Discover What Unites Us

Philippians 2:1-2a

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete… (NIV).

Philippians is a very rich letter to a local church that had been longtime partners with the apostle Paul in his ministry. If the apostle needed help, they did all they could to provide it quickly. We might almost want to think of them as the ideal gathering of believers, except for the stern reality that ideal churches do not exist in this world. A close reading of the book reveals that they needed transformation in various areas. One of them was their unity.

Paul spoke to their need, first, in sort of in a “back door” manner. He did not bluntly tell them to be like-minded, to share the same love, to be one in spirit, of one mind, and to get rid of selfish ambition, which was the root of their disunity. Instead, he first asked them to make his joy complete. They needed to think of someone else’s joy first. Then, he presented some areas in which they needed change. We all can learn from his tactfulness. He built a better way of life through better relationships.

Christians have been too task-oriented, trying to achieve perfection in themselves and others by beating people with a code of conduct or steps to change. While repeating the cliché, “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship,” to the unsaved, we quickly forget this as we pursue perfection to have a better life.

How did Paul motivate his friends to make his joy complete? He wrote about what they possessed through their relationship with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. He emphasized spiritual relationships.

  • He reminded them of their encouragement from being united with Christ. Observe that they knew about their union with Christ. It was the relational core of their Christian experience. We ought to wake up thinking about the truth of being united to Jesus the Messiah. This is intended to affect how we think of ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we confront the events of our lives. I have just received word of the “homegoing” of a dear sister in Christ. Praise God for the eternal encouragement that we have because of the gospel.
  • He pointed to the comfort from his love that all in Christ share. We are people that are loved by the Lord; in fact, we are his dearly loved children. Wherever we go and whatever we encounter, we live as his sons and daughters.
  • He recalled their common sharing in the Spirit. We have fellowship with the Spirit of God. He leads us in ways of godliness. He strengthens us in the inner person of the heart. He intercedes for us, because our prayers seldom make sense. He helps us endure, making God’s peace real in our souls.
  • He recollected the tenderness and compassion they had experienced. Paul wrote in part to prepare them for the suffering for Christ that was coming to them. They were in the Lord’s plan together, and they needed to be ready to help one another when the journey to glory would become harder. It makes no sense for Christians to quarrel with one another, when there is a real enemy who delights in our suffering.

Let us remind ourselves of what we share in Christ. The believer that you suppose is a problem is someone who can build you up, or rather, someone whom you ought to bless, strengthen, and comfort. It’s a matter of spiritual relationship in the Lord.

Grace and peace, David

Holy Desires (Part Six)

2 Timothy 2:22

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (NIV).

At an event, I once had dinner with Bobby Knight, the well-known former Indiana Basketball coach. He was the speaker that night and shared numerous stories about coaching. His theme went something like, “To win, you must eliminate what causes you to lose.” It was the typical motivational speech that coaches and athletes love to bring at events.

I mention this because, sadly, this is the impression many Christian teachers give when speaking about the believer’s way of life. It seems they’re saying, “To be sanctified, you must keep the moral law,” meaning in their view, the Ten Commandments. As we said in the last article on Holy Desires, this promotes a wrong view of sin. It also gives the idea that “holiness” is basically about not doing things.

However, a godly way of life is much more than forsaking prohibited behaviors. It requires faith, hope, and love for God and people, as well as the practice of positive Christ-like living. So then, we see in this verse that the Lord wants us to replace youthful desires with holy desires.

In Colossians three, we can learn the larger view of the New Testament pattern for the Christian way of life into which 2 Timothy 2:22 fits.

  • Since we are new in Christ, have Christ-focused, heavenly attitudes and aspirations (Colossians 3:1-4). Everything begins with our union with Jesus Christ and seeing our identity in him.
  • Since we are new in Christ, put off the ways of your former sinful way of life. Occasionally this is stated forcefully: “put to death” (Colossians 3:5-11). Yes, it is necessary to get rid of ruinous behavior.
  • Since we are new in Christ, put on ways of life that are consistent with our new life in Jesus Christ: “clothe yourselves with…” (Colossians 3:12-17). This is what is too often neglected. We must replace destructive attitudes, words, and actions with godly ones.

