Running on empty
Lillian Guild and her husband were driving along one day when they happened to notice a nice-looking late-model luxury car with its hood up at the side of the road. A man they guessed was the driver appeared agitated outside the car.
So the Guilds pulled over to see if they could offer assistance. The stranded driver admitted with some embarrassment that when he left home that morning, he knew that he was low on gas, but he had been in a hurry to get to an important meeting so he hadn’t taken the time to fill up: that nice luxury care needed nothing more than a fresh tank of gas.
The Guilds happened to have a fuel can with them with about a gallon of gas in it, so they poured it into the empty luxury car, and told the driver directions to a gas station just a bit further down the road on the way to his meeting. He thanked them profusely and then sped off.
Not half an hour later, they spied the same car, hood up, stranded at the side of the road again. The same driver, even more agitated, was even more embarrassed when they pulled over again. You guessed it: he was in such a rush to get to that meeting that he decided to skip the gas station and press on willing that the little bit of fuel he was given would carry him all the way to his destination.
True story—and laughable until we realize that’s how many of us go about the Christian life—trying to be a Christian in our own power.
The only way to be a Christian
If Easter is all about the power that raised Jesus from the dead, the week after Easter is a great time to chew on how we need to draw on that same power today, as not an option but essential for following Jesus today.
Our walk with Jesus through the gospel of John brings us this week to Jesus promising the Holy Spirit. It is the night he would be betrayed. So we are backing up a bit from Easter to pick up where we left off two weeks ago. At the Last Supper, Jesus says to his disciples:
“Now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away.”
If you and I had been there, we would have been left scratching our heads at two things:
· What on earth did Jesus mean that he was going to the one who sent him?
· And how on earth could that be good?
From this side of Easter, we can make sense of what Jesus said—that when he won our forgiveness on the cross, rose and ascended back to heaven, then poured out from heaven the Holy Spirit, it was indeed good that he went away—because in his place we now have the Holy Spirit. So with John 16 prompting us, let’s explore the work of the Holy Spirit today.
What is the Holy Spirit up to today?
A tremendous amount of confusion and controversy exists about the Holy Spirit. When my mother attended church as a child, she heard prayers offered in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. As a child that was creepy, God as a ghost.
Even today, some speak of the Holy Spirit as “it,” as though the Holy Spirit is a force, in contrast to how the Bible consistently speaks of him, the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity.
A.W. Tozer noted that when the average Christian thinks about the Holy Spirit, “he is likely to imagine a nebulous substance like a wisp of invisible smoke which is said to be present in churches and to hover over good people when they die.”
· We find it easy to picture God the Father, because we have all seen fathers.
· It’s not difficult to picture God the Son, because in Jesus, we see what the Son of God is like.
· But when we try to picture the Holy Spirit, we often immediately go to symbols like dove and wind and filling and fire and power.
So what does the Holy Spirit do today? Building on work by Timothy Peck, let’s turn to God’s Word for three awesome roles the Holy Spirit plays today. If you want to take notes, here’s the first:
The Holy Spirit’s work today
1. The Holy Spirit is the believer’s Convincer.
Let me explain. Continuing in John chapter 16, Jesus tells his disciples…
“Very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor [paraclete] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.”
The Greek NT word for the Holy Spirit here is paraclete, which carries a range of meaning: Counselor, Advocate, Comforter, Helper, and more. In the entire NT, only John uses this word. He uses it four times in this gospel and once more in his first epistle. The NIV consistently translates it Advocate each time.
But paraclete doesn’t have only one exact equivalent in English. Paraclete comes from the Greek kalein, meaning to call, and para, meaning alongside. So literally it means “one who’s called alongside of another person to offer assistance.” Even that can convey a wonderful range of meaning.
Our daughter is going to take accelerated EMT training this summer: an EMT is an example of a paraclete, one who comes alongside another, in that case to offer medical assistance.
Outside the NT, paraclete was often used of one called to help in a court of law. For example, a person of high social standing who spoke on behalf of a defendant in court was functioning as a legal paraclete; a legal advocate.
A paraclete in Greek military practice was a fellow soldier who would fight back-to-back with you in battle—a military advocate.
In Jewish religious tradition paraclete was used to describe the role of angels, of prophets, and of the righteous as advocates before God’s court. The idea there is that of a “friend in high places,” so a spiritual advocate.
And paraclete in time also came to mean “one who consoles,” as in Comforter. All of that and more is conveyed in this title for the Holy Spirit: he is heaven’s Counselor.
In the role that Jesus highlights here, the Holy Spirit’s work today includes convincing. In Christian circles we’re comfortable talking about the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and that’s fine when talking with those who understand what we mean.
Another word we can use is that the Holy Spirit convinces. He is God at work persuading, turning the lights on both about the darkness of sin and about the glory that is found in Christ alone. In that good convincing work, the Holy Spirit does us good by bringing about a deep personal sense of conviction of our sin.
Someone has said it this way: the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable! That is, no one comes to faith in Jesus until you first feel your need for him; you see your sin more as God does, and you begin to feel your need for his forgiveness. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. He convinces us to run to the Savior.
