Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Ephesians 5:18 - Living Under the Spirit's Control

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Living Under the Spirit’s Control
Eph 5:18

Have you ever felt like life offered you more than you can handle? I imagine if we are honest, we would all admit that we often feel this way. Who among us have never uttered in desperation, “When it rains it pours!” Things begin to pile up on us, and a new crisis arises at every turn. Suddenly we feel that we are no longer in control of our lives, but are rather being controlled by the circumstances around us. This is troubling for us, because deep down, all of us desire to be in control of things. As children we longed for the day when we could get out from under our parents’ control, thinking that ultimate liberty was waiting for us, only to find that we are under more outside control at that point. We watch sports on TV, and we question the calls made by the officials or the plays selected by the coaches. “If I were in charge, things would be different.” We watch the news and dare think that our city or our nation would be better off if we were the ones in charge of it. We go to work and second-guess the boss’s decisions, convinced that if we were the ones who had control of the company, things would change for the good. On and on it goes. And if another person desires control moreso than we do, we call them a “control-freak.” We just don’t like to be controlled. It’s part of our human nature.

When we go back to the beginning and find Adam and Eve living under the perfect conditions of Eden, we find the serpent appealing to this desire for control in the initial temptation of humanity. As Satan tempted Eve, what did he promise her if she ate the forbidden fruit? “You will be like God.” No longer will you have to live under someone else’s control, but you can control your own life. And Eve surrendered to that temptation, and Adam did as well. Immediately, things changed, and not for the better. Adam did not gain control of his environment, but rather became a slave to it. The ground he used to tend with ease became infested with thorns and thistles, and was cultivated from then on by the sweat of his brow. And Eve became frustrated with an insatiable desire for control. In Genesis 3:16, God said to her, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” The language used there is the same that is used in Genesis 4:7, where God says to Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Sin’s desire was to overtake Cain. That is what God says Eve’s desire will be – to overtake control from her husband. And she will be forever frustrated because he will rule over her; not in the loving way she had experienced before sin, but in a never-ending battle for control. The desire for control had led them astray into sin, which destroyed the environment and human relationships from that day until the present. To this day, we still despise the notion that something or someone else will control us.

This is partly what makes the Christian message and worldview off-putting to so many, even many who claim to be followers of Jesus. We speak of a Christ who wants to be Lord over your life. We like the idea of Jesus being a friend, a helper, and a companion, but Lord? That means that He is in control. That means that I am not. We speak of respect and submission for the authorities that have been set in place over us by the sovereignty of God, even when we do not agree with them. Human beings don’t like the idea of a sovereign God who is in control of everything, yet who does not always place my happiness at the top of His priorities. And we don’t like the idea of submitting to someone else’s control when it inconveniences us or makes us uncomfortable.

The fact of the matter is that life does bring us more than we can handle and is often outside of our ability to control. But the liberating reality is that God never intended for us to be in control. His intention is for Himself to be in control, and for us to trust Him completely. He who orchestrates all the circumstances of our lives also can control us in the midst of those circumstances for His glory if we will surrender that control to Him. Once we come to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, God moves into our lives to take up residence in the person of the Holy Spirit. In fact, we cannot come to Jesus by faith until the Holy Spirit moves upon our hearts in His gracious work of conviction and regeneration. He makes us aware of our sin and our need for a Savior and opens our understanding and receptivity to the Gospel message. When we speak of a person being “born again,” we refer to that act by which the Holy Spirit makes us a new creature in Christ. This is called regeneration. At that moment, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives.

In Jn 7:37, Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” John adds to this an explanation that Jesus was speaking of the Spirit, “whom those who believed in Him were to receive.” Paul goes on to explain the indwelling of the Spirit in many passages of his letters. In Romans, we find much about this, like in Romans 5:5, where he writes, “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” In Romans 8:9, Paul says, “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” In 1 Cor 3:16, he writes, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” In 2 Cor 5:5, he says that God has given us the Spirit as a pledge. This is the same language that Paul uses earlier here in Ephesians 1:13-14, “In Him [Christ], you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.” So, from these, and many other passages, we have the promise of Scripture that if we have been born-again, the Holy Spirit has permanently indwelt us.

His presence within us means that we have God’s power available to us for living holy lives, serving the Lord, withstanding temptation, and for presenting a witness for Christ. Some Christians debate with one another about the indwelling of the Spirit. Primarily, our Pentecostal and Charismatic brethren often question us about how much of the Spirit we have within us. Their church teaches that all who have the Spirit within them also speak in unknown tongues. However, this is plainly not true when we see what Scripture says. In 1 Cor 12, Paul says, “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” And he says, “By one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body,” but he goes on to say that “all do not speak with tongues.” Thus, even if their practice of tongue-speaking were biblically legitimate (and I do NOT believe that it is), then we should not expect every Christian to practice that gift as evidence that the Spirit of God indwells him or her. The question is not “How much of the Spirit do you have?” If you have received Christ, you have received the Holy Spirit, and He is not divided up into portions. You have received all of Him. The question rather is, “How much of you does the Holy Spirit have?” This is where we come to this issue of His control and the teaching of Ephesians 5:18.