To say this graphically, God expects his people to wear “new clothes”. Don’t walk around spiritually naked! Dress like the children of God ought to dress. A suggestion is to memorize (or try to memorize) this “dress for success passage” (Colossians 3:12-17).

The four godly qualities set forth in our text counteract and are intended to replace youthful desires in God’s people.

  • Righteousness – conform to God’s instruction with a desire to see righteous behavior established (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:11)
  • Faith – trust in God or faithfulness to God – in either case we will reject human self-sufficiency and continually confess our need of the Lord. Faith is necessary for every step in the Christian walk.
  • Love – replaces selfishness with the desire to seek the honor of God and the good of other people. This turn from oneself to God and others must occur. We are nothing without love.
  • Peace – the striving for harmonious relationships among people, which God intends as one of our chief activities (Matthew 5:9; Ephesians 4:3; James 3:17-18)

So then, the Holy Spirit presents the overview of a truly Christian way of life, and specific matters to change, eliminating the old and developing the new. In our text, Paul directed his friend Timothy to replace the evil desires of youth with four specific ways of godliness. Which one ought to be a priority in your life?

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

Nearness

SAMSUNG

Ephesians 2:13

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (ESV)

When the Lord saves us, we experience many spiritual changes. Some are objective and concern our position and are not felt. Others are subjective, and we and others can discern changes in our attitudes, words, and actions. However, the changes in our spiritual position ought to affect our spiritual condition. For example, you may have heard some teacher say, “Be what you are in Christ.”

In the words before our text, Christ’s apostle described our hopeless situation before the Lord saved us. Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:11-12 ESV). We were separated from God, Christ, the covenants that established a relationship with God, and from the people of God.

The words “but now” signal a complete change in our situation. The separation and alienation came to an end by the blood of Christ. His life was poured out in a violent death as the sacrifice of the new covenant. It brought us near. What did it bring us near to? The sacrificial death of the Messiah brought us near to God, to Christ himself, to the covenants that establish an unending relationship with God, and to the people of God.

Usually, American Christians think of this verse in an individualistic way: “I myself know God through Christ and have a personal relationship with God, and I’m a member of the church.” It is certainly right to rejoice in one’s changed relationship with God and his people. But not to the exclusion of sharing in these blessings with other followers of Christ. What do I mean? Through many years of being a pastor, I have heard individual believers express their own desire to feel near to God. The question is, “How can I feel close to God?” And the answer is given by the ‘experts’ in individualistic ways, like “learn how to have a quiet time, to mediate, to journal” and so on. This type of approach is to ignore the very corporate nature of this passage. (Please read Ephesians 2:1-22 slowly. Can you see people from your small and big groups in it? Would you have thought that way if I had not suggested it?)

Instead, what happened is that the Lord Jesus brought us near by his shed blood. Yes, we are personally near to God, but the point in context is that we are near to God. This is a position that we share together. When we gather in our small and big groups, we ought to act according to the truth that we are near to God. Our Father is not far away.

Since this is true, we should communicate it in our meetings. I do not mean that we need to say it every time we meet, but it should be part of the ‘DNA’ of who we are. “We are the people who have been brought near by Christ’s blood. We are a gathering of the Father’s family, of followers of Jesus on a journey together.”

Nearness to the covenants of promise ought to form the basis of our covenanting together in the mission of Christ and the good news. We then accept each other as close to God. Too often this kind of acceptance is only allowed to those in the inner circles of leadership. Others are assumed to be farther away and are looked at that way. However, if we start with the correct idea that all Christ’s people are near to God, we will highly value the contributions of everyone. This produces a welcoming atmosphere in all our gatherings. We then never need to tell anyone, “Please make visitors feel welcome,” because visitors will automatically sense that God is near and his people welcome them.

