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The Defining Moment-Being Filled with the Spirit of God

Acts 9

Last week I talked to you about your worth to God and about how God is searching for you. He wants a relationship with you. This relationship is what we call salvation. To be found by God is to receive His forgiveness for your sin. Salvation takes care of your past and your future. A second experience we can have with God takes care of our current and daily life. It is called sanctification or being filled with the Holy Spirit. In order to live victoriously, in order to discover why you are here, in order to have an impact, in order to grow in spiritual power, you need to experience this second work of grace, this infilling of the Holy Spirit.

How do we know if we have been filled with the Holy Spirit? How do we know if we are walking in the power of the Spirit? God has led me to a new way of defining what it means to be filled with the Spirit of God as I have considered the life of Saul turned Paul. The Apostle Paul wasn’t always a cheerleader of the church. He wasn’t always a messenger for the Gospel. No, before he met Jesus on the Damascus Rd he was passionate but misguided. He was powerful but destructive. Passion is good. Being persuasive or speaking with conviction and authority isn’t bad or wrong. Saul’s problem wasn’t that he wasn’t effective, but it was that he was self-led and self-reliant.

Saul was actually a murderer. He murdered people in the name of religion. He had the backing of the high priest and papers to prove that he had the support of the religious establishment to persecute and murder those who were Jesus’ followers. Saul went searching for people who were talking about the empty tomb, who were speaking about the resurrection of Jesus, and he would shut them up no matter what it took.

The religious leaders loved him. He was doing their dirty work. He was large and in charge as those who agreed with his mission applauded him and those who opposed him feared him. He had made a name for himself. But on a road to Damascus he was confronted with Jesus and that was the beginning of major change. In fact, his entire life would be flipped upside down. Where self had ruled, where his wisdom had led, self would be inverted to the lowest place and what Jesus wanted for Saul would take precedence.

Acts 9:3 tells us that Saul encountered a blinding light that caused him to fall to the ground. He had never experienced a force so great. He had no choice but to stop right where he was. His agenda would no longer matter. Everything he thought he knew would be completely ruined by what he would experience.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by God and because of your experience with Him had your whole life turned upside down? Have you ever had an aha moment where a light bulb went off and you realized that you didn’t know what you thought you knew the way you thought you knew it? Paul was so convinced, so persuaded that the empty tomb was nonsense and that Jesus was a fake that he believed he had to save everyone from false teaching, from a dangerous sect. He was so sincere but so wrong. He was sincerely wrong.

He knew the Scriptures. He knew that anyone who was hung on a tree was cursed (Deuteronomy 21:23) How could someone who was cursed be the Messiah? Jesus didn’t line up with his learning. His intellect drove his intention, and he couldn’t conceive of a crucified Messiah. If he couldn’t accept that Jesus had to be crucified, there was no way to talk him into the reality of the resurrection. What I am trying to say is that in spite of his great learning, Saul was spiritually blind. He hadn’t come to the place where he realized his own righteousness wouldn’t save him. His zealous religious works couldn’t give him peace with God.

Listen, I have heard many intellectual arguments for why God couldn’t exist or why the Bible is merely a handbook of suggestions or why we all have to depend on ourselves in the end to simply do what we think is right, but when you are surrounded by flashes of lightning that strike the space around you and a voice, unlike any voice you have ever heard before, commands your attention and asks the question, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” you don’t have any choice but to consider that there is something beyond your intellect, there is Someone who stands outside of human reason and you must listen to Him.

Apart from an encounter with Jesus, apart from an experience with Jesus, Saul would have continued to rely on his knowledge and would depend on himself to chart the course for his life. Saul had encountered something beyond his intellect. 5  “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked in verse 5. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.

And in that instant, Saul’s mind was blown. What would he do with all of his knowledge? How could he justify all of his passion against the Christ followers? Jesus was alive. Pick up the story with me in verse 6:

6  “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7  The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8  Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus.

Saul was humbled in his encounter with Jesus, humbled to the point where the leader, the big deal, had to be led. He was physically blinded so that he could learn to spiritually see. He went willingly.

At the same time, Jesus was speaking to a guy named Ananias. Jesus called to him in a vision and told him to go to a certain house and ask for Saul. It is interesting that verse 11 tells us that Saul was praying. I don’t know how much praying he had been doing as he persecuted the church. I don’t know how much praying he had been doing as he spouted his religious knowledge to all who would listen. But, here we see that after he had been physically blinded and humbled to the point where he was willing to be led, he sought God out in prayer.

Look at verse 12:12  “In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

This is already a different Saul. He is now able to see visions. He is now able to relinquish his agenda and be sidelined for three days where he is praying. He is willing to listen. He wants to see what he had never seen.

