Summary: Only the Spirit’s continual work through the means of grace can dare keep us in faith and hope.
Sermon Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
February 2, 2003 – The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
DRIVE HAPPY WITH THE SPIRIT
A rental car company has as recent sales pitch: Don’t Worry, Drive Happy. The slogan implies if you rent from this company, you’ll have no worries, and your business trip or vacation will be filled with nothing but joyful memories. This means you must have a reliable vehicle. It wouldn’t be a happy drive if one got behind the wheel and turned on the car only to find the tank empty or the engine light on.
In the same way, the Holy Spirit wants us to drive happy. He wants us to have a confident and joyful faith as we travel through this life. We’ll see how the Spirit accomplishes this task, how we DRIVE HAPPY WITH THE SPIRIT. We’ll consider first that we need: The Holy Spirit’s Work; and secondly, that we need: The Holy Spirit’s Test Drive.
1) With the Holy Spirit’s Work
Ever get into the car only to find it doesn’t turn over? Usually, the reason is that it is lacking something, a spark to the ignition or fuel in the line. The Bible states: “Without holiness, no one will see the Lord.” That has not changed one bit. Without holiness, we do not drive with the Lord—rather, we steer away from him. Without holiness, we will not offer pleasing sacrifices to him. Without holiness, we do not honor the name of our Father in heaven—rather, we shame it, and show how little we want to be his children.
God isn’t content with a little bit of holiness on our parts. No, He says “Be holy, as I the LORD Your God am holy.” Jesus Himself says, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” We need a true holiness, a thorough holiness. Yet, if it relied on us, the constant question would plague us: “Have I been holy enough?”
But our holiness is not dependant on us. It is the work of God the Holy Spirit. It is a necessary work, and a thorough work: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” None of us could ever sanctify ourselves through and through. We can perhaps give ourselves a buff and shine. We can appear to have an outward holiness, and give the impression that the engine is running well. But there are those hidden cracks in the head gaskets and fractures in the engine block of every sinful heart that none of us ever get to see. The prophets and psalmists say it: “The heart is deceitful above all things, who can understand it?” And day-by-day, where one piston has been cleared of sin, another becomes blocked and misfires. We just don’t have the tools to do the repairs. Our own thinking, choosing, meditating, working can never fix the problem or provide truly thorough, truly complete, truly lasting holiness. But thanks be to God! He takes our holiness into his hands. He himself is the one who must and does sanctify us through and through: “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”
How does God do this? We know the tools he uses: His means of grace, his Gospel in Word and Sacrament. His forgiveness preached to us, His forgiveness poured on us in baptism, His forgiveness fed us in the Lord’s Supper – these are the tools of our spiritual mechanic. That’s why Paul, here, in his final instructions to the Thessalonians, bids us all to love and honor that Word of God. He writes: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt.”
There are two ways to put out a fire: one is to quench it, to starve it of oxygen. Pouring water on it, smothering it, covering it with that fine powder from fire extinguishers, all stops fire the same way—by starving fire of oxygen. Certainly, resisting the Holy Spirit through unbelief and rebellious sin starves that flickering fire of faith of its oxygen. But you can also put out a fire by robbing it of its fuel. Don’t put any more wood on a fire, and it will go out. Don’t put any gas in the tank and the car won’t run. The fuel for the fire of faith is God’s Word. And starving our faith of that fuel will put out the Spirit’s fire just as well as unbelief and rebellious sin. So, “do not treat prophecies with contempt.” Don’t say God’s Word is useless; don’t treat it as something worthless, unnecessary. Don’t come up with lame excuses to despise his Word. We must be people who are in the Word of God, growing in it, learning from it, and living according to it. If not, then the fire will go out. And we will be left stranded in the cold of unbelief and spiritual apathy.