Saturday, October 29, 2016

Why does the Lord chasten us?

Revelation 3:19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

It is interesting to me to note that the above verse is given before a verse that is frequently misused for salvation: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” This was one of the verses I memorized as a salvation verse early in my Christian life. But it actually is not speaking about salvation, rather it appears in a letter to the church of Laodicea filled with believers, and just after the verse at the top of the page. The Laodicea letter is often thought by Bible scholars to be a letter addressed to the latter church age, or to us of present day. It is a rebuke to Christians who were not living the kind of life we are called to live. It is written to people who have at least professed Christ, and thus is better understood as a directive to Christian. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” is often portrayed to us with a picture of Christ standing at heart’s door for an unbeliever, and waiting to be invited in, but it is actually better thought of as Christ standing at the believer’s door, knocking, and suggesting that he needs to be invited in. The believers that the letter was sent to were going astray, noted by the admonition of Christ, “I would that ye were hot or cold.” Instead the church was saying that they were rich in themselves and had no need of anything, and thus they do not even realize that they are wretched and poor and blind.Does this apply to the church in the United States today? Certainly we are rich, and we can find examples of Christians paying little attention to the commands of godly living. Perhaps there are many places we can find where we are ignoring Christian living in favor of pursuing materialism.

But that goes a bit beyond what I want to focus on. We know that it was a letter to Christians. We know that the Christians were not focused on Christ as they should have been. We know that it is therefore a rebuke, a warning to the very children of God to realign their priorities to point to Christ. We know this because of verse 19, “As many as I love, I rebuke.” Thus it is directed so plainly to Christians, whom Christ already loves. Isn’t it awful that those who proclaim to be Christian should spend their lives away from him? If there is an application of Laodicea to today, it is certainly found here. We are so busy with our lives that God seems to have but little priority. But notice the important part of the verse, “be zealous therefore, and repent.” Repentance, properly understood, is finding out that you are going the wrong way, and turning around and going in the way that you are supposed to go. Repentance means to turn around, and the letter here is asking Christians to turn around, or repent.

And that is exactly what we should be willing to do when we find ourselves on the wrong course. Repent. But now I come more directly to the question, why does the Lord chasten us? The verse declares it is because of the love that Christ has for us. Is it not a great comfort to know that God has adopted us into his family, and that if we go astray, he will chasten us and bring us back? I know of many Christians who are walking after the things of the world, who are pursuing headlong after material goods. There are so many who do this, and their number is found in the empty seats we find on Sunday mornings, giving mute testimony to those who have found something more important to do than associate with fellow believers. Oh, that the hand of the Lord should chasten us, and remind us afresh of the richness there is in being a child of God!

I am reminded of the pastoral story of the shepherd who has a wandering sheep. He brings the sheep back, perhaps several times, but then as soon as he leaves, the sheep goes astray yet again. He may rescue the sheep from a pasture of grass that looks so good to the sheep, but is not the protected pasture that the shepherd watches. He may get himself stuck in holes, and perhaps even fall over a small cleft, losing his way, and bleating for the shepherd. Finally, not wanting to lose that sheep, he takes his front foot carefully, and hits it with his rod, breaking it. The shepherd then takes the foot, carefully bandages it, and lifts the sheep over his strong shoulders, carrying it while it heals. By the time the leg heals, the sheep has bonded permanently with the shepherd, and will follow him all the rest of the days of his life. Thus, we have a picture of the chastening of our Lord. We are chastened, that we might be healed, and in our healing become devoted to the shepherd.

The great chapter about chastening occurs in Hebrews 12 (included below), and here the writer tells much the same story. The Lord loves us (v. 6), and chastens those he loves. If he did not love us, he would not bother with the chastening. It is done for a specific purpose, “that we might be partakers of his holiness”, and when we receive chastisement, we must be patient, waiting for the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.”

Paul, who may have been the writer of Hebrews, tells us in another passage that he has a weakness that he prayed three times for the Lord to heal. Instead, the Lord answered his prayer negatively, saying that his strength was present in Paul’s weakness. We are not told exactly what Paul’s weakness was, but from other passages we get clues that it may have been weak eyes. Think about an apostle with weak eyes. Paul lived to read the scriptures, the parchments. He was constantly searching the scripture that he might better be able to understand and present his Christ to a lost world. What a dreadful thing for an apostle! But Paul amazes us in that having learned of God’s answer, tells us that he glories therefore in his weakness, that the power of Christ should be evident in him.

