Changing Moods (Part Three)

Psalm 30:6-7, 11-12

When I was secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.” Lord, when you showed your favor, you made me stand like a strong mountain; when you hid your face, I was terrified… You turned my lament into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, so that I can sing to you and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever (CSB).

People tend to think they are prisoners to their emotions or moods. This might be true of those who do not know the Lord, but the people who are in Christ have been called to freedom. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1). We must draw our self-image from what we are in Christ, and not blindly accept the opinions of our culture. We do not have to be subject to our moods. The good news is that God acts to bring his people into a correct emotional condition.

The Lord is not passive about us! We tend to view ourselves as the one who initiates communication and sharing of life with God. That is a very proud, human-exalting view! Instead, God does work directly and indirectly to relate with us. Since we belong to the Lord, he is not satisfied to let us go our own way. He wants us to walk in his way and works to keep us in his way by his word and the Spirit (cf. Colossians 2:6-7; Romans 15:13; Galatians 5:16-26). God’s action in our lives may occur over a long or short time span. Study Psalm 32 for one example.

What should we learn?

A true believer can endure great turmoil due to his or her incorrect thinking. Don’t blame someone else for your joylessness or whatever. “No doubt the trouble is with you.”

Our moods should be viewed as indicators of our spiritual condition. But we in turn must test the readings of those indicators by the standard of the Scriptures and good common sense (cf. Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, pp. 14-19.) Ask yourself, “Why are you downcast, O my soul?” (Read Psalms 42 and 43.) You need to examine yourself. For example, “Do I feel secure because my heavenly Father cares for me or because ‘everything is going my way’?”

You should check various feeling indicators:

  • Coldness to spiritual truth
  • Faultfinding in others
  • Anger about situations
  • Indifference to needs of others
  • Fear of the future
  • Jealousy about another’s prosperity
  • Bitterness about anything or anyone at any time

Warning! Don’t become more involved in looking at your spiritual vital signs than in looking at the Lord Jesus Christ! As John Reisinger said many times, “Take one good look at your heart, and then take ten thousand looks at Jesus Christ!”

Here is an important point, worthy of much emphasis. The way of establishing sound emotional patterns is by focusing on one’s relationship with the Lord, not by seeking an emotional lift. Listen to the words of a man who suffered much for the Lord Jesus, and who surely endured many down times from his afflictions. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:8a NIV).

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-eight)

John 7:37-39

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified (NIV).

Presently we are investigating what God says in the Bible about the Holy Spirit. As Spurgeon said years ago, “the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity” (New Park Street Pulpit, Number 1). So then, with this good purpose in mind, we will continue with this study about the Holy Spirit.

Every pastor or teacher should explain the direction of his teaching ministry from time to time. This allows people to grasp the larger context of his presentations, or to use a common illustration, it enables them to see the tree and the forest. Our method of approach in this study about the Holy Spirit is primarily that of Biblical theology—viewing God’s revelation of his person, words, and saving activity from the standpoint of God’s progressive opening of his truth to his people in redemptive history. So then, starting with the pivotal text of Acts 1:1-9, we have studied the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament Scriptures, the work of the Spirit in giving the Scriptures to us, the Holy Spirit and salvation, the Holy Spirit and Christ, and now Christ’s promise of the outpouring of the Spirit, which will lead us, God willing, to the Pentecost and its meaning. Then we will be in a position to study the new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The setting of these verses is a response by the Lord Jesus to the events of the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. That festival was a happy time for God’s old covenant people—a time when they remembered their journey to the Promised Land. During the festival, there was a ceremony when a priest poured out water from a golden flagon, while a trumpet sounded joyfully. It seems that the people also sang Isaiah 12:3 in connection with that ceremony. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation (NIV). On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus called out to the assembled people these memorable words that are recorded in 7:37-38. These verses are his promise of the Holy Spirit to all who believe on him. Notice the typical context. Christ’s people will be on a journey to the eternal Promised Land. As God guided them with the cloud, so the new covenant people will receive the Holy Spirit.

Regretfully, believers have not thought much about the promise of the Holy Spirit in its connection with God’s storyline in the Bible. (Remember, God’s word is the true story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ.) What did God the Father promise about the Holy Spirit? What did Christ promise? Here will see that Jesus promised that he would give the Holy Spirit to all those who come to him. The Holy Spirit would then live in each one. And we will learn about the power of this ministry. For now, read the above promise and meditate on its significance. What does the Lord Jesus want us to learn? What ought we to learn about the greatness of our God? Let our minds be stretched as contemplate this promise.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-three)

John 14:22-26; 16:12-15

We have seen that the Holy Spirit had a crucial role in the production of the New Testament Scriptures and his “credentials” for that work. He is “the Friend at court” and the Spirit of truth. Next, let’s examine the success of the Spirit in this ministry of revealing God and his words.

We should begin by clearing up three misunderstandings about what Christ said.

