The Holy Spirit Fills Us To Transform Us
I don’t know of a kid anywhere who wants to clean up a mess. And I think every kid everywhere hates it when a parent shows them where the mess is that needs to be cleaned up. Our boys play one of two games when it comes to cleaning up. The first is to only clean up the part of the mess they think they’re responsible for. The rest, they leave for the other one. You know, to be fair. And of course the part they think they’re responsible for is usually way less than half of whatever the mess is.
The other game is to suddenly become a literalist. Our boys drink a lot of juice boxes and juice pouches, and the little plastic wrappers that hold the straws to the pouch or box wind up everywhere. I find them all over the yard in the summer, and all over the house in the winter. So I say, “Guys, the game room is a mess. There are straw wrappers and stuff everywhere. I need you to clean it up now.” And I’ll go in there in ten minutes and every straw wrapper will be picked up and thrown away. But the dirty plates? And the candy wrappers? And the empty juice boxes and pouches themselves? Nah, they’re still laying there on the floor. And when I get frustrated and point it out, I hear the same thing every time – “You said pick up the straw wrappers. We did.” They forgot about the “and stuff” that I mentioned. Apparently I have to define every part of the mess in need of cleaning up. And people wonder why parents drink after the kids go to bed.
Pastor Matt Chandler came home one night and found his son in the living room playing a game on his Xbox, instead of cleaning his room. Ever been there parents?? After asking his son to clean his room, Pastor Matt said:
After a pause he went to clean his room and start on his other main household chore – vacuuming the house. As I left to start unloading the dishwasher, I heard him turn on the vacuum –for about forty-five seconds. Ever been there, parents? Reid found me and happily reported, “I’m done.”
I said, “You vacuumed the whole house?”
“Son, Superman could not vacuum this whole house in forty-five seconds.”
“I did, Dad.”
So I did what a loving father would do. I grabbed his hand and said, “Let’s just walk around and see.” We walked around the house, and over in this corner, we found an entire bag of Goldfish crackers that looked like someone had intentionally dumped them on the floor and danced on them.
I said, “Reid, did you vacuum this?”
“I didn’t see it.”
“Okay, but it’s on the floor. You’re supposed to vacuum the floor. I don’t know how you missed this.”
We vacuumed. We walked around and I showed him other obvious things he failed to see. It reminded me of the line in the Gospel of John when Jesus says, “We will make our house with you” because that is what the Holy Spirit does for us. He takes us around the house of our heart and says, “Hey, look at these crushed up Goldfish. It’s going to be awesome for them to be gone. Bugs are going to get in here, and bad stuff is going to happen. There’s going to be a smell in here. Let’s get this cleaned up. I’m going to help you get that cleaned up. He wants to clean up places that we didn’t even know were dirty.”
Just like we as parents sometimes have to point out the mess in need of cleaning to our kids, when we place our faith in Christ, and the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us, he begins to point out some of the messes that need to be cleaned up. And we as followers of Christ typically don’t like it any more than our kids do. On the other hand, no one really wants to live in a house that’s a mess either. Oh, we’ll get used to it. We become blind to our own messes. Until company is coming over. And then we’re running around cleaning like crazy people wondering how the house got so messy. Our houses aren’t the only things that get messy. Our lives are messy too. There are things that need to be cleaned up in every one of us, and it is the Holy Spirit who not only points those things out, but gets involved cleaning them up with us. Turn with me to Ephesians 5:15-21.
This passage invites us to ask three questions of ourselves. The first is, what influence does our culture have on what I believe, on the way I think, and on the way I act?
Paul wants us to understand that we are living in an upside down world. That’s what he means when he says “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” The current of culture flows in the opposite direction of the current of the Kingdom of God. The values of our culture and society shape us, they have an influence on the way we think and the way we act and over what we believe. And some of those values pull us away from life in God’s Kingdom. They pull us away from life the way God wants us to live it. And they pull us away from God himself. Every culture in this world, every society, has things about it that draw people away from God.
Because of that, we as followers of Jesus need to develop wise habits that help us to remember that our culture is constantly trying to draw us away from Christ. That is our part in all of this. There is always something for us to do. The Holy Spirit doesn’t just take over without our active involvement. He enters into a partnership with us as we seek to live our lives as citizens of the Kingdom of God. The verbs Paul uses here are all active verbs, not passive verbs. “Look carefully.” “Make the best.” “Understand.” “Be filled.” As followers of Jesus, we are active participants in the work the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives. He doesn’t do it without us.
Now, Paul contrasts foolish living with wise living. The wise, those who follow Christ, are first of all to walk carefully. Have you ever been walking along and tripped over something because you weren’t paying attention? I have, on more than one occasion, fallen out of our kitchen. Our kitchen is two steps above our living room. So to get into our kitchen from the living room you have to take two steps up, and to get into our living room from the kitchen you have to take two steps down. I’ve actually fallen into and out of our kitchen. In a house we’ve lived in for almost 23 years now. Why? I know the step is there. Most of the time I go up and down with no problem. But occasionally … if I’m distracted and not paying attention … I’m sprawled on the kitchen floor or the living room floor because I forgot about the step.
As wise followers of Christ, we’re to be paying attention to the way we live and to the ways in which our culture pulls us away from God every day. We’re also paying attention to the moment we’re living in. Paul tells us to “make the best use of the time.” That isn’t an order to plan every minute of every day and make sure we’re productive in every minute. It’s a call to be aware of where God is working in us and around us in each moment.