So perhaps we need to envision Christ standing at our heart’s door, and asking to come in. That he should ever be out of our door is an awful thought! Let us invite him in, knowing that when he looks at all the clutter of our lives, he will chasten us to remind us of our priorities. And then we ought to echo Paul, and rejoice, that our Lord loves us enough to chasten us.

Hebrews 12:5-11
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

What does Jesus do for the believer?

I would like to give a seven-part answer for this question, as there are at least seven major things that Jesus does for the believer. First, he loosens our chains. We are bound fast by our chains of sin and blind to our awful plight. Picture Jacob Marley wrapped in his heavy clanking chains, and you have an adequate idea of what it is like when you are blinded by sin. Jesus breaks the chains that would so strangle us, providing another way for us to go.

The freedom of loosed chains cannot be overstated. Paul tells us in Romans that our old man is considered to be crucified with Jesus, that our sins are to be nailed to the cross as surely as the Lord was. And this nailing is for one specific purpose—that we should no longer serve sin (5:6). We are to turn away from old lifestyles, all of which are unfaithful before we come to know Christ. It is fashionable today to scream tolerance at every Christian, and in many ways this is what our society is doing, but it is not tolerance to ever accept sinful lifestyles. Rejection of the sin is always to be firm, just as love for the sinner is always to be present. Jude reminds us to hate even the clothing stained by sin, even while snatching the sinner from the flames. Chains, if you will.

How are chains forged? One link at a time. The saint can bind himself unwisely with all sorts of chains. Perhaps it first starts off with drinking as a young man, and finding it an enjoyable pastime. One link is forged. Soon the drinking becomes a daily habit. Another link is formed. It begins to interfere with work. Yet another link is formed, and still the young man disdains the three links of chain and continues to plunge into his sin. Not realizing that the stoutest chain is built one link at a time and because he is not able to discern the weight of each added link, he thinks it is all of no import. Until he finds himself in his old age with chains encircling his body and he cries out in the depths of his misery to God, “Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” And yet his chains are self-inflicted, and as an older man, I have looked and noticed that God does not seem to burst the chains all apart, as he often does when we first come to Christ. Instead, the church recovery groups seem to do well in placing emphasis on removing those awful chains, one link at a time, one day at a time.

But the salvation experience seems to be different. The new saint is called from an awful darkness, some more awful than others, and it seems to me that the chains of sin are often just blown up. The light, newly come into his life, seems to scatter all of the shadows, and the new believer, if he will, finds victory over sin. How we ought to remember our calling and walk carefully!

But Jesus does so much more than free us from the chains of sin. He sets us free, the second thing Jesus does for us. “I am come that you might be free”, and free he has made us. What is that freedom? I do not think it is well-understood in our day. It is the freedom not to sin. For the first time, the saint finds himself in a new place, a place where he can choose to walk away from sin, and walk after God. Any human being, apart from the glorious salvation of God, must find himself in sin. Oh, he may live a very moral life, and walk circumspectly towards his fellow man, but the inside has the stain of filth and corruption. I believe that is why Jesus said he is not come to call the righteous. The righteous are so busy following their rules carefully that they cannot even see their need. It is not at all that they do not have the need; rather it is that they choose not to see their need. Psalm 14 would remind us of this, “They are all gone aside, they have all together become filthy, there none that doeth good, no not one.” We must notice our chains before we can be freed.

So many times the world looks at Christians and measures them by what they cannot do: they cannot dance, drink, or party. The list actually grows longer the more we think on it. How many of us have been apologized to by someone using a random cuss word, and then they realize that you are in their company? Is that really the way to define Christianity? I fear that many of my fellow Christians define it in the same way. They do not see that their freedom is given so that they might choose to follow God.

There are two brief points I would like to make about this negative categorizing of what Christians are. First, the is some merit to the charge, but only if you think it through but halfway. Follow the logic through, and the conclusion becomes quite different. Yes, there are things we say no to. But it takes the very strength of the Spirit to find success in saying no to a great many of them, and, for the first time in our lives, we can say no. But what of those who do not say no? What of those who are not Christian? So don’t they get all the fun? Look at their lives. Those who chase alcohol never find life in the bottom of the glass. So many of those who spend their lives doing what we would disdain find, at the end of their lives, that it has all been futile, that they have lived empty lives. And this is not to mention the judgment, which we must all face. The logic is relentless. Power over sin does not diminish us; it equips us both to face hostility, and to pursue righteousness.

