These are my notes from a sermon I preached in February. It is long but I hope it is a blessing to you!
I have been slowly reading through the book of Acts in my quiet times lately. As most of you know, Saul was a prominent Jew and one of the chief persecutors of the new Christian Church. Well he is hot and heavy on the persecution road hunting Christians down in another city called Damascus and on his way there, he gets his tail handed to him by the Lord and has a literal, as we call it here in the South, “Come to Jesus meeting.” He has a complete conversion and is now a Jesus Freak proclaiming Jesus so vehemently that the Jewish Leaders in Damascus try to kill him and the Christian disciples that Saul was going to kill have to save Saul’s life for preaching Jesus! They say hey Buddy, you need to get out of here and Saul goes and communes with Jesus for three years in Arabia (3 year break between Acts 9:25 and 26, you can read about it in Galatians 1:11-18) Then he comes back into the scene full force in Jerusalem. He is preaching Jesus so hard that his life is immediately threatened again by the Jews and the Christians have to pull him out of the picture a second time and send him to Tarsus (355.7 miles away!!!)
We see a true 180 degree turn in his actions. It was obvious that He had been saved. How did this happen?
Act 9:31 “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”
Bridging the Gap b/t those who know Christ and those who don’t is a noble mission to be sure.
This requires building relationships.
Jehova is a God of many characteristics, names & titles. Who can know them all? One thing we can know for sure is that He is a God of relationships. We know this on many levels.
God IS a relationship within Himself as God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit all in one. We see this displayed clearly in the New Testament at the Baptism of Jesus. The Father’s voice from Heaven, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as a Dove are all present. (Luke 3:21-22)
All His creation from the tiniest atoms to the farthest galaxy show this idea of holy relationships. Gravitational pull. The earth’s exact yet unfettered distance from the Sun, allowing life. The Moon and the Tides of the ocean. We also see relationships demonstrated in the animal kingdom, the plants, microbiology. We see relationships displayed in His creation of spiritual beings, angels. We know that Humans do not thrive except in healthy relationships with one another. Babies can literally die from not being touched. Even if provided nutrition and hydration. In order to make true change in the lives round us, we must learn to build relationships.
I want to circle back to that idea but first I want to discuss bridging the gap personally inside each of us from being someone who does not know Christ into being someone that does.
THREE PARTS OF THE BRIDGE- Fear of the Lord, trusting Christ, Comfort of the Holy Spirit
So, it is an understatement to say that the triune God is interested in a relationship with you and I. He travelled from beyond the stars to do so. He is pursuing you this moment.
It is not sufficient anymore in the USA to ask someone if they are a Christian. They may say “yes”, followed by something like my Grandmomma went to the Methodist church on the corner or they may even tell you what church they attend. In many countries asking someone if they are a Christian is a very good way to identify the true believers because you can lose your life over the answer. And perhaps that day is coming to our nation. But in the USA, especially in the South, we still enjoy some semblance of cultural normality by saying we are a Christian.
Now, if you ask someone what they think about Jesus Christ, then you will quickly see the shades pulled up on their heart. Most true believers will begin right out of the gates with something about how Jesus is THEIR’S..their savior, their Lord, their everything. If, however, they begin to tell you about their grandma or where they go to church or that Jesus is a great guy… to avoid diving into a real answer… then you may assume this person is not a Christian and has not Salvation.
This person may be you.
It is often said that there are three types of Believers, Non-believers, Believers and make-believers. I consider it my duty as I share the word of God to always assume that there is a mixed crowd of all three present. Why? Because although there are three types of people on earth, there are only two types on Judgment Day (Matthew 7:21-23).
You see, we place a great deal of emphasis on this idea of having a relationship with Jesus. That Jesus is God and He loves you, died on the cross for your sins and rose from the grave to prove He is God and if you believe that you can go to Heaven when you die. And you need to know all that. All of that is true. But all of that is only one side of the coin. See, we have made Christianity like a coin in a collector’s box. We look at it. We wipe the dust off the glass case and say, look at that! Nice coin! I am a Christian!
What we need to do is take that coin out of the dusty old box and flip it over. Allow me to make parallel illustrations of Christianity here, one of the coin and the other of a bridge.
FIRST FOOTING OF THE BRIDGE---THE FEAR OF THE LORD
Saul feared the Lord. The other side of the coin is the law of God, the 10 commandments. And when you disobey at any one of these points, you are guilty of disobeying the Law of God. Have you stolen, lied, etc?
