What We Want to Believe (The Work of the Spirit)

What We Want to Believe (The Work of the Spirit)

Feb 05, 2009

Preacher: Jason Wolin

Series: What We Want To Believe

Category: Membership


Defining the problem:

John Piper made the following statement in one of his sermons, “I am coming to see the peacetime mentality that dominates our church and our conference as a tactical victory of Satan—the result of a kind of nerve gas from Satan's arsenal of chemical weaponry that gives the soldiers of Christ a kind of stupor in some and religious euphoria in others, and eventually puts them to sleep at the gates of the enemy, and makes them utterly oblivious to the cries of the P.O.W.'s behind the wall. Who but Satan could devise a chemical weapon which when spread over the army of Christ would make them content simply to hold worship services and support groups at the door of Satan's dungeon? Picture the Allied troops landing in Germany, marching victoriously toward the smoke from the ovens of Dachau, and then stopping at the gates, setting up camp, and having a big Bavarian beer bust to celebrate while the Gestapo finishes murdering 5,000 Jews behind the gates. Satan is satisfied with all our religious activity as long as it does not move us to break down those gates to rescue the perishing.”

I think few people would argue that this is a problem in the American church to some degree.  We are very comfortable.  Even in the midst of an economic crisis, what are we worried about?  Are we worried about not having food?  Or are we worried about not having the type of food we want?  Are we worried about not having clothing? Or are we worried about not having the right type of clothing?  It is more a concern of loosing a lifestyle and comfort than it is about survival.  I am not trying to minimalize the loss of jobs and the inability to pay mortgages; that represents real, true painful loss and there is a lot of difficulty associated with that, but who could argue that we are not comfort driven?

  • Given the choice between spending your weekend building a relationship with your unbelieving next door neighbor or working on your home, you choose the home.
  • Given the choice between spending your money on a new couch or supporting the Mexico missions trip this year, most of us choose the couch.
  • Given the choice between teaching your kids about heart attitudes and submission to God or watch a Disney channel, you choose Disney.
  • Given the choice between spending time with your wife talking through how to strengthen your marriage or going your separate ways at the end of the day to work on your projects, you work on your projects.

Let me ask you this question, “What would make us change?  What is going to make it so that next time we have 100 extra dollars we actually see it as extra?  What is going to make us take that extra 100 dollars and spend it on the kingdom?  What is going to shift our desires from seeking the comfort of the world to seeking sacrifice for Christ?” 

We could guilt people into changing.  We could create a culture that frowns upon having TV’s.   We could create a culture that makes it very awkward for people if they miss Sunday morning.  We could create a culture that guilts people into evangelism and setup a quota system where everyone has to perform a certain number of cold visits per week in order to fulfill your duty to the church.    That is one way to change that.  That works pretty well. 

We could also bribe.   We could give tons of praise to people who are successful evangelists.  We could put your name on a plack if you gave the most money to the church in 2009.  We could give you a ribbon and a certificate which says, “Most abused for the sake of Christ.”  Or we could distribute rewards based on a voting system with different categories.  “Most likely to be seated next to the Apostle Paul.”  Or as a prize to the person who serves the most number of hours in the church we could give them a book entitled, “How to grow big neck muscles” and tell them this is a book we feel you need to implement into your service routine so that you will be able to support the crown you will undoubtedly receive.   That is one way to change that.  This also works pretty well.

But neither of these motivations honor the Lord.  The Lord wants us to in our joy exchange sacrifice for him because we see him as worth it. 

But what do we have at our disposal to change the heart so that you want to live this way?  What power do we have at our disposal to actually change our heart?  So that you go home and do something different.  How are we at FCBC actually going to get radical for Christ? 

  • There is nothing we can do to love our comfort less.
  • You can’t make yourself love TV less
  • You cannot make yourself love leisure less.
  • You can’t discipline yourself into actually loving food less.
  • You may say, well Jason, there are plenty of unbelievers who have mastered these areas of their life. To which I would respond, “You can discipline yourself to love yourself more so that you eat less so that you live longer.  But that is just switching from worship of self in the form of food worship to worship of self in the form of health worship.  All that happened in that instance is that you saw health as more valuable than the pleasure of food.  But who is the recipient of the pleasure that comes from food and who is the recipient of health?  You! 
  • What you cannot do is switch from worshipping self to worshipping God.
  • Jason Wolin has ZERO Power to do that work in his own heart.  

 The Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit must do this in our lives.   Any spiritual work, whether it is salvation, repentance, a transformed heart, sanctification.  Any spiritual work is done by the Holy Spirit.  Having the Holy Spirit is not an optional thing. 

