The Holy Spirit Regenerates Us For Life
How many of us are willing to admit we kind of like junk food? I mean, I’m sorry, you might EAT kale and broccoli and cauliflower because you know it’s good for you and you have a lot of self-control and discipline, but don’t try to convince me that you ENJOY it. You might SAY you enjoy it, but we all know you’re lying.
What do you ENJOY eating? Potato chips, ice cream, and cookies, and pop, right? It’s true. We all do. Every year the average American eats 33 pounds of cheese and 70 pounds of sugar. On average, 11 percent of our diet comes from saturated fats. Every day we eat 8,500 milligrams of salt – that’s four teaspoons of salt.
In his book Salt Sugar Fat, Michael Moss shows that during the past two decades some of America’s largest food producers carefully studied how to “help” us crave all this junk food. For example, some of the food industries biggest names – Campbell Soup, General Foods, Kraft, PepsiCo, and Cadbury – hired “crave consultants” like the scientist Dr. Howard Moskowitz to help them determine our “bliss points,” the point where food companies can “optimize” our cravings.
Frito-Lay, makers of Lay’s potato chips and the 21 varieties of Cheetos, operated a research complex near Dallas that employed nearly 500 chemists, psychologists, and technicians and spent up to $30 million a year to find the bliss point for their junk foods. One food scientist called Cheetos “one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure.” Cheetos has what’s called “vanishing caloric density.” In other words, because it melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it, and you think you can just keep eating forever. The junk food manufacturer’s dream.
Funny though, many of the former executives who Moss interviewed for his book avoid the foods they tried to get us to eat. Howard Moskowitz, the scientist and crave consultant hired by most of these companies, doesn’t drink Pepsi products because he claims “[soda’s] not good for your teeth.” A Frito-Lay executive admitted that he avoids most processed foods – like Cheetos. Moss concluded, “Like other former food company executives I met, [this Frito-Lay executive] overhauled his diet to avoid the very foods he once worked so hard to perfect.”[i]
These companies know how to manipulate our brains to get us to crave the foods they make so that we’ll buy, and eat, more, and more, and more. And while a little bit probably isn’t the end of the world, at the end of the day, they’re empty calories with a lot of fat and salt that our bodies don’t need. And they aren’t the healthy fats.
I think life in general is a lot like that. This world is full of things that compete for our time, our money, and our attention that at best don’t do us any good, and at worst can do us real spiritual harm. Fame, power and influence, money, buying, owning, and eating more than we need – spiritual Cheetos, they taste really good, but they always leave us wanting more. They don’t satisfy. Just like a diet of Cheetos and ice cream will lead you to an early death, these things, pursued above all else, will lead to spiritual death.
When Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” he was saying, “I am what you’re looking for. I will satisfy your heart and your soul. These other things you’re looking to, to satisfy your soul, to satisfy you at the core of your being, cannot and will not do it. But I do.” The early church father St. Augustine of Hippo hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Jesus is the bread that truly satisfies. He is the one who gives us life. Real life. And eternal life.
Turn with me to John 6:47-51. Today we’re continuing our winter series on the Holy Spirit called, “The Holy Spirit: God’s Other Christmas Gift.” In this series, we’re looking at who the Holy Spirit IS and what the Holy Spirit does. You know, in many Christian circles the Holy Spirit is either neglected, forgotten, or misunderstood. The One given to unite the body of Christ is the center of controversy. But the Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinity with Father and Son, is one we have to firmly grasp. So often our work in the church is so rigidly programmed that it seems we need no longer depend on the Holy Spirit, yet Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing.” Jesus also said, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). And who is this Helper, with a capital “H”? This Helper is the Holy Spirit.
The late Dr. A. W. Tozer, author and pastor, said, “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”[ii]
Last week, we looked at 1 Corinthians 12, where we’re taught that the Holy Spirit is the one who baptizes us into the body of Christ. The church, the people of God in the world, is called into being, enlivened and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit there is no body of Christ. There is no church. And he is the one who places each on of us where he wants us in the body of Christ and gives us each the gifts he wants us to have for building up the body of Christ and helping the church to fulfill the purpose of God in the world.