Before our Advent break, we covered this passage in its larger context. However, since the passages that follow this one depend strongly upon a proper understanding of what it means to be Spirit-filled, or Holy Spirit-Controlled, then I felt it best for us to address the subject afresh today on this first Lord’s Day of 2010. Perhaps, if you are one to make New Year’s Resolutions, this should be a resolution worth making: that in the coming year, each of us will give more of ourselves over to His control. In particular today, I want to address three important truths about living under the Spirit’s control that are contained in this one verse, Ephesians 5:18.

1. We are commanded to be filled with, or controlled by, the Holy Spirit.
· Be filled with the Spirit

It is interesting and informative that Paul contrasts the filling of the Spirit with being drunk with wine. We get some sense of what he means here from this contrast. A person becomes drunk as he or she drinks alcoholic beverages to the point that the alcohol begins to control their behavior and their thought processes. The more he or she drinks, the more completely the alcohol controls them. Paul says here that when a person is under the control of alcohol, it is dissipation. It is wasteful and destructive. Of course, alcohol is not the only controlling influence in our lives. A person may become intoxicated on any number of chemicals, but also by one’s own desires: lust, covetousness, pride, sensual pleasures, etc. The point is that anything we allow to control ourselves can become destructive and wasteful. Thus, in 1 Corinthians, Paul gives several warnings to us about the things we engage in. He says in 1 Cor 6:12, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” And in 1 Cor 10:23 he adds, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” By this, Paul means that the Christian life is not a list of things to do and not do, but a life lived under the Lordship of Jesus in which we evaluate the choices we make on these criteria: Is it spiritually profitable to me and others? Is it going to lead myself and others toward spiritual maturity? Does it have the potential to become a controlling factor in my life? So, taking alcohol as an example because it is what Paul speaks of here in the text (though we could use any number of other examples), does it profit me and others spiritually? Does it edify myself and/or others, or might it cause spiritual harm in our lives? Does it have the potential to control me? I think the answers to those questions are quite obvious.

This decision is so important because God has already given us the most important controlling factor possible: Himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit. When we control our lives, or allow our lives to be controlled by any other influence, we are depriving ourselves of the blessing of God’s control over us. Therefore, Paul issues a command here: “Be filled with the Spirit.” It is best not to think of this filling like the filling of a glass, but rather like the filling of a sail. When a sail become filled with wind, the wind pushes the vessel wherever it blows. This is the command: be fully surrendered, fully yielded, willing and available for the Holy Spirit to control and direct your life and use you however He desires. And as He directs, you obey. And this is not a hard kind of obedience … it is a joyful obedience; one that flows forth from gratitude for the salvation that the Spirit has accomplished in your life; and one that flows forth from complete trust that God’s plan for you is better than your own plan for you. Do you really believe that? If so, then obeying Him is an act of joyful and grateful worship, not intolerably servitude.

So we are commanded to be filled with, controlled by, the Holy Spirit. That means that if we are not allowing Him to control us, then it’s not just a matter of missing out on God’s best, though it is certainly that. But it is also an act of willful rebellion and disobedience against God. It is a demonstration of a lack of faith and trust, and more severely, it is idolatry of the self. To resist the Spirit’s control is to deny the rightful Lordship of Christ over us and to insist on our being our own Lord. That’s idolatry. Jesus said no one can serve two masters. We cannot serve God and mammon, we cannot serve God and self. Serving God under Christ’s Lordship and the Spirit’s control means that we trust Him more than we trust ourselves and willingly give Him full control of the reigns of our lives. You’ve seen those bumperstickers that say, “God is my Co-Pilot.” I’d say too many people have God as a Co-Pilot. Better to let Him be the pilot, give him the wheel, and move aside.

So, understand from this text, that we are commanded to be filled with, or controlled by, the Holy Spirit. Then secondly, …

2. The filling of the Spirit is the gracious work of God
· Be filled
Notice that this is a passive verb. It is something that happens to you, not something that you do. God is the one who does the filling, we are the recipients of His action. You may be able to resist this filling, or control, but you cannot accomplish it on your own. The only “action” on our part is to cease striving against God’s control, and to cease trying to “work up” the Spirit’s filling. Thus, our work is to stop working and start trusting that God is the one who will accomplish this in our lives.

