This teaching includes a free sermon outline to download for personal use, message preparation or Bible study discussion.
In the last message I spoke about five ministries of the Holy Spirit in which He continues the ministry of Jesus in our lives. I spoke about Him as teacher, remembrancer, guide, revelator and administrator.
Now I want to focus on that particular ministry of the Holy Spirit as guide. I’ll turn back to John 16:13 again.
“However, when He, the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth...”
So there’s the clear statement the Holy Spirit comes to be our guide.
And then in Romans 8:14 Paul speaks about how we can be fulfilled and complete Christians. Romans 8:14, a very important verse.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
The tense there is the continuing present tense. As many as are regularly led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. The word son there speaks of maturity. It’s not the word for a little baby but the word for a grown up son. In order to become God’s children we have to be born again of the Spirit of God. Jesus spoke about that very clearly in John 3. But once we’ve been born again, in order to grow up and become mature and complete, we need to be regularly led by the Holy Spirit.
Now, the sad truth is that many Christians who’ve been born again have never really gone on to be led by the Holy Spirit. Consequently, they don’t achieve maturity, they don’t become the kind of complete Christian that God intends. So, I’m going to try to deal with this theme of being led by the Holy Spirit.
There are two alternative ways revealed in the Bible to achieve righteousness with God. They’re extremely important and they’re a major theme of the New Testament. But according to my observation, very little attention is paid to this particular question. The two ways by which we may seek to achieve righteousness with God are either law or grace. And the Bible reveals very clearly that they’re mutually exclusive. If you seek to achieve righteousness by law you cannot achieve righteousness by grace. On the other hand, if you seek to achieve righteousness by grace then you can’t do it by keeping law. This is tremendously important because again, I may be just speaking about a limited area of the Christian church that I’m familiar with, but I see most Christians trying to mix law and grace. Partly by law, partly by grace. The truth of the matter is they don’t really understand either.
I think we all know basically what law is. Law is a set of rules which you have to keep. And if you keep all the rules all the time then you’re made righteous. That is righteousness. Grace, on the other hand, is something that we cannot earn and we cannot achieve by working for it. If you are working for anything or seeking to earn it it is not grace. Grace cannot be earned. Grace is received from God only by one way. Ephesians 2:8 says this:
“For by grace you have been saved through [what?] faith.”
That’s right. Grace comes only through faith. And if you want to achieve righteousness, if you want to come into the maturity of God, you’ve got to decide are you going to do it by law or by grace. And if you follow my advice and the advice of the Bible, you won’t try to do it by law. Because the Bible says no one will ever achieve righteousness with God by keeping law.
Let’s look at some of the requirements of law. The basic principle you’ve got to understand is this. To be righteous by keeping law you’ve got to keep the whole law all the time. It’s not enough to keep the whole law some of the time, and it’s not enough to keep some of the law all the time. But you have to keep the whole law all the time or else you are not righteous by keeping the law. We’ll look at a few passages of scripture. Deuteronomy 27:26. This is the last verse of the chapter and it’s the end of a list of twelve curses which Israel were required to pronounce upon themselves after they came into the land of promise if they failed to keep the whole law all the time. And this is what this particular curse says.
“Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law. Cursed is the one who does not abide by and keep all the words of this law.”
In other words, if you start to keep the law and then you deviate from it you come under a curse. And Paul resumes this theme in the New Testament in the epistle to the Galatians, chapter 3. He quotes this verse, the one we’ve quoted from Deuteronomy. Chapter 3 and verse 10:
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written [and now he’s quoting the verse we’ve looked at but he amplifies it a little bit] ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’”
So if you want to receive the blessing and avoid the curse you have to continue in all things all the time to do them. Otherwise the law is of no benefit to you from the point of view of righteousness.
And then in the epistle of James, chapter 2 and verse 10–11, James is speaking about the same question. He says:
“For whoever shall keep the whole law and yet stumble [or fail] in one point, he is guilty of all; for the one who said do not commit adultery also said do not murder. Now, if you do not commit adultery but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.”
You cannot single out the commandments which you think are important and say I’ll keep those and the others I won’t. You’ve got to keep every commandment all the time or the law is of no benefit to you as a means of achieving righteousness.
See, my experience is most people think it will be all right if they keep most of the law some of the time. In fact, the natural mind of man can only think of one way of achieving righteousness, which is keeping a law. When I was a soldier in the British Army and had become a Christian I used to witness to my fellow soldiers who were not Christians and talk about being saved and so on. And I noticed almost invariably every one of them responded in something like this. He would come up with a little list of the rules he kept. Each one had his own set of rules and he was trying to convince me that he was all right because he kept some rules. Each one made a list of the rules he kept and omitted the rules he didn’t keep. I don’t commit adultery, I don’t get drunk, I don’t—there were not many I don’ts, really, in the British Army but they would seek out a few. They would kind of hold this up as if this was all right, that justified them. There were other things they were doing but that wasn’t important. And I learned that that’s how the natural mind of man thinks. When we think about being righteous, each of us turns to some sort of list of rules and we think I’ve got to keep this and I’ve got to keep that.
Now, the Bible says there’s nothing wrong with keeping the law if you keep the whole law all the time. Fine. If you can do it, praise God. But then the Bible goes on to say that in actual fact nobody ever succeeds. And this is very clearly stated in many passages. We’ll look at only just two of them. Romans 3:20:
“Therefore, by the deeds of the law [or by the keeping of the law] no flesh will be justified in God’s sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
So Paul says no flesh, that’s no human being, will ever achieve righteousness in God’s sight by keeping a law. Then you argue well why did God give the law of Moses? And Paul says one of the results of the law is it shows us we’re sinners. It doesn’t make us righteous but it shows us we need to be saved. The law was actually never given by God to make anybody righteous. One of its main purposes was to show us we need to be saved. Another main purpose was to show us that we can’t save ourselves. And, another purpose was to foreshow and predict the savior who would be able to save us.
But returning to what Paul says, he says by the deeds of the law no flesh, no human being, will ever achieve righteousness with God. If we go back to Galatians 2:16, Paul says—and it’s in the middle of a sentence but we won’t give the whole sentence:
“...knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law...”
The question is, dear friends, do you know it? Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law.
“...but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”
So again, very emphatic. No one will ever achieve righteousness by keeping a law. We have believed in Christ that we might be made righteous in Christ by faith, not by keeping the works of the law.
And then going back to the passage in the next chapter of Galatians, chapter 3, verse 11, Paul says:
“But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident; for the just shall live by faith.”
And he’s quoting the prophet Habakkuk. And then he says the law is not of faith but the man who does them shall live by them. If you can keep all the law all the time you’ll live that way, you’ll be righteous in the sight of God. But, the alternative is by faith which is not observing a law. These are mutually exclusive alternatives.
Now, I think only God has conceived the method of achieving righteousness by faith. I think left to himself, natural man would never conceive such a way of righteousness. As far as I know, every other religion has some way of achieving righteousness which is doing something. Different religions have different things that you have to do but, in essence, all of them think along this line, “I’ll be righteous if I do this, this and this, and don’t do that, that and that.” That means the Christian faith, if we understand it rightly, is absolutely unique. There is no other religion that even tries to offer faith on the same basis that the Christian faith offers it. The question is does it work? If it works then we are of all people the most privileged because we’ve discovered the only way to achieve righteousness. Because, God in His mercy has shown it to us.
Now I want to look at some passages in Romans. This is where you need to tie a towel around your forehead and really concentrate. I know this is not the ideal climate in which to concentrate but I have great expectations of you people. I believe you’re going to achieve it. We’re going to read from Romans 7. I didn’t know what the climate or situation would be like when I arranged this. I think God must have intended it. We’re going to begin with the first 6 verses of Romans. This is a rather elaborate comparison, taking an analogy from marriage. The principle being if a woman marries a man, as long as the man remains alive she’s not free to marry another man without being called an adulteress. But if the man she’s married dies, then she’s free to marry another man without being called an adulteress. And then Paul applies this to the relationship of the Christian to the law. This is where it becomes a little difficult but I’ll try and illuminate it for you. The thing is this is so important because my observation is most Christians are living in a twilight, neither law on the one hand or grace on the other but halfway in between the two and they usually get the worse of both worlds. Now I’m going to read.
“Do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law, that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?”
Once you come under the law there’s no escape from the law except by death. The law continues to rule over you. But once the law has put you to death it has no more dominion over you, you have escaped from the dominion of the law. The message is, I’ll say it in advance, we have escaped from the dominion of the law through the death of Jesus. Now we’ll show you how it works.
“For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.”
Now, this is the application to us as believers in Jesus.
“Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another, even to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.”
Let’s consider that one. Here is were you just have to grasp Paul’s thinking. The Jews are very analytically minded people. It’s in the background of their religion. That’s why you’ll find there are probably more successful Jewish physicists proportionately than any other nation. And if you can work through this you’ll have a sharp mind, it will make you sharp. I’ll put it in my words. Paul is saying when you come under the law, that’s a marriage contract by which you’re married to your fleshly nature. All right? Because the law works on your fleshly nature and says do this, don’t do that. It’s kind of held up there as a set of rules speaking to you and saying do this, don’t do that. And once you’re under the law you’re married to this fleshly nature of yours which is a rebel. And no matter how you try to keep the law you don’t succeed because the rebel in you won’t do the right thing. See? How many of you would be honest enough to admit that’s your experience? You really tried to do the right thing and keep the rules and somehow you didn’t succeed. I won’t ask for any hands if you don’t want to put them up. You’ll lose nothing by raising your hand.
So, Paul says as long as this fleshly nature of ours remains alive, we’re not free to marry another man. But the good news is that when Jesus died on the cross our fleshly nature was put to death in Him. He said that in the 6th chapter of Romans. Our old man was crucified with Him, Jesus. So now the flesh, having been put to death, executed, Paul says we’re free to marry somebody else. Whom should we marry? The one who was raised from the dead. So we’re married now by the Holy Spirit, we’re united to the resurrected Christ. We’re not married to the flesh, we’re not under the law. When the law put us to death, that’s the last it could do to us. Death has released us from the law. We’re free now for a different kind of union, a union through the Spirit with the resurrected Christ.
And, he goes on to say that, chapter 7, verse 5:
“For when we were in the flesh [when we were controlled by our fleshly nature] the passions of sin which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.”
That’s an astonishing statement for most religious people. But it says the passions of sin were aroused by the law. The law didn’t stop us sinning, it stirred up sin in us. Paul comes to an example in a little while so hold that in the pending file, we’re going on. Verse 6:
“But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by [that’s our fleshly nature], so that we should serve in the newness of Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.”
So we’ve been delivered from keeping the law as a means of achieving righteousness because the thing that the law dominated, our fleshly nature, has been put to death. Now we can be married to another person, the resurrected Christ. And what Paul says is through marriage you bring forth offspring. When we were married to the flesh we brought off the offspring of the flesh. And in Galatians 5 he lists the works of the flesh, there’s not one good thing in them.
You see, if you’re married to a bad man you’re going to have bad children, that’s the message. Now we’re free from that union. By the Holy Spirit we can be united to the resurrected Christ and we bring forth the fruit of His righteousness in us which is the fruit of the Spirit. So you understand, in a way it’s not what we try to do, it’s what we’re united with that determines the way we live. This is really the essence of the Christian message. As long as you are just trying to be good and do the right thing you haven’t grasped the message. The message is get united to the right person and it will work out naturally.
So now we’re going to go on in Romans 7 and Paul’s going to share his own personal experience. It’s encouraging because if it could happen to Paul it could happen to you and me. He says:
“What should we say then? Is the law sin?”
Was the law bad? Was it wrong?
“Certainly not. On the contrary, I would not have known sin unless through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COVET.’”
So it was the commandment, `You shall not covet’ that made me aware of covetousness. See, before that I wasn’t aware of it.
“But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire; for from apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law; but when the commandment came, sin came to life, and I died.”
Now, you can ponder about that but let me suggest to you it’s true to experience. I’ll share my own experience, I think I’ve shared it previously one other session. When I was confirmed in the Anglican Church at the age of 15, for the first time I realized I needed to be a lot better than I was. So I learned all the questions, memorized all the answers, and I said now I’m confirmed, I’m going to be better. And I was quite sincere. The problem was the harder I tried to be good the quicker I got bad. I was not nearly so bad until I tried to be good. Because I stirred up something in me, I didn’t know what it was, it’s what Paul calls the old man, the rebel, the flesh. And, he would not do the right thing. My solution after about six months was it doesn’t work for me. I said maybe it works for some people but it doesn’t work for me. And in those days in the Anglican Church we prayed the general confession every Sunday morning and amongst other things we said—I don’t know whether they still say it—“Pardon us miserable offenders.” So in my rebellious teen attitude I said if all religion can do is make me a miserable offender, I can be an offender without religion and not nearly so miserable. So that was my personal decision.
I’m not justifying what I’m doing but I am pointing out to you it’s when you really try to do the right thing in your own strength that you realize you can’t do it. The harder you try the less you succeed. That was Paul’s experience. It happened to him, it happens to millions of people. As a matter of fact, the people who don’t know how bad they are are the ones who never tried to be good. See? Until you try to be good you don’t know what you’re struggling with.
This is universal. See, the old man is the old man. He’s not the old Chinese man or the old Russian man or the old British man, because it all goes way back to our first forefather, Adam, who was a rebel. He never begat any children until he was a rebel and every descendant of Adam has the nature of a rebel in him which Paul calls the flesh, the old man. And until the law comes we can be quite happy and contented, “Well, I’m as good as the rest. I’m not so bad after all.” But when we see the law and say, “That’s right, that’s what I need to do, that’s how I need to live”, that’s when we discover what’s really inside of us. See? So the purpose of the law, the primary purpose, is to bring sin to light. Because otherwise we can be deceived all through our lives not knowing what we’re really like inside.
Let me go on reading. Paul says in verse 10:
“The commandment which was to bring life I found to bring death; for sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.”
It’s like sin is a sort of assassin. It’s almost like sin is personalized. And it was just waiting for an opportunity to get at me. So when I was faced with the commandment I said that’s what I’m going to do. Sin deceived me and through it killed me. Now Paul says:
“Therefore, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.”
Paul is saying there’s nothing wrong with the law. That’s not where the problem is. The problem is in you and me.
Then he raises this question.
“Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.”
In other words, the result of the commandment is to bring sin out into the open and show us just how wicked it is and how powerless we are to deal with it. That’s the purpose of the commandment. There are other purposes but that’s the primary one.
Paul goes on:
“For we know the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin.”
That’s a very vivid picture, if I may pause for a moment. Because, in the culture of the Roman Empire when an army captured prisoners from another nation, very frequently they were sold as slaves in the slave market. And the soldiers took the price. And when a person was being sold as a slave they would stand on a block with a post behind them and a spear was thrust out from the post over their head. So to be sold as a slave was to be sold under a spear. That was the phrase. So Paul says I am carnal, sold under sin. My sin is the spear that’s stretched out over my head that causes me to be sold as a slave.
And something we need to bear in mind, when a slave owner buys a slave, the slave doesn’t decide what he’s going to do; the owner does. And so you see, Satan has some respectable slaves and some less respectable slaves. But if you or I are one of the respectable slaves, let’s not despise the others because it’s not their choice, it’s Satan’s choice. One woman that becomes a slave may become a cook, another may become a prostitute but it’s not her decision, it’s the decision of the slave owner.
So you see, some of us that are respectable, good living slaves, we can point the finger at the prostitute or the drug addict or whoever it may be and say, there you are. The truth of the matter is we’re all slaves. What kind of slaves we are, it’s not our decision, it’s the slave master that makes the decision.
The good news, which I might as well interrupt with now and then I’ll go back to my theme, is one day Jesus walked into the slave market and He said I’ll buy him, I’ll buy her, he’s mine, she’s mine, here’s the price: my precious blood. How would you feel if you were standing there on the slave block waiting to be sold? Naked, shivering with fear, people were walking up to you, prodding your skin to see how young you were or what health condition you were in. And then this wonderful prince of a man walks in and says I’ll buy her. And when He’s bought you He gives you your liberty. You’d be excited, wouldn’t you?
See, the problem with us as Christians is we’re not nearly excited enough, because we don’t really see what God has done for us. So, going on, verse 14:
“For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin.”
Now, only Paul ever had this problem, I’m sure you’ll agree.
“For what I am doing, I do not understand; for what I will to do that I do not practice, but what I hate that I do.”
How many would be honest enough to say I know from experience what that means? Would you put your hand up and say that’s true. It’s certainly true in my life. And Paul says I don’t understand it. Here I am, I’m really wanting to do the right thing. I can remember months when I struggled with this problem. I don’t understand why these things enslave me. In the end I decided to be a good slave, that’s all I decided. I won’t fight, I’ll just give way. But God in His mercy decreed otherwise.
“If then I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law, it is good.”
Now I’m saying the law is right, that’s what I should be doing. I’m not criticizing the law. But now is the crux of the matter.
“But now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that wells in me.”
When I make up my mind to do the right thing I agree it’s the right thing, I agree with what the law says. I say I’m going to do it and I do the exact opposite. Then I discover it isn’t really me that’s doing it, it’s sin that’s dwelling in me. So you can say if you like that the law is God’s diagnostic. You know what a diagnostic is? Diagnoses your problem. You see, you go to any doctor and say, “Doctor, I’ve got a pain in my stomach.” He doesn’t just reach out and take a bottle of pills, he tries to diagnose the cause of the pain. Because when he knows the cause then he can find the cure. And God has provided this diagnosis for us. Here is how we can find out the real problem. It’s sin dwelling in me. In a certain sense it’s isolated sin. I am certainly no pharmacologist but one of the jobs of a pharmacologist in taking a specimen is to isolate the particular thing that causes the sickness. And God has done that by the law. He’s diagnosed the root of the problem. It’s sin dwelling in me. It’s not me, it’s something else. I’m responsible but it’s not I that’s doing it.
Now let’s go on to the other way. We’ve said that we can’t achieve righteousness with God by keeping a law. Not because there’s anything wrong with the law but because of this problem in us. Basically you have to come to that point if you’re really going to accept God’s way of righteousness. God’s way is grace, not law. Grace is God’s goodness that we don’t deserve. I find religious people find it hard to receive the grace of God because their thinking is I’ve got to do something to earn it.
Now when I got saved I ceased to be religious so I just plunged in and got everything. Saved, baptized in the Holy Spirit, got gifts of the Holy Spirit within a week. At the same time the other soldier that went with me to the same meeting was a very earnest religious type and it took him weeks to get what I got in a few days. Because, he kept trying to earn it. See, he thought he had to be good enough to get it. I’ve talked with scores of people who don’t receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit because they think they’ve got to be good enough to earn it. You will never be good enough to earn the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Nothing you can do will ever make you good enough for God the third person to come and dwell in your physical body. It’s grace. Let’s say this together.
“Grace cannot be earned.”
Will you say that?
“Grace cannot be earned.”
That’s right. Turn around to the person next to you and say grace cannot be earned. All right. So we’re talking about something, if God hadn’t chosen to do it it would have never happened. We will never understand the grace of God but we can receive it.
Now we’re coming to the crux of this matter which is it’s either law or grace but you can’t have it both ways. Romans 6:14, Paul is speaking to people who’ve received the grace of God and he says:
“For sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are not under law but under grace.”
Notice they’re mutually exclusive. If you’re under law you’re not under grace. If you’re under grace you’re not under law. You cannot be under both. And notice also he says sin will not have dominion over you because you are not under the law. What’s the implication? If you are under the law sin will have dominion over you. See that? That’s a very important verse. It teaches us two things. If we try to achieve righteousness by law, sin will have dominion over us.
Secondly, if we want to achieve righteousness by grace we cannot achieve it by law. We’ve got to make up our minds it’s one or the other.
And then if you look on in Romans 8 to verse 14, we’ve looked at it already:
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
How do we live as sons of God? By keeping a set of rules? No. By what? By being led by the Holy Spirit. That’s the only way we can live as God’s mature, grown up children.
Now, turning on to Galatians—and you’ll find there’s a lot of correspondence between Romans and Galatians—Galatians 5:18:
“But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.”
See that? How can you become a son of God? By being led by the Spirit. But if you’re led by the Spirit you’re not under the law. You cannot have it both ways, you have to make a choice. Actually, for most professing Christians, law or a set of rules is like a crutch. They limp around supporting themselves on the crutch. God says throw the crutch away and trust me. And we say but what will I do without the crutch? I mean, I have discovered that it frightens people to trust God’s grace, really to commit themselves to that. We all want to hang on to a little set of rules that we keep, that’s our crutch. It doesn’t work.
Let’s look in 2 Corinthians 3 for a moment. I’d like to read the first three verses. These verses always bless me and they always challenge me.
“Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, letters of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you?”
Paul says do we need to get somebody to write and tell you that our ministry is to be accepted? He says no, that’s not necessary. Do we need you to write and tell other people to accept our ministry? It’s not necessary. And then he makes this tremendous statement:
“You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men.”
What Paul is saying is if anybody wants to know my theology, go to Corinth. Because, it’s written there not on paper but in the lives of men and women. Because when I went to Corinth no one had ever heard the gospel of Jesus. It was a city full of pimps and prostitutes and homosexuals and drunkards and extortioners and all sorts of wicked people. And now there are thousands of those people living pure Godly lives. That’s my letter. That’s the recommendation that I offer of my ministry.
See, would to God, brothers and sisters, that we could say the same. You want to know what I believe? Go and look at the people I’ve ministered to. They’re my letter. There you’ll find out what I really believe.
And then Paul goes on in verse 3:
“You are manifestly a letter of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of flesh; that is, of the heart.”
Paul says the law was written on tablets of stone, it was external and it didn’t do any good because the problem was inside the people. But he says by the Spirit I can write God’s laws on your heart and what’s on your heart will determine the way you live. When God’s law is on your heart you live God’s way.
I quoted earlier, yesterday I think, Proverbs 4:23:
“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.”
You see, I’m a preacher. And I tell you, preaching is a waste of time unless the Holy Spirit is there. Because I can’t write on your hearts, there’s no way I can make access to your hearts. But if preach and the Holy Spirit honors what I say, He’ll write on your heart. And that’s what will change you. You could go out of this meeting this afternoon totally changed, some of you, if the Holy Spirit has written the message on your heart. What a blessed ministry! Being able to change people’s lives! I’m not interested in religion myself, I could care less about religion. The only thing that interests me is seeing people changed by the power of God. People who were miserable and depressed and hopeless suddenly filled with peace and joy and finding something to live for. That’s what keeps me going. I’m 73, I’m not contemplating retiring because I enjoy what I do. It’s not a religious drudgery for me, it’s exciting. It’s exciting only because of the Holy Spirit. Every time I preach I say to the Holy Spirit if you’re not there and you don’t anoint, this is all going to be a waste of time. I’d just as well close the meeting before it begins.
But where the Holy Spirit is, anything can happen. You’ve probably heard of C.T. Studd, the famous university graduate from my university, Cambridge. He played cricket for England and so on. He became a missionary and one time he prayed this. He said, “Lord, give us seasons of glorious disorder.” I say amen. Lord, I’m tired of this religious order that keeps on doing the same thing week after week and never changes anything or anyone. I don’t mind if people stand on their heads if they get changed. Mind you, it might change people, too.
So, let’s try and sort of make it clear what we’re talking about. God’s way of righteousness and holiness is not struggling but yielding. Did you get that, I’ll say it again. Not struggling but yielding. Yielding to the Holy Spirit. Come to the end of your efforts and say, “Holy Spirit, take over. I can’t handle this situation but you can.” It doesn’t mean you don’t need willpower. What it means is you’ve got to use your willpower differently. You’ve got to use your willpower not to try to do it yourself.
I’m a very independent, strong-minded person. My natural instinct is any time I have a problem, I’ll think of the solution. It’s taken me years to come to the place where I don’t do that. I say, “Lord, what is your solution?” And very often it’s very different from anything I would ever have thought of. The Christian life is not a life of struggle, it’s a life of yielding to the Holy Spirit within us.
And then it’s not effort but union. You see what we talked about from Romans 7 at the beginning? The question is what are you married to? If you’re married to your fleshly nature you’ll bring forth the works of the flesh. You can struggle as much as you like but this is a biological law. But, if through the Holy Spirit you’re united with the resurrected Christ, through that union you’ll bring forth the fruit of the Spirit. Do you understand? Let me say that again. Not struggling but yielding. Would you say that? Not struggling but yielding. Not effort but union.
Let’s look in John 15 for a moment. This is the parable of the vine and the branches. Jesus is speaking, we’ll just look at three verses. Verse 1:
“I am the true vine, my Father is the vinedresser.”
Do you have vines in this part of the world? Probably not. But anyhow, they’re a fruit bearing tree that needs very careful pruning. If you don’t prune a vine at the right time of the year in the right way it ceases to bring forth grapes. And so Jesus said I am the vine, my Father is the one who does the pruning. And then He goes on to say in verses 4 and 5 to His disciples:
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing.”
Now, a vine does not bear grapes with a lot of effort. It doesn’t make resolutions and say now I’m going to bring forth grapes. That’s not the way it happens. How does it happen? It’s united to the trunk, to the stock of the vine. And the same life that’s in the trunk flows through the branches in the sap, and the life in the branches brings forth the appropriate kind of fruit. Jesus said I am the vine, you are the branches. If you will remain related to me in me, joined to me, you’ll bring forth much fruit.
And then He gave us a warning which is very important. He said but you’ve got to expect to be pruned. You see, there’s some Christians who have problems because they’re not bearing much fruit. There are other Christians who have problems because they’re bearing fruit. And Jesus said every branch in me that bears fruit my Father is going to prune it. If you’ve ever seen a vine pruned, it’s ruthless. They cut back the branches right back to the stem. You think that thing is never going to bear fruit again. But next year it’s more fruitful. Some of you are struggling with things that are your fault but many of you are struggling with things that are the results of bearing fruit; the Father is pruning you. Don’t give up, don’t say why should this happen to me, I’ve sincerely tried to serve the Lord, I’m really doing my best and I’ve done this, this and this. What’s happened? You’ve borne fruit, now you’re going to be purged. Can you take a sigh of relief and say praise God? Praise God! It’s a good sign, see? But the message I want to bring out is it’s not effort. All your effort won’t do it. No effort will produce one grape in a thousand years. It’s what? It’s union.
See, there’s a beautiful parable there, I’ve been talking about the Godhead: the Father, the Son and the Spirit. All three persons of the Godhead are in that. The Father is the vine dresser, Jesus is the vine and the Holy Spirit is the sap that flows up through the vine and into the branches. And that’s what brings forth fruit, the fruit of the Spirit. Not the fruit of our best efforts, not the fruit of religion but the fruit of the Spirit.
Now let me give you just a little parable which I’ve used to try and make this vivid to people. I want to say I’m sharing out of my experience. These things are real to me because I’ve been through them. I’ve struggled. I’ve tried. I’ve tried to be more religious, I’ve worked harder at it. I’ve felt so frustrated I didn’t know what to do. But I learned that this is part of the process that makes a Christian. So I want to give you this little parable. The parable is this. You’re in a certain place and you need to find the way to a distant destination over country that you’ve never traveled. And you have two options. You can have a map or you can have a personal guide. You understand the parable? The map is the law. It’s perfect. Every detail is exactly right. Every single item in the geography is correctly marked. Or, you can say I won’t take the map, I’ll take a personal guide. Who is the personal guide? The Holy Spirit, that’s right.
So, what happens? You’ve got this young man graduated from university, he’s strong, he’s clever, he’s pretty self-reliant. God says what do you want, the map or the guide? He says I’m good at reading maps, I’ll take the map. He sets off down the road, knowing the right direction to go. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and he feels happy. He says this is a piece of cake.
About three days later he’s in the middle of a jungle, it’s midnight, it’s raining hard and he’s on the edge of a precipice. He doesn’t know whether he’s facing north, south, east or west. And a gentle voice says to him, “Can I help you?” And he says, “Oh, Holy Spirit! I need you! I need you!” The Holy Spirit says, “Give me your hand and I’ll get you out of this.” A little while later they’re out on the road again and walking along side by side.
Then it occurs to him, “I was pretty silly to get so panicky just about being in that jungle. I could have made it on my own.” So he turns around, the guide isn’t there any longer. He says, “I can make it on my own.” Off he sets.
About two days later he’s in the middle of a bog and every step he takes he sinks a little deeper. And he doesn’t know what to do. He says, “I can’t ask for help again. The last time I got it and I didn’t do the right thing.” The Holy Spirit says, “Let me help you.” And out he comes onto the road again, setting off.
They’re making fine progress and then he thinks, “I’ve still got the map.” And he pulls the map out and says to the Holy Spirit, “Maybe you’d like the map.” And the Holy Spirit says, “Thanks, I know the way, I don’t need the map.” He said, “As a matter of fact, I made the map.”
So, my question to you and me is how often does that have to happen? How many times will we go back to trusting our own wisdom and our own cleverness and snubbing the Holy Spirit?
There’s one other picture which is taken from the 24th chapter of Genesis. It’s very, very simple. It’s the story of how Abraham got a bride for his son Isaac. You remember the story, he sent his steward back to the land of Mesopotamia to find a relative of his own family. This is a parable, you understand. It’s history but it’s a parable. Abraham is a type of God the Father. Isaac is a type of Jesus Christ the only Son. The bride, the chosen bride, whose name was Rebekah, is a type of what? The church, that’s right. There’s one other main character who’s nameless and that’s the steward. He’s never named. What’s the steward a type of? The Holy Spirit. Do you see that? This is the Holy Spirit’s self-portrait in Genesis 24. And the characteristic thing is he doesn’t even name Himself.
So, out goes the steward and he takes ten camels with him with all sorts of equipment and laden with gifts because he’s going to choose a bride. And in the Middle East, whenever you make a significant choice and build a relationship, you always give a gift. And if you receive the gift you’ve received the person. If you refuse the gift you’ve refused the person. It’s absolutely a critical moment.
I’ve lived in that part of the world and I tell you, camels carry a lot. I mean, they can carry an immense amount of luggage. So there’s ten camels. He arrives at the place where the well is and he prays and now he says I’m going to ask one of the young women that come out for water. And let the one that’s the chosen women say to me, “I’ll draw water for you and for your camels.” And bear in mind, a camel can drink forty gallons of water. So, ten camels is four hundred gallons of water.
Well, along comes Rebekah and the steward says, “Give me some drink.” And she says, “Certainly. And I’ll draw for your camels.” And he says this is the girl. And let me tell you, that’s faith with works. It takes a lot of strength to draw water for ten camels.
And then he pulls out this beautiful jewel, places it on her forehead and what happens? The moment she wears the jewel it marks her out as the appointed bride. What would have happened if she’d refused the jewel? She would never have become the bride. What will happen to a church that refuses the gifts of the Holy Spirit? It cannot be the bride.
And then you know the rest of the story. But what I want to point out to you is Rebekah never had a map. She’d never been where she was going. But she had a guide. She’d never seen the man she was to marry, she’s never seen his father. She only had one source of information, the steward. That’s like you and me. We can’t make it with a map but we can have a guide. We will never see heaven, we’ll never see the Lord in person, we’ll never see God the Father in this life. But the Holy Spirit will tell us what to expect.
Can you say thank you God for the Holy Spirit? Amen. Bless you.