Since we know that we are near to God, we will feel confident about drawing near to God in worship together. The truth of James 4:8a (Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you) will occur constantly. Then we will experience what Paul wrote to the Corinthians when new ones are among us when the word is proclaimed. They will worship God and declare that God is really among you (1 Corinthians 14:24b ESV).

I want this for all the gatherings of Christ’s people. May yours start to be what you are in Christ this weekend!

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Eleven)

SAMSUNG

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

Fellowship Differently

Philemon 1:7

For I have great joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother (HCSB).

When we meet together as the Lord’s people, we assemble to worship and to fellowship. This last word is not well understood. It tells us of what we share together in Christ, and what we should share with each other. In short, fellowship is much more than the proverbial ‘coffee and donuts’ and chatting with each other about our children, jobs, houses, and sports teams. Much of this is no different from talking with others at work or with other adults at children’s sports.

Fellowship concerns sharing our lives in Christ with each other. It involves building up, encouraging, comforting, and helping one another, and very much more. True fellowship rests new life in Christ, love flowing out from Christ by the Spirit, and upon shared ideas, values, and attitudes.

To experience fellowship as followers of Christ requires good models, since most of us do not grasp abstract concepts. How to fellowship is more caught than taught. If someone has taught you how to share your life with others by example or as a mentor, thank God for that person right now. But what if you and your local church obviously fall short of true fellowship? How can you fellowship differently?

One way is to study and then seek to imitate the examples written in the Scriptures. In our text, Paul commends Philemon for being such a person. Let’s observe Philemon in these words of the apostle.

  • Philemon gave Paul great joy and encouragement from his love. Philemon’s love, which came from the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), reached out to other followers of Christ. He set his heart on Paul and others to act for their benefit. His love desired that others rejoice. He wanted them to be encouraged! You see, every gathering of God’s family ought to have the aim to produce joy and encouragement. We should enter the meeting determined to spread joy and encouragement, and we should leave, having received large baskets of the same. Notice that word “great” or “much”. Obviously, this happens when love overflows. For example, it does not come from a polite handshake but a warm embrace. We cannot act like we’ve been “emotionally neutered”, if we’re to spread much joy and encouragement. Yes, I know love is more than emotions, but it is also not less.
  • Philemon refreshed the hearts of the saints. The word translated “heart” is a strong term, used for the deep interior of a person along with their emotions. Again, it was more than a polite, “I’ll be praying for you; keep me posted,” kind of action. It is trying to improve the outlook of a person from the depths of their being. It asks itself, “How I can act to refresh this person?” Many times, we cannot change the circumstances of others. But we can seek to lift them up, to speak hope into them, so that they will endure in faith to the glory of God. To refresh someone’s heart requires us to invest time with them.
  • Philemon acted as a brother. His commitment and relationship to his brothers and sisters in Christ fueled his good works for them. We are a spiritual brotherhood, and we dare not forsake others because we feel we have too many needs of our own. Everyone in Christ has new life and the Holy Spirit and gifts from the Spirit. How can we hold ourselves away from our brothers and sisters because “I’m too tired” or “I’m too busy” or “I have so many problems”, etc.?

Let us observe Philemon, and then let us go out to imitate him. Every group we are part of, whether small or large, need refreshed hearts. Will you give yourself to refresh others?

Grace and peace, David

Church Life – Respect

1 Timothy 5:1-2

Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father. Talk to younger men as you would to your own brothers. Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters (NLT).

Years ago when I was a pastor in upstate New York, one of the men of the church gave me a study Bible. He frankly confessed that he had used it for a while and didn’t like it. That’s why he gave it to me. (I appreciated his candor, but it made me wonder why you would give your pastor something you yourself didn’t like. I suppose every pastor can provide stories of similar gifts.)