Today, as we look at John 6, we find the Holy Spirit as the one who regenerates us for life. Real life. Life as a follower of Christ in this world. Life as a connected part of the body of Christ. Life that does not end when this body dies, but continues on into eternity in the presence of God. The Holy Spirit regenerates us for life. If we have to be regenerated for life, that means we are what? Dead, right? But when I walk the streets of this neighborhood, of this city, everyone looks alive to me, and that includes people who don’t have any faith in Christ, doesn’t it. If my heart is beating and I’m breathing and I can move and work and play and talk, how can I be dead. Because apart from Christ, I may be physically alive, but I am spiritually dead. I am a dead man walking. If I am spiritually dead, it means that I am in open rebellion against God, my sin defines who I am, and I am the one who will have to pay the price for my sin. In Ephesians 2, St. Paul says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Vv. 1-2). Apart from Christ, I am a dead man walking. Apart from Christ you are a dead man, or a dead woman, walking.
But when the Holy Spirit draws me to Christ and I place my trust in Christ, something changes. I go from being a dead man walking to a truly living person. Not just living physically anymore, but living physically and spiritually. I am no longer in open rebellion against God. My relationship with God has been restored. My sin no longer defines who I am, God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness define who I am. And I no longer have to pay the price for my sin. Christ paid the price for my sin when he died on the cross. What an incredible gift. And what do I have to do to obtain this life? Look at John 7:47. In Mark 1:14-15 we read that, “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” REPENT and BELIEVE. That’s what I have to do.
And I am transformed at the core of my being. I go from being dead in my trespasses and sins to alive in Christ. And it is the Holy Spirit who does that. In an instant, I am regenerated. I am truly alive. It is the Holy Spirit who regenerates us for life.
Now, look at Vv. 52-59. After Jesus tells us that he is the bread of life, the only source of life and satisfaction there is, he extends the analogy with this really graphic description. I mean, picture these words in your mind. Jesus doesn’t just talk about his body and blood, like we do in communion, he talks about feeding on flesh and drinking blood. Sounds like a vampire novel, doesn’t it? It’s gory and it’s graphic, and he’s making a point. He’s saying that he IS flesh offered in sacrifice for our sins. He talks about flesh and blood separately. When flesh and blood separate, there is death. His gruesome crucifixion and death are absolutely necessary for eternal life. Just as we take bread into our stomach – physically our innermost being – when we eat it, so we must take Christ into our innermost being.
The verbs Jesus uses here, verbs like eat and drink and feed on and raise up, are in a tense that signifies not an ongoing action but a once-and-for-all action. The death and resurrection of Jesus are the decisive moment in human history, and our accepting of his death and resurrection, taking Christ into our innermost being, is the decisive moment in each of our lives. It is the moment, not an ongoing thing, but the moment, when we go from dead to alive. Only the death of Christ, applied to our lives by the Holy Spirit to regenerate us, can do this. There is no other source of life, of satisfaction, of peace. Those who look in any other place find nothing but junk food – spiritual Cheetos.
And that is a hard thing to accept. Look at what happens after Jesus says these things. Look at Vv. 60-67. We see two types of people here – those whose lives are fully under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and those who say they want to follow Jesus, but who are really full of the cares of this world. When John refers to “disciples” here, he isn’t referring to the 12 who were closest to Jesus. He is referring to the large crowds who followed him, to the people who viewed Jesus as “their” rabbi. The one whose teachings they followed. It’s a much larger group. Hundreds. Thousands. Many people. And when they hear these words about his flesh and his blood, most of them turn away. They give up. They no longer want anything to do with him. Jesus doesn’t shy away from difficult words. And in the difficult words of Jesus we find a sifting, a falling away of the false, the shallow. Only those who roots in Jesus ran deep, who truly loved and followed him, stayed.
