Big Idea: Through the Holy Spirit we have Freedom from Slavery to Sin
Intro: Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and today is Pentecost on the Christian calendar. Today is exactly 49 days after Easter Sunday – and on this day we CELEBRATE the giving of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Holy Spirit – in the Christian life. So I’m going to pray and we’re going to think a little about the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit, who is with us and in us…
PRAYER: Well today I want to begin with some JEWISH HISTORY, because just as 1) Jesus’ death on the cross aligns with Jewish Passover and 2) his resurrection aligns with Jewish first-fruits, so 3) the gift of the Holy Spirit aligns with Jewish Shavuot – which we now call Pentecost.
According to Leviticus 23 – there are seven holy festivals on the Jewish calendar. (Slide 2) The first Jewish festival is PASSOVER (on the 14th day of the first Jewish month) – and this commemorates the date the Jews were set free from Egypt. It is also the day Jesus died on the cross for our sins setting us free from Satan, sin and death. The biggest festival on the Jewish calendar and the Christian calendar fall on the same day. (ENTER) The second Jewish festival is Unleavened Bread which starts the day after Passover and runs for 7 days. This festival is also related to leaving Egypt. But the removal of leaven (or yeast) from the house, was symbolic of removing sin from your life. Perhaps this corresponds with Jesus taking away our sin…
Now (number 3 – ENTER) the FIRST-FRUITS FESTIVAL always fell on the Sunday in the Festival of Unleavened bread. On this day the Jews would offer the first-fruits of the spring harvest to God – and this was the same day Jesus rose from the dead as the first-fruits of the resurrection. Now the Sunday of First Fruits started a count off 49 days. 7 weeks of 7 days from First-Fruits until Feast of Weeks, also called Pentecost.
(ENTER) Now at Feast of Weeks or Pentecost the Jews celebrated the end of spring harvest. They praised God for physical food and physical life. So as the Holy Spirit was poured out on this same day Christians started to praise God for spiritual food and spiritual life. But something else significant also happened on this day.
The book of Exodus tells us the Jews left Egypt at Passover on the 14th day of the first month. Then they arrive at Mt Sinai 46-47 days later. Exodus 19 says (Slide 3; Ex.19:1). So the Jews get to Mt Sinai 46-47 days after leaving Egypt. Then, Moses goes up and down the mountain over a couple of days and then God gives him the Jewish Law about the time of Pentecost. So Pentecost became the day (every year) the Jews celebrated God giving the Law and Christians now celebrate Pentecost as the day God gave us the Holy Spirit. Now we’ll think about this in a moment.
But very quickly the FIFTH FESTIVAL is trumpets around September. Some Messianic Jews believe Jesus was born on this date (because the shofar was usually blasted at the birth of Jewish Kings). Others think Jesus may return at the festival of trumpets – because the Bible talks about Jesus’ coming at the sound of the last trumpet. THE 6TH FESTIVAL – Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur seems to align with Jesus’ baptism. John the Baptist calls Jesus the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (Literally the scapegoat). So people confess their sins to John (who is a priest), the sin is then transferred to Jesus in baptism and then he goes off into the desert wilderness to pay for the sins of the people. Jesus’ baptism is loaded with allusions to Yom Kippur. Further, most scholars believe Jesus’ public ministry was 3.5 years long. Baptism at Yom Kippur to death at Passover would equal 3.5 years exactly (half of 7). FINALLY, THE FESTIVAL of Tabernacles – may correspond to Jesus’ incarnation. At Tabernacles the Jews celebrated God dwelling amongst them in the journey to the promised land. In John 1 – it talks about God’s Son becoming flesh and dwelling among us. (Literally it says tabernacled among us). So the Jewish festivals do seem to align with significant events in Jesus’ life and today we are going to think about Pentecost & the Holy Spirit.
Point 1: The Holy Spirit sets us Free from Law and Condemnation
Show: Gal.5:13-15 (READ)
Explain: Well as you can see (the apostle Paul) reminds us here in verse 13 – that as Christians we are now FREE. Then Paul goes on to talk about freedom in and through the Holy Spirit. So the first question is – 1)what have we been set free from as Christians, and 2) what role does the Holy Spirit play in our freedom.
