Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What are the ten wonders of the Holy Spirit?

This list is not meant to be complete; rather it is a result of a simple study of the Holy Spirit, and a list of many of the things which he has given us. Jesus, in his final discourse to the apostles tells them that, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16:7). Notice the weird thing he says, and how strange it must have sounded to the apostles, “it is expedient to you that I go away.” The apostles represented over 4,000 years of waiting for the one who would bruise Satan’s head. More over as Jewish men of faith, they looked for the coming of their king. They more than looked for it; they craved it and sought it, and they were not alone. There was a general expectancy of many in Israel, and when they looked at Jesus, they frequently compared the signs of the coming king with Jesus to see whether or not Jesus could be the king. Over and again we see them comparing these signs with Jesus in the gospels. They wanted their king!

How could it possibly be that Jesus could say such a thing? “It is expedient to you that I go away.” He adds these words, which must have sounded inexplicable to the apostles at the time they heard them, “for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you.” But as the history of Acts unfolds we find the Spirit of God, working and binding the individual members of the church together in a way that could not have been foreseen, at least by the apostles. There are at least ten wonderful things that God gives to believers through the Holy Spirit. Let us go through these wonders of the Holy Spirit together.

First, the Holy Spirit is our seal in the body of Christ. It is his job to make us a part of the family of God, forever. Second, he is our earnest, and the same verse can be used for both of these: “Who hath sealed us and given us the earnest of his Spirit.” (See also Ephesians 1:13, 4:30). What is an earnest? It might be best thought of as a down payment, especially with regard to a down payment on a huge investment, such as a house. The Holy Spirit is sent to us as new believers, and somewhere as close to the point of decision as to make no matter, seals us with his presence. The impact of this is almost beyond our understanding, but the promise of Christ again is that he is going to send us “another” Comforter, one just like he is. Except that the Holy Spirit is not just in one body, he is in all of us. The word for another, I have been told, means “an other”, just like me. Think of it for a moment, and then it becomes all too clear what Jesus meant. Here and now, God plants his presence in your life, “another” just like Christ, to be with you for the rest of eternity. Certainly to our advantage. The best news of all is that we are told to think of it as our earnest, our down payment—there is much more to come as we wait for history to unravel, and we will one day be in his presence.

Ephesians 4:3, and 4, “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling”, gives us the third wonder of the Holy Spirit. We are called to one body, something that might be impossible as we think of the great differences among Christians, even in one fellowship, not to mention all the denominations that there are. But notice the promise includes the words “the unity of the Spirit”. It is God in us that makes us to have fellowship with a total stranger seconds after we learn that he or she is a believer. It is God in us that is going to give us the ability to be one bride, for Jesus Christ, in the marriage which is to come. Revelation tells us that for that marriage, the bride, the church, you and I and all the other believers of the world, are dressed in the “righteous acts” of the saints. I have to ask myself when I see that, how many righteous acts have I done for God? The correct answer is zero, for the Bible tells us that all our righteousness is as filthy rags, and if I am to do anything at all that is right, it is only because God himself, the Holy Spirit lives within me. By giving myself to the Holy Spirit, the righteous acts of God can be worked out, and one day we shall share all of their magnificent splendor with the world, as the world will see just what God has done in and through us.

That leads us to the next wonder, that of the Holy Spirit sanctifying us. The basic meaning of sanctification here is separation unto a special purpose. Think of it! God separates us for a very special purpose—this of course will be evident to all one day, but for now, he has moved us to a special place, giving us his Spirit, and desiring to us for special purposes. The promise is given to us by Peter, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (1:2). If you will, the Holy Spirit separates us for his purposes. The Bible is clear—our name becomes written in the Book of Life as soon as we believe, and it is said that the angels of heaven rejoice over each one of us that finds repentance. Not the least of our sanctification is the Holy Spirit himself entering our lives. It is God’s way of marking us, of setting us apart, and of adopting us into his family.