And that is the third point. For the first time in our lives we have the choice to pursue righteousness. Not in our own power, but in the power of the Spirit. God himself comes inside of us to do that which we cannot seem to do of ourselves. God gives us power over sin, if we choose to follow him. Look at some of the older people in your church; they are in every church, and are stalwart examples of what happens to people who have followed God all of their lives. Not that they would tell you so, for they are humble, and remember the many times they have stumbled, and gone astray. Yet, their lives are continuously surrendered to God, and their white hair is a testimony to a life that has been victoriously lived. How much attention the young should pay, so that they one day will be found themselves being conformed to the image of Christ! They should endeavor to keep those chains short, and break the links as they come, that under the mighty power of God they should find victorious lives.

Next, Jesus redeems us. You might say that redemption is in all the steps that are above, and you would be right. But he has actually and literally redeemed us. Paul tells us that we are bought with a price. What is that price? God chose his Son to come and bear the penalty for our sin. Imagine what that must have cost God! The Bible teaches that he created both the heavens and earth in six days, and on the seventh he rested. All of that work of creation, all of the universe, the earth with its seas and lands must surely have been an enormous cost. Yet, next to the sacrifice on the cross that cost of creation must pale. Think of it this way. God, in paying the price of his Son’s life, gave his everything for you. He could not have paid a higher price, for now he had reached to his limits. Having given everything for your redemption, there is nothing more that he could have done.
But more than that, oh so much more has Jesus yet done for us! He has made a place for us! “I go now to prepare a place for you, that where I am you may be also.” One day, perhaps soon, he is going to reach down from heaven, sending his angels to the four winds, and gather us up together. Together we shall go and see where Jesus has dwelt for eternity past. We shall at last see heaven, but not only heaven, for does he not tell us that he goes to prepare a place for us? He has had nearly 2,000 years to prepare for his church, his bride, and I can’t wait to see the finished product! There the church and Christ will be married. There will be the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. There will be the communion cup renewed in a great fellowship that will endure through all eternity. Make no mistake, the Lord fully intends to return to earth, and where will we be at that time. Scripture assures us that throughout eternity we will forever be at the feet of Christ, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. I am convinced that until that time comes, there is a sense in which we have never been home. Indeed, we long for what we do not even know yet, but still somehow we know that we are not home. In that day, we will all exclaim, “I am home at last!”

And last? God relates to us in a deep and eternal matter. We shall never get tired of singing His praises, and he gives us all eternity that we might do that. Both John and Paul tell us that we will reign with Him, here on earth. What that means or entails, at this point in time, God alone knows! But whatever he gives us to do, we will find ourselves faithful in doing, for has he not removed our sin? We will no longer struggle, but will step into that secure relationship which knows no end. It just does not get better than that!

What Jesus does for us
1. Loosens our chains
2. Sets us free
3. Gives us power over sin
4. Redeems us
5. Establishes us
6. Places us
7. Relates to us

Monday, October 24, 2016

Did the Cross condemn the world?

Some do say that with the coming of the cross came condemnation, but not those who know their Bible, for the Bible plainly teaches that Christ did not come to condemn the world but rather that the world through him might be saved. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent came to Eve, and throughout history many have argued that Eve did not really have the moral fortitude to withstand the wily devil. Indeed, Paul later supports this position with noting that Eve was deceived, though Adam was not. Adam, in contrast to his wife, knew fully well he was disobeying God. But however it happened, happen it did, and sin was let loose in the world, and as Paul says, the whole of creation has been groaning since. Condemnation came with sin, and man has been living under condemnation ever since.

My theme verse for the answer to this question could not be clearer: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17). God is concerned much with the world. The prior verse, perhaps more famous, declares that God so loved the world. The gospel is available to all, and the angel in Luke 2 says, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Notice again the “all”. If Christ’s sacrifice was to be offered only to a few, the angel must have been wrong, for instead of a notice of great joy to all, should it not have been great joy to just a few? The offer of Christ to the world must have been a viable one—that is, one that is offered to every man of the entire world. Again in the same chapter, the entire angelic host declares, “good will toward men.” And similarly, how could the angelic host proclaim good will toward men if most men were destined for hell?

It is evident from any study of Scripture that the message of the gospel was always intended to be freely offered to the world, that those in the world might hear and be saved. Having said that, it is also clear from John 3 that the end result of Christ’s coming would end with many rejecting the Christ: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (v.36). Paul himself, evidently believing in the famous passages of Ezekiel 3, 18, and 33, spoke often of the necessity of proclaiming the gospel to every man, that he might be free of having their blood on his hands. These passages of Ezekiel all delve deeply into our responsibility to warn the wicked men to turn from their ways, and Paul’s ministry definitely centered around the responsibility of telling the wicked to repent. He believed that it was his responsibility from God to declare the gospel, even to those who would not listen, that he might follow these dictates of Ezekiel, and be free from the responsibility of their blood. In other words, Paul wanted to make sure that men heard the gospel, and thus were more responsible for their own choices. From the very beginning the apostles each recognized the hardness of the hearts of men, and they all knew that, as John 3:16 tells us, that many would continue in their unbelief.

