THE PERSON OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
In our consideration of these biblical doctrines, our method has been to follow the order and the plan of salvation, so we come now, by a logical sequence, to the great doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Now I cannot begin to talk about this doctrine without pausing for a moment to express again my sense of wonder and amazement at the plan of salvation. I believe that people who are not interested in the plan of salvation as such, are robbing themselves of a great deal. When you try to stand back and look at it as a whole, you must at once be impressed by its glory, its greatness, its perfection in every part; each doctrine leads to the next until there it is, the complete whole.
It is a very good thing in the Christian life to stand back periodically and look at this great plan. That is why I think it is important to observe Christmas Day and Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and to preach on those days. They are convenient occasions for reminding ourselves of the whole plan of salvation. Look at it as a whole, look at the separate parts; but always remember that the parts must be kept in their relationship to the whole.
So it is very important that we should be studying the Bible in this particular way. I would always recommend that you read the Bible chapter by chapter, that you go steadily through it—that is also good. But in addition I do suggest that it is of vital importance to take out the great doctrines that are taught there, and look at them according to the plan or the scheme of salvation. The Church has done this from the very beginning, and it is a tragedy that it is done so infrequently at this present time because if you are content only with reading through the Scriptures, there is a danger of missing the wood for the trees. As you read through, you become so immersed in the details, getting the right translation, and so on, that you tend to forget the big, outstanding doctrines. So the reason for taking a series like this is to remind ourselves that the purpose of the Bible is to tell us God’s plan for the salvation of this world.
Another thing which I must emphasise is this: I know nothing which is such a wonderful proof of the unique, divine inspiration of the Scriptures as the study of Christian doctrine because we see then that this book is one, that it has one message though it was written at different times by different men in different circumstances. There is great unity in the message, one theme running from the beginning to the end. From the moment mankind fell, God began to put the plan of salvation into operation, and we can follow the steps and the stages right through the Bible. And so as we come to consider the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, we are reminded that here again is a doctrine that appears both in the Old and the New Testaments. We find a reference to the Holy Spirit in the second verse of the Bible, and the teaching goes right the way through. This amazing unity, I repeat, is proof of the unique, divine inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures.
So, then, we find that in this great plan the Holy Spirit is the applier of salvation. It is His work to bring to us, and to make actual in us, in an experiential manner, that great salvation which we have been considering together and which the Son of God came into the world in order to work out. In the Godhead, the Holy Spirit is the executive, the executor. I shall have to come back to this again when we deal particularly and specifically with His work, but that is His great function in the plan.
Now it is a remarkable and an astonishing thing that this doctrine of the Holy Spirit, His person and His work, has been so frequently neglected in the Church—yet that is an actual fact of history. It is quite clear that the first Christians believed the doctrine, they almost took it for granted. Then you come to the early centuries of the Christian era and you find very little reference, comparatively speaking, to this doctrine. That is not surprising, in fact it was more or less inevitable, because the Church was constantly engaged, in those first centuries, in defending the doctrine concerning the Son. The Son of God had become incarnate: He had been here in this world. Jesus was preached, Jesus as the Christ, and, of course, the enemy was constantly attacking the person of Christ. This was the linchpin in the whole of the gospel and if it could be discredited, the whole scheme would collapse. So the attack was upon the person of the Son and the Church had to give herself in defence of that doctrine in order to establish it.
Tragically, the result was that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was comparatively neglected, until the time of the Protestant Reformation. Now it is our custom to say that the Protestant Reformation is primarily the epoch in the history of the Church in which the great doctrine of justification by faith only was rediscovered in the Bible, and that is perfectly true. But let us never forget that it is equally true that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was also rediscovered in a most amazing manner, and the great Dr B. B. Warfield is surely right when he says that John Calvin was the great theologian of the Holy Spirit. With the whole Roman system the Holy Spirit was ignored; the priesthood, the priests, the Church, Mary and the saints were put into the position of the Holy Spirit.
So the Protestant Reformation rediscovered this mighty doctrine; and let us, in Britain, take partial credit for that. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit was, beyond any question whatsoever, worked out most thoroughly of all by a Puritan divine who lived in this country in the seventeenth century. There is still no greater work on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit than the two volumes by the mighty Dr John Owen, who preached in London and who was also at one time, during the period of Cromwell, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford. And not only John Owen. Thomas Goodwin and other Puritans also worked out the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It has never been done so thoroughly since, and certainly had never been done before.
Now generally speaking, the position today is that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is either neglected or it tends to be emphasised and exaggerated in a false manner. And I have no doubt at all that the second is partly the cause of the first. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is neglected because people are so afraid of the spurious, the false and the exaggerated that they avoid it altogether. No doubt this is why many people also neglect the doctrine of prophecy, the last things and the second coming. ‘The moment you start on that,’ they say, ‘you get into these extravagances and these disputes.’ So they leave the whole thing alone and the doctrine is entirely neglected.
So it is with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Because of certain exaggerations, excesses and freak manifestations, and the crossing of the border line from the spiritual to the scientific, the political and the merely emotional, there are many people who are afraid of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, afraid of being too subjective. So they neglect it altogether. I would also suggest that others have neglected the doctrine because they have false ideas with regard to the actual teaching concerning the person of the Holy Spirit.
In view of all this, therefore, it is obviously essential that we should consider this great doctrine very carefully. If we had no other reason for doing so, this is more than enough—that it is a part of the great doctrine of the blessed Holy Trinity. Let me put it very plainly like this: you would all agree that to neglect or to ignore the doctrine about the Father would be a terrible thing. We would all agree that it is also a terrible thing to neglect the doctrine and the truth concerning the blessed eternal Son. Do we always realise that it is equally sinful to ignore or neglect the doctrine of the blessed Holy Spirit? If the doctrine of the Trinity is true—and it is true—then we are most culpable if in our thinking and in our doctrine we do not pay the same devotion and attention to the Holy Spirit as we do to the Son and to the Father. So whether we feel inclined to do so or not, it is our duty as biblical people, who believe the Scripture to be the divinely inspired word of God, to know what the Scripture teaches about the Spirit. And, furthermore, as it is the teaching of the Scripture that the Holy Spirit is the one who applied salvation, it is of the utmost practical importance that we should know the truth concerning Him. I am very ready to agree with those who say that the low spiritual life of the Church, today or at any time, is largely due to the fact that so many fail to realise the truth concerning the person and the work of the Holy Spirit.
One other thing under this heading. I wonder whether you have ever noticed, those of you who are interested in hymns and in hymnology, that in most hymnbooks no section is so weak as the section devoted to the Holy Spirit? Here the hymns are generally weak, sentimental and subjective. For that reason, I have always found myself in great difficulties on Whit Sunday. We are lacking in great doctrinal hymns concerning the Holy Spirit and His work. Indeed, there are those who would say (and I am prepared to agree with them) that in many hymnbooks a vast majority of the hymns under the section of the Holy Spirit—these hymns that beseech Him to come into the Church and to come upon us, and to do this and that—are thoroughly unscriptural. That is another way of showing you again that this great doctrine has been neglected, that people have fought shy of it, and there is confusion concerning it.
The best way to approach the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is to start by noticing the names or the descriptive titles that are given to this blessed person. First of all, there are the many names that relate Him to the Father; let me enumerate some of them: the Spirit of God (Gen. 1:2); the Spirit of the Lord (Luke 4:18); the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:11). Then another is, the Spirit of the Lord God, which is in Isaiah 61:1. Our Lord speaks, in Matthew 10:20, of the Spirit of your Father, while Paul refers to the Spirit of the living God (2 Cor. 3:3). My Spirit, says God, in Genesis 6:3, and the psalmist asks, ‘Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?’ (Ps. 139:7). He is referred to as his Spirit—God’s Spirit—in Numbers 11:29; and Paul, in Romans 8:11, uses the phrase the Spirit of him [God the Father] that raised up Jesus from the dead. All these are descriptive titles referring to the Holy Spirit in terms of His relationship to the Father.
