The Work of the Holy Spirit Among Us
November 15th, 1981 @ 10:50 AM
THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AMONG US
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-15-81 10:50 a.m.
Welcome all of you who are listening on radio and television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Work of the Holy Spirit Among Us, what God is doing now in, with, through us. This is one in a series of sermons on pneumatology, on the Holy Spirit. And as a background text, we turn to the second chapter of the Book of Acts. And out of the passage you just read, Acts chapter 2; in verse 4 it says, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance” Acts 2:4. Now, Acts 2:41, “Then they that gladly received His word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” Then the last sentence that closes chapter 2, the Pentecostal chapter, “And the Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved” [Acts 2:47].
When we speak of the Holy Spirit, there is no word in the language that can describe what we are trying to say. Language is not able to bear the weight of the infinitude of the revelation of God. And the third Person of the Godhead is very typical of that inability of language to express reality. The Holy Spirit of God in Job 26 is described as the One who “garnished the heavens” [Job 26:13]. He made it beautiful. He studded it with stars and planets and suns; the sidereal spheres, the Milky Ways, the great constellations. The Holy Spirit did that. In the second verse of the first chapter of Genesis: Out of chaos, it was the Holy Spirit that brought order and beauty in this present world. The second verse says, the Holy Spirit brooded—brooded, hovered like a hen over her chicks—the Holy Spirit brooded over the face of the deep, over the moving of the waters [Genesis 1:2].
Now how do you describe Him? In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word is ruach; ruach, “breath.” In the New Testament, the Greek word is pneuma, “breath.” In Latin, the Latin word is spiritus, “breath.” That is just as near as any symbol of word could approach, the description of God; “breath,” breath, the “Breath of God,” the Spirit of God. But because it is soft like breath—tender, that does not mean it is not omnipotent and powerful.
There was a man who presided over a quarry out of which they were digging granite for a tremendous building. We have two buildings going up soon right on our property, fifty stories high, each one. And each one is going to be covered with red carnelian granite, to match the architecture of our church. There was a man presiding over a vast quarry where they were digging up granite, and a visitor there, talking to him about it; that awesome task of lifting that awful weight, and quarry man said, “I could lift a solid acre of this granite ten feet thick to any height desired.” And in astonishment, the visitor said, “How could you do it?” And he said, “With air, with air, compressed air.” You see that the omnipotence of God invisible in our planet earth.
There was a scientific mathematician who figured out the awesome force, strength, that holds this earth in orbit. As it swings around the central sun, ninety-three million miles away, the force that holds it in orbit around and around, he figured it out; how powerful is that strength. And he concluded it was a force equal to a solid steel beam three thousand miles in diameter. Think of that—a solid steel beam three thousand miles in diameter holding this earth in its planetary orbit around the sun, yet a bird can fly through it and I can wave my hand through it now—the invisible things of God. The omnipotence of God though He is ruach; He is pneuma; He is spiritus; He is breath.
In the two great dispensations, in the two great testaments: the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit fitted men for special service. For example, in the thirty-first chapter of Exodus [Exodus 31:1-6], the Holy Spirit anointed, came upon, Bezaleel and Aholiab in order that they might make the beautiful embellishments and furniture of the tabernacle. It was a creation of the Holy Spirit of God, especially ingenious given to Aholiab and Bezaleel. He came upon Saul in 1 Samuel 10 [1 Samuel 10:10], to fit him to be the first king of Israel; then in the sixteenth chapter [1 Samuel 16:14], departed from him when he disobeyed God. So in the old dispensation, in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is presented as coming upon special people at special times for special services. But in the new dispensation, in this age of grace in which we live, the Holy Spirit is poured out without measure upon the earth [John 3:34]. And He has found a new home. The Holy Spirit now tabernacles in our hearts and in the church. In the first Corinthian letter, chapter 6, the Holy Spirit is pictured as dwelling in our bodies. “Our body,” Paul says, “is the temple of the Holy Spirit” [1 Corinthians 6:19]. He lives in us. And He is also pictured as living in the church [1 Corinthians 3:16-17]. He has a temple in the congregation, in the family of God.
One of the most beautiful, and meaningful passages in the letters of Paul is in the last three verses of the second chapter of Ephesians, we who are in the church [Ephesians 2:19], called by one Spirit, we:
are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus…
Himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord:
In whom ye also are builded together for a habitation, for a habitation of God through the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit in this age, in this dispensation, is forming, He is building a body, the body of Christ; and that is His dwelling place, His habitation. So He lives in our hearts in this age of grace [1 Corinthians 6:19]. And He lives in the congregation of the Lord [1 Corinthians 3:16-17]. For that work, the Holy Spirit does two things: one, He regenerates us. He saves us. We are born again by the Spirit of God [John 3:5-8]. He speaks to you. He woos you. He invites you. Second: He adds us to the body of Christ. First Corinthians 12:13: “By one Spirit are we all baptized into the body of Christ.” We are made members of the body of our Lord by the Holy Spirit. That is what He is doing now. He is converting souls—you, me—and He is baptizing us into the body of Christ; He is adding us as members to the body of our Lord.
