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The Holy Spirit's Work

The Third Article of the Apostles' Creed

Rev. Andrew Eckert

Third S in Lent
St. Paul's Lutheran Church  
Wellston, Oklahoma

Sun, Feb 24, 2008
Third S in Lent
 

For those of you paying attention, you may have noticed that last week I preached on the First Article, and today I am preaching on the Third Article.  I have skipped over the 2nd Article of the Creed to get to the 3rd.

Obviously, I'm not denying the deity of Christ or His work.  But it seemed appropriate to save the consideration of our Redemption in Christ for a time closer to Passion week, when our focus should especially go to His suffering and blood and death.  Therefore, today we consider the Spirit and His work.

What does the Spirit do?  It is wise to ask this question, since there is so much confusion in so many churches about the Spirit.  The most important works of the Holy Spirit are these: He gives us faith, and He produces fruit in us.  Today I am preaching on the first great work: The Spirit gives us faith.

Faith does not come from us.  It is not from our reason or strength.  As the Scriptures say, faith is not of ourselves, lest any man should boast.  We do not become children of God by the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man.  We did not choose Him.  He has chosen us.  For if we could be saved by a decision or an act of will, then we would be saved by a good work.  So it must be by grace, as a free gift.

Before the Spirit came, our flesh was spiritually bankrupt.  We could produce no holiness in ourselves; no life and no real love.  We were dead.  We were stillborn in sin.

Without faith, the only good works the human race can perform are superficial.  We can only produce an external appearance of righteousness.  So we may sometimes observe that unbelievers can appear to be more righteous than we who have faith.  But it is really an illusion.  There is no actual substance to the goodness of an unbeliever.  The human spirit by itself cannot produce true righteousness.

From birth our flesh was helpless.  We could not find God or choose God.  We could not please God in a single good work.  We may have invented some sort of god to worship in our heart, and we may have even put the right names on it.  But without faith, it could not be the true God.  Instead, we were completely lost, and doomed to destruction in hell.

When our human flesh was hopeless, the Spirit of God came to lift us up.  He did this first by conceiving Christ the Lord in the Virgin's womb.  Only the power of God could do this.  Mary, for all her faith and humility, could never have produced the Messiah.  Yet the Spirit came upon her, and shaped a New Man from her.  This kind of human being was different than any other.  He was conceived in holiness and righteousness.  He was a new Man full of life, and grace, and truth.

When that Man grew, the Spirit descended upon Him again at the Jordan River.  He came down in the form of a dove to anoint Christ with power, and to show that here was the Beloved Son of God.

When Christ rose from the grave, the Spirit raised Him, as the Scriptures say.  The Father, Son, and Spirit together did this great wonder of turning dead flesh into living Man.

Later on that Easter Day, Christ breathed the same Spirit upon His disciples, so that they could forgive sins.  There is no forgiveness at all without the Spirit.

On Pentecost, the Spirit descended in power upon the disciples, so that the work of making disciples could begin.  For no man can make a disciple out of a sinner.  The Spirit must be there to do the work.

Over the centuries, the disciples passed on the ministry to men who would preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments.  For many centuries, these preachers poured out the grace of God to the Church.

After some twenty centuries, we come to you.  A minister poured water on you and spoke the words of Christ.  Then you also believed, for the Spirit descended upon you as surely as He descended upon Christ at the Jordan.  Unlike Christ, you were not the beloved Son of God.  You were a sinner full of unrighteousness.  But the Spirit entered you nevertheless.  He entered your heart and gave you faith.  Over the flood of your Baptism, the Dove flew to you with the olive branch of God's Covenant of peace.

Through the Gospel, the Spirit converted your soul.  Through the Gospel, God transformed you in a single instant from a creature of darkness into His own new creation.  For this is the Spirit's work.  He converts sinful humanity into holy sons of God.  Just as He conceived Christ in the Virgin's womb, so He conceived you as a son of God, covered by the image of your Lord.  As Christ was raised by the Spirit's power from death to life, so you have been raised out of the Grave of your spiritual death into eternal life.

So you are not saved only by Christ, nor only by the Spirit.  Christ had to suffer and die, or else the Spirit would have no atonement to offer you.  Yet if Christ had done all that His earthly life required, yet the Spirit had not come, the Passion of Christ would have benefited no one.  You also had to believe, or you could not receive the grace of Christ.  Your sinful flesh could never receive it.  So the Spirit had to convert you into a new creature.

Nor did the Spirit choose you because there was some endearing quality in you.  No, He chose you much as He chose Matthias in our First Reading today from Acts chapter one.  The disciples prayed for a replacement for Judas.  In answer to their prayer, the Spirit looked down upon Matthias.  The Spirit saw in Matthias terrible iniquities, for Matthias was unclean by nature.  The sinful flesh of Matthias had never produced a single good work - not one!  Matthias was not worthy to be chosen by the Spirit - far from it.  Yet the Spirit chose him, nevertheless.

When you were born, you were brought forth in iniquity.  There was no faith in you, no goodness.  You were not worthy of being chosen by the Spirit.  Yet He chose you nevertheless, and called you by the Gospel.  He gave you faith and a new nature.

When you received faith, then the Spirit gave you so much more through that faith.  You received forgiveness by the merits of Christ, redemption in His Blood, and everlasting life.  Although your sinful, warped flesh is still in you, you were declared whole and pure and clean, by the purity of the Savior.  Your destiny of death has been turned into an eternity of bliss in God's wondrous presence.

For the Spirit has hidden your life in Christ.  Therefore, not even the cold stillness of the grave can stop you, His saints.  You will be reborn out of death.  A coffin will be your birthing place, perhaps even stranger than a manger used for a cradle.  When you are reborn, your flesh shall be transformed by the Spirit's power to be like the flesh of Christ your Lord.  You shall be just like Him in innocence and holiness and purity - not just declared so by grace, but actually holy in your body and soul.  That also is the work of the Spirit of Christ. 

So you have a Spirit who does mighty miracles.  You need not be troubled by the world, since the Spirit is with you, and He is much greater than the world.  The world may deny the Name of Christ.  But the Spirit keeps you confessing your Lord, now and forever.  The world's faithfulness fails, and its love turns cold, and its peace is trampled, and its goodness is false.  Although your sinful nature is no better than the world's, yet the Spirit has also given you a new nature.

You are the righteousness of God.  You will shine out with glory more than any star in the sky on the Day that the Spirit raises you, and this present world with its wickedness passes away.  All this because you have received the glorious inheritance of the Son of God through the faith that the Spirit has given you.

This is the declaration of the powerful Word of Christ.  His Spirit is in that Word, so it is not just an ordinary word.  It is a Word of power.  He has given you trust in that Mighty Word.  He took your trust away from men and false idols and good works, and put it in Christ alone.  Through the same mighty Word, He shall preserve your faith forever and ever.

May the Spirit of the Lord, who has begun this good work in you, bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the glory of His Father.  Amen.



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