So it’s Christmas time, and frankly outside of The Grinch, and Scrooge most people really love this time of year.  For some it’s the decorations, for others it’s the time with family and friends.  For some it’s the food, and for others like my wife it’s the Christmas music…but it’s pretty safe to say everyone loves the presents.  My kids are always excited about the gifts.  My son Trey has been working on his Christmas list since like August.  The other day my daughter Sydney and I were hanging our Christmas lights outside…and she was like “Dad, I love Christmas.” I said to her, “that is awesome, Syd it’s a great time of year”…and before I could even ask her what her favorite part of Christmas was (my assumption of course was that she was thinking of the profound spiritual ramifications of Jesus coming to this world and engaging our mess) she says to me, “yep…the countdown to presents begins! I love presents!”  I couldn’t argue with her, mostly because she cracks me up, but we all like presents don’t we?  I know as a dad I love the little gifts the kids get me from the school store, but I will tell you for me, one of my favorite moments is when I really do well with giving the kids or Mashawn a gift that I know they like.  It’s just an awesome moment that always hits my heart, when I know I blessed them and made them happy…I mean look at this picture of Trey from a few Christmas’s ago…

Yep, everyone loves presents.  For kids (and even us adults) it’s really exciting to get a good gift.  For me as a dad, sometimes the best thing is knowing that I got my children and my wife the best gift I could.  This year as I was thinking about our Christmas series, and talking about gifts with my children, and decorating our Christmas tree and our home over this past week I just kept thinking about God’s ultimate gift to us in Christ, and I wondered if as God looked down on that manger back at Jesus’ birth if His heart didn’t feel like mine seeing Trey open the perfect present from me.  What a cool thought that our Heavenly Father would feel the same way I do in those beautiful moments when my children open up a present they love.

This year our Christmas series is entitled Immanuel: God with us, where we really get to look at this amazing gift from God, which is His son Jesus, Immanuel: God with us.  What I love about this series is that we are taking it a step further and looking at what Jesus coming to this Earth all of those years ago still means for you and I today, and what and how you and I can live in the year 2018 because of God’s amazing gift in Immanuel: God with us.  I thought Ken did an amazing job opening this series up to us last week, helping understand who the Holy Spirit is, and I found his main point to be profound.  He was helping us see that Immanuel, the story of God with us is still relevant to you and I today because of the Holy Spirit.  The power of the Holy Spirit is reproducing God in us which is just a wow, thought right?  I mean to think that we can live with God in us, with that kind of love, and joy, and peace, and strength in us sounds great right?  Well this is what the Holy Spirit can do in our lives if we surrender to God, and allow God to lead.  What a gift, the Holy Spirit can be in our lives.  And as we were talking earlier, everyone loves presents right?  It’s interesting that God gave us this incredible gift in Jesus and then later as Jesus is preparing to leave this world, He explains that He is going to leave us an incredible gift of His own in the Holy Spirit.  Here we see Jesus talk about just how important the Holy Spirit is.

John 16:7 So let me say it again, this truth: It’s better for you that I leave. If I don’t leave, the Friend won’t come. But if I go, I’ll send him to you. MSG

So anytime we talk about the Holy Spirit this scripture seems to come up because Jesus is helping us see just how important the Holy Spirit actually is!  He is saying the He must leave so the Holy Spirit can come…Jesus knows that we need the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Jesus would say I have this amazing gift in the Holy Spirit and I must go so you can have it and tying that to what Ken was sharing with us last week, we start to see that when we allow the Holy Spirit into our lives we can live an empowered life as ‘God in us’ leads us to a life that we just can’t find without Him.  It’s all there for us.  It’s a great gift that Jesus has for us, and He can’t wait to see us unwrap it.  He can’t wait to see the joy on our faces, like we saw in Trey’s face earlier as we open this amazing gift for our lives.  I mean you wouldn’t not open it right?  Well, sadly not everyone is walking with the Holy Spirit living and active in their life which is, really what I want to talk to you about today because Jesus has this amazing gift for us.  He wants us to experience all of it.  But for too many of us, that gift goes unopened year after year.  I know it’s Christmas time, and we are to keep things light and fun, but we do need to understand that the Holy Spirit is there for all of us, we can walk through our daily lives empowered by the Spirit but we have some choices, and things to do to unleash it, or we can smother it out and not see it in our lives.  The main way this happens is through sin in our lives.  It’s interesting that the very next verse there in John 16 Jesus continues after telling us how great this gift of the Spirit is, he talks of sin and how the Holy Spirit will expose it.

