June 9, 1996
My chosen purpose this morning is to challenge believers to open yourselves up to the fullness of the Spirit. The promise and privileges of this message are for those who are "in Christ."
This is a very good first step by the way, to be in Christ. To be in Christ, to be a believer, a follower of Jesus, to be forgiven, and on your way to Heaven is very good. But if this is the only step you've taken, the road to Heaven is much bumpier, dangerous, and exhausting than it needs to be.
The question this morning is- you may be "in Christ" but is Christ in you? Is the spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, in you? Is He filling you as motivator to live like Jesus, as an enabler to live like Jesus, as the one who transforms you to be like Jesus?
Toward the conclusion of Colossians, Chapter 1, Paul says, "The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages...is now disclosed." It is, "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (26, 27). To be in Christ is essential, to have Christ in you is even better. Someone said it is like a sponge that has been bound up tight and weighed down, then thrown into a bucket of water. The sponge is in the water, surrounded by the water, in every direction it looks there is water, but not until the bounds are removed and it opens up will the water be in the sponge.
Likewise, perhaps, some of you may be "in Christ," but is Christ or the Spirit of God totally in you?
Before we go any farther, it would be helpful to ask: What is the main distinguishing mark of a spirit-filled Christian? Is there a telltale sign or mark of authentication for this spirit-filled person? It is not quite as easy as looking for the label on a pair of jeans.
Several answers have been offered by a variety of people. John Stott goes through this exercise or survey of essentials of Christianity. It is a powerful model: Some say the distinguishing mark is correct doctrinal beliefs. This is a supportable answer because we all know sound doctrine is vital to the health of Christians and congregations. And the Bible tells us to "contend for the faith" (faith = content of what is believed). It encourages us to struggle all-out to keep the faith pure. Yet the Bible also says, "If I can ...fathom all mysteries and all knowledge...but have not love, I am nothing." So at least in this area, love is greater than knowledge.
Others have insisted that the telltale sign of Spirit filled Christianity is great faith. Certainly confidence in Jesus is essential. Without it, no one can call themselves a Christian. But the Bible also says, "If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love I am nothing." So here again, love comes out as greater than faith.
Another group emphasizes the importance of religious experiences as the distinguishing mark. Sometimes one kind of rather vivid experience is prescribed as the sign. This group too, has much Biblical support. The Bible has enough to say about the witness of the Spirit of God with our spirits, that none dare ignore the importance of subjective emotional encounters with God. The internal witness of the Spirit of God is and should be a real thing. Nevertheless, the Bible also says, "If I can speak in the tongues of men and angels...If I have the gift of prophecy (involved a momentary direct communion with God), but have not love, I am nothing. It is clear that love is even more essential than an emotional or otherwise subjective experience.
Another group would put emphsasis on acts of compassion. They, too, have a lot of Biblical material to support their claims. Jesus said a gift of water, or food, or shelter given to the poor, is like a gift given to Him. Even so, the Bible says, "If I give all I possess to the poor...but have not love, I gain nothing." Love is greater than sacrificial service.
All of these elements are basic, essential to Christianity: knowledge, confidence in God, inner awareness of His acceptance, a lifestyle of service, but in each case when a comparison is made directly, love comes out as greater.
We've been quoting I Corinthians 13 as many of you recognized, but Jesus also gives us reason to believe that love is the hallmark of the "real Christian life." In John 13:34 He said, "A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." He then went on to indicate this was the hallmark by saying, "All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another."
Jesus has just given our neighbors a legitimate way of grading how authentic our Christianity is. Do we love each other? They don't need to know: how much we know, or how great our faith is, or how exciting our spiritual ecstasies are, or how much we sacrifice for the poor in order to decide if we're real or not. They just need to know if we love each other or not. The great commandment is NOT fathom the mysteries; trust God for the impossible; enjoy spiritual ecstasies; or serve the poor. It is love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
The Lord willing, this summer we will study together a brief passage that not only emphasizes the importance of love, but shows us how to get this love inside us.
Do you like to come in on Sunday mornings knowing you're going to hear a message on how you don't love enough, or you're not patient enough, or you don't have enough self control? Most don't like it. We know this kind of stuff - what we want to know is how to be better.
Read Galatians 5:13-26.
Verses 22 and 23 offer a powerfully attractive vision of the spirit-filled life. But nothing is more frustrating than a beautiful vision without the ability to live it. It is like finding yourself so in love with one person, that you'll never ever be content to love anyone else, but that person is so far removed from you, they'll never know you even exist. That kind of vision can crush you.