There’s the true story of a man who was developing a hip problem. So every time he leaned on one side, he felt sharp, sharp pain. As long as he was walking appropriately, there was no problem and no pain. But turn the wrong way and “Wow” that pain was a teacher, a counselor, an advocate, warning and convincing him. He learned to be very careful about the way he walked. The pain was also a reminder: “Hey, remember. Don’t lean on that side.” The Holy Spirit is like that, Jesus says. “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” He convinces us how to walk through this life.
Here’s an example. Sy Garte is a biochemist who came out of a radical background, his parents even members of the American Communist Party. His indoctrination in the dogmas of communism and atheism was deep. [But eventually], Sy says, I began to contemplate what does it mean to be a human being? What is the source of our creativity—of art, poetry, music, and humor?
Then I read the Gospels and had a shock: I found them beautiful and inspiring. So far as I could tell, they carried the ring of truth…[and then Sy describes the work of the Holy Spirit convicting and convincing him of his need to respond to Jesus. He explains…] The door to my prison cell was swinging open, and I stood there gazing out onto a new world, the world of faith. Yet I was afraid to fully leave. And then the Holy Spirit pulled me over the threshold. From that day onward…I’ve learned about the power of the Bible as a guide from God to the central questions of our existence. Most importantly, I learned that nothing (has come) through my own merit, but only from the grace of our Lord, whose love and mercy are beyond understanding.”
· It was the Holy Spirit as Convincer who awakened Sy to those deep questions.
· The Holy Spirit as Convincer brought Sy conviction of his need for Jesus.
· Then The Holy Spirit as Convincer pulled Sy over the threshold to saving faith in Jesus.
· And the Holy Spirit as Convincer continues to lead Sy in his walk with Jesus.
A.W. Tozer boils down the convincing work of the Holy Spirit to one simple statement:
“The primary work of the Holy Spirit
is to restore the lost soul to intimate fellowship with God.”
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there comes the freedom of salvation. And to get there, the Holy Spirit convinces of guilt, of our desperate need for the Savior. He is the believer’s Convincer. Second, a second awesome role the Holy Spirit plays today is that…
2. The Holy Spirit is the believer’s Coach.
As the Convincer, the Holy Spirit shows us our need for Christ and convinces us to cry out to Christ. But what about after you’ve come to know Christ? Look with me at Galatians 5 and the image of keeping in step with the Holy Spirit like a trainer, a coach. Paul urges…
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want…Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:16-17, 25
The word translated “walk” in verse 16 is the Greek peripateo. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was known to be peripatetic, that is, he was a walker. His students were required to walk along beside him as he lectured while pacing from place to place.
The image that Paul gives us with the word peripateo is that following Jesus is active, it’s daily faith in action, walking out what the Holy Spirit is working in you.
This ‘walk’ is what drives the entire allegory Pilgrim’s Progress: it’s a vivid word picture that calling oneself a Christian isn’t the destination. It’s a lifelong journey from where you were, to the fullness of where God still wants to take you, the Holy Spirit coaching you, urging you on, calling you forward.
What coaches do in encouragement, correction, challenge, inspiration, attaboys—whatever it takes for athletes to live up to their potential, the Holy Spirit does the equivalent spiritually, urging you on in following Christ.
I love how Simone Clark’s story illustrates the Holy Spirit’s role as Coach. Simone is a 39-year-old woman who has epilepsy and suffers on average four epileptic seizures a day. And yet she determined to run the London Marathon. The year she set out to run it, there were more than 37,000 other people who ran and finished the entire race, all 26.2 miles.
The winner that year, Wilson Kipsang from Kenya, finished in just over two hours—blazing fast. Simone Clarke took more than three times as long, but her finish may be more impressive.
Her friend, Tally Hall, agreed to run the marathon alongside Simone and help if she had a seizure along the way. None of their training runs prepared them for what was to come.
On the beautiful spring morning of that London Marathon, Simone and Tally joined the tens of thousands at the starting point, and took off as the gun sounded. For the first seven miles, everything went well.
It was at mile eight that pain from an ongoing stomach problem triggered Simone’s first seizure. Tally caught Simone and got her safely to the ground. Simone was completely unconscious for 30 seconds before Tally could rouse her.
And then, remarkably, Simone woke, got up, and started running again.
Over the next 18 miles, Simone had 19 more seizures, each time collapsing and losing consciousness for 30 seconds or more. Each time, Tally caught her, eased her to the ground, and protected her until she regained consciousness. And each time, Tally helped Simone up, and they continued.
‘By the time we got to 15 miles,” Simone said afterward, “I was in tears because I was so annoyed we had lost the pace. But by that stage I had already had lots of (seizures), and I was still standing, so I thought, stuff it, I’m just going to finish it.”
Simone and Tally crossed the finish line in 6½ hours. But listen: no one would dare criticize her time. They praised her for not quitting. And her not quitting was in no small measure because of the friend beside her, Tally, who coached Simone through every step of that long, hard race.
