VBS and Bible Memorization

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters (Psalm 24:1-2 NIV).

I am in the process of trying out a Bible app on my cellphone. So far, I like it. From the title, you can see that is not my subject. After a month, I have read Genesis and most of Exodus, along with a daily reading from the Psalms. The other day, it was Psalm 24.

As I read this great psalm, I remembered the first time that I can recall hearing that psalm. My cousin Kevin lived in the house next door. Someone invited us to attend Vacation Bible School (VBS) and offered to give us a ride there and back. At this point, you must understand that my family attended a Regular Baptist Church and my cousin’s family attended an Assembly of God. Almost everyone else in our neighborhood was Roman Catholic, and before Vatican II, they weren’t allowed to attend other churches. This VBS was at a Mennonite Church in the next town. Our parents agreed, and we were set for a great adventure.

On a Monday morning, Mr. Miller arrived to pick us up for VBS. When they built a new elementary school up our road a couple years later, he became its principal. “Oh no! I’m riding to school with a teacher!” One day at school, he had to apply “the board of education” to my “seat of learning”. I’m not sure if I confessed my transgression to my parents, because my dad had warned me that any spankings in school would merit a repeat performance at home. But I digress. Anyway, in Mr. Miller’s car, my boisterous cousin and I were prepared for a “cross-cultural religious experience”, because even young boys understood that Mennonites were neither Pentecostal nor Baptist.

At VBS, we did the usual stuff, including a sign-in with cheerful greeters. Here I met my first cross-cultural experience. The women were wearing doilies on their heads! This was definitely not a Baptist church! But I survived the culture shock, and went in for the opening program, which probably involved several children’s songs. But I don’t remember that. I don’t remember the Bible story or even if they had a missionary story, which was a standard part of a Baptist VBS! I don’t even remember the cookies and juice that have been the normal snack in VBSs everywhere since the beginning of time.

I remember two things. One was playing some version of “King of the Mountain” on a small hill outside the church building. I can assure you that Kevin and I enjoyed that, because we loved to wrestle and wreak havoc. I do remember a lady with a doily urging us to memorize Psalm 24, which was the Bible passage for the week. “You need to memorize God’s word.” How many times I was told that as a child! How many times I didn’t listen to that counsel, I can’t count. But somehow, at that country church for a week in the summer, I learned most of Psalm 24.

I still remember it, though I’ve used different Bible translations since the early seventies. The early learning of God’s word stays with you over the years. The Holy Spirit uses the Holy Scriptures to change us, and the memorized word becomes an always near resource. My advice is to memorize Bible verses and passages when you are young. When you’re old, it’s hard to recall where you put your keys, to say nothing of memorizing verses. I’ve been telling our seven-month-old granddaughter verses already. One of them is 1 Corinthians 13:4a; it’s a verse available for all to see as soon as they enter our apartment. Love is patient, love is kind (NIV). Hide God’s word as a treasure in your heart. Think about what Paul wrote to Timothy: And how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15 NIV). Try to hide a verse of God’s word in your heart this weekend.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty)

2 Peter 1:20-21

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (ESV).

We have listened to Peter’s teaching that the Scriptures are the voice of God in written form. Next, he explains a little about the process. The Spirit acted in a way that made sure that the content was God’s word—as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

The process of the Spirit breathing out the word is full of mystery. This brief phrase is as close as the Spirit comes to explaining his communication of God’s message through human writers. He carried them along, is a forceful expression. Compare the use of the Greek word phero in Mark 2:3; 4:8; 12:15-16; Acts 27:15,17. But how did he carry them along? “We take the historic fact; but we decline every attempt to explain the inscrutable mode… no finite mind can venture, without presumption, to say how the human faculties concurred and acted with the Spirit’s activity in the expression of a divine oracle” (Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, p. 166). Suffice to say that the Spirit took them to his intended destination, which is the breathed-out word of God.