Well as we begin I want to remind you of the story of Pentecost in Acts 2. Jesus returns to heaven 40 days after his resurrection (Acts 1:3). Then 9 days later (day 49) the disciples are together in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. But all of a sudden a noise like WIND comes into the room AND they see what looks like TONGUES OF FIRE land on each disciple AND then they all begin to prophesy. (Yes, I know that it talks about them speaking in other tongues. But this is not glossolalia or a prayer language. 1 Corinthians 14 talks about praying in the tongues of angels). But here the disciples are speaking about Jesus in other known languages. They are prophesying…
To explain what is happening Peter gets up and quotes Joel 2 (Slide 7; Acts 2:17). Peter is saying Joel 2 is now fulfiulled. The Holy Spirit has come and that’s why everyone is now prophesying. THE HOLY SPIRIT IS GIVING THEM POWER – to help them fulfill the Great Commission – of making disciples of all nations. The Spirit helps them to speak in all the different languages of the nations, so they can evangelise all the nations. The Spirit is helping them in this huge task.
So Peter goes on and explains that the Holy Spirit is now being given because Jesus the Messiah has come. The problem throughout the Old Testament was that God’s Spirit could not really reside with people because of sin. Sin in the presence of a Holy God means destruction. God and sinful man cannot really coexist without sinful man being destroyed. Hence the story of Israel constantly facing the wrath of God in the Old Testament. God and sin don’t mix well.
So Peter explains (GOSPEL) God the Father sent His Son (as the Jewish Messiah) and Jesus’ died on the cross for our sins. Jesus literally takes the punishment for every command of God you’ve broken (so that you can be spared). Jesus did this because he loves you. Jesus did this so that you can come into God’s presence without fear and without being SMITED.
So with Gods wrath at sin satisfied by Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter goes on and explains how people can now receive the Holy Spirit. He says (Slide 8; Acts 2:38). So 1) repent of sins, 2) be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (and you will be forgiven and you will receive the Holy Spirit). THIS IS THE NORMAL WAY to receive the Holy Spirit into your life. If a person is properly evangelized and truly receives Jesus as their Saviour and Lord – there is no need for a second blessing. So if you want God’s Spirit in your life and you want to be forgiven of your sins – you need to accept Jesus as your Saviour and Lord and get baptized. If you want to find out more – please fill in a card in the front of the Bibles, tick the box “I’d like to find out more about Christianity” and then put it in the offertory bag later in the service.
But here’s an interesting fact about Pentecost. Remember I told you God gave the Law to the Jews at Pentecost and God gave the Spirit to Christians at Pentecost. Well, when Moses came down off the mountain with the law written on tablets of stone – immediately 3000 Israelites died (Ex.32:28). But on the very same day (some 1400 years later) God gives the Holy Spirit (also on Pentecost) and Acts 2 tells us about 3000 people are saved. I don’t think this is an accident. As Paul explains elsewhere – the law kills, but the Spirit brings life.
So we come back to Galatians 5 (and when Paul talks about Christians being set free) he means free from the law, free from death and free from condemnation. As Christians we are free from God’s condemnation because Jesus died for our sin. The Holy Spirit now testifies to our spirit that we are now God’s children.
But the Holy Spirit also sets us free from the letter of the Jewish law. THE GALATIANS have been saying Gentiles need to get circumcised and eat kosher to be Christians. But Paul is adamant that Gentile Christians no longer obey A) the letter of the Jewish Law, instead we follow B) the Spirit who inspired the Jewish law.
Paul explains that THE SPIRIT of the Jewish Law is to love our neighbour with all our heart. Elsewhere, Jesus also summarises the Spirit of the Old Testament Law – as love God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself. Some Christians think – “Oh well. Jesus has saved me. I’m now free from condemnation. So I can live however I like. It doesn’t matter. God will forgive me. So Paul is like no. You may be free from the specifics of the Law, but the principles in the law still apply. As Jesus explained in the gospels – the command “DO NOT MURDER”, is actually about hate and anger. The law – “do not commit adultery”, is actually about lust. Even the food laws are not really what about goes into a person making them unclean, but what comes out of them that makes them unclean. So, while we are free from A) the letter of the law and B) the condemnation of the law, we are still meant to be true to the Spirit of the law. So what do we do as Christians?
