The True Aim Of The Christian Life

Seán McMahon

August 9, 2020

Community Baptist Church of Gay Head (Aquinnah)

Sermon, “The True Aim of the Christian Life”

+Scripture Readings: 

“In the last days, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on My menservants and maidservants, I will pour out My Spirit in those days.” Joel 2:28-29

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” 1 Corinthians 3:16

To pray is our daily bread

Whether in the heart, or in song,

Or in holy recitations read.

To pray is our daily bread.

We are the temple of God’s spirit

The holy fire draws close to us

And through prayer we draw near it.

We are the temple of God’s spirit.

Let us feast on the Lord’s body and on the Lord’s blood

Indeed they are food for the faithful which we consume

And which consumes us, an all-consuming love!

Let us feast on the Lord’s body and on the Lord’s blood.

    There was a very pious and holy man in the town of Sarov, Russia, a saint named Seraphim. A young man once asked him, “What is the true aim of the Christian life?”

Seraphim answered: “The true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, they are the only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God.” 

    What a simple way to sum up Christian life. But what does it mean to “acquire” the Holy Spirit? Don’t we already have it, if we are believers? After all, if we consider ourselves Christian, it is because we heard the Good News, and believed. Don’t we acquire the Spirit when we first believe? St. Paul writes to the Ephesians that: 

“…You heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. 

When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, 

the promised Holy Spirit, 

who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance 

until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.” Eph 1:14

So, yes, we do indeed acquire the Holy Spirit when we first believe. 

“How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed!” 

And grace it is, to receive the Spirit! 

It is a gift, 

and grace indeed, 

to receive the Spirit. 

But scripture doesn’t say the Spirit is a one-time freebie. Oh no! It’s more like an invitation to an invite-only, exclusive Amazon, Costco, Netflix, type of subscription service, where there are monthly fees — or even like a free app, with in-app purchases!

“But Sean! Are you seriously saying the Holy Spirit is something you can buy? Blasphemy! What about Simon Magus the Samarian? When he offered money to buy the Holy Spirit off of St. Peter, what did Peter do? He was furious! He rebuked Simon: 

‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 

You have no part or share in our ministry, because your heart is not right before God.

Repent, therefore, of your wickedness, and pray to the Lord. Perhaps He will    forgive you for the intent of your heart. 

For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and captive to iniquity.’ 

Acts 8:20-23

Indeed. I’m not going to fight against scripture. I am definitely not picking a fight with Peter! No, you certainly may not buy the Holy Spirit — with money. But listen here to what Isaiah, that great prophet of exile and herald of Christ, said about buying the Spirit in the great Day of Redemption:

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; 

and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! 

Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” Isaiah 55:1

“But Sean, the prophet is talking about water, and food, and wine, and milk!” 

Yes he is — but didn’t Jesus talk about bread and wine and water and didn’t Paul talk about milk and food? This is spiritual talk! These refer to heavenly realities

The water is the Spirit. 

The wine is the Spirit.

The bread is the Spirit.

The milk is…the Spirit.

And we can be certain that the whole object of Isaiah’s Great Day of Redemption is the Spirit, because Peter tells us so on the Great Day of Pentecost! He reminds the three thousand in the crowd that Joel also prophesied an outpouring of the Spirit in the last days, and that this outpouring was coming upon them all by the power of Jesus, who “has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit.” Acts 8.

Did you catch that? The Great Promise that generations upon generations waited for back to the days of Moses, back to the days of Abraham, back to the days of Noah all the way back to the days of the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the GREAT PROMISE awaited by centuries worth of faithful from Adam to St. Peter himself is the third person of the Trinity, the one and only Holy Spirit!

But if this is the promise that Isaiah’s talking about, how on earth can something so momentous, something so highly anticipated, something so incredibly valuable — how is it that Isaiah says, “Come, buy! Buy without money and without cost?”

Can the Promised Spirit of God truly be bought for free?

Of course not. Our Holy Scriptures reveal this great mystery: the Promise of God is purchased for humanity by the blood of the Lamb. The blood of the Lamb, Jesus, is the true cost of Pentecost, the true cost of the Spirit of God. 

The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus, our Lamb, was made perfect by obedience, and his perfection was what made his sacrifice acceptable to the Lord:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” 

What many people don’t know, and what many Christians forget, is that there is no spiritual blessing that we may obtain on our own. The sum of God’s promises to the patriarchs from Adam to Noah to Abraham to David was a single prize reserved for a single victor worthy of it, and not one was worthy of the Prize until along came the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

That heavenly wealth which our Lord Jesus received, He and He alone paid for. He bought Isaiah’s milk! He bought Isaiah’s wine! He bought Isaiah’s food! He paid for Isaiah’s water.

But does our Beloved Jesus hoard His wealth? By no means! This is why we praise the Lord: the heavenly wealth, the heavenly treasure of the Kingdom of God, the Spirit of God, is our inheritance by God’s grace, since the sacrifice which the God of Love rewarded was the sacrifice for the sins of the world, which Christ and Christ alone offered with his perfect life — to the end of fulfilling God’s eternal purpose in pouring out His Spirit upon all humanity, who without Christ were completely unworthy of it.

“In Christ alone my hope is found

He is my light, my strength, my song”

This Lamb of God is the worthy sacrifice. His life is the cost of the Spirit.

This purchase which Jesus Christ made for us is the only reason we may stand before the Lord and “buy…without money and without cost” — the money with which He prepaid is His blood shed for us. The cost is His life sacrificed for us.