As God the Holy Spirit carried along the apostles and prophets, he “did not destroy the author’s individuality and talents, making the whole Bible stereotyped, with one style from Genesis to Revelation—the style of the Holy Spirit—with all the human differences of the writers overridden and ignored” (Palmer, The Holy Spirit, p. 50). Instead, the Holy Spirit did something different. He used “the experiences of the authors to govern their writing, their different emotions to color their thinking, their individual tastes to be expressed in the Bible” (Ibid.) What would the Bible be like without the strong faith of Abraham in Genesis 22, or the repentant prayer of David in Psalm 51, or Paul’s holy passion to know Christ in Philippians 3, or John’s tender exhortation to his dear friends to love one another in 1 John 4? You see, in the Scriptures you view our holy Maker getting down in the muck of human lives to draw forth gems for his glory and our good. You ought to worship a God like that!

The process of the Spirit breathing out the word is full of God’s sovereignty. This is seen in the various ways that he gave the Scriptures (Hebrews 1:1): “dreams, visions, individual illumination and research, as well as ordinary and extraordinary divine providences, are involved in the process” (Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 27).

The Spirit carried along the men who spoke in many ways.

  • By directing their heredity, family upbringing, education and personal history
  • By his continual work in the history of redemption—all stood at a particular point of history for a selected purpose
  • By his influence on their hearts through previous revelation
  • By applying Christ’s redemptive work to their hearts
  • By in some way revealing God’s mind to them so that they had to speak it—Jeremiah (Jer 1:4-10; 15:16; 20:9)

The Scriptures themselves are one of the brightest witnesses to the sovereign grace of God. The Lord the Spirit reached down among men in conformity with the Father’s choice, molded a life, drew that person to salvation, and worked through them in such a way, so that when they wrote the Scriptures, it was the Spirit of God speaking (2 Samuel 23:2; Matthew 22:43; Acts 4:25; 28:25). Now is the time to worship the Sovereign God, who can so powerfully work in human hearts! And here is hope. The same God still speaks through his word today! God the Spirit can use the written word of God to do great and good things to you and through you.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Nineteen)

2 Peter 1:20-21

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (ESV).

In our studies in the Holy Spirit, our current focus is about the Spirit and the Scriptures. How did the Spirit of God act through people to give God’s message in written form? Some might suppose that the Scripture writers wrote their own “spiritual journals” about their aspiration to know God. But even a cursory reading disproves that idle notion. The content of the Scriptures does not originate with mankind: for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man (NIV).

The apostle clearly teaches that the prophets did not concoct the Scriptures out of their own choices. They did not have superior insight from their human nature into the human predicament. They did not invent cleverly devised tales. In many passages, you can easily observe the artless words of an eyewitness to an event or those stating what they had been told by God. There is no effort to “clean up the text”. The heroic acts of the people of God are present right alongside their miserable failures. Think of David, Samson, Asa, and Peter, too! Instead, often the prophets wrote things that were beyond their knowledge, like Isaiah’s prediction of Cyrus. At other times, they wrote what they did not even like. Listen to Jeremiah Woe is me, my mother, that you gave birth to me, a man who incites dispute and conflict in all the land. I did not lend or borrow, yet everyone curses me (Jeremiah 15:10; CSB, cf. 20:7-18). Habakkuk had a similar experience. O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted (Habakkuk 1:2-4). Jonah has been called ‘the reluctant prophet”, and that is a charitable description.

The phrase for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man puts at least two necessary limits and clarifications on our thoughts about the Scriptures. “The Biblical writers do not conceive of the Scriptures as a human product breathed into by the Divine Spirit, and thus heightened in its qualities or endowed with new qualities; but as a Divine product produced through the instrumentality of men” (Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 153). So though we might call it a joint product, both parties did not contribute to the written product in the same way. A chef and a server both contribute to a pleasant dining experience, but their participation is different. The Spirit spoke through people embedded in their place of history, human culture, and spiritual experience. The emotionally charged words of the human writers arose from their authentic, personal experience, but at the same time, the Spirit sovereignly spoke through their situation. Yes, this is mysterious.

Let’s put this another way. The apostles and prophets did not respond to cultural situations out of their own wills. Yet many argue contrary to this text in cases when the Word of God comes into direct conflict with one of the darling ideas of a godless and wicked culture, such as gender issues or various kinds of sexual immorality. Paul’s teaching on the role of women in the church is not because “he was anti-female,” which is a ridiculous statement anyway.  He did not speak out his desires, but he communicated God’s desires, which seek the peace, joy, and unity of his people.