Well, I’d say the best way to understand the spirit of the law is to look to Jesus and the apostles interpretations and applications. As Christians we shouldn’t be LEGALISTIC observers of the Jewish Law. But neither should we give ourselves a Gentile LICENSE to do anything we want. As Christians our true LIBERTY is found in loving God and loving our neighbour. The good news is – the Holy Spirit empowers us to do this…
Point 2: The Holy Spirit Empowers us for victory over the Flesh
Show: Gal.5:16-18 (READ)
Explain: Now this is a great verse. Paul says “walk by the Spirit” (which kind of means live by the Spirit) and you will NOT gratify the desires of the flesh. That is an incredible promise. Paul is saying that by receiving the Holy Spirit and being sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading you can have victory over the desires of your flesh.
Now for those who struggle with addiction, selfishness and have no self-control – this is music to the ears. Without Jesus and the Holy Spirit we are all controlled and enslaved to the desires of our flesh. THE PEOPLE in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous acknowledge this is true at the start of every meeting. The first step in all 12 Step Programs is (Slide 10). Now (without Jesus) are you an addict? Are you powerless against the desires of the flesh?
You see addiction comes in many forms. For some its alcohol, or narcotics or sex or porn. For others addiction may be gluttony or a lust for power, or material comfort, or popularity, or fashion, or body image or simply being in control. For others, it may be an INVERTED DESIRE of the flesh – an inability to trust, an inability to really love, an inability to really commit to anyone or anything. These are all fleshly primal instincts – that are a form of addiction in many peoples lives. Sadly, as sinners (and without God’s help) A) we don’t control our fleshly desires, instead B) our fleshly desires control us.
Now this fleshly desire controls us because of 1) a fear of death, 2) need for security, 3) lack of trust, 4) demonic influence and 5) even an insatiable desire for meaning and happiness. Basically, the pursuit of happiness (in a world that is decaying before our eyes) – means that like greyhound dogs chasing a pretend, elusive rabbit around the race track – we all keep running after a pretend, elusive idea even though we are exhausted and we know it is killing us. We can’t stop…
Apply: But through the death and resurrection of Jesus (knowing that we are loved, knowing that we are forgiven, knowing that we have life beyond the grave) the Holy Spirit begins to set us free from this slavery to fleshly desires. Look again – at verse 17 (READ).
Now that translation is a bit clunky. But who is stronger – you or God’s Spirit? Your flesh wants you to dumb, evil things. The two-minute hit from snorting cocaine; the 30 second rush from an illicit affair; even the 15 second rush of someone admiring your fashion; or your toned body or your intellect. But God’s Spirit is in conflict with this short lived fleshly desire. AND THE GOOD NEWS is that – the Holy Spirit is more powerful than your fleshly desires because the Holy Spirit is God. So bit by bit – as the Holy Spirit – is beating your dumb, selfish, sinful, fleshly desire. This is entirely God’s grace. It’s not you or your effort. Its God in you. Just as A) God saves people who believe in Jesus from death and condemnation, so B) God saves people who believe in Jesus from actual fleshly desire through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Of course, this is great news for people who have made a complete mess of their lives. Even if in the past you’ve had zero ability to change. No willpower. If you choose Jesus and keep choosing Jesus, bit by bit – the Holy Spirit will give you victory over your stupidity. The Bible calls this process sanctification and sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in us. So, no matter what battles we face as Christians we have hope and confidence moving forward BECAUSE the Holy Spirit is more powerful than the flesh.
Point 3: The Holy Spirit guides us in the Christian Life. We are to follow.
Show: Gal.5:19-21 (READ)
Explain: Well please notice that Paul says that the acts of the flesh are OBVIOUS. Obvious to who? The fact is God made all of us with a conscience that kind of tells us what is right and wrong. You don’t need anyone to tell you that adultery is wrong. Everyone knows that HATRED, FITS OF RAGE, DRUNKENNESS and the ORGIES that happen at Mardi Gras are wrong. You can tell yourself these things are ok. But you know they are wrong. THE PROBLEM IS – the more we ignore our conscience, defend our actions and do dumb things – the more our conscience becomes faulty. The Bible says it becomes SEARED (as with a hot iron).
