not a fan: Self-Empowered or Spirit-Filled?

For the past two weeks we’ve been talking about becoming a
follower of Jesus and what that looks like.
Imagine with me for a moment that you are living in the New Testament
times with Jesus.  Imagine also that you
were one of the ones Jesus asked to follow him.
You went everywhere he went and did the things he did.  You were glad to be a part of the group that
was known as Jesus’ disciples.  Wouldn’t
that have been amazing to have Jesus right there telling you what to do?

I want to read a scripture to you that, when you think about
it, could blow your mind.

John 16:4b-7

What an incredible thing to have Jesus right next to us,
going before us and leading us!  Wouldn’t
it be wonderful if Jesus was with us right here, right now?  But what does he say in this passage?  “It is to your advantage that I go away, for
if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you.”  Earlier in John 14:17 Jesus told the
disciples about the Holy Spirit “You know him, for he dwells with you and will
be in you.”  (emphasis mine)

We tend to think that having Jesus around to show us the way
would be the best thing in the world.  I
mean, imagine if Jesus was right here in front of us today.  For starters, he would be preaching this
message, not me.  Wouldn’t it be
wonderful to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from him, to have him teach us
like he taught the disciples?  Yet what
did Jesus himself say about this?  He
said that he was going to go and ask the Father to send the Spirit so that he
could live in us.  In fact, I want to show you another scripture
that I think is even more mind-blowing because of when it occurs in history.

Ezekiel 36:26-27

God, through the prophet Ezekiel, told the Israelites
something unbelievable.  He told them,
long before Jesus ever came, of his plan for humanity.  And what a plan it was!  We put much emphasis on the physical and
temporal because it’s what we know.  God
puts emphasis on the spiritual and eternal because that’s what is truly
important.  Way back in Ezekiel 36 God
told the Israelites his plan.  He was
going to put his Spirit inside them.

You see, since the Fall of man there had been this spiritual
gulf that separated God from his highest creation.  In God’s redemptive plan, though, he devised
a scheme that would forever change the way God and man related.  Instead of simply walking with Adam and Eve
in the Garden, God was going to do something much more radical.  He was going to live inside us.  He was going to take away our mortal spirits
and replace them with his own immortal one.
He was going to remove our fleshly natures and install his own sinless,
perfect nature.  God in us, not simply God with
us.

Jesus was called Emmanuel, God with us.  But Jesus said of himself that unless he
left, he could not send the Spirit, which was infinitely more amazing not
because the Spirit is better, but because the Spirit is spirit.  Jesus had the same physical limitations that
we have.  He could only be in one place
at a time.  He was limited by fatigue and
a decaying body.  He simply would not
have been able to do everything that needed to get done, so he taught the
disciples all he could, then left and sent the Spirit.

Acts 1:8

With the Spirit comes an overwhelming power.  The Spirit is God actually living in us and
through us.  The Spirit is the most
amazing thing we can possibly encounter here on earth.  The Spirit is awesome!  This verse appears in Acts just as Jesus is
ascending into heaven.  What happens
next?  Pentecost.

I meant to address this a couple of weeks ago, but the
season of Pentecost is upon us right now.
Forty days after Easter we have this incredible event described for us
in scripture.  At this time, just after
Jesus ascended into heaven, is when Peter preached his famous sermon and 3,000
souls were saved.  This also began a
rapid expansion of the gospel.  Pentecost
for us began on June 12 of this year and we are in the midst of that season
right now.  This is the time when the
Holy Spirit had just come upon the disciples.
Being filled with the Spirit, they did the only thing they could.  They brought attention and glory to God.  Thousands of people were saved.  Every day more were coming to know the
Father.

What’s incredible about this is that it was after Jesus left!  Why?
Was it that Jesus just wasn’t charismatic enough to get the job
done?  Of course not.  But now the Spirit was present in all the
disciples and he was guiding them to do the acts they did.

It seems through scripture that being filled with the Sprit
is the whole point of what God is trying to accomplish through redemption.  Everything we’ve been talking about hinges on
this point.  We must be filled with the Holy
Spirit.  If you think about it, it makes
perfect sense.  How could intimacy with
God be any greater than for him to be in
us, guiding us and giving us access to all the wisdom and power of the Father?

Colossians 2:9-10

Paul wrote this letter to the church at Colossae in part to
help them combat heresy.  In this small
section he was reminding the Colossians that they should not be deceived by
false teachings and empty philosophies because they had the Spirit of God
within them.  In verses nine and ten he
tells them “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been
filled in him…”  Basically Paul was
saying that Jesus had all the authority and power of the Creator, Elohim.  Everything that was God was put into Jesus
while he was on earth, and then we have been filled in him.  So everything that was God was in Christ and
everything that was Christ is in us through his Spirit.