  • He is not promising perfect knowledge in 14:26. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (NIV, my emphasis). “The Holy Spirit is not particularly concerned to impart to the disciples of Jesus an exhaustive knowledge of nuclear physics, astronomy, cell biology, the literature of Tanganyika, or the mating habits of the porcupine. Moreover, even if he had the inclination to attempt this transfer of knowledge, we would not be able to receive it; for our finiteness precludes the attribute of omniscience” (Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus, p. 71).
  • Nor is Jesus saying that we lack any need for human teachers in 14:26 (just “rely on the Spirit”), which would make Christ completely contradict himself in giving pastors and teachers to his church (Ephesians 4:11-16).
  • Nor is Jesus promising personal guidance in 16:13. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come (NIV, my emphasis). That is to rip part of a phrase completely out of its context. There is not even a hint in these words that the Spirit will somehow mysteriously lead Christ’s followers into perfect choices in their lives.

So then, what is the true success of the Spirit’s ministry? First, the Spirit made sure that the disciples learned all things (14:26) that they needed to know about Jesus (his full significance), brought to their memory everything he said (so we have a trustworthy account of his teaching), and he also would tell them (16:13) about things to come; that is, the meaning and significance of what was about to happen to Jesus—his crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. “This is the test that will show how much of the Spirit there is in each of the various types of supposedly Christian theology that jostle for our attention in these days” (Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, p. 65).

Second, in all this, the Spirit glorifies Christ by taking what is Christ’s and making it known to Christ’s people in the New Testament Scriptures. So then, we see in a dominant Christ-focus in the New Testament writings.

These words “indicate that it is by means of the apostolic witness (now inscripturated in the New Testament), not by direct revelation of the Spirit to individual believers or by corporate revelation of the Spirit to teaching officers (the claim which was to be developed in the Roman Catholic magisterium), that Christ’s person, his teaching and his future purposes are made known.” [Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 71]

In the words of the old song, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus!” The story of the Bible is the true story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. In it, the Spirit guided the apostles and New Testament prophets to record the gospel narrative and to explain its meaning and significance to the church, that we might live for the glory of God. Thank God for the success of the Holy Spirit as you profit spiritually from reading the New Testament Scriptures.

Grace and peace, David

On the Pilgrim Way (Part Four)

SAMSUNG

Hebrews 6:12

So that you won’t become lazy but will be imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance (CSB).

The Christian way of life is a life of learning. To be a disciple of Christ is to be a learner of him and also of his people. The second can be valuable because of the union of the Lord Jesus and his people. We are “in him” and he is in us. The Spirit of God develops the character of Christ in us, so that his words, ideas, attitudes, and actions become ours. This happens in everyone who knows the Lord, which points to the value that we can gain as we learn from his people. All have significance as examples through their union with Christ and the transforming work of the Spirit. Consider how Paul commended the Macedonian churches to the Corinthians in the matter of giving (2 Corinthians 8:1-6).

The Spirit uses various methods to accomplish his purpose of developing the character of Jesus in us. For example, he uses the Scriptures and people teaching them. The Spirit wants us to understand that he also uses the examples of other followers of the Lord. Later in the letter to the Hebrews, the writer will present numerous examples of faith (Hebrews 11). James writes of the faith that worked of Abraham and Rahab, the endurance of Job, and the prayers of Elijah. Such believers provide models or patterns of faith and other graces that we are to imitate. Think of how John pointed out the good example of Demetrius (3 John 11-12).

  • God himself is worthy of our imitation. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children (Ephesians 5:1 ESV; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6). This involves our consecration to God and his purposes. But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16 ESV, my emphasis). This is one of the core principles of godliness. We are to be set apart to God and what pleases him.
  • We are to imitate spiritual leaders like Paul. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV; cf. 4:16). Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7 NIV). The essential prerequisite is that they themselves are imitating Christ. We ought to see Christ-likeness in them and imitate it.
  • We should also imitate local churches. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews (1 Thessalonians 2:14 NIV). Yes, entire local groups of believers are to show forth the power of faith in God. Churches have been far too content to drift along, coddling the spiritually lazy and weak, when they ought to be aiming for strong faith in their whole assembly.

Who are the “model believers” from whom you learn faith, love, hope, joy, peace, and goodness? You need such people on the pilgrim way. Are you a model for others? Can you challenge your brothers and sisters in Christ to imitate you? How is the Spirit of God making you a better example now? What fresh ways of godliness is he forming in your words, ideas, attitudes, and actions? May you have the joy of seeing him form Christ in you more clearly the rest of this month!

Grace and peace, David

Fill Them, Lord (Part Two)

Romans 15:13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (NIV).

In our previous article on this text, we saw that the apostle Paul concluded the teaching part of the letter to the Romans with a prayer. He began the prayer with worship and then stated his request for his brothers and sisters in Christ in Rome. In this request, we discover what the Christian life should be like. Joy and peace are two substantial parts of God’s righteous kingdom. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval (Romans 14:17-18 NIV). Paul prayed that his readers would have a large amount of joy and peace. It would be a strange cake that lacked flour and sugar. It is even stranger to live as a follower of Christ and show only little peace and little joy.