Friend, it’s not always a breeze to do the right thing, to obey Jesus’ commands, to keep in step with the Spirit instead of going the way of the crowd. But you are not alone in this walk. Thank God, Jesus sent heaven’s Coach, the Holy Spirit, who is called alongside you, to help you persevere. Press on. Eyes on the prize. Because it won’t be long now.
No matter what you encounter along this incredible race, heaven’s Coach is alongside you, offering everything you need to get up again, dust yourself off, and take the next step.
The Holy Spirit is the believer’s Convincer. He is the believer’s Coach. And third, thank God…
3. The Holy Spirit is the believer’s Guarantee.
The whole message could be spent reveling in just this final awesome work of the Holy Spirit, but I’ll be brief. Ephesians chapter one starts on an incredible high note, soaring into the heavens with who the Holy Spirit is for the believer today. Paul writes…
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:13–14
The moment you trust in Christ, the image is that God marks you with a seal. Paul’s first-century readers instantly knew that image. Because in ancient times people used a seal in order to make things secure—that’s the point. New Testament scholar Gordon Fee writes: “A seal denoted ownership and authenticity; this thereby guaranteed the protection of the owner.”
When you became a Christian, God sealed you with the Holy Spirit. You became his, and he personally guarantees it.
It’s like the diploma you received when you graduated from high school or university. That diploma has an official seal on it that authenticates you as a genuine graduate. The Holy Spirit is God’s authentication of your salvation.
The Holy Spirit is also described as a deposit—a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance, Paul says. The Holy Spirit is the first installment if you will, the down payment, God’s promise to complete what he has started in your life. It’s another image conveying tremendous security! Quoting Gordon Fee again: “The Spirit himself is the down payment … in our lives that guarantees our certain future …. The gift of the Spirit is the first part of the redemption of the whole person.”
The indwelling of God’s Spirit is God’s pledge that no matter what happens, God will complete what he has begun in your life. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is the freedom of security.
Vivian Mabuni has a great testimony about the Holy Spirit’s work as Convincer, Coach, and Guarantee that God will continue his work in her. She says, I grew up in a culturally Buddhist Chinese American family. By “culturally Buddhist,” I mean that religion didn’t influence my day-to-day life.
During my sophomore year of high school, my friend Jean, underwent a notable change in disposition. Intrigued, I asked her the secret of her newfound glow. “Well, Viv, I became a Christian. I have a personal relationship with Jesus now. He died to forgive my sins, and now I’m born again and made new. The glow is from my new life in Christ.”
Disappointment filled me from head to toe. Jean was funny and smart. How could she get duped into becoming a weird Jesus freak? But she continued to transform before my eyes.
My heart felt restless. I started going to church. Over time, I grew captivated by the person of Jesus, who spoke words of radical hope. His invitation to enter a relationship with the God of heaven proved irresistible. The summer before my junior year of high school, I gave my heart and life to Jesus—or so I thought.
I knew Christians were supposed to read the Bible. But no matter how much I read, very little made sense. I also knew that Christians were supposed to pray, but whenever I tried, I would get distracted or fall asleep. Christianity wasn’t working for me, so I planned to casually toss it aside like just another teenage phase.
Then my life got turned upside down. My dad went through a midlife crisis and moved our family from Colorado to Hong Kong. Everything was different. Angry and confused, I unleashed my frustration and let God know exactly how I felt. But at the end of my tirade, I added a sincere prayer: “In my heart of hearts, I want to know you and do your will. I need a church and some Christian friends. And if you do that, I will give you my whole life. I’ll hold nothing back.”
Shortly thereafter, I got involved with the debate team at the school I attended. After one of the debates, a boy from a rival school approached me and invited me to a student Christian group. Finally, there I learned that the Christian life wasn’t just hard to live—it was impossible to live, at least by our own efforts. God supplied the power source. Reliance upon him and his Spirit enabled us to live as Christians.
For the first time in my life, I felt willing to give God total control. Once I made this commitment, Scripture came to life in a new way. And God’s Spirit began to lead, guide, comfort, and convict.
Over the years, I’ve often needed to recommit to God’s rule and reign. But each time I place my heart, life, plans, hopes, and dreams into God’s hands, I find that his faithfulness is unwavering.
There is so much more that we could explore about the Holy Spirit’s work, but these are three of his awesome works today, and Vivian’s story captures all three:
· The Holy Spirit is the believer’s Convincer, showing us our need for Christ and drawing us to faith.
· The Holy Spirit is the believer’s Coach, empowering us to keep in step with Christ, and renewing your strength when you’re running out of gas.
· And the Holy Spirit is the believer’s Guarantee, God’s personal promise that the good work he has begun in you, he will carry on to completion.
Let’s take a moment to pray, thanking God for the Holy Spirit and asking for his fullness. Let’s pray.
Spirit of the living God, have your way in us.
Convince us of the ways we still need to change.
Coach us in how to keep in step with you in following Jesus in the places we go throughout the week.
And assure us of heaven’s eternal guarantee to all who trust in Christ.
For your glory and our good we pray. Amen!
Receive this blessing from Romans chapter 15:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.