In Acts Chapter 19, the Apostle Paul is on his way to Ephesus, and he comes across some disciples. He asked them: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They said to him: “No, we have not even heard whether there IS a Holy Spirit.” Paul said to them: “Into what then were you baptized?” (Because Jesus commanded us to be baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.) You can kind of “read between the lines” and hear the shock and surprise in Paul’s voice: “You haven’t heard about the Holy Spirit? Into what then were you BAPTIZED if you haven’t heard of the Holy Spirit!”
Sadly, you could be in a number of churches today and not hear anything about the Holy Spirit for a long time. But it shouldn’t be that way. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith: that God exists eternally in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God with us; He is Jesus in us. He is vital to the Christian life, as we shall see, and every genuine Christian has the Holy Spirit inside of them.
Romans 8 is one of the greatest chapters in all the word of God, and it was our privilege to read it this week. One of the things we saw in it as we read, is that it repeatedly refers to the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives as believers. Let’s review briefly what Romans 8 tells us about the work of the Holy Spirit in us as God’s people:
I. His presence in us
Verse 9 of Romans 8 says: “However, you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”
This is a strong and clear statement: “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”
Now, notice first of all, the interchangeable use of the name of the Holy Spirit:
— He talks about being “in the Spirit” (the Holy Spirit)
— then he says “if indeed the Spirit of GOD dwells in you”
— and then he says, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of CHRIST” he does not belong to Him.
So here in this same verse, Paul uses interchangeably, “Spirit,” “Spirit of God,” and “Spirit of Christ.” So they are all the same. This refers to the UNITY of God. There is ONE God. There are not “three gods,” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is ONE God. But this one God exists in three Person, who are “three, yet one.” That is what the word “Trinity” means: Tri-unity: “three in one”.
We can’t understand that, just like we can’t understand how electricity works when we flip on the switch. We just know it does. In the same way, we can’t comprehend everything about the Trinity, we just believe what the Bible teaches us.
And what it teaches us repeatedly is that there is ONE God. But it also teaches us that this ONE God exists in three distinct Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are somehow three, yet one. They are so distinct that they speak to one another: Jesus talks to the Father, and the Father talks to Him, and so on. But they are so ONE, that in this same verse we see the same Holy Spirit also referred to as the Spirit of GOD, and the Spirit of CHRIST! We just trust God knows what He’s talking about and move on!
But the second thing we see in this verse is what we really want to focus on: that IF you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit of God is IN you. In fact it says here: “If anyone does NOT have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” Having the Holy Spirit in you is an essential part of what it means to be a Christian.
See, God created us to know Him and love Him, and to be fulfilled by our fellowship with Him. But like we talked about last week, Adam & Eve chose to sin and disobey God, and that sin separated them from God. They passed that sin nature down to us, so all us are born with a sin nature, and when we come to the time in life to make our own choices, we all choose to sin. As we read in Isaiah 59 last week, “our sins have caused a separation between us and our God.” That is why God the Father sent God the Son, Jesus, to earth: to die on the cross and pay for our sins, so we could be forgiven. When we respond to the gospel of what Jesus did by repenting of our sins, and trusting Jesus as our own Lord & Savior, then we are saved. The MOMENT we do that, the Bible says in Ephesians 1:13, we are SEALED in Him with the Holy Spirit. God the Father sends God the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of Jesus” as Romans 8:9 says here, into our heart. We often call that “asking Jesus into your heart,” or “having the Holy Spirit come into your life” — but when you get saved, that is what happens. God’s Spirit regenerates you/cleanses you/makes you new (Titus 3:5) and now you are saved, and the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ — is IN you. That is what it means to be a Christian.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean you often go to church
Being a Christian doesn’t just mean you’re a good person
Being a Christian doesn’t mean you’re trying to live by the Ten Commandments
Being a Christian means you have trusted what Jesus did on the cross to save you, and that His Holy Spirit has come into your life.
Having the Holy Spirit in your life is an integral part of what it means to be a Christian. That is why Paul was so shocked when he talked to those people at Ephesus, and they said “We have heard whether there IS a Holy Spirit.” He’s like, if you don’t have the Holy Spirit, you are not a Christian!
And Romans 8:9 flat out says that here: “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” You don’t have the Holy Spirit, you are not a Christian. It can’t get any more clear than that! You must have Him in you!
A few months ago I read a biography of Charlie Chaplin, the famous silent movie star. At one point in his career, he was accused of being the parent of a woman’s child. At that point in history, they didn’t have all the tests that we do today — especially the DNA test, which is 99.99% accurate as to the parentage of a child. Today, if you want to know if you are someone’s child, just take a DNA test. If his DNA is in you, you are that man’s child. If you do NOT have his DNA, you are not his child.