When you disobey the Law you are bound for Hell. A permanent place of condemnation and suffering! Goodness that sounds awful! You may say, oh no, he is getting Old Testament on us! That’s right I am, but you know what? Jesus says in the sermon on the Mount… the Law is only meant to expose your heart. The Law may say “Do not murder” But I say when you are angry with your brother, you commit murder. The Law says, do not commit adultery, I say when you look lustfully at a woman, you commit adultery”
“The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom” Proverbs 9:10
What did Jesus first start preaching in Matthew and Mark? “Repent for the Kingdom is at hand!”
I always feel awkward bringing this up until I remember, hey, I am just passing along what God said (I did not make up the rules). I believe it is hard for us to truly understand the gospel until we understand our state of ugliness. Most of us believe we are a good person. Very few people readily admit that they are in a state of brokenness. Much less that we are deserving of eternal pain and suffering. Do we understand that from which we were saved, why we needed to be saved from it and the price which was paid in our place to keep us from it?
“I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the Law. The Law is the needle, and you cannot draw the silken thread of the gospel through a man’s heart unless you first send the needle of the Law to make way for it.”-Charles Spurgeon
Saul trusted Christ. It may seem obvious but the reason that a bridge is needed is because there is a chasm that cannot be crossed. We cannot move from the fear of the Lord to the Comfort of the Holy Spirit without a bridge.
After understanding our need for forgiveness and our bondage to sin, we must understand that Jesus has paid our debt, and if we call on Him and trust in Him, we are forgiven, we are seen as righteous in the eyes of our Heavenly Father, we are freed from the bonds of sin. We will be with Him forever in Heaven. Sadly, many Christians at this point think “Well, I am good!” and they huff on the coin, shine it up well and put the coin back in the box. (Jesus side up)
THE OTHER FOOTING OF THE BRIDGE---THE COMFORT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Saul walked in the Comfort of the Spirit. A bridge must have a second footing. Or it is a bridge to nowhere. Jesus says, go and steward the value of that coin! Throw away the box! Go invest the coin! Try to double, triple, quadruple your money! Or, as He says in the parable of the sower in Matthew (13:23), some 100 fold, some 60 fold and some 30 fold.
“Most Christians go to Calvary for forgiveness and never go to Pentecost for their power.”-Unknown
John 10:10 “The Thief comes to steal, kill and destroy but I have come so that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus is not necessarily talking about material abundance. Jesus tells us that there is power to be had and Paul tells us that there is fruit to be grown IN US, as Christians, through the work of the Holy Spirit on Earth. Yes, there is much wonder to be had and seen in heaven, Yes, much treasure and crowns to be built up for each of us in heaven. But Jesus is talking about now, in this life! We are freed from the bonds of sin through Christ. (John 8:31-36)
Jesus told His disciples that it was to their advantage that He leaves, so the Holy Spirit could come. (John 16:7)
It is interesting to look at the names and actions that Jesus attributes to The Holy Spirit in John 14 & 16….Helper (or Advocate or Counselor)… Dwells with you… Is in you... Teach you all things... Bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you… Come to you... Convict the world (concerning sin and righteousness and judgement)… Spirit of truth… Guide you into all the truth… Speak, declare to you the things that are to come… Glorify Jesus… Take what is Jesus’ and declare it to you. WHOA!
Jesus says that the world cannot receive him because it does not see or know the Holy spirit. But He says that you (talking to His disciples) know Him. How do they know the Holy spirit? Because He dwells with them and in them. (John 14:17)
Receiving the Holy Spirit is obviously something that happens after one has trusted in the sin atoning life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then you are “sealed”, bought and paid for in full (Ephesians 1:13) with the Holy Spirit. Only then can one begin to walk in the Spirit.
We receive the Holy Spirit when we trust in Christ. But something that is noteworthy in scripture about receiving the Holy Spirit is that it is always described as a very obvious experience. It should have been a point of visible change in trajectory in your life.
What sort of things does the Bible describe happening as one “receives the Spirit?”
In scripture we see, people speaking tongues, prophesying, being bold & fruitful preaching (Paul Acts 9:17 & 22), exhortation (Barnabus, Acts 11:23-24) and obedience to the Lord (Acts 5:32). I am certainly not going to put the Holy Spirit in a box as if these were the ONLY things that can happen when receiving the Spirit. My point is simply this…Something so obvious happens when someone receives the Spirit that they know it without a doubt and everyone around them knows it too. Remember the story of Saul we started out with? 180 degree turn!
