How and What We Tell Others (Part Two)

But if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (CSB).

The Reformation is now five hundred years old, but we are thinking about its continuing significance in our time. We can only live in the time in which the Sovereign God has placed us. For us today, that means in the twenty-first century. Yet, we still face the continuing problems of humanity intent on suppressing the knowledge of God in the face of Christ.

The glory of the gospel is hidden to minds blinded by Satan (4:3-4). Although the glory of God is clearly revealed in this new covenant age, many do not see this glory. Why? At this point in our time, many are very eager to blame the church. “If the church were ________, then people would come.” And so they run off on a wild hunt to find something to attract the young, the hip, the influential, the wealthy, or the whatever. Paul avoids such traps and points his readers to the real reason. The problem is not in the message, but it is in the people apart from Jesus Christ.

Those who fail to see this glory are perishing. This fact should gain our attention! They are in the process of perishing right now. Ruin has seized them, and they are in danger of eternal destruction. We ought to understand the nature of their problem. It seems the longer that you walk with the Lord; it can be easy to forget how you used to think. What do the perishing see when they hear the gospel? They hear a message that is contrary to their world and life view. As Paul earlier wrote, to the Greeks the gospel is foolishness and to the Jews it is a stumbling-block (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). The gospel offends everyone who desperately wants a message that says, “you are not that bad, you can help solve your problems, and you only need to know and follow a series of steps in our program.”

Those who fail to see this glory have their minds blinded. The agent of this blinding is Satan, who is here called the god of this age (cf. John 12:31).  The term “this age” in the New Testament Scriptures refers to the present course of evil, so “god” in this context does not refer to the true God. The true God is the King of the ages (1 Timothy 1:17). Though under the ultimate rule of the living God, Satan can cause all sorts of evil. The evil one can destroy the flesh (1 Corinthians 5:5), masquerade as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), snatch away the gospel message (Mark 4:15), empower his servants to work miraculous signs (2 Thessalonians 2:9), give thorns in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7), tempt (1 Corinthians 7:5), scheme (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:11), trap (2 Timothy 2:26), and oppose the spread of the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:18).

The consequence of this blinding is that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. As Rolfe Barnard, a preacher down south of another generation, said, “Satan puts all his eggs in one basket.” This is all he needs to do to keep people from turning to Christ. “Don’t let them see the glory of Christ.” You must understand that Satan does not care if we talk about people’s “needs”, such as having a better family or education or job or community. He is quite happy to let us exchange the gospel of Christ for a message of personal success or politics or morality or improving the family or social justice. But he does not want them to know that Christ is the image of God. Why? Once you see that Christ is the image of God, then you are confronted with the Mighty Creator who rules over all and to whom all people are responsible, yet amazingly this real living God did not use his Godhead for his own advantage but humbled himself, died on the cross to save sinners like you and me, and then rose again, victorious over death, and ascended to heaven to reign over all as Lord forever. To Christ personal success is the cross, politics is the rule of God, morality is transformation into godliness, improving the family is joining God’s family, and social justice is each one denying oneself for the good of others. These things do not sell well to the proud.

When you tell others the good news to people, remember that you speak to people that have been spiritually blinded. Yet there is real hope, because we follow the Messiah, who is able to give sight to the blind. He does this by the Holy Spirit as we proclaim the gospel.

Grace and peace, David

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

Joseph and Temptation (Part One)

Genesis 39:6-10

The sports world is filled with stories of a young and rising team against an older team, skilled and experienced in the sport. Often the storyline is that the younger team does not stand a chance against the veteran champions. This story is like that for it matches a young godly man against a strong temptation that has conquered many.

The Bible speaks plainly about sexual immorality. The amount of material in the Scriptures on the subject witnesses to mankind’s fatal attraction to this sin. The Lord has recorded such incidents as this one from Joseph’s life as warnings to us all. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:11-13 ESV).

Let us begin with some general observations (39:6-7).