In the second group are the titles that relate the Holy Spirit to the Son. First, ‘If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his’ (Rom. 8:9), which is a most important phrase. The word ‘Spirit’ here refers to the Holy Spirit. In Philippians 1:19, Paul speaks about the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and in Galatians 4:6 he says, ‘God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son’. Finally He is referred to as the Spirit of the Lord (Acts 5:9).
Finally, the third group comprises the direct or personal titles, and first and foremost here, of course, is the name Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost. Some people are confused by these two terms but they mean exactly the same thing. The English language is a hybrid which has borrowed from other languages, and ‘Ghost’ is an old Anglo-Saxon word while ‘Spirit’ is derived from the Latin spiritus.
A second title in this group is the Spirit of holiness. Romans 1:4 reads, ‘Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.’ A further title is the Holy One: ‘But ye have an unction from the Holy One’ (1 John 2:20). In Hebrews 9:14 He is referred to as the eternal Spirit and Paul says in Romans 8:2, ‘For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.’ In John 14:17 He is called the Spirit of truth, and in chapters 14, 15 and 16 of John’s Gospel, He is referred to as the Comforter.
Those, then, are the main names, or descriptive titles, that are applied to Him. But have you ever thought of asking why He is called the Holy Spirit? Now if you put that question to people, I think you will find that they will answer, ‘He is described like that because He is holy.’ But that cannot be the true explanation because the purpose of a name is to differentiate someone from others, but God the Father is holy and God the Son is equally holy.
Why, then, is He called holy? Surely, the explanation is that it is His special work to produce holiness and order in all that He does in the application of Christ’s work of salvation. His objective is to produce holiness and He does that in nature and creation, as well as in human beings. But His ultimate work is to make us a holy people, holy as the children of God. It is also probable that He is described as the Holy Spirit in order to differentiate Him from the other spirits—the evil spirits. That is why we are told to test the spirits and to prove them, and to know whether they are of God or not (1 John 4:1).
Then the next great question is the personality or the person of the Spirit. Now this is vital because it is essential that I should put it like this. The person of the Holy Spirit is not only forgotten by those whom we describe as liberals or modernists in their theology (that is always true of them), but we ourselves are often guilty of precisely the same thing. I have heard most orthodox people referring to the Holy Spirit and His work as ‘it’ and ‘its’ influence and so on, as if the Holy Spirit were nothing but an influence or a power. And hymns, too, frequently make the same mistake. There is a confusion about the Holy Spirit and I am sure there is a sense in which many of us find it a little more difficult to conceive of the third person in the blessed Holy Trinity than to conceive of the Father or the Son. Now why is that? Why is there this tendency to think of Him as a force, or an influence, or an emanation?
There are a number of answers to that question. They are not good reasons, but we must consider them. The first is that His work seems to be impersonal, because it is a kind of mystical and secret work. He produced graces and fruits; He gives us gifts and He gives us various powers. And because of that, we tend to think of Him as if He were some influence. I am sure that this is a great part of the explanation.
But, furthermore, the very name and title tends to produce this idea. What does Spirit mean? It means breath or wind or power—it is the same word—and because of that, I think, we tend, almost inevitably and very naturally, unless we safeguard ourselves, to think of Him as just an influence rather than a person.
Then a third reason is that the very symbols that are used in speaking of Him and in describing Him tend to encourage us in that direction. He descended upon our Lord, as John baptised Him in the Jordan, in the semblance of a dove (Matt. 3:16). And again, the symbols that are used to describe Him and His work are oil and water and fire. In particular, there is the phrase in the prophecy of Joel, which was quoted by Peter in Jerusalem, on the Day of Pentecost, about the Spirit being poured out (Acts 2:17). That makes us think of liquid, something like water, something that can be handled—certainly not a person. So unless we are very careful and remember that we are dealing with the symbols only, the symbolic language of the Scripture tends to make us think of Him impersonally.
Another reason why it is that we are frequently in difficulties about the personality of the Holy Spirit is that very often, in the preliminary salutations to the various New Testament epistles, reference is made to the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit is not mentioned. Our Lord in the great high priestly prayer says, ‘And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent’ (John 17:3)—He makes no specific reference to the Holy Spirit. And then John says the same thing in his first epistle: ‘And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ’ (1 John 1:3). He does not mention the Spirit specifically at that point.
Then also, the word Spirit in the Greek language is a neuter word, and, therefore, we tend to think of Him and of His work in this impersonal, neutral sense. And for that reason, the King James Version, I am sorry to say, undoubtedly fell into the trap at this point. In Romans 8:16 we have that great statement which reads, ‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our Spirit, that we are the children of God.’ You notice the word ‘itself’, not ‘Himself’. Again in the same chapter we read, ‘Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us’ (Rom. 8:26). At this point the Revised Version is altogether superior since in both instances it gives the correct translation: ‘Himself’, even though in the Greek the pronoun, as well as the noun, is in the neuter.
And thus we have, it seems to me, these main reasons why people have found it difficult to realise that the Holy Spirit is a person. People have argued—many theologians would argue—that the Scripture itself says the ‘Spirit of Christ’. The Holy Spirit, they say, is not a distinct person; He is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the Son, or of the Father, and thus they deny His personality.
How, then, do we answer all this? What is the scriptural reply to these reasons that are often adduced? Well, first of all, the personal pronoun is used of Him. Take John 16:7–8 and 13–15 where the masculine pronoun ‘He’ is used twelve times with reference to the Holy Spirit. Now that is a very striking thing. Jesus says, ‘Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth’ (v. 13)—and so on. And this, of course, is of particular importance when we remember that the noun itself is a neuter noun, so the pronoun attached to it should be in the neuter. Now this is not always the case but it is in the vast majority of instances. It is most interesting and it shows how important it is to realise that the inspiration of Scripture goes down even to words like pronouns! So that is the first argument, and those who do not believe in the person of the Spirit will have to explain why almost the whole Scripture uses the masculine pronoun.
The second reply to those who query the personality of the Spirit is that the Holy Spirit is identified with the Father and the Son in such a way as to indicate personality.
There are two great arguments here; the first is the baptismal formula: ‘baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost’ (Matt. 28:19). Here He is associated with the Father and the Son in a way that of necessity points to His personality. And notice, incidentally, that this baptismal formula does not say, ‘baptizing them in the names’ but ‘in the name’. It uses the unity of the three Persons—the Three in One—one name, one God, but still Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And so if you do not believe in the person and personality of the Holy Spirit, and think that He is just a power or a breath, you would have to say, ‘Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the breath’ or of ‘the power’. And at once it becomes impossible. The second argument is based on the apostolic benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14: ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost …’—obviously the Holy Spirit is a person in line with the person of the Father and of the Son.
The third reply is that in a most interesting way we can prove the personality of the Spirit by showing that He is identified with us, with Christians, in a way that indicates that He is a person. In Acts 15:28 we read, ‘For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.’ This was a decision arrived at by members of the early Church, and as they were persons, so He must be a person. You cannot say, ‘It seemed good to a power and to us,’ because the power would be working in us. But here is someone outside us—‘It seemed good to him and to us’.
The fourth reply is that personal qualities are ascribed to Him in the Scriptures. He is said, for example, to have knowledge. Paul argues, ‘For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God’ (1 Cor. 2:11).
But—and this is very important—He has a will also, a sovereign will. Read carefully 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul is writing about spiritual gifts, and the diversity of the gifts. This is what we are told: ‘But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will’ (v. 11). Now that is a very important statement in the light of all the interest in spiritual healing. People say, ‘Why have we not got this gift in the Church, and why has every Christian not got it?’ To which the simple answer is that this is not a gift that anybody should claim. It is the Spirit who gives and who dispenses these gifts, according to His own will. He is a sovereign Lord, and he decides to whom and when and where and how and how much to give His particular gifts.