I must admit that I was underwhelmed by the gift, and I put it aside. A few years passed and I moved to Pennsylvania. The binding of the Bible I had used for notes broke, and so I picked up the long unused study Bible to use it for note taking. (I usually use an unmarked Bible for preaching, since it’s easier to read. I think a preacher should have an open Bible with him during the message.) Now the binding on that study Bible is broken, and I mainly use it for reference.

I tell that story to tell this. A question came up in our Sunday morning meeting about the section headings in Bibles. They were added by the translators to help us easily find places in the text, and were not intended to be guides of interpretation. For that, I am glad. A few years ago, we focused on 1 Timothy at a men’s retreat. In preparation for that, I had read and reread 1 Timothy, and I had marked it up somewhat with colored pencils and short notes. The section heading above our text was “Advice About Widows, Elders and Slaves”. Below it I had written, “The church as a family.” In another study Bible during another study, I wrote “Family attitude toward others in the church”.  I think that presents the idea of the section more comprehensively. Yes, it does talk about widows, elders, and slaves, but in our religious culture’s individualistic and institutional views of the church, we miss the idea of the church as a family. The local church in the New Testament is much more than sitting in a building with some people that might also worship there.

Too often Christian people fail to think of others in the church as our family. Perhaps they might be thought of as friends, but not family. Church members know that they ought to be outwardly nice and even pitch in to provide meals and presents at bridal and baby showers. But being nice is not the same as being family. To be a family requires gut-level acceptance, sympathy, and care… and respect.

We have lost a sense of the importance of respect in our spiritual and physical families. In the latter, spouses do not respect each other, children do not respect their parents, and parents do not respect their children either, for that matter. People have traded off respect in relationships for items of far less value, such as “personal space”. Instead of welcoming aunts and uncles, cousins and all the rest, people distance themselves from each other. But physical families are not today’s topic.

Our text in 1 Timothy requires respect to every person on every level of the spiritual family. This respect starts by vital recognition of each person as in Christ, as members of his body, and so of members of each other. A vital, spiritual union binds us together. Since we are in Christ, we are in the Father’s family as adult sons and daughters of God. Together we form a royal priesthood and are citizens in the Kingdom of God’s Son. So then, we must have gospel-formed opinions of each other. When we see the dignity of our shared position in Christ, we will look at each other with eyes filled with respect and embrace each other as fellow members of God’s family. This foundational bond will enable us to overcome all worldly distinctions, like ethnicity, educational attainments, economic levels, personality differences, and so forth. We will walk a new path together as family members in Christ, and we thus respect each other. When we respect one another, we will begin to reach out to each other in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT).

Do not hold yourself back from your brothers and sisters in Christ. They need your love, and you need theirs!

Grace and peace, David

Plans and Contingency Plans

1 Timothy 3:14-15a

I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God (NLT).

God our Father wants us to live as adult sons and daughters of God. He has put us into union with Christ, has given us the Spirit and the word of God, has joined us to others in Christ, has given us freedom in Christ to serve him for his glory, and he has told us our mission in this world. Our Father expects us to make proper use of all these gifts in our journey through this world. While we cannot make absolute plans (only God can do that), he does expect us to make wise plans and to carry out them out wisely. We cannot accomplish goals unless we plan how to achieve them. As has been said, “If you aim at nothing, you will probably hit it.”

The apostle Paul made plans for his ministry. He was commissioned by the Lord to serve him (Acts 26:16-18), and to do everything he had to plan; for example, he planned for the Gentile churches to give a sizable financial gift to their Jewish brothers and sisters. It took years to carry out that plan, but it did happen. At other times, he planned to visit people, but he was unable to do what he planned (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:12-2:4).

In our text, Paul wrote to Timothy about a visit he wanted to make to Ephesus (cf. 1:3). In these few words, we can hear Paul speak about his plans.

