November 20, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#1—Wild and Free!
Introduction and offering:
ILL: One New Year’s Day many years ago, in the Tournament of Roses parade, a beautiful float suddenly sputtered and quit. It was out of gas. The whole parade was held up until someone could get a can of gas.
The funny thing was that this float represented the Standard Oil Company of California. With its vast oil resources, its float was out of gas. Reminds me of me sometimes—following Jesus and out of gas!
Do you ever feel like you’re out of gas? You just don’t have the power you need—the power to love, the power to forgive, the power to be good and do good? I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news: the Christian life is impossible! You can’t do it on your own power. You are just not good enough on your own! The good news: God provides the power. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence and power with us—and you never need to run out of gas again!
For the next few weeks, I want to talk with you about the Holy Spirit. Here’s my goal: I want to inspire you to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to expect God to empower you and work in and through you! I hope that each of these talks will leave you hungry for more: more of God’s Spirit, more of His power and love.
There’s more! There’s more to God than what you know and have experienced so far. I can say that confidently no matter where you are spiritually. You might be a brand new Christian—there’s more…lots more! Or you might be a seasoned veteran, a high mileage unit—there’s more…lots more! God is infinite and eternal, so there’s always more of Him to be experienced.
ILL: Each summer, our family vacations at the Oregon Coast. We take the grandkids to one end of the beach where there are some small tide pools with starfish and anemones. Here’s a picture from a few years ago of Jenna exploring a small tide pool.
Sometimes we are like children in a tide pool thinking that it’s the whole ocean. We think that what we’re experiencing or have experienced is the whole enchilada. It’s not. There’s more!
Turn to your neighbor and say, “There’s more!”
There’s more! We’re going to talk about the baptism and fullness of the Holy Spirit; we’re going to talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I’m going to explain the different theological positions held by Christians—not everyone agrees on this subject. In fact, good Christians, godly Christians see it very differently. But of course, I will give you the correct view! Well, I will give you my view, but I hold it very humbly—that is, I know that there’s more, and I still have things to learn, so I have to be open to change. In fact, when it comes to our theology of the Holy Spirit, I think the correct posture for every Christian is simply to want more! There’s more! Here’s the big idea for today:
The Big Idea: Jesus compared the Holy Spirit to living water, wind and fire. We will never be able to contain Him. He is bigger than our theologies!
I’m going to start this series by telling you my story with the Holy Spirit.
- My story.
The story starts when I was 13, and a friend, Don Lang, invited me to a youth rally at his church. I didn’t want to go—I thought that church was boring and that Christianity was a lot of rules intended to ruin my fun. But I didn’t want to disappoint my friend, so I said yes, and I went. And I was ambushed by Jesus! The speaker, Sam Owen, talked about Jesus like He knew him. Sam was authentic, and funny, and winsome. That night, I walked home and prayed my first prayer: “God, I don’t know anything about you. All I know is that I want what that guy has. So here’s my life.”
I woke up the next morning and thought, “Now what?” Well, I knew that Christians went to church on Sunday, so I got up and hiked back down to that church: the Sweet Home Christian Church. I went to the junior high Sunday School class where we sang “If I had a hammer” and “Michael row your boat ashore.” For the next four years, this church nurtured my faith and grounded me in Scripture. I am forever indebted to them.
My senior year in high school, I was exchanging letters with a pastor’s daughter from another church in our denomination. Midway through that year, her letters changed. She started saying things like, “Hallelujah!” and “Praise the Lord.” These were things we didn’t say in our church. She told me that had been filled with the Holy Spirit and spoken in tongues. I had been warned about this. My youth pastor told me it was just emotionalism. He told me that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were only for Bible times, that they ended with the apostles. (This is called cessationism—the gifts have ceased—more about that in our next message.) He compared this experience to going to a football game and getting excited when your team scored. He said these Pentecostal Christians went to church and just came unhinged a bit—got a little crazy—but it wasn’t real and it wasn’t from God. The problem was, I knew that my friend was not crazy. She was smart and grounded in Scripture. And she challenged me to simply check it out in the Bible.