Then the next point is that He clearly has a mind. In Romans 8:27 we read, ‘And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit’—this is in connection with prayer. He is also one who loves, because we read that ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love’ (Gal. 5:22); and it is His function to shed abroad the love of God in our hearts (Rom. 5:5). And, likewise, we know He is capable of grief, because in Ephesians 4:30, we are warned not to ‘grieve’ the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and especially this aspect of the doctrine which emphasises His personality, is of supreme importance. The ultimate doctrine about the Spirit, from the practical, experiential standpoint, is that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, so that whatever I do, wherever I go, the Holy Spirit is in me. I know nothing which so promotes sanctification and holiness as the realisation of that. If only we realised, always, in anything we do with our bodies, the Holy Spirit is involved! Remember, also, that Paul teaches that in the context of a warning against fornication. He writes, ‘Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you …?’ (1 Cor. 6:19). That is why fornication should be unthinkable in a Christian. God is in us, in the Holy Spirit: not an influence, not a power, but a person whom we can grieve.
So we are going through all these details not out of an academic interest, nor because I may happen to have a theological type of mind. No, I am concerned about these things, as I am a man trying myself to live the Christian life, and as I am called of God to be a pastor of souls, and feel the responsibility for the souls and the conduct and behavior of others. God forbid that anybody should regard this matter as remote and theoretical. It is vital, practical doctrine. Wherever you are, wherever you go, if you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit is in you and if you really want to enjoy the blessings of salvation, you do so by knowing that your body is His temple.
ABOUT THE PREACHER:
Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) [hereafter – DMLJ] was a British evangelical born and brought up within Welsh Calvinistic Methodism, he is most noted for his pastorate and expository preaching career at Westminster Chapel in London.
In addition to his work at Westminster Chapel, he published books and spoke at conferences and, at one point, presided over the Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Students (now known as UCCF). Lloyd-Jones was strongly opposed to the liberal theology that had become a part of many Christian denominations in Wales and England.
DMLJ’s most popular writings are collections of his sermons edited for publication, as typified by his multi-volume series’ on Acts, Romans, Ephesians, 1 John, and Philippians. My favorite writings are his expositions on the Sermon on the Mount; Revival; Joy Unspeakable; Spiritual Depression; and his recently revised 40th Anniversary edition of Preaching and Preachers. The sermon above is from Volume Two, Chapter One in the compilation of sermons entitled Great Doctrines of the Bible.
Born in Wales, Lloyd-Jones was schooled in London. He then entered medical training at Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital, better known simply as Bart’s. Bart’s carried the same prestige in the medical community that Oxford did in the intellectual community. Martyn’s career was medicine. He succeeded in his exams so young that he had to wait to take his MD, by which time he was already chief clinical assistant to Sir Thomas Horder, one of the best and most famous doctors of the day. By the age of 26 he also had his MRCP (Member of the Royal College of Physicians).
Although he had considered himself a Christian, the young doctor was soundly converted in 1926. He gave up his medical career in 1927 and returned to Wales to preach and pastor his first church in Sandfields, Aberavon.
In 1935, Lloyd-Jones preached to an assembly at Albert Hall. One of the listeners was 72-year-old Dr. Campbell Morgan, pastor of Westminster Chapel in London. When he heard Martyn Lloyd-Jones, he wanted to have him as his colleague and successor in 1938. But it was not so easy, for there was also a proposal that he be appointed Principal of the Theological College at Bala; and the call of Wales and of training a new generation of ministers for Wales was strong. In the end, however, the call from Westminster Chapel prevailed and the Lloyd-Jones family finally committed to London in April 1939.
After the war, under Lloyd-Jones preaching, the congregation at Westminster Chapel grew quickly. In 1947 the balconies were opened and from 1948 until 1968 when he retired, the congregation averaged perhaps 1500 on Sunday mornings and 2000 on Sunday nights.
In his 68th year, he underwent a major medical operation. Although he fully recovered, he decided to retire from Westminster Chapel. Even in retirement, however, Lloyd-Jones worked as a pastor of pastors an itinerant speaker and evangelist. “The Doctor”, as he became known, was one of the major figureheads of British evangelicalism and his books and published sermons continue to be appreciated by many within the United Kingdom and beyond. DMLJ believed that the greatest need of the church was revival.
THE PREACHER AND THE LIFE OF GOD
Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.… If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. —Galatians 5:16, 25
Study Text: Galatians 5:13–6:5.
The renowned Puritan preacher, John Owen (1616–83), wrote prolifically on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. In his discourse On the Holy Spirit (1674) there occurs a remarkable passage in which he states: “The sin of despising [the person of the Holy Spirit] and rejecting His work now is the same nature with idolatry of old, and with the Jews’ rejection of the person of the Son” (emphasis ours). In plain terms, John Owen tells us that if the sin of Old Testament times was the rejection of God the Father, and the sin of New Testament times was the rejection of God the Son, then the sin of our times is the rejection of God the Holy Spirit. This message is both profound and poignant—especially as we think of our contemporary religious scene. Someone might say, “How can you talk about the rejection of the Holy Spirit when His person, work,—and especially His gifts—are the ‘buzz words’ in both Protestant and Catholic circles of discussion and debate?”
There is no simple answer to that question; but there is a serious one. With all the talk about the Holy Spirit, there is a rejection of Him in two respects—and both are sins. There is the sin of “escapism.” Some preachers will not even mention the Holy Spirit for fear of being “labeled.” For this reason their pulpits are silent on the subject. At the other end of the spectrum is the sin of “extremism.” The shallow ministry, subtle manipulations, and senseless manifestations that are so prevalent today do not square with the Word of God or, indeed, the glory of God. Both these sins—escapism and extremism—are, in fact, a rejection of the Holy Spirit in all the glory of His person, work, and gifts. What we need is biblical balance!
One thing is certain: No preacher can fulfill his ministry, in terms of his life and work, without the lordship and leading of the Holy Spirit. This article is about the life of God in the Spirit. While the text we have chosen does not specifically address the preacher/pastor, the truth it reveals concerns both members and leaders in the church of Jesus Christ. The life of the preacher matters! God is far more interested in what we are as preachers, than in what we do. The preacher must exemplify the life of God.
The verses assigned for reading unfold to us the evidences of this “walk” or life in the Spirit. Nothing is more important for the preacher in his personal, relational, and vocational life than to “walk [or live] in the Spirit” (v. 16). The verb walk (Gk. stoicho) is an exhortation to keep step with one another in submission of heart to the Holy Spirit, and therefore keeping step with Christ who is our life. It behooves us to ponder prayerfully the essential lessons that emerge from this passage.
Life In The Spirit Demands Spiritual Freedom
Paul begins chapter 5 of Galatians with a command—a command to keep on doing an action as one’s general habit or lifestyle. He urges us to “stand fast … in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.… For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (vv. 1, 13). The believers in Galatia were threatened by a twofold yoke of bondage. On the one hand, there was the bondage of religious legalities (see vv. 1–15), and on the other, the yoke of rebellious carnalities (see vv. 16–21). With this situation in mind Paul exclaims, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free.” We, as preachers, must follow this command and serve in the liberty of the Spirit.
We Must Know Freedom from Religious Legalities
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (v. 1). When Paul wrote these words, Judaizers had invaded the Galatian church and were attempting to bring the believers under the bondage of the law from which Christ had set them free through sovereign grace. Their religious legalities covered a whole range of regulations and limitations.
What was true then is also true now. We all know about personal legalism, denominational legalism, traditional legalism, ecclesiastical legalism, racial legalism, and even theological legalism (“boxing” God into self-serving theological concepts that have no biblical basis or balance).
Yet, we must remember that Christ came to set us free by the power of His cross and by the power of His Spirit. In a similar context, Paul affirms that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). This liberty is not license, nor limitation, but rather the power to do what we ought in the light of God’s Word and the power of God’s Spirit.