When we talk about the Holy Spirit if we are good theological students we know that we should refer to him as a person not a force.  But that is not the way we typically think of the Spirit.  Does this sentence sound strange to you?  “When the Holy Spirit saves a person it works by changing their desires.”  The pronoun is wrong!  The Holy Spirit is a person, not a force.  If we think of the Holy Spirit as a mysterious power, our thoughts will be, “How can I get more of the Holy Spirit?”  If we think of the Holy Spirit as a person, we will ask, “How can the Holy Spirit have more of me?” 

I read of a man who was commenting on how frustrated he was that people understand theologically that the Holy Spirit is a person, but do not think of him that way.  He said that after a series of messages on the Holy Spirit a woman came up to him and said, “Before your messages I never thought of it as a person.” 

The Holy Spirit, He is God.  

Not only is the Holy Spirit a person.  The Holy Spirit is God. The person who indwells us, the person that is able to transform our affections, the person who leads and purifies us is no one less than God.  The simple evidence for this is the frequent designation "Spirit of God." The Spirit is "of God" not because God created him, but because he shares God's nature and comes forth eternally from God (see 1 Corinthians 2:10–12). If the Son of God is eternal in the same way that the Father is eternal, as John 1:1–3 makes clear that he is, then so is the Holy Spirit equally eternal with them both, because, according to Romans 8:9–11, the Spirit of Christ is one and the same with the Spirit of God. If this were not so, we would have to imagine that there was a time when the Son had no Spirit and the Father had no Spirit.

The work of the Holy Spirit

What is the Holy Spirit’s primary work?  Some would answer that the Holy Spirit is most active in

  • the sanctification of individual believers
  • or in the inspiration of the Bible
  • or in the giving of specific gifts to those serving within the church
  • or in moving unbelievers to accept Christ.

These are all examples of things the Holy Spirit does, but this is not the best answer to the question.  The best answer to the question is found in:

John 16:13-14  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 15:26  "But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

The primary work of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ and testify about him.  All other works that might be mentioned about Christ are included underneath this umbrella.

So, we know from these Scriptures that the Holy Spirit will not speak of himself.  Any emphasis upon the person and work of the Spirit that detracts from the person and work of Jesus Christ is not the Spirit’s doing.  The Spirit has no interest in bringing attention to himself.  Signs, wonders, spiritual gifts are all given to point the affections of all peoples to the all satisfying person of Jesus Christ.  As important as the Holy Spirit is, he is never to take the place of Christ.  The Holy Spirit has done his work when Christ is magnified.  Or to flip it around and say it the other way, whenever Jesus Christ is magnified you know the Holy Spirit is at work.  So the main work of the Holy Spirit is to magnify Jesus.

I have often heard the criticism that the Spirit does not get enough attention our Christian community.  I understand and sympathize with that on one hand, but on the other hand I say to myself, “If believers are properly being empowered by the Spirit, then the Spirit will not even be a conscious reality because Christ will be totally central.”

So this is a very important starting point.  The purpose of the Spirit is to magnify JESUS. 

So think about the word magnify for a moment.  Let’s say for the sake of illustration that you have in front of you a snowflake.  With your set of eyes you can only see so much.  But let’s say you get out a scanning electron microscope and begin to zoom in on that snowflake.  (I couldn’t help but grab a picture off the internet.  Here is what one type of snowflake looks like zoomed in).  The process of magnification exposes what was there, but what could not be seen without the magnification.  Think of the Holy Spirit that way.  The Holy Spirit magnifies Jesus.  It takes what is there and blows it up and makes it obvious so that everyone can see it and acknowledge it.

So how does the Holy Spirit Magnify Christ?

Let me list just a few ways in which the Holy Spirit Magnifies Christ.

  1. The Holy Spirit magnifies Christ by regenerating unbelievers.

In I Cor 2:14, Paul talks about the fact that unbelievers cannot know the things of God because they are spiritually discerned.  That means that spiritual truths are invisible to unbelievers.  It would be like you trying to view with your eyes the ultraviolet spectrum or the 2.4 ghz electromagnetic spectrum.  Your eyes were not designed by God to see it.  It is invisible; and yet those spectrums of the electromagnetic frequency exist. They are  just as real as the colors you can see with your eyes.  And yet they are visually discerned.  So what the Spirit does is opens blind eyes to discern spiritual truth. 

Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus. 

John 3:5-8  "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 

If you have flesh eyes you see flesh.  If you have spiritual eyes you see spirit.   That is his point.  Spurgeon talks about the strange inconspicuous way in which the Spirit performed this spiritual birth in his own life. 