Now how does He do that? How is the work of the Holy Spirit accomplished in achieving that marvelous result of converting us and adding us to the body of Christ? In the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of John: and if you want to follow this, turn to John 16, verses 7 through 11. This is what the Holy Spirit is doing now and this is the way He is building up the body of Christ, “I tell you the truth,” John 16:7; “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Paraclete…” The word in Greek for “alongside” is para—like a “parallel,” like a parallelogram—para. And the word for “call” is kaleō. So, paraklētos—translated in the King James version, “Comforter,” is really “the One called alongside.” He is the exhorter; He is the convictor; He is the sojourner; He is our friend; He is our companion; He is our strength; He is our Comforter; the Paraclēte.
If I go not away, the Paraclete—
will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.
And when He is come, He will reprove—
He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on Me; Of righteousness, because I go to My Father, and you see Me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged
This is what the Holy Spirit is doing now in converting and in building up the body of Christ.
So we look at it: “If I do not go away, He will not come; but if I go away, which is expedient for you,” it is best for you, “I will send Him,” the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, “and He, when He comes, will convict the world of sin, because they believe not on Me” [John 16:7-9]. Do you notice the word is singular? “He will convict the world of sin,” singular, not sins, plural—sin [John 16:9].
The reason for that is very obvious in experience. When sin breaks out in a man’s life, here or there or yonder or the other, you can address yourself to the sins. But when you do, it is like patching a rotten rag. You will ameliorate it here; it will break out there. What is wrong is in the bloodstream. What is wrong is in the heart. So with the man who is not right with God, sins like abscesses appear everywhere in his life. He needs a new heart, a new life, a new faith, a new commitment. He needs a Savior. He needs Jesus.
I could never forget the first time I ever heard the word, “penicillin.” In our church in Muskogee, Oklahoma, there was a young girl about twelve years of age, and she had abscesses, constantly. As long as they appeared on the outside of her physical frame, the doctor could heal. But when the abscess began to break out inside her body, she lay there to die. That’s the first time I ever heard the word, “penicillin.” The doctor said, “There is a new miracle drug, and if we can find it, it is very precious now.” If we can find it, this girl can be healed, and live.” And the family went to Washington and made appeal for just some of that precious, precious new miracle drug, penicillin—first time I ever heard of it. And the government was kind to the family, and they came back with it. And the little girl was beautifully and marvelously healed!
That’s what this passage means, not “sins” [John 16:9]. When the trouble is in the bloodstream, it’s in the soul, and the man needs a new life. That is the work of the Holy Spirit [John 16:8-9]. It is different from the conscience. In the second chapter of the Book of Romans, Paul speaks of the universal sensitivity of mankind to the conscience, to moral life [Romans 2:14-15]. There are no people so degraded and so low, there are no tribes and no families that do not have in them the image of God. They are sensitive to right and wrong. That’s the conscience. It addresses itself legalistically to what is right, what is wrong. But the Holy Spirit moves in an altogether different world, the Holy Spirit convicts of Christ: the sin of rejecting our Lord, the sin of unbelief. “He will convict the world of sin because they believe not on Me” [John 16:8-9].
The work of the Holy Spirit is to lead us to Jesus; to point us to Him who can save us from death and the penalty of our iniquities. That is what Jesus said, “He will not speak of Himself,” but He will point to Me; He will lift up Me, “He will glorify Me” [John 16:13, 14]. And when we listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, that is what He will do with a man’s heart, He will lead him in faith to the Lord Jesus. He will make a Christian out of him, He will born him again [John 3:5-8]; He will add him to the body of Christ [1 Corinthians 12:13].
And let me say before I leave this, that is why the unpardonable sin is the sin of rejecting the testimony of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 12:31-32]. There is not any further appeal. There is not any hope. When the Holy Spirit has done His office work and He leads us to Christ, and we refuse His testimony, nothing else remains but darkness, and death, and damnation, and separation from God; the sin that is never forgiven. If you murder, God will forgive you. Adultery, God will forgive you; bank robbery, terrorism, lying, stealing, whatever, these are sins and God will forgive you. But when you refuse the testimony of the Holy Spirit that points you to Jesus, there is no appeal. It is unpardonable, you are lost for ever [Matthew 12:31-32]; “of sin, because they believe not on Me” [John 16:8-9].