Are you free or are you bound? Read again the liberating words of the apostle: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1 NASB).
We Must Know Freedom from Rebellious Carnalities
“Walk [or live] in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.… Now the works of the flesh are evident” (vv. 16, 19), and Paul lists a grim catalog of them! Even though we are born again, we still possess the old nature. Until that old nature is brought under the mortifying power of the cross, through the applied ministry of the Holy Spirit, we can be plagued and fettered by rebellious carnalities. Paul details these carnalities under three categories: sexual sins, spiritual sins, and social sins.
Sexual Sins. “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness” (v. 19). It is significant that the first sins to head the list have to do with sexual relations. This is not because sexual sins are intrinsically more evil than others, rather it is because sexual sins reveal more graphically the self-centeredness and rebellion of those who dare to prostitute God’s holy norms for human relationships. Alas, as preachers, we can be involved in these sexual sins—unless we know the liberating power of the Spirit.
Charles Colson in his book The Body observes that “the divorce rate among clergy is increasing faster than in any other profession. Numbers show that one in ten have had an affair with a member of their congregation, and 25 percent have had illicit sexual contact.” These are serious statistics that we need to face without fear or favor, and then fight in the power of the Spirit. God has called us to a life of victory and purity—and we must not relent (1 Pet. 1:15, 16; 1 Cor. 15:33–34, 57).
Spiritual Sins. “Idolatry, sorcery” (v. 20). Idolatry means anything or anyone who comes between God and ourselves, thereby becoming the center of our worship and attention. God has forever condemned idolatry, and the apostle John warns, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (v. 1 John 5:21). How many of us are guilty of worshiping idols! What about TVs, computers, Fl6s, and other inventions of our modern age? Sorcery can refer to the “use of drugs”—as we see all around us today. Indeed, drug taking has invaded the church of Jesus Christ. What Aldous Huxley and others predicted has come to pass. Even some pastors seek religious experiences through the “kicks” of substance abuse. The brainwashing of the New Age movement and other satanic activities has encouraged these subtle forms of addiction.
Social Sins “Envy, … drunkenness, revelries” (v. 21). These sins can be found in our hearts—unless we know what it is to be protected by the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit. Paul is not talking about the act of sin so much as the habit of sin. While it is true that the believer is not under the law, but under grace, that is no excuse for sin (Rom. 6:15). If anything, it is a challenge to live in victory! Paul states in our text that we have been “called to liberty,” but he also reminds us: “Do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (v. 13, emphasis ours).
So we return to our theme: Walking or living in the Spirit. To do so demands spiritual freedom; and, thank God, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).
Life In The Spirit Displays Spiritual Fruit
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (vv. 22–23). As we crucify “the flesh with its passions and desires” (24) by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:13), and as we yield to the control of the Spirit, spiritual fruit appears in our lives. There is no better portrayal of this spiritual fruitage than what is described in verses 22–23, and it is nothing less than a ninefold configuration of the life of Christ. John Stott describes this cluster of nine Christian graces as “[the believer’s] attitude to God, to other people, and to himself.”
The Believer’s Attitude to God
“Love, joy, peace” (v. 22). Love for God, joy in God, and peace with God are aspects of the God-centered life. In other words, we are describing unconditional love, unbelievable joy, and unperturbable peace. Can others see these characteristics in our lives as we stand behind our pulpits, walk the wards of the hospital, or enter the homes of our parishioners?
The Believer’s Attitude to Other People
“Longsuffering, kindness, goodness” (v. 22). Our social lives will display the longsuffering of courageous endurance without quitting; the kindness of Christian servanthood in a selfish world; and the goodness of agape love fleshed out in generosity and hospitality.
The Believer’s Attitude to Himself
“Faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (vv. 22–23). In our personal lives we will manifest the fruit of faithfulness in dependability and in accountability in our service to God and man. We will manifest the fruit of gentleness in Christlike behavior in every situation of life. We will manifest the fruit of self-control in the God-given ability to harness natural passions for redemptive purposes.
Now while it is possible for the old nature to counterfeit some of the fruit of the Spirit, it can never produce the full-orbed character of Christ in us. When the Spirit produces fruit, God gets the glory and the Christian is not conscious of his spirituality. On the other hand, when the flesh is at work, the person is inwardly proud of himself and is pleased when others compliment him. Any preacher who says he does not enjoy a compliment is lying! But to whom do we ascribe the glory? The work of the Spirit is to make us more like Christ for His glory and not for the praise of men (note Luke 6:26a).
If the question be asked, “How can I know the fruit of the Spirit in my life?” the answer is clear. We must “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). This calls for a moment-by-moment openness to the Lord. We must “walk in the light as He is in the light” (1 John 1:7). We must not “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 4:30) by any known sin or “quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19) by giving place to self. This openness is an essential condition for a Spirit-filled life.
Along with the daily openness there must also be a daily obedience to the Lord. We are told that God has given the Holy Spirit “to those who obey him” (Acts 5:32). There is no substitute for total obedience to the Word of God. In practical terms, this means a disciplined quiet time on a regular basis (see chap. 2). It also calls for prayer that asks. Jesus promised, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13).
Our Lord confirmed these conditions for fruitful Christian living in that exquisite allegory in John 15 where He speaks of the vine and the branches. He taught: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (4). The whole concept of abiding is that of openness and obedience to the Lord. Indeed, Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love” (John 15:10). Then He added, “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper [the Holy Spirit], that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:15–16; 15:10).
It is also important to understand that when Paul issued his command to be filled with the Spirit he employed the passive voice. His words were: “Let the Spirit fill you.” Quite clearly, he implied yieldedness and submission to the control of the Holy Spirit in dependence and obedience.
Life In The Spirit Directs Spiritual Focus
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (6:1). If we know the freedom of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, then there is a focus of the Spirit that emerges in our daily ministry. Paul expounds this spiritual focus in these opening verses of the sixth chapter of Galatians. The more we examine these words, the more comprehensive becomes our ministry.
We Are to Restore the Fallen
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (6:1). Two of the ugliest sins of the church today are judgmentalism and unforgivingness. This is why there is so much bitterness in the Body. This is “why revival tarries.” If we walk in the Spirit there is a focus of ministry to be performed in and through us. In the first instance, it is to restore the fallen. Paul gives us an example of a man who had been overtaken in a sin. What are we to do if we are truly filled with the Spirit? The answer is precisely given: we are to restore such a person in the spirit of meekness, realizing that we also could be tempted to fall.
The verb restore is in the present active imperative. The term is used in Matthew 4:21 for mending nets and comes from a Greek root for “equipping thoroughly.” This does not mean that sin is to be compromised in any shape or form. Indeed, our pastoral duty is to rebuke sin (especially when committed by leaders) “in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear” (1 Tim. 5:20). But having applied the principles of discipline, the purpose of restoration is to bring a person back into fellowship and wholeness.
We Are to Release the Fettered
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2). The legalist is not interested in lifting burdens. Instead, he adds to the burdens of others (Acts 15:10). This was one of the sins that the Master severely condemned: “They [the Pharisees] bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matt. 23:4).
Paul uses the word burdens to show the subtlety and cruelty of legalism. In fact, legalists exacerbate the problems of those who are already weighed down.
By way of contrast, he who is Spirit-filled has a releasing ministry. In love he wants to see his brother set free for service (5:13)!
All around us are people who are fettered. They may not have fallen, but they are fettered. What a ministry to set such people free with the word of liberating authority through Jesus Christ our Lord! Jesus declared, “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
We Are to Rebuke the Foolish
Not only are we to restore the fallen and release the fettered, we also are to rebuke the foolish. “If anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load” (6:3–5). In this passage there are three corrective principles we must face if we would focus on the Spirit’s ministry in and through us.
We Must Get Right with Ourselves. “If anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Pride issues in self-deception (Jer. 49:16) and leads to divine resistance (James 4:6).