Well, Saul’s reputation had preceded him and Ananias wasn’t sure he wanted to risk being persecuted or murdered, but the Lord reassured him telling him that Saul had been handpicked by God to be His chosen instrument to take the Gospel to the Gentiles and their leaders and before the people of Israel. Isn’t that amazing? God chose someone who had been against him to be His mouthpiece.

So, Ananias went to the house, placed his hands on Saul and said in verse 17: “Brother Saul, the Lord–Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here–has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18  Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19  and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20  At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21  All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22  Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.

As I have considered this story, I have come to maybe not a new definition of sanctification or being filled with the Holy Spirit, but I believe I have come to a fuller one. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is certainly to receive power as we see in Acts 1:8. It is certainly to be a witness for Christ as we see in Acts 2. It is certainly to grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. But I believe Saul’s conversion and infilling tell us that Sanctification is the point when our desires are transformed and we begin to want God’s way over our way.

Does it mean I never sin? Does it mean I live perfectly from that moment on? Our predecessors in this holiness movement would have said it was so. However, I have yet to meet a perfect Christian. How about you? I have, however, met people whose life’s goal, whose pattern for life, reflected that they were on a mission for God, that their desire was to please God, that their knowledge or talents took a backseat to the promotion of Jesus and His Gospel and doing His will.

Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit, and when he was, immediately,

  • He could see what he had never seen before. Scales fell off of his eyes. He could see Ananias, a follower of Jesus, as a brother rather than an enemy. He stayed in Damascus several days with others who were following Jesus and could see what this new movement was truly all about.
  • He could submit to God’s plans rather than follow his own. Verse 20 tells us he started preaching the Gospel immediately. He went from persecutor to preacher; from terrorist to evangelist. It wasn’t what he HAD to do because he was afraid God wouldn’t accept him or would wreak some kind of havoc on his life. It was what he wanted to do. His desires were totally changed.

Saul had been going to Damascus to arrest Christ-followers, but he was arrested himself, by the person of Jesus Christ and by the person of the Holy Spirit. As a result, his desires, his wants became what God had wanted for him all along. For me, that is the moment of sanctification. When my heart, mind, and will are transformed to want to know and do the will of God, when that is what I wake up thinking about, when that is what fuels my passion, when that becomes what I naturally want to do, it is evidence to me that I have had a supernatural experience with the Holy Spirit.

How does that happen, Pastor Melissa? How is it that the Holy Spirit can change my desires? How is it that the things of God can be as fun and as inviting as the things of the world? When we pursue a relationship with the Holy Spirit, there will be a supernatural shift in our hearts, minds and wills. It won’t be something we have to work toward. It will be something we can’t resist. It will become a natural inclination.

Maybe I can relate it this way. You know when you are sitting at home watching one of your favorite shows and a commercial for DQ comes on? You could have just finished a big meal from which you are full and go from thinking, “I am so full” to “That looks so good” and in a minute, you can find yourself in the car headed for some smooth and creamy goodness. How did that happen? Your mind wasn’t on ice cream, but you wound up having some because it was suggested to you. The commercial prompted you. It gave you a suggestion. It wasn’t something you had to think about or process much. It wasn’t even on your radar, but through the power of suggestion, it worked on you and you went into motion.

I submit to you that this is how the Holy Spirit works with believers, but the pull, the power of the suggestion, is much stronger than the appeal for ice cream or anything that would satisfy the flesh. The Holy Spirit will make His home in your heart, mind, and will, if you allow Him to. He will begin to suggest things to you, to prompt you, to move you, to awaken you to the actions God has for you. It will become a regular happening. It will become something you crave, something you look forward to. There is nothing more satisfying than being moved by the Spirit of God to say or do something and then to watch God work in and through your obedience.

If I could suggest that this story could help us see some steps towards encountering the Holy Spirit for ourselves, I would first say:

In order to be filled with the Holy Spirit, you first need to encounter Jesus.

You may like the way you are living. You may enjoy the route you have taken. You may even believe the way you are living is a good, moral, or right way. You may see no need for change. Until you encounter Jesus, you won’t. You won’t know what you don’t know. You won’t see what you aren’t seeing. You won’t know what you are missing. You won’t realize what more could be happening or how much better life could be. You won’t desire anything different than you currently do.

I think there are lots of people who don’t want to explore a relationship with Jesus because they don’t want to have to change anything. They think change and a loss of control won’t be fun or fulfilling. They think they know enough to get by. Listen, until you encounter Jesus you don’t know anything that matters, and by living without the revelation Jesus brings, you are limiting your life to only what you can know. There are people who think that following Jesus would be unpleasant and undesirable. If you think that, it is simply because you haven’t encountered Jesus yet. Life with Jesus is freeing, fulfilling, fun and fabulous. It is step one towards your pursuit of all that the Holy Spirit offers.