So, what is to be done with creatures who continue their rebellion? What could God do to save them? Could not God cause all to believe? Could not an all-powerful God work simple belief in the hearts of men? And there is where we err in our thinking. God is indeed all-powerful. But he created man with the ability to make choices. We might argue that he could have created man differently, but once they were created the way that they were, with choices, it is impossible for God to make their choices, and also at the same time to give them choices. Men are responsible for their own choices. As Spurgeon himself says, “We must have divine sovereignty, and we must have man’s responsibility.”1 What is a logical impossibility remains impossible even in the light of an all-powerful God. It is no less impossible because of God’s power.

The only sense, at least that I can conceive, in which the cross might be construed to condemn the world, is the sense that men, after hearing the gospel of Christ, choose to reject it, and thus face condemnation. But the condemnation of mankind preceded the cross by many thousands of years, and those that will have it, even after being offered the freedom of the gospel, will have it. So, while the cross is not their condemnation, their denial of the Christ secures their just condemnation. However free God created man, and there are many theological disputes about that freedom, he at least created him free enough to deny his Savior, a denial that must earn condemnation.

All of this is difficult for Christians to see, and I confess to many wonderings about it. I speak about the judgment of the common but unregenerate man, perhaps my own neighbor. What in him who I know so well is such an affront to the justice of God? I cannot but dimly perceive it, and usually I use that thought to generate prayer for the salvation of my neighbor. But I have every conviction that on that day of judgment, when the Lord lays the souls of men bare, the world will see what it means to be in “quiet rebellion” against the Creator. On that day, I have no doubt that we will see the righteousness of God, and will understand for once and all what it means to love the King, and to reject the King.

We have many promises of that righteousness, and perhaps it would be fitting to close with this one from Jeremiah: “But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord” (9:24). On that day, at long last, the world will see the plan of God come to fruition, and the judgment of the unsaved will be a part of it.

In the end, either man takes the sacrifice offered for him through Christ’s death on the cross, or he depends on his own behavior, and faces the judgment of God based on that behavior. So far as I can see this is the biggest deception of the devil, to quietly murmur to our fellow neighbors that others are worse, and surely God will overlook their “small” faults. The gates of Hell open most widely for those with convictions that it is all a contest for God’s approval, when all the while God has already paid for your salvation, totally apart from approval, if you will but receive it. Instead, choosing to rely on the self, the devil assures us, is the reasonable way of meeting God. So he whispers millions softly into their graves. Hell is going to be full of those mostly quiet but deceived souls, who when all is said and done, are in full rebellion against their God.

But the cross stands as a clarion call to all of mankind, if they will but heed that call. Notice the cross is empty. Empty because his death could not stand, as empty as the tomb in which they tried to immortalize him. One of the most well researched facts about the history of Christianity is that, from the first, the disciples believed in the resurrection of Jesus, and that belief has galvanized 2,000 years of history since then. It is the essential element of Christianity; take it away and you have left the weakest of religions. But with the resurrection the condemnation of man is at an end, the power of God has been extended, as the angels said, “to bring us tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” The cross stands not to condemn, but to remind us that death has lost its grip on man, and to offer a way out from condemnation, if we will avail ourselves with it.

1. Spurgeon, Charles. The Complete Works of Charles Spurgeon: Volume 1, Sermons 1-53 (Kindle Locations 10800-10801). Kindle Edition.

Monday, October 17, 2016

What kind of bodies will we have when Christ returns?

An interesting question, for I often hear people comparing the resurrected body of Christ to the body that they will one day have. “See,” they say, “Jesus appeared in different forms, went through walls, and floated in the air. That means, especially since the Bible plainly says we shall become like him for we shall see him as he is, that we ourselves will be able to appear in different forms, walk through walls, and float around heaven.” But not so fast. The Bible does indeed say we will become like him, but is that “like” in nature, or in abilities? Most scholars seem to think it is the former that is being promised, and are not nearly so sure about the second. We will be like, or similar to, Jesus in nature. What we will be like otherwise mostly remains to be seen.