In the light of these verses, we must all submit to God’s authority in his revealed word and bow before it. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV). This is not a popular position to take in these lawless, anti-God, and anti-authority times, but it is God’s path. Notice how the Spirit commends the Scriptures to us. They are profitable. They convey God’s words to us. We can listen, understand, be transformed, and rejoice. Over the years I have discovered that popular restaurants can be the worst places to get a delicious meal, while neglected ones provide superb dining experiences. Evaluate everything for what it is, not for what the “people manipulators” tell you. Listen to what the Spirit has breathed out in the Scriptures and be thrilled.

Grace and peace, David

Providence Explained (Part Two)

Genesis 45:4-15

Yesterday, we viewed God’s good purpose (45:4-7). Next, we see God’s great action (45:8-11). So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute’” (NIV).

The Lord exalted Joseph as the governor of Egypt (45:8). Observe his repeated insistence that God had sent him to Egypt. Sometimes it takes a while for the message to get through to people.

We must reassert the truth of God’s sovereignty to a human-centered, naturalistic generation. God had the ability to place Joseph in a position of high authority (cf. Daniel 4:17), and he did.

“Are our leaders appointed by God?” Most surely. “But they’re so corrupt!” Then we ought to call on God to change their hearts or give us new leaders. There used to be a day when Christians would pray for those in authority over them. Listen to the apostle’s words. I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Timothy 2:1-2 NIV).

Joseph intended to use what God had given to him (45:9-11). He gave reassurance that he would care for them. Often the forgiver must reinforce that he or she loves those who are forgiven. This is what the Father has done through the new covenant ministry of the Spirit of adoption. Joseph knew this was necessary. God’s plan was to save their lives, and it included their relocation to Egypt. Observe how generous the Lord is. He paid for their moving expenses! God’s end includes God’s means to his end.

Lastly, Joseph conformed to God’s plan (45:12-15). He insisted that they bring his father down to Egypt. This also revealed his concern for his father’s well-being. And he wanted to be with his father again.

Joseph gave physical expression of his love for them. The repentant need to know that they are accepted again. If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 NIV). Sometimes a hug or even a handshake can go a long way. Joseph was a good picture of Christ. He is never weary of speaking peace to his brothers. “How He is ever striving, by His word and Spirit, to reveal Himself to you, and to get you to see Him! How does He raise you from the dust and set you on a rock that you may sound His praise!” (Candlish, Commentary on Genesis) “These kisses were seals of love, comparable to the witness of the Spirit in believing men” (Spurgeon).

Grace and peace, David

On the Pilgrim Way (Part Two)

Hebrews 6:11

Now we desire each of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the full assurance of your hope until the end (CSB).

Our subject is the Christian way of life. We are on a journey from this world to the heavenly city. God has provided great helps to us on the journey. We have his word to tell us the story of his glory and to set forth wisdom in the light of that story. The Spirit of God is our ever-present Friend to provide the presence of Christ, power to serve, and purity of life, and passion to communicate with God (cf. Romans 8:9-17). We also have brothers and sisters in Christ and their gifts for mutual benefit. With all these benefits, our progress to the city of God might seem to be automatic.

However, spiritual leaders understand that those in their local assembly need to demonstrate diligence. In the previous verse, the initial readers of this book were commended for demonstrating work and love as they served the saints. (A saint is someone set apart for God, which means a follower of and believer in Christ.) The Lord does not hesitate to congratulate people for diligence in their works of faith, hope, and love (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3).

Diligence is a quality that people admire from a safe distance. For the third year in a row, the NBA Finals will feature two teams that have battled for the championship. Each has won once. They will compete again because they have great talent, but they also have diligence, which is indispensable to win a championship. Diligence involves hard work, commitment to a goal, endurance of hardships, and the ability to resolve conflicts. People admire the diligence of these two teams, but most don’t want to pay the price of diligence, especially the first two “four letter words”: hard work.

