercy, that's why. His love won't let us go even though that's what we've asked for. His mercy won't give us what we deserve. And it is not because of anything in us. Maybe you know you're not yet a Christian but you've come to the point where you believe Jesus is the Son of God risen from the dead, and you know you need to get straight with him. Maybe you're saying to yourself 'surely there's some good in my past life that's to my credit that I can draw his attention to as evidence that I've tried. Surely he'll take that into account.'
If that's you, let me say this on the basis of what Paul says here: don't even think of it. Verse 3 is the truth about your past life. You have lived for yourself, not for Jesus. We've all done it. We're all in the same boat. Not one of us has even the smallest contribution we can we make to God. It's his love and mercy from beginning to end that saves us.
Secondly, how does God save us? Well, it happens in two phases. Phase One: God the Father sends the Son, who died and rose again for us, breaking the power of evil once for all, and paying the full penalty for our sin. Phase Two: The Son sends the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out upon us. The cross and resurrection is the once for all objective saving act. And it is the Holy Spirit, who enters our hearts and applies to our lives all that Jesus has done for us. How does God save us? One: His Son. Two: his Spirit.
Thirdly, what happens to us when God saves us? It's there in verse 5: 'the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit'. We are given a new life. That's what happens. The living death of verse 3 becomes history. We experience a rebirth which is symbolised in baptism but which is the work of the Spirit within us. We are born again. We are made new. 'Rebirth' and 'renewal' are really two words for the same thing. And it is the giving and sustaining of that new life which is the basic work of the Holy Spirit in every Christian.
Fourthly, when does God save us? One good answer to that would be 'when Jesus dies and rises from the dead'. Another right answer would simply be 'when he chooses to'. But I want to draw your attention to a third answer, which is actually embedded here in verse 8. In that verse Paul is concerned that
'those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good'.When does God save us? When we put our trust in God. You cannot have the Holy Spirit in your life without trusting God. You cannot trust God without the Holy Spirit in your life. Trusting God means accepting his verdict on our lives. It means believing in Jesus. It means asking for the Holy Spirit. And that kind of trust is not something you do once and then forget about. It is the bread and butter of a life made new by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
One man who illustrates clearly the transformation that takes place when we shift from living death, to being born again is Charles Colson. Up to 1974 he was President Nixon's special counsel, and he was sent to prison for a while for his part in the Watergate scandal. He was converted to Christ, and now he heads the Prison Fellowship which he founded. It has tens of thousands of volunteers around the world. Speaking a while ago he said:
"I know the whole world laughed at my conversion. It kept the cartoonists of America clothed and fed for a month. People wrote the most incredulous stories about the White House tough guy turning to God. Twenty years later, I am more certain of the reality of Jesus Christ than I am of my own reality".And he challenged people to examine their own lives. He said:
"If you do not believe in God, what do you believe in? I have discovered in twenty years that there are no atheists. There are only people running away from God, rebelling against the moral truth that is in them."Life without the Holy Spirit is bad. The Holy Spirit makes us new. Finally:
Thirdly, LIFE WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT IS GOOD
Take a look at verses 5-7:
He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.Life with the Holy Spirit is good because for the past, we have forgiveness. Life with the Holy Spirit is good because in the future we have eternal life.
The other day I heard those two things well put in a kind of gospel riddle, which went like this: 'Born once: die twice. Born twice: die once.' Hell is averted and heaven opened to us when the Spirit gives us new life. Nothing could be better than that. But life with the Holy Spirit is also good because of the experiences he gives us in the present. Chief amongst them are those Paul refers to here.
We know ourselves to be children in God's family. As heirs of all God's in Christ, we have the hope of that royal, eternal inheritance, which completely transforms our whole outlook on life.
Instead of being foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved, envious, hateful and hated, we are given love, contentment, freedom, truth, direction, and wisdom. Those are gifts that we too often leave unwrapped, or that we neglect. But every believer has them. It is an amazing thing to have God's Spirit within you.
Let me tell you about a childhood experience of an Argentinian pastor. When he was growing up, 'siesta' time was mandatory. Everybody had to have a nap in the afternoon – children included. He was in the habit of waiting until all the adults were asleep, and then sneaking out of his room to join the other children running wild around the town. But his rather strict father discovered this, and made him sleep next to him so he could not get out unnoticed. He writes:
"After a while my father's breathing would become rhythmic, clearly signalling that he was in sleepland. However, the moment I saw him horizontal and with his eyes closed, I was driven to slowly and carefully crawl towards him. Once I was next to him, I would put my head on his chest and listen to his heartbeat. What I did not know at this time is that because both my mum and dad had lost one of their parents in childhood, I was controlled by a subconscious fear of losing one of them. Seeing my father with his eyes closed always triggered that fear. As I leaned my ear on his chest, his heartbeat reassured me emotionally. I even put lyrics to his heartbeat. 'I love you son. I won't die.' Over and over. Oh, how good it felt!"'I love you son, I won't die.' That boy's dad would die, of course, in the end. But Christ will never die again. The Holy Spirit is like the heartbeat of Christ right close up to the believer's ear – reassuring us: 'I love you son. I won't die.' How good it is to know that! Paul tells Titus to remind the Cretan believers that life with the Holy Spirit is good. How does he want the Cretans to respond? In a nutshell, this is what he says: Life is good, so be good, and do good. Verse 1:
Remind the people to… do whatever is good.Verse 8:
I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.And what is the greatest good we can do? Surely it is to lead others to this Saviour, and this saving experience of the Holy Spirit. We are bad. But God is good. By his Spirit he makes us new. So be good and do good.
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