So, we baptised two of my friends this morning- it was awesome, and a huge privilege to not only be there with them, but also to baptise them and pray with them. We were also looking at Acts 11, verses 1-18, where Peter gets back to Jerusalem and is hauled in front of a review committee after he not only shared the gospel with gentiles (what!?!) but also baptised them (aaarh, does this man have no idea!)…
I wanted to speak about the Holy Spirit, and here’s what I had written down. It bears barely any resemblance to what I said…
The work of the Holy Spirit in us… Baptism… coming to faith, being born again, becoming a Christian, getting on the train, make a commitment, following Jesus, owning it… the ways of describing the transition from before to after are as many as there are churches, but they all add up to the same thing… at one time we were all lost, and now we are found. Once I lived in darkness, and having become firstly aware of the light, I now choose to follow the path where I am guided by the light- Jesus the Son of God. But those phrases all share one idea in common- that of movement or change. For some of us this change is slow- 9yrs may be nothing! And there will be periods of faster and slower movement- times when we’re finding out things about our faith, and other times when we’re just managing to avoid losing our faith, or feel so caught up in the pressures of life that we don’t have time to do any more than hold position, but that forward movement, that effort, is important.
There are also times of breakthrough, when it feels as though we’re flying. If you’ve spent much time sailing or on boats you may know that experience when the boat rises onto the plane… suddenly it requires less effort to go just as fast, and all you have to do is hang on… but the ride is thrilling.
Peter was hanging on, following the lead of the Holy Spirit, and he’d ended up in the house of a gentile soldier… where, following what felt to him like a clear leading from God, he’d shared the gospel as he understood it, with his new understanding that it was for everyone. The thing is- it wasn’t a new understanding, it was just something that had been overlooked. Abraham (father of many) was to bring God’s blessing on all people… but somewhere that had been lost. The gift of love had become a set of rules.
So what does the Holy Spirit do… really. The first thing that the Holy Spirit does, before we’re aware of it, is convict us- convict us of the existence of God, and of the gap between us and God. At times this may be a conviction of sin- something in our lives that needs to be addressed, sometimes this may be a conviction of God’s love for us, or a conviction of God’s reality, God’s power… but it’s a certainty… an intuition that needs to be listened to. When Peter arrived in Ceasarea, this had already happened. When anyone comes to faith, its because this has happened… without this first activity of God, we’re going nowhere.
Second, when someone comes to faith, the Holy Spirit enters them- they’re sealed, marked if you like… God’s family, a child of God, part of the kingdom. Sometimes its almost possible to see this in someone- its like someone glows with an inner light…
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit causes fruit to grow in us- as we’re filled and the Holy Spirit overflows, so our actions become more like those of Jesus- we have patience beyond our normal ability, we develop self-control, compassion, kindness etc
Fourthly- the Holy Spirit gives us gifts. These are to be used- with care, yes, but they’re to be used. By using them, they grow and develop. And if they’re not, just like any skill or ability or muscle, they diminish over time. What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit? In prayer, in mission, in serving God… wisdom, discernment, healing, praying in different languages, prophecy. These are the more immediate- sometimes unsettling things that the Holy Spirit does in the lives of Christians. This is what Peter observed, and as a result he changed his understanding. The Holy Spirit wasn’t just at work in the hearts of Cornelius and his family… Peter was changed just as much as they were.
In all these things, the Holy Spirit is at work, along with each of us, to bring us to our full potential as the people that God has made us to be, and to transform us to be more like Jesus. In doing so, we don’t stop being us- we become the best us that we could.
If we’re at that point of considering the Christian faith- there is nothing to lose by asking.
If we’ve been a Christian for some time but never felt comfortable asking for God to fill us more with his Spirit- there is nothing to lose by asking.
If we’ve been asking for a particular gift of fruit but don’t feel that God has answered our prayer- there is nothing to lose by asking.
But if we don’t respond, don’t open ourselves, don’t ask… we lose out.
I guess I’m hoping that as individuals and as churches, we’ll be willing to ask a bit more of God: to have higher expectations of God combined with a greater humility before God. I’m aware that’s slightly scary ground, the unknown place of trust, but I’m willing to risk going there, especially if my friends will come with me!