So I did. I got out my Young’s Analytical Concordance, which lists every use of every word in the Bible. I looked up every verse in the New Testament about the Holy Spirit—I think there were 262 of them! I wrote out each reference and what it said. I looked them all over carefully, organized and studied them, and decided that my friend was right: the Holy Spirit was still filling people, empowering people and gifting people today.
I shared my findings with my youth group one Sunday evening. It didn’t go well. One of them suggested that if I believed that, I should go to the Assembly of God church, which was kitty-corner to our church—just across the street. So I did. I walked out of the church I had called home for four years, and walked across the street into the Assembly’s Sunday evening service. The pastor’s son there was one of my best friends. He had always teased me about our church’s teaching on the Holy Spirit. He loved to tell me, “Well, at least you have one thing going for you: the Bible says that at Jesus’ return, the dead in Christ will rise first!” Dwight welcomed me and I sat with him during worship. It didn’t take long before everyone was speaking in tongues—out loud, all together. It freaked me out—and I hurried back across the street to the safety of the Christian Church. That was my first exposure to speaking in tongues.
For the next few months, I stayed in the Christian Church, but I also slipped into the Assembly of God occasionally. Even though what happened there made me uncomfortable, I was convinced from Scripture that the Holy Spirit was still working miracles and giving gifts.
The night I graduated from high school, I got on a bus with about 35 other college age students, and headed for California. We were The New Dimensions, a singing group comprised almost entirely of Assembly of God students…and me and a couple others. We toured the United States that summer—I’ve got stories. We stayed in host homes, and most nights I got on my knees by my bed wherever I was staying and asked Jesus to fill me with the Holy Spirit. Nothing seemed to happen.
In late July, we were in Minneapolis doing a 2-day crusade in Souls Harbor Church. The guest speaker was Nicky Cruz, a former New York City gang leader who had come to Jesus under the ministry of Dave Wilkerson and Teen Challenge. Dave Wilkerson’s best selling book The Cross and the Switchblade tells the story of the birth of Teen Challenge and Nicky’s dramatic conversion. And Nicky told his story in his own best-selling book, Run, Baby, Run, which had come out just the year before. So Nicky was kind of a big deal. He was preaching, we were doing the music. At the end of the service, he invited people to come up to be prayed for. I asked him to pray for me to be filled with the Spirit. He looked at me for a moment and then said, “Tomorrow. Come back and I’ll pray for you tomorrow.” I was a little put off. Really?
That night I prayed as I often did and asked Jesus to fill me with the Spirit. Nothing happened…but then the Lord spoke to me. “You’re afraid of me,” he said. I thought about it. He was right. Do you know what I was afraid of? I was afraid of what my youth pastor told me. I was afraid that if I was filled with the Spirit, I might be sitting in a math class at the UO, and suddenly burst out in tongues! I was afraid of coming unhinged! Then the Lord reminded me of these verses.
Luke 11:11–13 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The Lord showed me that I had nothing to fear, that He would not give me a bad gift. He wouldn’t give me something that would make me unhinged! He only gives good gifts. I went to sleep peacefully, looking forward to tomorrow.
After the service the next morning (it was Sunday), I asked Nicky to pray for me again. He did for just a moment before moving on to others. I waited quietly before the Lord—and then came unhinged! No, I just began to quietly speak in tongues. It was not at all what I expected. It was quiet, subdued, controlled—but I was filled with a deep sense of God’s presence and peace. Afterwards I went to a park across the street and shared Jesus with people, which is what Jesus predicted.
Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
We finished our summer tour, and I have to tell you that I saw God do remarkable things. I also saw some pretty goofy stuff that was blamed on God. And I had to start sorting it all out based on what the Bible said.
At summer’s end, I headed to Bible college, Northwest Christian College—which was cessationist, and I was now a Pentecostal. I had started the summer as the minority on the New Dimensions, one of only 3 or 4 who weren’t Pentecostal; now I was starting college as the minority again, one of only half a dozen Pentecostal students at my school. This was the fall of 1969, and the Jesus People movement was just getting steam on the West Coast. By the time I graduated four years later, half our student body was Pentecostal or charismatic—at a cessationist school! It was wild—I have lots of stories. In that time, I saw the Lord do some amazing things; I also saw some goofy stuff. I was still working hard to sort it all out Biblically.