Both joy in God and peace of conscience arise from a practical awareness of justification. (cf. Romans 5:1-2). Peace with God is the foundation for the peace of God in one’s life. There is still spiritual progress to be made from the time of justification, what Peter calls growth in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18). We cannot become more right with God, but we can have a richer experience of his great joy and peace.

Paul did not neglect the importance of faith in the Christian life. It is good to pray, but there must be more than prayer. We must pray in faith. Prayer without faith is a dead, meaningless ritual. Prayer with faith is living and dynamic. Consider prayer for the sick. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven (James 5:15 NIV). Faith must have the correct object: as you trust in him. We live as Christians when we take our eyes off ourselves and look on Christ (Ephesian 3:12). We need to live according to what someone called “Pioneer theology”. For example, do you view Christ as the sheriff who is out to get the settlers in town if they break the rules, or as the scout whom you gladly want to follow on the journey to heaven?

In the third part of the prayer, Paul declared his purpose. He wanted them to reflect the character of God. This is the goal of the new creation. Cf. Ephesians 4:24: and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (NIV). Let’s rid ourselves of small outlooks. Paul requested overflowing hope! Who would use an old, battered, sputtering push lawn mower if he had a new lawn tractor in the garage? Can you imagine the sweating fellow saying, “I console myself during my frustrations with the thoughts of the better one in the garage.” Silly guy! Use the new one!

The means is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. All progress in likeness to God is the result of the Spirit’s work within us. As we by his grace become confident of treasures in heaven, we will become better witnesses of Christ. His divine power is required in our growth in grace. He makes the new self that we are in Christ advance against the remnants of sin and conquer them. Some view the work of the Holy Spirit in the wrong way. They think his job is to make them feel comfortable with the status quo. But his goal is to stir us up so that we overcome the world by grace that is found in Jesus Christ.

Why do we need this hope? It will serve as an anchor to the soul, to keep it safe and steady, during life’s storms and tempests. To the degree that this prayer is answered in reference to any individual Christian, to that degree he or she will be holy, happy, useful, and full of love and good works. The same is true for a local church. As it is made up of people who are overflowing with hope, so it will grow and multiply. It will then be pure, peaceful and energetic “for promoting the glory of God and the happiness of mankind” (Brown).

Grace and peace, David

Healthy Hearts (Part One)

IMG_0242Proverbs 15:13-17

The Bible uses the word heart as the center of the human personality—the inner person in contrast to the body. It is the spiritual side of the person, and it has three aspects: the mind, the emotions and the will. While we all share these three aspects, God has formed our personality and the events of and people in our lives style it, so that we are all unique people. But regardless of our individual form, God tells us truths that he intends to transform our inner person increasingly into his moral likeness. In other words, God wants to perfect the variety that he has designed in the womb and develops through the events and people of our lives. So let’s examine what he tells us about human hearts from this passage.

The Lord tells us the effect of a healthy heart (15:13). Every human is a functional unity of the outer person (the body) and the inner person (the heart or soul or spirit). Contrast this text with Psalm 42:3-5, where we see the depressing influence of a downcast heart. Depression leads to inactivity that breeds more depression and inactivity. It is a downward spiral.

Since we have this functional unity between the inner and outer parts of our humanness, the Lord encourages happiness of heart. In the words of John Trapp of long ago, “The heart sits smiling in the face and looks merrily out of the windows of the eyes.” However, we must clarify the Lord’s intent. The Lord wants us to have a happiness of heart that is based on proper principles (for example, Psalm 32:1-2). The Lord wants us to express our inner joy wisely and with a regard for the life situations of others (Romans 12:15; Proverbs 27:14).

Consider how the heart can create two very different effects. First, a happy heart will make you appear cheerful, and that shows up on your face. I recall two songs from years ago that sought to get this point across: “Take that frown off your face, put a smile in its place, let the love of Jesus Christ show through!” And, “Smile a while, and give your face a rest, raise your hand to the One you love the best, then shake hands with one nearby and greet them with a smile!” Those who are part of a local body of Christ should learn to read each other’s faces, and then prayerfully, boldly and gently seek to serve each other in love.

But second, heartache crushes the spirit—a person loses the desire to continue. What are some causes of heartache? Events like unfulfilled expectations, untimely or unexpected separation, and betrayal by one you love. Such happenings can pile up quickly, and we can feel shattered.

The way out can be difficult and long. The Lord Jesus Christ has provided ways to help you. He speaks to us through his word, providing us his perspective and counsel. For example, read out loud and listen to Psalm 119. It is a great prayer of a person enduring affliction. Let its words soak into you, and then pray them back to God our Father. Jesus has given us his Spirit, who desires to produce his fruit in us (Galatians 5:22-23). Think of each of those qualities, and ask the Spirit to refresh your heart with them. Christ has also placed us in groups of people who know him and love one another (1 Peter 1:22). You are with them to share life, and since they belong to Christ, they are equipped to help you (Romans 15:14). The Lord is forever faithful. Draw near to him; he wants you to have a healthy heart.

Grace and peace, David