Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “Holy Spirit

Conversation on the Trinity

Here is a conversation on the Trinity that is an extract from the comments after a blogpost. Check the post for the complete discussion that took place over a period of more than three months.

Commentator 11 October

George I have to tread carefully here. My intent is not to say that Christianity is untrue or that the Bible itself is untrue. That would be disrespectful to you. I am only concerned with how you are evaluating other religions and your methodology. But you keep making statements about the Bibles accuracy that are based on your own faith and one particular interpretation not historical or scholarly fact. This is why when we started this conversation instead of attacking Christianity in any way I was pointing out that there were more than one interpretation of Christ, his teachings, and his relationship to God at the time of his death. What that means is that one particular group cannot really claim theirs as the only true understanding. To many historians, archaeologists and scholars the Bible has many contradictions. The Bible is interpreted by many groups differently. So saying that there is only one understanding or interpretation is just not accurate. So as a way to demonstrate I will go back to one of those differences I mentioned earlier, the Trinity. There were some groups of Christians (and still are) that view God, Christ, and the holy spirit as separate beings. If I am correct George you do not believe in this interpretation. So to kind of show that each individuals understanding of the Bible is based on their or their denominations interpretation of the Bible in reference to any particular topic. So here are several quotes from the Bible that if you read them and do not interpret them through your own denominations lens they clearly say that God the Father and his Son Jesus were separate. Jesus himself is referring to himself and God as being separate in each one of them. To say that is not what he is saying is in my opinion linguistically impossible. It would certainly twist reason. To show that this is a matter of interpretation I would like for you to explain how they do not say that they are separate without referencing other passages. The reason I am saying that is, is that I can list out three times as many of these that support the idea that they are separate. Because of space I did not want to list them all. So it really makes no logical sense that you can refute these by just listing a number of other quotes that you interpret as saying that God, Jesus, and the holy spirit are one. If you choose to give a list of quotes that support your interpretation then effectively all you have done is prove an inconsistency.

Mark 10:18 (KJV): “And Jesus said unto him, why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is God.”
Mark 13:32: “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”
Mark 15:34: “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
John 5:19: “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do.”
John 5:26: “For the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.”
John 7:16: “Jesus answered them, and said, my doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.”
John 7:17: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

George I am still not trying to say that you or your interpretation is wrong. What I am saying is there is room for more than one interpretation and only you through your faith can decide what is right. The truth is absolute but no ones interpretation of the Bible is absolute.

Well at least you can see that I do own a Bible and have read it.! Take care George! (more…)


Is faith blind?

Guide dog 6 400pxWhat is faith? Is it blind, as some critics in popular culture claim, or does it involve our intellect and rationality? Should we switch off our brains at the door when we go to church? Or should we be thoughtful in our beliefs?  Do we have good justifications and reasons for our faith? Or, do we just blindly jump in?

People say that faith is blind because they think that there is and can be no good reasons or justifications for Christian faith.

Atheists

To see how atheists typically characterise faith, let’s look at some representative quotes:
– “Faith means not wanting to know what is true” (Nietzsche).
– “Faith is nothing more than the licence religious people give each other to keep believing when reasons fail” (Sam Harris).
– “Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved” (Tim Minchin).
– “Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason” (Christopher Hitchens).

In all these examples it is clear how they view faith, it refers to how someone forms and holds their beliefs and that it is totally divorced from all reason, evidence and justification. But this description does not seem consistent with how the Bible characterizes faith or how Christians have historically viewed faith.

Biblical faith

Parent child 2 400pxThe Greek word used in the Bible for faith is pistis. This word is most regularly translated as faith, but on occasion as believe or assurance. It comes from the root word pethio meaning “to convince” or “persuade”. Pistis was used in the ancient world by both Christians and non-Christians to describe confidence in something that was persuasive or trustworthy. The Latin rendering of pistis is “fiducia”, from which we get our word faith. So faith has traditionally been understood as trust in something which is persuasive and trustworthy. Faith is equivalent to trust, they are synonyms. For example, children trust (have faith) in parents and the vision impaired trust (have faith) in guide dogs.

Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer held that faith has three components.

First, there is notitia, or understanding. That is, a person must understand what it is they are claiming to believe. If you don’t know or understand what the core truths of the gospel are then there is no possible way you could meaningfully believe in them (have faith in them).

Second, there is assensus, or intellectual agreement. This means finding something rationally compelling and agreeing with it. A person must intellectually accept the things they say they believe – otherwise they can hardly say they believe them, can they? So, a person must not only understand the truths of the gospel but also agree with them. Many people understand the gospel but reject it anyway. Jesus said that such “people loved darkness instead of light” (Jn. 3:19NIV).

Finally, there is fiducia, or trust. This is the root of the word faith. Saving faith involves not merely understanding and having an intellectual agreement with some list of doctrines, but a whole-hearted commitment and trust in the God they are about. Remember, even the demons believe that there is one God, but they don’t trust in God (Jas. 2:19).

To a Christian, faith is not the mindless, blind leap it is often mischaracterized as. It is the trust we put in a God and a gospel that we have thought about carefully and have found to be convincing and trustworthy.

Charles Blondin 1 400pxA popular illustration has been that of a famous tightrope walker by the name of Charles Blondin. In1859 he tightrope walked across Niagara Falls repeatedly, even doing a summersault, with a wheelbarrow, on stilts and blindfolded. Then he asked if someone would hop on his back and be carried as he walked across the falls. Most turned down the offer. They understood what he was asking of them (they had the notitia), they all emphatically agreed that he could achieve the feat (they gave their assensus) but most were unwilling to put their trust (their fiducia) in his skills. Practically speaking, their belief had as much influence on their behaviour as unbelief would have. However, one man did have faith (fiducia) in Blondin’s skills and he was successfully carried across Niagara Falls.

What does this faith look like in the Bible? In the case of Abraham, he saw the faithfulness of God, who gave him Isaac when “his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead” (Rom. 4:19). He trusted God’s commands and promises. And when the Israelites saw God’s power in Egypt, they put their trust in Him to be led out of Egypt (Ex. 14:31).

Or in the New Testament, there was the woman who suffered constant bleeding who trusted Jesus could heal her after she had seen all that Jesus could do (Mt. 9: 18-26). And the Centurion who had heard of Jesus’ power and trusted that He could heal his servant remotely by a simple command (Lk. 7: 1-10). The men who lowered their paralytic friend through the roof, believed that Jesus could heal their friend if only they could get their friend to Him (Mk. 2:1-12). And Thomas wouldn’t believe in Christ’s resurrection until he saw and touched Jesus’ wounds. He received that evidence, found it convincing and declared “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28). Thomas put his full trust in Jesus, going so far as to die for his faith in Christ rather than recanting.

So biblical faith isn’t a blind hope, or a surrender of reason. But it is always based on knowledge of God’s nature and character, His promises in the Scriptures, and what He has done.

Knowing and showing that Christianity is true

When sceptics say, “faith is blind”, they either ignore or are unaware of the intellectual foundation of faith. So what is that intellectual basis? How do we know Christianity is true?  How we can know that the Christian message is true? There are two ways we can know that the Christian Gospel is true.

The first is internal, it is the inner witness of the Holy Spirit – a direct, personal self-authenticating experience that is truthful (or genuine) and unmistakable. The second comes from persuasive arguments for Christian truth claims, including arguments for the existence of God, evidence for the historicity of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the reliability of the Bible.

These have different roles in knowing Christianity is true and showing that it is true. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit helps us to know that Christianity is true, and arguments and evidence show us that Christianity is true.

Inner witness of the Holy Spirit

We can know Christianity is true because of our direct self-authenticating experience of God’s Holy Spirit within us. A person who directly experiences the witness of the Holy Spirit doesn’t just have a subjective assurance of Christianity’s truth; like a “warm fuzzy feeling” about what we would like to be true. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit is a direct experience of God that gives us objective knowledge of the truth of Christianity, without the need for any additional arguments or proofs to authenticate it. This kind of direct knowledge is like the way we directly experience our own existence. We don’t need to be given any evidence or proofs that we exist. We know it directly from our own experience. In a similar way, we know that things beyond ourselves exist, things in the world around us. And again, we don’t need special arguments or proofs to convince us that we experience the world around us. We know it directly from our experiences. We shouldn’t press these analogies too far, but they give a good illustration of how the inner witness of the Holy Spirit gives us a similar sort of experiential knowledge of God.

Paul describes the way the Holy Spirit works within us, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. . . . Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Gal. 3:26; 4:6).

By God’s Spirit we directly know that we are children of God, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:15–16).

When Paul describes the result of the Holy Spirit’s witness, he uses the term plerophoria which means complete confidence, full assurance. He means to indicate that the believer has knowledge of the truth by the Spirit’s work. “Because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction (plerophoria)” (1 Th. 1:5).

And Jesus said, “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.” (Jn. 14:26). The Holy Spirit teaches us the things we need to know in order to know Christianity is true.

And John echos Jesus’ teaching, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One [the Holy Spirit], and all of you know the truth . . . the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his [the Holy Spirit’s] anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him” (1 Jn. 2:20, 27).

Paul also said, “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2: 10-13).

So the inner witness of the Holy Spirit enables us to know certain truths of the Christian gospel, such as “God exists,” “We were condemned by God”, “We are now reconciled to God”, “Christ lives in us”, and “we are children of God”.

According to the Bible, The Holy Spirit also has a special role for the non-Christian. Jesus said, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world [Satan] now stands condemned” (Jn. 16:7–11).

The Holy Spirit convicts the unbeliever of their sin, of God’s righteousness, and of their condemnation before God. By the inner witness of the Holy Spirit a non-Christian can know such truths as “God exists,” and “I am guilty before God”. Paul even tells us that without the inner witness of the Holy Spirit no one would ever become a Christian, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands [about God]; there is no one who seeks God” (Rom. 3:10–11). And, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:14). “The mind governed by the flesh [instead of the Holy Spirit] is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rom. 8:7). As Jesus said, people love darkness rather than light.

So the self-authenticating inner witness of the Holy Spirit gives both the Christian and the non-Christian direct knowledge of core truths of the Christian message – independent of arguments and evidence. But what about arguments and evidence?

Arguments and evidence

Some people say we should never seek to defend the faith. That nobody comes to Christ through arguments and evidence. Just preach the gospel and let the Holy Spirit work! But this attitude is dangerous – it’s unbalanced and unscriptural. Instead Scripture commands us to be prepared to give such a defence to an unbeliever, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pt. 3:15).

We should appeal to the head as well as to the heart. For the Christian, arguments and evidence give extra assurance – we have double the reason for our faith. This adds to the confidence we already have from the Holy Spirit’s witness. The rational foundation for our faith can protect us in times of hardship or doubt. For the unbeliever, these arguments can be both one of the means through which the Holy Spirit works to bring them to Christ and they can also help predispose an unbeliever to respond to the drawing of the Holy Spirit when they hear the gospel. This is where rational arguments are crucial in showing Christianity is true.

So what arguments and evidence might we use? There are many of them and some are outlined below.

Existence of God

Firstly, there are general arguments for the existence of God. These arguments don’t demonstrate that Christianity, specifically, is true. They show that belief in a supreme God and Creator is more rational for a person to believe than Atheism. These arguments include the following.

The Kalam cosmological argument

  1. All things that begin to exist have a cause of their existence.
  2. The universe began to exist.

Conclusion: The Universe has a cause of its existence.

You might wonder, where is God in this? But when you unpack what this cause must have been like, it must be outside time and space, be immaterial, extremely powerful, and most likely be a personal being. And this is a lot like the God of the Bible.

The Leibnizian cosmological argument

  1. Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.

Conclusion 1: the universe has an explanation of its existence.
Conclusion 2: the explanation of the existence of the universe is God (from 2, and Conclusion 1).

The teleological (“Fine-Tuning”) cosmological argument

  1. The universe is finely tuned to make life physically possible.
  2. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
  3. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.

Conclusion: The fine tuning it is due to design. And the designer is lot like God.

These first three arguments reflect the thoughts of David in Psalm 19 and Paul’s words in Romans 1. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4).

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

The moral argument

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values (right and wrong) and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

Conclusion: God exists.

This helps us see God’s moral nature. God is the foundation of moral values. Paul reflects the basic premise of the moral argument in Romans 2 when he says that the Gentiles who didn’t have the law of Moses, “are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them” (Rom. 2:14-15). The moral law is clearly perceived by all people.

There is an important misconception that often gets attached to the moral argument; That a person can only do morally good things if they believe in God. The moral argument does not say that a person must believe in God to be able to do morally good deeds, Indeed the verse just quoted from Romans even says this. What the argument says is that if any act is truly good or bad, it is because God exists and is the foundation of moral goodness. A non-believer can still do good things.

The ontological argument

  1. It is possible that a maximally great being (God) exists.
  2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
  3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
  4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
  5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.

Conclusion: a maximally great being (God) exists.

Here, “maximally great being” means the best possible being (person) that could ever be described. This is the kind of being that has all the qualities that make a being great and excellent, and it has those qualities to the fullest possible extent. These would be qualities like moral goodness, power, knowledge, wisdom, and self-sufficiency. These are all the qualities typically associated with being God. The term “maximally great being” is used in the argument to avoid any misunderstandings that might occur because people often have their own assumptions or ideas about God based on past experiences. The term is used to avoid all that baggage people might attach to the word God.

This is a rather abstract argument to get your head around at first, but what it shows is that if it is even logically possible that God exists, then He exists necessarily, and it would be impossible that He doesn’t exist. In order to defeat this argument and show that God does not exist, the critic of the argument would have to show that it is logically impossible for God to exist – that there is not even the slightest possibility that He exists. The most controversial premise in this argument for philosophers who specialise in modal logic is premise 1. All the other premises (2-5) are just conclusions drawn from premise 1 and the rules of modal logic.

These arguments give a very strong cumulative case for the existence of God. Something that you might notice about these arguments is that there are premises in all of them that some people might not accept; either because they don’t want to accept the conclusion of the argument, or because they haven’t really heard or considered any evidence that might make them accept the premises. What we would do when sharing these arguments with people is also share the evidence that makes us believe the premises in them are true; and therefore, that the argument is true.

To these arguments about God’s existence we can add arguments for the truth of Christianity in particular.

Historicity of Jesus’ death and resurrection

Perhaps the most important argument we could add would be the argument for the historicity of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The minimal facts that we can bring to this argument, facts that are agreed upon by almost universally amongst historians (including Atheists, Jews and Muslims) who have seriously studied the historical Jesus are:
1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. That His tomb was found.
3.. That His disciples sincerely believed that they meet with the bodily resurrected Jesus and were transformed into bold proclaimers of His resurrection; facing death rather than recanting on that belief.

Establishing these historical facts does not require the assumption that the Bible is perfectly infallible or perfectly preserved, so the critic can’t dismiss them using that retort. Further, all of them enjoy evidence in addition to that in the Bible text. The best explanation that can account for all three facts simultaneously is that Jesus did indeed die and rise again. All other explanations fail to account for all three facts, and the only real reason to prefer these explanations is an a priori exclusion of a miracle as an explanation – that is deciding that a miracle is impossible before even looking at any of the evidence. But indeed the Christian gospel is based upon actual historical events witnessed and recorded for us in the Bible. As Peter wrote, “we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pt. 1:16). The authors saw what happened and faithfully wrote down what they saw because it was such an important thing to share.

Reliability of the Bible

Furthermore, we can add the overwhelming evidence we have for the reliability of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. For example:
– Its books were written very close to the events they record (some places within two years of the resurrection and all within the lifetime of the disciples).
– They are not corrupted by legendary developments.
– They have been extremely well preserved and transmitted.

These arguments and evidence are just some of the ways we can go about showing that Christianity is true and that we have a rational foundation for our faith. They also give us the comfort of adding to our knowledge that Christianity is true which comes primarily by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.

Not by sight

The final appeal the skeptic might make to accuse of following our faith blindly comes from the Bible itself. For example, “we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). And, “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). This seems to be blind faith.

However, in both these verses, the context is our eagerly awaiting our future life with Christ, given that we know with such certainty (plerophoria) of the resurrection of Christ. And how good it is that the future we are faithfully waiting for is not based on “blind faith” but is a future we trust in with a solid, rational foundation.

Lessons for us

Now we have looked at what faith is and seen that it is not blind, how does this apply to our day-to-day lives?

Firstly, sometimes we have doubts. Or sometimes we may find it hard to answer every question someone critical of Christianity asks of us. But we don’t need to let these things trouble us, because our faith is supported by good reasons and evidence. So, as Paul writes: “thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15: 57-58). And Peter said, “we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pt. 1:16).

Secondly, often in life we, or the people we love, encounter tough times. Bad things happen. We suffer. We struggle. And very often we don’t clearly know why or what the purpose is. But we can trust God through this. We know that our faith is based on something that is sure and we have God’s promise that, “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Because our faith is not blind and we have good reasons to be confident in what we believe, we can confidently take God at His word. We can look forward to what is coming, “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). And, we can trust that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

And thirdly, sometimes when a person hears the gospel message, the only thing keeping them from accepted it is the fear that they are making a blind leap into something that they don’t really know if they can trust. And by being able to show that our faith has a strong firm rational foundation, we can show them it’s not a blind leap into the dark, but a short step onto more firm ground. And that can lead them to accept the gospel.

Let’s be thankful that our faith is not blind.

Acknowledgement

This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr Tom Murphy (a chemist) titled, “Is faith blind?”.

Written, November 2018


How to find God’s will

man on roof 3 400pxHave you heard the story about a man trapped on the top of his house during a flood? The water is swiftly rising. As this man sits on his roof, fearful of being swept away by the current, he cries out to God, “Please deliver me”.

A few moments later, a farmer friend arrives with his boat. “Hey, want a ride to safety?” he asks. “No”, replies the man on top of his house. “God is going to deliver me.”

An hour later, the water is up to the gutters. A voluntary rescue person comes by on his yellow raft. “Hey, I’m here to help get you off there and on to safety,” he yells. But the man on top of his house refuses to go. “God is going to deliver me.”

Another hour passes and now the water is halfway up the roof. The man is now on top of his chimney, nervously looking down at certain death and destruction. Fortunately, a Red Cross volunteer comes along in a canoe and offers him a ride to safety. But the man refuses. “No, God is going to deliver me.”

A couple of hours pass by and the water sweeps over the top of his house and he is carried away by the current and drowns. When he gets to heaven, he meets Jesus and says, “I thought you were going to deliver me”. Jesus replies, “I sent a boat, an inflatable raft, and a canoe; but you refused each one”. Don’t be like this man!

In the previous post we saw why it is important to know God’s will. Now we will look at how we can find God’s will for us. How does God guide us? We will see that God has given us several ways to find his plan, purpose and will for us.

First, we need to be aware of the conditions for finding God’s will.

Conditions for finding God’s will

Desire

Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own” (Jn. 7:17NLT). If we want to find God’s will, we must be willing to do it even before we know what it is. So, there must be a desire and a willingness to follow God’s guidance. If we are walking closely with the Lord and truly desiring His will for our lives, God will place His desires in our hearts. The key is wanting God’s will, not our own. A godly person’s desires are in line with what God wants them to do (Ps. 37:4, 23, 31).

Faith

Solomon answered the question, “How can I know God’s will in my life?” with a proverb, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6NIV). This means to trust in the Lord and not in ourselves. So we are to believe that God will reveal His will to us. And be willing to submit to Him in every area of life.

James says, “when you ask (for wisdom), you must believe and not doubt” (Jas. 1:6). We must believe that God cares for us and not doubt His goodness and power.