John 16:8 “When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: 9 He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; 10 that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; 11 that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted. MSG

So this is what I want to talk to you about today, everyone loves the Christmas presents.  And we want you opening them up and enjoying them in your life.  And Jesus is handing you the perfect gift, you can open it and experience God in you today, or you can keep living for you, and slide that present back under the tree and never experience all that could be.  You see its sin that keeps us from opening the gift, and living in this kind of life.  A life that Paul describes as walking in the Spirit.  I want you to know that you do have choices to make in this, and we are going to look at this today in the hopes that you choose to open this awesome gift.  You can walk through life with the Holy Spirit.  Which is what Paul was talking about here in Galatians…

Galatians 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. ESV

We are to live and walk by the Spirit.  Now I want you to see something here, look at how that same verse is written in the Message version…

25 Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.  MSG

That is such an awesome statement, this is how we are to live out our lives!  I loved this phrasing, “this is the kind of life we have chosen…” so we are choosing to live this way.  This would mean that I have a choice, maybe even some responsibility in this “life in Christ” thing.  It would also mean that my life can go one way, or another off of that choice.  Now, I know, no one wants to hear that they may actually have some responsibility in life these days, but I think we are seeing something that must be addressed here.  If we want this amazing gift in our lives, we must choose to live this out.  It’s more than just a sentiment in our hearts or a religious activity.  It’s who we are, and it comes out of every aspect and action of our lives.  We can have the awesome present, but we have to choose this, and we live it out.

So the question of the day really becomes, how in the world do we do that?  I mean good grief Sam, we just went from some fun concepts of Christmas presents to this idea of choosing to live my life for Christ or not!  Well here’s what is really interesting, Paul explains that there really are two ways to live, and I love the ESV translation here because it says that these two ways of living are fighting each other.

Galatians 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. ESV

Do you see the two ways that we can live here?  One way is to gratify the desires of our sinful nature.  This is the way of the world.  This is a very popular way to live.  This is sin.  And just to lay into this even harder, I want you to see that its sin that keeps that amazing present from Jesus under the tree.  You aren’t opening it and enjoying it as part of your life.  Choosing to live this way, in sin, blocks us from experiencing God in us, as Ken was sharing with us last week.  It weakens us.  And Paul is helping us see that we choose how we live.  I know that isn’t really a popular notion in our culture today, to say that we should have any responsibility for our actions, but we will choose to live one of two ways and I love you enough to tell you that only one will lead to life, the other simply does not.  Living for ourselves, focusing on today, rather than living for God and focusing on eternity to come is a very popular way to live in our culture.  In fact it’s such a popular way to walk through life that if you don’t live this way you look crazy to the rest of the world.

The other way you can live is the exact opposite, and that is to walk by the Holy Spirit.  When you live this way you are not controlled by the things of this world because you are pursuing God!  These two ways of living oppose each other in every way.  This is a pull that we all feel.  Our human desires are very different than the desires of God in us.  It’s tough because the majority of the world lives in the now.  They engage today and they are having fun in those moments doing it.  Trust me, you will feel good at times when feeding that human nature…but in the end it leads to death.  This is the battle that we are in, and it comes down to a choice we all need to make.  It really comes down to how you will live your life.  Will you walk with the Holy Spirit or will you walk in your fleshly desires or as Paul writes here in Romans your sinful nature.  Paul says that our sinful nature is literally hostile to God, you literally cannot please God when controlled by the sinful nature.  Check this out…