Sure, we must accept who and what we are, as redeemed people in Christ, and rejoice in what grace has done; but to think ourselves to be something when actually we are nothing is to deceive ourselves in arrogant overevaluation. Jesus warned, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, emphasis ours). To get right and stay right with ourselves we must constantly live in a spirit of repentance. And the first step in repentance is the correct appraisal of ourselves in the sight of God.
We Must Get Right with Our Service. “Let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another” (v. 4). God has given each of us a special task to perform. The apostle reminds us that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Our responsibility is not to be concerned with our brother’s business, but rather to find, follow, and finish what each of us has been called to do. You will remember that after his restoration Peter wanted to know what John was going to do. Jesus told him that it was none of his business; his task was to follow Jesus to the very end (John 21:21–23). The temptation to compare ourselves with others is another roadblock in our ministry, and it often leads to jealousy, strife, and division in the church of Jesus Christ.
We Must Get Right with Our Savior. “For each one shall bear his own load [or his ‘own pack’]” (v. 5). The reference here is to the final day of reckoning. Paul offers here what he expresses a little differently in Romans 14:12: “Each of us shall give account of himself to God.” Ultimately, it is what the Savior thinks or says that matters. No one can answer for his brother. Each one of us has to bear his own load of responsibility and accountability and answer for it at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:9–15).
So this is the sequence: we must get right with ourselves; we must get right with our service; and we must get right with our Savior. Very simply, the focus of the Holy Spirit in a yielded preacher is to restore the fallen, release the fettered, and rebuke the foolish—and that includes ourselves as preachers!
We must ask ourselves: Are we living in the Spirit? If we are, the clear evidence will be spiritual freedom, spiritual fruit, and spiritual focus in our lives, hour by hour and day by day.
One more thing needs to be added, and it is crucial. If we live in the Spirit, we must be led by the Spirit (vv. 16, 18). This leadership implies lordship, and “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). It is the Spirit who makes the lordship of Christ a reality in our lives. What God the Father has planned, and God the Son has purchased, can never be experiential until God the Holy Spirit personalizes that redemptive work in us as we yield “moment by moment” to His lordship.
Holy Spirit, reign in me,
With your own authority—
That my life, with constancy,
May “flesh out” your liberty.
—Stephen F. Olford article adapted from Chapter 3 of Anointed Expository Preaching. Nashvile, B&H Academic, 2003.
“THAT OTHER COMFORTER”
A SERMON BY DR. JAMES MONTGOMERY BOICE
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
The Christian church reaffirms its faith in the Holy Spirit every time it recites the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the Holy Ghost.” But beyond this rather formal acknowledgment, in large sectors of the church one would be hard pressed to find a reference to the Third Person of the Trinity at all.
J. I. Packer has written of this ignorance: “Christian people are not in doubt as to the work that Christ did; they know that He redeemed men by His atoning death, even if they differ among themselves as to what exactly this involved. But the average Christian is in a complete fog as to what work the Holy Spirit does. Some talk of the Spirit of Christ in the way that one would talk of the Spirit of Christmas—as a vague cultural pressure making for bonhomie and religiosity. Some think of the Spirit as inspiring the moral convictions of unbelievers like Gandhi, or the theosophical mysticism of a Rudolf Steiner. But most, perhaps, do not think of the Holy Spirit at all, and have no positive ideas of any sort about what He does. They are for practical purposes in the same position as the disciples whom Paul met at Ephesus—‘We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost’ (Acts 9:2).” (J.I. Packer. Knowing God. Downers Grove, IL.: IVP, 1973, 60).
Why is this? It is hard to say why. But one thing is certain: It is an abnormal situation. It is abnormal from the viewpoint of Christ’s teachings, for Christ clearly taught about the Holy Spirit. He did so in the verses we are studying in order to provide comfort to his disciples and to all who should follow them throughout the church age. Knowledge of the Holy Spirit and dependence upon the Holy Spirit are necessary conditions of doing those “greater things” that he mentions in verse 12. Ignorance of the Holy Spirit’s work is also abnormal from the viewpoint of the author of the fourth Gospel, for he has shown his interest by including many verses about the Holy Spirit in the last discourses.
Personality or Power?
The first point we must settle in our minds in regard to the Holy Spirit is whether the Holy Spirit is a real person, whose work it is to get hold of us and use us, or whether the Holy Spirit is merely some vague power we are to get hold of and use to our benefit. This is important as a mere matter of truth; for either the Holy Spirit is a real person, or he is not. But it is also important on a practical level. If we think of the Holy Spirit as a mysterious power, our thought will continually be, “How can I get more of the Holy Spirit?” If we think of the Holy Spirit as a person, our thought will be, “How can the Holy Spirit have more of me?” The first thought is entirely pagan. The second is New Testament Christianity.
Reuben A. Torrey, who has written an excellent book on the Holy Spirit, carefully spells this out: “The conception of the Holy Spirit as a Divine influence or power that we are somehow to get hold of and use, leads to self-exaltation and self-sufficiency. One who so thinks of the Holy Spirit and who at the same time imagines that he has received the Holy Spirit will almost inevitably be full of spiritual pride and strut about as if he belonged to some superior order of Christians. One frequently hears such persons say, ‘I am a Holy Ghost man,’ or ‘I am a Holy Ghost woman.’ But if we once grasp the thought that the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person of infinite majesty, glory and holiness and power, who in marvelous condescension has come into our hearts to make His abode there and take possession of our lives and make use of them, it will put us in the dust and keep us in the dust. I can think of no thought more humbling or more overwhelming than the thought that a person of Divine majesty and glory dwells in my heart and is ready to use even me” (R.A. Torrey, The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970, 8-9).
We see this difference illustrated in the pages of the New Testament, as we might expect. On the one hand, there is the case of Simon the magician, whose story is told in Acts 8:9–24. He apparently believed in Christ through the preaching of Philip at Samaria, for we are told that he “believed … and … was baptized” (v. 13). But he knew little about Christianity and therefore fell into the mistake of thinking that the Holy Spirit was a power to be purchased. He actually offered the disciples money in order to receive “it.” To this, Peter, who was also in Samaria at the time, responded, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart” (vv. 20–22).
The other example is from the beginning of the missionary movement involving Paul and Barnabas. Of this we are told that “while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’ ” (Acts 13:2). In the one case, an individual wanted to get and use God, whom he imagined to be merely a power. In the second case, God got and used two individuals.
Words or Reality?
We must admit that when we begin to talk about the Holy Spirit as a person, we are attempting to put into words something that is actually larger than words. What we are saying is that the Holy Spirit is one member of the Trinity, equal in all ways to both the Father and the Son. But we are not saying that there are three gods, which the term “member” or even “person” seems to imply. There are three persons; but in a way which is beyond our understanding these three are also one. We also confess as the Old Testament does, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4).
In these verses Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit saying, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” This is a great promise, but it is great precisely because of the personality of the Spirit. If the Spirit were only a power, the promise would be in the nature of a compensation—“I am going to be taken from you, but I will give you something to make up for my departure.” This is not what this verse is talking about. It is not a thing that is being given, but rather another divine personality that is being sent. This one must have knowledge, for he will know of the disciples’ distress. He must have feelings, for he will identify with them in their distress and comfort them. He must have will, for he will determine to carry out this commission.
The personality of the Holy Spirit is evident from the Scriptures in other ways also. One commentator has summed up the evidence in the following six propositions:
1. The personal actions ascribed to the Holy Spirit prove his personality. An example is John 14:16–18, for there he is promised as a Counselor for Christians. One other example is 1 Corinthians 12:11, in which he is said to be at work in Christians, imparting those spiritual gifts necessary for the well-being of the church.
2. His distinction from the Father and Son and his mission from both prove his personality. Jesus indicates this relationship by saying, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me” (John 15:26).