Daily fellowship with the Lord

Romans 12:1-2 has three keys for knowing God’s will. And they all rely on daily fellowship with the Lord. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:1-2).

The first key is commitment.

a) Commitment. Like the life of a sacrificial animal was offered to God, God wants us to be totally committed to Him. We are to place our lives before God as an offering. It’s to be an exclusive relationship, like marriage. Our goal is to please God (2 Cor. 5:14-15). And give up our will so we can follow God’s plan for us.

The second key is a renewed mind.

b) A renewed mind. Our thinking is to be according to a biblical worldview. Godly thinking. Paul had the mind of Christ and didn’t think about people from a worldly point of view (1 Cor. 2:16; 2 Cor. 5:16). It’s like marriage. Because they spend so much time together, a husband and wife get to know each other’s mind and ways. Daily prayer and mediation on Scripture can help us to learn God’s mind and ways.

Are spiritual factors included in our decision making? Do we have the glory of God and the extension of His Kingdom in mind? Do we desire what He desires?

The third key is a godly lifestyle.

c) A godly lifestyle. Not following the pattern of the sinful world. This comes from a godly mind directing obedience to Scripture. What controls our lives? Outside influences or inner convictions? Do we live as if this world is all that there is? Have we lost the eternal point of view on our lives? Are we always thinking about ourselves and disregarding the things of God? These come from the world system, which hates God (Jn. 15:9-19).

The final condition for finding God’s will is confession and repentance of sin.

Confession and repentance of sin

Unconfessed sin keeps us from closeness to God. We are to deal with sin by confessing it and repenting (turning back to follow God). “If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).

If we have disobeyed God in some matter, let’s turn to Him in repentance now, before it is too late. Like Jonah, we may be able to come back into the mainstream of God’s plan for our lives.

Times of uncertainty are used by God to sift our motives too. When unsure of God’s will, we should examine ourselves to see whether we have fulfilled the prerequisites for His guidance.

Before you get a driving licence in Australia there are some pre-requisites. You need to pass:
– The driver knowledge test.
– The Hazard Perception Test.
– 120 hours of driving, including 20 hours of night driving.
– The driving practical test.
Likewise, we have seen that there are some pre-requisites for finding God’s will.

Inner guidance via the Holy Spirit is the chief means by which God guides His people today.

The Holy Spirit

God guided Israel in the wilderness by a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, but that method ceased when they entered Canaan. In Acts there are a few examples of God using angels and visions to guide people, but these are rare. In this post we will look at the normal means of guidance.

Finding God’s will was easier in Old Testament (OT) times because God used external ways to indicate it. The Holy Spirit now lives in a believer as a Guide, and He replaces all the external means of guidance that existed in the OT. Jesus told the disciples, “He (the Holy Spirit) will guide you into all the truth” (Jn. 16:13). They wrote this down and we now have it in the New Testament (NT).

Early in His ministry, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Lk. 4:1). Jesus and the Apostles were led by the Spirit because they were said to be full of the Holy Spirit. And Christians are commanded to be full of the Spirit (Eph. 5:17).

The Holy Spirit urges us inwardly either to take or not to take a certain course of action. Normally, this is the result of much time spent in prayer, and weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed course of action. We can work through decisions with the wisdom God gives us through the Spirit. We can distinguish the voice of the Holy Spirit by the growing peace He gives to our minds, as we pray over the matter (Rom. 8:6; Col. 3:15). And the Holy Spirit will never lead us contrary to the teaching of the Bible.

Athletes and sporting teams have coaches to prepare them to perform at their peak. Mal Meninga coaches the Australian Rugby League team, Bert Van Marwijk has just started to coach the Australian Soccer team and Darren Lehmann has just resigned from coaching the Australian Cricket team. Fortunately, we have a coach who doesn’t retire, the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit also guides us through the following external means. The chief external means by which God guides His people today is the Bible.

Scripture

Paul says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The authors of the Bible were given the words to use by the Holy Spirit. Through it believers can be equipped for life, including leaning about God’s plan, purpose and will.

John Piper says there are three stages of finding God’s will.
– Using our renewed minds to understand and apply what God commands in the Scripture.
– The application of the Scriptures to new situations in life that are not addressed in the Bible.
– The development of godly character. Most of our thoughts, attitudes, and actions are spontaneous.
They are just spill-over from what’s inside.

ScriptureWhen we look at the commands in the Bible we need to realize who they were written for. This is summarized in a schematic diagram where time increases from left to right. Christianity started on the day of Pentecost after Jesus, died, rose back to life and ascended back to heaven. So the commands in Acts to Revelation (after the day of Pentecost) were written to Christians. This means that they usually can be applied directly to us. The OT was written to Jews who lived under the laws of Moses (the Old Covenant). So these commands don’t apply directly to us. For example, they were required to offer animal sacrifices. Instead these laws need to be interpreted though the NT. Some are repeated in the NT, like 9 of the 10 commandments. And others are not repeated in the NT, like the command to keep the Sabbath day and the commands to offer animal sacrifices. So be careful when applying the OT to today. It has many good principles and provides the background to Christianity, but it wasn’t written to us. Jesus lived under the laws of Moses and the gospels include the teachings of His to Jews. But much of His teaching carries over into Christianity (where it relates to the new covenant). The gospels were written to give Christians an account of the life of Jesus.

When interpreting a passage of the Bible we need to take the text and the context into account. Questions about the text include:
– Who was it written to?
– What did it mean to them?
– What’s changed since then? Are we living under a different covenant?
And questions about the context include:
– What happened before and afterwards?
– What is the situation?
Context is king because it reduces the possible meanings of a text to its most probable meaning.

For example, “By his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5;1 Pt. 2:24) could refer to either physical or spiritual healing. The context in Isaiah is “our transgressions”, “our iniquities”, “each of us has turned to our own way”, and “the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5-6). And the context in 1 Peter is “our sins”, and “die to sins and live for righteousness”. There is no mention in either passage of illness or injury. So, in these verses “healed” means forgiveness of their sins (spiritual healing), not physical healing.

The contents of the Bible can be divided into commands, models to follow and reports of events. A command is mandatory (not optional) and prescriptive (not descriptive). A model to follow is a practice that is described that is worth following today. Whereas, a report is a description of events (like in the news media) that is not worth following today.

Biblical commands to Christians are clear to follow. They are God’s revealed will for us. Are we faithfully seeking Him on a daily basis through Bible study and prayer? Are we active in ministry at a Bible-believing church? Are we sharing our faith? Are we doing our best to live apart from sin? Are we faithful to our spouse? Are we seeking satisfaction in Christ instead of the world?

Biblical models are examples to follow. Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Models are also clear to follow.

But what about topics not mentioned in the Bible? First, we can ask does it contradict the Bible? Nothing can be the will of God that is contrary to the Word of God. Although the Bible doesn’t give specific answers to many problems we face, it does give us general principles. We can apply these principles to the issues we face day by day. Spiritual wisdom is the practical application of the Bible to everyday situations.

Paul urged the Ephesians to “understand what the Lord’s will is” (Eph. 5:17). We understand the will of the Lord by reflective thinking on how principles of Scripture apply to our circumstances. We find the general will of God in the Bible; we find the specific will for an individual believer through the application of principles of the Bible. We do not find this will through experiences, visions, or coincidences. We find His will through the correct use of our understanding.

Tattoo 6 400pxFor example, what about a debatable matter like tattoos? This is a secondary matter that is not essential to the Christian faith. And Christians may have different opinions and convictions about it. Some biblical principles we can consider are: God’s honor, the welfare of others (like acting in love, acceptance, harmony, don’t quarrel, don’t judge, don’t stumble a weaker believer, and don’t hinder spiritual growth), and order in the church. Also, what is the motive behind the tattoo?

On rare occasions, God may confirm His guidance to us through some specific passage in our daily Bible reading. But care is needed for we are often likely to read into a passage what is not there. God may lead us through a verse taken out of context, but this is the exception rather than the rule. God may confirm His guidance through a passage in our daily Bible-reading. But this should never be made the sole basis for guidance in any matter.

Ikea 3 400pxHave you ever bought some furniture from Ikea? It comes as a flat-pack and the components need to be assembled before they can be used. It’s best to follow the instructions. Otherwise, you might have to go back to the beginning in order to assemble the components in the correct order. The Bible is like God’s instruction manual for living our lives.

Prayer is another external means of guidance.

Prayer

Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6-7). Prayer is the way to alleviate worry and experience God’s peace. God wants to know about our requests. There is peace in knowing that God is sovereign and loving.

James 1:5 says we don’t have wisdom because we don’t ask for it—so prayer is critical in seeking and living the will of God. He can use answered prayer to guide us through life.

Did you know that there is an Ikea flat-pack furniture assembly service for difficult projects? And what if we could phone up and get help with difficult Ikea projects? Prayer is like that – we get to speak with the author of the instructions.

Circumstances and opportunities are other external means of guidance.

Circumstances and opportunities

God is sovereign. He is in charge of this world. And the events that He allows are all part of His sovereign will. Nothing happens by chance. What happens to us is part of God’s sovereign will. He can control our circumstances and thereby indicate His will. God may use events in our life to point us in a certain direction. God can use circumstances either to confirm the guidance we have received or to prevent our taking a wrong step.

There are a number of cases of circumstantial guidance in the book of Acts. God used persecution to scatter the church from Jerusalem to spread the gospel (Acts 8:1). During Paul’s first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas moved from one place to another when they had to flee from persecution. And after Paul was arrested, he was given opportunities to preach in Jerusalem to the crowd and to the Sanhedrin. At his trial, he preached to the governor and the king. And when he was taken as a prisoner to Rome, he preached to the sailors, to people at Malta and to people at Rome (Acts 21-28).

God may prevent us from going into paths He has not chosen for us by putting us on a sick bed or by making us miss a train, an appointment or an interview. Disappointments can be His appointments for us, if we live under His Lordship. When we do not obtain something we greatly longed for and prayed for, we can be sure that God has something better in store for us.

God may also lead us contrary to circumstances. So circumstances are not always an indication of God’s will. They must be considered only in conjunction with the inner witness of the Holy Spirit and His witness through the Bible.

Is it right to ask God to indicate His will by a sign? After the advent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, there is not a single recorded case in the NT of believers seeking to find God’s will through a sign. This seems to indicate that it is no longer God’s normal method of guidance. It served a purpose in OT times, when the Holy Spirit did not indwell people – but not now. Don’t ask God for a miracle as a sign, and don’t ask God for something so common that it is not really a sign at all. And don’t ask God for a verse as a sign. It’s probably best to not ask God to indicate His will by a sign at all.

God also works through open doors and opportunities. To steer a ship or vehicle, it needs to be moving. If we are active in responding to the opportunities before us, God will direct us.

The advice of godly believers is another external means of guidance.

The advice of godly believers

Christians are urged to encourage each other in the local church (Heb. 10:24-25). Wisdom is available from others with more experience in the Christian life. It’s good to have a mentor or a spiritual counselor or a small group who can provide guidance and support.

However, there are two extremes to avoid. One is to be completely independent of the advice of godly people. The other is to be so completely dependent on their advice as to accept it without question as God’s will for us.

There are some occasions when we should pay attention to the advice of godly people, and some occasions when we may have to go against the advice of those same people, and yet other occasions when we do not have to consult anyone at all. In any case whether we accept or reject or do not seek the advice of others, the ultimate decision must always be our own, for we are personally answerable to God for our decisions.

Daily guidance

Building house 5 400pxHow do you build a house? One brick at a time. Or one part at a time. How do we build a life? One decision at a time. There is an old saying, “Sow a thought and you reap an act; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny”. The decisions we make about God’s plan purpose and will for us shape our lives.

God may sometimes show us His will only just before we have to make a decision, and may keep us waiting a long time prior to that. In any case, He will show us only the next step at each stage. He leads us step by step because He wants us to depend on Him day by day, and to walk by faith and not by sight. For example, the Bereans “examined the Scriptures every day” (Acts 17:11). When He shows us only one step at a time, we are compelled to depend on Him. Moreover, if God showed us the whole future, it is quite likely that we would not want to obey Him fully. And so, He shows us just one step at a time and gradually makes us willing to fulfil all His will. To find God’s will for our life, therefore, all we need to do at any time is to take the next step that God shows us. As we do so, we will find God’s plan unfolding gradually. He does not expect us to find out the details of His plan before we get there.

In the smaller details of daily life, guidance is not necessarily a question of making a conscious decision. It is a matter of walking in the Spirit. A right relationship with the Lord will lead to right action.

God’s will is not static. It is dynamic! It is not always an issue of choosing A or B. In fact, many times you can choose from A to Z, and any of them will be OK. It’s our choice. Why would God give us a brain and not expect us to use it? He lets us make choices, and he gives us second chances.

Summary

We have seen that there are seven conditions for finding God’s will, plan or purpose for us. These are desire, faith, daily fellowship with the Lord, commitment, a renewed mind, a godly lifestyle, and confession and repentance of sin.

Inner guidance via the Holy Spirit is the chief means by which God guides His people today. The Holy Spirit also uses Scripture, prayer, circumstances and the advice of godly believers. So God has given us several ways to find his plan, purpose and will for us. Let’s use these so that we will know, understand and follow His will for our lives.

Written, April 2018

Also see: Why is it important to know God’s will
Understanding the Bible


How to be contented

Contentment 2 400px

In September 2016 severe storms sparked a state-wide blackout in South Australia leaving 1.67 million residents without electrical power. Supply was lost to the entire South Australian region of the National Electricity Market. As a result of the blackout the zinc smelter was shut down for several weeks. We all know about the importance of electrical power, but what about the power to be contented?

In this blogpost we look at what Paul says about being contented in Philippians 4:11-13, which finishes with the well-known verse, “I can do all this (things ESV) through Him who gives me strength” (4:13NIV). This passage shows us how to be contented in both prosperity and adversity.

Context

Paul wrote this letter while he was under house arrest in Rome (Phil. 1:13; 4:22). It was written to the first church established in Europe in Macedonia (now Greece). The Philippians had heard that he was in prison, so they sent him a gift of money. Epaphroditus took the gift to Paul and stayed to help him. While there, he became very ill. When he was ready to go back to the church in Philippi, Paul sent this letter with him to thank the Philippians for their gift, to encourage them in the Christian faith, and to warn them about false teachers. Paul said that because of his imprisonment, the good news about Jesus was being preached more. And he wanted them to be united, humble, committed to living for Jesus Christ, and not to grumble.

Contentment

Towards the end of the letter Paul says “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (4:11-13).

Before the passage, Paul “rejoiced greatly in the Lord” after he received the gift of money from them (4:10). He thanked God as the ultimate source of the gift. God had motivated the Philippians to give. The principle is that everything we possess is ultimately from God. God provides our financial support. God provides our employment. He repeats this thought after the passage, “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus”. So, let’s base our joy and contentment on God and not our circumstances.

Paul was content whatever his circumstances. This means in all financial situations. He gives three examples of the extremes:
– “in need”, versus “to have plenty”,
– “well fed”, versus “hungry”, and
– “living in plenty”, versus living in “want”.
He says that he had experienced these extremes of being needy and being well off.

And then Paul says, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength”. What is “all this”? It’s being content in all the circumstances of life. He had learned to be content no matter what his circumstances were. Paul was writing from prison. So, he’s saying that he was content in prison! The Roman jail did not provide food, money, clothes or blankets. How many prisoners are content in prison? Are we content when we are needy? Or when we are hungry?

The principle is that circumstances do not need to determine our state of mind. We can be content knowing that our situation is God’s will for us. He is in control of all that happens to us. Our security is in God’s plan for us, not in money. In fact, prosperity can be a source of discontent because the more we have, the more we want. In times of plenty we can forget about God and trust in our own resources. For example, the Rolling Stones sang a song called, “I can get no satisfaction”. So, wealth doesn’t bring contentment.

Contentment doesn’t come automatically or naturally. Paul says, “I have learned to be content” and “I have learned the secret of being content”. As he was well educated, he probably grew up in luxury, but he probably wasn’t contented then. Now he was needy, but contented. Through the tough times, Paul learnt to be content. Paul learnt this lesson from God. He leant it through Scripture and his experiences in life.

Contentment is an attitude that is free from anxiety. It’s putting things in proper priority. Paul said, “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim. 6:6-8).

Contentment is the opposite of greed. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”(Heb. 13:5).

Inner power

Then Paul says how he can do this, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (4:13NIV).
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (ESV, HCSB).
“I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me” (NET).
He has an extra source of power to strengthen him.

Does this mean that there was nothing that Paul couldn’t do? The Greek word translated “all things” (pas Strongs #3956) occurs twice in the previous verse – “in any and every situation (circumstance)”. That’s why the NIV translates it as “I can do all this” instead of “I can do all things”. Verse 13 explains the power behind his contentment. The “all things” means being content in both prosperity and adversity. So it doesn’t mean that a Christian can do anything.

We know that the Holy Spirit helps believers because Paul said, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Rom. 8:26) and he prayed that God “may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being” (Eph. 3:16). And the reason for such divine power is “so that you may have great endurance and patience” (Col. 1:11). And Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit” when he addressed the religious leaders after they had arrested him for preaching (Acts 4:8). And Jesus said that the Holy Spirit lives within every believer. So my translation of verse 13 is “I can do all this through the Holy Spirit who gives me strength”. God’s power through the Holy Spirit is essential for Christian living and Christian ministry.

And Paul also said that he dealt with physical problems and difficult situations with the divine power of God the Father and Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 12:9-10; 13:4). So, a Christian has power from all members of the trinity.

Lessons for us

Paul said that he was content when he had plenty. So should we. Paul also said that he was content when he was hungry and cold (like in jail). So he was also content in hardships. So should we.

Real contentment comes from God and not from our circumstances such as material possessions or physical comfort. Our circumstances will vary but God does not vary. With Christ at the center of our lives and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be calm and confident in difficult circumstances.

Are we happy when things are good and miserable when things are bad? Don’t be a slave of your circumstances. Let’s learn how to be contented in prosperity and adversity, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Appendix

The Textus Receptus for Philippians 4:13 says “… through Christ who strengthens me” (NKJV). Although this appears in many New Testament manuscripts, textural scholars believe that this is a modification of the original text.

Written, May 2017


How did Jesus do miracles?

jesus-miracles-400pxI have been asked the question, “Where did Jesus’ power come from – God, Jesus Himself, and/or the Holy Spirit?” The Bible records that Jesus definitely had miraculous power. In His hometown Nazareth, the people asked, “Where did this man (Jesus) get this wisdom and these miraculous powers” (Mt. 13:54NIV)? Even king Herod said that “miraculous powers are at work in Him” (Mt. 14:2).

The miracles associated with Jesus were events that couldn’t be explained by natural occurrences. So they require supernatural explanations. That’s why they are said to confirm Christ’s divinity (Jn. 20:30-31).

As Jesus was sent to earth by God the Father, was this the source of His power?

God the Father

After Philip asked, “show us the Father”, Jesus said, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing His work” (Jn. 14:10). The NET translates “His work” as “His miraculous deeds”, and says that this is most likely a reference to the miracles that Jesus had performed as a manifestation of the mighty acts of God. And Luke said that God the Father did miracles through Jesus Christ and “because God was with Him” (Acts 2:22; 10:38). Finally, through His “incomparably great power” and “mighty strength”, God the Father, “raised Christ from the dead” (Eph. 1:19-20). This was the greatest miracle of all.

So, God the Father was the power behind Christ’s miracles. But as Jesus was a member of the divine trinity, was this another source of His power?