Thinking about a bit more may prove a help. Jesus was definitely born a man, like unto us, but he also was God, and exemplified many gifts that were not commonly bestowed upon men. He exhibited many of the characteristics of being God during his lifetime. For instance, he exhibits omniscience when he tells Nathaniel that he saw him under the fig tree, long before he and Nathaniel met. Nathaniel, knowing that he was alone under the fig tree responded to Jesus saying, “My Lord, and my God.”, thus recognizing that none but God alone could know about that event. But Jesus healed the blind, claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath, and raised the dead. Some of these miracles were indeed imitated by the disciples later, but I cannot find anywhere where gifted Christians exhibited omniscience. It is a power evidently set aside for God alone. Similarly, we know that Christ had omnipotence, as the Bible claims he was there at creation, and brought this whole world into being. Just before going to the cross, does he not remind the disciples that he could but ask and receive a legion of angels to help him escape that cross. Does he not tell us clearly in John that he lays his life down willingly, and no man takes it from him? I know of no case where anyone else exhibits such power, and even if I limit this short piece to just these two godly characteristics, we clearly see that Jesus was unlike us in every way.

Yes, you may say, he was different than us, but didn’t he come to make us so that we would be like him? Yes, we will indeed be like him, and part of that likeness will be the removal of our sin nature. No longer tempted with every passing sin, we will be “in tune” with our God, and willingly follow him for the rest of eternity. Like Jesus, we will be free for the first time, no longer bound by our sins, but free to follow and associate with our Creator God. That is quite a big change!

As to what else will change, we do not yet know. One thing I often wonder about is man’s advancements with technology. Will those all be ignored as the deeds of sinful men or will some of them sift through the coming of a new world? I do not know the answer to that question, but I am prepared to be astonished and delighted. On the one hand, I think that if we are allowed to be with God, and see him as he is, would that not make us totally able to understand our world in a new way? Perhaps it would open new vistas, unimaginable for now, as man finally is able to reach the potential for which God created them. But, on the other hand, so much of the world we see now is built by sinful man, totally depraved and beyond saving. How can I possibly think anything will survive into that time when Christ rules the earth?

And yet, even after all of judgment settles, there will be a remnant of men left to face this world. Not you or me, for we will be forever changed and by the side of our Lord. The Bible declares “so shall we ever remain with the Lord”. But natural man will remain, in tattered remnants, and will under the leadership of Christ will build a new world, perhaps better than ever attained before. But even with all the blessings of the presence of Christ himself, the Bible still tells us that many men of this new age will fail yet again, after the thousand years has passed away.

It occurs to me that we draw parallels with the resurrected body of Christ when the comparison does not even match. Christ was sinless in all his ways, until the sins of the whole world were poured out on him while he was on the cross. His cry to his Father, to forgive them for they know not what they do, is often felt to be the point at which he received the sins of the world, breaking his fellowship with the Father, a fellowship that had existed through all of eternity past. However, sin could not keep him buried, and the third day he was raised again, triumphing forever over sin.

But did he have a new body? Thomas, not believing, is shown the very holes in his hands. The evidence is clear, unlike us, he did not receive a new body, but was resurrected in his old body. Interesting, in his appearance to the disciples, and the 500, he often disguised himself, so that he would not be noticed right at first. He evidently had the power to look differently, and yet, before the end of his appearance the disciples would see through that disguise. Nothing in scripture ever accord us in our new bodies with the same ability.

In fact, we are said to receive new bodies (which is a relief to me as this body is getting rather worn out), bodies that will last throughout eternity. I think that people often forget the first part of the verse that says we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Does not the apostle begin by stating, “it does not yet appear what we shall be?” We are not to know exactly what we are to be, and I think looking at Christ’s body is not the best way of discerning what we shall be. If you are like me, you probably cannot seem to quit thinking about it, and that is fine, for we are told to always be looking for his return.

A last objection. The thinking Christian might indeed say that is not enough for me. I can hardly figure out what God intends for me, and now I do not even get to know what life is going to be like when I get there? I suppose that if my own curiosity is any indication, people tend to have lots of questions, many wonderings. But God, in his wisdom, has not deemed to tell us so very much. We know that we will get new bodies, not corruptible, and we know that Christ says he has gone to prepare a place for us. We know that Jerusalem will have “streets of gold”, and the wealth of all the nations shall be poured out upon the city of Christ. We know that when the old world changes to the new world, one thing will not change—we will ever be with the Lord, at his feet.

I liken it to great expectations, if I may borrow an allusion from the wonderful Dickens. We have great expectations indeed, but at this point we are unsure how it is all going to work out. God has asked us to have faith, to trust him that the expectations will prove worth waiting for. We certainly know enough about the personal love of God to take the rest on faith. Do we not?

