“Ghost, Spirit, Person”

I shared a message based on A Conscious Dependence on the Holy Spirit, one of the Covenant Church‘s six affirmations, at Community Covenant Church this Sunday. Unfortunately, the audio was not recorded, but I do have the transcript for those interested:

Good morning, church! Today, we’re exploring what it means to have a conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit. For those of you keeping count, this is #5 in our ongoing series of worship services centered around the Evangelical Covenant Church’s six affirmations:

  • The centrality of the word of God.
  • We affirm the necessity of the new birth.
  • We affirm a commitment to the whole mission of the Church.
  • We affirm the Church as a fellowship of believers.
  • We affirm a conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit.
  • We affirm the reality of freedom in Christ.

I love the language the Covenant uses to describe how we as a church are to relate to the Holy Spirit. The phrase “Conscious Dependence” denotes a deliberate submission to the Spirit’s leading.

As Reverend Debbie Blue said in the video we just watched, “It’s a dependence where I submit my will to the will of Christ, whatever that might be.”

And the reason I like this choice of words is because it is so completely contrary to what our culture values. We’re always hearing about how independence is something for which we should strive. To be independent is to be strong, able, and self-sufficient. It makes us feel good if we’re able to accomplish something without anyone else’s help.

But, as we all know, God likes to take popular opinion and turn it on its head. In John 15:5 Jesus himself says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

Now, it’s one thing to look at the Covenant Church’s six affirmations as if it were a checklist and say, “Conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit. Depend on God. Got it.” And move on. The language of dependence is part of Christian vernacular – we use words like surrender or submission and we sing songs about “casting our crowns” before God without batting an eyelash. We even have a cute acronym: FROG (Fully Rely on God). But the problem with having this language of dependence permeating our Christian culture is that our declarations of abandonment are sometimes done without considering what we’re actually saying.

Furthermore, it’s hard to articulate our beliefs about the Holy Spirit, and it’s often difficult to comprehend what the Bible teaches us about it.

So, in preparation for today’s message, I’ve been reading through the Francis Chan book, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit. I’ve found this book very helpful in understanding some of the Bible’s basic teachings about the Holy Spirit. My goal this morning isn’t to give a rundown of how the Spirit works – if I were to attempt anything like that, I think I’d leave the pulpit this morning more confused about God than anyone in the room. Instead, I hope to point out a couple of truths relevant to our congregation.

In Forgotten God, the point Chan raised that stuck out to me the most is the fact that the Holy Spirit is a person. It’s easy for us to think of God the Father and God the Son as distinct personalities, but since we use language like “Ghost” or “Spirit” and we also refer to it as an “it,” we fail to recognize its personhood. It’s not some cosmic force from which we draw mystical power. Chan makes note of Jesus’ words in John 14:17 when he says, the Spirit “dwells in you and will be in you.” He asserts, “This calls us to relationship with the Spirit, instead of allowing us to think we can treat [it] as a power to be harnessed in order to accomplish our own purposes.” (p 70)

Personally, I think this is why many of us, including myself, are sometimes disappointed when our prayers aren’t answered the way we anticipated. Instead of submitting to the will of God, we are attempting to bend his will to our limited, ignorant, and often selfish desires that at best fail to acknowledge, and at worst, contradict the purposes of God in this world.

And so, as a congregation who is currently considering the question, “Who are we, and what has God called us to accomplish together?” it is imperative that we fully rely on the Spirit to answer that question. We need to be willing to check our personal agendas at the door. Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying – I’m not suggesting that the things for which we are passionate as individuals are somehow inferior or irrelevant in the context of the church. What I’m saying is that, as a body of believers, we need to pray collectively the words of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, hours before his crucifixion: “Not my will, but yours.”

Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.”

It’s important to know what Jesus meant when he used the phrase, “another Counselor.” In Forgotten God, Chan makes note that in this passage, “the Greek word another means another that is just like the first, as opposed to another that is of a different sort or kind. So Jesus was saying [to his disciples] that the One who would come would be just like Him!” (p 34)

Chan challenges his readers to consider the significance of having “another” Counselor who is just like Christ. He writes,

“Right now, imagine what it would be like to have Christ standing beside you in the flesh, functioning as your personal Counselor. Imagine the peace that would come from knowing you would always receive perfect truth and flawless direction from Him. That sounds amazing, and none of us could deny the benefit of having Jesus here physically, guiding and enabling us every step of the way. Yet why do we assume that this would be any better than the literal presence of the Holy Spirit?” (p 34)

The reality is that we do have immediate access to God’s perfect guidance through the Holy Spirit. And when we are attuned to the will of God through the leading of the his Spirit, we are able to accomplish things of eternal consequence.

Now’s the time when I get to brag on my students for a little bit. Because I think what is happening in our youth group right now is a perfect example of what happens when you submit to the will of God.

[I shared the backstory of Overtime, a high school outreach event that our youth group introduced this fall. I challenged my students to be willing to step out of their comfort zones and reach out, as Christ’s ambassadors, to their peers at school. They responded to my challenge – more than 100 kids accepted our students’ invitations!]

Now, I’m not a numbers guy, but as I expressed somewhat inarticulately at Bible Study last week, something different is happening in our youth group. We can’t quite put our fingers on what it is, but that’s ok; Jesus himself uses mysterious language when talking to Nicodemus in John 3:8: He says, “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.”

So, how has the youth group responded? Prayer. As a group, we are praying and seeking God’s will for next steps, keeping our eyes open for opportunities to be faithful. We have another Overtime coming up this Friday, and sure, I’d love to see another 100 kids walk through the doors of this church. But regardless of the numbers, regardless of whether we have a “successful” event, we want to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading. As Dr. Bramer stated in today’s video, “Prayer makes us aware of the Spirit’s ongoing work already.”

The first song we sang this morning was Hosanna by Hillsong United. The fourth stanza always sticks out to me the most:

I see a generation
Rising up to take their place
With selfless faith, with selfless faith
I see a near revival
Stirring as we pray and seek
We’re on our knees, we’re on our knees

Whenever I sing those words, I think of my students. My prayer for them is that they would follow Christ with abandon, seeking his will through prayer.

But shouldn’t that also be the MO for all of Community Covenant Church? We are a fellowship of believers – and regardless of our individual preferences, theological quirks, and human shortcomings, we are brought together by depending on the Holy Spirit to guide us as a congregation to do his will in our community and the world.

The Covenant Affirmations booklet states that,

The early Covenanters in Sweden were linked by a common awareness of the grace of God in their lives. They spoke of the Holy Spirit…directing them to a common devotion to God in Christ through the reading of the Bible and frequent meetings for the purpose of mutual encouragement and edification. They perceived the Holy Spirit leading them corporately to common mission and purpose.

The early Covenanters believed that each Christian needs to await the voice of God as revealed not only to the individual, but also through the witness of other believers. They believed the Holy Spirit is alive and active, working through preaching, the sacraments, the Scriptures, and in the witness of one another.

I’m going to re-read Ephesians 2:19-22. We often focus on our individual selves as “temples of the Holy Spirit,” as 1 Corinthians teaches us. But look at what Paul says about us as a community of believers:

“You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

Again, in the words of Paul in Philippians 2:1-2, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”

May we fervently seek God’s will for this congregation, showing grace to one another in the name of Christ, and moving forward in faith with a conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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