His own divine power

Jesus’ miracles demonstrated His amazing power. When Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee during a storm and calmed the storm, the disciples said “Truly you are the Son of God” (Mt. 14:22-32). When Jesus said He could forgive a paralyzed man’s sins and heal him, the religious leaders knew that only God could do this (Mt. 9:1-8; Mk. 2:5-12; Lk. 5:18-26). Then Jesus healed the paralytic (a visible miracle) to confirm that the man’s sins had been forgiven (an invisible miracle). And when Jesus healed a paralyzed man on the Sabbath day He referred to it as His work (Jn. 5:17). As Christ’s miracles provided evidence of His divinity, they were evidence of His inherent divine power (Jn. 20:31).

Luke said “the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick” (Lk. 5:17). The Greek noun kurios translated “Lord” (Strongs #2962) in this verse, which means master and owner, is applied to Jesus in Luke 5: 8, 12 elsewhere in this passage. Therefore, according to the context, in v.17 it means that Jesus had absolute power to heal the sick (some infer that the lack of an article in the Greek text implies the reference is to God the Father, but the article is also absent in verses 8 and 12). Contrary to some teaching, Jesus didn’t empty Himself of His divine power when He became a man (Phil. 2:7). Instead, He always had this divine power, which could be used when required.

When Jesus defended His claim to be equal with God He said, “the Son (Jesus) can do nothing by Himself, He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (Jn. 5:19). This doesn’t mean that Jesus had no inherent ability to accomplish anything miraculous on His own. He was so closely united with God the Father that He could only do the very things which He saw His Father doing. Jesus also said, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him (God the Father) who sent me” (Jn. 5:30). Jesus is so closely united with God the Father that He could not act by Himself. He could not do anything that was independent or inconsistent with His Father’s will. Instead, He was obedient to His Father and always in fellowship and harmony with Him. Finally, Jesus raised Himself from death (Jn. 2:19; 10:17-18). As already mentioned, this was the greatest miracle of all.

So, His own divine nature was the power behind Christ’s miracles. But as Jesus was “full of the (Holy) Spirit”, was this the source of His power (Lk. 4:1)?

The Holy Spirit

From His baptism, Jesus was indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Mt. 3:16; Lk. 4:18). During this period, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Mt. 4:1); empowered Jesus’ return to Galilee (Lk. 4:14); empowered Jesus to drive out demons (Mt. 12:28); and empowered Jesus to instruct the apostles (Acts 1:2). When the 72 disciples returned with joy from a missionary trip, Jesus was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit” (Lk. 10:21). The sin of blasphemy against the Spirit was attributing Christ’s power over demons to Satan’s power rather than the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:31-32; Mk. 3:29).

According to Scripture, the main miracle associated with the Holy Spirit seems to be driving out demons. So, the Holy Spirit was the power behind some of Christ’s miracles.

Summary

We have seen that the Bible says Jesus had miraculous power and that the source of this power was God the Father, Christ’s divine nature and the Holy Spirit. So, the whole divine trinity provided the power for Christ’s miracles.

Written, November 2016

Also see: Why did Jesus do miracles?


Who raised Jesus from death?

cross_and_tomb-3Christ’s resurrection and the feeding of the 5,000 are the only miracles recorded in each of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John of the Bible. According to the Bible, Jesus was the first person to be raised from death to eternal life, never to die again (Rom. 6:9; 1 Cor. 15:23). But who raised Jesus back to life from death? The Bible gives various answers to this question.

God did it

The most frequent explanation is that God raised Jesus from death (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, 33, 34, 37; 17:31; Rom. 4:24; 10:9; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15:15; Col. 2:12; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pt. 1:21). “God raised Him (Jesus) from the dead so that He (Jesus) will never be subject to decay” (Acts 13:34NIV). As Jesus was both a physical human being and the spiritual Son of God, the death and “decay” refer to His physical body, and not to His divine nature. Only people die, not spirits. His earthly body wasn’t eternal but was subject to death just as ours is.

Righteousness is promised “for us who believe in Him (God) who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He (Jesus) was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom. 4:24-25). So Christ’s death dealt with the problem of our sins and the fact that He rose confirms that the price has been paid to make us right with God. As Paul says, ‘‘If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him (Jesus) from the dead, you will be saved’ (Rom. 10:9).

Also, “by His power God raised the Lord (Jesus) from the dead, and He (God) will raise us also” (1 Cor. 6:14). So because God raised Jesus from death, in the future He will also raise the bodies of believers from death. Resurrection is the opposite of death. Death separates the body from the soul and spirit, while resurrection reunites them. But as noted above, it didn’t affect the divine part of Jesus.

God the Father did it

The Bible also says that God the Father raised Jesus from death (Rom. 6:4; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:19-21; 1 Pt. 1:3). Paul said that through His “incomparably great power” and “mighty strength”, God the Father, “raised Christ from the dead and seated Him (Jesus) at His (God the Father’s) right hand in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 1:19-20). So Jesus was raised and given the place of highest honor and authority (the right hand) in God’s dwelling place (the heavenly realms).

It should be noted that some of the instances of the word “God” used in the context of Christ’s resurrection actually refer to God the Father (1 Th. 1:9-10).

Jesus did it

The Bible also says that Jesus raised Himself from death (Jn. 2:19; 10:17-18). Jesus told the Jews, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn. 2:19-21). In this instance, the temple was a metaphor for His body. So to “destroy this temple” was a figurative way to predict His death and to “raise it again” was a figurative way to predict His resurrection. When Jesus said that He had the power to raise Himself back to life, it shows that He had divine power, because this is impossible for a human being to do.

When Jesus predicted that faithful Jews and faithful Gentiles would be united in the Christian church, He described how this would be made possible: “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father (Jn. 10:17-18)”. To “lay down” one’s life is to die willingly and to “take it up again” is to resurrect back to life. So He willingly died and rose again for those who trust in the saving power of His death and resurrection. This passage says that Jesus used His divine power to rise from death in obedience to the command (instruction or plan) of God the Father. This was possible because His divine power wasn’t affected by His death – it wasn’t destroyed.

Did the Holy Spirit do it?

Some think that the Bible also says that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from death (Rom. 8:11; 1 Pt. 3:18). Romans 3:18 says:
NIV: “And if (since) the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you”.
ESV: “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you”.
HCSB: “And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you”.
NET: “Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through His Spirit who lives in you”. And according to the NET Bible “the one who raised Jesus from the dead” and “the one who raised Christ from the death” refer to God. So this verse belongs to the first category. “God did it”.

Another possibility is that the term “Spirit of Him” could be a title of the Holy Spirit like “Spirit of God” (Rom. 8:9). According to this interpretation, the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from death. But according to its context, this verse is saying that the Spirit of God within us is stronger than the sin that is in our bodies. Which is similar to “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). So this verse doesn’t definitely say that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from death – it is only a debatable inference.

1 Peter 3:18 says that Christ was:
NIV: “made alive in the Spirit”.
ESV: “made alive in the spirit”.
HCSB: “made alive in the spiritual realm”.
NET: “made alive in the spirit”. And according to the NET Bible “The reference may not be to the Holy Spirit directly, but indirectly, since the Spirit permeates and characterizes the spiritual mode of existence”.
As most of these contemporary translations don’t capitalize “spiritual”, there is no conclusive evidence in 1 Peter 3:18 that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from death.

Summary

The Bible definitely teaches that Jesus was raised from the dead by God, God the Father and by Himself. Is this a contradiction? No, because God the Father and Jesus Christ are referred to as “God” in the Bible and they can do what God alone can do (Heb. 1:8).

None of the verses say that God the Father alone raised Jesus from the dead, or that Jesus by Himself without the aid of the Father raised Himself, or that Jesus didn’t have the power to raise Himself. Paul called Jesus “the author of life” (Acts 3:15) and Jesus certainly had the power to resurrect Lazarus back to life (Jn. 11:11-44). Furthermore, Jesus told Martha “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25).

Also, it doesn’t follow that the Father and the Son must be one and the same person in order for all these statements to be correct, since all that is required is for them to have the same ability and power to raise the dead. After all, Jesus said that He could do everything that the Father does (Jn. 5:19-24).

Whether the Holy Spirit, who is also referred to as “God” (Acts 5:3-4), was involved in the Resurrection of Christ is a debatable matter as the Bible doesn’t seem to provide conclusive evidence of this.

Written, October 2016


What’s the Holy Spirit like?

Spirit collage 900px

11 Biblical images of the Holy Spirit

state-of-origin-6 400pxIt’s Australia’s State of Origin match for rugby league football today. Can the Blues (New South Wales, also called the cockroaches) win or will it be the Maroons (Queensland, also called the canetoads)? It will be a tough game. Defence is vital. The big men will run at the smaller ones. And there will be big collisions and hits. Life can be a struggle like that. How can we get though? Satan can attack us like an opposition footballer. In this post we will see how God helps Christians in daily life.

In particular, we will look at what the Holy Spirit is like from the images given in the Bible.

The big picture

The Bible says that there are three aspects of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s where the word “Trinity” comes from. God the Holy Spirit is invisible because He is spirit and not part of the physical world. So, He doesn’t have a body like us.

Spirits, such as angels and demons, are invisible beings. When the Greek adjective hagios, which is translated “holy” (Strongs #40), is used with the word “spirit” it refers to a spirit that is divine, which is the Holy Spirit. The core meaning for “holy” is “different”. In the New Testament it often means set apart by God or set apart for God. It’s also used to describe things or people associated with God and the attribute of purity and sinlessness.

God the Father sent Jesus to earth to be our Savior by sacrificing His life. He came as a baby (which is called the incarnation) who grew up to be a man. After this, Jesus returned to heaven and God sent the Holy Spirit to earth to live in all those who repent of their sin and trust in Christ’s sacrifice. The Holy Spirit was sent to earth on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2; 1 Pt. 1:12). Since then He lives in believers from the time of their conversion (Rom. 8:9; Eph. 1:13-14). And He will be with them forever (Jn.14:16). Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Mt. 28:20NIV). But Jesus is in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father. Instead He’s with us spiritually by the Holy Spirit. One of the names of the Holy Spirit is “Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9; 1 Pt. 1:11). This is different to Old Testament times, when the Holy Spirit came on people for a while and then left them (1 Sam. 16:14; Ps. 51:11).

The Holy Spirit’s mission is to testify about Jesus (Jn. 15:26). He guided those who wrote the New Testament (Jn. 16:13). He also convicts people of sin (Jn. 16:8-11). He empowers Christians to live by the Spirit and “not gratify the desires of the sinful flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Then the Holy Spirit can produce His fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22–23). The Holy Spirit also supports good (1 Cor. 12:3) and restrains evil (Gen. 6:3; 2 Th.2:5-8).

We will see that the Bible uses figures of speech to describe the Holy Spirit. That’s one way of describing someone who is invisible.

Metaphors as images of the Holy Spirit

The best way to know what the Holy Spirit is like is to look at what the Bible says about Him because it’s a message from God. In particular, we’re looking at images of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. These are mainly metaphors which are powerful images that show what the Holy Spirit does.

Lawyer

The Holy Spirit is like a lawyer. A lawyer (or advocate or intercessor) helps defend people who are accused of breaking a law. They give evidence that stands up in court.

Jesus asked the Father to give His disciples “another advocate to help you and be with you forever” (Jn. 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). An advocate supports a position or viewpoint and this is what the Holy Spirit did for the preaching of the disciples. Paul said, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Rom 8:26-27). He intercedes for us with God the Father by praying for us. So the Holy Spirit is on our side.

Jesus is also like a lawyer (or advocate or intercessor) – He represents Christians to God the Father (1 Jn. 2:1). He is the “other advocate” (Jn. 14:16). When we sin, Jesus pleads with God the Father for a pardon. He pleads our case on the basis of His death, by which forgiveness of sins was made possible. He is our mediator with God the Father (1 Tim. 2:5). He’s at God’s right hand, interceding for us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). So Jesus is also on our side.

So we have the best defence team, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They can also defend us against accusations by Satan. Paul says, “If God is for us, who can stand against us?” (Rom. 8:31). The answer is, no-one.

If the Holy Spirit is like our lawyer, then we have the best possible helper. This image reminds us of how the Holy Spirit helps us get through the trials and troubles of life and supports our witnessing.

Dove

The Holy Spirit is also like a dove. A dove is a symbol of peace, love and innocence. When Jesus was baptized, “the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove” (Mt. 3:16; Mk. 1:10; Lk. 3:22; Jn. 1:32).

After the flood, Noah sent out a dove that returned with an olive leaf (Gen. 8:11), which symbolized peace with God. The dove announced deliverance from the flood, and at Christ’s baptism, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove announced deliverance from sins.

Because of their courtship, their joint care of young, and the tender loving care between the parents, doves were symbols of romantic love in the ancient Near East. For example, “my dove” was used as a term of endearment between lovers (Song. 2:14; 5:2; 6:9).

When Jesus sent His disciples to preach to the Jews, He told them to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Mt. 10:16).

If the Holy Spirit is like a dove, then He is associated with peace, love and innocence. This image reminds us of the love, peace and goodness in the fruit of the Spirit which the Holy Spirit produces in the life of the believer (Gal. 5:22-23).

Next, the Holy Spirit is like certain inanimate objects.

Inanimate objects

Wind

The Holy Spirit is like wind, which is the movement of air from a region of high pressure to one of lower pressure. The wind moves and is invisible but we can see its effect on clouds, flags and leaves. And we can feel wind, particularly when it’s very hot or very cold.

Jesus told Nicodemus that “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” spiritually (Jn. 3:3). He is saying that just as the first (physical) birth is necessary for physical life, so a second (spiritual) birth is necessary for spiritual life. Christ’s kingdom can only be entered by those whose lives have been changed. Since His reign will be a righteous one, His subjects must be righteous also. He couldn’t reign over people who were going on in their sins. This spiritual birth is produced by the Holy Spirit when a person believes in the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 3:6, 8). When a person is born again through the Spirit, they receive a new nature, and so are fit for the kingdom of God. Then Jesus gave an illustration, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:8). The Greek noun for “Spirit” is the same as for “wind” (Strongs #4151). The word can mean spirit, Spirit, wind or breath, depending on the context. The same applies to the Hebrew word for these nouns in the Old Testament (Strongs #7307). Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit and spiritual birth are like the wind. He’s using the physical to illustrate the spiritual. We can’t control or fully understand the invisible origin and movement of the wind or the Holy Spirit. Both the wind and spiritual birth are unpredictable. We don’t know just when and where it will take place.

On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to live in the disciples, “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven” (Acts 2:2). So there was an audible sign of this event.

If the Holy Spirit is like wind, then although He’s invisible, He’s life-giving (we need air) and powerful. This image reminds us of the Holy Spirit’s role in giving us spiritual life.

Running water

The Holy Spirit is also like running water, which like air is a dynamic fluid that’s essential for physical life. In ancient times settlements were near wells and waterways. Water also washes, purifies and refreshes (Ps.51:7).

When Jesus preached to the Jews during the Festival of Tabernacles He said, ‘“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’ (Jn. 7:37-39). He is quoting from Isaiah where there is a gospel invitation to those who are thirsty (who sense their need) to “come to the waters” (Isa. 55:1). If they do this and live godly lives, they are promised “The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden; like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isa. 58:11). John explains that the “rivers of living water” was a metaphor for the Holy Spirit “whom those who believed in Him were later to receive” at Pentecost. A river channels water. This water can be used to irrigate crops, which bring a harvest. So if you are spiritually thirsty, accept Jesus as your Savior and the Holy Spirit will immediately come and empower your life and produce the fruit of the Spirit.

This happened on the last day of the Festival. So they had been celebrating for 7 days before Jesus said “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink”. Obviously, their religious observance hadn’t met their spiritual needs. So He invited them to come to Him for spiritual satisfaction by trusting Him as Savior. The same principle applies today. If you have a spiritual need because the gods of this world don’t satisfy or because you are aware of our sinfulness, then learn about what Jesus has done for us.

If the Holy Spirit is like a running water, then He is life-giving (we need water) and He satisfies our spiritual needs. This image reminds us that the impact of the Holy Spirit leads to spiritual growth and the fruit of the Spirit.

Olive oil

The Holy Spirit is also like olive oil, which was used in Old Testament times to anoint prophets, priests and kings for ministry to their offices (Ex. 29:7; 30:30; 1 Sam. 16:13; 2 Sam. 5:3; 1 Ki. 19:16; Isa. 61:1). In this case anointing with olive oil symbolized the coming of the Holy Spirit. The words “Messiah” and “Christ” mean “anointed one”. Also, it was courtesy, honoring and respectful to anoint the head of a guest with oil (Ps. 23:5; Lk. 7:46). And in those days the oil lamp was their only source of light at night (Mt. 25:3-4).

Jesus quoted from Isaiah when He said “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Isa. 61:1; Lk. 4:18). The phrase “He has anointed me” refers back to Jesus’ baptism (Lk. 3:21-22). So He was anointed with the Holy Spirit, not with oil.

Peter told Cornelius that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38). Paul wrote, “God has anointed us” and then mentions the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21). So Christians are also anointed with the Holy Spirit.

In the context of discerning truth from the error of false teachers, John wrote “you have an anointing from the Holy One (Jesus), and all of you know the truth” (1 Jn. 2:20). The anointing refers to the Holy Spirit. So the Holy Spirit helps believers to discern between truth and error. The Holy Spirit exposes false teachers when we test them against Scripture (1 Jn. 2:26-27). In His warning against false teachers, John says that because we received the Holy Spirit, we don’t need any spiritual teaching apart from what is found in the Bible. The Holy Spirit will help us understand what we need to know about salvation and Christian living.

If the Holy Spirit is like olive oil, then He empowers us for ministry and service. This image reminds us that the Holy Spirit will help us understand the Bible and apply it to our daily lives.

Fire

The Holy Spirit is also like fire. In ancient times, fires satisfied many human needs by producing heat and light. It was also used to purify precious metals (Mal. 3:2-3) and was a symbol for God. God is like “a consuming fire” (Dt. 4:24; Heb. 12:29) towards those who reject Him for idolatry. He made the covenant with Abraham as a burning torch (Gen. 15:17), spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Ex. 3:2), and guided the Israelites at night with a column of fire (Ex. 13:21; Num. 9:15-16).

On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to live in the disciples, “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit …” (Acts 2:3-4). So there was a visual sign of this event. It doesn’t say they were tongues of fire, but that’s what they seemed to be. The tongues may refer to the miraculous gift of speaking in other languages. The fire may refer to the Holy Spirit as the source of this gift and may also describe the bold enthusiastic preaching that followed (Acts 4:31).

Paul said “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Th. 5:19). He was warning against hindering the work of the Holy Spirit in the local church. The Greek word translated “quench” (Strongs #4570) occurs 8 times in the New Testament. In 6 of these it means extinguishing a flame or fire. Another one is metaphorically extinguishing “flaming arrows” (Eph. 6:16). Therefore, it’s reasonable to infer that this verse is also a metaphor where the Holy Spirit is taken to be like a fire.

If the Holy Spirit is like a fire, then He is divine and can enable us to be filled with His Spirit. This image reminds us that the Holy Spirit enables the local church to function harmoniously using the gifts of the Spirit.

Seal

The Holy Spirit is also like a seal, which is evidence of ownership and security. In ancient times official documents were sealed with hot wax and an imprint was made on the wax with the official seal of the person sending the document (Neh. 9:38 – 10:1; Est. 8:8). Last year I obtained an apostille for my son so a document would be accepted in France. The certificate is attached to the document being verified and they are then embossed with an official government seal so it is evident if any of the pages have been removed.