3. The coordinate rank and power that belong to the Holy Spirit equally with the Father and the Son prove it. All trinitarian benedictions make this point clearly. Thus, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Or again, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Cor. 13:14).
4. The appearance of the Holy Spirit under a visible form at the baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ and on the day of Pentecost proves it. Of the former event it is written, “And the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’ ” (Luke 3:22). Of the second instance it is written, “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (Acts 2:3).
5. The sin against the Holy Spirit proves it, for this implies offense against a personality. It is mentioned in Matthew 12:31–32.
6. The way in which the Holy Spirit is distinguished from his gifts also proves that he is a person and not merely a spiritual force or power. Thus, in 1 Corinthians 12, after having enumerated the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, the discerning of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues, Paul writes, “But all these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines” (George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, original ed., 1882. Carlisle, PA.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1961, 109).
Here are six separate and conclusive lines of argument showing that the Holy Spirit is a person. But the problem we have is still probably not so much the doctrine itself as our attitude toward him. Theoretically we probably do believe that the Holy Spirit is a person, the third person of the Godhead. But do we actually think about him in this way? Perhaps we do what a woman did who had attended a series of messages on the Holy Spirit at a Bible conference years ago. She listened carefully and then came up to the speaker to thank him for his teaching. She said, “Before your messages I never thought of it as a person.” Apparently she was not thinking of him as a person even then.
Is He God?
The first point that the Lord Jesus makes in his teaching about the Holy Spirit is that he is a person, as we have seen. But what sort of a person is he? Is he an angel? Is he a being superior to an angel but inferior to both the Father and the Son? Or is he equal to the Father and the Son? Is he God? Actually, we have already begun to answer these questions in talking about the personality of the Spirit, but the answer is also taught in the verses that constitute our text.
Here the Lord speaks of the Holy Spirit as “another Counselor.” It is important in understanding Christ’s words to notice that there are two different words for “another” in the Greek New Testament. One word is allos, the word we have here; it means “another just like the first one.” The second word, heteros, means “totally different.” Since there are these two words with two meanings it is always important to know which one is used whenever the word “another” occurs in the English text. It is the first word, the word meaning “another exactly like the first one,” that is used when Jesus speaks of sending the disciples “another Counselor.”
Who is the first Counselor? It is obviously Jesus himself. Therefore, the second Counselor is to be just like him. That is, he is to be another divine being living with them and in them.
Once again, as in the matter of the personality of the Holy Spirit, other parts of Scripture reinforce this teaching. We may summarize the points thus:
1. Divine attributes are ascribed to the Spirit. The word “holy” is itself a divine attribute, at least in its most exalted sense. So also are the attributes of omniscience (1 Cor. 2:10–11; John 16:12–13), omnipotence (Luke 1:35), and omnipresence (Ps. 139:7–10).
2. Works that are exclusively the works of God are attributed to the Holy Spirit. Creation is one example. In the Book of Job we read, “By his breath the skies became fair” (26:13) and “The Spirit of God has made me” (33:4). The Holy Spirit is described as the One who imparts life, another divine work (John 3:6; Rom 8:11). He is the One responsible for the giving forth of the Word of God, the Bible. “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
3. The Holy Spirit is ranked coordinate with God the Father and God the Son. The benedictions cited earlier are examples of this.
4. The name of God is indirectly given to him. The clearest example of this is in Acts 5:3–4, where Peter says to Ananias, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit? … Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.”
Does it really matter that we know and constantly recognize that the Holy Spirit is divine? Yes, it does, for if we know and constantly recognize his deity, we will recognize and rely on his work. If we do not, then we will foolishly rely on our own limited wisdom, love, strength and other resources, and forfeit that which he alone can provide.
In his writings on the Holy Spirit to which I referred at the start of this study, J. I. Packer asks these pertinent questions: “Do we honour the Holy Spirit by recognising and relying on His work? Or do we slight Him by ignoring it, and thereby dishonour, not merely the Spirit, but the Lord who sent Him? In our faith: do we acknowledge the authority of the Bible, the prophetic Old Testament and the apostolic New Testament which He inspired? Do we read and hear it with the reverence and receptiveness that are due to the Word of God? If not, we dishonour the Holy Spirit. In our life: do we apply the authority of the Bible, and live by the Bible, whatever men may say against it, recognising that God’s word cannot but be true, and that what God has said He certainly means, and will stand to? If not, we dishonour the Holy Spirit, who gave us the Bible. In our witness: do we remember that the Holy Spirit alone, by His witness, can authenticate our witness, and look to Him to do so, and trust Him to do so, and show the reality of our trust, as Paul did, by eschewing the gimmicks of human cleverness? If not, we dishonour the Holy Spirit” (Packer, Knowing God, 63).
The personality and deity of the Holy Spirit, as well as other truths about him, are practical teachings. What remains is that we take them down off the shelf of high theology and put them to work in our lives.
About the Author
James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. The sermon above was adapted from Chapter 183 in John 13-17: An Expositional Commentary. vol. 4. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997, 2006.
How Does God the Holy Spirit Work Through His Church Today?
Book Review By David P. Craig
This will be one of the longest book reviews I’ve ever written. I’m writing it as much for me (to sort through what I read) as anyone else. I want to give an overview of the positions in the book, their presenters, and the pros and cons of each position as represented by the presenters. Then I would like to close this review with the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments that were presented and whether or not there was any resolution.
The essential issues addressed in this book by four presenters and one facilitator is related to these important questions: “How is the Holy Spirit working in churches today? Is he really giving miraculous healings and prophecies in tongues? Is he giving Christians new power for ministry when they experience a ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ after conversion? Is he driving out demons when Christians command them? Or are these events confined to a distant past, to the time when the New Testament was being written and living apostles taught and governed–and worked miracles–in the churches? There are many Pentecostals who say that Christians should seek to be baptized in the Holy Spirit after conversion, and that this experience will result in a new spiritual power for ministry. But other evangelicals respond that they already have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, because it happened the moment they became Christians, Who is right? What are the arguments on each side?”
In addition to these questions there are many differences over what spiritual gifts are currently in operation today. “Can people have a gift of prophecy today, so that God actually reveals things to them and they can tell these revelations to others? Or was that gift confined to the time when the New Testament was still unfinished, in the first century A.D.? And what about healing? Should Christians expect that God will often heal in miracles when we pray today? Can some people still have the gift of healing? Or should our prayer emphasis be that God will work to heal through ordinary means, such as doctors and medicine? Or again, should we mostly encourage people to see the sanctifying value of sickness and pray that they will have grace to endure it?
Lastly, questions related to what is speaking in tongues? How should they be practiced in the church (if at all)? And should evangelism and ministry be accompanied by demonstrations of God’s miraculous power? These and many more questions and issues are addressed by the presenters.
The presenters consist of two Theologians that would lean toward the cessasionist category. Some well-known schools that have traditionally represented cessationism include: Westminster Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, and The Master’s Seminary. Cessationists argue “that there are no miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit today. Gifts such as prophecy, tongues, and healing were confined to the first century, and were used at the time the apostles were establishing the churches and the New Testament was not yet complete.”
Representing the Cessationist position is Dr. Richard B. Gaffin. He has been a long time Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Dr. Gaffin has written a book defending this position entitled Perspectives on Pentecost: Studies in New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 1979). Gaffin has degrees from Calvin College (A.B.), and Westminster Seminary (B.D., Th.M., Th.D.), and is also a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
The next position discussed in the book is called the “open but cautious” position. The open but cautious position is described this way by the editor: “These people have not been convinced by the cessationist arguments that relegate certain gifts to the first century, but they are not really convinced by the doctrine or practice of those who emphasize such gifts today either. They are open to the possibility of miraculous gifts today, but they are concerned about the possibility of abuses that they have seen in groups that practice these gifts. They do not think speaking in tongues is ruled out by Scripture, but they see many modern examples as not conforming to scriptural guidelines; some also are concerned that it often leads to divisiveness and negative results in churches today. They think churches should emphasize evangelism, Bible study, and faithful obedience as keys to personal and church growth, rather than miraculous gifts. Yet they appreciate some of the benefits that Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Third Wave churches have brought to the evangelical world, especially a refreshing contemporary tone in worship and a challenge to renewal in faith.”