“One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preachers sermon, for I did not believe it.  The thought struck me, ‘How did you come to be a Christian?’  I sought the Lord.  ‘But how did you come to seek the Lord?’  The truth flashed across my mind in a moment- I should not have sought him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek him.  I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, ‘How came I to pray?’ I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures.  ‘How came I to read the Scriptures?’  I did read them, but what led me to do so?   The in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and the he was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, ‘I ascribe my change wholly to God.’

There is a certain degree of comfort that can be derived in knowing that Christ caused you to be spiritually reborn!

A dead man cannot assist in his own resurrection.

Imagine you were a youth specialist who worked with rare mental disorders.  Imagine they were absolutely convinced they gave birth to themselves.  That would be very unhealthy.  And that is the point. 

We need to just pause and praise God that the Spirit has moved in each of our hearts and given us that Spiritual rebirth. 


God grant us to have the capacity to feel and appropriate emotional response to this glorious truth! 

  1. The Holy Spirit magnifies Christ by teaching about him in the Scriptures.

2 Peter 1:21   For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

So what this text is saying is that the way the Holy Spirit magnifies Christ is by inspiring men of God to write down accurate information concerning Jesus.  God is magnified  when our hearts embrace accurate truth concerning Jesus.   God’s Word is like a zoom lens which brings us in close to see the detail of who Jesus is. 

I think it is so important to realize and remember that knowing about God through his word is gift.  It is not something to be casually affirmed.  “Yeah, I know about God because it’s in the Bible.”  As if having the Bible is something we deserve.  It is not as if God owed it too us to give us his Word. 

Perhaps a way to make this more obvious is to ask the question, “When we say the holy spirit magnifies Christ, who is the recipient of that magnification?”  In other words, who is the one who is looking into the microscope and saying, “Wow!”   Answer: we are!

To whom is it appropriate to give information about yourself?  To whom is appropriate to give access to a lens which will magnify your life?  Is appropriate to reveal your social security number, your birth certificate, your banking account numbers, your credit card balances to criminals?  No, you stay away from those people who abuse you and you withhold any personal information from those who take advantage of you.  But not Christ.  The Holy Spirit poured out God’s heart us in his Word and by His grace revealed His son Jesus Christ.  We are rebels.  We do not deserve his Word.

  1. The Holy Spirit magnifies Christ by making us holy.

So the point here is that the Holy Spirit wants to magnify Christ to the world by making Christians holy.  When Christians are holy that makes Christ look larger in the eyes of the world.  This is a huge burden on my heart today.  It is so important that we understand how the Spirit works in our sanctification.   Because this is where we all live.  We live in bodies of flesh (and that flesh is not going anywhere) and yet dwelling within us is the Spirit of God.  And that produces daily conflict. 

If you are a believer you feel that conflict.  You want the fruit of the Spirit. 

Galatians 5:22-23  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Who wouldn’t want to be characterized by those qualities?  And the analogy makes a lot of sense.  Just like an apple tree produces apples, so the fruit of the Spirit in your life and mine is sanctification.  In other words, true joy, true love for someone else, true peace, true patience, true kindness, true faithfulness, true genteleness and true self control are products of being controlled by the Spirit of God.  They are not natural fruits of the flesh.  They are not fruits of self discipline.  They are not fruits of self-effort.  They are products of the Spirit in our life. 

So how does that happen?  How does the Spirit take control of our lives so that we walk by the Spirit?  What do we need to do to yield ourselves to the person of the Spirit so that he can guide and direct and influence our desires?  What am I supposed to do to make that happen?

And let’s just get real practical here.  Let’s take the area of forgiveness for example.  If you are trying to have deep relationships with people you are probably working on forgiving someone in some area of your life.  And forgiveness is not one of those things that is a one time event.  We all know that when someone has really ruffled our feathers that even though at 8:30am they were totally forgiven that by 10:45 after replaying a few of the tapes in our mind, we are back at square one harboring resentment.  We have to keep forgiving them in our mind.  

So let’s say that you are tempted to harbor resentment.  You are feeling the opposite emotions of impatience, harshness, cruel feelings, embitterment, etc.   What do you do?  How does the Holy Spirit produce his fruit in you?

So I am going to answer that question with a little bit of theology and then return to this exact point to try to make that theology feel like the life that you live.

When Paul says that we have been crucified with Christ, there are two ways in which we need to hear that.  We need to distinguish between Penalty and Power.  Let’s talk about the first one.  We have been decisively crucified with him.  In other words, there is this legal sense in which in which the penalty for sin has been paid.  Just like you a penalty in football for a facemask.  That penalty must be paid.  The penalty is 15 yards and a first down.  So it is with Christ.  There is a penalty for sin and that penalty has been completely paid on the cross.  This is a past even and is irrevocable and is never repeated.

