Several years ago an older woman said, "I’d like to call myself a Christian, but I don’t really feel I’m good enough." I tried to explain that, theologically speaking, goodness has nothing to do with it. We are Christians not on the basis of our merit but because we have accepted God’s gracious offer of salvation in Jesus Christ.
But I understood the feelings that lay behind her statement, and I sympathized with them. If we realize that to call ourselves Christians is to think of ourselves as true imitators of Jesus Christ, any thoughtful person would conclude it is utterly audacious to take on such a name.
Nevertheless, it is our name. Having acknowledged Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we take his name as our own. Since that is the case, our problem is to live up to the name we have received.
And that’s what the Holy Spirit is all about. The Holy Spirit is surely the best-kept secret of the Christian faith. We understand that the Spirit is part of the Trinity, and we use the title in special formulas like baptism and benedictions. But in truth, most of us hardly know what else to say about the Holy Spirit.
Yet the Spirit is so important to us that Jesus said it was better that he go away so the Spirit could come (John 16:7). Furthermore, as Jesus prepared to leave this earth, his last counsel to his followers was that their first order of business was to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. How interesting that Jesus rated seeking the Spirit to be more important than all the other matters that must surely have seemed primary at that time!
Why? Simply because we can’t be all that Christ’s name implies unless we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. When we speak of the power of the Holy Spirit, we are usually inclined to think of some rather extraordinary power of ministry—perhaps of eloquence in preaching or teaching, or of dramatic impact on the lives of people. While it is true that the Spirit of God brings such power into certain lives so that their gifts are made fully effective, the more basic—and also, the more significant—power of the Holy Spirit is in our inner character, in our becoming more Christlike.
And in the end, nothing is more persuasive to a secular and indifferent world than the person who is beautifully Christian. I think that fact is clear in the Scripture passage to which we are giving particular attention. When we read the book of Acts, we’re likely to give most of our attention to the "big-name personalities," Peter and Paul. But great as they were, they could touch only a few persons; most of the work of the gospel had to be carried on by persons whose names we don’t even know—or at best, whose names we find at the conclusion of the epistles, in the lists of greetings.
But you get a feeling for these anonymous, wonderful people as you read of the "everyday life" of the church at the end of Acts 2. You sense the great love that must have pervaded the group as they shared what they had, the spiritual hunger that caused them to grasp at every opportunity for worship and fellowship, and the joy that must have characterized their life and worship. No wonder, then, that they had "the goodwill of all the people" (Acts 2:47); and no wonder too that "day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved."
Ours is in many ways a very different world, of course. But society is as hungry as ever to see authentically good people. And truly godly people are as winsome as ever. And that kind of goodness is possible only with the continuing touch of the Holy Spirit.
Excerpted from: The Grand Sweep: Preaching from Genesis Through Revelation in a Year (Sermon Ideas for 52 Weeks), by J. Ellsworth Kalas. Available by subscription to Ministry Matters.