The Filtering Work of the Spirit

Do you filter contaminants out of your drinking water, or the air in your car or house? How about filtering spam out of your email and text messages? Filters have become invaluable parts of our lives. We use them constantly. But do you take the same care to filter what comes into your mind? Join us this week as we study how the Holy Spirit can help us filter where we need it most.

Alright, as we continue in our series, “The God I Never Knew,” today I want to talk about the work the Holy Spirit wants to do in your mind.

This is what the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.

No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.

None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:6-16)

“But we have the mind of Christ.”

I want you to see something to help illustrate this work of the Holy Spirit when it comes to your mind.

Do you recognize what this is?

It’s a furnace air filter.

I’ve come to know a fair amount about air filters recently.

Several weeks ago when the temperature hit the 90s, our air conditioner stopped working.

Now, my first instinct in a situation like this is to always hope for spontaneous recovery.

Sometimes it happens.

But about the time we started sweating in our house, it got clear that that was not going to happen, so I went down to the air conditioning unit to see what the problem was.

I have no idea why I do this, because I don’t have a clue what in the world I’m looking for.

If there were a giant “on/off” switch on the side of the air conditioner and it had been switched to off, I would have some idea what to do.

But beyond that I don’t have a clue.

So I made a phone call. I called an Air Conditioning and Heating store.

It took a service person about two seconds to identify the problem. The problem wasn’t even with our air conditioning unit. It was with our furnace.

It was a bad filter. It was a clogged filter. It was a filter I didn’t even know we had so it hadn’t been replaced for 5 years.

A filter can only take so much.

So this repairman talked to me about our furnace. He asked me, “Do you understand how important a filter is to your furnace functioning well?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Do you change it regularly?” he asked me.

“Every day.”

And then, he explained to me, in no uncertain terms, how crucial the filtering process is to our furnace’s well being.

He told me if I didn’t keep a clean filter in there, they would come and take my furnace away for furnace abuse.

Now, a filter’s job is to let the right stuff through, but to trap impurities or contaminants that might do damage. That’s what a filter is for.

If a car doesn’t have an air filter, the engine gets damaged.

No one would consider drinking water from Lake Del Valle that had not been purified through a filtering process.

If you go out into the sun, we’re all aware that it bombards us with rays that can do a lot of damage. It could cause cancer; it could cause death. So sunscreen filters out the harmful stuff and lets the good stuff through.

What I want to suggest in this message is that the process of filtering and purifying that goes on in all those areas is absolutely trivial compared to the one area that needs it the most.

And that is your mind. Because we live in a messy world.

Now, I think this is one of the great illusions about spiritual growth.

The illusion is that I can form a Christ-like character, but let my mind feed on whatever junk comes along.

No you can’t.

There is a law of human spiritual development. It might be called the law of exposure. — The human mind is shaped by what it’s consistently exposed to.

And you and I are no exception to this rule.

I want to illustrate this.

All day long, you and I are bombarded by messages.

We’re bombarded by messages from Media — the internet, TV, movies, books, social media, Youtube, songs.

And all of these things have messages that shape us, whether or not we think about it.

We’re bombarded by messages from other People — your boss, your coworkers, your friends, your neighbors, someone you go to school with, people in your family. They’re sending you messages all the time.

And we receive messages from Ourselves — you have a steady stream of thoughts, messages that you send yourself. You may not even be aware of them.

Now, some of these thoughts and messages are true and sound and healthy and will lead us in the right direction. Some of them are not. Some of them are toxic.

And what you and I desperately need for our minds to function well — which is more important than a furnace — we need a kind of a filter that can help protect us from that which is toxic in the spiritual environment around us. And allow in that which will feed us in healthy ways.

Now, this is a critical part of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life — this filtering work.

We see this in this passage we just read.

Paul is real concerned, because there are young Christians at Corinth, and they’re being exposed to a steady stream of spiritually toxic messages. They’re getting those messages from the culture around them.

You need to know that Corinth was so notorious for its moral corruption, that to “Corinthianize” someone was an expression among the ancient Greeks that meant — to lead someone into moral corruption.

So Paul is real concerned about the messages they’re being bombarded with from the culture around them.

Not just that, he’s very concerned about the messages they’re receiving from certain self-proclaimed experts inside the church at Corinth.