  • The blessing of good looks can be a source of temptation. By his sovereign will, God has chosen to bless certain people with physical attractiveness. A few are even very good looking (Genesis 24:16; 2 Samuel 11:2). God made you how you are (Exodus 4:11). But in this world of sin, even the good gifts of God can become a source of temptation, either to yourself or others. Many beautiful women have found themselves to be objects of lust rather than love. Don’t blame the Lord for the good gift. The temptation is not in the gift, but in sin’s misuse of it. If sin can misuse even the holy law of God, it can also misuse the gift of beauty (Romans 7:10-13).
  • Temptation does not appear suddenly in every course of events. Sometimes we can unpack our bags and settle in before it raises its ugly head (39:7). Temptation can be like a cat, watching its prey for the optimal moment to pounce. Beware of being lulled into a false sense of security. A change of venue does not mean that sin has disappeared. Some have changed jobs because they “could not handle the pressure.” Yet the circumstances of the new job allowed them to walk farther away from the Lord.
  • Marital infidelity isn’t new (39:7). Some foolish people think that sexual immorality is proof of being modern and liberated. There is nothing new or liberating in adultery. This incident happened over 3700 years ago, and there was sexual immorality before this. It comes out of the human heart (Mark 7:21). God’s word always requires that sexual desires may only be fulfilled within the bond of marriage. There are no exceptions for anyone at anytime.
  • God does not necessarily spare his children from severe spiritual trials. Jesus Christ his Son had to endure temptation (Matthew 4:1). We are wise to pray to be kept from temptation. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13 CSB). Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41 CSB).

Joseph found himself in a very dangerous, nearly deadly situation, due to the lusts of another person. Temptation to sin can come in a variety of ways and situations. We don’t have to go looking for it. For this reason, we must be prepared. Fill your heart with godly, heavenly desires, and rely on the help of the Holy Spirit.

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Ten)

John 3:6

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

Our subject is the work of the Holy Spirit in our regeneration or new birth from above. In this great action, he acts to renew us, so that we have a close relationship or friendship with the Holy God. In regeneration, the Holy Spirit conveys an image or likeness of the Begetter to the begotten (Colossians 3:10). As the first Adam begat a son in his image (Genesis 5:3), so by the Spirit the last Adam begets sons for God that bear his image (1 Corinthians 15:49). This image or likeness to God lies in two things:

  • It is conformity of spirit to God’s, which means a radical break from the rule of sin to the government of holiness or being set apart to God (Romans 6:17-18; cf. 1 Peter 1:15-16). This involves love (Romans 13:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9) at the core. This is what caught the attention of the world as they looked at the early church. They said, “Look how they love one another!” To participate in my college’s athletic program, every team member had to read Schaeffer’s The Mark of the Christian and then sign a statement that they had carefully read it. God’s love ought to permeate our interactions with fellow Christians and reach out to those we seek to see become Christ’s followers.
  • It is having God’s glory set up in our hearts as our ultimate purpose, and as the measure of all our attitudes, affections and actions.

This image or likeness to God is what is meant by Peter’s statement (2 Peter 1:3-4). The regenerated inner person of the heart now has a disposition to seek God and righteousness as the unregenerate person sought sin and darkness. Have you found an attitude in your heart to seek holiness and the glory of God?

How does the Holy Spirit do this? He directly acts on the inner person of the heart. Frankly, the Holy Spirit does not tell us much about exactly how he produces new spiritual life. There is mystery here. All we can say is that he is the efficient cause. He produces spiritual life in the heart of a person dead in sin. “The Spirit gives birth to spirit” (3:6). “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (3:8).

The Spirit of God uses the Holy Scriptures to create new life. The word functions like seed in the heart (1 Peter 1:23). The Spirit adds his power to the living word of God and produces life. This is a deliberate action of God. He gives new life through the word of God because he has chosen to so act (James 1:18).

What happens when the Holy Spirit causes us to be born again?

  • He gives a new heart (inner person) and life. Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 24:7; Ephesians 2:5-10
  • He gives the gifts of repentance and faith (Acts 16:14). Repentance is a gift of God (Ac 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25-26) and so is faith (Acts 13:48; 18:27; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29; 1 Timothy 1:14; 2 Peter 1:1). As Spurgeon said, “No Christian can lay his hand on his heart and say, ‘I believed in Christ without the help of the Holy Spirit.’”
  • He breaks the power of sin (Deuteronomy 30:6; cf. 29:4; Colossians 2:11; Romans 8:9; 6:22; Acts 26:18).
  • He opens our hearts to Christ and his glory (Acts 16:14; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Matthew 16:16-17; Ephesians 4:20-21; cf. Philippians 3:3ff).

The good result is that former rebels against God become his submissive, humble, trusting children. We live in newness of life.