Saturday, October 08, 2016

What are the ten responsibilities we have towards the Holy Spirit?

Believe it or not, my simple study of the Holy Spirit produced at least ten responsibilities that Christians have toward the Holy Spirit. There is a philosophy out there that says, “let go and let God”, but while that statement might have times when we find a great deal of truth in it, there remains a core responsibility for Christians to live holy lives. Sanctification, or separation to God takes place on two levels. First, God sanctifies us, separating us to become one of his, and that happens at or nearly at the point of salvation, when we first believe. That sanctification is wonderful, and should work to give the new saint an entirely different perspective on heavenly things. But there is another sanctification that we are called to. The scripture says be ye holy as I am holy, and thus the command is to us, to sanctify ourselves.

Martin Luther was severely upbraided for his teaching that salvation comes by grace, for his fellow priests felt that would make their task of getting things done to be audaciously difficult. As long as they could threaten the loss of salvation to their flock, they could get much more work out of them. But Luther pointed out that getting salvation purely through grace was like an apple tree. The works, or the fruit, he explained, would naturally flow from the tree, for that is what an apple tree does. It produces apples. These responsibilities that we have towards the Spirit of God need to be looked at in a similar light. They are something that we need to do because we have been reborn, and they do not amount in any sense to works, but rather are points of submission where we are expected, indeed commanded, to open ourselves to the Spirit’s use.

Works might be defined as something that we do to gain or keep our salvation, and these commands are not in any sense those kind of works. Rather they are points at which we are expected to step back, to submit ourselves to God the Spirit, that he might have full sway in us. I remember the story of a pastor and his wife who were newly come to their church, decked out very formally. In those days the pastor still wore suits, and the wife was in a very pretty and formal dress, and they were having a welcoming meeting, one in which they were being honored, and much-inspected by their new parishioners. In the middle of the meeting, the unthinkable happened. Someone got violently and suddenly sick, all over the floor. The pastor, never missing an opportunity, looked to his wife, and she understood instantly. Together, with a pail of water and rags, they scoured the mess diligently up in front of their horrified audience. I remember not much about what that pastor said or taught, but did he not have a powerful sermon that day? It would be very difficult to think of any other time that he was to have such a great impact.

That is the kind of work I am trying to write about here; we are called to submit ourselves to God, and that certainly includes the Spirit of God, whom Jesus sent to us that we might be cared for while we await his return. The first two responsibilities that we have are very similar and because of that I will deal with them together. Note that they are both things that we are NOT to do, the only things in this list which are set in the negative, and I thought it good to get the negatives out of the way.

First, we are told not to grieve the Holy Spirit.1 Easy enough, right? Not so fast! The next verse immediately tells us how not to grieve the Holy Spirit. Bitterness, clamor, wrath, and anger must be put away from us. I notice that three of these have to do with conditions of the heart: bitterness, wrath, and anger. One has to do with talking out of place. I actually know of a church that destroyed itself, a church of several hundred, through the mouth of one elder. He compromised the secrets of the church to his wife, who could not stop talking about them, and before it all settled they were down to ten members who did not get along. There is much to be said for the saint who will learn to be quiet, and work at gentling his heart. I have to say one of the great marks of the elder is his gentle reply, and his readiness to forgive in the name of kindness, which is exactly Paul’s remonstrance: be kind and tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as Christ forgave you. All of these things together provide a sound path that you might not grieve the Holy Spirit, by whom ye are sealed.

Similarly, in Thessalonians, we are told NOT to quench the Spirit.2 Both of these admonitions of what NOT to do come from Paul, though found in different epistles. While we might, as I do, connect grieving the Holy Spirit with quenching the Holy Spirit, Paul includes some interesting afterwords, explaining what he means, and the commands after quenching do indeed differ from the ones about grieving included above. He tells us to despise not prophesyings, which I take to mean to listen to each other for that still small voice of the Holy Spirit. It means at least that, but we ought to be mindful of the fact that the canon was still very loose, and the Bible was still looked at as just the Old Testament, but attitudes were changing. All believers were aware that men were beginning to write about this Jesus, and the writings being collected often seemed to be from above. Therefore, despise not prophesying. Instead, Paul seems to point out that we need to prove all things. Much of what Paul writes is solidly based in Isaiah, and the Psalms. It proves out when we go back and look at those books. Isn’t he just telling us that we ought to find and confirm those things? Instead of pointing to specific acts to avoid, such as anger, wrath, and bitterness, this time Paul is content to sum it all up by just saying “avoid all appearance of evil.”

