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Who Has The Spirit?
August 3, 1997

JOHN 14:15-27

Who has the Spirit? I have counseled several people who had been told by Christian friends that they did not have the Holy Spirit because they didn't speak in tongues. Some people believe that the gift of tongues is the only evidence of having been filled or baptized with the Holy Spirit, and that those who do not speak in tongues, do not have the Holy Spirit. Who has the Spirit?

The Apostles' Creed affirms that we know God in three primary ways or roles. We know God as the Creator. We know God as Jesus who walked this earth as divine and human, and we know God as the Holy Spirit. "I believe in the Holy Spirit," affirms the Creed. Through the Holy Spirit, we experience God in our lives-- God present with us, forgiving, cleansing, renewing and powering us to live and be like Jesus. How do we know when God is working in our lives? What is the evidence that one has been given the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Who has the Spirit?

When counseling those who are confused or perplexed because they don't speak in tongues, I lead them through a reading of 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14. Thank God for church fights! Because the Corinthian Church was squabbling about this very issue, Paul devoted a great deal of space in his letter clarifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He is very clear: there are many spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues is one of them. But, no Christian is given all the spiritual gifts. Not everyone has the gift of teaching, or healing, or speaking in tongues, Paul says. Then, he wrote, 1 Corinthians 12:31, "But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way." It's too bad editors inserted a chapter break at this point, for what we know as chapter 13, follows: "If I speak in tongues..., but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."

The greatest gift of the Holy Spirit is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13, "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." Love, therefore, is evidence of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul lists fruits of the Spirit-- results, evidence of the Holy Spirit working in us. Love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, generosity are evidence of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. In the Scripture lesson read this morning from John, peace is given by the Holy Spirit; and further evidence of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, said Jesus, is "Keep my commandments." Those who have the Spirit keep, obey, follow the commandments, and what are the commandments? Jesus said there are two: Love God and love your neighbor. Again, love is evidence of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

In 1 John, the author urges his readers to "test the spirits." Not every spirit is a good spirit. Not every prophet is a true prophet. Not every preacher knows what he/she is talking about. Test what they say. Test how they live. According to 1 John, chapter four, there are two tests-- the Jesus test and the love test.

1) 4:2, "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God." The false prophets in John's day were preaching that Jesus was divine, and not really a human being just like us. To test prophets, ask them what they believe about Jesus. We can apply the Jesus test today. Those who have the Spirit put Jesus first in their priorities and follow him with their lives.

2) 4:7-8, "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love." Again, love is evidence of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

The process by which the Holy Spirit works in us is called Sanctification. Sanctification-- the process of making us holy-- is an ongoing process. Like marriage, it begins when we say "I will" to God; but it is not a one-time event. Sanctification is a growing, nurturing process throughout our lives. David Gyertson, President of Asbury College, tells how he experienced sanctification at his ordination. Previously, he had received the gift of salvation through faith. At his ordination he embraced through faith the gift of sanctification. With that prayer came an inner peace and the assurance that his life was now sanctified, set aside for God's work.

However, he soon learned that he must spend a lifetime working out and living in sanctification. A test came during his first pastorate. He had hit a wall. Joy left. The church was not doing well, and David felt it was because of him. During a prayer time he heard God speak in his inner being, "You must forgive your father." No way! His father's alcoholism had caused great tragedy in his family. Because of his father's addiction, the family experienced poverty, anger, insecurity, and his mother suffered serious physical and emotional difficulties. At the age of 13, David found himself on the street, but, thank God, he was taken in by a loving, Christian family. Now, the Holy Spirit was telling him to forgive his father! There was too much pain, too much anger. But, the Holy Spirit kept pushing him, "Did you say you would not or cannot?" David cried out, "I would if I could. Please help me!" The Holy Spirit spoke, "Then let the Christ in you forgive your father through you." If you can't do it, let Jesus do it. He responded, "Yes, Lord." The struggle ended. Joy and peace returned to his inner being.

A few weeks later, David took his turn preaching at the Salvation Army's Harbor Light Mission in downtown Toronto. The chapel was filled with the homeless and abandoned, prostitutes, alcoholics, and drug abusers. When he gave the invitation for them to come forward to receive Christ, to receive the gift of salvation and reconciliation with God, one man came forward. Half way down the aisle, David realized the man was his father. Together they knelt, and he led his father to Jesus.

When you have the Holy Spirit, big changes occur in your life, as you forgive, are healed, cleansed, grow in love, discover spiritual gifts. The process is called Sanctification. To receive the Holy Spirit, to open your life to the Holy Spirit, begin by asking. "Oh, Lord, come into my life. I hold nothing back. Take me and use me." The purpose of the Holy Spirit working in your life is not necessarily to make you happy, but to use you to do God's work, to power you for service, to fill you with love, joy and peace so that others are blessed.

The custodian of a church in downtown Los Angeles was concerned about an old man-- poorly dressed, not always clean-- who came to the church every day at noon. He stood for a moment in front of the altar, and then he would leave. One day, the custodian asked him if he needed help. The old man answered, "No, thank you. I just come in every day and stand before the altar and say, 'Jesus, it's Jim.` I know it's not much of a prayer, but I think God knows what I mean."

Then Jim was admitted to a home for aged men run by the Sisters of the Transfiguration. When he had been there two months, the Mother Superior was amazed to hear that the ward had been transformed. Jim had been put into the most cantankerous ward they had. Every nun had tried her best to bring some sense of joy and calm to the men, but they failed. Jim went into the ward and the place was transformed. The Mother Superior asked him, "Jim, how is it that you have been able to bring such joy and such a sense of peace to these men?" He said, "Oh, sister, it is because of my visitor." She said, "Jim, what visitor? I've never seen a visitor." Jim said, "Sister, every day at 12:00, he comes and stands at the foot of my bed and says, 'Jim, it's Jesus!`"

Jim may not have known how to pray fancy prayers, but God understands the heart as well as words. Jim put himself where God could get to him. Jim asked. Jim opened his life. And, God used him. The Holy Spirit sanctified him, set him aside for special work, filled him with so much love, joy, and peace that it spilled over and changed the lives of those around him. Love is evidence of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

I believe in the Holy Spirit.

© 1997 Douglas I. Norris