Paul said, “He (God) anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts” (2 Cor. 1:21-22). And, “When you believed, you were marked in Him (Christ) with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13). The Spirit indwelling the believer is the mark that they belong to God and are eternally secure. The only visible evidence of this is a spirit-filled life. We are now God’s property. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). In this sense, it’s a sacred place because it’s inhabited by a sacred person.

Paul said, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). We are sealed until the Rapture when our salvation is complete and our bodies are resurrected and changed. Here our ownership and security is said to be a reason why we should not sin.

If the Holy Spirit is like a seal, then we are owned by God and spiritually safe and protected. This image encourages us to care for our bodies and gives us reasons not to sin.

Deposit and first-fruits

The Holy Spirit is also like a deposit and first-fruits. A deposit is the first payment for something, with the balance being payable later. Because all of creation belongs to God, the Israelites were commanded to offer the first and best of their animals and produce to God (Lev. 23:9-14). These first-fruits were considered a promise of the coming harvest.

Paul says that God “put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5) and the Holy Spirit is “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (Eph. 1:14). So this deposit is like the first instalment of a sum of money that has been inherited and it comes with a guarantee that the balance will be paid later. As we receive the Holy Spirit, we will also receive the full inheritance of God. This inheritance includes our bodies being transformed to be like Christ at the Rapture and reigning with Him at the second coming (Rom. 8:17; Phil 3:21).

Paul says that believers “have the first-fruits of the Spirit” as they wait eagerly for the redemption of their bodies (Rom. 8:23). Just as the first handful of grain is a pledge of the entire harvest to follow, so the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of the full salvation that is yet to come, including the redemption of our bodies. Our spirits and souls have already been redeemed, and our bodies will be redeemed at the Rapture (1 Th. 4:13-18). By the way, Jesus is also a first-fruit of the coming resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20).

If the Holy Spirit is like a deposit and first-fruits, then our inheritance is guaranteed and protected. This image gives us assurance and confidence in the inheritance that God has promised for His people.

Power supply

The Holy Spirit is also like a power supply. A power supply like power stations and batteries enables work to be done. Our phones and tablets are useless unless their batteries are charged. And there has been a power crisis in Tasmania since the power cable from Victoria was cut in December 2015.

Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were “clothed with power from on high” because when the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost, they would receive power to witness throughout their known world (Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:8). The apostles preached the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. And Christians today have spiritual power which enables them to obey the great commission (Mt. 28:19-20). This power comes from the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:16, 20).

If the Holy Spirit is like a power supply, then Christians have more power to live for God than we realize. This image encourages us to be ready to share our Christian faith.

Next, the Holy Spirit is likened to an attribute.

Attribute

Voice

The Holy Spirit is also like a voice which instructs and warns. His words to the prophets and apostles are preserved for us in the Bible. I imagine it was a bit like the voice of a GPS that instructs as we drive.

Isaiah told Judah that when they repented “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isa. 30:21). And they will obey the instruction. Jesus told His disciples “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” (Jn. 16:13). And they wrote this truth in the New Testament. For example, in Hebrews 3:7-11 the Holy Spirit gave a warning from Psalm 95 and gives the application in verses 12-15. This shows that God speaks in Scripture, even to generations subsequent to its time of writing (Hebrews was written about 770 years after Isaiah). And the apostles were told “When they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt. 10:19-20). So the Holy Spirit would give them the words to say in situations such as sudden arrest when there is no time to prepare what to say.

If the Holy Spirit is like a voice, then He can guide us today through the Bible. This image reminds us that God can use the Holy Spirit to speak to us through our conscience.

The Holy Spirit is also like a teacher, seven spirits, and seven lamps (Jn. 14:26; Rev. 1:4-6; 4:5).

Summary

Spirit collage 400pxWe have looked at several images (metaphors) of the Holy Spirit from the Bible.
They show that He:
Defends and helps like a lawyer.
Brings love and peace like a dove.
Is powerful like wind.
Satisfies like running water.
Empowers like olive oil and a power supply.
Sustains the church like a fire.
Protects us like a seal.
Guarantees our inheritance like a deposit and first-fruits.
And, guides like a voice.

So the Holy Spirit operates behind the scenes and not in the limelight. He helps, empowers, sustains, and guides. And He implements all of God’s plans. The Spirit is mentioned throughout the Bible: He’s there in the background making it all happen.

In response:
Is our spirituality based on the Holy Spirit and what He’s revealed to us in the Bible?
Are we aware of the Holy Spirit’s help and support?
Are we experiencing love and peace?
Do we realize His power?
Are we spiritually satisfied?
Are we empowered for ministry and service?
Is our church life sustainable?
As we assured of our spiritual protection?
Are we assured of our inheritance?
And, are we following what we learn from Scripture?

It’s amazing! God created everything in the beginning. Later He (Jesus) died for us, so we can have spiritual life. Now He (the Holy Spirit) lives in in us and helps us. He is the “power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).

We have looked at two words today, “holy” and “Spirit”. May we be more holy and more spiritual by living in the power of God’s Holy Spirit as He gives us spiritual life and enables us to live the Christian life.

Written, June 2016

Also see: What’s God like?
What’s Jesus like?


What does Acts 2:17-18 mean?

Tasmania power crisis 400pxTasmania’s electrical power shortage has reached crisis levels. 30% of the power usually comes from Victoria by cable, but the cable has been broken since December 2015. 60% of the power usually comes from hydro-electric systems, but dam levels are at a record low capacity of 14% and falling. An old gas-fired power station has been brought back into operation and temporary diesel generators acquired. And major manufacturers have cut production to conserve power.

After Jesus died and rose again, He told His apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16; Acts 1:4, 5, 8). When the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, the church era commenced replacing the era of the law of Moses. In this post we look at the meaning of a passage from Joel, quoted by Peter as an explanation to the Jews.
“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants (slaves), both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18NIV).
We will see from this passage that God now empowers all His followers with the Holy Spirit.

Context of Acts 2

Luke wrote the books of Luke and Acts in the Bible. Acts, written about AD 63, is a selective history of the first 30 years of the church. It describes the church in Jerusalem (Ch 1-7), in Judea and Samaria (8:1 – 9:31), and elsewhere in the Roman Empire (9:32 – 28:31). It was written for Theophilus who was probably Luke’s patron (Lk. 1:3-4; Acts 1:1). The main theme of the book is to describe the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem across the Roman Empire and to indicate the major challenges to this.

After His resurrection, the Lord Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to His followers, so they could be His witnesses (1:3-8). Then the Lord ascended into the sky and the disciples were promised that He would return in a similar manner (1:9-11). While they waited in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, Matthias was chosen to replace Judas (1:12-26).

On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and indwelt the disciples (2:1-13) and Peter addressed the crowd of Jews and Jewish proselytes who were in Jerusalem (1:14-41). As a result of Peter’s message about 3,000 people came to faith in Christ and joined the infant church. Then Luke summarized the activities of this pioneer church (2:42-47).

Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost included:
– an explanation of recent events (v.14-21)
– the gospel of Jesus Christ; His death, resurrection and exaltation (v.22-36)
– an exhortation to repentance and baptism (v. 37-40).

Peter explained what happened on the Day of Pentecost by saying they weren’t drunk and quoting from the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32).

Context of Joel

Joel was a prophet of God to Judah prior to the Jewish exile (his book is difficult to date more precisely). The key phrase of the book is “the day of the Lord”, found five times (Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14). It’s a time when the wicked are judged and the repentant are saved (Joel 3:15-16).

Up to 2:18 Joel addresses the desolation that would come on Judah. After that the repentant are promised deliverance. The book is structured as follows:
– Plague of locusts (Ch 1). This probably also symbolized the Lord’s army on the day of the Lord.
– An army is approaching (2:1-11)
– Call to repentance (2:12-17)
– They are promised material prosperity (2:18-27)
– They are promised an outpouring of God’s Spirit (2:28-29)
– Wonders in the heavens and earth (2:30-32)
– Judgement of the Gentile nations (3:1-16a)
– Promises restoration and blessing for the Jews (3:16b-21).

The people of Judah had turned away from the Lord (Joel 2:12-14). They had broken their covenant with the Lord. Consequently, the locust plague and drought was God’s judgement. Joel urges Judah to repent, but when they continually resist, God’s judgement is inevitable. Those who repented were promised prosperity, restoration, and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Old Testament Jewish prophets had two main messages about the future: God’s judgement (the “day of the Lord”) and God’s blessing—the Messiah will come and lead their nation. The passage quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost mentioned God’s blessing (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18) and God’s judgment (Joel 2:30-32; Acts 2:19-21).

Joel 2: 28-29

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29).

As the context is “afterward”, these verses may apply after the day of the Lord. So after God punishes the rebellious, He rewards repentant Jews with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit is generally among the community of Israel, but not in the individuals (Is. 63:11). Instead, the Holy Spirit only came upon particular people for particular tasks. For example:
– The Holy Spirit empowered Joseph (Gen. 41:38), Moses and Joshua.
– The Holy Spirit empowered craftsman (Ex. 31:2-5) and Gideon and Samson (Jud. 6:34; 14:6)
– The Holy Spirit empowered prophets (Ezek. 11:5; Mic. 3:8; Zech. 7:12; Acts 28:25)
– 70 elders prophesied when the Spirit of the Lord came on them (Num. 11:24-30).
– The Spirit of the Lord came on David and departed from Saul (1 Sam. 16:13-14).

When the task was accomplished, the Holy Spirit would leave the person. David said, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11). So, in Old Testament times the empowering of individuals by the Holy Spirit was selective and temporary.

Joel 2:28-29 predicts a change where the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all kinds of people. Instead of selected individuals, God says it will regardless of gender (“sons and daughters”, age (old and young), or social class (includes slaves) and maybe race (includes Gentile slaves). The example given is prophesy which was a message from God enabled by the Holy Spirit. This is different to the rest of the Old Testament because it indicates the Holy Spirit coming on people in general and not only particular individuals. Instead, it’s similar to the promised new covenant, which included “I will put my Spirit in you” (Ezek. 36:26-27).

Of course, the Holy Spirit’s current role of indwelling believers and abiding with them “forever” is also a great contrast to the Old Testament situation (Jn. 14:16).

Joel 2: 30-32

On the day of Pentecost, Peter also quoted from, “I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls” (Joel 2:30-32).

The day of the Lord is the time of judgment associated with the blessing given in Joel 2:28-29.

What did Joel 2:28-32 mean then?

Joel was given a revelation of a future time when a period of judgment (v.30-32) is followed by a time of blessing (v.28-29). Wonders in the heavens and on earth precede the judgment (day of the Lord). As judgment was often associated war, the meaning to the Israelites of that time could be that they will by invaded by an enemy, but God would deliver the faithful who would be empowered by the Holy Spirit. As afterwards “all people” have faith in God, it seems as though all the unfaithful people are destroyed in the judgment. Or it could mean that Israel is physically delivered from God’s judgment and its enemies destroyed. When the prophecy was given their enemies were the Phoenicians, Philistines, Egyptians and Edomites (Joel 3:4, 19).

The phrase “all people” (Strongs #3605, #1320) could mean every person, people from all categories in society, or all nations. As the context is “Your sons and daughters”, “Your old men” and “Your young men”, it probably means every Israelite. To call “on the name of the Lord” meant to trust and respond to God the Father (Mt. 7:21; Jn. 6:29). It shows God’s mercy in offering a way of escape to those facing judgment. They will survive the day of the Lord.

The principle of Joel 2:28-29 is that in future God will empower all the faithful Israelites with the Holy Spirit.

What does Joel 2:28-32 mean now?

With the benefit of additional revelation in the New Testament and the benefit of hindsight, we can understand more about Joel’s prophecy.

The law of double reference helps to understand some of these Old Testament prophecies—some of them had both an immediate partial fulfilment and a distant complete fulfilment. Some of the Jewish prophecies about the “day of the Lord” were partially fulfilled when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 B.C and by the Romans in AD 70. But John also prophesised about the day of the Lord in AD 95 (Rev. Ch. 6-20). So the final day of the Lord is yet to come. It’s associated with Christ’s second advent.

What about times of blessing? It’s difficult to identify periods when Israel has been blessed since Joel’s time. The only clear application of Joel’s prophecy to times of blessing is that made on the day of Pentecost by Peter, which is the subject of this post. Soon after this Peter said that the promised time of blessing was still future (Acts 3:21). It’s associated with Christ’s millennial kingdom.

So we understand that Joel 2:28-32 is a prophecy about events associated with Christ’s second coming and His millennial kingdom.

Acts 2:17-18

When Peter quoted from Joel, he changed the introduction from “And afterward”, to “In the last days”. As he is speaking to Jews and it was before the New Testament was written, they would have understood the “last days” from the Old Testament where it can mean the coming tribulation or the Millennial kingdom (Dt. 4:30; Isa. 2:2; Dan. 10:14; Hos. 3:5; Mic. 4:1).

Peter also added “God says” to the quotation to emphasise that these were the words of God written by the prophet Joel. This is like a prophet saying “The word of the Lord came to me, saying” (Jer. 1:4).

Peter changed the word “dreadful” to “glorious” when describing the day of the Lord (Joel. 2:31; Acts 2:20). The reason for this maybe that He was associating this occasion with Christ’s second coming (Ti. 2:13).

Peter also added “and they will prophesy” at the end of v.18. This phrase is repeated from the previous verse for emphasis. Also he stopped half way through Joel 2:32 omitting, “for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls”. This could be so he could finish the quote with “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” to indicate what his audience needed to do when they were convicted of their sin (Rom. 10:13). In this context, they are spiritually saved from God’s judgment. And “the Lord” is Jesus Christ. Also, he didn’t want to make the application to deliverance from an army.

There is another difference between what happened on the day of Pentecost and Joel’s prophecy. The spiritual gift that occurred on the day of Pentecost was speaking in other languages, while Joel referred to prophecy. So the emphasis is on the Holy Spirit who gives the gift, not on the particular spiritual gift.

With the benefit of additional revelation in the New Testament and the benefit of hindsight, we can understand more about Peter’s sermon. He was announcing to the Jews that what they saw on the day of Pentecost was a fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy. But this is only a partial fulfilment because John also prophesised about the day of the Lord in AD 95 (Rev. Ch. 6-20). Also, the Holy Spirit was poured out on believers, not “on all people”. Also, there were no wonders in the heavens on the day of Pentecost (Mt. 24:29; Acts 2:19-20). Although some argue they were fulfilled at the crucifixion or figuratively on the day of Pentecost. So the final day of the Lord is yet to come. This is associated with Christ’s second advent and His millennial kingdom.

Peter was announcing to the Jews that through Jesus Christ, God had now brought in the promised new covenant. This meant that the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all kinds of people regardless of gender (“sons and daughters”, age (old and young), or social class (includes slaves) and maybe race (includes Gentile slaves). The example given is prophesy which was enabled by the Holy Spirit. Updating the principle from Joel 2:28-29 to the day of Pentecost gives: God now empowers all His followers with the Holy Spirit.

Who were “all people” who received the Holy Spirit? It wasn’t every Israelite. Afterwards, Peter preached, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children (Jews) and for all who are far off (Gentiles)—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39). So, on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given to those who repented and were baptized. Although they were mainly Jews, Gentiles weren’t excluded. They were people of every gender, age and social class.

It was also a fulfilment of Christ’s promises to send the Holy Spirit (Lk. 24:49; Jn. 7:37-39; 14:16-26; 15:26 – 16:15; Acts 1:3-5; 2:33).

What does Acts 2:17-18 mean?

It meant that from that time onwards, all those who accepted God’s gift of salvation through Christ would receive the Holy Spirit. This was the new era of the church age which replaced the era when the Israelites lived under the Law of Moses. It doesn’t mean that all will prophesy. Instead the New Testament teaches that each believer will have at least one spiritual gift.

Today, we are still in the church era, and the Holy Spirit still indwells all believers. But the church’s foundation was laid almost 2,000 years ago. It is founded on Christ’s completed work (1 Cor. 3:11) as taught by the apostles and New Testament prophets (Eph. 2:20; 3:5). This work was completed in the first century AD and we have a record of this foundation in the New Testament. So, in this sense, we no longer have apostles or prophets in the church today because these gifts are no longer required now the church’s foundation has been laid.

Peter was pointing out a similarity between what happened on the day of Pentecost and events associated with the second coming of Christ. This involved the activity of the Holy Spirit.

What doesn’t it mean today?

Be careful of using Acts 2:17-18 to over-ride other verses in the New Testament. For example, it doesn’t mean that:
–  every Christian has the gift of prophecy regardless of gender, age, or social class and maybe race, or
– every Christian can prophesy (or preach or teach) at a church meeting regardless of gender, age, or social class and maybe race.

Instead, prophecy was used to illustrate the fact that every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit regardless of gender, age, or social class and maybe race.

Similar passages

There are similar messages to this in other New Testament Scriptures. For example, when the household of Cornelius accepted the gospel message, “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles” (Acts 10:45). Now Gentiles could be God’s people who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Also, in the church people of various genders, ages, social classes and races are empowered by the Holy Spirit:
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col. 3:11).

Quotation from the Old Testament

According to Fruchtenbaum, Peter’s quotation in Acts 2 of Joel 2 is a literal fulfilment of an application from the Old Testament.
“Virtually nothing that happened in Acts 2 is predicted in Joel 2. Joel was speaking of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the nation of Israel in the last days. However, there was one point of similarity, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, resulting in unusual manifestations. Acts 2 does not change or reinterpret Joel 2, nor does it deny that Joel 2 will have a literal fulfilment when the Holy Spirit will be poured out on the whole nation of Israel. It is simply applying it to a New Testament event because of one point of similarity.”

Summary

We have seen that Acts 2:17-18 shows that Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-29) had a partial fulfilment on the day of Pentecost, but the complete fulfilment is still future. The thing they had in common was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Since the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit indwells all believers. But in a coming day after the wicked have been judged, everyone will be empowered by the Holy Spirit as prophesised by Joel.

The fact that God now empowers all His followers with the Holy Spirit is a challenge and an encouragement. Do you have this power in your life? If the answer is yes, does the presence of the Holy Spirit encourage you to live for Jesus Christ?

Reference:
Fruchtenbaum A.G (1992) “Israelology: The missing link in Systematic theology”, p. 844-845

Written, March 2016


Go(o)d fear and bad fear

IMG_3871 cropped 448pxTourists often fear dangerous animals in Australia, such as venomous snakes, poisonous spiders, crocodiles, sharks, killer jellyfish, and the blue ring octopus. On a recent hike we were surprised by a black snake. Most of us were afraid, but someone wanted to pick it up!

Fear can help us respond to a dangerous situation. This is protective fear. It’s why I told them not to go near the snake. It’s foolish to ignore real danger.

But constant fear is debilitating and can lead to anxiety that immobilizes and paralyzes us. This is chronic fear.

The fear (reverence and respect) of God is a feeling of awe and praise of a small creature before their immense Creator. This is respectful fear.

Let’s look at what the Bible says about these three kinds of fear. We’ll see that through the Holy Spirit, Christians can be courageous when others are fearful, can avoid the bad fear and practise the good fear of reverence and respect for God and Christ as our Lord.

Method

There are at least 10 Greek words that are used in the New Testament to describe “fear”.
The two most common ones are:
phobeo (Strongs #5399) is a verb which means either to fear and be afraid, or to reverence.
phobos (Strongs #5401) is a noun which means either fear, or reverence and respect for authority.
This article is based on verses with any of these 10 Greek words for “fear” in the books of the Bible written to the early church from Acts to Revelation. We begin by looking at protective fear.

