God’s Empowering Presence

June 3, 2018

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Preached by Canon Steve Pittis using 2 Corinthians 3 : 12 – 18 at Evensong on Sunday 3rd June 2018, the First Sunday after Trinity.

If you are a Christian, God lives in you by his Spirit. You have been brought to life by the Holy Spirit. The Christian faith is not about rules, regulations, rituals or religion, but a relationship of love and intimacy with God, such that you know him as Father.

c.f. Romans 8 : 15-16

It’s an affair of the heart.

In 2 Corinthians 3 : 7 – 18, Paul contrasts the relationship people had with God before the coming of Christ and after. The difference has to do with the Holy Spirit now living within us permanently – something the Old Testament prophets looked forward to, but which could only happen after Christ’s death and resurrection.

For the first Christians, the fact that God had come to make his home in their lives was something that radically affected them. It made a difference, a difference they experienced and others noticed.

N.B. Christianity is not merely things we believe, but an experience of God. So, if the Holy Spirit is in our lives, we will begin to see a difference. It won’t all happen overnight, but there will be signs of the Spirit’s presence.

In 2 Corinthians 3 : 17-18, Paul mentions 3 things in particular that are a consequence of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of those who trust in Jesus. Let’s consider how we can co-operate with his purpose for our lives and welcome his presence and activity in us as individuals and in the church.

1        He transforms our characters   2 Corinthians 3 : 18;  Galatians 5 : 16-26

A Christian is someone who is being changed, transformed by the Holy Spirit working within her/him. If we are followers of Jesus, we are not left to our own devices, to struggle on with a set of rules trying to live like Jesus.

However hard I try, I cannot play football like one of the England footballers! But if somehow the spirit of that footballer, his innermost person, that which animates him, could come and live within me, then provided I relied upon him, I could play like him.

Similarly with Jesus. However hard a person tries, they cannot live like Jesus. Sometimes people say to me: ‘I try to be a good Christian’. I reply: ‘The best of luck; you’ll never manage it on your own!’. But we have the Spirit of Jesus, that is the Holy Spirit, within us.

As we rely on him, keep in step with him, progressively we can live like Jesus.

Paul explains this process of transformation in another way; he says it’s like a tree producing fruit. You can tell a tree by its fruit. The Holy Spirit produces fruit, (c.f. Galatians 5 : 22-23) which is the expression of Christian character. So, you can tell a Christian by the fruit he or she bears. It takes time to grow but it will appear. A real sign that the Spirit lives within us is when we begin to demonstrate his fruit.

The Holy Spirit comes to live in our lives with the express purpose of transforming our characters. God loves us and accepts us as we are, at every stage, yet he loves us so much that he wants to transform us, to change us so that we become progressively more like the character of Jesus. He comes to clean up the mess, to heal the hurts, smooth off the rough edges, change the negative attitudes, make us whole. The Holy Spirit is God’s empowering and transforming presence in our lives.

2        He helps us to reflect God’s glory   2 Corinthians 3 : 18

‘We, with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory.’ v 18

This is an allusion to when Moses’ face shone when he met with God, first on Mount Sinai when he received commandments, and then when he went into God’s presence (The Tent of meeting) to speak to him (c.f. Exodus 34 : 29-35). He reflected God’s glory after being in his presence and the Israelites saw it.

Paul says we too are to reflect God’s glory. But there’s a difference! With Moses the reflected glory would fade. But for us, who have the Holy Spirit, the empowering presence of God living within us, that reflected glory is to be increasing!

What exactly does that mean, to reflect the glory of God? The clue is in 2 Corinthians 4 : 6 – the glory of God is seen in the person of Jesus. The Holy Spirit at work in us enables us to reflect the beauty, the majesty, the power and the love of Jesus Christ; that same majesty and power that the disciples saw in Jesus.

Where are people supposed to catch a glimpse of the wonder and the glory of God today?

When they see the life and power of Jesus reflected in his church, his people. The glory of God seen in fallible, fragile human beings. That is God’s plan! (2 Corinthians 4 : 7). That’s Good news.

How can that happen more effectively? As we gaze upon him, as we worship him and draw close to him. Also, as we relate well to one another we reflect the glory of Jesus, and others will encounter the presence and glory of God in the church, God’s people.

3        He sets us free   2 Corinthians 3 : 17

‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’

Jesus came to set people free from all that held them prisoner; sin, guilt, demonic powers, sickness, death. The Holy Spirit within us makes that freedom progressively real in our experience. So, Paul writing to the Romans about life in the Spirit speaks of the ‘glorious freedom of the children of God’. Romans 8 : 21

If you are a Christian, freedom is what God intends for you. Does that mean we never have difficulties or that we never suffer? No. Does it mean that we can experience freedom to be the people God created us to be? Yes.

If Christ came to set us free and if the Spirit of the Lord brings freedom, why is it that we do not see more freedom, joy, spontaneity in the church? There are several answers. Sometimes we fear freedom. The prison door has been flung wide open, but we are still cowering inside. Sometimes we have bought the lie that this is all there is. Jesus’ mission was to set the captives free Luke 4 : 18-19. The Holy Spirit is given to free us. It’s not about license but liberty. It’s freedom to become the people God intends us to be.

From what do you need to be set free? A guilty conscience? Performance orientation – conditional love? Fear of the future? Anxieties over being alone? The lie that God is angry with you? Fear of rejection? Resentment, hurt, bitterness?

Whatever binds you, Jesus came to win your freedom and the Holy Spirit makes it happen, because where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Conclusion

That’s just a part of what the Holy Spirit in us wants to do. Transform us from the inside out. Help us to reflect God’s glory so others can know him. Set us free.

What about you? Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to change you? Are you reflecting something of the love and power of Jesus – are you good news? Are you enjoying being free?

A Prayer:

Come Holy Spirit, fill us, transform us that we may become more and more like Jesus.

As we worship you and gaze upon you, may others see the glory and love of Jesus reflected in us your church and be drawn to him.

Come and set us free from anything that holds us back and prevents us from enjoying the glorious freedom of being a child of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen