Alistair M Brown
Galatians 5: 16-18, 24-25
Romans 8: 26-27
1 Corinthians 2: 9-13
Ephesians 3: 14-19
Revelation 22: 17- ‘to come’
I would seek help to draw out from these scriptures the range and variety of some of the services of the Holy Spirit. As we speak of them, we may see something of their precious character and their result, because everything that the Spirit does will have a result. You cannot think of a divine Person acting without a result. The Holy Spirit is a divine Person and His activities certainly have a result. We might also see in these scriptures a progression. We see activities of the Spirit that relate to what is moral; and then to our need, or our weakness; then activities that relate to what is spiritual and to the apprehension and enjoyment of divine things; and finally to the great result in the Spirit and the bride saying “Come”. So there is variety and progression in the Spirit’s service.
The passage in Galatians 5 presents a fundamental, foundational matter. We never leave behind what is fundamental in Christianity. Christianity has a moral foundation, which is Christ. God’s intention is that we should come into line with His foundation. He starts with the foundation He has laid, but then He adds material - you and me. It is poor material in one sense, but God acts through the Holy Spirit to prepare that material to be added in. The Holy Spirit is like the wind that blows where it will (John 3: 8), to awaken the consciences and the hearts of people who are away from God. Through new birth God places some seed in the heart of a person, and then His word is preached so that what is implanted in the seed in new birth might come to light and bear fruit; that conversion might take place. It is presupposed in this passage that God has worked, as a result of which there has been an acknowledgement of sinfulness and repentance before a righteous God, and the soul has gladly laid hold of the fact that God has provided a Saviour. If God had not provided a Saviour there would be no hope, but He has provided a Saviour and so there is hope. He is acting sovereignly now to bring souls to that Saviour. I believe that God is acting powerfully and sovereignly in a very wide way, securing people for His praise and for His glory forever.
The passage in Galatians has in mind believers, and it is a word of exhortation to them - the apostle is exhorting the Galatians, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall no way fulfil flesh’s lust”. You maybe thought that “no way” was a modern expression. You find it in the scripture here and the translator’s footnote says that it is a very “strong negative”: if you walk in the Spirit you will “no way fulfil flesh’s lust”. The flesh is completely opposed to the activities, desires and objectives of God. That is what the flesh is: it is what is innate in you and me that is acted on by Satan. It is an active matter of opposition to what God desires to do in you and with you. But you will “no way fulfil flesh’s lust” if you walk in the Spirit. Walking in the Spirit conveys something of the believer drawing power from that One. It is an inward thought, and supposes that the Spirit is in the believer, which would be normal since it is what God intends. You could say it is the objective and the normal result of the preaching of the gospel - that hearts should receive Christ and be ready to receive the Holy Spirit.
The Galatians had received the Holy Spirit and the apostle was exhorting them to walk in Him; that is to draw the inner spring and source of their life from that blessed One. If they did so, they would in no way fulfil flesh’s lusts. There is that within us, acted on by the enemy of our souls and the enemy of God, which is resolutely and implacably opposed to what God would do. God wants to bring us into blessing, liberty and joy, and into relationship with Himself, but there is that in me that is implacably opposed - as the apostle says to the Romans, “For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell”, chap 7: 18. Although the enemy acts on my flesh and opposes, the Spirit is greater. The enemy is a terrible foe, constantly playing on the flesh in me and inflaming it, but the Spirit is greater. “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world”, 1 John 4: 4. The enemy is the prince and the power of the air. He is the pervading spirit and power of the world. But, “greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.” What a comfort that is, what an encouragement that, as believers with the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, you and I have the power and the resource to overcome the flesh in us. It speaks about the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. These two things are opposed one to the other. The whole great moral question of the universe, the question of good and evil, is worked out in the soul of the believer. The two things are opposed to each other - the Spirit and the flesh, what is of God and what is of the enemy.
We might ask ourselves this afternoon, which side am I on? Am I on the side of the Spirit? He would constantly draw me to the One who died for me, my Saviour and Lord. Or am I on the side of the flesh? That is what is opposed to God and opposed to the Lord Jesus Christ. I trust that all of us would firmly align ourselves with the Spirit within us, who is opposed to the influence and activities of the devil and of the flesh. The scripture speaks about those that are “led by the Spirit” (Rom 8: 14), who are not under law. We are not to be in slavery and thraldom to the enemy and to the way that he tries to work in us. As under the power of the Holy Spirit you are not subject to that law. The Spirit in His lowly service leads the believer into liberty, not into law, but into liberty from the power of sin and the flesh and the activities of the enemy.