The next one is very interesting to me, for I was not aware it was even my responsibility. Make no mistake, I do wait and look earnestly for the Lord’s return, but I was not aware that it actually is a part of the Spirit working in me. The verse goes thus, “for we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.”3 What is the hope? The return of Jesus, and the fulfillment of all that he has promised. We are to look by faith toward the fulfillment of those promises, but our faith in looking for that fulfillment is powered by the Holy Spirit. No wonder I get so dizzy just thinking about the awesome things to come!

We are to work at loving the Spirit.4 It is our responsibility to enhance our love for the Spirit, a love that is initially placed in our hearts through the sovereign God. How do we learn to love anyone? We have to spend time with those we would love, if it is indeed a love that is more than in name only. So we ought to spend time with the Holy Spirit, being sensitive to what he wants and expects from us. It is a beautiful thing to watch a young man in love court his woman. He dotes on her, trying to please her in all his ways. He considers her as better than himself. He watches over his manners, trying to be a gentleman in every little courtesy. Well, that young man is an exact picture of the way that we ought to love the Holy Spirit. In every way, in every chance, in every opportunity, we ought to be seeking his will for our lives, being willing to abandon our own will for that which he wants.

The fifth responsibility toward the Holy Spirit is found to build upon one and two—those NOT commands which were followed so closely with putting some sins out of our lives. Now we are told to “mortify the deeds of the body” if we are to be led by the Spirit of God.5 Indeed, it is the Spirit himself who will help us to mortify the flesh, if we will but follow. Please note that this is not torturing yourself, nor is it depriving yourself, and thus showing others your great will-worship. History is replete with misguided saints who have endeavored to brutalize their bodies and thus show their love for God. No, this is not such an outward misbegotten display of love; rather it is a discipline of the inner man, where the thoughts and desires of our inner man would pull us away from the Spirit. It is those deeds that we must seek to mortify. I used to counsel alcoholics on Skid Row, and those with a serious problem we would have sessions with, trying to get them to solve their problems at the inner man level. The mission, in Los Angeles, lay right on the border of Skid Row. Turning to the left upon coming out of the main doors, the men could leave the mission and head towards all the bars and the drinking buddies. But turning toward the right, the men would go uptown, away from the bars, and thus away from their temptation. I pointed out to them that when they chose to make that left turn, they had already made up their mind to give in to the call of alcohol. It therefore was before they left the mission that they had to make the decision about where they were going to, and it was therefore in their inner man that they had to wrestle and mortify the deeds of their flesh. A left turn out of the mission doors signified that they had already lost. We mortify the deeds of the flesh not to destroy our bodies, but that our bodies might have the abundant life of Christ’s promises.

To take up the sword of the Spirit is the Christian’s next responsibility. 6 It is a lifelong responsibility, at least for most of us. I went, long ago and far away, to Multnomah School of the Bible, and met John Mitchell, who was quite often called the Walking Bible. His memory was prodigious, and what a delight it was to sit in his classes and hear the Bible verses rolling off of his tongue, one after the other. We students would frantically be turning the pages of our Bibles, trying to keep up, and he would stop, and from memory, recite the verse before the one we were looking for, and then the verse after the one we were looking for. If we still took too much time, he would give us the Bible verses from memory in various translations. What a memory! Most of us struggle memorizing one verse, and trying to beat the word into our hardened hearts is like hitting the sore thumb with the same hammer that made it sore in the first place. It doesn’t want to go there! But if we are to face the crises of life squarely, we must sharpen the sword of the Spirit. There is no substitute for memory; neither is there any substitute for regular Bible reading. I know men and women in their fifties who have yet to make it through their Bibles once, and when the tragedies of life strike they are so woefully unprepared. God has given us the Word as our Sword, and if we are to defend ourselves properly, we must learn to use it well.

A delightful gift of the Holy Spirit is that he helps us in our prayers.7 It was properly in the list of gifts in the prior posting, but there is also a responsibility connected to it that is given to us in Ephesians 6:18, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” It would seem fair to say that we ought to be seeking to pray through the Spirit, and the more so, if we are, as this verse says, praying for the welfare and care of the saints. Our prayer life should become sensitive to what the Holy Spirit himself would have us to pray; Romans 8:5 teaches us exactly that: “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.” We are to be concerned and looking to the will of God in our prayers, and we will further discern this by developing a mind towards the Spirit. Being close to the Spirit in this way is an immeasurable delight in our walk with God.

