Breathing on Our Own
Apparently Adam began to think of his dependence upon God as constraining. He began to think of himself as a patient on a ventilator. He would only have a rich and full life once he got himself off the ventilator and breathed on his own.
And so he ate the forbidden fruit. He thought it would make him self-reliant, master of his own destiny, keeper of his own agenda. (Genesis 3:5) He would be free to pursue whatever vision of life he desired, to follow whatever course his heart fancied.
Of course, this turned out to be an illusion. Our dependence upon God does not make us sick or weak. The analogy of the ventilator actually turns things upside down.
We draw our health and vitality from our dependence upon God. When we insist on breathing on our own, we do seem to succeed for a while. But eventually we find that our spiritual oxygen levels are steadily declining, and we find ourselves gasping for breath just when we thought we would be at our most robust.
We reach that career goal or win that championship or get that award or get into that college, only to find that all the same old self-doubts and fear of failure and self-criticism haven’t gone anywhere. They’re still with us.
Even with the man or woman of our dreams we find ourselves just as lonely and just as ready to hide that ugly stuff inside us as we were before we ever got married.
Breathing on our own seems like freedom, but it turns out to be slow suffocation. Our problem is that we cannot just reconnect ourselves to God on our own.
That is precisely what Jesus came to do. He didn’t come just to die for us, although his death was necessary for the forgiveness of our sins. He also came to give us a new life, a new life that begins even now and stretches into eternity.
And he does this by giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit. Let’s take a look at what Jesus himself says about the Holy Spirit.
In his final hours before the crucifixion, Jesus gave his disciples his most detailed teaching about the Holy Spirit.
He said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)
When Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into his disciples, he is keeping the promise he made to them before his death on the cross. God the Holy Spirit dwells in each believer. Jesus actually abides in us through the Spirit. (John 15:5)
Jesus gets really personal. He passes though all our defenses and pretenses and enters into our heart as the very spiritual air we breathe.
First, the Holy Spirit shows us Jesus. He makes our personal relationship with Jesus real and lively. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26)
The Holy Spirit assures us that we are God’s beloved. We don’t have to justify ourselves or make up for mistakes or win God over. Jesus has already accomplished all of that for us.
As Paul puts it, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)
Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus dwells in us as a reassuring presence and as a source of completely reliable wisdom and guidance. But there is more.
He inspires us to live more fully than we ever imagined possible.
Without Jesus, we will be motivated to win applause, to prove that we really matter. In the final analysis, this is not inspiration; it’s fear. The fear that we don’t matter unless we accomplish something world-historically big. By this measure, most of us don’t matter, and we know that deep down in our gut. History will forget us.
By contrast, Jesus encourages us with the confidence that what he has already done for us, and what he will do through us, means that we already matter.
The Holy Spirit teaches us day by day that we were not put in this world to accomplish something. That would mean that we might succeed or we might fail. Instead, God is going to accomplish something in this world, and he has put us here to accomplish it through us.
God never fails, and he is at work through us.
In the Holy Spirit, we are free to exercise our intellectual or physical or creative gifts to glorify God and to serve other people. That’s because we don’t have to glorify ourselves to prove that we are lovable. We already know that we are loved.
Now that is powerful inspiration. Do you want to have this kind of inspiration? You can choose to have it. Jesus is as close as the air you breathe.
This is the third and final part of the sermon preached at St. Mark’s Cathedral on April 15, 2012. The audio of the full sermon can be found here.