The work of the Holy Spirit among us now; “Of righteousness, because I go unto My Father, and you see Me no more” [John 16:10]. While the Lord was here in the flesh, He could tell us what to do. We could observe the Lord, “This is what is right.” We could watch our Lord, “This is the way to go.” There are no exigencies in life for which He does not have an answer. And all we would have to do is to ask our Lord, or to watch our Lord, or to follow our Lord. And in the days of His flesh, to do right, to know where to go, we just watch Him, listen to Him. But when He leaves us—and He said it is best that He leave [John 16:7]—when the Lord leaves us, He sends the Holy Spirit here [John 16:7], that the Holy Spirit might direct us, might show us what is right, what is wrong, and which way to go [John 16:13-15].
And my dear people, may I say that that is the overwhelming need and cry of the human heart in the whole world: “What do we do? Where do we go? Where do we turn?” Especially, do I sense it in the crying need of our nation. Who knows what to do? The cry of our whole country is, “Where do we go and what is the answer to the insoluble problems that we increasingly face?” And the whole world is like that.
I don’t know of a more tragic lament in the Bible than the lament in the Old Testament, “There is no longer any prophet in Israel to tell us what to do” [Psalm 74:9]. That is the office work of the Holy Spirit. He is here; He is in our hearts [1 Corinthians 6:19], He is in His church [1 Corinthians 3:16]. And He has the mind of God, as the eighth chapter of Romans says [Romans 8:27]. And He can tell us which way to go, and what choice to make, and what to do. The infallible answer is from Him in our hearts. And the Holy Spirit can speak to you, to me, just as clearly as you hear my voice speaking to you and as distinctly, only more so. And the counsel and wisdom of the Holy Spirit is infallible.
The problem is our stubborn unyieldedness and unsurrenderedness. “Lord, what shall I do?” And when you ask, the Holy Spirit will tell you. “But my problem is, I don’t listen, I don’t obey, and I grieve,” as Paul writes in the Book of Ephesians [Ephesians 4:30], “I grieve the Holy Spirit.” And wherever the Holy Spirit is crushed, it is followed by tears and disaster.
As I spoke a moment ago, the Holy Spirit chose Saul, in [1 Samuel] chapter 10 [1 Samuel 10:10] and anointed him [1 Samuel 10:1]. But in chapter 16 [1 Samuel 16:14] of 1 Samuel, the Holy Spirit left him; he disobeyed and the Holy Spirit left him to his own devices. Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit withdrew His support, His hand, and they fell lifeless to the ground [Acts 5:1-11]. It’s a tragedy for the man when he doesn’t listen to the Spirit of God.
There is no decision you will ever face, there is no turning of the road that you’ll ever meet but that God will infallibly guide you what to do, if you will listen to His voice. Let’s turn it around: when we obey the voice of the Spirit, blessings abounding come upon us from heaven. It was the Holy Spirit that said to Simon Peter, “Those three men that are going to knock at your door, they come from a Gentile household in Caesarea. You go with them and preach them the gospel of the grace of God” [Acts 10:19-24]. And the whole Gentile world came into the orbit of Pentecostal love [Acts 10:34-48].
It was the Holy Spirit that directed Paul [Acts 16:6-10], not to the right, not to the east, but to the left, to the west. And Europe became Christianized, and America was evangelized, and they preached the gospel to me, out there in northwestern Texas. What a blessing the Holy Spirit’s choice has been to us!
In the second chapter and the third chapter of the Revelation, every one of the seven messages of our Lord closes like this: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” [Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, 22]. He lives, He is in our hearts. He is in the congregation. And when we listen to the voice of the Spirit of God with infallible wisdom, He directs us and shows us what is right, “He will convict the world of righteousness…because I go to My Father” [John 16:9-10].
And last, “He will convict the world of judgment because the prince of this world is judged” [John 16:11]. The power of that is in that verb, “is judged,” kekritai, perfect tense, kekritai. Passive, indicative, perfect, krinō, is the word to judge; krisis from krinō is “judgment,” kekritai is “judged,” already judged. God says it’s not problematical, or probable, or possible who comes out triumphant in this world; God says that Satan is already judged, already. He is on a sinking ship, he has lost the cause; he belongs to a doomed and damned dominion. God says it is already over—Satan is judged, he is lost [John 16:11].
Now the tragedy of the lost soul and the lost world is this: that those who link their lives and their destiny with Satan lose their lives and their destiny with him; when he is lost, they are lost, too. I felt that poignantly years and years ago when I stood in East Berlin, at the bunker where Hitler committed suicide, shot himself. And then, by direction to a little handful of Nazi intimates, they took him and the body of his mistress at the door of the bunker, and soused them, doused them with gasoline and burned. And as I stood there and looked at that bunker of Hitler in his last stand and his last moment, I thought of the utter desolation of those who joined their hope and their cause with Hitler, in Hitlerite Nazi Germany. As I stood there at that bunker, I looked around: the great beautiful city of Berlin was in ruins. And then I thought through the times I had been, in those days, in that once great nation—I stood in Hamburg; there was not one building that I could see that remained, all of it was destroyed from horizon to horizon. I stood in Hanover, stood in Munich, stood in Dresden; the awesomeness of the judgment of those that joined themselves to Adolph Hitler.