There were people who were teaching false ideas about the nature of spirituality.

They were claiming to be superior and trying to create factions in the church.

And people in the church were falling for this.

So Paul’s language, in this passage, is very urgent.

He says, “You can choose to expose yourself to two kinds of messages.”

On the one hand, there are some real toxic, destructive messages. And the language Paul uses to describe them is — “The wisdom of this age or the rulers of this age” or “Human wisdom.”

He doesn’t mean things like human discoveries, like science or that kind of thing. He’s talking about wisdom that’s characterized by fallen human beings in opposition to God.

In verse 14, he talks about these messages coming from the person without the Spirit.

What kind of messages or thoughts are these?

This is any thought that can lead you away from God—away from love, away from joy, away from servanthood—into fear, into discouragement, into self-preoccupation.

And you get bombarded with those kinds of thoughts and messages all the time, every day, from many different sources.

They’re going to have an impact on you.

Paul says you can open yourself up to that, or you can devote yourself to what he calls in verse 6 — “A message of wisdom among the mature.”

What he says in verse 7 is — “God’s secret, hidden wisdom.”

Verse 10 — “The deep thoughts of God.”

Verse 13 — “Spiritual truths.”

Or verse 16, which I think has to be one of the most amazing phrases in all of Scripture. — “But we have the mind of Christ.”

We — you and I — have the mind of Christ.

What would it be for you to live with the mind of Christ?

To walk around through the day having the kinds of thoughts, observations, perceptions, understandings, feelings and intentions that Jesus would have if he were walking in your place.

This echoes what Paul says to the church at Philippi in Philippians 2:5 — “Let this mind be in you which also is in Christ Jesus who humbled himself, who made himself a servant.”

You see, these are the deep thoughts of God. Not necessarily complicated ones, not esoteric ones.

They’re thoughts like:

“The first shall be last.”
“The greatest shall be a servant.”
“It’s better to give than to receive.”
“The way to find your life is to lose it.”

Those are messages you will not hear in this world.

And a spiritually mature person, Paul says, is simply someone who thinks those kinds of thoughts often, consistently, reflexively, eventually automatically, effortlessly — just the kinds of thoughts that run through that kind of mind.

This is why Paul says, when he writes to the church at Rome:

“Don’t be conformed to this world with its foolishness, but be transformed by the renewing of your,” what? “Of your mind, so that you, right there, in your world, in your body, you have the mind of Christ.”

Now, how do you cultivate the mind of Christ in the toxicity of this fallen world with all of the spiritual contaminants that this world has?

Well, let me tell you how not to do it.

You do not do it by being a passive recipient of whatever messages come along.

And Paul says you don’t have to do it alone. You have the Holy Spirit with you to help you discern truth. You really do.

John makes precisely the same point. John is also concerned about bad messages, false teaching and wrong thoughts damaging his little flock.

In 1 John 2:26 and 27 he says:

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him [that’s the Holy Spirit] remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you.

Now, that’s a striking statement. — “You do not need anyone to teach you.”

What does he mean by that?

Does this mean that the role of teaching in the church is unnecessary? Does this mean that a church should not pay salaries to teaching pastors? Does it? You’re making me a little nervous, here.

No, it does not mean that.

John’s saying to people who were being led astray, “Don’t be intimidated and misled by some message that comes along, even if the messenger claims to be smarter or spiritually superior.”

Because the same Spirit that was on David, the same spirit that was on Elijah, the same spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism — that Spirit rests on you. The Holy Spirit is with you.

You are competent to discern truth.

It doesn’t mean you don’t need wise counsel or teachers to help. It certainly doesn’t mean that you don’t have to study.

People will misunderstand this teaching sometimes. It is not a shortcut to bypass careful study and the development of judgment and so on.

Because, of course, all of that is a part of the Spirit’s will for us.

But that same Holy Spirit that rested on David and Elijah and Jesus is with you, enabling you to discern.

Now, here’s a key teaching.

Paul says in verse 15:

The person with the Spirit [and you’ll notice a capital “S” which means the Holy Spirit. “The person with the Holy Spirit”] makes judgments about all things. (1 Corinthians 2:15)

Now, Paul is not talking here about developing a judgmental heart, obviously. He’s not saying you ought to go around passing judgment on other people.