So the very Spirit of God lives inside of us, giving us
wisdom and direction.  We have all the
authority of the Father himself because of his Spirit living inside of us.  Why, then, do we not behave the way God would
have us all the time?

Ephesians 5:1-21

I want to draw your attention to verse 18 of this passage
because I believe it holds the key to warring against everything Paul draws
attention to that is wrong.  Verse 18
says this:  “And do not get drunk with
wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”  Ever be filled with the Spirit, is the
specific translation of these Greek words.
Always be filled with the Spirit.
But what does that mean?

We ask the question today:
Are you self-empowered or Spirit-filled?
It seems that in this passage Paul lists ways that we should not walk as
followers of Jesus.  It strikes me when
we get to verse 18 that Paul has been building an argument for a life that is
not Spirit-dependent, but instead relies on the efforts of the flesh.  He starts chapter 5 by saying “Therefore be
imitators of God…”  As Christians we know
how we are supposed to live.  We can list
for you all the rules and things that we know we’re supposed to do, but as we
learned last week, keeping rules is one thing, but having a relationship with
Jesus is another.

Paul tells us to be imitators of God, but doesn’t give us
any wisdom in how to do that.  He lists
out for us:  flee sexual immorality,
impurity, and covetousness; let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor
crude joking; don’t be deceived by empty words or associate with those who
speak them; take no part in unfruitful works of darkness but instead expose
them.  As I read this list it makes
perfect sense to me.  Don’t do these
things.  What happens, though, is that we
as humans tend to try to do everything in our own power and that is bad.

It’s not about trying hard it’s about being filled with the
Spirit.  Only through the power of the
Spirit can we accomplish anything good because the Spirit that lives within us
is the only good thing we have.  Our flesh
is weak.  Our flesh is full of
deceit.  Our flesh is steeped in
failure.  Our flesh is sinful.  The only thing we have going for us is the
Spirit of God.  So if we try to do things
in our flesh, they will be hollow and empty ritual at best.

How do we live a Christ-centered life?  By the power of the Holy Spirit.  How do we do all the hard things God is
asking us to do?  By the power of the
Holy Spirit.  How do we live our lives in
such a way that other people are drawn to the Father?  By the power of the Holy Spirit.  How do we share our faith with our
neighbor?  By the power of the Holy
Spirit.  How do we do anything at all
that Jesus asks us to do?  It’s only by
the power of the Holy Spirit.

I admit that in my own life I often try to do things in my
own power.  I know the way I’m supposed
to live and I often take it upon myself to live that way.  I remember all the frustration that’s
caused.  I remember being a high school
and college student desperately trying to always do the right things.  I was never a really bad person and I wanted
to live the Christian life I was supposed to live, so I tried really hard.  I remember it frustrated me to see other
people obviously not trying as hard (at least that’s what I thought) but still
having things go well for them.  I
thought I just needed to work harder to prove I was better than they were.  Then I remember as a young married man trying
so hard to live the right way.  I wanted
to be a preacher so we went to Seminary.
I struggled, then, to understand why things were so hard.  We were doing the right things.  We were living the right way.  Why were things so hard?

As I look back I can see clearly how the Spirit was guiding
us in spite of me.  I was so busy trying
to make things happen and praying as hard as I knew how that I couldn’t
understand what was going on.  There were
plenty of people I graduated with who had gone on to great jobs or large
churches making grandiose salaries.  It
seemed that I was just muddling through in the dark never quite certain of
where to place my foot for the next step.
I was unfulfilled, tired, and grumpy.

That’s living a self-empowered life.  I was dependent upon myself to get the job
done right.  I thought if I did the right
things, prayed the right prayers, and preached the right messages I would be
loved by God and blessed by him.  But
living a self-empowered life brings glory to only one person:  me.
That’s not what God wants.  That’s
not his plan.  His plan of redemption
depends on people being drawn to the only one who can save, the only one who
matters:  him.  Slowly I began to understand what this meant.  It’s been an excruciating journey and it’s
far from over, but I think I’m beginning to see what it is God meant by sending
his Spirit to live inside me.

Why is being filled with the Spirit so hard and why isn’t it
permanent?  Let me answer those questions
separately.

Being filled with the Spirit is difficult because it begins
with an honest acknowledgment of our weaknesses.  We don’t like that.  In fact, most of us go to any number lengths
to hide our weaknesses from God and others.
Even in job interviews we try to minimize our own weaknesses.  We don’t like to look bad in front of other
people.  But being filled with the Spirit
is acknowledging that we are hopelessly weak people who can’t accomplish
anything without his help.  In 2
Corinthians Paul gives some advice about dealing with our weaknesses.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Paul says that he will boast in his weaknesses because in
the areas where he is weak, the power of Christ can manifest itself that much
more clearly.  Think about the story of Gideon.  God would not allow him to attack his enemies
with a large army, but sent 99% of them home.
We might look at this and say, “How foolish!”  But God knew that if the Israelites had
defeated the Midianites with an army of 32,000 men the temptation would be to
say “Look at what we did!  We are
awesome!”  God wanted them to realize
that it was he who won the battle, not them.