Diligence on our spiritual journey is not a casual stroll in the park. Yes, it is a life of joy and peace, but those blessings come as we “walk with the Lord, in the light of his word”. Diligence is required in the following ways:

  • Prayer (individually, with one’s spouse/family, with other saints)
  • Reading of the Scriptures
  • Putting sin to death
  • Putting on God’s armor and spiritual graces
  • Meeting together
  • Sharing your faith

All these can seem overwhelming, and they are unless you believe in their importance, make them a priority, and build them into your life. Trade less important things for matters of spiritual and eternal importance. Value people more than things and personal entertainment. A holiday weekend is an opportunity to reflect. As you enjoy life with family and friends, set apart some time to evaluate your spiritual diligence and how you can change according to this verse.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Fourteen)

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Romans 8:9-10

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this one is not his. But if Christ is in you, on the one hand the body is dead because of sin, but on the other, the Spirit is life because of righteousness (my translation)

When we become followers of Jesus Christ through faith in him, we are new people, because we are “in Christ”. On the spiritual level, everything is different because of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The “Spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit, and not the human spirit, as the NIV and NASV mistakenly translate. Here the ESV, HCSB, NKJV, KJV and TEV are better. Why should we translate the Greek word pneuma as the “Spirit” in this text?

  • In the verses immediately before and after, every other use refers to the Holy Spirit. Those who translate it as meaning “human spirit” must present compelling evidence for a change.
  • Translating as the Holy Spirit at the end of verse ten agrees with the thought expressed in verse eleven, which clearly refers to the Holy Spirit.
  • “The ruling thought of the verse is that although believers die and this fact is conspicuously exhibited in the dissolution of the body, yet, since Christ dwells in believers, life-giving forces are brought to bear upon death and this life is placed in sharp contrast with the disintegrating power which is exemplified in the return to dust on the part of the body. Reference to the Holy Spirit as life is signally congruous with this thought” (Murray, NIC Commentary on Romans, p. 290).

We are no longer “in the flesh”. What does this mean? “The contrast between being ‘in the flesh’ and ‘in the Spirit’ is a contrast between belonging to the old age of sin and death and belonging to the new age of righteousness and life. So characteristic of these respective ‘ages’ or ‘realms’ are flesh and Spirit that the person belonging to one or the other can be said to be ‘in’ them. In this sense, then, no Christian can be ‘in the flesh’; and all Christians are, by definition, ‘in the Spirit’” (Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 489). Listen to Romans 7:5-6. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (ESV).

“It means that the Christian is in a new realm. He was living before in the realm of ‘the flesh’, he is living now in the realm of ‘the Spirit’. The Spirit is controlling him and leading him; he is ‘walking in the Spirit’, he is ‘walking after the Spirit’. This is the great and profound change that takes place at conversion. It is not just that a man changes his beliefs and no more. No, he was in the realm of the flesh, and he is now in the realm of the Spirit” (Lloyd-Jones, Exposition of Romans 8:5-17, p. 58).

Can a Christian be affected or influenced by the flesh? Yes, we can, if we walk in conformity with our old position in the flesh and not according to our new position in the Spirit. Listen to Galatians 5:16. Now I say, walk in the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the lusts of the flesh. So then, the Christian is faced everyday with choices. Choices constantly come about whether or not we will live by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit follow him. The alternative is to live like we are still in the flesh. The battle is for your mind (Romans 13:14; Philippians 2:5; Colossians 3:1-2; etc.). As Jim Boice used to say, “We want to teach people to think and to act Biblically.”

So then, let’s evaluate ourselves and our self-view as we live the new life?

  • How do we look at ourselves when the devil comes to attack us in order to depress us?
  • When you are weary and tired, physically and spiritually, what is your attitude?
  • When you are persecuted and think that everyone is against you, what happens inside you?
  • When you are tempted to sin and return to the ways of the flesh, what do you tell yourself?

The answer in each case is to see yourself in Christ and so blessed with great spiritual blessings in him.

The Spirit is the source of life. “Paul is teaching that the believer, although still bound to an earthly, mortal body, has residing within him or her the Spirit, the power of new spiritual life, which conveys both that ‘life,’ in the sense of deliverance from condemnation enjoyed now and the future resurrection life that will bring transformation to the body itself” (Moo, p. 492). The apostle addresses an important point here. We might doubt, supposing that because we see Christians still subject to death, that we might not really be partakers of new life. But Paul directs us to the Holy Spirit as the life we have. New life is not yet in our bodies, but in the Spirit, because of our union with the risen Christ!