The fifth wonder of the Holy Spirit tells us that life itself comes from his being in us. “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. 3:6). There is a very definite sense in which we, before we knew Christ, might be likened to zombies, walking dead people. We who were dead in our sins and trespasses have been quickened, or made alive, by the Spirit himself. The hymn does indeed say, “once I was blind, but now I see”.

The sixth wonder is found in Romans, where Paul is speaking about preaching, “Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:19). Paul here is reminding us that preaching is to be done through the power of the Spirit. Woe to those who try to preach in their own flesh! Such a witness will drive away those who hear, and power from the Spirit must be had, for it is the Spirit who both teaches and convicts our hearts. An amazing study can be had from studying the filling of the Holy Spirit as it appears in Acts. In almost every case, the power of the Holy Spirit, described in Acts as the filling of the Holy Spirit is given in the strong and immediate context of preaching and witnessing. In other words, if you want to be filled with the Spirit, put yourself in situations where you are witnessing about Christ. I have found this phenomenon of filling to occur most regularly in church outreach and witnessing programs. God really does empower us through the Spirit when we wish to declare his glory!

The fruit of the Spirit, at least a nine-fold number (for the list that Paul gives may not be meant to be a complete one), is given as the seventh wonder of the Holy Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22, 23). These gifts of fruit are given without measure to all the saints; every saint exhibits these gifts in some measure or another. They are the powerful outworking of the Holy Spirit in us, and are the product of having God in us. The first three fruits, love, joy, and peace might be considered as fruits primarily working on the believer himself. The second three fruits, longsuffering, gentleness, and goodness might be considered primarily as gifts in the association of one believer with another. The last three, faith, meekness, and temperance, might be primarily considered as the fruits working in the life of the believer’s communion with God. Thus the fruits of the Spirit cover all aspects of faith, first, the inward self, second, the outward self, and third, the upward self.

Unlike the fruit of the Spirit, given to all individual believers, is the next wonder of the Holy Spirit. These gifts are given very differently, and perhaps might be best thought of as gifts to the church rather than gifts to individuals. The individuals are given the gifts, but the gifts are to be used in the building up of the church. The whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 12 is given to list and explain these gifts, with the key verse of the chapter found in verse seven, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” Great disputes about the gifts of the Spirit are entertained in many other places, and there are many arguments that some of the gifts may have ceased while others are continuing. It is the purpose of this short piece to merely note that God has purposed to gift members in different ways that all might work together for his glory in preparing the church, who is the bride of Christ. The bride is said in Revelation 19 to have clothed herself in wedding clothes made from the works of righteousness, works which are solely accomplished by the outworking of the Holy Spirit. Note that all gifts listed in this chapter are given for the primary purpose of building and edifying the body, i.e. the church.

The ninth wonder of the Holy Spirit is found in the gift of prayer. It seems strange that prayer is a gift, since many of us are moved automatically to prayer when we find ourselves stressed, but even in this simple area the saint cannot be trusted to do it by himself. If we attempt to accomplish any of these works in our own energy they will end up as works burnt up before the judgment seat of Christ. Our efforts, even in prayer, amount to nothing. But the wonderful wonder of the Spirit is that he reaches us in our inability, cooperating in our very words to God, and transforms our prayer into something beautiful before God. The key verse is found in Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” The Spirit himself translates our simple prayers into something glorious before God. Again, Revelation tells us that each of these prayers is saved by God, who savors each of them. Evidently, the prayers of the saints are entrusted to the twenty-four elders in heaven, with each of them given vials holding the precious prayers (4:8). These prayers are later given as an incense before God, who savors each of them (Revelation 8:4). God, in his sovereignty has not only deigned to merely notice man, but to actually feel so deeply for him that his very words, offered in times of deepest need, have the dignity of being noticed for all of eternity. What love God is willing to show each of us!