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

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Eight)

dscn05071 Corinthians 12:3

Therefore I am informing you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit (HCSB).

To understand the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation, we need to comprehend the spiritual condition of fallen people. What has happened to fallen mankind? Through Adam’s sin, all humanity is born dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3). It is not pleasant to be among the dead. The sights that can be seen can make even the strongest stomachs feel squeamish. This is the natural condition of humans since Adam’s sin (Ephesians 2:3; cf. Romans 5:12). It also is an active condition. Spiritual death manifests itself in the practice of rebellious, anti-God ways of living. We must understand that a person in this condition loses none of his or her humanness (Ephesians 2:3; cf. Ephesians 4:17-19).

Here are five characteristics of spiritual deadness:

  • The spiritually dead person lives in the realm of separation from God (Ephesians 2:12). This means that they are in the realm of God’s wrath (Romans 1:18; Ephesians 5:6).
  • The spiritually dead person lives in the realm of sensuality and not spirituality (Jude 1:19). The material part of reality dominates their lives.
  • The spiritually dead person lives in the realm of non-receptivity (1 Corinthians 2:12). They do not listen to God’s words, supposing them nonsense or incredible.
  • The spiritually dead person lives in the realm of hostility toward God (Romans 8:7). Though they may talk about God, their belief is in a remade God, who only does what people like. They do not want to hear about the true God’s sovereignty and justice.
  • The spiritually dead person lives in the realm of spiritual bondage (2 Timothy 2:25-26). They are slaves to sin, while supposing they are free.

As we tell others the gospel, we must realize their condition. What hope do you have about seeing you friend turn to Christ? There is hope, but it’s found in the Holy Spirit and not in you. Those who don’t know the Lord view themselves as whole, while they are terribly broken. This part of the message is very unpopular to those who are self-reliant.

What is the extent of sin’s corruption of human hearts? There are eight actions that fallen humans cannot do. Years ago, Steele and Thomas made a list of these actions. We have already mentioned two of them (call Jesus “Lord”, 1 Corinthians 12:3, and understand the things that come from the Spirit of God, 1 Corinthians 2:14). Now let’s look at the other six.

  • He or she cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3)
  • He or she cannot come to Christ (John 6:44, 65)
  • He or she cannot hear (John 8:43)
  • He or she cannot receive the Holy Spirit (John 14:17)
  • He or she cannot be subject to God’s law (Romans 8:7-8)
  • He or she cannot please God (Romans 8:8)

So then, what can you do? You can do nothing to save yourself, but the Lord Jesus Christ is a very able Savior. If you are not a follower of Jesus Christ, I urge you to call on Him and be saved. You say that you can’t, and I agree. But neither could dead Lazarus come out of the grave, yet he did when Christ called him to come out. The Spirit of God uses the word of God to create life in spiritually dead people. He calls the dead to live through the Scriptures. Listen to the word, and may God give you grace to respond (Romans 10:13).

Grace and peace, David

Up to This Point (Part One)

img_0105-21 Samuel 7:2-13

Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord (7:2 NIV).

Back in the days when we lived where there was sufficient snow cover, Sharon and I would ski, cross-country style. One place we skied was in the Charleston State Forest, which had twenty some miles of ski trails cut in it. In the north section in one area, the trail ran through a long avenue of pine trees. With a couple of feet of snow on the ground, it was a beautiful sight. We would stop at different points to admire the scene.

Picture in your mind a long avenue of evergreen trees. You might be skiing or walking or driving down it. As you travel down this green avenue, you stop along it to admire the view. You look back to what you have already traveled, and are grateful for what you have seen. Your stopping point seems calm and peaceful, and you are glad. Then you turn to look forward. New views await, but some parts look challenging. You think, “The trail goes up, so the way will be harder, but then the view might be better!” And you move on. Our walk with God is similar. Let us look at a passage to help us in this matter.

Our spiritual journey with God involves our repentance (7:2-6). For twenty years, the ark of the covenant had been separated from the tabernacle. Worship of God had been disrupted. No one seemed to care. Unexpectedly, the hearts of God’s people turned back to the Lord (7:2). It was a general revival. Behind this was the Holy Spirit. Nothing else explains this situation. He stirs people’s hearts, so that they are dissatisfied and feel that God is missing in their lives. His action causes the people to sorrow. “Life is not right; we need the living God among us. How can we return to God?” Compare Psalm 42:2-4. People in our time are dissatisfied, though they are far from thinking that the problem is the absence of God. “Lostness” gnaws at their souls, as they seek hope in a new year. But they suppress the knowledge of God. If you understand, weep for our generation!