How can guilty sinners have new life? This life is ours because of righteousness, which means in the teaching of Romans, because of Christ’s justifying grace (5:21)! The question is, “Are you united to Christ through faith by the Spirit of the living God?

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Thirteen)

Romans 8:9-10

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this one is not his. But if Christ is in you, on the one hand the body is dead because of sin, but on the other, the Spirit is life because of righteousness (my translation)

In this series about the Holy Spirit, we are looking at the gift of the Holy Spirit’s saving work in applying the salvation purchased by the Lord Jesus Christ. Why do we need this gift? We need it because humans are dead in sin. But the Spirit is able to meet this need by regenerating grace, which involves a washing and renewal (Titus 3:5), and which conveys an image or likeness unto God (Colossians 3:10). When the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to cause us to be born again, four things happen:

  • He gives a new heart (inner person) and life
  • He gives the gifts of repentance and faith
  • He breaks the power of sin
  • He opens our hearts to Christ and his glory

The old person of the heart that was dead in sin is born again, so that we are now new in the Lord Jesus Christ. All this happens as the Holy Spirit brings us into union with Christ. “In Christ” is the key idea of salvation. All aspects of salvation, whether regeneration and conversion, or justification, or adoption, or sanctification, or glorification, happen because of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ.

In this article and the next, we will look more closely at this union with Christ that the Spirit of God produces. How does it affect us? Why do we who belong to Christ need to know this truth? To grasp what the Spirit does, we need to understand our present situation. Think carefully. As soon as the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ, we Christians enter into a new experience. There is the tension between life and death.

  • On the physical level, nothing immediately changes. The curse of Adam’s sin remains on our physical bodies (Romans 5:12). The body is dead because of sin (Romans 8:10). This explains why Christians still die physically. Our spirits are reborn, but the body stays in the realm of death.
  • Although saved by grace, we still experience the evil of our enemy, death. The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor 15:26 ESV; cf. 2 Cor 4:7-12, 16; 1 Th 4:13).
  • This explains the reason for our “groaning” in this life. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:22-25 ESV).

Christians should boldly face all of reality, including death. We can share in the sorrows of our unsaved family and friends. We know the truth of the separation that death causes.

Though not spoken of in this verse, the sinful, physical body continues to be the playground of sin. A large part of our struggle with sin concerns sin’s use of the body (Romans 6:6, 12-13, 19; 12:1). Our union with Christ demands that we take this struggle seriously (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).

But do not think that the sinful body is our only problem. The regenerate human spirit is also capable of sin (2 Corinthians 7:1; cf. Philippians 2:1-4; Colossians 3:5; etc.). Though we are new in Christ, we are not yet perfect in Christ. There is a very significant difference between (1) being a new person in Christ and having the reign of sin broken (Romans 6:14), and (2) what is still to come when we are perfect in Christ, free forever from the possibility of sin in glory. For this reason, we look forward in hope to the redemption of the body (Romans 8:23, quoted above).

So then, we must face the reality of our present condition. We are new in Christ and united to him by grace through faith. However, we still wait (patiently) for the fulfillment of all we will be in him. New life is tremendous, but in this present age, we still struggle. We are new creation people in an old creation world. Next, we will look at specifics about the way the Spirit of Christ helps us to live for God’s glory in this time.

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Twelve)

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Romans 8:9-10

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this one is not his. But if Christ is in you, on the one hand the body is dead because of sin, but on the other, the Spirit is life because of righteousness (my translation).

“Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation not only in its application but also in its once-for-all accomplishment in the finished work of Christ” (Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 161). At the moment we are united to Christ, several blessings become ours. While we lack space in this article to comment on them, it is worth listing them, so that we know the richness of what it means to be in Christ.