So we rejoice in our weaknesses.  We revel in the opportunity for God to show
himself off.  We love the fact that
people are drawn to him and not to us.
We allow the Spirit to guide us when we don’t know what to do because
he’s the only one who can.

The second question is slightly more difficult.  Why isn’t the filling of the Spirit
permanent?  Let me answer that in two
ways.  First, I believe the Spirit comes
upon every Christian the moment they are saved.
I think we never lose this saving power of the Father and we never lose
the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Going
back to Ephesians 5:18, however, it does seem that we can lose some of the
power of the Spirit when we don’t remain intimately connected with the
Father.  Remember that with God the
relationship is what’s important.  God
wants us to know him.  He wants us to be
connected to him.  He wants us to love
him.

So Paul tells us in verse 18 to “not get drunk with wine,
for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…”  Do not get drunk with wine, but be filled
with the Spirit.  In this passage, the
literal translation of the Greek would read something like this:  Stop being drunk with wine but continually
filled with the Spirit.  In order to
illustrate this let me ask a question:
What does it take to be drunk?  It
takes a certain amount of alcohol.  What
does it take to continually be drunk?  In
order to maintain a continued state of drunkenness, one would have to
continually drink, correct?  Then let’s
ask another question:  What does it take
to be ever filled with the Holy Spirit?
It takes continued exposure to the Father.

It would be very easy for us to take this passage and preach
a message about drunkenness, but I don’t believe that’s what Paul is talking
about.  I believe he’s using drunkenness
as a metaphor for being filled with the Spirit.
Hear me out.  When one is in a
state of intoxication, are they not out of control?  Being in a state of drunkenness takes one’s
faculties away from them.  They are no
longer in control of what they are doing.
They lose cognitive function, muscle control, and in severe cases can
even lose brain stem control of their involuntary reactions and their heart
could stop beating and lungs stop functioning.

In light of this truth, then, let’s look at the Spirit side
of this argument.  When one is filled
with the Holy Spirit what happens?  I
submit to you that if one is truly and continually filled with the Holy Spirit
they lose control of themselves.  They
give over to God everything and he takes control of their lives.  When Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit he
preached one of the boldest messages ever and 3,000 people were saved.  At Pentecost when the disciples were all
filled with the Holy Spirit they spoke in languages they didn’t know, so that
everyone present could hear the message.
When we allow ourselves to be filled with the Spirit, he takes over and
we find the power to do all the things we’ve been afraid to do for so
long.  We become bold.  We become passionate.  We behave like Jesus.

But, like drunkenness, to be ever filled with the Spirit, we
must remain connected to the source.  If
one stops drinking, they eventually become sober and gain control of their
faculties again.  Likewise, if we become
disconnected from the Father, we start to take over our lives again and begin
to live in our own power.

I want to close with an idea that comes from Kyle Idleman,
the author of the book upon which this series is based.  Often when we think about the characters of
the Bible I think we deify them as being wonderful people who always did
everything right and who were in constant contact with God.  I think we look at them with a bit of
jealousy in our hearts.  I’m going to
quote a bit of his book:

What would it have been like to
hear God’s voice and see him move in such powerful ways?  I wish it was the same for us as it was for
those whose stories we read about in Scripture.
When I get to heaven I can’t wait to ask David, Elijah, or Moses what it
was like.

But I think it will be just the
opposite in heaven.  Before we can ask
David what it was like to slay the giant, to win the battles, he’ll say, “Tell
me what it was like on earth to have the Holy Spirit living inside of you,
giving you strength when you are weak.”  We might say to Elijah, “What was it like
to call down fire from heaven before the prophets of Baal and to raise that boy
from the dead?”  And I think Elijah might
say, “Yeah, he actually ended up dying again.
You tell me what it’s like to have God living inside of you.  What was it like to live life on earth with
the Holy Spirit giving you joy when you’re depressed or giving you the power to
overcome that sin in your life?”

We have the very Spirit of God within us, leading us, giving
us wisdom, and comforting us when we struggle.
I wonder if we even realize what an amazing gift that is or what the
Biblical characters would have done if they could have experienced the same thing?  We have such incredible power available to us
if we’ll just acknowledge his presence and call on him to help us.

Are you trying to live this life in your own power or by the
power of the Spirit?  Are you
self-empowered or Spirit-filled?

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About Cornerstone Fellowship

Cornerstone Fellowship is a new church that started on September 5th and currently meets Sundays mornings at 10 a.m. Our location is 206 Main Street in the heart of Downtown Kilgore. If you are searching for a church home come check us out!
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