These words of Jesus – that apart from him we are dead in our sin and without eternal life, that he is the only source of life in this world and the next, we won’t find life anywhere else, and that he alone is the one who can satisfy our hearts and our souls – they aren’t hard to understand. They’re hard to accept. And to this day, a world that loves to talk about Jesus and people who love to appropriate Jesus for their own personal ends and their own gain, refuses to accept them.
And so many of his followers said, “This is a hard saying,” and they turned back, no longer following him. They left Jesus behind, because his words were hard. The picture is of words that are unyielding, received with discomfort. Jesus is our source of life and grace and mercy and peace, but his words are also unyielding and uncomfortable to hear and receive. When we run into them, they do not yield. We do. They transform us, we do not transform them.
In 1 Corinthians 1:18 St. Paul says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” And then down in v. 23 he says, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” In other words, coming to Christ on HIS terms, not ours, is impossible for anyone, apart from the Holy Spirit. If Christ is foolishness and a stumbling block, a divisive person, how do we come to accept his words, to repent and believe? Through the Holy Spirit drawing us to Christ. And When the Holy Spirit has drawn us to Christ, he is the one who regenerates us from death to life. “It is the Spirit who gives life” (V. 63). In 2 Corinthians 3:6, Paul says, “the Spirit gives life.”
These words are an allusion to the words of the prophet Ezekiel in the Old Testament, through whom God said, “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. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (36:26-27). The heart of stone pictures a heart that is dead, not wanting to follow God and unable to follow God. The heart of flesh pictures a heart that is alive and beating, enlivened to both want to follow God and be able to follow God. Your ability to follow Christ is itself a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not something you can do by yourself. And how is the heart of stone transformed into a heart of flesh? Regenerated? “I will put my Spirit within you.” It is something the Holy Spirit does.
In John 6:67, Jesus asks the twelve: “Do you want to go away as well?” The ones who left aren’t enemies of Jesus. They’re his friends, his followers. They professed to follow Jesus. But when his words and actions wouldn’t yield to their expectations and the prevailing winds of culture, they turned away. Peter’s answer to the question of Jesus reflects the attitude of an authentic follower of Christ, one dominated not by worldly cares but by the Holy Spirit: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Peter says, “We have tried the junk food. It doesn’t satisfy. You do. We are staying with you.
According to CNN, ranchers of the prized breed of cattle known as Wagyu go to great lengths to enhance the already legendary flavor of their beef. They use typical fattening agents in their feed to achieve a certain amount of marbling, which enhances its appearance and keeps it moist. But an Australian ranch called Mayura Station produces Wagyu beef with a distinctive, sweet taste to it. The secret is in a special blend of cattle feed, which includes copious amounts of sweetening agents—or as most of us would call it – candy.
The envy of ten-year-olds worldwide, cattle at Mayura Station bred as Wagyu subsist on a diet of chocolate, cookies and candy, often sold as irregular or expired stock from brand-name factories like Cadbury. Their regular feed is more of a pedestrian blend of wheat, hay, rye grass, and maize. But the candy mix is a special addition that the cattle eat for the last few months of their lives before they’re slaughtered and processed.
This unorthodox approach appears to be working; the most choices cuts of Wagyu beef from Mayura Station can retail for as much as $300 per pound.[iii]
So, what are you eating? Junk food, or the real deal? It is the Holy Spirit who draws us to the real deal, Jesus, and it is the Holy Spirit who takes him into the core of our being. Because you really are what you eat. And you won’t find life in anyone other than Jesus. Let us pray.
[i] Michael Moss, “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,” The New York Times (2-20-13); Nina Strochlic, “How Fast Food Hooks Us,” The Daily Beast (2-25-13)
[ii] Alan Redpath in “Christian Life” magazine. Christianity Today, Vol. 29, no. 18.
[iii] Chris Dwyer, “Australian farm feeds chocolate to cattle to make the tastiest Wagyu beef” CNN (7-10-17)