“The Work of the Spirit Today”Categories: Sermons
Having considered the work of the Father and the Son on previous Sunday mornings, it’s now time for us to turn our attention to the work that the Holy Spirit continues to do today. Of these three subjects, this is the one that is by far the most controversial.
Many of us know people with charismatic or Pentecostal convictions. They believe that not only is the Spirit still at work today, but that part of His work is still the bestowing of miraculous spiritual gifts. On the other end of the spectrum, there are many brethren who believe that today, the Spirit works only through the word.
These are two extreme, indeed irreconcilable, positions. However, our concern is not with the doctrine promoted by anyone, but with what the Scriptures truly teach. With this in mind, let’s see what the Bible says about how the Spirit works today.
First, we learn that the Spirit GUIDES us. Look here at John 16:13. Sometimes, you’ll hear people talk about being guided by the Spirit to make various life decisions. The Spirit guided them to take a particular job, or marry a particular person, or so on.
However, if we look closely at this passage, we will see that that’s not what it is teaching. This text isn’t about the Spirit guiding us to good life decisions. Instead, He is guiding us into all truth. Similarly, He isn’t giving us feelings or nudges. He is speaking and declaring. When we put these things together, we see that this is a passage about prophetic revelation. In the first century, Christians received the Spirit’s guidance through the spoken word of prophets. Today, we receive it through the word they wrote down.
From this, we must conclude that the word, as produced by the Holy Spirit, is the only reliable guide to divine truth. Sure, people might have these promptings or feelings, but when we experience those things, we always have to evaluate them according to the Scriptures. Only the Scriptures have been confirmed as genuine revelation.
If, on the other hand, we start valuing those experiences as much or more than we value the Scriptures, we are going to get into all sorts of trouble. I know a brother in the Chicago area whose wife left him because she said she felt guided by the Spirit to have an affair with the pastor of her church. When we easily accept the validity of unconfirmed revelations, we give an opportunity to the devil.
Second, the Spirit GUARANTEES our heavenly dwelling. Consider 2 Corinthians 5:4-5. Once again, in order to understand the passage here, we have to focus on the words that Paul is using. He says that the Spirit is given as a guarantee. Other translations will describe the Spirit here as a deposit or a down payment. Incidentally, the Greek word arrabon, which is translated in so many ways here, is used in modern Greek to describe an engagement ring.
What all of these things have in common is the idea of certainty, particularly when it comes to deposits, down payments, and engagement rings. You put down a deposit on an apartment when you rent it so that the landlord knows that you won’t trash the place and leave him stuck with the bill. You spend thousands of dollars on an engagement ring so that your fiancée knows that yes, you’re serious about marrying her.
Once again, then, the operation of the Spirit here can’t be about a conviction or a feeling. It has to be something that is tangible and certain, something that is proof. In the first century, that proof came through the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. When Peter raised the dead, that proved that the promises he made came from God. Today, the guarantee of our hope is found in the written word. In the inspired record of God’s revelation, we have the evidence we need to conclude that it truly came from God.
Third, the Spirit CONVICTS. Let’s examine both this statement and its implications in John 16:7-11. This is another place where working our way carefully through the text will help bring its true meaning to light. First, notice that the convicting work of the Spirit is directed at the world. The Greek word used here isn’t about filling somebody with conviction. It’s about exposing and rebuking wrongdoing.
There are three areas in which the Spirit convicts: sin, righteousness, and judgment. Jesus says that the Spirit convicts the world of sin because they don’t believe in Him. In other words, they have all the evidence they need to accept Him as the Christ, but because they willfully choose to reject that evidence, they do wrong. He convicts the world of righteousness because in the absence of Jesus, the word of the Spirit is the new standard of righteousness, which the world doesn’t meet. Finally, He convicts the world of judgment because Satan has been judged, and if even the devil can’t protect himself from judgment, how will all the servants of the devil fare?
All of this should remind us that the gospel doesn’t only affect those who are willing to hear it and be saved. For those who turn to the Lord, the Scriptures are a message of life, but for those who reject Him, they hold a message of death. We must be willing to sow the word even on hearts we think are hard because that’s part of the purpose of God too.
Finally, the Spirit INTERCEDES. Let’s turn to Romans 8:26-27. I have to admit that this is a passage that brings a smile to my face. I can’t read it without thinking of my father because he and I argued about it for 20 years. He believed that this passage wasn’t about the Holy Spirit at all, rather being about our own spirits. I still have great respect for my father as a Bible student, and I agree that every time the translators use a capital S isn’t necessarily talking about the Holy Spirit, but I think he was wrong on this one.
Let me explain why. Romans 8:26 is the conclusion of a series: three things that are groaning for God to answer them. The first is the creation, which in 8:22 is groaning to be set free from corruption. The second is we ourselves, who are groaning in 8:23 for our adoption. The third is the Spirit, which is groaning in 8:26.
The problem with saying that the “spirit” in 8:26 is our spirits is that we already have appeared in Paul’s list. He’s already talked about our groaning four verses earlier. In 8:26, then, Paul isn’t repeating himself. He’s moving to a new topic: the groaning of the Holy Spirit.
This is significant because this is the only passage I’m aware of in which the Spirit is clearly working outside the word right now. He is helping us in the times when we don’t know what to say in our prayers, so that our meaning gets through to God. The Spirit certainly communicates God’s will to us, but there are times when He communicates our will to God too.