The final wonder of the Holy Spirit is found within the doctrine of revelation itself. God has not given us the mere words of men, which may or may not have wisdom in them. Instead he has given us a revelation in the Bible that goes far beyond the wisdom of the wisest. We are given secrets and mysteries which we are told that angels have longed to look into. The key verses in this are both found in the second chapter of 1 Corinthians: “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (v. 10). A very big part of what the Holy Spirit does is exactly that—he reveals to us through the word the very things of God. John 15 tells us that the Spirit’s job is to guide us into all truth, and this he does mainly through the scriptures that he has left us. The other key verse (1 Cor. 2:14) reads, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” In my lifetime of trying to explain to non-Christians about the things of God, I come always to the same inevitable frustration—even though I explain the rational and good arguments for seeing the gospel, it is always rejected. Apart from the conviction of the Holy Spirit our efforts to evangelize are always doomed. It is as if we are trying through our vain efforts to make blind men see. There is only one who can do that, and it remains his work to do the works in lives which lead to revelation and “seeing”.

Each of these wonders of the Holy Spirit are part of his ministry to us, and may well explain the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit which has caused so many Bible commentators so much consternation. Mightn’t the person who blasphemes the Holy Spirit be the very one who is denying his work? And in denying the only way that anyone can come to God, does not the blasphemer condemn the very process by which he can come to Christ? Refusing to let the Holy Spirit do his work in our hearts is a sure way to condemnation.

These wonders and gifts of the Holy Spirit are beautiful, but there are also ten responsibilities of the believer to attend to. Each of these responsibilities is given for the purpose of letting God have absolute sway in our lives, and is the key to living the Spirit-filled life. In our next piece, we shall look diligently at each of these ten responsibilities toward the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Am I saved forever?

When we've been there ten thousand years,
bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
than when we first begun.

--From anonymously added fourth verse to Amazing Grace

Understanding the grace of God is, I think, one of the very hardest of tasks. I at least want to “help” God along in my salvation, and I do remember my first impulses as a new Christian to go out and dazzle the world. At the time, I knew little of sound doctrine, and less of the Holy Spirit. One of my first painful lessons was that I could not, under any circumstances succeed in the Christian life. Instead, it all depended on my giving my life to the power of the Holy Spirit, who powers me to do what I cannot.

As I say, I was some months growing in doctrine, starting at a baseline near zero, and so all things were new to me. I was like the new creature in Christ, absolutely reveling in the glory of his presence. I knew that I should have seen him; I knew that I should have discerned his love for me in so many ways, but I had been totally blind in sin. But now I could see. I knew I was like the one mentioned in Romans who was without strength, but in due time, Christ had died for me, the ungodly (5:6). But now I knew; I could be better; I could stand on my own two feet, and tell the world what I had found. Oh, woe is me, for the folly I believed then was simply not true. Christ had commissioned me in a new life, but it was, as I found out, a life that was impossible to live.

Look at some of the commands that Jesus left us with. “Love one another.”—even when your child tries your patience at the end of a long hard work day. “Do not grow weary in well doing.”—even when you aren’t feeling that well. “Rejoice evermore.” –even on the way to work on a Monday morning. “Quench not the Spirit.”—even when your spirit is feeling sorely tried. If I was to list all of the other things we are to do, Christian living would be quite an impossible task.

In fact, I thought of telling you that scarcely a minute goes by without my awful head countenancing some sin. And I would do that. Except I think the angels in heaven would be found laughing. I can just hear them now. “Do you believe that guy?” “A whole minute without sin?” “Why we have to go back fifteen years in his life before we find that whole minute without sin.” “And then he was sleeping!”

The problem for most of us is just that. We do not discern the needy condition of our sinful hearts. We do awful things like comparing ourselves to others, and saying, “At least I am not as bad as all that.” Anything to take our eyes off of ourselves, for if we look at ourselves candidly what we often find is not at all pleasant.