Saul knew a lot, but he didn’t know what mattered until he met Jesus.

Second, If you desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit you need to evaluate where you are, what you are doing and why you are doing it.

Saul had to wrestle with some pretty heavy questions. Why was he persecuting Christians? Could he justify shedding innocent blood simply because he couldn’t understand the experience that the Jesus-followers had testified to? Why was he doing what he was doing? Did it keep the religious leaders in his pocket? Was he aspiring to have even greater influence and a greater following in the Jewish community? Did he have an ego problem? Did he want to be viewed as the smartest guy in the room? Is that where his significance came from? Could he admit that there was more to this Jesus-thing than he had yet understood? God was helping him understand that he needed to evaluate himself before he started preaching to other people.

Have you ever taken time to take inventory of your life? Do you wrestle with the big questions about why you are here or how you are investing your life? Do you know that the way you are choosing to live is the way the Holy Spirit is directing you to live? I remember surrendering my life to full-time ministry at a Church of God campmeeting, and when I got to the prayer room, to say “yes” to God, I saw my dad standing there. I told him God had called me into the ministry, and he simply replied, “If that is true, you need to change the way you treat your brother and sister.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been living as if I was perfect. I had been living with arrogance and a feeling of superiority. What was that about? How could God use me to promote Jesus if I thought so highly of myself? I needed a work of the Holy Spirit in my life to help me see myself before I could see others correctly and compassionately. I didn’t know how to get there on my own. I needed the Holy Spirit to help me. It was my heart’s desire to follow Jesus’ plan for my life. I needed to trust Him to transform me step by step, and before I could yield fully to Him, I had to see what He saw about me that needed a transformation.

If you desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit you need to be willing to be led.

I guess you could argue that Saul had no choice but to be led. He was blind. But Saul could have told the men who were with him to take him home instead of leading him into Damascus. He could have said to the Lord, “I don’t know who You are, but I don’t have to do what You say.” He could have relied on his connections to take him to the best doctor around in order to try to get his blindness cured. He could have decided that if God was going to take his sight, he would never listen to Him. But he didn’t. The Lord had told him to go into the city, and Saul, like a child, was led by the hand. He went willingly.

If you desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit you need to be willing to deal with what He brings to your understanding.

For three days, Saul was praying. We read that he didn’t eat. I don’t think he was fasting. I think he was too sick to eat. I think he started to realize the error of his ways, and it made him sick. I think he realized what he had been doing and how blasphemous and horrible his acts had been. I think his prayers were filled with, “Oh no! What have I done, Lord. Can you forgive me, Lord Jesus?” Paul’s experience with the Lord proved that the Lord was alive. He now had to wrestle with his behavior, his hatred towards the Jewish converts. You see, as we move toward the things of the Spirit, our behaviors and our attitudes have to be evaluated as the Spirit begins to convict us of sin and of things that need to change. Before Saul could go preach the Good News, he had to have love in his heart. Before Saul could go God’s way, he had to be God’s man body, mind, and spirit.

One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin and to purify our lives. If we always think the sermon is for someone else, we aren’t open to a work of the Spirit in our lives. If we are sincerely asking God to speak to us through messages like this, when He does, we need to be faithful to respond. We need to be open to correction and receptive to confess what needs to change. We need to own what we need to own, release what we need to release and surrender what we need to surrender to the Holy Spirit. There is no shortage of Holy Spirit work in God’s church, and by church I mean the entire church everywhere, but I am not so sure that there might not be a shortage of cooperation with the work He is attempting to do.

Paul had to admit that he had been terribly wrong. He had to ask God to help him deal with the emotions that accompanied the realization that he had been murdering innocent people. He wasn’t saving people from harmful people. He was killing people who actually knew the way for all to be saved. What do you do with that? How do you recover from that? How do you find healing and strength to go on and live differently without mental struggles, without wanting to crawl into a hole and stay there? You do it by allowing a work of the Spirit in your life. Here is what I believe in my heart of hearts. I believe Saul was wrestling not so much with Jesus during those three days, but with himself. I believe he was asking God to help him forgive himself. Whether that is what was happening or not, I know it takes a work of the Spirit of God to get over who we have been and what we have done when we realize we have been wrong. There are some issues we face that will only be healed as we allow the Holy Spirit access into the deepest parts of our souls. I truly believe Paul couldn’t eat for three days because he was bringing his sorrow and struggle over what he had done before the Lord in prayer.

If you need a defining moment, if you desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit, make sure you have had an encounter with Jesus, be willing to be led, be open to evaluating who you are and why you do what you do, be honest with God and yourself and surrender everything to Him.