Protective fear

When Paul was a prisoner he was sent to Italy by ship. A storm with hurricane force winds struck when they were near the island of Crete and the ship was driven towards Malta for 14 days. During the storm, the sailors were afraid the ship would run aground, and near the island of Malta they feared the ship would be dashed against the rocks (Acts 27:17, 29). This is a fear of danger, when our body reacts with a boost of adrenaline and we prepare to fight against or flee from the danger.

People are also afraid when they face punishment. When a Philippian jailer thought all his prisoners had escaped after an earthquake, he was about to kill himself because he would be punished (Acts 16:29). When we do wrong we are afraid of those in authority because we can be punished (Rom. 13:4). Those living under the Jewish law feared God’s judgment, but believers don’t live in this fear, as sons shouldn’t fear their father (Rom. 8:15).

The Bible says that unbelievers will be afraid when they face God at the Great White Throne to be judged because their names are not in the book of life. Apostates who abandon the Christian faith will be fearful when they face God’s judgment (Heb. 10:27, 31). When Paul spoke about the judgment to come, the Roman governor Felix was afraid (Acts 24:25). This is a real fear because there is no protection for those who ignore Jesus Christ.

People are also afraid of dying. The Bible says this fear is like slavery (Heb. 2:15).

These are examples of fearing danger, punishment, and death. Protective fear can be an alarm that arouses us to protect ourselves.

Sin is another danger we should fear. We should be afraid that some people haven’t yet accepted God’s plan of salvation and so they aren’t going to heaven (Heb. 4:1). If an elder sins in such a way as to harm the testimony of the church they are to be rebuked publicly so the others may fear falling into sin (1 Tim. 5:20). And when responding to victims of apostasy, we should fear being trapped by the allure of sin (Jude 1:23). As Christians, do we fear sin and its consequences, which is a healthy fear that helps us live godly lives?

In First Aid when there is an accident or emergency we are told to follow DRABC. The first response is D for Danger. We protect ourselves, the casualty and other people from danger. After we have done this we can help the casualty. It’s risky to ignore this step, but it is also risky to not proceed on to the following steps. Likewise for us it’s good to have safety in mind by responding to reasonable fears.

If we obey the law of the land, there is no need to fear punishment from authorities. But do we fear danger or death? If we have no external resources to help us, it’s natural to fear these possibilities. But through faith in Christ, these fears can be replaced with courage, security, protection and peace when we realize two things. First, God and Christ are with us in the form of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 13:6). Paul was told, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you” (Acts 18:9-10NIV). God is always with us. Second, prayer is helpful in overcoming all types of fear (Phil. 4:6-7). “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Pt. 5:7). God always cares for us. Prayer draws us near to God. That’s how to deal with protective fear without lapsing into chronic fear.

But if fear persists it becomes anxiety.

Chronic fear

In the case of chronic fear, people are too anxious and doubtful to respond appropriately. This is an unhealthy kind of fear, which keeps us from doing things we should do. It’s bad fear, which is based on one’s perceptions and assumptions. Such anxiety can lead to depression and possible mental illness (such as phobias, which are persistent fears of objects or situations).

In this case fear stops us from developing our spiritual gifts, from loving and serving God and loving and serving one another. Instead of being focused on God and others, we become self-focused. We worry about our needs instead of trusting God to take care of them.

Christians have a great foundation for overcoming fear and anxiety. All of our sins have been paid for. God isn’t angry towards us, and He will never punish us because His Son took our punishment. God has forgiven our sins, His Holy Spirit lives in us, and we will spend eternity with Him.

It is reported that about 40% of Australian police business involves domestic violence. During my last shift of telephone counselling, I spoke with three women who were constantly living in fear. They felt isolated and controlled by their partners. They were anxious not knowing when the next episode would occur. But they were seeking help.

If we are fearful and anxious do we seek help? Anxiety has various physiological, emotional and spiritual causes. As childhood experiences can have a big impact on personality development, are parents aware of their children’s needs? They need to be loved and wanted. To belong. And to feel worthwhile. Addressing these needs in childhood can help avert adult anxiety.

Overcoming anxiety - Jun 2015 448pxThe process for overcoming anxiety is the same as for addressing any sin in the life of a Christian. The steps are:
• Identify what we are worried about.
• Identify our sin – what we doubt about God’s care for us.
• Confess and repent of our doubt.
• Remind ourselves of the truth about God and His promises in the Bible.
• Thank God in prayer for His care of us.
• Then we can have peace because we are trusting in God’s promises once again.

Courage is the opposite of fear; it’s the ability to face danger without fear. Next we look at when those who trusted in God demonstrated courage instead of fear.

Courage

The apostles were courageous when they faced the Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 4:13; 5:29). This courage came from the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8). Christians are commanded to be courageous against dangers and difficulties (1 Cor. 16:13). They were not to fear threats or be frightened when persecuted, and not retaliate, but endure it patiently and be kind to their persecutors (1 Pt. 3:14). The church in Smyrna was told not to be afraid of persecution and to be faithful even to the point of death (Rev 2:10). All this is possible because the Holy Spirit makes believers courageous and not timid; “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid (fearful), but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).

When Paul visited Corinth during his second missionary journey, he preached to the Jews. But when they opposed him and became abusive, he moved and preached to the Gentiles. But Paul would have been discouraged and may have worried he would have to leave the city as had been the case in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 16:39-40; 17:5-10, 13-14). One night the Lord told him “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). As Paul knew that God was with him, he kept teaching them the word of God for 18 months.

During the storm mentioned earlier, an angel told Paul to not be afraid of shipwreck because he would stand trial before Caesar (Acts 27:24). So God encourages us to be courageous.

Christians don’t fear death because it brings them closer their Savior. In fact, Jesus frees believers from the fear of death (Heb. 2:15).

Christians don’t fear God’s judgment because Jesus has already paid the penalty. John wrote, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 Jn. 4:18). Christ’s death on our behalf is the “perfect love” that “drives out fear” of God’s judgment.

These are examples of courage and not fearing trouble, threats, persecution, harm, danger, death, and God’s judgment. This courage is healthy because it is associated with godly living.

A young father was having a difficult time convincing his son to go to bed. “I don’t want to go to bed. I’m afraid of the dark!” the five-year-old exclaimed. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” his father said reassuringly. “I sleep in the dark and I’m not afraid.” “Sure,” the youngster replied, “you’ve got Mom lookin’ out for you!”. He wasn’t alone. And that’s true for Christians as well – they have God the Holy Spirit with them.

Are you alone or have you turned away from sin and towards Christ as your Savior? That’s the only way to receive the Holy Spirit who can help us have courage instead of fear. In Revelation, unbelievers are described as being cowards because, they are afraid to believe that Jesus is the Son of God (Rev. 21:7-8).

Do we have courage instead of fear when we face authorities, trouble, threats, persecution, harm, danger, death, or God’s judgment? This courage comes from the Holy Spirit who empowers believers for godly living.

When facing our fears, do we act in the strength of the Holy Spirit? Are we motivated by love for God and love for one another? Are we self-controlled?

The second meaning of “fear” in Scripture is to indicate reverence and respect for authority.

Respectful fear

Believers are commanded to give respect and honor to those owed respect and honor (Rom 13:7). This includes revering and respecting God and worshiping Him with reverence and awe (2 Cor. 7:1; Heb. 12:28; 1 Pt. 1:17). “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (1 Pt.2:17). They were not to fear persecution, but revere Christ as Lord (1 Pt 3:14, 15).

Paul respected the Lord as He is the one to whom Christians are accountable when they are rewarded at the judgement seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10-11). Similarly, we should fear displeasing the Lord.

Slaves (employees), children, and wives are to submit to their masters, parents and husbands out of reverence to Christ (Eph. 5:21). Respect is part of a healthy marriage. While the husband is to love his wife, the wife is to respect her husband (Eph. 5:33). Slaves (employees) should respect and obey their masters with reverence to the Lord (Eph. 6:5; Col 3:22; 1 Pt. 2:18). Similarly, as God’s slaves/servants, our attitude towards Him should be one of reverence and respect (Rev. 19:5).

These are examples of reverence and respect for God who we wish to please as our Lord. Such respectful fear is healthy because it is associated with godly living. It’s good fear.

This is opposite to unbelievers, who don’t revere or respect God – “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3:18).

After a cop shot and killed a teenager in Ferguson, Missouri last year, potential US presidential candidate Ben Carson claimed that young males living in inner cities need to be taught how to respond better to authority. He said that a major problem that faces many who grow up without fathers or other authority figures in their homes, is that they don’t learn the right way to respond when confronted by law enforcement. They never really learn how to relate to authority in the proper way. If you take a group of young men and you raise them with no respect for authority, not learning to take on personal responsibility, having easy access to drugs and alcohol, they are very likely to end up as victims of violence and imprisonment. When it comes to God, are we like the teenagers?

A child’s view of God is usually similar to their view of their father. So Dad’s, be awesome, not angry or absent. If they can’t respect you, they will struggle to respect God. Pray for the children of single parent and step-parent families and homosexual marriages. What will their father image be like?

Do we reverence and respect God and Christ as our Lord? Do we fear displeasing Him?
Do we respect His message for us in the Bible? Do we respect our employer, parents, spouse and our church elders?

Less respect of God means more trust in humanity, which leads to more anxiety and chronic fear. It also leads to less respect for authority in families, schools, and society. When parents don’t respect God, children don’t respect parents. When teachers don’t respect God, students don’t respect teachers. When our leaders don’t respect God, people don’t respect the police, the judiciary or the government.

Fear diagram Feb 2015 400pxConclusion

While we are all products of our past to some extent, we don’t need to be fearful and anxious. God is always with us. He always cares for us. We can turn to God, and we can also have the help of friends, family members, or Christian counsellors.

Let’s confess and repent of our anxiety and bring all our fears to the Lord in prayer so we can exercise protective fear when we are aware of danger and not lapse into chronic fear. And most important of all, let’s be aware of God and Christ so we can practice respectful fear until it is part of our character.

Through the Holy Spirit, Christians can be courageous when others are fearful. Above all, let’s reverence and respect God and Christ as our Lord.

Written, June 2015


Did Jesus use any of His divine power when He was on earth?

John 1-14I have been asked whether Jesus Christ used any of His divine power when He was on earth. Or did He not use this power at all during this time and always function as a human being who is indwelt with the Holy Spirit? Also, as a consequence of this were the disciples able to do whatever Christ did? And does this mean that today Christians can also do whatever Christ did?

The Bible teaches that Jesus was unique. “There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Tim. 2:5-6NIV). He was both human and divine (Jn. 1:1, 14, 18; Rom. 9:5). Because He claimed to be equal with God, the religious leaders wanted to kill Him (Jn. 5:17-18). Biologically, He had a human mother but not a human father. He was sinless.

What do the gospels say?

Several examples of Jesus’ actions in the gospels show His divine power:
• He forgave sins so people were no longer guilty before God, and even those who opposed Him knew that only God can forgive sins in this way (Mt. 9:2-3, 6; Mk. 2:5-7, 10). He also gives eternal life (Jn. 10:28).
• Jesus knew what others were thinking (Mk. 2:8; Lk. 11:7). He knew the Samaritan woman had five husbands and knew everything she had done (Jn. 4:18-19, 29). He knew the future (Mt. 16:21) and He knew everything (Jn. 16:29-30; 21:17).
• Jesus saw Nathanael before Philip told him about Jesus (Jn. 1:48-49). This is divine omniscience.
• He is omnipresent (Mt. 28:20).
• Jesus’ power over nature was clearly divine. People were amazed when the winds and the waves obeyed Him (Mt. 8:26-27). After He walked on water and calmed a storm, the disciples said “truly you are the Son of God” (Mt. 14:25-32). Also, they were amazed when Jesus calmed another storm (Mk. 4:39-41). This is divine omnipotence.
• He had the power to raise Himself from the dead (Jn. 2:19-22; 10:17-18).
• He does what God the Father does (Jn. 5:19).
The disciples had none of these divine powers.

Because Jesus was sent to earth by God the Father, His goal was to do God’s will (Jn. 4:34; 14:24). He lived to please Him (Jn. 6:57). So, He always obeyed the Father and never acted independently (Jn. 5:19, 30; 10:18). Jesus often prayed to the Father and received daily instructions from Him (Mk. 1:35; Lk. 5:16; 6:12; 11:1). Matthew 26:39-44 and John 17 are examples of Christ’s prayers. They had a close relationship; the Father loved the Son (Jn. 10:15; 14:10; 15:10).

The Holy Spirit is mainly mentioned at Christ’s baptism, His temptation and when He visited His hometown Nazareth. It says “the Holy Spirit descended on Him” (when He was anointed with the Holy Spirit), He was “full of the Holy Spirit”, He visited Galilee “in the power of the Holy Spirit” and He drove out demons by the Spirit of God (Mt. 12:28; Lk. 3:22; 4:1, 14, 18). There is no other mention in the gospels of Jesus being empowered by the Holy Spirit. The reason for this is that it seems He did most of His miracles by His own inherent divine power, and not by the power of the Holy Spirit. For example, when two blind men told Jesus “we want our sight”, the Bible says He had compassion on them and touched their eyes and immediately they received their sight (Mt. 20:33-34). The Holy Spirit isn’t mentioned here. Maybe the three members of the trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) all worked together in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Of course God the Son and the Holy Spirit are under the authority of God the Father (Jn. 5:19; 16:13). Jesus certainly didn’t always function as a human being who is indwelt with the Holy Spirit, because then He wouldn’t have been unique and He couldn’t reveal Himself or the Father (Jn. 14:9).

Some people “cherry pick” verses to claim that Christ gave up all His divine ability and lived on earth as a person filled with the Holy Spirit so that all He did was done by the power of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 5:19; 14:10; Acts 10:37-38). However, these verses teach that Jesus was closely united with God the Father and did what He did, which means He was omnipotent!

By the way, the purpose of Christ’s miracles was so people would repent (Mt. 11:20-24; Lk. 10:13) and many believed after they saw them (Jn. 2:23; 4:48). The miracles also revealed His divinity (Jn. 5:36; 9:9; 10:37-38) and glory (Jn. 2:11; 11:4, 40).

What does Philippians 2 say?

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, because of disagreements amongst them he urges them to have unity (Phil. 2:1-11; 4:2-3). In particular, they should “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:3-4). He then gives an example of humility because humility can end arguments and disunity.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:5-8).

This passage says that Jesus Christ was fully God; being “in very nature God” and having “equality with God” (Phil. 2:6). This is confirmed by, “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him” (Col. 1:19), “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9) and “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:3).

But Jesus Christ was willing to give up His high position in heaven with all its privileges. This is described as, He “made Himself nothing” (or “emptied Himself” ESV, HCSB, NET). This means Christ laid aside aspects of His equality with God or the form of God (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). The Greek verb here is kenoo (Strongs #2758). Paul used this word figuratively elsewhere in his writings (Rom. 4:14; 1 Cor. 1:17; 9:15; 2 Cor. 9:3). It is also used figuratively here – Jesus didn’t literally empty Himself or make Himself nothing with respect to His divinity (Phil. 2:7). Other translations say that He:
• “stripped Himself (of all privileges and rightful dignity)” AMP
• “stripped himself of all privilege” (PHILLIPS)
• “gave up everything” CEV, ERV
• “gave up His place with God and made Himself nothing” EXB, NCV
• “gave this up” WE
• “of His own free will He gave up all He had” (GNT)
• “put aside everything that belonged to Him” NLV
• “made Himself of no reputation” GNV, NKJV
• “lowed (meeked) Himself” WYC

The meaning of kenoo is given by the rest of the words in verses 7-8, which describe the period between His miraculous conception and His death and burial. This passage says, when He came to earth, Jesus:
• Acted like a slave who obeys their master, not like the ruler of the universe (v.7). He came to serve both God and humanity in God’s plan of redemption (Mt. 20:28).
• Appeared physically as a human being, not as God (v.7-8). He looked like other men and was fully human, but was different to them in that He did not have a sinful nature. He gave up the glory He had with God the Father since before the world began (Jn. 17:5, 24).
• Allowed Himself to be crucified, although He was the eternal omnipotent God (v.8).

What a change! Jesus went from a place of power and glory (ruling in heaven) to a place of humiliation (dying on earth like a criminal). He went from a high position to a low one. Paul summarised it, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Then after His death, God restored Jesus to the exalted place (Phil. 2:9). Some of the dazzling splendor of this place was shown at the transfiguration (Mt. 17:2; Mk. 9: 3). The lesson is that Christians are to be humble like Christ and not proud or desiring pre-eminence.

Some examples in the gospels of Jesus’ omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence are given above. So, He didn’t completely stop using these divine attributes. But while He was on earth He used them less often. Instead, He chose to limit the use of these unlimited powers. This is also part of what He gave up when He came to earth to live as a human being.

Because Jesus retained His divine nature and didn’t give it up or stop using it completely, He was able to perform miracles by using His divine nature alone. This means that He didn’t need to do them in the power of the Holy Spirit. There is no Scripture suggesting He solely relied on the Spirit.

Because they were human and not divine, the disciples couldn’t duplicate the examples of His divine power given above. This means that they couldn’t do whatever Christ did. Likewise, because people today are not divine we can’t do whatever Christ did.

But what about verses that have been used to claim that Christians can have unlimited power?

What about not knowing the date of the second advent?

Jesus said that “not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” knows the day or the hour of the second advent (Mt. 24:36; Mk. 13:32). This doesn’t mean that Jesus was a human being with limited knowledge like us or that He emptied Himself of all the attributes of deity when He came to earth as a man. Instead He was  both fully God and fully human. When the Bible says that Jesus didn’t know the date of His second advent it is referring to him as a finite human being, not as the divine Son of God. He also came as a Servant that was obedient to God the Father and said that “a servant does not know his master’s business” (Jn. 15:15). Although Jesus often spoke of His second advent, as a Servant He wasn’t given its date for the purpose of revealing it to others. But as God, He knows it.

One example is not sufficient to make a rule, but it is sufficient to disprove one. This is a principle of science. Therefore, one example of Christ’s divine power (and several are given above) disproves the claim that Christ emptied Himself of the attributes of deity when He came to earth as a man.

What about other promises?

The phrase “all things are possible with God” (Mk. 10:27) was spoken in the context of salvation. It means that everything to do with the miracle of salvation is only possible through God’s power. Salvation comes from God’s grace and mercy alone, and human achievement has no role in it. It doesn’t mean that God can do anything; because He can’t sin and He can’t deny who He is (2 Tim. 2:13). Also it has nothing to do with miracles or prayer requests (except prayers of confession and repentance).

What about God’s promises to give believers whatever they ask and move mountains for them? The “mountain” is a figure of speech for the obstacles and difficulties being faced. “You can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move” (Mt. 17:20) means that their prayer will be answered and the obstacles removed if it was in accordance with the conditions for prayer and the commands and promises given in the Bible. It is not an unconditional promise. God’s promises to give believers whatever they ask and move mountains for them are not unconditional. They also rely on the Bible’s conditions for answered prayer being satisfied.

What are the “greater works”?

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (Jn. 14:12). The Greek word erga (Strongs #2041) translated “works” is mentioned in the two previous verses as well. It means an act, deed or thing done (Thayer’s Greek Lexion). In this context it means acts of Christ, to rouse people to believe in Him and to accomplish their salvation. It says that Jesus did the Father’s work and His followers will also do the Father’s work (Jn. 14:10-12). This message was spoken to the disciples and we know that their “works” are given in the book of Acts where we see more people coming to trust in God than in the gospels. So in the context of evangelism, their works were greater than Christ’s.

The reason the disciples would be able to do greater evangelistic works than Jesus is “because I am going to the Father” (Jn. 14:12c). After Jesus ascended back to heaven, believers were able to pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, and Jesus Himself promised to answer these prayers (Jn. 14:13-14).