Now if you do this enough sin stops being obvious. You can justify just about anything – even aborting full-term babies. But when we stop justifying our actions, admit we are sinners, ask Jesus for forgiveness and receive the Holy Spirit – its like our conscience is turned back on. Or more specifically our conscience is quickened by the Holy Spirit – so that we know what is right and wrong. The more 1) we look at Jesus, the more 2) we study the Bible – the more we innately begin to understand God’s ways. So rather than needing a set of laws to guide us, the Holy Spirit begins to guide us – by giving us a sharp, shooting pain in the side of the head when we so dumb things. This is called the conviction of sin. This is called conscience.
Now yes, you can get DUMB, BLASPHEMOUS, FALSE TEACHERS who tell you it’s ok to be sexually immoral; its ok to be greedy; its ok to abort babies. But, if you are a born-again Christian who has received the Holy Spirit – you will know in your heart and mind these things are wrong. Its not just because the Bible tells you these things are wrong OR the church tells you these things are wrong. It’s actually the Holy Spirit in you – convicting you these things are wrong.
Similarly, Paul goes on to talk about the fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Slide 13; Gal.5:22). As you can see Paul says – there is no law for or against these things. In other words – to a certain measure they also are obvious. We know these things are good. When we follow the desires of the flesh – there is a negative feedback loop (of guilt, shame, and negative consequences) – telling us to stop doing this thing. When we follow the Spirit (and reap the fruits of the Spirit) there is a positive feedback loop of love, joy and peace telling us to do more of these things.
So Paul tells us to KEEP IN STEP with the Holy Spirit who is actively leading us away from sin and into that which is good. Although, SANCTIFICATION is the Holy Spirits work, that does not mean we are passive passengers in the journey. We are to keep in step with the Spirit’s promptings and convictions and reminders. And this is more than just knowledge of the Bible. It is not just rational. The leading of the Holy Spirit is personal and I would say it is tangible.
In some more Orthodox evangelical circles – the personal, convicting and guiding work of the Holy Spirit has almost been eviscerated, because of an over-reaction against Pentecostal extremes. SOME PENTECOSTALS think that every time they have gas, or an idea passes through their mind – it’s a movement of the Holy Spirit. No, the Bible is clear that you still need to test the spirits and your feelings against the word of God, because its very easy for the desires of the flesh and Satan to deceive us. So we need to test everything against God’s Word.
But against this extreme, some evangelicals Christians have run so far the other way – that even when the Holy Spirit is bashing them with a sledgehammer saying repent – they are completely insensitive to the Spirit’s leading. THEY ARE NOT AWARE of when the Spirit is leading them A) to take a step of faith OR B) when to repent of sin. OR they are aware of it and they refuse to acknowledge it. Unless the conviction or leading happens in the middle of the sermon or while I’m reading the Bible – the automatic conclusion is its probably just gas.
But I assure you that if you are getting strong promptings (that seem to becoming from outside you) to do something in love, in goodness, kindness or forbearance or even repentance – you can be pretty sure that’s not coming from the devil or the flesh, and its probably not gas.
The great puritan evangelicals like Spurgeon, Jonathon Edwards, JC Ryle, JI Packer (and many others) all understood that the Spirits work in our life is PERSONAL, EXPERIENTIAL, EXPERIMENTAL, COMFORTING and at times profoundly TANGIBLE. God the Creator is really with us through His Spirit. It isn’t abstract. It isn’t theoretical. It is RELATIONAL. And the Holy Spirit really does give us love, joy and peace – not just as concepts to be apprehended, but as real affections in the soul – to be celebrated…
Apply: The point is – today we celebrate PENTECOST – because two thousand years ago God started to give His Holy Spirit to everyone who believes in Jesus. The gulf between God and man (caused by sin) has been bridged by Jesus – and God is now with us in relationship by His Spirit. This is an amazing gift – because the Holy Spirit is now personally 1) guiding us, 2) ministering to us, 3) liberating us from our sins. 4) praying for us (with groans inexpressible), 5) comforting us in our sorrows; 6) prophesying through us to the world and giving us gifts to serve in the church. In short, the Holy Spirit is now setting us free from spiritual death and giving us spiritual life. So since we enjoy life by the Spirit and are led by the Spirit, let us be conscious and careful to keep in step with the Spirit – in all things. Let me pray.