  • When he wrote Timothy, he spoke in terms of what he hoped to do. He wanted to be with his friend and coworker. If Paul was with him, there were many things that they could discuss in detail about the current situation in the Ephesian church and the best way to minister in those circumstances. A personal visit would also provide face-to-face encouragement. It is good to talk with our friends in difficult situations. Paul hoped for an ideal outcome.
  • Yet Paul knew he might be delayed. Here is one of the mysteries of the giving of the word of God to us. The Spirit would give direct information and instruction about many things, but he did not give knowledge about everything. Paul wanted to visit, but he didn’t know whether or not his visit would be delayed. The inspiration of the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit guaranteed that the finished written product would be God’s word, but it did not convey extraneous information to the human writer. Paul could give teaching about elders and ministers earlier in the chapter, but he couldn’t tell Timothy for sure when he could come. James wrote that we must have a humble before God attitude about our plans (James 4:13-15).
  • What Paul wrote was his contingency plan, if he was delayed. Timothy needed help immediately, but Paul wasn’t sure he could provide it personally. So, he did the next best thing with the technology available to him. (Paul and Timothy did not have cellphones or the internet.) But his letter was in God’s plan part of the word of God that we need. God used a human weakness for his glory and our good.

So then, let us make wise plans, plans to help and encourage others. But let us not be discouraged if we are hindered in our plans. This requires faith in God. But let us also make contingency plans, in case roadblocks get in the way. Don’t get downhearted; God might be doing something bigger and better through our second choice.

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Nine)

IMG_4158John 3:6

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (ESV).

Last in our series of articles about the Holy Spirit, we considered from the Scriptures our need of the Holy Spirit’s work. We saw that it was necessary to lift us from a focus on religious performance to a proper evaluation of Jesus Christ as Lord. This is necessary, because on the most basic level of our being, humans naturally are dead in sin. We saw five characteristics of spiritual deadness, and how that necessarily involves spiritual inability: the eight spiritual actions that fallen, natural humans cannot do.

If that was all that the Bible said, we should all weep in despair. But God also tells us in his word that there is good news. What we cannot do for salvation, God has done in Christ, and the Holy Spirit has been sent to apply the benefits of Christ’s saving work to his people. In other words, what we must now come to understand is regeneration or the effective grace of the Holy Spirit. The Father planned salvation, the Son purchased it, but it is the Holy Spirit who applies what was planned and purchased to our hearts.

The doctrine of regeneration is always important to the church. Listen to the following words of Thomas Goodwin, president of Magdalen College, Oxford University, spoken in the early 1650s.

“Let us see…this necessity of the new birth.  We are fallen into times in which the thing and doctrine of it is forgotten and laid aside, in which there are multitudes of professors, but few converts, many that seem to walk in the way to life, that never came in at the strait gate.  There is a zeal amongst us to advance this or that reformation in religion, and it hath been all the cry.  But, my brethren, where is regeneration called for or regarded?  We have seen the greatest outward alterations that ever were in any age, kingdoms turned and converted into commonwealths, the power of heaven and earth shaken: but men, although they turn this way and that, from this or that way, from this opinion to that, yet their hearts generally turn upon the same hinges they were hung on when they came into the world.  In this University of Oxford we have had puttings out and puttings in, but where is putting off of the old nature and putting on the new?  Where do we hear (as we had wont) of souls carrying home the Holy Ghost from sermons, of their being changed and altered, and made new, and of students running home weeping to their studies, crying out, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’  This was heretofore a wonted [familiar] cry.  Conversion is the only standing miracle in the church, but I may truly say these miracles are well nigh ceased; we hear of few of them” (Thomas Goodwin, The Work of the Holy Spirit in Our Salvation, p. 157). With slight modification, we could write the same words today. We need to have the same burden again. As Jesus said, “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’”

What is the new birth from above? First of all, it involves a washing and renewal. He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). When the Holy Spirit enters a human heart to cause the new birth, he encounters a cesspool of corruption that is deeply offensive to him. For this reason, he immediately performs a washing of the soul to remove the pollution of sin he encounters. At the same time, he renews the heart or causes spiritual life to begin. Where sin once reigned in death, now grace reigns in righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:21). We might say that this corrects our negative condition, but what of a change in the positive sense? This the Spirit of God also produces in the new birth. Next time, we will consider the newness of life he creates.