Some Christians believe that if they do certain things, the instant automatic result will be that they are Spirit-filled. I know Christians who believe that praying in a certain way, or having certain people lay hands on you, on listening to a certain kind of music, worshiping in a certain kind of atmosphere, etc. results in the filling of the Spirit. This is just not true. If it were, then you could “fill yourself” with the Spirit. You can’t. I can’t fill you with the Spirit, and no one else can. Only God can. We must be willing and available for Him to take control, and trust by faith that He has when we surrender ourselves completely to Him.

So, from this we can learn something very practical and helpful. All of us have either said or heard someone say when they leave a worship service something like this: “Oh that service was so great! I really came away from it filled with the Spirit.” Or the opposite is often said and heard as well: “That service was boring, and I really didn’t get filled-up there.” Can I just say with loving honesty that statements like this say more about a person’s bad theology than they say about the service they attended. First of all, the filling of the Spirit is the work of God and it cannot be manufactured in a worship service. It can take place in a worship service, or at your desk at work, or in your living room, or in your bathroom, or in your car. It happens whenever we release control of ourselves to God and allow Him to control us and accept by faith that He has. Second, becoming Spirit-filled can be a very exciting experience, but it is not always exciting, fun and happy. Sometimes it is a painful period of breaking, a mournful season of repentance, or even a difficult time of overwhelming crisis. Not every exciting moment of our lives is the work of the Spirit. Our emotions can be manipulated by the right kind of environment, the right kind of music, the right tone of voice, and other factors. And not every encounter with the Spirit of God will be an exciting, hair-raising adventure. But we accept by faith that when we have surrendered ourselves to God and asked Him to take control of us that He will. And we proceed forth in faith that we have been filled. It’s His work, and we can always trust that He will do what He has promised to do.

Now finally, …

3. The filling of the Spirit is an ongoing process in our lives

Our English Bibles are translated from ancient languages: the Old Testament from Hebrew, and the New Testament from Greek. Teams of well-trained and capable scholars labor diligently to ensure that we have accurate and readable copies of God’s Word in our own language. But as any student of foreign language knows, sometimes there are nuances that get lost or obscured in translation. The language of this verse is one example. What is not plain to us in English is the force of the present tense verb here. This is not a command to be filled with the Spirit one time. It is a command to be continually filled with the Spirit. There are many things that God does one time in our lives. Salvation is a one-time experience. The baptism and indwelling of the Spirit happen once. But the filling of the Spirit is not a one-time event. We might paraphrase this statement as, “Be always being filled with the Spirit,” or “Keep on being filled with the Spirit.” As Tony Evans says, “Don’t get filled with Spirit today and expect the filling to cover you from here on out.”

We are fallen human beings, and our inclination toward sin is strong. There will always be the need for a fresh filling of the Spirit. Moment by moment, we will take the Spirit’s control for granted and find ourselves grasping for control yet again. So, we must be aware of this, and continually alert to our need to surrender more of ourselves over to His control. In God’s kindness He leads us to repentance. When we find ourselves discouraged, frustrated, feeling spiritually empty, and defeated, God is reminding us in those moments that we need to once more come to Him to yield control of ourselves over to the Spirit who dwells within us.

The Christian life is not difficult to live. It is impossible to live in our own strength and power. God has called us to do the impossible: to live out the righteousness He has given us; to serve Him with the gifts He has given us; to make His glory known to the ends of the earth. God calls us to love our enemies, to forgive as we have been forgiven, and to glorify Him in all that we do. But thank God, He has not left us to do these things on our own. He has given us His Spirit to empower us, to guide us, and to control us. And moment-by-moment of each day, we must continually seek His empowerment in our lives to experience the fullness of life that He has prepared for us. Too often, we allow the busy-ness and strain of our daily lives to blind us to our need for the filling of the Spirit. We need to return to God and confess to Him: “I’ve been trying to do all this on my own. I’ve taken control away from you. But I can’t do it anymore. I need Your Spirit to fill me.” And God will do this.

Jesus says in Luke 11:11-13, “Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” If you are a follower of Jesus, He has given you His Spirit. And He is willing and able to take control of us when we ask Him.

As we conclude today, I want to ask you, Are walking in the power of the Spirit? Are you living in His fullness? Who is in control of your life? You? Other people? Circumstances? If so, then you know full well that you have more than you can handle. Why not today, come to the end of yourself and your own efforts and ask God to fill you, to control you by His Spirt, and trust that He has. There may be no fireworks, no goosebumps, no spine-tingling sensation; just the simple faith that God will do what He has promised. And believing that, walk in His power, live in His fullness, and enjoy the life God intends for you under His Spirit’s control.

I’m speaking of course to Christian people today. If you are here and you have never put your faith and trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then you do not have the Spirit of God within you. But if you believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins and is risen again, and you turn from sin and call out to Him to save you, then He will; and He will take up residence in your life in the person of His Spirit, and enable you to experience the fullness of His power as you yield control of your life to Him.

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