There is a long list of characteristics by which you might identify the flesh’s work. And then a beautiful list of these nine aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. They are wonderful and worth going over and thinking about. The fruit of the Spirit would remind us of whatsoever things are true and noble and of good report, Phil 4: 8. The apostle goes on to say that “they that are of the Christ have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts”. Crucifixion is final and violent, and the believer has to come to this - each of us has to accept that the flesh in us has to be crucified. It has to be put to death - there is absolutely no doubt about it; but it is with a view to living by the Spirit and walking by the Spirit. The translator indicates in the footnote that it is the standard of the characteristic of walk. It implies what is straightforward and according to the Spirit. If we live by that One, let us walk by Him. So that there is a great result in testimony as the believer with the Spirit is able to overcome what is of the flesh. The walk of the believer is in the Spirit and according to His rule.
In Galatians, we see the Spirit’s service in striving in the believer to displace what is opposed to God and to bring about conditions in us such that we can walk by Him. As I said, this is foundational - if we come through these exercises and identify ourselves firmly and clearly with the Spirit in His activities, give Him room, and seek His help to overcome what is of the flesh within us, we make progress. The Spirit is always there to help the saint in his or her struggle against the flesh. I know a little of it and I am sure that all of us of any age at all know the reality of this, and I simply encourage myself and all of us to lay hold of the help that is in the Spirit and by Him to overcome what is opposed to God and what He is doing.
We read in Romans 8, which is really the Spirit’s chapter and well worth going over carefully from that point of view. Here we have not so much a struggle against the flesh - that comes in earlier - but we have the help of the Spirit in our weakness. It is a feature of the Spirit in His grace, that He takes account of felt weakness on the part of a believer; not exactly moral weakness, but felt weakness in doing what is right I find that a very real thing. Situations arise where I ask myself ‘what is the right thing to do here?’. I find I do not really know, but the Spirit is there to join His help to our weakness. The context of these verses is the groaning creation. That is the effect that sin has had on the creation as a whole, and if we are sensitive we will know something of that. Just to be practical, you read about people in Syria, who are being oppressed and attacked. These things affect us in our spirits. You wonder, ‘Well, how should I pray about this? I hardly know what to pray for as is fitting’. You think of believers across the Middle East, suffering now. It is a groaning creation and the work of God is under attack in a broad way. How should we pray in these situations? You hardly know how to pray.
There are other situations in which we feel our weakness. Even Moses, a man of God who knew the presence of God, could say “make me now to know thy way”, Exod 33: 13. I think we all come across experiences in our lives and circumstances where we do not know what to do or to say or even what to ask for. In that position the Spirit is there, joining His help to our weakness. A divine Person is taking account of our weakness, and He joins Himself to us. He takes account of the fact that we do not know what to pray for as is fitting. He does not leave us to flounder. “The Spirit itself makes intercessions with groanings which cannot be uttered.” The feelings of a divine Person come into expression in the believer, through the believer, speaking and making intercessions. They are described as ‘groanings’ - inexpressible feelings that cannot be put into words. The Spirit would join His help to our weakness to express with divine wisdom, feeling, understanding and precision, just what is right in a situation in which we do not know what to say and we do not know what to do, but as relying on the Spirit there is help in that. And then it says, “he who searches the hearts”, that is God. He “knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for saints according to God”. This verse suggests that as we call upon the Spirit for help, He gives us spiritual intuition to understand what to say and what to ask for. The Spirit brings God’s mind into a situation. So when we do not know what to do, or what to ask for, in our weakness we ask the Spirit and He comes in and gives expression to what is in God’s mind, because He knows it. This matter is worked out in the believer in whom the Spirit dwells. God’s mind through the Spirit is available to the believer who has asked for the help of the Spirit in his or her weakness. He who searches the hearts looks in and He sees a believer who has gone to the Spirit for help. God sees His own mind acknowledged there, because the Spirit has been given room and is active. God’s mind is given expression to by the Spirit, and God Himself takes account of it. What a blessed service! It is a step on from the Spirit helping us in the struggles of the flesh that we get in Galatians, and also earlier in Romans. Chapter 8 of Romans is the Spirit taking account of an expressed and felt weakness in one who desires to make room for Him but who hardly knows what to do, or what to ask for. The Spirit comes in and brings in the mind of God and God takes account of that.