The next admonition is actually another NOT, but it is compared to what we are supposed to be doing, and that is the bigger responsibility. We are told not to be drunk with wine, but rather to be filled with the Holy Spirit.8 The being drunk with wine has consequences which most have experienced, and to the mature Christian, does not need more emphasis. It is there, and it is a command which should govern our temperament choices. But the command to be filled with the Spirit is one that needs emphasis. How can we insure being filled with the Holy Spirit?

I have made interesting Bible studies on the Holy Spirit in Acts, and the filling of the Holy Spirit is almost always done in the immediate context of sharing the gospel. In other words, being filled with the Spirit does involve a readiness to share the gospel. I do not want to overemphasize here; rather I just note in passing that the chief responsibility the Lord left to us was the Great Commission, and it seems evident that the Holy Spirit most often fills those who are seeking to carry it out. The mature Christian is going to be actively looking for ways to carry out that commission, and will also seek to follow each of his responsibilities towards the Holy Spirit. Charles Spurgeon believed in the deeper walk with God, the walk that mature Christians should always seek to find. “If I were to go much farther, I should be accused of fanaticism, and so it may be; but yet I will believe and must believe that there are seasons when the Christian lives next door to heaven.”9 Much false doctrine has been taught about the mature walk with the Spirit of God, but that should not negate the wonderful truths of scripture. One of my favorite Bible passages that I refer to often is found in Romans 12, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” The mature saint runs the race as Paul would teach us, as athletes knowing that only one wins the prize, and that we ought to be willing to do all things that we might possibly be closer to God. How is it that so many of our young people are taken off to camp for a spiritual experience, and come back to us filled with the Holy Spirit, sometimes for a first experience? Is it not because we older adults remember our mountain-top experiences? Oh, that we might find and stay on that mountain-top, that even our faces might begin to glow with the presence of Jesus, that the Holy Spirit might have full sway in us. There is so much in that one command: be filled with the Holy Spirit.

We are, according to the next responsibility, to walk in the Spirit, something that might seem incredibly hard, but is made possible by the power of the Spirit himself.10 But the path to greatness in Christianity is the opposite of the world. Jesus took the disciples and washed their feet, thus teaching the maxim that whoever would be great in the kingdom of God should be servant of all. Indeed, the next verse after the admonition to walk in the Spirit tells us specifically not to seek vainglory, or to provoke one another, or to envy one another. I am reminded of the great passage of Philippians where it tells us to maintain a lowliness of mind, being careful to always esteem others as better than ourselves. Humility is the task master we must follow; it is a thankless taskmaster always seeming to demand more than we can give, and yet, when we once again take up its direction, we find freshly that Christ has breathed on us his very breath. Envy flies away when we see and love our brothers, for their sake, and how easy it is for us to thank God for their glory. I do not think heaven to be a place which will let envy have any foothold. Rather we will glory for each other, and mostly in him that has saved us.

The last responsibility towards the Holy Spirit is a lifelong one. We are commanded to sow to the Spirit.11 And not to the flesh. Notice the difference, both held out as examples of what we might do. Yes, one who has been saved by the Spirit is free, for the first time in his life. Now he is to follow the way of Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, not swerving aside for any of the enticing lusts of life. For the first time, a Christian is given the power to sow to the Spirit, by putting the meaningful things, the enduring things, into his life. Christ sent the Spirit for this very purpose, that the Christian might begin to have victory over his flesh. Unfortunately, the other walk is all too apparent in our lives. How many Christians do you know that have spent decades pursuing their fleshly interests? I want to be that saint, doing my utmost for his highest when he returns. Don’t you want the same thing? I know there is not a single thing that I can undo in my life. It has already happened, and there were many times (I say this to my dismay) that I sought to fulfill the desires of the flesh. But God is capable of forgiveness and renewal. Take up the cross, walk with the Spirit, and sow seeds of righteousness in your life. As long as you live, each new day is a new opportunity to give to God, seeking his blessing. Why not start by trying to look at these ten responsibilities, and figure out in which you might be lacking?

1. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
Ephesians 4:30-32
2. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.
1 Thess. 5:19-22
3. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
Galatians 5:5
4. Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;
Romans 15:30
5. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
Romans 8:13
6. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
Ephesians 6:17
7. 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.
Romans 8:26
8. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
Ephesians 5:18
9. Spurgeon, Charles. The Complete Works of Charles Spurgeon: Volume 1, Sermons 1-53 (Kindle Locations 7653-7654). Kindle Edition.
10. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.
Galatians 5:25,26
11. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
Galatians 6:8