Most of us manage to live our lives just like that. Not looking to closely at ourselves, and pointing at least metaphorical fingers at others. We do not understand the depths of our depravity. We think that we have small sin—thus the grace of God becomes small to us also. And small sin plus small grace equals a small God. I am convinced most of us live, serving a small God with the notion that somehow we really did deserve his grace after all. We won’t say that, but we do think it, or at least act as if it were true. We think God has forgiven our small bump of sin, because we do not see the mountain of sin that makes us be us, total monsters in the face of God.

We have a man in our church who is famous for not just saying thank you when something nice happens to him, but to actually say it three times: thank-you, thank-you, thank-you. He even does this in his prayers, repeating his thankfulness over and over. That man has a firm idea of grace—it is something he totally does not deserve, and he marvels over it. How like that man we should be!

In a nut-shell, I am really talking about Romans chapter 6. Understanding Romans Six will help you move away from the small-sin-small-grace-small-God concept that is all too familiar to many of us. In essence we need to know this—that God absolutely condemned our sin. He did that condemnation in sending Jesus to the cross. It was a total complete punishment, and it was necessary for your sin, and for mine, that we might be forgiven totally. Notice the total punishment, and the total forgiveness. He did not tell us that he would do 90% of our salvation, and that we must do the rest. He did it totally, completely judging the sins of the world by taking those awful sins into himself. It is at that moment that he cried, “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?”, for in that awful moment of total sin he lost fellowship with the Father. Romans 6 tells us, “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life”

Every single one of your sins, and mine too, were future at that point, for you and I were not to be born for many generations yet. But the sins of the world were poured out on him, all of my sins, and all of yours. All of the sins were taken, and paid for, and when we believe God, when we accept Jesus as our God and Savior, at that moment we are forgiven. How forgiven are we? Totally. There is grace for every single one of our sins! No exception. If there were an exception I would surely perish, for how would I ever maintain myself? I cannot do it. You cannot do it.

Romans goes on to say, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin (6:6).” We are able to sin without penalty. But God forbid that we should do so. We are called not to serve sin, for we have been made free, and for the first time have the choice of turning to God. As we yield ourselves to God, he is able to, through his Spirit, give us a life where “the yoke is easy and the burden is light, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Thus figuratively we died with Christ, that our bodies of sin might too die. “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord (6:11).

Similarly, we are to consider ourselves raised from the deadness of sin to live a new life with Christ. “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead. . .” (Romans 6:13). When Christ died, and when we become Christians, we are to reckon our own bodies as crucified, and we are to live a new life, typified by the resurrection of Christ.

Thus I come to a roundabout answer to our question: am I saved forever? As to the human heart, that is a question that awaits the final judgment. I cannot see into the hearts of others, and instead must rely on the outward appearance of what someone does. If what they are doing seems to be in the power of the Spirit, and displays the new life in Christ, I can trust that they are saved. Of course such trust will be revealed on that day when every man’s heart is opened before God.

To say that we are not saved forever is to insult the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Once, and forever, did he die upon the cross, and if we come to feel that maybe our sin is just too grievous for the Lord to forgive, we are denying the completeness of what Christ has done. We are saying to God that what he did for us was not enough—and sometimes we even have the audacity to try to help God along with his salvation plan, believing that if we just show enough repentance and try a bit harder, we can be saved. Nonsense!

We are saved by faith in Christ’s work on the cross. It is that work that Paul later refers to in Colossians 3, similar to what he teaches us in Romans 6. I call it the succinct plan for the Christian; everything in the Christian life is filled in with these principles. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory (v. 1-4). Notice the repetition of what we already covered in Romans:
1. We are dead and our life is hid with Christ.
2. We are risen with Christ.
3. We are to seek things above.
4. We are to look forward to appearing with him in glory.
For all of these reasons, we are to “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him (v. 10).

Yes, indeed, we are saved forever! For it is not dependent in the least on you or me, but on what Christ accomplished on the cross. That is why Paul wrote his ascending climax of Romans 8, where he reminds us that nothing, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (v. 38, 39). It just cannot get better than that!