We next read from 1 Corinthians. Here is another blessed aspect of the activity of the Holy Spirit. The passage speaks about man’s mind and not being able to understand God’s things, but that is in the background. In the foreground are the things that God has prepared for those that love Him. They are certainly not in the flesh, that is obvious; neither are they natural, because they are things that have not entered into our hearts. They were not seen with our eyes, we have not heard them with our ears, they have not come into man’s heart, but God has prepared these things for them that love Him. You think of God loving His creature, wanting to bring us into blessing, and wanting to bring us into relationship to Himself. Added to that, God has prepared things for those that love Him. Am I a lover of God? Do you love God, dear friend, brother or sister? What a blessed thing it is to love God. If we love God, He has prepared things for us and has revealed them by his Spirit. God has a great pent up store of things that He has prepared for you and others like you who love Him. How is He going to make these things known? You cannot appreciate them or receive them naturally, because you cannot understand them in that way. God gives you His Spirit so that you are able to receive and enjoy and appreciate and live in the things that He has prepared for those that love Him. In this passage, the Spirit is given so that we might appreciate and enjoy the things of God. How wonderful that is. And then it goes on to speak about the depths of God. “The Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.” It has been said, and rightly so, that the Spirit would search out the depths of God in believers, because receiving the things that God has prepared for those that love Him would bring about depth. It would bring about deep appreciation in the believer of the greatness of the spiritual things that God has prepared. It would also bring about, I believe, a deepening appreciation of the depth to which Christ has been, in order that these things might be brought to us. Christ had to go the way of suffering and death in order to redeem us, because we were lost and far from God. Christ has redeemed us so that we are free from every other claim. He accomplished that wonderful matter by paying the price in His blood, so that we might be redeemed to God and so that God might begin this wonderful unfolding work to those that love Him. The Spirit in the believer would help us to appreciate the depths that have been fathomed.
This scripture particularly conveys a sense of the substance and the preciousness of the things that God has prepared; they are in His heart, and He has prepared them for those who love Him. He has not stopped there. He has given the Spirit so that we might fully appreciate all these things that proceed from the depths of His heart. It says, “we have received ... the Spirit which is of God, that we may know the things which have been freely given to us of God”. This scripture is worthy of contemplation. God has given us of His own Spirit, and we have received the Spirit which is of God. That is what God has given to us. Why? Well, certainly to help us to overcome the flesh, and to get through here in a world that is opposed to believers; but also that we may know the things which have been freely given to us of God. By the Spirit we can have a foretaste of the greatness of divine things. They go way beyond what comes into the heart of anyone naturally. Think of how impossible it would be for anybody to produce an account even remotely like this through exercising their minds or their imaginations. God has taken up people who were opposed to Him and rejected Him and were involved in the murder of His Son, just to speak simply, and He has blessed them from His heart with immense and eternal blessings. He has in mind to bring people into sonship, to dignify them, to clothe them in the best robe, to give them a ring, and sandals, and all these things and to set them up in a position that they never deserved. That is what God has in mind and He has communicated His mind to us in the Scriptures. Then He makes it real by the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Friend, these things could never come into man’s heart, but they are in God’s heart. And He has written these things down for us to communicate them to us, and He provides the power for enjoying them in His own Spirit. What blessedness! May it lay hold of our hearts.
So that we do not think that all of this is in the air as it were, it speaks about the Spirit teaching. This is another aspect of the Spirit’s activity, that He teaches. How gently He would inculcate things. He would go over things with us because we are slow learners. The Spirit teaches, and He also leads. Galatians refers to the Spirit as leading and teaching. A question for us is whether we are leadable and teachable. Am I such a one as can be led by the Spirit and then taught by the Spirit? If so, the Spirit would love to focus our minds on these wonderful things that God has prepared. He would love to teach them to us, to show us the detail of them, and to show us how they relate to one another. The Spirit wants to convey something to us of what is in God’s heart. One of the things in God’s heart, that He has prepared for those that love Him, is sonship. The Holy Spirit is absolutely in the matter of sonship, because He is the Spirit of adoption, or of sonship. He helps believers to understand that that is what is in God’s mind for us. Even more than that, by indwelling us as the Spirit of adoption, He brings in feelings that are appropriate to the relationship of sonship, and provides power for expressions that convey these feelings. These feelings and expressions are directed to God Himself, because we have come to know Him as Father. These are the Spirit’s activities. What a Person He is!