He’s saying a sign of spiritual maturity is that a person becomes increasingly aware of how what’s happening in their world is affecting their heart. — What’s moving me more toward Christ-centered living and what’s tempting me to move away from Christ-centered living.

A spiritually mature person is increasingly able to discern what’s going on around them and its impact on their heart, and what they need to let in and what they need to filter out, what they need to reject.

A person with the Spirit makes judgments all the time. They get so that they can do this almost automatically.

They’re aware of the fact that their heart is always being pulled one way or the other.

And they start to know from the media, from other people, from their own thoughts, “What’s leading me towards God and his kind of life, and what’s leading me the other way?”

And they respond appropriately.

That is a key mark of spiritual maturity.

This is a critical statement Paul makes. — “The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things.” He is developing enormous wisdom and sensitivity.

And then Paul says, “You don’t have to do this on your own. Allow the Holy Spirit to become a kind of spiritual filter to help you develop the mind of Christ.”

This can be learned.

It involved, primarily, a willingness to be open and prayerful and listening to the Spirit all through the day. — “Okay Holy Spirit, you be my filter. You help me to discern, to make judgments about all things.”

In the time we have left, I want to walk through these three areas that I mentioned.

And then, at the end of the message, we’ll talk about a few practical steps to take to allow the Holy Spirit to do this.

The first area is, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to do this filtering ministry when we’re receiving messages from the media — the internet, TV, movies, books, social media, Youtube, songs — all these have an impact on our heart.

Just notice the next time you’re getting messages from media — allow the Holy Spirit to be at work in your mind, to be a filter for you.

Ask questions like:

What message is it that I’m being presented here?
And is it true?
Is it sane?
Is it healthy?
If I listen to it, will it lead to life, or do I need to challenge it?
Does it need to be filtered out?
Is it making me more joyful or is it making me more angry, more discontent?

You may find that you need to change some of what you’re exposing your mind to.

The second area, another source of messages in your life that are real important, are people.

Now this is the particular source that both John and Paul were most concerned about.

People are the single most spiritually formative force in your world. They’re pulling you all the time towards or away from God’s kind of life.

And you need to very often ask yourself the question with people, “What impact is this person having on my spirit?”

This is a real small example of this.

There was a nurse and she had a patient who was a real cranky guy.

And she realized that his ingratitude and anger was coming, unfiltered, into her heart, and she was developing the same kind of attitude, the same kind of mind. She was having the same kinds of thoughts that he was having.

People’s minds are the most contagious thing about them — their mood, their attitude, their spirit. And you will catch it. You just will.

But in her case, the Spirit was making her aware, so she paused and asked for his help.

And the next time this patient called her into his room, he called her to complain about the food. And he said, “This is a bad potato.”

She stopped for a moment, picked the potato up, and spanked it and said, “Bad potato! Bad potato!”

Part of what was happening was she recognized this was someone who was moving her mind away from God — away from joy, away from love, into anger and into, kind of, a cranky spirit.

And so she allowed the Holy Spirit to be at work to filter, to protect her from that spirit.

She chose to have another mind, another Spirit in her — the mind of Christ.

I believe, that as a general rule, we enormously underestimate the sheer impact of other people on our minds.

Probably, in Scripture, the single most common way that the Spirit speaks to one person is through another person.

Think about this. God speaks to Moses through Jethro, to David through Nathan, to Saul through Samuel, to Peter through Cornelius, to Mary through Elizabeth. And that list could go on indefinitely.

On the other hand, the voice of temptation and discouragement also comes most often through other people — to Joseph through Potiphar’s wife, to Ahab through Jezebel, to Jesus through Peter, to whom Jesus actually had to say one time, “Get behind me, Satan.”

Now, does this mean that you should never be around messed up people because they drag you down?

Of course not. Our whole mission as a church is dependent on you and me being around people far from God — messed up, sinful people — a lot.

Our goal as a church, is to attract the most junked up, messed up, goofed up, grace-needing sinners in all of the Bay Area.

And if you’ll look around you, I think we’re doing a pretty good job.

Now, this is an interesting thing. It’s an interesting thing when you look at Jesus.

Jesus was very clearly drained and wounded in his spirit — much more by being around religious Pharisee-types than he was around tax collectors and sinners.

