Most people can recall a time when they were real brats. This may have happened in their teen years when they constantly questioned the values and attitudes of their parents and teachers. The 1960s were the years that the spirit of rebellion dominated my life, but the 60s and early 70s was also a time when the spirit of rebellion had a grip on society as a whole. Long hair, weird clothes, strange music, drugs, “flower power”, anti-government street marches, anti anything that signified the spirit of the previous generation, highlighted this spirit of rebellion.
We might ask what was new about all of this? The 60s were pretty tame compared to what happens today. That’s true but the spirit of the 60s was so different to what had preceded. The spirit of rebellion took on a new form.
Notice that in my introduction this morning I have referred to “the spirit of rebellion” or the “spirit of the 60s”. The word “spirit” is an interesting one because it needs to be accompanied by the little word “of” o-f “of”. The word “spirit” appears nearly 700 times in the Bible and usually following it there is the word “of”. In the Bible we read about – spirit of the Lord … spirit of power … spirit of life … spirit of truth … spirit of this world … spirit of destruction … spirit of holiness … spirit of peace … spirit of humility … spirit of jealousy … spirit of gentleness…
I think you get the point.
There are three of these “spirit of” references in the four verses of the eighth chapter of Romans I read a moment ago: “Spirit of God” … “spirit of bondage” and “spirit of adoption”.
“Of” is only a tiny word connecting a noun with a preceding noun, nevertheless it is a very important word. The word “spirit” by itself doesn’t tell us a great deal, in fact, when you mention “spirit” some people think ghosts and the spirit-world and death. For others the word “spirit” means the bottled variety.
Others again may think of the team spirit of their football team, or the spirit of adventure, or getting into the spirit of the occasion on New Year’s Eve. Even in the Apostle Paul’s time, the word “spirit” needed some extra identification and qualification. And so that second noun with the small word “of” becomes very important to identify what kind of spirit is exactly being talked about. That why the Bible so often says “spirit of …” .
The question could well be asked of ourselves – what kind of a spirit do we have? What follows the “of” in our lives? Do we have a spirit of fear, or a spirit of faith? A spirit of hate or a spirit of love? A spirit of uncooperation or a spirit of helpfulness? A spirit of greed or a spirit of generosity? A spirit of ruthlessness or a spirit of gentleness?
You can see how important what word follows that little word “of”.
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Today we are celebrating Pentecost Day, the day the Holy Spirit came in the sound of a mighty wind and tongues of fire on the disciples heads. He came and gave them the power to speak in different languages and speak about the Good News of Jesus to the people gathered in Jerusalem from many nations. It is true that the events of that day are quite fantastic, the stuff that movie makers like because there is something of the mysterious about it all.
Today we are celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit not just back in history, but the continual filling of the Spirit ever since.
When we were baptised we were adopted by God and made members of his family. When the water of baptism touched our heads, our sinfulness was covered over with the forgiveness of God, not partially, but completely. And from that time on God has looked at us with a baptismal attitude. He has declared us forgiven in Christ. He has made us children of God. He has made us heirs of salvation and eternal life. Everyday the Spirit reminds us that we are loved by God; we are his sons and daughters, even though we can hardly claim to be worthy of such an honour.
Daily God’s Spirit leads us to Jesus, and enables us to see him with the eyes of faith as our Saviour, our Friend, someone to whom we can turn to in our deepest needs. Everyday he shows us the terrible mess that sin is making in our lives; how much sin affects our relationship with God, harms so many people in our lives and destroys so much that is beautiful in our world. The Spirit convinces us that we are sinners and convicts us of our sin. Through the Word of God in the Bible and Holy Communion he revives us, renews us with the forgiveness that comes from the cross.
The Holy Spirit is busy every day of our lives guiding us to live as children of God. Every day Satan, the world and our own sinful desires rebel against God and what he wants for our lives and everyday the Holy Spirit influences our will, steers us away from evil and causes us to do what is good. We could put it this way, We have been made holy through the blood of Jesus now the Spirit of God helps us be true children of God and live lives of holiness.
The Holy Spirit is truly a wonderful gift from God! What a wonderful daily blessing the Holy Spirit is!
The question that confronts us today as we celebrate Pentecost is this – are we being “led by the Spirit of God” or by a “spirit of bondage”? Let’s not fool ourselves we are children of this world. We are so easily caught up in the spirit of this world – the spirit of rebellion, a spirit of fear and greed.
Paul calls this a “spirit of bondage” because it grips us and will not let go even though we wish it might release its grip on us. Take the “spirit of fear”. Maybe you are about to face an operation, or an interview for an important job, fear grips your spirit, it affects you bodily and fills your mind with all kinds of doubt about the future and all kinds of questions about your own abilities and the abilities of those around you. When the heat is on, you would do anything to be free of this fear – you really are a slave of fear.
Or take greed. You have this spirit inbuilt within you to want more and more. You cannot be satisfied. You know that you ought to be generous, but you cannot let it go, no matter how good the cause might be, or how desperate a friend might be. You will always think of a good reason why you can’t be generous. You envy those who get so much praise for the way they generously give of their time and energy and resources. “Why can’t I?” you ask. The answer is: You are caught in a spirit of slavery to greed.
There are things that just ordinary people like you and me can easily become enslaved to. We can let the “spirit of bondage” take control and let sexual immorality, lust, hatred, strife, jealousy, anger, and the like rule our lives and ruin our relationship with God and with the people around us. (See Galatians 5:19-21).
Paul then talks about the stark contrast to the “spirit of slavery” and that is the “spirit of sonship”. It is the Holy Spirit who changes us radically so that more and more we turn away from the “spirit of slavery” and the sin that has especially trapped us, and to live as the children of God. The Holy Spirit points us to the love of Jesus and guides us to demonstrate the same qualities that Jesus showed while he was he was here on this earth. It is clear that if we are have received “the Spirit of adoption” and are led by “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 5:23 gentleness, and self-control”, the fruits of the Spirit would be evident in our lives (Gal 5:22,23,25).
Derek Redmond ran in a semi final of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Halfway round the track this British athlete collapsed with a torn hamstring. For some strange reason, he wanted to finish the race, and he struggled to his feet. Derek’s dad got up out of the stand, and he broke his way through security. His Dad picked up his crying son, and together they finished the race.
That man did what the Holy Spirit does for us. It’s when we are spiritually exhausted, when we find ourselves giving into the spirit of slavery again and again, when we can’t pray – when we don’t want to pray, when our faith is just not strong enough. When there is no way we can finish the race. That’s when the Spirit picks us up, and drags us to the finish line.
When it seems that we are more children of bondage than children of God, let’s remind each other that we have divine help. God’s Holy Spirit is the Helper who comes to our aid when we seem to be losing the fight. Thank God we have the gift of the Holy Spirit to keep on calling us away from slavery to sin to the freedom of sonship. Thank God we have the Spirit to keep on calling us to holy living. Thank God we have the Holy Spirit who continually points us to Jesus, our Saviour.
When we come here to worship, joining with the church of all ages and of all nations, we are reminded of our baptism, the love of our heavenly Father, the forgiveness of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit. When the final blessing is given, we are sent out to face a new week and whatever that week will hold for us, confident in the promises of God and strengthened by his Holy Spirit to do whatever task he has called us to do.
Lord, send your spirit upon us today, help us in our weakness. Guide us to eternal life. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.