Romans 8:6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. NIV

So I want you thinking about this today.  I know these are pretty strong scriptures to be reading here in our Christmas series, but this is our reality.  The Holy Spirit is essential to our lives, it is so important that Jesus said He had to leave so the Holy Spirit could come.  Ken last week helped us see that through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is reproducing God in us, which is an empowering and redemptive thought.  But Paul helps us see, that we have some choices to make too.  We can live for God or live for ourselves, in a life of sin.  If you noticed there in Romans, we see that scripture tells us that we are literally living one of two ways.  It is that cut and dry.  We are living to feed the desires of our sin nature or we are living to feed the desires of The Spirit in us.  Listen perfect present is under the tree for you today.  You can walk in freedom and joy.  Jesus is handing you the gift, but you have choice to make in this too.  Sin will block you from this life that you so deeply desire.  Paul is pretty clear, we will live one of these two ways.  He even goes as far in Galatians as to list out for us what our lives look like each way and frankly it’s a pretty nasty…and I want to take a moment here and show you just how opposite these two forces in our lives are.  Check this out…

Galatians 5:19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, 20 idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. NLT

When I read over that list, are you able to see some of those things in your life too?  You aren’t alone in that.  This is the ways of the world.  This is the popular way.  I mean think through that list for a minute…

Galatians 5:19 It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; 20 trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; 21 the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. MSG

It’s not hard to see pieces of this list in our lives, and I’m telling you as popular as this way of living is, all it does is weaken your life…keeping your from that life to the full thing that we can have by the power of the Holy Spirit reproducing God in us.  Living this way is like taking that gift that Jesus gave us, and putting it back under the tree without ever opening it.  Sin weakens us, and frankly there isn’t a person sitting in here that wants their lives to be described by the list that we just went over, and thankfully because of Jesus we don’t have to live that way.  The Holy Spirit creates a whole new list of desires in us…

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. NIV

This is what it looks like to live in the gift of the Holy Spirit, and frankly I don’t know of anyone who isn’t reading this list and thinking man, do I wish this list described my life.  So let’s slow down and picture a life lived this way…

Galatians 5:22 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard — things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, 23 not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. MSG

So you may be thinking ok Sam, I get it there are two ways to live…but I struggle to get off that naughty list and onto that nice list that Paul shared with us there.  Well you aren’t alone in that.  It isn’t easy, and I think most of us would say, that it sounds great, but I just don’t know how to get there and every time I try I seem to come up short.  Listen, this is a challenge for all of us, but you can walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and I think it starts right here…

Step 1- Admit that you need Jesus in your life.  Have you ever noticed that the harder you try to “not sin” or to clean up your life on your own the worse it seems to get?  It’s like we try to work our way through life and it seems like the harder we work to fix things the bigger the mess becomes…well it’s because you can’t fix any of it.  The reality is that we need Him and that life without God is a train wreck.  Jesus said this…

John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  NIV

Did you catch that?  Jesus literally told you that apart from Him you can do nothing.  This is so huge.  You will not stand in peace and joy and all that life to full that Jesus came to give you without getting to a place in your life where your pride is shattered and you can confidently say.  “Jesus, I need you in my life.”  Until that happens, you will continue to drag your way through life, trying to fix things that you can’t fix and earn things that you can’t earn.  We need Jesus in our lives.

Step 2- We need to pray and invite the Holy Spirit into our lives!  Ok, can I ask you something?  How specific are you when you pray?  Do you ask God specifically for what you need, want, and desire?  If not why is that?  God hears you, and speaks to you, and He loves you.  Ask Him for exactly what you want.  Do you want your friend to come to know Jesus…ask for it!  Do you want the Holy Spirit living and active in your life…then pray for that!  Check out this prophecy from way back in the day!

Ezekiel 36:25 I’ll pour pure water over you and scrub you clean. 26 I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. 27 I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands. MSG

We should pray with this kind of focus.  Many of us don’t pray specifically for what we need and desire.  We must invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, if we want the Holy Spirit in our lives.  This is something we ask for daily.  We must pray specifically and invite the Holy Spirit into our lives.