My senior year, I had to write a final paper in my New Testament Theology class. By now, I’d had four years of wrestling with the Bible, my professors, and fellow students over this issue. So I wrote my senior theology paper on the baptism and fullness of the Holy Spirit. My views were shaped first by Scripture, then by my experiences with the Spirit, and by my relationships with people on all sides of this issue. What I’m about to share with you is essentially what I wrote in that paper, although it’s continued to be refined through the years. So I’m a theological mutt, a mashup of various theological traditions and experiences. Just so you know…
That’s my story; here’s the big idea.
- Wild and free: the untamable Holy Spirit.
Who is the Holy Spirit? Jesus created a problem for the first Christians. They were all Jews, strict monotheists: they believed in one God. Because of all He did and said, and His resurrection, they came to believe that Jesus was God in the flesh. But here’s the problem: Jesus talked about and prayed to His Father, who was God; Jesus also talked about the Holy Spirit, who was clearly God. Father, Son and Spirit—all God. So, were there three Gods? Or one God called by three names? Or one God in three persons?
For the first three centuries, Christians wrestled with this. They studied the Scripture, they debated, they prayed, and the conclusion they arrived at, the conclusion that best explained the evidence was what we call the Trinity: one God in three persons. God is a community; God is a relationship: God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, the third person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Jesus, emphasizing their unity.
From the very beginning of His ministry, John the Baptist promised that Jesus would send the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 3:11 I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
This is a promise: Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire. Notice the Spirit is associated with fire. What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit? We are going to talk about that in two weeks—it’s very exciting! This promise—the promise that we would be baptized in the Holy Spirit—was so important, so huge that Peter simply called it, “The Promise.”
The story is in Acts 2; on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the first believers.
Acts 2:1–4 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Notice what was associated with the Spirit’s coming: wind, fire, and language. People heard the sound of all this and a crowd quickly gathered. Peter stood and proclaimed the story of Jesus. In his sermon, he explained:
Acts 2:33 Exalted to the right hand of God, Jesus has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
There it is again: Father, Son and Spirit. Jesus received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit. Peter told them that what they were seeing and hearing was the promised Holy Spirit being poured out. These Jews would have been familiar with Old Testament prophecies, like the one Peter quoted from Joel, that promised a day when God would pour out His Spirit on everyone: male and female, young and old. The Promise had come. The people asked, “What should we do?”
Acts 2:38–40 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
“What should we do?” they cried. Peter answered: repent and be baptized—that’s what you do. And God will do two things: forgive your sins and give you the gift of the Holy Spirit. Repent—turn from your sins to God—and be baptized—that’s what you do. And you will receive from God full forgiveness of your sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. “The promise is for you,” Peter said. What promise? The promised Holy Spirit. This is The Promise—the promise that contains all others. The Holy Spirit brings salvation, new life, joy, forgiveness—it’s all wrapped up in Him. The Holy Spirit isn’t some divine extra that you can take or leave—you can’t be a Christian without Him. He is The Promise! The Promised Holy Spirit is God’s presence, God’s power living in you.
Three more Scriptures:
Matthew 3:16–17 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Here is another of those moments that made the early Christians Trinitarians. Jesus is baptized, the Spirit descends like a dove upon Him, and the Father speaks from heaven. Father, Son and Spirit. Notice how the Spirit is portrayed: as a dove descending and landing on Jesus.
So far we have fire, wind, and a dove. Next let’s look at John 3, where Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus.
John 3:3–8 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 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.”
Jesus teaches the necessity of being born again—not a physical rebirth, but a spiritual rebirth. We must be born of the Spirit. Then He uses a metaphor—what is it? Wind. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear the sound of the wind (remind you of anything), but you can’t tell where it comes from or is going.” The Spirit is like the wind, fire, a dove.