Into this dark setting, God sent Samuel to preach (7:3). He recognized what was happening and seized the opportunity to give them hope. Consider four elements of his preaching:

  • Samuel told them to turn away from their false gods. The Baals and Ashtoreths (notice that both are in the plural, 7:4) were Canaanite fertility gods and goddesses. As you need not imagine, the worship of them was vile and degrading. Yes, they knew about sexual immorality in ancient times and were sophisticated enough to make it part of worship. And you thought times were bad now! Don’t be surprised at the next step of debauchery you hear of. Humanity has already been there.
  • Samuel told them to make it their business to return to the Lord. Interestingly, to return to the Lord means to serve him, which is also a very new covenant concept (1 Thessalonians 1:9). A true return to the Lord makes us recover a proper Creator/creature relationship and a desire to do what pleases God.
  • Samuel told them that they must be wholly for God: “serve him only”. The fashion of ancient times and postmodern times is pluralism. Hmm, we have advanced to the past! But true Christianity is exclusive. Whatever others may do, we affirm the reality of one true God (Ephesians 4:6).
  • Samuel told them that this was the only sure way to recovery. They had lived for years in oppression, but God was not about to help unless they really repented.

This is always unpopular preaching. It upsets people. But if you’ve ever remodeled, you know that you usually must rip out rotten material and make a mess to improve the situation. Most people only want to be happy, today and everyday, with no interruptions. Sadly, they sacrifice eternal joy for temporary happiness.

We can detect the fruits of true repentance (7:4-6).

  • Their change of mind caused them to put away their false gods. They made a clean, radical break. There is a time to burn the bridges to hinder any return to your old way of life. Do you have any bridges you need to burn right now? If there are items you know you need to get rid of, throw them in the trash today. Change comes from a believing heart, but it expresses itself in the fruits of repentance.
  • They acknowledged God in their public assembly. Fasting and pouring out water were used on various occasions in old covenant times to illustrate zeal and consciousness of the need for cleansing.
  • They confessed their sin. “We have sinned against the Lord.” They stated their sin in its true colors; it was against the Lord.

The Lord God encourages us to walk with him this year. The path will look difficult, but with his Spirit and help, we can overcome the challenges that will appear. Let’s learn from this incident in the life of God’s people.

Grace and peace, David

Thoughts on Leviticus (Part Two)

img_3270Leviticus 9

And Moses said, “This is the thing that the Lord commanded you to do, that the glory of the Lord may appear to you” (Leviticus 9:6 ESV).

Leviticus presents the worship and way of life of God’s old covenant people. The time of the law or old covenant occupied a specific period in the history of redemption. It started at the giving of the law covenant at Sinai after the exodus from Egypt. It ended with the great events of the gospel: Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost. God’s people under the law were required to live under its rituals and regulations. We look at that time from the perspective of its fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah. Or, perhaps I should say, we ought to look at them that way. But do we know enough about that time to understand what God was doing during the working out of his plan in redemptive history?

Exodus tells the story of God setting his people free from slavery in Egypt, the formation of Israel as his covenant people, the giving of the law covenant, and the building of the tabernacle. It was at the tabernacle that the sacrifices listed in Leviticus 1-7 had to be offered. Leviticus 8 tells us about the consecration of Aaron and his sons to offer the sacrifices of the law. Here we see the binding together of the priesthood and the law as referred to in Hebrews 7:11-12.

This brings us to Leviticus 9. The significance of this chapter is overlooked, because we forget or fail to consider the larger story of God. When God gave the law, he caused his glory to shine (Exodus 19-24). After the people had sinned with the golden calf, Moses pleaded that he would let him see his glory (Exodus 33). When the tabernacle was set up, the Lord’s glory filled it (Exodus 40:34-38). In our text at the start of this article, Moses told Aaron and his sons that the Lord had promised an appearance of his glory to them. The living God had committed to make known his glory through their worship. People could know that the God of glory was with them. He was in a covenant relationship with them. The glorious God had accepted them as his people.