And it is that way with us and the Lord as well. Do you belong to God? Are you His child? The test for that is: Do you have God’s “DNA” in you? Is His Holy Spirit in you? That is an infallible test; 100% accurate! If God’s Spirit is in you, then you are His. But as Romans 8:9 says here, if he is NOT in you, then you do not belong to Him.
This is the test of salvation that Paul gives in II Corinthians 13:9 “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you — unless indeed you fail the test?
What does this test say about YOU? Is Jesus Christ in you, through His Holy Spirit? Is the Spirit of God in you? That’s the most important question of your life. The short answer is, if you have trusted Jesus as your Savior, He is in you. But it’s not just a matter of “do I ‘feel’ like the Spirit is in me?,” the Bible lists some things in this chapter that He will do for you if He really is in you. Let’s look at these for a minute, and you “test yourself” like II Corinthians 13 says. See if these things are true for you, giving evidence that He is really in your life:
II. His sanctification of us:
:13 “But if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
Jesus said when the Holy Spirit comes, he would convict the world of sin, and righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 16:8) So one thing He does when He comes in our lives, is convict us of sin. When you feel badly because you have sinned — that is good! That is the Holy Spirit convicting you. If you DON’T feel badly when you sin, THAT’S when you need to be concerned!
But :13 tells us, not only does He convict us of sin, if God’s Spirit is in you, He gives you power to turn AWAY from sin: “If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” In other words, one of the signs that you genuinely have eternal life is that you are “putting to death the deeds of the body;” I.e, that you are getting some victories over sin in your life. You aren’t just continuing in the same sins
It doesn’t mean you are perfect; you’ll never be perfect as long as you live here on earth. But it means you are working on it. Sanctification doesn’t mean that you’re “perfect,” but that you’re working on it.
Notice the present tense of the verb here in :13, “if by the Spirit you ARE PUTTING TO DEATH the deeds of the body.” It doesn’t say you HAVE put them all to death, as if you have done it all, already. NONE of us has. But you “ARE PUTTING them to death.” You are in the process of it. You haven’t done it all — and you’ll never finish it in all your life. But you ARE DOING it. You are in the process of it. It is happening in your life.
John Newton, the former slave trader who got saved and wrote the song “Amazing Grace,” said: “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” Bill Gaither wrote a song based on that: “I’m not what I want to be; I’m not what I’m gonna be — but thank God I’m not what I was.” That’s a pretty good picture of the Christian right there. One day when we get to heaven, God will finish our sanctification and we will be perfect. But with His Spirit in us, we are working on it right now. We are “putting to death the deeds of the body.” And we can look back and see we have made some progress — we’re not what we were.
Can you see that in your life? Can you look back and see that you’ve made some progress? No, you’re not all that you should be. But you can look back and see some things have changed. You’re not what you were. That’s God’s Spirit in you; helping you to change.
But honestly, if you’re not making ANY progress — or if you’re not even working on it — or especially if you don’t even feel badly about it — then there’s no evidence that God’s Spirit is in you. If He has really “moved in” to the temple of your life, then He will be making some changes in you!
Say there’s a young man who’s gotten a job and moved out on his own, in his own house. And like a lot of young men, he’s not very clean or orderly. He’s got dirty dishes in the sink; he’s got dirty clothes thrown over the chairs; he’s got mud tracked on the floor. We’ve all seen bachelor pads like that. But then this young man gets married. And somebody new moves in — his wife. And she can’t stand living in a mess. So what is she going to do? She is going to make sure that place gets cleaned up! She’s going to make sure the dishes get done; she is going to make sure that laundry gets put up; and that the floor is clean. Some of it she’ll do herself; some of it, she’s got to TRAIN him some new habits that will take some time to change. But you can tell: somebody new has come in — and things in that house are changing!
That’s the way it is with God’s Holy Spirit in us. We are sinners, by nature and by choice. Our souls are “dirty.” But when we get saved, as we talked about a minute ago, God’s Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us. And He does not like the filth we have been living in. He is the HOLY Spirit, so He wants to see us cleaned up. Some things He just does — He changes some of our wants and desires. Other things, it takes time for Him to build new habits in our lives; to train us to live differently. But you can tell; there is a difference. Someone new has come to live inside of you, and things are changing.
Is that happening in you? Are you changing? Are you in the process of “putting to death the deeds of the body”? Any? If nothing’s changing at all, you have to ask yourself: IS the Holy Spirit really in me? Because the Bible tells us here that when the Holy Spirit comes in, He begins the work of sanctification; He starts cleaning things up in us.
