Setting Your Mind, pt 1: What the Spirit Does

Forgive me for posting this out of order.  This is actually the first half of the sermon I preached today.  I posted the second half yesterday, because I am so convinced it can be helpful to believers everywhere as they walk with Jesus.

When it comes to the Christian life, few aspects are more debated and less understood than the role of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit provokes extreme reactions.  Some churches can’t talk about anything else.  This frightens other churches, who respond by NEVER talking about the Spirit.  Or if they DO talk about the Spirit, all they talk about is how they’re not those churches that can’t talk about anything else.

Myself, I come from a church tradition that has a difficult time talking about the Spirit.  In some parts of my tradition–believe it or not–the most common teaching about him is that the Holy Spirit IS the Bible.  The message of scripture (they say) is itself the Holy Spirit.

(I’m not from that particular branch of my tradition.  And I don’t find that viewpoint particularly attractive or persuasive.)

A good summary of what the Bible says about the Spirit is that he is the presence of God that lives in God’s people to carry out God’s purposes.

The Holy Spirit appears several dozen times in the Old Testament.  He is referred to as “the Holy Spirit,” “the Spirit of God/the Lord”.  In the Old Testament, he comes upon people engaged in specific tasks, to help them complete these tasks the way God wants.

  • He helps the craftsmen who are building the Tabernacle build things the way God wants them to be built.
  • He comes upon rulers (e.g., Saul, David) to help them lead well.
  • He speaks through the prophets, so that they deliver the messages that God wants them to deliver.

In the New Testament, his presence is different.  In the Old Testament, his presence seems to be external and temporary; he comes upon people while they are doing the thing God wants them to do, and then he leaves.  But in the New Testament, he is a gift (Acts 2.38) that believers in Jesus Christ receive at conversion.  He indwells the Christian.  His presence is supposed to be permanent.

What does he do for the believer in the new covenant?  A basic list, not exhaustive:

  • He gives life at conversion (John 3.3-7).
  • He gives them freedom; he breaks the chains that bind them to their old habits and attitudes (Romans 8.11).
  • He gives them power to resist persecution (John 14), to stand up to pressure, to obey God even when it’s tough.
  • He gives believers gifts to serve the church: teaching, leading, serving, prophecy (1 Corinthians 12).

It’s important here to note that spiritual gifts are just one part of the Spirit’s portfolio.  They are not the only thing he does.  Important though they are, they are not his main role in the life of the Christian.

Romans 8 contains some of Paul’s most useful teaching about the Holy Spirit.  I say “useful” because here he is talking about the Spirit’s daily work in the life of the Christian. 

He teaches us at least four significant truths about the Spirit here:

1.Every Christian has the Holy Spirit.  We see this in 8.13: “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”

  1. But what about being “baptized in the Holy Spirit”?  Isn’t that a separate experience?
  2. But what about Christians who don’t feel, experience, or demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit?

2. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit, but he does not possess us against our will.  We will not experience him unless we yield to him, unless we submit to him.

  1. We CAN resist the Holy Spirit; this is what Paul means by “grieving” the Spirit (Eph 4.30).
  2. This could also be what “quenching” the Spirit (1 Thess 5.19) refers to, although this verse seems to refer to despising spiritual gifts rather than fighting the Spirit’s leading in day to day life.
  3. Why would we resist him?
    1. Because we don’t like giving up control.  They Spirit does unexpected things in unexpected ways, and sometimes they feel very out of control.
    2. Because it is not our nature to see things the way that the Spirit sees them.  As long as we are on this side of heaven, we will struggle with our flesh, with our sinful natures.  And the flesh hates the things of the Spirit (Romans 8.5-8).
  4. Again: the Spirit is God living within you, but he will not take possession of you against your will.  You will not experience him–at least not in any way you WANT to experience him–unless you submit to him.

3. If we yield to him, he gives us new life every day.  He is like the manna that the Israelites gathered in the wilderness; new every morning.

  1. We see this in promises like Romans 8.11: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.”
  2. He makes us new, day by day, bit by bit, inch by inch.
  3. The Christian life is not a one-time offering to God.  We can never say, “I have given myself completely to Jesus, now I can go about my business.”  Day by day, every day, we bring ourselves to him as a sacrifice (Romans 12.1).  And as we do, the Spirit makes us new.

4. If we yield to him, he enables us to crucify the old self.

  1. When the Bible talks about the Spirit giving freedom, breaking chains, etc., THIS is the main point.  The Spirit’s work is not about primarily about health or wealth or prosperity.  The Spirit’s work is about building God’s Kingdom in us and through us.
  2. And again, he does this by changing the way we think.
  3. Romans 8.5: set your minds on the things that the Spirit desires.
  4. Romans 8.13: “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
  5. Ephesians 4.22-23: “Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; … be made new in the attitude of your minds; and … put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
    1. Deceitful desires:
      1. Sometimes what we desire is wrong.
      2. Sometimes we desire something good, but we desire it in the wrong way or for the wrong reason.

So how do we crucify the deeds of the body?  How do we set our minds on the things of the Spirit?  How do we put off the old self, so that we can be made new?

The answer is the seven steps.

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