Next passage: Jesus speaks at the temple in Jerusalem during one of the great Jewish feasts, the Festival of Tabernacles. One of the ceremonies that week took place at the great altar. A priest would fill a pitcher of water and pour it out at the base of the altar while the people recited Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” It was an elaborate ceremony that combined thanksgiving for water and a prayer for rain, and commemorated water coming from the rock in the wilderness to satisfy Israel’s thirst. Against that backdrop:
John 7:37–39 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Are you thirsty? Keep coming to Jesus and keep drinking. Rivers of living water will flow from you. What was Jesus talking about? John tells us: “by this He meant the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit will be a river of living water flowing out of you. Living water was running water. A river is living water; a stream is living water; a puddle isn’t. Jesus promised us rivers, not puddles! The Holy Spirit is a river of living water flowing from within us!
The Holy Spirit is represented by living (or running) water, blowing wind, burning fire, and a descending dove. What do these have in common? They are all wild and free. I don’t mean wild as in crazy; I mean wild as in not tamed, not domesticated, not controlled or contained by us. I think Jesus chose these metaphors carefully so that we would remember that the Holy Spirit is God. He is untamable. He is wild and free.
If you contain a fire, it goes out. Sometimes our theologies have tried to contain the Holy Spirit—answer every question, solve every riddle. Usually when we do that, our fire goes out, but a new fire breaks out in someone else.
If the wind is blowing through your house, and you shut all the doors and windows, the wind is still blowing, but not on you any more. Sometimes our theologies seem to close the doors and windows. The wind is still blowing, just not on us anymore.
If you go to a stream and scoop up some water in your Hydroflask, you have water, but it’s not living water, running water any more. Sometimes our theologies seem to try to bottle the Holy Spirit and we end up with something less than living water.
If you try to catch a dove, it will just fly away. Sometimes our theologies have seemed to make the Holy Spirit a commodity we can control and predict. When we do that, He seems to fly away and land on someone else.
We must try to understand Him, but we must also remember that He is always bigger than our understanding. I’m not arguing for an “anything goes theology” of the Spirit. We are bound by Scripture, so anything contrary to Scripture must be rejected; and we know that He is the Spirit of Jesus, so anything unlike Jesus is not the Spirit. We must have a Biblical theology of the Holy Spirit, but we must also remember that He is much bigger than our theology. If we don’t, we’ll be children playing in a tide pool and thinking it’s the ocean. There’s more.
In the next couple weeks, I’m going to introduce you to the major theological positions on the Holy Spirit. I think that they are all right…and all too small, all incomplete.
ILL: They are like the blind men feeling an elephant and describing it. One felt the tusk and said an elephant is like a spear. One felt the trunk and said an elephant is like a snake. Another felt a leg and said an elephant is like a tree. Another felt its side and said that an elephant is like a wall. Another felt it’s tail and said an elephant is like a rope. And another felt its ear and said an elephant is like a fan. They were all right…and all incomplete. There’s more. There’s more to the elephant than what any one of them or even what all of them together experienced.
It seems to me that every major theological position on the Holy Spirit is missing something—ignoring some Scripture, missing some experience or perspective. They’ve each latched on to something true, and missed other things. As soon as you think you have it figured out, every question answered, every mystery solved, I think you’re in trouble. And that goes for me too!
We are going to look at what the Bible says about the baptism in the Holy Spirit. You may conclude that you have been baptized with the Spirit—good, but there’s more. Or you may conclude that you haven’t—there’s obviously more for you too.
We are going to look at what the Bible says about being filled with the Spirit. You may conclude that you are filled with the Spirit—good, but there’s more. Or you may conclude that you aren’t—and obviously there’s more for you too.
We are going to look at what the Bible says about the gifts of the Spirit. You may conclude that you have this gift or that—good, but there’s more. Or you may conclude that you don’t have this gift or that—and obviously there’s more for you too!
There’s more! For every one of us, there’s more! So many Christians have reduced the Christian life to a daily struggle to manage their sin. But the gospel isn’t about you trying to manage your sin; it’s about you enjoying the very life of God! Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and life to the full.” Jesus wants to fill you with the Holy Spirit, the life of God, and then wants you to live that life to the full! Jesus didn’t die to make you more religious; He died to make you more alive! There’s more!
I think that the proper posture for every Christian is to simply want more. Always. There’s more. There’s more to God than what you’ve experienced. There’s more of His power, His love, His wisdom, His peace, His joy, more of His life! There’s more of Him! I want more! And I hope you do too!