III. His Leadership for us
Another blessing, and sign, of God’s Spirit being in us, is that He LEADS us. Verse 14 says, “For all who are being LED by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” God’s Spirit in us, will LEAD us.
Luke 4:1 talks about how Jesus “was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness.” I love that wording: God’s Spirit LED JESUS AROUND where He wanted Him to go. And when God’s Spirit is in us, He will do the same thing for us too. He will “lead us around.” He will lead us to do His will; to say and do the things He wants us to.
For example, in Acts 8 Philip saw the Ethiopian Treasurer in his chariot. Verse 29 says, “The Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.’” So Philip went up to the chariot and started talking to the man, and God opened up the door for the Ethiopian to be saved through that conversation. But it all began when Philip listened to the “nudge” of the Holy Spirit who told him to go up to the chariot. God’s Spirit in him, led him just where He wanted him to be, and to say what He wanted him to say.
If you are a Christian, God’s Holy Spirit is in you, and He will lead you, just like He led Philip. We need to learn to listen to the “nudges” of the Holy Spirit as He “whispers in our ear” the directions He wants us to follow.
Some of y’all know our son Michael graduated from college a year or so ago, and he was married this summer. Cheryl made each of our kids a scrapbook/cookbook with some of our favorite family recipes in it, but they still often need additional help. Michael called one day this summer asking how to make the famous “pink cookie recipe” (a kind of shortbread cookie) that our high school cafeteria cooks made popular in Oklahoma. There are some details with this recipe that you have to get just right. So Cheryl talked to Michael over the phone as he worked on the cookies; he listened with his phone earpiece in as she talked him through it step by step:
— You want to soften the butter, not melt it; just let it sit there on the counter for a bit while I’m talking to you.
— He asked: “Can I use my stand mixer?” She said, YES you can — but it’s the only cookie recipe you can use that with, and you need to use the flat beater. So he did.
—How long should I cook them for? She asked, “What size of cookie scoop do you have?”, because that makes a difference; ok, you’ll have to adjust the time.
— While they were baking, she said as you get close to the time, watch the tops of the cookies; they should be just very light tan, and not all over; when you see just the peaks of the cookies start to turn tan, take them out.
Step by step she gave him directions in his ear — and the cookies turned out great! And I’m sure Michael’s wife Abigail is very glad to have him cranking out some tasty things from their kitchen!
Not long ago in our daily Bible readings, we read where Isaiah 30:21 says: “Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left.” That verse is talking about what God’s Spirit will do for us. Just like Cheryl in Michael’s earphone, talking him through the recipe, God’s Holy Spirit will whisper in our ear in every situation: “This is the way, walk in it.”
— He’ll whisper: run up to that chariot
— He’ll say to us: go talk to that person across the street
— He’ll nudge us start praying for a specific person right now
— He’ll warn us: don’t go there; that’ll lead you into temptation.
He will “whisper in our ear,” “This is the way; walk in it.”
Now, it takes some time, and some maturity, for us to learn to discern the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Is that ME just thinking that? Or was that the Lord? Sometimes we’ll make mistakes — and we learn better over time. It’s always subjective — and that’s why God’s word must always be our final authority, ‘cause we can sometimes get that “whisper” of the Spirit wrong; but God’s word is NEVER wrong. But, having said that, don’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Don’t ignore the “whisper” of the Holy Spirit. He DOES lead the Christian, and we need to learn to listen for His voice in every situation. Being “led by the Spirit of God” is one of the great benefits and privileges of being a Christian.
IV. His Assurance with us
Romans 8:15-16 says: “But you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit, that we are children of God.” The Bible tells us here that one of the great blessings of having God’s Spirit in us, is the assurance He gives us, that we are indeed His children.
Verse 15 opens by saying, “You have not received a spirit of slavery, leading to fear again.” In other words, God has not put a spirit of fear into your heart. He says NO: “you have received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which we cry out ‘Abba, Father!’” He says God’s Spirit in you will give you the conviction inside that God is your Heavenly Father. The word “Abba” here in Romans 8:15 is the Hebrew, Aramaic, and common Middle Eastern word for “Father;” in fact it was a term of endearment, like our words “Papa,” or “Daddy,” or whatever your “pet name” for your father might be. Mark 14:36 says that when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, He cried out to God: “Abba, Father; All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” Jesus called God “Abba, Father,” and when the Spirit of Jesus comes into your heart, the Holy Spirit in you will cause YOU cry out, “Abba Father; Daddy!”, and you will know that you belong to Him, and you will have the assurance that He is indeed your Heavenly Father.