Step 3-We need to believe!  We must have faith in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Faith in who God is.  Faith to trust that all that scripture tells us is true.  Faith that we actually can and do have the power of the Holy Spirit living in us!  I think many of us don’t pray specifically enough because we don’t truly trust that God will come through, it’s a faith thing.  For some of us I think we have these secret sins that we can’t get past, we feel so stuck in them, and part of that is that we don’t believe that the power of the Holy Spirit can free us from those sins that we feel so trapped in.  Faith leads to freedom from sins that we may now think we can never get past!  That is a lie…through Jesus sin has no power over us!

Romans 6:10 When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. 11 From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did. 12 That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. 13 Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time — remember, you’ve been raised from the dead! — into God’s way of doing things. 14 Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.  MSG

This means that you don’t have to fall to sin anymore!  It has no control over you!  We count on the Holy Spirit who makes us alive when we were actually dead in sin!  Listen, this isn’t an overnight process for everyone.  For some of us we have some work to do to break free from the sins that we have been slaves to for so long.  It doesn’t mean that you won’t ever be tempted again either but what it does means is that you are free, and through the power of the Holy Spirit you can and will overcome any and all darkness in your life!

Step 4-We need to actually choose to live differently!  So here’s the thing, we do have something to do in this process! You know, a lot of people that I run into tell me they have this thing.  Like a recurring sin that they just can’t kick.  They are frustrated by it and they want to live differently but what is really interesting is that they aren’t willing to do anything themselves.  So they say “Sam, you are a Pastor, could you pray for me?   I keep doing this thing…I pray about it and I just can’t stop, then I feel bad, but I do it again.”  When I ask them if they pray they say “sure,” and they pray something like this “Lord help me not look at porn on the internet anymore.”  But they don’t change their behaviors…they don’t put controls on their computer or ask for accountability partner or install an app or just stay away from the internet all together…and I will tell you prayer is great.  Faith that God is bigger than sin is important.  But you do still have something to do in the process.  And to be really blunt there is a reason they won’t put those safe guards and boundaries in place and that is because deep down they still want to do the thing they tell me they don’t want to do.

If you want to walk in the Spirit you need to live differently…now here’s what is important this isn’t the first step…we do nothing in our own power, it’s all through God’s amazing love and grace and mercy.  We start with our deep need of the Holy Spirit in our lives…then we move to inviting the Holy Spirit into our lives, and trusting or having the faith to know the Spirit’s power over sin.  This is the point where we have something to do.  We need to live differently not to earn anything but in an effort to move towards holiness.  As we do the first three steps and the fruit of the Spirit are part of us…we will have the focus, and ability to move away from sin…this is why this is step 4 is us working on some behaviors.  Because again…YOU CAN’T DO THIS ON YOUR OWN!  It’s as you walk with the Holy Spirit that you move towards holiness!  Every desire you have in your humanness is to satisfy the desires of the flesh, so when your desire begins to shift to pleasing God you know you are walking in the Spirit!

Step 5- Thank God for all He is doing in your life!   This is something I’m focusing on a lot in my own life…contentment and gratitude for all God is doing in my life.  The more I thank Him the more grateful I feel for all of it.  The final step in walking in the Spirit is thanking God for all He is doing in your life.  Because we need Him and we can do nothing righteous and holy without His help.  Gratitude leads us to contentment and peace, and a constant acknowledgment of what God is doing in us…which is an awesome way to live.

So as we look at the Holy Spirit and just how essential the Holy Spirit is in our lives we have learned a couple of things just two weeks into this series.  Last week we learned that it’s the Holy Spirit that is reproducing God in us, which is an amazing thought today.  And today I wanted you to see that God has given us the perfect gift in the Holy Spirit.  He is so excited for you to open it, and experience this life lived with the Holy Spirit guiding and shaping you.  The present is sitting in your lap, the excitement is building, the last thing we would ever want to see is for you to take that gift and slide it back under the tree.  We do this when we choose to live for ourselves, sin takes that present away…and you don’t want that.

Let’s choose to open this amazing gift this Christmas season…after all, everyone likes presents.