When we talk about the penalty of sin, we are talking about that outstanding death penalty that must be paidOn the other hand when we talk about the power of sin we are talking about the influence our flesh has on our morality.  Even though the penalty of sin is taken care of, the flesh still has power over us to influence us to disobey.  So the power of sin is something we continuous and repeatably experience.  It is something that belongs to the present.  I die (like Christ) to self daily.  That is what Christ meant when he said, if anyone desires to come after me he must take up his cross daily and follow me.  And while sin has power it no longer has dominion over us like it once did.  That is the point of verses like 2 Cor. 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  You could reword that to say, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old man who was dominated by sin is gone.  The new man in the Spirit can have dominion over sin is come.”

So even though the penalty of sin has been paid for your flesh needs to be put to death daily.  Every day you have to wake up and put a bullet in it.

So now let’s back up and get practical again.  You are struggling to forgive someone.  You are tempted to harbor resentment.  You are feeling the opposite emotions of the fruit of the Spirit: impatience, harshness, cruel feelings, embitterment, etc.   What do you do?  How does this doctrine that may seem a little bit hard to understand produce fruit in you?

After all here is this person, perhaps its is your spouse, who has wronged you.  They are in debt to you.  Sheer justice says that you have the right to exact some suffering in their life in payment for the suffering they caused you.  What does this theology have to do with forgiveness?  What’s the Spirit’s role in this? 

Let’s start with the penalty of sin.  You pray this prayer (and as you are praying this prayer the Holy Spirit according to Rom. 8 is interceding for you), “God, you have paid for my sin of an unforgiving heart on the cross at the cost of your Son Jesus.  How can I go on harboring unforgiveness?  Not only that, but you have paid, in a final ultimate way the penalty of sin for my brother or sister or spouse with whom I disagree!  How could I want to exact payment for a sin you have forgiven?  How could I want to inflict a wound to a person you have healed?  No Lord, the cross was sufficient.  That wound that I want to inflict has already been inflicted and much, much more upon Jesus.”  You know what God’s Spirit does with that truth.  It humbles you.  The battle for forgiveness is not with the person you are in conflict with.  The battle for forgiveness is with your own unmerciful inner person.  The battle is with our proud, self centered self.  Think about it.  Would you ever have a conflict if you didn’t care about your pride?  Fight that battle by focusing on the finality of the cross.  Be stunned and broken and built up and glad in the fact that your sin and the sin of all your fellow believers are on the cross.  So if I had to summarize the Spirit’s primary role in sanctification I would say that the Spirit takes the gospel and applies it to your heart. 

That was how to apply the penalty of sin to forgiveness.  What about the power of sin.  You pray this prayer (and as you are praying this prayer the Holy Spirit according to Rom 8 is interceding for you with groanings too deep for words), “God I know that this sin of holding on to my bitterness is antithetical to the cross.  I know that this is my flesh welling up inside of my trying to influence me to fall back into my old habits and ways.  But God you have said that because of your Son’s death on the cross, the dominon of sin is broken.  I do not have to obey the flesh.  Help me rather to walk in the Spirit.  You say in your word that no temptation has overcome me except that is common to man and that you are faithful to provide a way of escape.  And I know that that way of escape is by focusing on the cross.  Lead me there Lord.   Help me to see Jesus.” 

Now there is one more thing to say about the Spirit’s role in our sanctification.

In the same way that God does not leave the issue of conversion finally in the hands of men, God does not risk leaving sanctification in our hands either.

Ezekiel 36:26-27  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 

Philippians 2:13   13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

  1. The Holy Spirit magnifies Christ by giving believers assurance that Christ has redeemed us.

Romans 8:16  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

  1. The Holy Spirit magnifies Christ by giving believers spiritual gifts.
  1. The Holy Spirit magnifies Christ by empowering believers for service.

Acts 1:8   8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

  1. The Holy Spirit magnified Christ by unifying Christ’s bride.

2 Corinthians 13:14  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.


When you listen to a sermon the ultimate goal is not to just make Jesus Christ clear, the ultimate goal is to make Jesus Christ real to you.  God is not interested even in the slightest bit about giving you information that you can assimilate and then take away if that information does not change you.  God wants to change you on the spot with the gospel. 

The primary role of the Spirit is to focus our attention on Christ.  So whether you are unbeliever in need of seeing Jesus for the first time or whether you are a believer who needs to stop loving the world or whether you are a spouse who needs to forgive or whether you are a employee that needs to learn contentment, recognize that the primary role of the Spirit is to take the gospel and apply it to your life!


Do we remember that the Holy Spirit is the one responsible to authenticate our witness, and look to him alone to do so, and trust him alone to so, and throw away the gimmicks of human cleverness. 

Do we remember that the Holy Spirit is the one responsible for taking his Word and piercing the heart of those who hear it?