  • We become part of the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). To say this another way, we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:11-12; 3:1-4).
  • We are justified or declared right with God (Romans 3:24; 8:1) and our sins are forgiven (Colossians 1:14).
  • We are adopted, with the position of adult sons in God’s family (Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 1:5). This supplies a relationship with God and his people in a family sense. We belong to God and one another.
  • We are sanctified or set apart to God (1 Corinthians 1:2). Since we are sanctified, we have a basis to live lives set apart for the glory of God.
  • We are sealed with the Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 4:30). Our spiritual position is secure.
  • We are called into fellowship with God (1 Corinthians 1:9).
  • We have the privilege of bold access to God (Ephesians 3:12). The throne of grace is always open for us.
  • We have God’s grace for strength (2 Timothy 2:1).
  • We have freedom (Galatians 2:4; 5:1). God has released us from bondage to sin, Satan, and the law covenant, so that we can freely serve one another in love.
  • We are seated in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6). This provides security in the tumult and spiritual warfare of this world.
  • We are built into God’s temple, the church (Ephesians 2:19-22). In addition, we become part of a holy priesthood to serve God through Christ (1 Peter 2:5).
  • We have fullness (Colossians 2:10). We have all we need for life and godliness. We’re already equipped for a spiritual journey and not on a quest to become equipped.

Since we have all these blessings in Christ, what kind of people should we be?

The reality of being in Christ by this Spirit-produced union is the essence of salvation, from first to last. Every step from before the beginning of the world through all the ages of future glory is by grace through our union with Christ. The Holy Spirit applies these blessings to us.

  • We were elected in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-4)
  • We have redemption in Christ (Ephesians 1:7)
  • We are a new creation in Christ (Ephesians 2:10)
  • Our present life is in Christ (Galatians 2:20; cf. 1 Corinthians 16:12-20)
  • We die in Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
  • Our resurrection is in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22)
  • We will share in Christ’s glory (Romans 8:17)

Are you united to the Lord Jesus Christ? Are these benefits yours? Why should you live in spiritual death and poverty when you can be a child of the King? God offers you great blessings. Will you turn your back on him and refuse him? I plead with you; do not act so foolishly. Trust in Christ today for salvation.  If you know the Lord and are in Christ, live by faith in the power of the Spirit as richly blessed people ought to live.

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Eleven)

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Romans 8:9-10

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this one is not his. But if Christ is in you, on the one hand the body is dead because of sin, but on the other, the Spirit is life because of righteousness (my translation).

Previously in our series on the Holy Spirit, we considered from the Scriptures our need of the Holy Spirit’s work; namely, we were dead in sin. Next, we saw how the Spirit met this need by regenerating grace. This grace involved a washing and renewal (Titus 3:5) and conveyed an image or likeness unto God (Colossians 3:10). When the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to cause us to be born again, four things happen: He gives a new heart (inner person) and spiritual life; he gives the gifts of repentance and faith; he breaks the power of sin; and he opens our hearts to Christ and his glory. The old person of the heart that was dead in sin is born again, so that we are now new in Jesus Christ.

“In Christ” is the key idea of salvation. All aspects of salvation, whether regeneration and conversion, or justification, or adoption, or sanctification, or glorification, happen because of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ. How do we come into saving union with the Lord Jesus Christ? Let us look at our text.

At the time of salvation, the Holy Spirit joins the believer to Christ. When we are saved, the Spirit enters the inner person of the heart and brings about union with the Lord Christ. This is a spiritual reality, and it cannot be perceived by our senses. But we know this happens on the authority of God’s word. In fact, we can say this: It is a serious error to equate this act of spiritual union with certain physical manifestations or acts. (See Edwards on the Religious Affections.) There might be physical effects, but they are not an essential part of this event. This is one reason not to compare your conversion experience too closely to another believer. The Spirit works the same new birth, but there are various emotional effects.

When the Spirit enters a person, he effectively calls us to Christ; he unites us to Christ, so that we are “in Christ”, or as Paul states in verse ten, Christ is “in us”. Notice that the apostle speaks interchangeably of being “in Christ” and “in the Spirit”. This is not because of confusion about the Trinity in his thinking, but it flows from the truth of Jesus Christ as the Ascended Lord, and so the giver of the promised Holy Spirit. The Spirit mediates the presence of Christ, and the Father, to us (cf. John 14:18, 23).

A basic definition of a Christian is to have the Holy Spirit of God living in the inner person of the heart. “However much we may need to grow in our relationship to the Spirit; however much we may be graciously given fresh and invigorating experiences of God’s Spirit, from the moment of conversion on, the Holy Spirit is a settled resident within” (Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 490).