We read in Ephesians 3. What I wanted to draw attention to there was the end of verse 16: “to be strengthened with power by his Spirit in the inner man”. The apostle Paul was praying to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is infinitely great, that He might give these Ephesian brethren “according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power by his Spirit in the inner man”. What a prayer that was. Paul prayed that the believers in Ephesus would be strengthened inwardly in their spirits by God’s Spirit. Why? “that the Christ may dwell, through faith, in your hearts, being rooted and founded in love”. So he wanted them to enjoy that as a result of the Spirit strengthening them - this was something to be enjoyed inwardly, something of Christ Himself in His attractiveness and His glory, dwelling in the hearts of believers, rooted and founded in love there. It was a love that had its origin in Christ Himself, indeed in God Himself. It had been expressed fully in Christ and now the apostle’s desire was that there should be an answer in the hearts of these brethren in Ephesus; no doubt there was an answer. How can it be? By the Holy Spirit strengthening us inwardly, in our hearts.
It is very interesting that the apostle begins with the matter of Christ dwelling through faith in their hearts, rooted and founded in love, and then goes on to a further thought: “That ye may be fully able to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height”. This takes in the whole sphere of God’s revealed mind and His intentions. We speak about His purpose - what He has made known; and His counsel - how it is all worked out from His side. Everything was worked out in Christ, everything was given into His hand, and everything was perfectly accomplished by that blessed One. Then also, the accomplishing of God’s purpose has been given into the hands of the Spirit throughout this long Christian era. All the counsel of God has been committed into these safe hands - the hands of the Son and the hands of the Spirit, and all with a view to all the saints apprehending the breadth and length and depth and height, speaking of God’s thoughts, His purpose and His counsel. By the Spirit we are strengthened to apprehend these things with all the saints. We discover that there are many others who love God and who love His things and love His purpose and want to know more about them. And we are able by the Spirit to apprehend these things. Notice that it does not say, ‘comprehend’. You cannot get your mind around these things, or encompass them; but we “may be fully able to apprehend” them; that is, that we can take account of them in our full measure in their attractiveness and their glory and their perfection. We find ourselves in that sphere, in that area with such a scope. The power of the Spirit, operating in the inner man, enables believers to apprehend these things. What an elevated, gracious, dignified, glorious service that is. And then it says, “that ye may be filled even to all the fulness of God”; that is, that there is a vessel here formed as a result of the activity of the Spirit which is fully able to apprehend what is in the heart of God Himself as regards His creature, and to provide a complete answer to it. This is the result of divine purpose from before the world’s foundation, being worked out in God’s counsels through the whole history of time - although His counsels began before the worlds were. That purpose and these counsels will come to completion, as it says here, “that ye may be filled even to all the fulness of God”. God by the operations of the Spirit will complete what is in His purpose.
What we have in the Revelation 22 is a wonderful matter. It is not exactly the service of the Spirit, more the result of His service. It is full and perfect and complete. It is also very simple. The assembly is spoken of here as the bride. She is perfect and complete, and the voice of the Spirit and the voice of the bride are as one. It must come about as human hearts are directed entirely towards the Lord Jesus as the Object. The voice of the Spirit and the voice of the bride say the same thing at the same time to that blessed One. What is expressed? One word - “Come”. Think of the depth of feeling that is expressed in that, the depth of desire and longing. It is not a matter of extrication of the bride from a scene of opposition, but the result of complete and affectionate occupation with Christ Himself, and a united desire that His heart might be fully satisfied in the answer from His church, which He has been building for all these centuries. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come.” What a wonderful result of the Spirit’s service. The assembly is spoken of in another scripture as the pearl, one blessed single entity in perfection and lustre, the product of divine counsel, and secured by the work of the Lord Jesus. She is the product, too, of the blessed service of the Spirit in leading and teaching and adorning. And the expression of longing from that vessel is identical to the feelings of the Holy Spirit. Her expression absolutely synchronises with the expression of the Spirit - a divine Person and a creature vessel saying the same thing at the same time to the Lord Jesus. Wonderful matter! Very soon we will experience the answer in actuality. That will be a tremendous thing. The scripture also speaks of the assembly, the bride, as like the treasure. That is the assembly seen as made up of many individual pieces of great value. In the lives of each saint, you can see how the work and service of the Holy Spirit has been active in relation to the treasure. But it is a whole, it is a blessed whole - a creature vessel that answers to the mind and heart of God, and that fully satisfies Christ’s heart as a blessed Man. The Spirit is there, with her, at the end, saying, “Come”.
May these things be for our encouragement. May the service of the Spirit and His Person be exalted and enlarged in our hearts and in our minds, so that there might be a greater response to Him and to the Lord too. For the Lord’s Name’s sake.
8th February 2014