That is a small, small sorrow compared to the infinitude of the heartache of those who joined themselves to Satan; his world, his blandishments, his false enticements, his cheap rewards. The whole thing involved in the word, “worldliness,” God says it’s already destroyed, it’s already judged [John 12:31]. And when I link myself with him, I am judged by his side. There is no doubt, no problem in the revelation of God about Satan and his kingdom. In the tenth chapter of Luke and verse 18, the Lord says to His disciples, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” [Luke 10:18]. Now that is a second-aorist, in those Greek verbs, pesonta, a second-aorist participle from piptō
, and it literally means, “I saw Satan having fallen instantaneously.” That’s what the aorist tense refers to; it is a thing that happens like that! Now this world, God says, will go along, and the world in it that follows Satan will go along, and then, suddenly, like lightning Satan is judged, destroyed, “I saw Satan, having fallen like lightning from the sky” [Luke 10:18].
And that is the work of the Holy Spirit, to convict us of that awesome destiny that awaits those who link their lives and their hopes with the great deceiver and god of this world [John 16:8-11]. He does that. Unerringly, unwearyingly, does the Holy Spirit knock at the door of your heart about that: linking your life with this world with Satan, with its glamour, and finally to be judged in the fall of that fallen prince [John 16:11].
I am speaking of a man of tremendous ability, and he used it energetically and ingeniously. He used it for money and he made money; he used it for success and he was successful. He used it for advancement and he built an empire. He did it—famous and wealthy and powerful—and his wife loved the social world, and she glittered and shined in a select circle. They had one child, a little boy, and the little fellow sickened, and all the doctors could not save the little fellow. And when time came for the little boy to die, he said to his great father and his scintillating mother, who had everything in the world, the little boy said to his mother and father, the little fellow said, “Daddy, Mother, when I die, don’t take me to the cemetery and leave me out there, cold and alone. Mommy and Daddy, when I die, bury me by the door, where I can be close to you.” He had never been taught about God. That lad had never been taught about heaven. He had never been taught about Jesus and about a beautiful life yet to come. All he knew was what he had seen in his father and in his mother, and it was in this world, all of it.
The father sought out a pastor and said to him in broken-heartedness, “Pastor, I think I have missed the big thing, I think I have. Surely, there is something over and above and beyond money, and success, and prestige, and power. Could it be that there is a Savior who can save? Could it be there is a world that is yet to come? And could it be that there is a heaven and everlasting life? Could it be?” And that is what the Holy Spirit does with you [John 16:8-15]. And if you will open your eyes and open your heart, you will see it. I do not know of anything more devastating than to face ultimately the emptiness and the sterility and the barrenness of worldly success, coming to the end of the way.
O Lord, that we might heed the voice of the Spirit who leads us to Christ. He has the keys of the kingdom [Revelation 3:7]. He has the ableness to open the door into heaven for us. And He has promised that if I will look, I will live [John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9]. If I will wash, I will be cleaned. If I believe, I will be saved [Acts 16:30-31]. “A life for a look at the Crucified One,” He made it plain, He made it simple. Even as a ten year old boy, I heard and I responded.
Sweet family, give your home to Jesus. Precious couple, walk with the Lord. Young man, woman, let Jesus come into your heart. He will open the door to heaven someday [John 14:3]. And with unerring wisdom He will lead us in the path of glory in this life [2 Thessalonians 2:14]. May we stand together?
Our precious, wonderful Lord Jesus, how we know the truth of the message from God’s Book that we have read this morning, Thy Spirit, the breath of God is here; He indwells our hearts [1 Corinthians 6:19], He moves in the church [1 Corinthians 3:16-17]. And He appeals, He convicts, He woos [John 16:8-10]. O Lord grant unto us a willingness to hear, a heart that responds. Please God, may no one of us this hour turn away from the leading of the “Breath of God.”
And while our people remain here just for this moment, don’t leave. No one leave now. In just a moment I will give you opportunity to leave, but stay here now and if anyone moves, move toward the Lord, move toward us. Down here to the front, “Pastor, today we have decided for God and here we stand.” A whole family of you come, or a couple you, or just one somebody you. “And our Lord, in answer to the appeal of the Spirit of God, the ’Breath of God,’ here we come. And bless the decision we have made for Thee in our hearts, in Thy saving name, amen.”
Down of those stairways, down one of these aisles, “Pastor we have decided for God and here we stand.” Do it now. And welcome while we sing.