The end of the chapter records the historical event of this fulfilled promise. Aaron made the prescribed offerings, as the Lord had commanded (Leviticus 9:8-22). Read that passage like you were there watching. What would happen next? And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces (Leviticus 9:23-24). Some truths to think about:

  • Moses and Aaron went in the tabernacle after they had done what the Lord had commanded. The ministry of the priests had begun, and there was access to God.
  • When they came out of the tabernacle, they blessed the people. This was an event for the whole covenant community.
  • Next, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. God kept his promise. Later through Isaiah, the Lord God made another promise of the appearance of his glory through his Son. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Isaiah 40:5).
  • God answered by fire from heaven. Later this would happen at the dedication of the temple (2 Chronicles 7:1) and when Elijah opposed the false prophets (1 Kings 18:38).
  • The response of the people was praise and worship

In the new covenant, we also experience the glory of God. On Pentecost, tongues of fire appeared to the church and rested on every member. The Spirit of God had been poured out on the people of God. Now, we are in Christ, our new covenant with God. We have surpassing glory (2 Corinthians 3:10) and the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us (1 Peter 4:14), the whole new covenant community. Do we respond with praise and worship?

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Seven)

dscn00411 Corinthians 12:3

To evangelize is one of the great purposes of the church. The Lord Jesus has sent us out on his mission. What is this mission? Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 HCSB). Since we are to make disciples or learners of Christ, our mission is to turn people from the pursuit of sinful desires to become fully committed followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought to share the good news of Jesus Christ with our friends and families; in fact, this should be our great joy and desire. However, this message is unwanted and disliked by those who need to hear it. Rebellion against God and his ways, refusal to love God, and rejection of God as God, what the Bible means by sin, is deeply rooted in the ideas, attitudes, and desires of people who do not follow Christ.

It should be very clear to us, not only from the Bible but also from our evangelism experiences, that the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary for anyone to turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:18). Since we are considering the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, it is very appropriate to consider his work in salvation at this point. A correct understanding of the work of the Spirit of God is essential for evangelism and growth of the people of God. It is also important for us to grasp where the Spirit has brought us from, in order that we may understand what we now are in Jesus Christ.

The answers to three questions will help us see the need for the Spirit’s work in salvation. In this article, we will think about the first question. Let us begin with, “What is the difference between religious ritual and spiritual reality?”

Consider the context of verse three. From 7:1 through 16:4, the apostle Paul is answering a number of questions that the Corinthian church had asked him, questions about marriage, Christian liberty, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, the resurrection of the body, and collections for God’s people in need. The Corinthians were very excited about the subject of spiritual gifts, but they were also very confused, which is clear from the length of this section (chapters 12-14)! From my experience, it is hard to tell what subject will get professing Christians revved up the most. Is it prophecy, predestination or spiritual gifts, especially speaking in tongues?

Highlighting the Corinthian problem:

  • They had a problem regarding a proper focus on Christ. This contributed to their fascination with things like spiritual gifts rather than Christ.
  • They had a problem with realizing and appreciating their unity in Christ. They pursued the individual rather than the community.
  • The Corinthians had a problem about spiritual discernment. They had trouble with testing every teaching or statement by the Scriptures, assuming that if someone manifested some kind of spiritual experience that it must have come form the Spirit of God. That is the reason for Paul’s statement in 12:3.

The Corinthian believers needed to learn that error is to be rejected, regardless of how spiritual it might seem. This is the issue of show versus substance. Also, truth only comes from the work of the Holy Spirit in a human heart. When the Spirit is at work, he glorifies Christ and produces the confession that Jesus is Lord (cf. Romans 10:9-10). Christ is both God and Ruler of the person who truly makes this confession. This is where spiritual reality is, not in loudness about personal experiences of spiritual gifts. The Spirit produces passion to follow Christ, not to glory in spiritual gifts that one claims to possess.

The Corinthians sound a lot like contemporary Christians, but that is not how we should be! A proper grasp of the Holy Spirit’s role in salvation will help us toward spiritual maturity.

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Six)

20120605_1038432 Peter 1:20-21

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (NIV).

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).

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 acted differently. 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.)

Let’s think of some examples. 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? In the Scriptures you see 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 point of history for his 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, consider Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-10; 15:16; 20:9)
  • By leading them to produce a unified message: the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ

The Scriptures themselves are one of the brightest witnesses to the sovereign grace of God. The Lord the Spirit reached down among people 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! He can change your life and the lives of people you love!

Grace and peace, David