Representing the “Open but cautious” view is the Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology from Talbot School of Theology, Dr. Robert L. Saucy. Dr. Saucy has taught for more than 40 years at Talbot and is the author of numerous books related to eschatology and the church including: Unleashing God’s Power in You (with Neil T. Anderson; Bridgetree, 2012); The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism: The Interface Between Dispensational and Non-Dispensational Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010); Scripture: Its Power, Authority and Relevance (Nashville: Word, 2001); and The Church in God’s Program (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974). Dr. Saucy earned his degrees at Westmont College (A.B.), and Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M., and Th.D.). He is a member of a Conservative Baptist Church.
The third view presented is called the “Third Wave” view. It is a continuationist view of the miraculous gifts. Wayne Grudem explains this position as follows: “Third Wave people encourage the equipping of all believers to use the New Testament spiritual gifts today and say that the proclamation of the gospel should ordinarily be accompanied by ‘signs, wonders, and miracles,’ according the the New Testament pattern. They teach however, that baptism in the Holy Spirit happens to all Christians at conversion and that subsequent experiences are better called ‘fillings’ or ’empowerings’ with the Holy Spirit. Though they believe the gift of tongues exist today, they do not emphasize it to the extent that Pentecostals and Charismatics do.”
The presenter of the “Third Wave” view is Dr. C. Samuel Storms. He is currently the pastor of Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In the past he has been an associate of Dr. S. Lewis Johnson’s at Believer’s Chapel in Dallas, Texas; a pastor at Christ Community Church in Ardmore, Oklahoma; and an associate pastor with Mike Bickle in Kansas City, Missouri at the Metro Christian Fellowship. He is the founder of Enjoying God Ministries and has also been a professor of theology at Wheaton College. Dr. Storms has earned his degrees from The University of Oklahoma (B.A.); Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.); and The University of Texas (Ph.D.). Dr. Storms has authored numerous books including: The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts. Ventura: Regal, 2013; Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election. Wheaton: Crossway, 2007; and Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist. Enjoying God Ministries, 2005.
The term “Third Wave” was coined in the 1980’s by the Fuller Seminary professor of missions – Dr. C. Peter Wagner. Dr. Wagner has designated the first wave of the renewal of the Holy Spirit – The Pentecostal renewal (Which began in 1901). The charismatic renewal followed on the heels of the Pentecostal renewal in the 1960-70’s. Perhaps the best-known proponent of the “Third Wave” position was John Wimber the leader of the Association of Vineyard Churches and the pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim, California.
The Pentecostal and Charismatic views are very similar but have some differences. Wayne Grudem explains, “Pentecostal refers to any denomination or group that traces its historical origin back to the Pentecostal revival that began in the United States in 1901, and that holds the following doctrines: (1) All the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament are intended for today; (2) baptism in the Holy Spirit is an empowering experience subsequent to conversion and should be sought by Christians today; and (3) when baptism in the Holy Spirit occurs, people will speak in tongues as a ‘sign’ that they have received this experience. Pentecostal groups usually have their own distinct denominational structures, among which are the Assemblies of God, the Church of God in Christ, and many others.”
“Charasmatic, on the other hand, refers to any groups (or people) that trace their historical origin to the charismatic renewal movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s and seek to practice all the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament (including prophecy, healing, miracles, tongues, interpretation, and distinguishing between spirits). Among charismatics there are differing viewpoints on whether baptism in the Holy Spirit is subsequent to conversion and whether speaking in tongues is a sign of baptism in the Spirit. Charismatics by and large have refrained from forming their own denominations, but view themselves as a force of renewal within existing Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. There is no representative charismatic denomination in the United States today, but the most prominent charismatic spokesman is probably Pat Robertson with his Christian Broadcasting Network, the television program “The 700 Club,” and Regent University.
Representing the Pentecostal position is Dr. Douglas A. Oss. He also demonstrates where the Pentecostal and Charismatic positions differ. Dr. Oss is currently Professor of Biblical Theology and New Testament Interpretation at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri. Dr. Oss has earned degrees from Western Washington University (B.A), Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (M.Div.) and Westminster Theological Seminary (Ph.D.). He has published articles in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society; Bulletin for Biblical Research; Grace Theological Journal; Westminster Theological Journal; and Enrichment Journal. He also translated 1 and 2 Corinthians for the New Living Translation and served on the Translation Advisory Committee for the English Standard Version.
The general editor and author of the introduction and conclusion of the book is Dr. Wayne Grudem. Dr. Grudem is Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in Phoenix, Arizona. He received a B.A. from Harvard University, an M.Div. and a D.D. from Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, and a Ph.D (in New Testament) from the University of Cambridge, England. He has published over twenty books, including his newest book, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution, which was published in August 2013 and his magnum opus: Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan, 2009). He has also written a layman’s version of his doctoral thesis entitled The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Crossway, 1988). He was also the General Editor for the 2.1 million-word ESV Study Bible (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Book of the Year and World Magazine book of the year, 2009).
In each essay the four authors address from their own view the following five topics: (1) baptism in the Holy Spirit and the question of postconversion experiences; (2) the question of whether some gifts have ceased; (3) a discussion of specific gifts, especially prophecy, healing, and tongues; (4) practical implications for church life; (5) dangers of one’s own position and that of the others. After each essay the three other presenters respond with an eight-page response. At the end of the book Dr. Grudem evaluates each position citing the pro’s and con’s of each, and then brings out the areas of agreement and disagreement. He also offers some guidelines for continued dialogue and solutions leading toward consensus.
In an interesting point Grudem says, “People have asked me why these four men who all believe the same Bible and all have deep love for our Lord could not reach agreement on these things. I tell them that it took the early church until A.D. 381 (at Constantinople) to finally settle the doctrine of the Trinity, and until A.D. 451 (at Chalcedon) to settle disputes over the deity and humanity of Christ in one person. We should not be surprised if these complex questions about the work of the Holy Spirit could not be resolved in two days!” Point well taken.
In reading the book one gets an immediate sense of the complexities related to miraculous gifts. Ultimately it all comes down to interpreting the biblical data. The author’s all leave no stones unturned in their theological and exegetical presentations. They all present well written essay’s with good arguments. Obviously, they all can’t be right. However, the spirit with which they write is right. They articulate their arguments cogently and compellingly and yet all recognize that their own view has deficiencies and weaknesses. However, each scholar makes an excellent case for his view.
As for the areas of disagreement there were many. The big idea conveyed by Gaffin and Saucy is that Jesus and the Apostles miracles were unique in relationship to God’s Redemptive Historical Plan (Gaffin) and God’s working in the new covenant program of God (Saucy). Gaffin came at his view through the lens of the Redemptive Historical method of interpretation (He is a Covenant Theologian). Whereas Saucy as a Progressive Dispensationalist had a little different take on the uniqueness of the miraculous events that took place during this period of history. Both Gaffin and Saucy believe that we no longer have Apostles and that the fact that we no longer have Apostles and a ‘closed canon” matters significantly in why the miraculous gifts operated differently in the New Testament, then they do today (if at all). Thus for Gaffin and Saucy there is definitely a distinction drawn between then and now with reference to the expectation of miracles. They argue extensively both theologically and exegetically to demonstrate the significance of the new covenant, the openness and closing of the canon, and how the Apostles’ and Christ’s ministry were needed and specific to that time of Redemptive History (New Covenant) – and therefore, no longer necessary today.