Because John 14:12 is not addressing miracles (apart from salvation), the claim that it means we can do “greater miracles” than Jesus is obviously false.

Conclusion

There are many examples in the Bible of Jesus using His divine power when He was on earth. It appears that the three members of the trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) all worked together in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. As there is no Scripture suggesting He solely relied on the Spirit, there is no evidence that Jesus always functioned as a human being who is indwelt with the Holy Spirit.

Because they were human and not divine, the disciples couldn’t duplicate these examples of Christ’s divine power. This means that they couldn’t do whatever He did. Likewise, because people today are not divine we can’t do whatever Christ did. In particular, although Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they can’t do whatever Christ did. To claim otherwise destroys the uniqueness and deity of Jesus Christ.

Written, November 2014

Also see: What does all things are possible with God mean?
What about Gods promises to give believers whatever they ask and move mountains for them?
Why didn’t Jesus know the date of His second event?
The miraculous power of Jesus Christ: Where did it come from?


What is the unforgivable or unpardonable sin?

Unforgivable sin 1A New Zealand prime minister once said, “New Zealanders who emigrate to Australia raise the IQs of both countries”. That’s slander; a false spoken malicious statement that damages someone’s reputation.

After Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who couldn’t see or speak, the common people were astonished and wondered whether He was the Messiah. This enraged the Pharisees who claimed He did it in the power of “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Mt. 12:24). That’s slander because Beelzebub is another word for Satan (Mt. 12:26) and Jesus said that He drove out demons in the power of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:28). So they called the Holy Spirit, Satan or a demon! In saying that someone who was good was evil, they were totally wrong. Whereas as Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees knew about the prophecies concerning the Messiah (Lk. 4:16-21; 7:18-22).

Then Jesus told the Pharisees, “blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt. 12:31). He repeated, “anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt. 12:32). The account is repeated in Mark, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin” (Mk. 3:29). He said that the reason for this was because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit” (Mk. 3:30). Jesus said this because He “knew their thoughts” and their future behavior (Mt. 12:25). He knew they would continue to be hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent in their opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit. They would stubbornly reject all the evidence before them and be blind to the truth. Forgiveness is impossible as long as one continues to reject the work of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. Although the Pharisees observed His powerful miracles, they continued to oppose Christ until they convinced the Romans to crucify Him.

Jesus pointed out the Pharisees inconsistency (Mt. 12:25-29; 33-37). It makes no sense to say He’s a bad tree (demonic) producing good fruit (healings). Using this illustration, blasphemy against the Spirit is saying that Jesus’ good works (by the Spirit) are the fruit of a bad (demonic) tree.

The Greek word translated “blaspheme” (blasphemis, Strong’s #988) means slander; speech that injures another’s good name. The ones who made these accusations were Jewish religious leaders who had travelled all the way from Jerusalem (Mk. 3:22). Because they thought their role was threatened by Jesus, they had plotted how they might kill Him (Mt. 12:14). So they were full of evil intent.

In this context, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean swearing or bad language. As the Holy Spirit’s mission was to testify about Christ – “He will testify about Me” (Jn. 15:16), it  was saying that Jesus performed miracles by the power of Satan rather than by the power of the Holy Spirit, and continuing to reject Christ as the Messiah throughout their lifetime.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 1 Th. 5:19). Also, it doesn’t apply to everyone who openly rejects Christ, because Peter and Paul did this but became leaders in the early church (Jn. 18:15-17; Acts 9:1-2). This sin is not based on a single act, but on someone’s spiritual state.

How does it apply today?

Can this unpardonable sin be committed today? There are two main views on this topic. First, it is not possible in the sense of Jesus being physically on earth performing miracles and being accused of being demon-possessed. Also, it is not mentioned in any of the letters in the Bible written to the church. Furthermore, the accusation of demon possession is rare because today many people reject the idea of a spiritual dimension to life.

Second, the outcome of this sin still occurs today. As long as people reject Christ as Savior, their sins cannot be forgiven and pardoned. Today the only sin that is unforgivable is that of not receiving Jesus Christ as Savior. Permanently rejecting Christ is an unforgivable sin (Jn. 3:18, 36). There is no pardon for a person who dies in unbelief.  In this sense, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unbelief that persists throughout life. But only God knows in advance if this will be the case.

If a person continues in apostasy (those in the early church who reverted to Judaism; rejection of Christianity by those who had professed to be Christians; false teachers), they are unforgivable – they can’t be brought to repentance while they continue to reject Christ (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 1 Jn. 5:16-17). They continue “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace”. They trample Christ underfoot, say His death was useless and insult the Holy Spirit. Persistent sin against the trinity leads to spiritual death. Such hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit is similar to the behavior of the Pharisees who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. As they can repent and be forgiven, apostasy is only unpardonable if it continues to death and only God knows this in advance.

As the Holy Spirit’s mission today includes convicting us of our sins (Jn. 16:7-8), is deliberate, hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent rejection of one’s sinfulness equivalent to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

Written, March 2014


Was Philip transported miraculously after the Ethiopian was baptized?

After Philip baptized the Ethiopian treasurer, “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea” (Acts 8:39-40NIV). Was Philip miraculously transported to Azotus, a town that may have been 30 km away? Luke, the author of Acts, would have heard about this event directly from Philip as he stayed with him in Caesarea (Acts 21:8-9).

What happened to Philip is described by the Greek word harpazo (Strongs #726), which is translated above as “suddenly took. The other occasion this word is used by Luke is when Paul was in Jerusalem and the Jews accused him of speaking against their religion: “The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks” (Acts 23:10). Here harpazo is translated “take by force”. In both cases someone is suddenly moved away from where they were – it is as though someone has seized them. In the second case it was via means of the troops and in the first case it was via means of the Holy Spirit.

In this brief account we are told that Philip left the Ethiopian suddenly after the baptism at the direction of the Holy Spirit. There is no clear evidence in the text that any other miracle was involved and such a miracle is not necessary to explain what happened. For example, Philip could have been shown that he had to leave the Ethiopian immediately and then travelled by the normal means of transport to Azotus. After all, that’s what happened when Paul was directed by the Holy Spirit to travel to Macedonia instead of to Asia and Bithynia (Acts 16:6-10). In Paul’s case, they “got ready at once to leave for Macedonia”.

Philip’s sudden departure meant that the Ethiopian was unable to thank or reward Philip for his help. Instead of being occupied with the person God used to assist in his conversion, he was occupied with Christ as “he went on his way rejoicing”, which is much more important than Philip’s mode of travel.

Written, June 2012


Why did the first Samaritan Christians receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands?

The origin of Christianity and its early growth is described in the book of Acts. It began in Jerusalem and then spread to Samaria and then to lands around the Mediterranean Sea (Acts 1:8).

The order of events associated with the initial reception of the Holy Spirit was different for different groups of people, namely:

Jews (Acts 2:38)

  1. Repentance
  2. Water baptism
  3. Reception of the Holy Spirit

Jewish disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-7)

  1. Believed
  2. Were rebaptised
  3. The Apostle Paul laid hands on them
  4. Reception of the Holy Spirit

Samaritans (Acts 8:12-17)

  1. Believed
  2. Water baptism
  3. Apostles (John and Peter) prayed
  4. Apostles(John and Peter) laid hands on them
  5. Reception of the Holy Spirit

Gentiles (Acts 10:43-48)

  1. Faith
  2. Reception of the Holy Spirit
  3. Water baptism

In all these cases salvation is based on faith in the Lord. The Bible doesn’t give a reason or explanation for the differences noted above. However, these facts may be relevant.

  • The original church in Jerusalem was comprised of Jews who still kept various Jewish traditions.
  • There was a transitional period between the original church and the multinational church that included Jews and Gentiles. During this period, the barriers between the Jews and the Gentiles were broken down (Acts 10:9-48; 15:1-35; Eph. 2:11-22).
  • Before the crucifixion, the Jews called out, “His blood is on us and on our children!” (Mt. 27:25). Their religious leaders instigated the sequence of events that led to the crucifixion of Christ. Public baptism would be a means by which Jews could dissociate themselves from this act of the Jewish nation and identify themselves with Christ. It demonstrated a change of allegiance and separated Christianity from Judaism.
  • There was hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans (Lk. 9:51-53; Jn. 4:9). The visit of the apostles and their laying of hands expressed unity and fellowship between the Jewish and Samaritan believers as an example of the unity of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13; Eph. 4:3-6). This reduced the possibility of the formation of separate national churches.
  • The events described in Acts 19 showed that Paul was not inferior to the other apostles.
  • The apostle Peter was given a vision to help explain why the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit at Caesarea (Acts 10:9-16; 11:5-18).

As the church today is largely comprised of Gentiles (Acts 15:14), the order of events associated with the reception of the Holy Spirit today is that found in Acts 10. This means that belief in Christ and reception of the Holy Spirit are concurrent; there is no gap between them (Jn. 7:38-39). So, the fact that the initial Samaritan believers received the Holy Spirit by the laying of hands was a special occurrence to protect the unity of the body of Christ and is not to be considered the pattern for every believer.

Written, May 2012


What makes the Bible so great?

The Bible is a collection of books which were written over a period of over 1,500 years with unique origin and content.

Unique origin

We will look at three statements about the source of the Bible. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16NIV). When written in ~67AD by Paul, this statement mainly applied to the Old Testament as not all the New Testament books had been written. But when Paul quoted from the book of Luke, he called it Scripture (1 Tim. 5:18) and Peter referred to Paul’s letters as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16). So today we can apply the statement to the whole Bible. This means that God is the source of every verse in the Bible.

“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things (mind). For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21). The men who were given the message were called prophets. This passage emphasises that the words of Scripture were given by God via the Holy Spirit; and they didn’t originate from the prophet’s mind.

“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2:13).  Once again, the Bible contains God’s wisdom, not human wisdom (1 Cor. 2:6-15). It’s “the thoughts of God” and the amazing things that “God has prepared for those who love Him”, which can only be understood with the help of the Holy Spirit.

As the Bible is the only book with God as the author, it is unique. The Bible is God’s message to us. The supreme God who created the universe and continues to sustain it has communicated with us. This also means that:

  • The Bible has authority – coming from the ruler of the visible and invisible universe.
  • The Bible is infallible. It is “completely reliable” as the source of truth, being absolutely true (2 Pet.1:19). The original text was without error and only minor copyist errors have occurred over the passage of time. When interpreted correctly, it never deceives us, never contradicts itself and can be trusted.
  • The Bible is profitable. God has told us what we need to know. It’s like our instruction manual for life.

Unique content

The Bible tells us the history of the universe from beginning to end. It begins with the creation of the universe and contains a history of mankind from Adam and Eve to the end of history. It describes the global flood that has shaped the earth and gives a detailed history of the Jewish nation, which is confirmed by archaeology. There is also a history of God’s dealing with mankind, a history of human failures, an accurate record of human behaviour and information about heaven and hell.

The Bible answers difficult questions, such as the following. Why do we exist? Why does anything exist? What can we hope for in the future? What is our destiny? Where has humanity come from? Why are we male and female? Where does marriage come from? Why is there suffering?

The Bible deals with our greatest problem (being God’s enemy instead of His friend) and our greatest need (to be reconciled with God) and how that was addressed by Jesus. God’s plan of salvation through Jesus is the theme of Scripture. We learn the way of salvation through the Bible (2 Tim. 3:15). It also provides assurance of salvation.

The Bible tells us what to know about the unseen world, including: God, angels, Satan, and demons. It describes the interaction between the unseen and seen parts of our world. It reveals what is God like; what has God done; God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. It also reveals that humans are comprised of spirit, soul and body.

As the Bible is the only reliable source of this information, it is unique (Eccl. 3:11).

Powerful

The Bible uses the following powerful images to describe itself:

  • A sharp sword that penetrates and judges our thoughts and attitudes (Heb. 4:12-13). It is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17).
  • A light that shines in darkness (Ps. 119:105; 2 Pet. 1:19). It illuminates the way ahead and guides us.
  • A mirror that shows our true condition (Jas. 1:22-25).
  • Food (milk and solid food) that sustains us (1 Cor. 3:1-2; Heb. 5:12-14).
  • Water that purifies us as we obey Scripture (Eph. 5:25).
  • More precious than gold (Ps. 19:10).
  • Sweeter than honey (Ps. 19:10).

So, the Bible is not just another book, it’s God’s unique powerful message to us. Let’s read it, study it, memorise it and obey it.

Written, September 2011

Also see: Read the Bible in one year


Why don’t we pray to the Holy Spirit?

Most of the examples of prayer in the Bible are addressed to God the Father. Jesus told His disciples that after He returned to heaven they should make their requests to God the Father in prayer “in my name” (Jn. 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-26).  As the name of the Lord represents His character, to ask God for something in Jesus’ name does not mean to mention this in the prayer, but to pray in accordance with Christ’s will. In order to do this, we need to be in close fellowship with the Lord, knowing His desires.

A name in scripture represents the very essence of the person (Prov. 22:1). Doing something in someone else’s name means to act by their authority and in their stead (1 Sam. 25:9). In this case we pray on the basis of Christ’s death and resurrection, which gives us access to God the Father. It also means praying for things that are in agreement with God’s will (1 Jn. 5:14-15).

Prayer should be “in the Spirit”, which means to pray as guided by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 6:18; Jude 20). Praying in the Spirit also means praying in accordance with God’s will as the Holy Spirit reveals it to us through Scripture (1 Jn. 5:14-15). In fact the Holy Spirit prays for us “in accordance with God’s will” (Rom. 8:26-27).

As the godhead comprises the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; what about prayer to the Son and the Spirit? Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59-60). This is consistent with the fact that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and mankind (1 Tim. 2:5). It is the clearest example in scripture of a prayer addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is no instance in scripture of a person praying to the Holy Spirit or mentioning the Holy Spirit in a prayer. This may be related to the fact that the Spirit prays and intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26-27). The Spirit also helps believers pray to God as their Father (Gal. 4:6). Also, we are to “pray in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18; Jude 20). This means to pray under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit who provides access to God the Father (Eph. 2:18). If the Holy Spirit guides our prayers and prays for us, there is no need to pray to the Spirit. On the other hand, there is no scriptural warning against prayer addressed to the Holy Spirit. And according to Erickson (2013): “it is appropriate to direct prayers of thanks and petition to each of the members of the Trinity, as well as to all of them collectively”.

So the biblical pattern is to pray to the Father in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

There is no instance in scripture of a person praying to angels or to the saints in heaven. The Bible certainly doesn’t advocate prayer to those who are not members of the godhead.

Reference
Millard J. Erickson (2013) “Christian theology”. Third edition. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, USA. p.313.

Written, April 2004. Revised, March 2017


Victory in the struggle with sin

God’s promises in Romans 8

When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, in 56 AD, Rome was a great center of power and influence in the Mediterranean world. His letter contains the main doctrines of the faith, because the Christians there needed this basic instruction. Paul begins with the good news of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then goes on to describe how to live the Christian life – the subject of Romans 8.

Struggling with sin

Messages in the Bible should be interpreted in context. In this case the context is Romans 7, often titled “Struggling with sin.” God gives Christians the Holy Spirit and a new divine nature, but they still have the old sinful nature (Rom. 7:25). The struggle between these two natures frustrates and discourages us. We want to please God, but fail. So did the Romans – and Paul. Here’s what he wrote: “I do not understand what I do … For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing … What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:15-24 NIV).

Those at Rome needed to know how to deal with this inner struggle, and so do we. And that’s in Romans 8, which has three main themes: living by the Spirit’s power, the future glory of God’s people, and God’s love. The secret to overcoming our sinful nature and living the Christian life is to live according to the promises in Romans 8, particularly those relating to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit and our sin nature are in constant conflict: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Gal. 5:17).

The promises

Beginning with the promise of “no condemnation” and ending with the promise of “no separation,” Romans 8 contains at least 14 additional promises for Christians: We are not condemned to be punished (v. 1); we have been freed from the power of sin (v. 2); we have life and peace (v. 6); we are led by the Holy Spirit (v. 14); we have fellowship with God (vv. 14-16); we have an inheritance (v. 17); we will receive new bodies (vv. 11, 23); the Holy Spirit helps us and prays for us (vv. 26-27); God is in control, and working for our good (v. 28); we will be transformed to be like Christ (v. 29); we are justified and will be glorified (v. 30); God is for us, and no one can accuse, condemn or defeat us (vv. 31-34); God will give us all things (v. 32); nothing can separate us from God’s love (vv. 35-39).

No condemnation

Romans 8:1states that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Paul found the answer to his struggle with sin in Jesus Christ: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25). All believers are sinners who have been forgiven. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross, so we are free from sin’s dominion. This is important to remember when we face accusations, criticisms, feelings of guilt and worthlessness. To be “in Christ” means that God now sees us united with Jesus: “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). We need to remind ourselves of this truth and apply it by not putting ourselves down and by accepting other believers just as Christ accepted us (Rom. 15:7).

Empowered by the Spirit

Romans 8 describes how Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit in our struggle with sin: “The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you” (v. 11). The consequences of the Spirit’s presence are described in Romans 8.

First, the Spirit has set us free from the power of sin (v. 2). Second Corinthians 7:13 confirms this: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Isn’t that our desire? God destroyed sin’s control over us by giving His Son as a sacrifice for our sins (v. 3). Jesus came to earth “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15). Satan is defeated, but because we still have the sinful nature, our victory over sin will not be complete until we are with the Lord (Rev. 21:4).

Second, the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that Christians are on the way to eternal life and peace (v. 6; Gal. 6:8). Both come through Christ’s sacrificial death (Rom. 5:1; 6:23). We already have what many desire: a future to look forward to and assurance that God controls everything.

Third, we are led by the Spirit, who guides us into all truth (v. 14; Jn. 16:13). Christians are to “live by” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16-25). The Spirit told Philip to go to the Ethiopian’s chariot and stay near it. After the Ethiopian was baptized, the Spirit suddenly took Philip away (Acts 8:29-39). Also, the Spirit told the church at Antioch to commend Barnabas and Saul as missionaries (Acts 13:2). The Spirit leads us through various means such as the Bible, prayer and other believers.

Fourth, we have fellowship with God: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (v. 14). We are children in God’s family; the Spirit confirms this (v. 16). God is so close to us that we can call Him “Abba” (“daddy” in Aramaic). Slaves were forbidden to address the family head this way. Children shouldn’t fear their parents, we should not fear God.

Fifth, we have an inheritance: “If we are children, then we are heirs” (v. 17, Gal. 4:6-7). Shouldn’t the prospect of an inheritance excite us? The Bible calls us “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” This is amazing when we realize that God owns everything! We will reign with Christ (Rev. 20:6). All creation looks forward to the time when our relationship with God is revealed. We have the Spirit as a foretaste of future glory. This is a great promise for those who suffer (vv. 17-23). But we don’t have to wait to experience God’s generosity. He has already given us His Son, the greatest gift, “will He not also … graciously give us all things” (v. 32).

Sixth, we will receive new bodies (vv. 11, 23). Just as He raised Christ from the dead, at Christ’s return the Spirit will resurrect and change the bodies of all believers (1 Cor. 15:50-54; 1 Th. 4:13-18). We can look forward to bodies that will never wear out.

Finally, the Spirit helps us and prays for us (vv. 26-27). Jesus said that the Spirit would be a helper who is always with us (Jn. 14:16). The Greek word describing the Spirit, “paraclete,” means a legal advocate, comforter or counselor. The Spirit understands our difficulties when we can’t even express them, and prays for us: He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). So we should pray to the Father guided by the Spirit and in His power (Eph. 2:18; Jude 20). When we are feeling weak, fearful or inadequate, remember that the Holy Spirit pleads for us.