If you cannot remember receiving the Holy Spirit, then you may not have trusted in Christ.
What does Walking in the Spirit “look like”? This is different than receiving the Spirit, or trusting in Christ.
Picture an axle with a tire on each side. Walking in the fear of the Lord is one tire. Walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit is the other tire. The axle is trusting in Jesus Christ. If the axle is broken, you are going nowhere. If the tires are flat or low, you can still go but not as well as God intended you to move. We must constantly examine whether our tires are filled to the correct pressure with Fear of the Lord and Comfort of the Holy Spirit.
We clearly see the fruit of the Spirit described…Examine the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
How do you get more of the Holy Spirit?? Answers:
-“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:13
-Choosing to put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6) Daily!!!
-The trifecta of Prayer, Fasting and Giving prescribed by Jesus in the sermon on the mount. (Matthew 6)
We have many decisions to make as we walk this journey out and I pray that each one is led by the Holy Spirit. Recently, I have begun saying that Walking in the Spirit is 1,000 decisions a day. Do I bite my tongue or say what I am really thinking, complain about my difficulties or listen empathetically to someone else’s, give my wife the bowl with more ice cream or keep it for myself? Well, according to research, it is estimated that the average adult makes around 35,000 conscious decisions each day! I knew I felt tired at the end of the day and now I know why!!! We can all feel a bit better about being tired at the end of a long day now.
When considering a situation, before acting on your decision, ask…is this lifegiving?
All that to circle back to Acts 9:31 “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” This is not so much a novel idea as it is the very epitome of what the Lord desires for us, and it is what Jesus made possible for us.
-If the Lord, our Father, is God creator of us – we must fear Him
-and The Son, Jesus Christ is Immanuel, God with us,-- We must trust Him,
-then the Holy Spirit is God in us—We must Walk with Him, in His Comfort
Only once the gap has been bridged within ourselves can we begin to bridge the gap with others.
IN CLOSING, many of us start and stop at Jesus coming to us, we do not walk in a healthy fear of the Lord and never let Him work though us. When the grace of the Lord only comes to us and we do not let it go through us, I call that Mudhole Christianity. Things can live in a mudhole but it is nothing that people want in their life. Walking in the Spirit is God loving others through us. I call that Fountain Christianity (“Fountain of Life” is a common description of God in the OT). Think about the seed dying and multiplying (John 12:24). Think about the sap moving through the vine into the branch to bear fruit (John 15:5)
BUT TOO OFTEN WE…
-Don’t let the fountain flow
-Won’t let ourselves (the seed) die
-Focus so much on the fruit that we become disconnected from the vine (our job is not to bear fruit)
Too often the Church building gathering becomes our focus. Do we need it? “Yes!” Is it important? “Yes!” But the church really has one main function for the Believer and one main function for the nonbeliever…
For the believer, the church building is mainly a place to build relationships with the Coach (Pastor) and other believers. Think of it as a time-out during a game. Everyone should be weary from playing on the field. Need to regroup. “Coach, what were the plays again. I forgot what you said about this part of the playbook.” Huddle. Then….BREAK! And back to the Mission Field of life.
For the nonbeliever, the church building is mainly a place to meet God, hear the gospel, experience a glimpse of Jesus’ love through His people (Notice, I said glimpse)
Being engaged in a local church should be an integral piece of your walk within the Body of Christ. But being engaged in a local church should never be the ONLY piece of your walk with the Body of Christ!
Non-Believers and make believers—Our time on earth is not indefinite, The Spirit is drawing you near today. If you have been playing church or running from it completely, today is the day of salvation. Recognize the Awesome might and power of the Lord, Fear Him! See your wicked heart for what it is. Stop running from The Lord and give up your right to continue doing things your way. It may look good on the outside but you know it is rotten on the inside. Trust in the covering mercy and grace of Jesus. Receive the Holy Spirit as your comfort today.
Christians- Our time on earth is precious, Jesus knew this, He spent much of his time with “the least of these” in society. So, outside of the few hours each week we are in church, instead of wasting our time on things that will not last into eternity, we are called to invest in relationships with the people around us…These investments will last eternally…
But relationships are tricky, they can be difficult…In order to do them well…we must Walk in the Fear of the Lord and the Comfort of the Holy Spirit!
If we will continue to strive for this then the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against us!