I think it’s quite clear as you read that Jesus, when he’s around tax collectors and sinners — people who are far from God and quite desperate spiritually — it reminds him of what a good and gracious God, God is, and what a wonderful gift it is to live in his kingdom.

I think, in very many cases, being around people like that was a spiritually rejuvenating thing for Jesus.

And the people who damaged or drained his spirit most were self-proclaimed religious experts — spiritually smug, self-righteous people.

Well, you need to be very aware the person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things.

Again, this does not mean being judgmental about people. It means cultivating an inner awareness of:

What direction is this person tugging my heart and mind?
Is this person drawing me closer to God?
Is the Spirit speaking to me through this person?
Or is this person causing discouragement inside me?
Is this person tempting me, or is this group tempting me to go down a road I need not to go?
Do I need to limit my exposure to this person or this group?
Or if I can’t do that, do I need, real carefully, to filter out what’s being said?

Okay, that’s the second area. You get messages from other people.

The third area is your own thoughts, your own mind.

And the Holy Spirit will help clarify what’s going on in your mind.

Now, this is spoken of in theology as the mystery of illumination.

Under the doctrine of the Spirit — the theology is that the Spirit will illuminate your mind, will enlighten you.

Jesus says of the Spirit in John 16:13

He will guide you into all truth.

He will teach you.

Paul says in Ephesians 1:17

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation [that’s the Holy Spirit] so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.

One of the most common pictures the writers of Scripture use for life apart from the Spirit of God, the mind of one without the Spirit of God, is darkness.

I want you to think for a moment about what darkness conveys, especially if you think back to the first century when there were no electricity or lights.

Darkness was one of the most powerful conditions or forces that they were aware of in the ancient world.

When things are dark, you can’t move.
When things are dark, you’re stuck.
When things are dark, you’re not going anywhere.
When things are dark, you’re vulnerable.
When things are dark, you’re in fear.

And this picture is often used of the mind apart from the Holy Spirit.

Paul says, in a classic text in Romans 1, about people who are far from God. — “Their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened until God sent his Spirit to enlighten them.”

Illumination — fundamentally, what illumination is about, is the ability to perceive reality.

That’s true physically, but that’s also true spiritually.

When the Spirit brings enlightenment, he brings you the capacity, the ability to perceive spiritual reality that was opaque to you before.

Now, I want to give you an example about how this ministry of illumination works.

This one involves the area of sexuality, but it’s just an example. This would extend to lots of other areas of life.

I want to talk to everyone, but particularly to guys.

I’m very aware that both men and women are sexual creatures. Both men and women are equally capable of fulfillment sexually, and of sexual fallenness.

But any man — and again, this is not restricted to men — but any man who has gotten serious about honoring what Jesus said about not looking lustfully at a woman will tell you we do not live in a society that makes that easy.

Our society does not filter out those kinds of images. It bombards us with them.

I was reading recently about a guy who decided to get serious about this issue.

He was a Christian. He was not committing physical adultery, but he would wrestle with the types of movies he would watch when he was on the road. And he would wrestle with the way that he looked at women.

This went on for a long time, and he was kind of aware of it, but it was a vague awareness. He was in the dark. It was, kind of, opaque.

And then, the Holy Spirit began to illumine his mind.

The first step of this illumination process involved his getting clear on the cost of this problem.

He began to realize the price he was paying because of his problem. It was damaging his conscience.

It was keeping him from worship. He’d go to church and he’d want to worship God. He’d see other people pouring their hearts out, but he felt like there was this barrier between him and God.

He became aware that it was damaging his marriage, because hidden secrets like that always damage intimacy.

He became aware that it was one of the primary obstacles to his prayer life.

He became aware that it was damaging his ability to function as the kind of father that he wanted to be. He had to hide it from his kids.

And he was afraid, in some way, that he might pass this problem on to them.

So the Spirit began to illumine his mind about the nature and cost of this problem.

And although that was kind of painful, it also developed in him a tremendous motivation to be free.

And then the Spirit began to illumine him about the steps that he needed to take to actually be changed, to receive power, because this was clearly something he couldn’t do on his own just by trying.

And as often happens, the Spirit used Scripture.

He read Job 31:1 where Job says:

I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a woman.