God works for our good

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (v. 28). This verse does not say that all things are good or that we will be wealthy, healthy and safe from tragedy. It says that God is in control, and is at work in our lives to bring about His good purposes. Whatever the situation, God will bring good out of it. Of course, we may not always see it.

What does “His purpose” mean? In verse 29 we see that it means “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.” Whatever God allows in our lives is designed to make us more like Christ. Our lives are not controlled by the stars, chance or luck, but by a loving God who is working for us. This promise applies to “those who love Him” – to Christians. Those who do not have such a relationship with God have no hope and no one to turn to. For them life can seem futile. We should encourage others to accept Jesus as their Savior so God can work in their lives.

We will be transformed

God is in the business of making us like Christ (v. 29). As the Spirit works within us, we become more like Him in character, attitudes, responses and priorities. Our behavior will show more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). God knows all about us and is working to bring us to maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:14-19). This process will be complete when Christ returns and we will be transformed – free from sin, and with resurrected bodies: “When He appears we shall be like Him” (1 Jn. 3:2; Phil. 3:21). The power for this transformation “comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). We need to allow the Spirit to make us more like Christ. Meanwhile, we experience frustration because we’re not there yet. Along with the rest of creation we groan until God’s purposes are fulfilled (vv. 22-23).

Paul writes that we are justified and will be glorified (v. 30). We are righteous before God and fit for His presence – free from the guilt, penalty, and power of sin. This is an outcome of Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 4:25). Furthermore, we will share His glory. This is so certain that it is written in the past tense – as already done! This is true for all believers in Christ, showing that each believer has a wonderful destiny.

God is for us

Because God is for us, no one can accuse, condemn or defeat us: “If God is for us, who can be against us” (v. 31). What difference does it make who is against us? With God on our side, any opposition ultimately faces defeat. If someone accuses us, we can tell them that our sins have already been forgiven, and the penalty has already been paid on the cross (1 Jn. 1:9). God has promised victory for His people amidst adversity (Mt. 16:18). We are victorious because Christ has died for us, has been raised from the dead and is now at God’s right hand pleading for us. With the all-powerful God helping us, no lesser power can interfere. We have God on our side.

The final section of Romans 8 emphasizes that nothing can separate us from God’s love (vv. 35-39). People can be separated from each other by all sorts of trouble. Instead of separating us from Christ’s love, these things draw us closer to Him. Paul was convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love: Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither today’s fears nor tomorrow’s worries, not even hell’s power can keep us from God’s love. Nothing in all creation is able to separate us from the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus (vv. 38-39). The conclusion is that we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Through Christ we have overwhelming victory (v. 37).

Our part

What a great list of promises to help us in our struggle with sin! Coming from God, they are more than promises, being privileges and truths to enjoy. God has given us everything we need to live for Him. We should be Romans 8 Christians, using the promises and resources He has given us. The Holy Spirit is our greatest ally in the struggle against sin. We are forgiven and freed from the power of sin; the Holy Spirit guides us and guarantees eternal life and peace; as children in His family, we have fellowship with God and a great inheritance; God works for our good in everything; we will be transformed and receive new bodies; we have been made fit for God’s presence and will share His glory; God is for us, so no one can accuse, condemn, or defeat us; nothing can separate us from God.

God empowers us through the Spirit to put to death the misdeeds of the sinful nature (vv. 12-14). This means daily turning away from all known sins. We may need to help one another by confessing our sins to and praying for each other (Jas. 5:16). We should read the Bible each day to renew our mind (Rom. 12:2). Paul said think about “whatever is true … noble … right … pure … lovely … admirable … excellent or praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). What a striking metaphor! Our selfish feelings and desires have been killed.

Living in the Spirit means consulting with God about our priorities and not trying to do it on our own. This liberates us from the demands and expectations of others. Living in the Spirit involves both submitting to God and resisting sinful desires (Jas. 4:7) And thank God we have His power to do it!

Published, May 2002


What should we do?

How should we respond to Jude’s advice?

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 20-23).

Build yourselves up in your most holy faith

The church. Are believers growing and maturing in the Christian faith? Is the younger generation being trained to maturity, so they can train the next generation (2 Tim. 2:2)? Are there processes to ensure this happens, whether in large or small groups? Do you know who your teachers are? Are they teaching? Are we teaching important principles and not majoring in minor ones? Are we teaching on current issues? Do we speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15)?

Yourself. Are you ready to learn from the Bible and from others? Do you know your spiritual gifts? Are you a teacher? Should you be teaching others? Do you study the Bible? Do you have a teacher to help with questions you may have? Are you willing to respect the opinion of others on debateable matters where Christians may disagree?

Pray in the Holy Spirit

The church. Do we encourage people to get to know each other well enough to share their needs and to pray for the important issues of life? Does this include spiritual needs? Are there small groups where this can happen? Do you have people who can discern God’s will or do you function mainly according to custom and tradition?

Yourself. Do you pray for the needs of others and for God’s purposes? Do you have some friends that you can share and pray together with?

Keep yourselves in God’s love

The church. Is the Lord’s love evident in your meetings such as the Lord’s Supper and times of fellowship? Are these joyful occasions and ones where people are encouraged and will want to attend? Do you include new songs? What about fellowship with believers in other churches in your area? Remember, they are also part of the body of Christ.

Yourself. Do you attend and contribute to meetings where God’s love is expressed? Do you examine and judge yourself to stay in fellowship with God? Do you express hospitality to others?

Wait for the Lord’s return

The church. Do we give believers hope for the future by reminding them of the Lord’s return? Do we give people a reason to have an optimistic view of their future?

Yourself. Does this help you to live a pure life? Do you expect that the Lord could return at any moment of time?

Reach out to help others

The church. Do we encourage outreach by evangelists and missionaries? Do we identify and help those with this gift? Do we invite evangelists and missionaries to visit; share with them and help them practically?

Yourself. I hope you don’t isolate yourself from non-believers. Do you make friends with them so they can be introduced to the gospel? Do you pray for and support the work of evangelists and missionaries?

Written, April 2002


Contend for the faith

Jude’s advice on living for God

The letter of Jude addresses apostasy in the church. An apostate is someone who professes to be a believer but is not a true Christian—the Greek word means defection or revolt. They deny the fundamentals of the faith. Judas Iscariot is a good example—he travelled with Jesus and the apostles, but showed his true character when he betrayed the Lord.

The apostates at that time were the Gnostics who regarded matter as being inherently evil and spirit as being good. This lead to hedonism as a result of the idea that the body could do anything it wanted to. They were selfish immoral heretics, who denied that Jesus was God’s son, that He died for the sins of the world and that He rose back to life (Jude 4,18). They also divided the church and didn’t have the Holy Spirit with them (Jude 19).

How should a Christian respond to such opposition, gross sinfulness and ungodliness? In this case it was coming from within the professing church. Jude lists five things that they could do in this situation. These would apply to any believers facing opposition and ungodliness. It describes how Christians should live for God in a sinful world.

Build yourselves up in your most holy faith

The first activity is to “build yourselves up in your most holy faith” or build your lives on the foundation of your most holy faith (Jude 20NIV). The Greek word used for “build” in this verse is used elsewhere to describe:

  • God and the Bible (Acts 20:32)
  • teaching in the local church (1 Cor. 3:10, 12, 14).
  • teaching of the writers of the New Testament (Eph. 2:20)
  • Living as though Jesus is Lord: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:6-7). This is similar to Jude 20 and shows that the building is linked with being “strengthened in the faith”.

These are the things we should be building on and with—they are the contents of our belief, that is Christian “faith”. As they come from God, they are called “holy” (Jude 20).

Building up conveys a sense of growth and strengthening. Jude had urged them to “contend for the faith” (v.3) they had been given. This is a command to guard and defend Biblical truth. Similarly, Paul writes that believers should contend for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose them (Phil. 1:27-28). So the Christian faith as given in the Bible is entrusted to us and we need to know it well enough to defend it.

When we accept Christ as Savior and Lord, we begin a lifetime of spiritual growth—we are to keep on building: “continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel” (Col. 1:23). This is a personal responsibility: “build yourselvesup”. Some effort is required here to respond to all God has given us in the Bible by assimilating it into our lives. Paul expressed a similar thought, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt. 3:18). There are two parts to this growth; grace and truth! This means becoming more like Christ (Jn. 1:14).

The fundamentals of the Christian faith should be taught by preachers and teachers and understood by believers. When this happens there is a response of thankfulness (Col. 2:7). Preachers, teachers and small group leaders are builders in the local church (1 Cor. 3:10-17). They may build using “gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw”. Teaching can either be of lasting worth or only of passing value or of no value at all. It can be tested against the teachings of the Bible.

Paul and Barnabas strengthened believers and encouraged them to remain true to the faith (Acts 14:21-22 ). We should help each other in this: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Th. 5:11). So, it should be a corporate activity, not just an individual one.

Pray in the Holy Spirit

Next Jude writes that we should “Pray in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20). This means to pray as guided by the Holy Spirit. It’s a part of living each day by the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:25).

Paul writes, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Eph. 6:18-20). We need an active prayer life. Share your life with God; after all you are His ambassador. Pray for each other. Paul doesn’t ask to be released from prison, but that he may declare the gospel.

Praying in the Spirit also means praying in accordance with God’s will as the Holy Spirit reveals it to us through Scripture. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him” (1 Jn. 5:14-15).

Prayer replaces anxiety with peace. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).

The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit prays for us! “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Rom. 8:26-27).

Keep yourselves in God’s love

Then Jude calls Christians to “Keep yourselves in God’s love” (Jude 21). The word “keep” has been used to describe how Jesus watches us and protects us from evil (1 Jn. 5:18; Jude 1). This would have been comforting to those experiencing persecution.

To “keep” often means to guard—Paul was guarded in prison (Acts 12:5,6; 16:23). He also guarded the Christian faith (2 Tim. 4:7). He asked us to guard our lives by keeping free from sin (1 Tim. 5:22). To keep yourselves in God’s love means to live in God’s love—to guard our lives so that His love controls us (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

Of course, no-one can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:35-39). God always loves us, but when sin comes into our life we longer enjoy His love. Let nothing come between us and God—if it does, then confess it and turn away from it (1 Jn. 1:9). Then we can enjoy His love and let it influence us and express it to others.

Is God’s love central in your mind, will and emotions? Paul wrote, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (2 Th. 3:5). When this happens it is evident in how we live, “if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in him (1 Jn. 2:5). Similarly, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love” (Jn. 15:10). Also, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (Jn. 14:21).

To live in God’s love means to show it to others (1 Jn. 3:16-18). So, it includes what we do as well as what we say. God’s love for us should flow through to our love for each other, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11).

Another mention of “love” in Jude’s letter is the “love feast” (v.12)— a common meal eaten by early Christians before the Lord’s supper. Times of fellowship and the Lord’s supper should help us to live in God’s love.

Like learning Christian doctrine and prayer, living in God’s love has a corporate component—we can’t do it all by ourselves. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). We need to encourage one another in these important aspects of the Christian life whenever we meet together.

It is interesting to note that these first three activities were practiced by the early church; “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).

Wait for the Lord’s return

Jude also urges Christians to “wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 21). To “wait” means looking forward and expecting a favorable reception. Paul wrote that believers should “wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13). Christ’s coming is to “bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him” (Heb. 9:28). When Christ returns He will come to take His people home to heaven. This is the next phase of God’s great work of salvation; they will be like Christ, with new bodies and free from the presence of sin (1 Jn. 3:2). Ultimately, we are looking forward to “a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pt. 3:13).

In the New Testament, the word “wait” is closely connected with how we live our lives. For example, we should “say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives” and be “eager to do what is good” while we wait (Tit. 2:12-14). Also, we “ought to live holy and godly lives” as we wait (2 Pt. 3:11-12). So waiting for the Lord’s return involves changing our behavior!

The prospect of the Lord’s second coming should encourage us; “Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Th. 4:18). We have hope regardless of what our situation may be. We should use it to encourage one another; we are on a journey and we haven’t reached our destination. The best is yet to come. It should help us to live godly lives—“Everyone who has this hope will keep themselves pure, just as He is pure” (1 Jn. 3:3).

Reach out to help others

Finally, Jude calls Christians to “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 22-23).

In the case of apostasy in the church and those following false teachers there are three situations. Firstly, leaders and those actively promoting this behavior need to be dealt with firmly. This is the responsibility of the elders (Acts 20:28-31). For example, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work” (2 Jn. 10-11). We should not show hospitality to such people.

For the remainder there are two courses of action. Secondly, “be merciful to those who doubt”—show kindness by helping and correcting them.  The word “doubt” means lack of faith. Jesus expressed mercy in healing the demon-possessed man, while lack of mercy is illustrated by the servant who should have forgiven his fellow-servant (Mt. 18:33; Mk. 5:19). We need to reach out compassionately to these people and help them replace their doubts with true Christian faith. This is how Jesus responded to people, “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:36). So He healed, fed and taught them (Mt. 14:14; 15:32, Mk. 6:34).

Thirdly, “snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh”. Remember Lot had to be snatched from the city of Sodom before it was destroyed (Gen. 19:15-17). Some need strong warning, instruction or action to stop them following false teachers or to remove them from bad situations. But be aware of the influence of sin. In Old Testament times the clothing of those with infectious skin diseases such as leprosy had to be burned (Lev. 13:47-52). This illustrates the care that must be taken when dealing with people who have been involved with serious sins. Sin is tempting and can be contagious, we must do all we can to avoid catching it. In these situations it is best not to act alone; get others to pray and help in any rescue mission.

Those living in fellowship with God will show mercy to others (Jas. 2:13).  An example of “mercy mixed with fear” is “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).

Of course, like Jesus, our compassion should reach those outside the church. We should encourage each to reach out to those who don’t know God and who are slaves of sin.

Living for God today

Today we often face apathy rather than apostasy. I think Jude’s advice applies in both situations. What world view are you building your life on? What are you keeping because of its value? What are you waiting for in anticipation? Are you praying? Are you reaching out to help others?

Whatever challenge you face, contend for the faith by following Jude’s advice. Build yourselves up in your most holy faith—learn about it from the Bible, which is how God speaks to us. Pray in the Holy Spirit—speak to God. Keep yourselves in God’s love—apply the Bible to your life. Wait for the Lord’s return and reach out to help others. These should be top priority for Christians and for local churches. We can’t control what happens around us, but we can influence our response to it and live godly lives.

If you are faithful in this, God promises to “keep you from falling” down here (like apostates and false teachers) and to “present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” up there (Jude 24). Then you will respond in praise, “to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!” (Jude 25).

Written, April 2002


God’s great and precious promises

About 4,000 years ago Abraham received some special promises when God spoke to him. The bible contains many other promises as well and in this article we look at some key promises given for Christians today. As Abraham had to listen in order to hear God’s promises to him, we should read the Bible to know God’s promises for us.

A survey of the New Testament

The Greek word for promise is “epangalia” (Strongs #1860). This article is based on a survey of every occurrence of this word and its close derivatives in the New Testament that relate to God’s promises—this was 60 verses, which are all referenced below. I am assuming that these verses indicate God’s key promises for Christians living between the day of Pentecost and the rapture. We will look at the context of these verses to help discover—what message did they convey to those of the early church and what is their message for us?

The topics that relate to the word “promise” in these verses are listed in the table below. It is interesting that half of the verses relate to promises given to Abraham and his descendants—the majority of these being in the books of Romans, Galatians and Hebrews. This is not surprising as a majority of the early Christians were Jewish and the Old Testament was the only Scripture that the early church possessed. Therefore, God often used illustrations from the Old Testament. Also, these books deal with topics of those times, such as the fact that justification by faith and not works is taught in the Old Testament, and with the trap of legalistic Judaism.

Key promises mentioned in the New Testament

Promise Verses %
Given to Abraham and his descendants 32 53
Eternal life 12 20
Holy Spirit 7 12
Second coming or end times 6 10
Children of God 1 2
All God’s promises 2 3
Total 60 100

Old Testament promises mentioned in the New Testament

The greatest occurrence of the word “epangalia” in the New Testament relates to the promises given to Abraham and his descendants (Acts 7:5,17; Rom. 4:20-21; 9:4, 8, 9; Gal. 3:16; Eph. 2:12; Heb. 6:13; 7:6; 11:9,13,17,33). The three main messages in these passages are summarized below:

Firstly, God keeps His promises—Isaac was born “as the result of a promise” (Gal. 4:23NIV). “And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised” (Heb. 6:15). This happened because of Abraham’s faith and God’s power (Heb 11:11).

This was an important message for the early church, particularly in times of persecution. They knew that their sins had been forgiven and they had a home in heaven. This gave them hope and security. It is also important for us during difficult and disappointing times—if we can’t trust in God, who can we trust? No-one. In a post-modern world, characterized by change and instability, it can be difficult to trust in God. When our faith is weak we act as though God is a part of creation; but of course God is not like us—He is reliable and always keeps His promises.

Secondly, Jesus was the promised Messiah (Acts 13:23,32; 26:6; Heb. 11:39). Paul wrote, “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs” (Rom 15:8). The remainder of this sentence says Christ came so that the Gentiles would also praise God. When sinners put their faith in Christ, they share in the promises given to Abraham (Gal. 3:29; 4:28).

As already mentioned a majority of the early Christians were Jewish. When they realized that Jesus was the Messiah, they converted from Judaism to Christianity and this truth about Jesus would have featured in evangelism to the Jews. For example, on the day of Pentecost Peter proclaimed, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” and Stephen told the Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin, “you betrayed and murdered the Messiah”.

The message for us is that all God’s promises are fulfilled through Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20). Paul writes that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing because we belong to Christ. The promises in the Old Testament look ahead to Christ and those for the future rely on His great sacrifice for the sin of the world.

Finally, God’s promise of salvation (and eternal life) is a gift to be received by faith, not something to be earnt. In Romans 4 Paul shows how the gospel is in harmony with the Old Testament—God accepted Abraham because Abraham had faith in Him (Rom 4:13-14)—“The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all” (Rom 4:16). The Old Testament law was only a temporary measure until the coming of Christ (Gal. 3:17-19, 21-22). So, eternal life is guaranteed to those who have faith in God like Abraham did (Heb. 11:11).

The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the Jews in the times of the early church. They endeavored to live in strict accordance with the Old Testament law as interpreted and amplified by the scribes and their tradition and they believed in salvation by works. Consequently, the message of salvation by faith and not works was a vital distinction between Christianity and Judaism.

This truth is also important for us as it is fundamental to the Christian faith. Salvation is a gift that God promises to those who receive it by faith. There is no way we can earn our salvation. As a result of this salvation all believers are assured of participating in and receiving the remaining promises.

Eternal life

The second most prevalent topic associated with the word “epangalia” in the New Testament is that of eternal life. When we accept Christ as Savior, we receive eternal life which is valuable now and when we get to heaven. Eternal life enables us to live for Christ today and to look forward to life after death (1 Jn. 2:25; 1 Tim. 4:8). Eternal life is one of the “better promises” in the new covenant that came though Christ (Heb. 8:6). It is shared by all believers—there is no distinction based on race or any other difference between believers (Eph. 3:6).

As Paul wrote concerning “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time”, people who followed God in Old Testament times will be included in those who share eternal life  (Tit. 1:2).