Observe that the Spirit “lives” within us. He is active, residing in our hearts. He gets involved in changing us to become increasingly like Christ. He does not like unChrist-like activity and he will let you know his displeasure. He does like righteousness, peace and joy, and he will also let you know his pleasure in them.

This saving union with Christ produced by the Spirit is the basic experience of salvation (2 Timothy 2:10; Colossians 2:10). This is a practical matter.  “To the degree you understand union with Christ, to that degree you will understand the Biblical concept of salvation. Pause right now and ask God to make the doctrine of union with Christ a reality to your heart as well as to your mind… Every spiritual blessing which is necessary for our full salvation and which renders us complete in grace flows out of and is derived from our union with Christ” (Morey, The Saving Work of Christ, pp. 87-88, his emphasis). Understanding this will contribute much to a proper focus on Christ in our relationship with the Lord and his people. We will have confidence before God, since we are in Christ. We will accept one another because we are jointly in Christ. As we think on this reality, we will sense how sin is an ugly violation of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Instead, we will desire to know the Lord better and to stay close to him.

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Three)

img_4493Acts 1:8-9

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight (ESV).

The Holy Spirit came to empower the church. This empowerment is for a specific purpose: to carry out Christ’s program of worldwide ministry. During the old covenant age the people of God, with few exceptions, were confined to Israel. Even at its end, when Jesus the Messiah lived under the law, he usually limited his ministry to the people of Israel. But with his ascension, a great change occurs. The Spirit would come upon his followers and go with them into all the world. One of the themes of the book of Acts shows how the message about Jesus Christ knocked down cultural barriers to spread from the Jewish people group to all the peoples of the world. It is good to desire the salvation of one’s own people group (cf. Romans 9:1-3; 10:1). At the same time, we should recognize the cross-cultural intent of the Lord for the good news to spread to the end of the earth. Most of us have easy contact with other people groups. What efforts are we making to reach them?

The Holy Spirit produces a “Christ-focus”. Pay careful attention to Christ’s words. He said that those who would be Spirit-empowered would be “my witnesses”. The job of a Christian is simply to testify to the glory (worth, value, significance) of the crucified, risen and ascended Christ. People who know the glory of Christ will talk about Him! This agrees with Christ’s teaching in John 16:12-16, when he told the apostles how the Spirit of truth would guide them into all the truth that comes from Jesus the Messiah and that speaks of him. Like Packer wrote years ago, the focus on Christ is as a spotlight that directs our attention to someone. The Spirit directs our attention to Jesus Christ. For example, our task is not merely to tell people to know God, but to tell them how to know God through Christ. Our concern is not merely that people be saved, but we tell them that the way of salvation is by grace through faith in Christ. Our message must always be Christ-focused.

The Spirit of God promotes evangelistic activity. He directs Christ’s followers to reach out to whatever people we encounter. We must see that the Lord Jesus has commissioned us to be his representatives on his mission. Yes, you are a “kingdom rep”! We are Christ’s ambassadors (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20) to speak for him and his Father in heaven to whoever the Spirit brings into our acquaintance. If the Lord the Spirit gives us an opportunity to get acquainted with a person, we ought to consider that we are to tell the good news to that person. If he or she becomes a friend, we definitely must seek to bring them to the Savior. The Holy Spirit gives boldness to do the job. This is called the filling of the Spirit.

Christ “would have them look neither for assistance in their work, nor success unto it, but from the promised Spirit alone; and lets them know, also, that by his aid they should be enabled to carry their testimony of him to the uttermost parts of the earth. And herein lay, and herein doth lie, the foundation of the ministry of the church, as also its continuance and efficacy. The kingdom of Christ is spiritual, and, in the animating principles of it, invisible. If we fix our minds only on outward order, we lose the rise and power of the whole. It is not an outward visible ordination by men… but Christ’s communication of that Spirit, the everlasting promise whereof he received of the Father, that gives being, life, usefulness, and success, to the ministry” (Owen, Works, Vol. 3, p. 191).

In the weeks to come, we want to explore with you the majesty of the Holy Spirit and the greatness of receiving him. But in all this, you must maintain a proper Christ-focus, or you will surely go astray. All proper knowledge of the Spirit will lead you closer to the Lord Jesus Christ. That is how you can check your own heart. “Am I growing closer to Jesus my Lord?”

Grace and peace, David