Let me ask: Do you find it difficult to love (your enemies)? Do you find yourself aching for an experience of pure joy? Would you like to move beyond the image of God as a celestial prison warden?
The vision of the fruit of the spirit produced in your life says this is all possible. The question you must answer is, do you think Jesus can transplant His life, His character into your life? This vision says - yes! That can happen! In fact, that is what has to happen for this vision to be fulfilled!
In this passage the scripture writer reminds Christians who are in Christ, but whom the spirit of God has not gotten into completely, that there is an agonizing conflict going on with the spirit and the old sin nature. Before the outpouring of Jesus' spirit (the Holy Spirit) the main weapon a person of faith had to fight the sin nature was knowledge- knowledge of the God-given ethical code. When the Holy spirit entered the world, this impersonal ethical code was released of its responsibility for producing holy people. A much more powerful and personal force took over the job. Swimming lessons were replaced by a lifeguard to the rescue!
What happened in Galatia was that some believers began to emphasize the truth that "the law was no longer king," but they didn't mention the second half of the truth - that the spirit replaced the law. They began to preach freedom from the law, which is good, but they used that freedom to violate the law.
In response to this heresy, another group in Galatia tried to remedy the situation by re-installing the law as king. The written code had stood in the way of a lot of evil self-indulgence in the past. Now they were ready to bring it back, to fend off the increasing wickedness.
The scripture writer says, both groups are wrong. Freedom is not to be used for self-indulgence, but the commandments are not the most effective restraining power. Instead of the law, this new personal force, the spirit of Jesus, the Holy spirit, living in every corner and cupboard and closet of a person's heart will provide the power to live like Jesus. The old legal code could inform, but a believer cooperating with the Holy Spirit can be transformed. It is good to be informed! Better to be transformed!
And the transformation looks like the vision in verses 22 and 23. And the sequence of the list is important. The very first mark of Jesus' transplanted character is love.
When the New testament speaks of love, the vast majority of the time it is referring to a special kind of love. It is a type our world isn't very familiar with. This is why when Jesus commands His followers to "love your enemies" the unbeliever is not only turned off with the idea, he also is puzzled as to how it could happen. To the world, love is one of a few kinds of feelings. One kind is the romantic feeling. Most people don't chose who they're going to have romantic feelings toward (until after they're married). In fact, they say they fall into these feelings like they were walking down the side walk and a grate just opened up and caught them off guard.
Another kind of feeling is the kind you have toward a close friend. After getting aquainted and developing
bonds and going through a few rough times together, a friendship develops. It is a kind of love. Another kind of feeling is what a mother feels for her child or the child for its mother. Family love is different than romantic and friendship love, but it is still called love.
New Testament love is different altogether. It is not primarily defined by a feeling, although the feeling of affection can be a part of it, and normally will be, given time. The New Testament says, "God is Love." Think of the prodigal's father for a second: why did he love the wayward son? Because the son had made his father proud? Because the son offered such a fine speech of repentance? Because the son had gotten his religious act together? He did not deserve his father's love; he hadn't done anything to earn it. It was an affection in the heart of the father going out to the son regardless.
This is the kind of love we have all experienced from God through Jesus. It is this kind of love - starting as a decision, growing into actions, and perhaps later blooming into affection- that a person with Jesus' transplanted character will display. When Jesus gets inside us, this kind of thing will start coming out of us!
C.S. Lewis said, "good things as well as bad are caught by a kind of infection" (in other words, they're transferred by close contact). If you want to get warm, you must stand by the fire. If you want to get wet you must get into the water. If you want real love or joy or peace...or eternal life, you must get into close contact with the one who has them.
God made us, like an engineer invents an engine. An engine is made to run on gasoline. It won't run on water. God designed the human machine to run on Himself. His Spirit is the fuel that we are supposed to live on. God cannot give you love or joy or peace- apart from Himself. They don't really exist outside of His Spirit.
Once a person is united with the Son of God and filled with the Holy Spirit, how could he not have love and joy and peace and eternal life? It is like saying that "Jack has jumped into the ocean but he'll dry off before he gets out." As long as a person is in the ocean, they'll be wet! When a person is in Jesus, and Jesus is in them they'll be filled with love and joy and peace and other good fruit. It starts with being in Christ. It is fulfilled when Christ is totally in you.