Grace and peace, David

Enriching Your Prayers

img_16752 Chronicles 20:6-12

If we will all be very honest for a few moments, we must all admit that at times our prayer life can seem lifeless, very routine and predictable. When I was in college, five thousand people would repeat the Lord’s prayer together in chapel services, and it was a great struggle to have it retain meaning, because it seemed that many were interested in how quickly they could push through the required recitation. We are instructed to give thanks at meals (1 Timothy 4:4-5), and if we do what we ought, we can easily fall into a meaningless habit, unless we concentrate on what we are doing. And I could multiply examples.

This makes the prayers we read in the Bible precious to us. As God tells his story, he graciously includes accounts of the conversations that his people have had with him. Their prayers written in the word provide hope concerning how we may talk with the true and living God in our life situation. Let’s look at Jehoshaphat’s prayer.

  • Jehoshaphat declared God’s rule (20:6). There are four key ways that YHWH (Yahweh, the Lord) is described in the Old Testament Scriptures: he is Creator, Ruler, Judge, and Savior. Notice how three of these are prominent in this prayer. He worshiped God for his sovereign authority and power to exercise that authority. He knew he was in the presence of the Boss. We focus on God’s rule, because it is the one of the core elements of prayer. Why would you worship a God who lacked power and authority to make changes in the world? God claims that he has both in his word. Listen to his voice and respond in worship.
  • Jehoshaphat claimed a covenant relationship with God (20:7). “This God is our God.” He boldly reached out on the basis of past grace. God had given the land to Abraham, God’s friend (cf. Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23). So then, he appealed to the Lord about a gift given to his friend. We ought to claim our covenant relationship with God when we pray. In Christ, we have the relationship with God set forth in the new covenant (Hebrews 8:10c). So then, this ought to influence our conversations with the Lord. Consider how the apostle Paul prayed. “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (2 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:3). However, you can only really pray this way when you have a saving relationship with God in Christ. How can you have this? First, have a change of mind about sin in the way you live. What does this mean? Turn from a life of rejecting God’s right to rule your life. Turn from a refusal to love God with all that you are. Turn from rebelling against what God tells you to do. Second, believe in Jesus. Rely on Jesus Christ and his death on the cross as the only way you can have forgiveness of sin and a righteous standing before God. Perhaps you know you need to be saved. Right now is an excellent time.
  • Jehoshaphat set forth their covenant worship (20:8-9). Later in Jeremiah’s time, this idea was to be abused, since sinners tend to abuse everything! But Jehoshaphat used it, not for a sense of false security, but as an evidence of their repentance. He pointed back to Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple (2 Chronicles 6:14-42; 7:12-22). He appealed to the progress of redemptive history. About ninety years before, Solomon had prayed similar words at the temple dedication, while praising God for keeping his covenant to David. Now Jehoshaphat built his request upon what God had done. At this point we must recognize that we interact with God in Christ and his better covenant. We need to apply what we find in this passage, using new covenant realities. In Christ, his people, the church, are his temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), because of the finished work of our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. We should remember that accomplishment of redemption every day. So then, in this new covenant age, we don’t regard any earthly building as special, because in Christ, we are God’s building, in which he lives by his Spirit. And also all our repentance and faith is based on the finished work of Lord Jesus, God’s Anointed One.

Read and think carefully on Ephesians 1-3 or Colossians 1-2. Drink in what the Spirit has written for your delight in Jesus. Feel the vibrancy of the Lord of Glory in Colossians; admire the beauty of his accomplished work in Ephesians. For example, consider each phrase in Ephesians 1-3 as a masterpiece of redeeming love. But do all this in the Spirit: “Holy Spirit, touch my eyes that I may see the wonders of salvation!”

Grace and peace, David