Pr. Eric Swensson
May 19, 2013
Today is Pentecost and many preachers will talk about this being the Church’s birthday and such, but I want us to reflect not on the festive, glamorous or unusual, but the ordinary. Why? Well, have you heard, the Holy Spirit is the God who is wearing overalls. The Holy Spirit is the working-man of the Trinity. That’s what Jesus said, “I will send you a helper.”
What kind of help does the Holy Spirit offer? His stock in trade is making things happen, the things that need to happen for God to be God and for us to be His people. The means of becoming a Christian, and all the day to day activities happen via the Holy Spirit. As Luther said, "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true." The Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting. We do not become and do not remain Christians except for His work.
Long ago the Holy Spirit did a very important work and caused Scripture to be written. That is where humanity finds the knowledge of God and the revelation about its Savior. Scripture was written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Additionally, there is a second work the Holy Spirit does concerning Scripture. He illuminates the reader’s way as the Bible is studied. Inspiration long ago and illumination today.
Now of course, some of the promises of God found in the Bible seem just too good to be true and have to be taken on faith. One of the readings for Pentecost Sunday is from Romans 8 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Referring to this passage in one of his sermons on the Gospel of John, Luther wrote something that tells us about an interesting aspect his understanding of the Holy Spirit: Therefore the Holy Spirit must be the Master here and inscribe this knowledge and faith deep in our hearts and bear witness to our spirit, and say yea and amen to the fact that we have become and eternally remain children of God through faith in Christ (Rom. 8:16). St. John’s Gospel was not the product of human volition. No, the evangelist was impelled by the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth and, therefore, will surely not deceive us. Without the witness of the Holy Spirit it would be hard to believe that a poor human being is destined to be a son of God and a fellow heir with Christ.
One can only wonder how acceptable it is to people today to call the Holy Spirit “Master”. One might also ask how well we know the Holy Spirit. What is it we need to know about the Holy Spirit here in our pilgrimage on earth? I have already told you the Holy Spirit is our helper, He does the heavy lifting of the Christian life, He birthed the Church on the Day of Pentecost, He caused the disciples to become apostles, that is, He took the students of Jesus and turned them into the sent ones, they went forth into the known world and preached until their last breath. After that he caused certain followers to write gospels and epistles, inspiring the Words of Scripture so that they would be the source of faith, encouragement, reproof, admonition, instruction and hope. I have also said already that the Holy Spirit is our Teacher and now Master. What else?
The Holy Spirit makes us holy. How does that work? The Holy Spirit is the Maker of Holiness. Christian life begins and continues through the agency of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit brings souls into the Church as part of the new life in God. Luther describes a special role for the Holy Spirit, making the people of God holy. How does the Holy Spirit make persons holy? "For it is the Holy Spirit who gives you Christ and His holiness and who works faith in you." Luther also wrote, "And what does the Holy Spirit have to do with me?” Answer: 'He baptized me; He proclaimed the Gospel of Christ to me; and He awakened my heart to believe. Baptism is not of my making; nor is the Gospel; nor is faith. He gave these to me. For the fingers that baptized me are not those of a man; they are the fingers of the Holy Spirit. And the preacher’s mouth and the words that I heard are not his; they are the words and message of the Holy Spirit. By these outward means He works faith within me and thus He makes me holy.' Therefore just as we should not deny that we are baptized and are Christians, so we should not deny or doubt that we are holy."
The Holy Spirit is the one who invites into faith, watches over our coming to faith and is the insurer of right teaching so we can know and grow. We need to be properly feed and our spirits are nourished by the Spirit of Truth. Truth feeds us; the grasping of a spiritual truth causes our souls to enlarge. It is like this: Where the promises about Christ are obscured, the sun has lost its brilliance and there is nothing but darkness, resulting in confusion and the loss of ability to see clearly, to discern rightly and ward off any error or heresy. On the other hand, where the sun of the gospel shines and illumines the heart, there is found a true and certain understanding of all things and a believer can maintain a firm position on all doctrines: "Then one also believes and teaches correctly regarding the Holy Spirit, Baptism, the Sacrament, good works, and the resurrection from the dead. Then the believer is able to defend the faith: "for he has on his side the true Teacher, the Holy Spirit, who alone reveals this doctrine from heaven and is given to all who hear and accept this Word or sermon concerning Christ.”
A few words can be said about the spiritual battles that are the Christian's lot in life. This persecution will be in real time, and it will be spiritual. Persecution has the potential to make us lose the one thing worth having, faith in Christ alone as savior. Luther said that the devil has his weapons but the Spirit of truth will guide you into all the truth. Otherwise reason and the human heart could never persist in such faith and confession but would have to sink and perish under the trials that come internally from the devil and the heart and outwardly from the world.
Self-centeredness and the fear of hell will drive us to doubt, which will result in attempts to win God's favor through good works. Luther's remedy is the work of the Spirit to help the Christian cling to Christ and His promise to be with them always. This then is the last thing we’ll look at here, the important place of prayer in Luther's theology:
"I know that my heavenly Father is heartily glad to hear all my prayers, inasmuch as I have Christ, this Savior, in my heart. Christ prayed for me, and for this reason my prayers are acceptable through His.” Accordingly, we must weave our praying into His. He is forever the Mediator for all men. Through Him we come to God. In Him we must incorporate and envelop all our prayers and all that we do. As St. Paul declares (Rom. 13:14), we must put on Christ; and everything must be done in Him (1 Cor. 10:31) if it is to be pleasing to God. But all this is said to Christians for the purpose of giving them the boldness and the confidence to rely on this Man and to pray with complete assurance; for we hear that in this way He unites us with Himself, really puts us on a par with Him, and merges our praying into His and His into ours. Christians can glory in this great distinction. For if our prayers are included in His, then He says (Ps.22:22): 'I will tell of Thy name to My brethren'. In this, that our faith in Christ entitles us to be called His brethren and coheirs, that our prayer is to be like His, that there is really no difference except that our prayers must originate in Him and be spoken in His name.'"
This then is how the Holy Spirit strengthens and preserves hearts in the faith. He brings us to faith, brings us into the Church, provides preachers to proclaim the truth, brings us into truth, we grow in holiness and even gives us the ability to grasp great spiritual truth. Also, it is the Spirit's work to gather our thoughts and prayers together with Christ's. Faith promotes, serves, strengthens, makes us more resolute to resist and overcome, to continue to seek help and comfort in God’s Word and to exercise and increase his faith by petitions, prayers, and thanks—to become all the stronger in knowledge and all the humbler, all the more patient. +Amen