In his book, Awakening the Quieter Virtues, Gregory Spencer laments … “One of the louder virtues in American culture is efficiency. It’s what makes the clock of capitalism tick. We are remarkably skilled at getting things done, at thinking “yes, we can,” and then putting forth our best effort to accomplish many tasks in a short time. Often efficiency serves us well. But this way of valuing time can tick-tock into our worldview, leading us to measure everything by the stopwatch. Time: we march against it, beat it, save it, manage it, spend it, and try not to kill it or waste it. If efficiency becomes a dictator instead of a servant, generosity is usually oppressed. We feel we must fill days with industrious busyness.
When my daughters were young, I too frequently bemoaned how little time I could give to writing. One friend said, “Your girls will only be toddlers once. Don’t worry so much about being productive.” Another friend gestured to my daughters and said, “Spence, here are your publications!” These friends encouraged me to view time…by the opportunity presented, time according to what the season calls for. Time well used…is time that appropriately meets the needs of the moment, not…time measured by the demands of the clock.”[i]
God often interrupts our sense of efficiency with the people he brings into our lives and offices each day. The person who needs to talk, who needs a hug. Those interruptions to efficiency that are actually God moments in our lives. People who God wants to touch through us, AND people who God wants to use to touch us. The person knocking on your door might have something God knows you need in that moment. A hug, a word of encouragement, some advice, a reminder that you matter. Making the best use of the time isn’t always about getting the most done. About getting all the things on our to-do lists marked off. Sometimes it’s about realizing that YOUR agenda for your day and the Holy Spirit’s agenda for your day might be different.
Look at V. 17. A foolish Christian doesn’t understand what God’s will really is. A wise one seeks to keep in step with the Holy Spirit.
The second question is, “What am I allowing to fill me? Is it the Holy Spirit, or something else?” Look at V. 18. Now, for starters, Paul isn’t forbidding drinking wine or any other alcoholic drink. He’s getting at who or what you allow to control you, to fill you. He has in mind the Greek and Roman banquets. These were dinner parties of a sort. Sometimes they featured a lot of really intellectual discussion. But most of the time, they featured a lot of alcohol and a lot of prostitutes, and to much of one led to the other. People getting caught up in the excesses of the culture. Foolish Christians, unaware of the pull of culture on their hearts, find themselves going astray, led by the pull of culture instead of being led by the Holy Spirit.
You see, the Holy Spirit is given as a gift to EVERY person who places their faith in Christ when they first put their faith in Christ. The presence of the Holy Spirit in your life is NOT a measure of maturity in your faith. The Holy Spirit is a part of the life of every person who follows Jesus, from the newest of new believers to the oldest of the saints. BUT, we grow in our awareness of what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives and in our desire and ability to cooperate with what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives. The Holy Spirit is present in and with every true Christian everywhere. Paul isn’t suggesting that some believers have the Holy Spirit in their lives and some don’t. He says “be filled with the Spirit.” And he’s talking about an ongoing action, not a one time event. He’s talking about an ever increasing awareness of the Holy Spirit’s work in your life and willingness to cooperate with what the Holy Spirit is doing.
The first question: are you aware of the pull of culture on your heart? The second question: with whom, or what, are you being filled? Is your life under the control of the Holy Spirit, or is culture in charger, with you mindlessly following along. The third question is, “What IS the will of God” that I am supposed to grow in my ability to understand?
Look at Vv. 19-21. When Paul talks about being filled with the Holy Spirit, he isn’t talking about what we call the gifts of the Spirit. He talks about them in other places, but not here. He’s talking about the life and character of the Holy Spirit coming out in your life in stronger and more prevalent ways. The Christians in Corinth were experiencing incredible displays of power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit – powerful healings, lots of people praying in tongues, prophecy – and those are all gifts of the Holy Spirit that are still in action today. But based on the content of Paul’s letters to the Christians in Corinth, we know that they were most definitely NOT filled with the life and character of the Holy Spirit. They were filled with pride, not humility. Their worship was marked by division and the oppression of the poor. And their community was marked by infighting and jealousy. Those through whom the Holy Spirit did move to heal others believed they were more spiritual than the rest. And Paul was not happy. 1 and 2 Corinthians are two of the most stern of all of Paul’s letters. And this to a church in which the GIFTS of the Holy Spirit were prevalent. God’s gifts are always gifts of grace given to the undeserving.
The will of God, above all else, is that the life and character of Christ is prevalent in your life. When we pray, seeking God’s will, we’re usually praying about what job we should take or which house we should buy or whether we should relocate. Things like that. Can I be honest with you? In many cases, in those kinds of situations, God couldn’t care less. He gave you a brain. You know how to use it. The church is filled with people who obsess about spiritual minutia like this, all the while NOT exhibiting the life and character of Christ. And that is, above all else, God’s will for you. To the Galatian Christians Paul wrote, “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Gal. 4:19). Christ formed in you. THAT, above all else, is God’s will for you. And THAT is the Holy Spirit’s work in your life.
When we pray for a fresh experience of the Holy Spirit, for more of the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives …. When we pray, seeking to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit, we’re praying that Christ would be formed in us more fully, that his life and his character would become even more prevalent in our lives, and that we would grow in our awareness of what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives, and a desire to submit to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit has some cleaning in mind for your life and for mine. Are you cooperating with him, ignoring him, or pretending you don’t see the mess in the corner? Let us pray.
[i] Gregory Spencer, Awakening the Quieter Virtues (IVP, 2010), pp. 170-171