Why preach on the Holy Spirit? What dangers should be avoided in topical preaching? Why do so many people think of the Holy Spirit as a force, rather than a person? We asked Art Azurdia…
Listen to sermon (John 14:15-17):
Why spend four Sundays talking about the Holy Spirit?
Well, the big reason is that we’re Trinitarians. We have a strong commitment to understanding that God is three persons, the third person often being ignored. And as I look at what we at Trinity have preached over the last few years, and as I think about our doctrinal statement as a church, I felt that some basic discussion regarding what the Holy Spirit is- His personhood and His divinity- was really essential. And the timing is especially fitting as we at Trinity are turning a corner and looking at the book of Acts, where the Holy Spirit is going to be predominantly featured.
What kinds of challenges present themselves when doing a more topical sermon, over against continuous exposition of a book or passage?
I think the danger inherent in topical preaching- to which we do not need to succumb, provided that we are alert to it- is the temptation to extract things from their original context, and read into passages more than what’s really there or intended to be there. Recognizing this, it was not my burden here in John 14 to do a tight exposition of these few verses as much as it was to say; “Here in this tight context, notice the repeated references to the Spirit as a person.” Of course one of the big hurdles we have to overcome in the minds of people is thinking of the Holy Spirit as an ‘it’ or some type of force. So my big burden in this sermon was, drawing from John 14, to help people understand that He is a person, which is especially seen in these upper room passages where He is repeatedly referenced as a person, and spoken about as a person who does things that only a person can do.
Why is it that many people, even Evangelicals, think of the Holy Spirit as an ‘it’ or some kind of force, and not as a genuine person?
I think the big reason is that they think of the Holy Spirit only in terms of power. Their thinking with regard to the Holy Spirit is a result of people like us not doing our job in instructing the congregation as to whom the Holy Spirit is. They are then left with what they hear on a popular level; that the Holy Spirit is the source of power in your life. This of course is true, but only a small portion of who the Holy Spirit is and what He does. The other piece that contributes to all of this is that as we think of God the Father, the very term ‘father’ connotes personhood. And the Son of God was incarnated; that makes it easy for us to think of Him as a person. But the Spirit is a non-corporeal being, which makes conceptualization very difficult. I’ve even on occasion had people come up to me after the sermon, saying; “Thank you for preaching about it,” in reference to the Holy Spirit. And I’ve had to remind them again that the Holy Spirit is not an ‘it,’ but a ‘He.’