Now we understand what Isaiah meant and why we don’t need money to buy this spiritual food. But now that we know we can buy it without money or cost — since we now understand the meaning of what Isaiah meant by money and cost — the big question, is how do we obtain what we’ve bought through Jesus Christ?

Prayer. 

It was by prayer that the disciples opened themselves to the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. And to this day, it is the prayer of faith that fills all Christians with the Holy Spirit. 

“The prayers of the righteous availeth much.” (James). 

And what is righteousness? Faith.

“The righteous one lives by faith.”

“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Romans 4

Perhaps clearest of all, St. Paul tells us in no uncertain terms:

“The Promise

    Comes by faith.” Romans 4

 Beloved, Disciples of Christ Jesus, Christians! 

— how great our faith can be! — 

since the rock of our faith 

is the knowledge that God raised His Son from the dead 

and paraded Him around the streets of Jerusalem 

To say once again to His body the newborn Church, 

“THIS IS MY BELOVED SON, MY CHOSEN! HEAR WHAT HE SAYS!” 

And what does the Beloved Son Jesus say but “The words I have spoken to you–they are Spirit and life…He who believes in the Son has eternal life!”

How righteous our prayers can be if we pray with fervent faith, as Jesus says: “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” 

How blessed we are that in Jesus, we have not just an author of our faith, a good and wise teacher, but a finisher — who because of his life of perfect sacrificial witness, it pleased God to raise Him up and glorify Him in the sight of all the world, and vindicate His words by His resurrection and ascension to glory. 

Our faith is founded on a Rock. There was a real moment in history, when not just the twelve apostles and the Mother of Jesus, but five hundred shocked men and women in Jerusalem saw this Rock, Jesus Christ, alive from the dead with their own eyes; and not long thereafter, on Pentecost, three thousand received the Holy Spirit, and became the foundation of the Church of God which, as promised, has never been prevailed against in all time. Here we stand today, our little church, one of many, testifying to this triumph.

There is no greater treasure than the Spirit of God. Jesus said, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes…seek His kingdom, and these things will be added unto you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”

When we seek His Kingdom, and pray “thy Kingdom come,” indeed it is He who comes to us, since Jesus said “The Kingdom of God is within you.” – and how might the kingdom of God be within us except by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit within us?

When we pray, we draw near to the Spirit, but in truth, it is the Spirit who draws near to us.

I don’t know about you — but I can’t get enough.

What is the Kingdom of God but a Kingdom of Prayer? 

And there is no end to how much we can pray! Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. How do we do that? Entire books are dedicated to this question, like that wonderful old classic, the Way of a Pilgrim. But let’s ask Jesus the answer to that question. Once again, He says:

“Fear not, little flock,

For it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the Kingdom. 

Sell your possessions, give to the poor.

Provide yourselves with purses that will not wear out, 

an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, 

where no thief approaches 

and no moth destroys. 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

We know now from scripture that the inexhaustible treasure is the Spirit. How amazing that the purse that does not wear out that holds the inexhaustible treasure is the heart! A heart that does not wear out, always new, clean and evergreen — like that old Psalm of David, 

“Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit in me.” 

Jesus is saying that a repentant heart, a heart turning to God, is a heart that does not wear out, and can hold heavenly treasures. The treasure of the Holy Spirit.

To pray without ceasing, then, is a matter of the heart. Let us use the prayerful words of our wonderful and strong Christian tradition – the Our Father, the Psalms, scripture. These words in our minds and on our tongues can help us tune our hearts to the frequency of repentance. Let us pray together with these words, and with the words of our urgent needs. 

But also, let us attend to our hearts, and be mindful of the condition of our hearts, that they’re not wearing out or hardening, but stay soft, like new, open and able to carry treasure, and heartily beating the rhythms of God’s love.

This is the meaning of unceasing prayer. This is how we acquire the greatest of all treasures, the Holy Spirit. 

This is the true aim of the Christian life.

But in attaining to this aim, we have not reached the end: in fact, we have only just begun! For as the Holy Dove came down and rested upon Christ Jesus at the moment of His baptism, only then did His great ministry begin! And it took only three short years for the world, which He had turned so upside down by the power of that Dove, to turn on Him, and hang him to die upon the Cross of Calvary. That Holy Dove is the Spirit of Truth, which Christ said “the world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.”

Jesus Christ, when he was on trial before Pontius Pilate, said He came into this world for one reason: “To bear witness to the truth.” It was by the power of the Spirit of Truth that He wrought the wonders that He did, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead. And yet the most lasting work of our Lord was the most spiritual: that He forgave the sins of sinners, and rebuked the hypocrisy of hypocrites. In this way, our Lord healed not just fleshly sickness, but spiritual sickness; gave not just sight of the eyes to the blind, but spiritual sight to the eyes of the spirit; and raised not just the dead bodies from physical death, but raised the dead in spirit from spiritual death.

In forgiving sins, he saw what others lacked the mercy to see. In rebuking hypocrisy, he said aloud what others lacked the courage to say. Mercy, courage — are these not matters of the heart?

These matters of the heart are the work of the Spirit. This is the way of the cross.

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

Are we ready to follow Jesus Christ to His cross, and receive eternal life from the Father through Him? “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

Are you ready to follow Jesus Christ to His cross?

For that is where the Holy Spirit beckons us all.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. 

Amen.

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