I think if you ask a lot of Christians, “Do you belong to God?”, they will say Yes. And if you ask them why, they might not be able to fully express it; but what it boils down to, is that they know in their heart that God is their Father, and that they belong to Him. That is legitimate. That is the Spirit of God in them, crying, “Abba, Father!” God is my Heavenly Father; I feel that; I know it. Now, we don’t base our Christian life on “feelings,” but on the fact of what Jesus did for us on the cross, and that we know we have given our life to Him. But God did create feelings, and it is legitimate to have that feeling that God is your Heavenly Father. That is the witness of the Holy Spirit in you, bearing witness with your spirit, that you are indeed a child of God, just as Romans 8:16 says here.
John Newton, whom we mentioned a few minutes ago, began a writing ministry to a number of other ministers and church members all over England. To one of them he wrote:
“I know, yea I infallibly know whom I have believed. I am under no more doubt about the way of salvation than of the way to London. I cannot be deceived, because the word of God cannot deceive me. It is impossible, however, for me to give you or any other person full satisfaction concerning my evidence, because it is of an experimental nature.”
(John Newton to the Rev. Thomas Scott, Letters of John Newton, Josiah Bull, ed., p. 252).
When Newton said it was of an “experimental” nature, he used the word “experimental” the way was used in the 1800’s to mean it dealt with “experience,” with “feelings,” with the “heart.” He was saying, I can’t fully explain to you exactly how I know I’m saved; it’s something I FEEL and KNOW in my HEART. THAT is the witness of the Holy Spirit — just as Romans 8:16 says here: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God.’
Many of us know the names of John and Charles Wesley. They were great evangelists in the 1800’s, and the Methodist denomination was founded from their work. But when they began their ministry, John and Charles were not even saved; they were just “doing church work,” without even knowing for sure they were Christians.
It all fell out one day, after the Wesleys landed in Georgia as missionaries in February 1736. There were a number of Moravian German Christian missionaries there too, and these men were really on fire for the Lord. One of the key Moravian leaders, August Spangenberg, visited John Wesley and began talking with him about his relationship with the Lord. As a result of the conversation, Spangenberg began to wonder if Wesley had ever really been saved. He asked him: “Does the spirit of God bear witness with your spirit, that you are a child of God?’’ Wesley later wrote, “I was surprised, and knew not what to answer.” Spangenberg asked, “Do you know Jesus Christ?” Wesley paused and said, “I know he is the Saviour of the world.” “True,” replied Spangenberg, “but do you know he has saved YOU?” Wesley answered meekly, “I hope he has died to save me.” That conversation shook Wesley, and made him realize he was not really saved — and later, as a result of that conversation, he came to truly trust Jesus as his Savior. (Thomas S. Kidd, George Whitefield, America’s Spiritual Founding Father, p. 43)
But the question that Moravian missionary asked John Wesley is a good question for each of us to answer today: “Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?”
— NOT “Do you go to church.” Wesley went to church, but he was lost.
— NOT “Do you know that Jesus died for our sins?” John Wesley knew that Jesus had died for the world — but he’d never made sure that he died for HIM!
— NOT “Are you serving God?” Wesley was serving God as a missionary overseas, but he still didn’t even know if he was saved!
So that question is a good one for each one of us today: “Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?”
— If you can answer, “Yes!”, make sure it’s not JUST a “feeling,” but that it’s based on the FACT that you’ve really repented of your sins and trusted Jesus as your Savior. Make sure you can see the evidence, like Romans 8 shows us here: that God’s Spirit is in you; and you feel badly when you sin; and you can sense God leading you with that “inner voice” of His Spirit; and He calls out in you “Abba, Father” and you know God is YOUR Heavenly Father. Make sure you can answer “yes,” and that you can answer “yes” for all the right reasons.
— But in a group this size, I’m sure some of us would say, “No, you know, I really can’t say that I am sure of this.”
Maybe like John Wesley you’d say: I go to church.
Maybe like him you’d say: I believe Jesus died for all our sins.
Maybe like him you’d say: I’m even serving God in some ways.
But the truth is, also like him, I don’t really know for sure that I’ve ever truly been saved.
That’s a common thing. But Romans 8 tells us here, you CAN know it.
Ask God to save you TODAY, if He’s never done it before. Repent of your sins; ask Jesus to be YOUR Lord & Savior today. Ask His Spirit to come into YOUR life, and save you, and convict you, and lead you, and give you the assurance in your heart, that you are indeed HIS CHILD TODAY! He WILL do that for you TODAY, if you will ask Him!