Heaven, the place of eternal rest is still available to all who believe in Christ (2 Tim 1:1; Heb 4:1; 6:17). It is an “eternal inheritance” for all those who have been freed from the penalty of their sins by Christ’s death (Heb 6:12; 9:15; Jas. 2:5). All believers have eternal life and are looking forward to new bodies, the marriage supper of the Lamb and living with the Lord.

Heaven also includes rewards given at the judgement seat of Christ for service done for the Lord. For example, those who persevere under trials are promised “the crown of life”, which may be a deeper appreciation of eternal life in heaven (Jas. 1:12).

As God promises eternal life as a gift to sinners who receive it by faith it is guaranteed to all believers (Rom 4:16). We can be confident of this based on God’s Word, because we can’t earn salvation by good works.

Some in the early church thought Jews were privileged and so they looked down on Gentiles. But the fact that they both had eternal life and were indwelt by the Holy Spirit illustrated that there should be no barrier between them—Christianity is multinational! The same applies today—we should accept all true Christians as Christ would—regardless of differences in race, in status, or in gender.

The Holy Spirit

The word “epangalia” in the New Testament is also often associated with the topic of the Holy Spirit. Before His ascension, Christ promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come as had been promised in the Old Testament (Is. 44:3; Ezek. 36:27; Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:4). The Holy Spirit is God and He gives believers a divine power. This happened initially on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:33). This promise was for all believers, whether they were Jews (“you and your children”) or Gentiles (“all who are far off”) (Acts 2:39).

The Holy Spirit indwells a believer when they trust in the good news of God’s offer of salvation—“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (Eph. 1:13). This pattern—hearing the message, believing it, and then receiving the Holy Spirit—was evident when Peter spoke at Cornelius’ house. The gift of the Holy Spirit is part of the blessings that were promised to Abraham (Gal. 3:14).

These verses also teach that the Holy Spirit is a sign that we belong to God and that He will protect us and will keep His promises.

This promise is equally important to the early church and to us. The New Testament is full of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and they are instructed to “be filled with the Spirit”. He is God with us on a continual basis—God speaks to us today through the Holy Spirit. He is a great helper and teacher and will remind us of relevant Scripture.

Second coming or end times

The second coming of Christ and other future events are also often associated with the word “epangalia” in the New Testament. The book of Hebrews was written for those struggling with leaving Judaism for Christianity, who were encouraged to persevere until they received the reward that God had promised (Heb. 10:36). This reward is explained in the next verse as being when Christ returns to take Christians to be with Himself at the rapture. It is important that our present circumstances do not cause us to forget about the wonderful future that God has promised us—“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23). God is reliable and will keep His promises.

Scoffers say, “Where is this ‘coming’ He promised?”—they do not believe that God is coming to judge the world (2 Pt. 3:4). So, why has there been a long delay in the coming of God’s judgement? The reason is that He is patient, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). He is giving people every opportunity to be saved. He waited 120 years before He sent the flood and has waited thousands of years before destroying the world with fire.

God has promised many awesome demonstrations of His power after He takes the believers to be with Himself during the rapture (Heb. 12:26). But, believers are to look forward to “a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pt. 3:13). This is the eternal state after God has triumphed over Satan and evil.

This expectation can help believers through life’s struggles—whether they live in the first century or today. It gives them an eternal perspective.

Children of God

The promises of 2 Corthinians 7:1, mentioned in the previous verses, include that believers are “sons and daughters” of God the Father and that God welcomes those who stand against evil. There are two relationships here: between a child and a parent and between siblings. As a result of this promise, we receive blessings from God and from one another.

A parent has special care for their child who they nurture and encourage from infancy to adolescence and then to adulthood—that’s how God cares for us. Meanwhile a child is to obey their parents—and Christians are to obey and imitate God.

Although siblings can be rivals, they share a common family and the same parents. As a consequence of this relationship, most of us help and care for others in our family. Likewise believers, who follow the same Savior and share the same destiny, should care for one another.

The illustration of being children of God applies to the early church and to today. All believers need to appreciate they serve a loving Father. However the situation regarding relationships between believers has changed in the past 1,900 years. The early church was small and all believers fellowshipped with one another, except when dictators such as Diotrephes had their way. Today there are different Christian denominations and we need to remember we are children in a global family comprising believers from all Christian denominations, not just the one we happen to support. The Bible emphasises that God has no favorites, nor should we.

All God’s promises

The remaining instances of the word “epangalia” in the New Testament are two verses that relate to all of God’s promises. We mentioned earlier that all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).

God has given us everything we need to live for Him including “His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pt. 1:4). It is estimated that there are at least 30,000 promises in the Bible. They are “very great” because they help us do such things as:

  • “participate in the divine nature”—as we appreciate what God has promised, we become more like Him, and
  • “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires”—God’s promises can help us resist temptation—when temptations come we should claim the promises.

Application to us

These promises can have a strong influence on our lives when we remember:

  • We follow a God who keeps His promises—look back at history. Our God is reliable and trustworthy.
  • All of God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ – Christ has “better promises” than any others in the world because they are given by the God who made the universe and continues to sustain it.
  • Salvation is a gift to be received by faith, not something to be earnt—this is a fundamental of the Christian faith.
  • The Holy Spirit is God with us on a continual basis—we should be more aware of His presence as all our power to live for Christ comes from the Holy Spirit.
  • We are children of God—we have a global family and should welcome fellowship with other believers. The early church was not restricted to a small community—it witnessed in Jerusalem, then Judea the southern section of Palestine, then Samaria in central Palestine and then to the ends of the earth. Like evangelism, our fellowship should spread out across the land. Paul had to be reminded by the Lord when he was in Corinth; “I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city”. We need to be aware of other believers in our community who are also a part of the body of Christ and not avoid them or isolate ourselves from them.
  • We should be looking forward to Christ’s return to fulfil His promises concerning the future. This includes eternal life in heaven and seeing Jesus exalted to the highest place and seeing every knee bow before Him and hearing every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and singing together with all creation, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
  • God doesn’t reveal His promises to us unless we read them in the Bible—so we need to: read them, understand them, meditate on them, and store them in our memories. If you have trouble sleeping at night, then be like the psalmist who wrote, “I lie awake at night thinking of your promises” (Ps. 119:148). Then we can say, “I have hidden your word in my heart” (Ps. 119:11). As a consequence you will realize that they are great promises and they will become precious to you, and The Holy Spirit will recall them when you need refreshment and encouragement—“Your promise revives me; it comforts me in all my troubles” (Ps. 119:50).

Written, March 2003

Also see: God’s greatest promise


Give Priority To God And People THIS NEW YEAR

The word “Christian” means a follower of Christ. The beginning of a new year is a good time to focus on some of the words He spoke – in particular, His first words, His most important words and His last recorded words – and determine how well we are following Him.

His First Words
When He was 12 years old, Jesus stayed behind to talk with the teachers in the temple while His parents headed for home after the festival of the Passover. When they returned and found Him, Mary said, “‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’ ‘Why were you searching for Me?’ He asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what He was saying to them. Then He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Lk. 2:48-52 NIV).

The two different fathers mentioned in this passage show the two main relationships of His youth. First, He was aware of His unique relationship with God. At 12 years, He was doing God’s business. Of course, that’s why He came to earth. One example of this relationship was that He prayed regularly. Second, He obeyed His parents. They were part of His human family. Later He said, “Whoever does God’s will is My brother and sister and mother” (Mk. 3:35). All believers are part of His spiritual family. One example of this relationship was His compassion for people. He saw them as “sheep without a shepherd” and wanted to care for them like a hen cares for her chicks (Mt. 9:36; 23:37). So, this incident and the Lord’s first recorded words show that His two main relationships were with God and with people.

His Most Important Words
During His ministry, one of the Jewish religious leaders asked Jesus which was the most important commandment. “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these’” (Mk. 12:29-31).

The Jews had at least 600 laws at this time. When asked which was the most important, Jesus said to put God first and people next. He simplified their complex religious requirements into two relationships – with God and with others. Our priorities should be likewise – God first, people next and selfish things last.

His Last Recorded Words
Before Jesus ascended, the apostles asked Him: “‘Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses … to the ends of the earth.’ After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight” (Acts 1:6-9).

They expected the earthly kingdom to commence, but didn’t know that this wouldn’t happened until after the gospel was taken to the Gentile nations. Instead the Lord promised the Holy Spirit to give them power to witness for Him across the known world. Witnessing is introducing people to God. This mission for the apostles, which is also the Church’s mission, involves the two relationships already mentioned – with God and others. They would no longer have the Lord to guide them physically, but all believers now have the Holy Spirit to guide them spiritually.

Starting today, let’s devote our lives to God’s business – really giving Him top priority, and really loving one another – the essence of Jesus’ most important words.

Published, January 2010


A Look At First Thessalonians. Part 6: Living As A Christian

In this Series on 1 Thessalonians we have seen that Paul visited and preached in Thessalonica and a church was established. Because he couldn’t visit them for some time, he wrote a letter of encouragement. From 4:1 to 5:11 Paul reminded them how to please God – avoid sexual immorality and excel in holiness and brotherly love. Instead of grieving for those who had died, they were to look forward to being reunited with them and to be awake and sober as they looked forward to the Lord’s return. Paul ended his letter with practical guidelines on Christian living. He addressed godly attitudes and behavior in relationships with the elders, other believers and God.

Living With Church Leaders
“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 NIV

These verses address leadership in the local church. The Bible teaches that each church is to be led by a group of qualified elders who share this responsibility. Several characteristics of elders are mentioned here. They are to “work hard” at caring for people. They are to be “over” the congregation, meaning that they are to maintain or rule. In other letters Paul said that they “direct the affairs of the church” and “lead” (1 Tim. 5:17; Rom. 12:8). Both Paul and Peter likened their care to spiritual parents caring for a family (1 Tim. 3:4,5,12; 1 Pet. 5:2-3). Elders are also to “admonish” or gently reprove the congregation. Paul used the same word when he told them to warn anyone who didn’t obey his instructions (2 Th. 3:15). Elders are to remind the church of God’s truths and the dangers of living a self-centered life.

In this passage, the congregation was given two responsibilities with respect to the elders. It was to “respect” them. This Greek word is translated as “acknowledge” (TNIV), “know” (KJV), “recognize” (NKJV), “appreciate” (NASB) and “honor” (NLT). The congregation needs to know the elders if they are going to trust and follow them. They are also to “hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” This means to value them because of their important work, not because of their personality, spiritual gifts, wealth or anything else.

In this context Paul encouraged Thessalonians to “live in peace with each other.” Harmony should be characteristic of all Christian relationships, as peace is a fruit of the Spirit and we follow the God of peace (1 Th. 5:23; Gal. 5:22). There is a need to value all the elders, as favoring one divides the congregation. Also, elders should serve the whole congregation, not just part of it. Paul wrote elsewhere that we should “make every effort to do what leads to peace” and “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 14:19; 12:18).

Living With Believers
“And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15

Here Paul shows us how we are to live with three types of people. We are to “warn those who are idle.” Apparently, some Thessalonians had stopped working in order to prepare for the second coming of the Lord (2 Th. 3:10-11). They lived off others, were disorderly and became busybodies disrupting the local church. Paul’s solution was that they get back to work to support themselves and their families. He warned that “anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Paul said don’t help them by feeding them; instead let them experience the consequences of their behavior (2 Th. 3:10-13). This admonition is followed by two examples of caring.

“Encourage the disheartened.” Those who are disappointed with life are to be encouraged by individuals coming alongside and empathizing with them. Circumstances can cause people to think they don’t belong and have nothing to contribute. But we all have God-given gifts. We need to help such people find their place in the church and encourage them in their work.

“Help the weak” refers to those who may not be sure of their salvation because of their past, or who may doubt God’s power. Paul also taught that we shouldn’t stumble those who are weak in the faith (Rom. 14:1-15; 1 Cor. 8:13). They need our encouragement, friendship and help.

Paul then mentioned three attitudes required when warning, encouraging and helping others: First, “Be patient with everyone.” This means trying again and again even though there may be no response from those you are warning, encouraging and helping. Second, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong.” Christians are called to forgive, not retaliate (Mt. 18:21-22; Rom. 12:17). When someone hurts us, we should not get angry and retaliate, but rather seek reconciliation (Mt. 18:15-17). Be patient and continue to show Christian kindness and love. Third, “Always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” The goal of warning, encouraging and helping others should be to achieve what is best for them in the Lord.

Living Before God In All Circumstances
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

It is God’s will that believers be characterized by joy, prayer and thanksgiving. Paul began with “Be joyful always” to encourage us not to let things get us down. In Philippians 4:4 he added that our rejoicing should be “in the Lord.” This joy is to be shown in all circumstances including suffering and persecution (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 4:13). The Thessalonians were persecuted (1 Th. 1:6; 2:14; 3:3-4). Paul sang while in prison (Acts 16:22-25). How can this be? Their joy was an internal attitude that was not overtaken by external circumstances; it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), with Christ as its source and subject. He controls our circumstances and through Him we have victory. We develop joy by focusing on God’s promises and spending time with joyful believers. Joy is contagious.

Then Paul urged them to “pray continually” – at regular times and as needed. When trials come we need to pray our way through them. For example, when Peter was in prison, the believers prayed and he was released (Acts 12:1-19). We should “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests … and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Eph. 6:18).

Paul also told believers to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Believers should be “overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:7) even in the trials and difficulties which mature us. We don’t have to give thanks for everything that happens to us; it says “in” our circumstances, not “for” them. But we shouldn’t complain or grumble. Thanking God is not a feeling, it’s a choice. Daniel prayed three times a day, “giving thanks to his God” even though his life was in danger (Dan. 6:10-12). We can develop an attitude of praising God in all circumstances.

Living Before God As He Guides
“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” is a metaphor for hindering or extinguishing the operation of the Holy Spirit in an individual or the church. This may be caused by sin, disunity or suppression of the Spirit’s gifts. Instead, we are to keep the Spirit’s fire burning by following Paul’s instructions to be joyful, prayerful and thankful, and by following the Spirit when He prompts us to do what is right or stop doing what is wrong.

“Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything.” The early Church did not have a completed Bible so the gift of prophecy was God’s way of getting His message to His people. Now that the canon of Scripture is set, this takes place as His Word is taught and preached. Instead of despising prophecies, the Thessalonians were to evaluate them. Paul also said that those listening to prophets should discern or “weigh carefully” what they say (1 Cor. 14:29). They were to test them against the apostles’ teachings. Then they could accept what was good and reject what was bad. In Acts, Luke told the Jews in Thessalonica to learn from the Bereans who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

Paul’s Prayer
“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

The Thessalonians couldn’t live like this in their own strength, so Paul prayed for them as only God could make their efforts successful. There are different aspects to sanctification (holiness), and here he addressed progressive sanctification. Paul prayed that their sanctification would extend to their whole being – spirit, soul and body. The spirit is our link to God, the soul is our mind, emotions and will, and the body is the physical part housing the spirit and soul.

It is God who makes us holy, and Paul was confident that He would complete what He began (Phil. 1:6). He is faithful to keep His promises. The end of this progression is the coming of our Lord, at the judgment seat of Christ, when each Christian’s life will be reviewed as he/she stands before Him.

In Conclusion
“Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:25-28

After he prayed for them, Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray for him. The kiss was a normal greeting of that day, similar to a handshake in western countries. It expressed friendship with fellow believers. Paul wanted “to have this letter read to all” brothers and sisters, a statement not found in any of his other letters (5:27); he thought it was that important. We should read it with this in mind.

Three keys to living together as Christians alluded to here are prayer, fellowship and Bible reading. Paul ended this letter with a benediction of grace for the Thessalonians – God’s unmerited favor through the saving work of Christ.

Lessons For Us
Let’s develop godly attitudes and behaviors in our relationships with church elders, with other believers and with God. Get to know the elders of your church, and value them because of their work. Obey them and encourage them in their work. The same principle applies to ministry leaders within the church. Believers should serve one another through encouragement, practical help, patience, peaceable living, and by treating everyone as equals in Christ. Our attitude toward God should be one of joy, prayer and thanksgiving in all circumstances. We should not stifle the work of the Holy Spirit in an individual or in the church. The standard by which we should test all preaching and teaching is the Word.

May we use the resources God has provided to live for Him until the Rapture when Christ returns to take us to be with Him forever.

Published, June 2009

See the next article in this series: Encouragement during trials and suffering (2 Thessalonians 1)

See the first article in this series: Model believers (1 Thessalonians 1)
Also see summary of 1 Thessalonians: Encouragement for tough times


DIVINE FAVORS AND GIFTS: Are You Enjoying Your Spiritual Blessings?

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of His glory.” – Ephesians 1:3-14 NIV

These verses from Ephesians 1 summarize what God has done for believers. They were written by Paul to believers in Ephesus, but they also apply to us today. What a wonderful record of favors and gifts! Here we see that God the Father is the source of our salvation (1:3-6), Jesus Christ is the means of our salvation (1:7-12) and the Holy Spirit is the proof of our salvation (1:13-14). Each believer’s blessings are associated with each member of the Godhead. We are very rich in the invisible spiritual dimension of life.

His Blessings
Before the creation of the world, God the Father chose us to be part of His holy people (election). He did this by adopting us as children into His family (adoption). As slaves were freed from captivity by the payment of a ransom, Jesus paid the ransom for our sins by His death (redemption). This means that our sins are now forgiven (forgiveness). God’s plan for the universe – to bring everything in the material and spiritual world under the authority of Christ – has been revealed to us (dominion). The presence of the Holy Spirit within the believer is our mark of divine ownership and security (sealed). He is a deposit or guarantee of all that God has promised (inheritance). These blessings can’t be bought with money and they can’t be taken away by tragedy.

It is clear that the Lord Jesus is the center of God’s plan of salvation. Eleven times in these 12 verses of Ephesians 1 we read: “in Christ” or “in Him” or “in the one He loves” or “through Jesus Christ.” This is also expressed in song by Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty: “In Christ alone my hope is found.” These blessings are our source of security, joy and hope. Are you enjoying them?

Our Response
God deserves all our praise for His wonderful kindness (1:6) shown in the many spiritual blessings He has for those who trust Him (1:14). The believer’s purpose in life is to praise God, and He has given us many reasons to do so (1:3,11,12).

Published, May 2008


What is the Trinity doing today for the believer?

God is three persons in one – Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19; Acts 2:32-33; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2). In a way that only He can understand, God is a trinity: three in one and one in three. The relationship between each member of the Godhead and the believer is outlined below.

First, God is their Father (Jn. 20:17; Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:6-7) and they are His children (1 Jn. 3:1). He has a great inheritance for them. God hears their prayers and forgives them when they confess and repent (Acts 8:22, Eph. 3:14-19; Col. 1:3). In response, they should serve God the Father (Rev. 1:6).

Second, the Lord Jesus Christ (the Son) is now in heaven preparing a place for them (Mk. 16:19; Jn. 14:2). When they sin He defends them and pleads their case (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 1 Jn. 2:1). He also sustains the universe they live in (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).

Third, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would live in all His followers (Jn. 14:17; Acts 2:38-39). The Holy Spirit is their counselor, advocate, intercessor and comforter (Jn. 16:7). He teaches and reminds them (Jn. 14:26); testifies about Christ (Jn. 15:26); convicts of sin, righteousness and judgment (Jn. 16:8-11); guides them into truth and reveals the things of God to them (Jn. 16:13-15); calls them to specific ministries (Acts 13:2-4); forbids certain actions (Acts 16:6-7); intercedes for them in prayer (Rom. 8:26-27); guides their prayers (Jude 20); and changes their character to be more like Christ (Gal. 5:22-25).

It is good for the believer to know and understand what each member of the Triune Godhead is doing for those who are His.

Published, October 2007