Of course, we live in a culture that trains us to look lustfully at women — to receive sexual gratification from looking a lot.

And he just got quite clear about what that verse of Scripture needed to mean in his life, about where he was most tempted to break this covenant with eyes — social media that he consumed, movies he watched, websites he went to, even how he looked at women and the gym.

And he began a practice — for him — that anytime he was drawn towards a view that would give him a little sexual high, he would reflexively shift his visual focus, because that’s what he needed to do.

And over time, this became a habit. After several months, it wasn’t even real difficult.

And he found himself living a different kind of life.

He writes this:

After I had gone cold turkey on sexual images for some time, I remember vividly how my wife noticed the geometric rise in my desire for her. Constantly telling her how beautiful she looked, I was all over her — patting her, hugging her, touching her. I was also desiring sexual intimacy far more often, and as the new high pace continued, it dawned upon my wife that this might not just be a phase. She panicked, blurting out, “What am I doing to make myself so attractive? I have to stop it.”

And then he writes about how his married life became different. Why? Because of the illumination ministry of the Spirit.

Now, if this particular area is one where the Spirit needs to be at work in your life, you may need to figure out, as this guy did, what changes you need to make.

They may be more radical or maybe less radical than he did. You’ll have to do that. And for whatever area in life, change needs to happen.

But again, the constant will be the Holy Spirit at work illumining your mind — enlightening you.

This area of sin, which on the surface might look good, has got a price that you really don’t want to pay, and there really is a process, a kind of training program by which you can receive power to be freed from that, which you’re not strong enough to free yourself from.

It’s part of the illumination ministry of the Holy Spirit — a clarity about the nature of sin, a clarity about the goodness of life in God’s kingdom, and a desire for that.

It’s clarity about what my part is in pursuing spiritual formation.

Jesus says this Holy Spirit, the same one that was with him, will guide you into all truth. He’ll teach you so that you can have the mind of Christ.

Probably, to some extent, all of us will need to work on limiting our exposure to certain aspects of media.

I think if Jesus were around today — he used to talk about fasting from food in his day. I think one of the most important areas where the discipline of fasting would be extended in our day would be to fast from media for a while.

See how that affects you.

One of the things you learn when you fast is how do you respond — how were you depending on stuff?

And you only find that out when it’s no longer available to you.

And then, maybe you’ll need to expose yourself to certain things that you’re not exposing your mind to right now.

One of the strongest encouragements I’d give you, mostly because it has helped me so much, is find one great book by a Christian author and immerse yourself in it really deeply.

Read it over and over again, until you just absorb it.

I think one of the greatest hindrances to allowing the mind of Christ getting formed in us is just the sheer amount of information overload we face.

In my life, that takes the form of email, articles, books I feel like I should read. And I’m tempted to just skim one thing after another.

It’s better to take one great, substantive book by a great Christian author and read it a bunch of times, and let it get real deep into you so that it changes the way you think, than to skim over a hundred different articles or books.

One other thing I’ll just challenge you with. I just dare you on this one.

Test this and see if this is not effective in your life. Memorize and meditate on Scripture.

Now, I know as soon as I talk about that, for many of you, the first thing that you think about is, “I don’t have a good memory and I hate memorizing stuff.”

It’s not about quantity. God is not keeping track up in heaven of how many verses you have memorized. You don’t get little gold stars for every one.

The point of memorization and meditation is what happens to your mind while it’s dwelling on those thoughts. It’s being shaped by them.

What’s important is not the quantity; it’s what’s happening to your mind while you’re in the process of dwelling on those thoughts.

This is from Dallas Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines.

As a pastor, teacher and counselor, I have repeatedly seen the transformation of inner and outer life that comes, simply, from memorization and meditation upon Scripture. Personally, I would never undertake to pastor a church or guide a program of Christian education that did not involve a continuous program of memorization of the choicest passages of Scripture for people of all ages.

And, of course, the writers of Scripture say a lot about them.

Like in Psalm 1 the person who “delights in the Word, the law of God, and meditates on it day and night.”

So when it comes to media, filter out or limit your exposure.

And then get intentional about what you’re exposing your mind to.

Alright, let me pray for you as Christian and the team come to lead us in a time of worship.

Blue Oaks Church
Pleasanton, CA