On the other hand both Storms and Oss make solid exegetical and theological cases for why the miraculous gifts should continue today. They argue from Joel and Acts specifically – that these are indeed the last days, and that there is no particularly good reason (biblically or theologically) why we don’t need the miraculous gifts any less now, than they did in the New Testament. They make the case that the cessation of gifts is simply not taught at all in the New Testament. I think the biggest problem they have is in regards to “Apostles” and where do they fit in today?
The primary weaknesses of Saucy and Gaffin’s arguments are with reference to “Why” miraculous gifts have ceased. They also do an inadequate job of explaining the myriad of these miraculous realities today – with virtually no comments about the plethora of miracles taking place in the 10/40 window for instance.
As for Storms and Oss they do an inadequate job of dealing with Saucy and Gaffin’s arguments with reference to consistency in their interpretation with reference to the gift/office of “apostleship”. If there are no longer apostles than how are the other miraculous gifts substantiated?
All the author’s were particularly weak in bringing out specific examples of the miraculous gifts today – both examples, and their practice or function in their own churches. Of course this wasn’t so much an issue for Gaffin as a cessationist, and for Saucy as a ‘non-expectant-continuationist’. However, I would have liked to seen more interaction with the miraculous experiences and claims of those representing the continuationist perspective. Sam Storms provided some examples, but Oss provided precious little in this regard.
Each author gave a huge amount of weight and space in their writing to the theological/exegetical basis for their views and very little to the experiential/practical basis for their positions. I would have liked to have seen more balance here. Especially because the title of the book was “Are Miraculous Gifts For Today?” I think the book would have been longer, but more balanced and really dealt more with the ‘today’ aspect of miraculous gifts rather than just the “then” aspect.
The areas of disagreement highlighted by Grudem fall under various categories:
“(1) Expectation. Because of differences in understanding the way in which the Holy Spirit ordinarily works during the church age, the authors differed significantly in their expectations of how we should expect the Holy Spirit to work in a miraculous way to heal, to guide, to work miracles, to give unusual empowering for ministry, and to bring things to mind (or reveal things to us).
(2) Encouragement. Because of differences in understanding what we should expect the Holy Spirit to do today, the authors also differed in how much they think we should encourage Christians to seek and pray for miraculous works of the Holy Spirit today.”
(3) There was disagreement on what to call ‘prophecy’ today and whether or not it should be considered ‘inspired’ of God. According to Dr. Saucy, God can bring things to mind today, but this should usually be called personal guidance not prophecy. Dr. Gaffin beleives that the gift of prophecy was restricted to the giving of Scripture and ended when the New Testament canon was completed.
(4) “Although all the authors agreed that God can still work miracles (including healing), Storms and Oss maintain that people today can have that gift, Gaffin limits it to the apostolic age, and Saucy, while open to the gift today, would examine claims to miracles with great care and caution (he felt that, historically speaking, miracles seem to be especially prominent in church-planting situations).”
(5) “Regarding the gift of speaking in tongues plus interpretation, according to Gaffin and Saucy these two gifts, when put together, constitute Scripture-quality revelation from the Holy Spirit. Gaffin believes that these gifts only functioned during the ‘open canon’ situation when the New Testament was incomplete. When asked what is happening in the lives of Christians who claim to speak in tongues today, Gaffin is not sure but believes this activity is probably just an ability to speak in nonsense syllables. He is also open to being shown from Scripture that this activity is helpful to certain people in their prayer lives, though he would still not call it the gift of speaking in tongues. To Saucy, while Scripture does not rule out tongues today, many modern expressions do not conform to the scriptural practice or purpose of tongues…
Storms and Oss, on the other hand, hold that speaking in tongues is not a revelation from God but a form of human prayer and praise–it is the Christian’s own human spirit praying to God through syllables that the speaker does not understand. Storms and Oss believe this gift continues today. Oss adds that tongues is prompted by the Holy Spirit, can also be used by God to convey a message to the church, though not a Scripture-quality word. Both Storms and Oss also hold that the gift of interpretation is simply the ability to understand what the tongue-speaker is saying in those words of prayer and praise.”
(6) “Regarding any empowering work of the Holy Spirit after conversion, Oss calls this ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ the first time it happens; the other authors use different terms such as empowering or filling or anointing by the Holy Spirit.”
(7) “Though all the authors agreed that there may be several purposes for miracles, both Gaffin and Saucy see the initial authentication of the gospel message in the first century as the primary purpose of miracles, while Storms and Oss believe that other purposes, such as bearing witness to the gospel message in all ages, ministering to the needs of God’s people, and brining glory to God even in the present day, should receive equal emphasis.
(8) The empowering work of the Holy Spirit after conversion. “While Oss sees a pattern in the book of Acts whereby Christians experienced a single empowering work of the Holy Spirit (or baptism in the Holy Spirit) distinct from conversion, and sees speaking in tongues as the sign that signifies this, the other authors do not see such a pattern or encourage Christians to seek such a single experience distinct from their conversion and distinct from experiences of empowering that may occur multiple times throughout the Christian life.”
(9) The greatest area of disagreement was to what degree we should see the New Testament as a pattern for church life today by way of imitation. “Storms and Oss, throughout our converstaions, continued to emphasize that in all areas of life (such as evangelism, moral conduct, doctrine, church government and ministry, etc.), we should seem to take patterns of the New Testament as patterns we should imitate in our lives today. They challenged Gaffin and Saucy to explain why it was only in the area of miraculous works of the Holy Spirit that they were unwilling to take the New Testament as God’s pattern for us today.”
(10) Church life. “Churches holding to the views advocated by Storms and Oss include much more teaching and encouragement of people to pray for, seek, and exercise miraculous gifts (healing, prophecy, tongues and interpretation, miracles, distinguishing between spirits, and perhaps some others). But churches holding to views expressed by Gaffin, and to some extent by Saucy, do not encourage people to seek or pray for these gifts and do not ordinarily provide ‘space’ for them to occur either in large assemblies or in smaller home fellowship groups in the life of the church.”
In my opinion there were pro’s and con’s in each position presented. The value of this book is that each position is presented within a theological framework (whether Redemptive-Historical or Dispensational), exegetically based, historically nuanced, and given its modern significance. I think the presenters gave the most attention to the theological and exegetical elements. They gave lesser attention to the historical and current or practical ramifications of the issues. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t spend more time showing how their views actually function in their own ministries.
However, anyone can learn a lot from the presentations and the presenters. I appreciated the irenic spirit that was displayed throughout the writing. The positions were attacked non-ad hominem. The ideas and interpretations were attacked – not the men themselves. There was a spirit of gentleness and respect maintained throughout. All five authors spent two days in Philadelphia together in discussion and prayer after they had written and responded to one another’s essays.
I began my journey reading this book holding to an “open but cautious” position. I don’t think my position changed that much. However, I actually learned to appreciate each position more than I did before reading the book. I think I developed a greater understanding of each position, as well as a greater respect for each view. Grudem even comments at the end of the book that he believes that all five of them felt like they could all be elders in the same church – that would be very interesting indeed!
Though the authors clearly disagreed strongly on the continuation vs. non-continuation of the miraculous gifts for today, there was a consensus of affirmation on many things: (1) Agreement that God does heal and work miracles today; (2) An affirmation that God the Holy Spirit empowers Christians for various kinds of ministry, “and this empowering is an activity that can be distinguished from the inner-transforming work of the Holy Spirit by which he enables us to grow in sanctification and in obedience to God”; (3) Agreement that God the Holy Spirit guides us (but more study is needed in how the Holy Spirit uses our impressions and feelings); (4) Unity on the fact that God in his sovereignty can bring to our mind specific things, “not only (i) by occasionally bringing to mind specific words of Scripture that meet the need of the moment, but also (ii) by giving us sudden insight into the application of Scripture to a specific situation, (iii) by influencing our feelings and emotions, and (iv) by giving us specific information about real life situations that we did not acquire through ordinary means (though Dr. Gaffin holds this last category is so highly exceptional that it is neither to be expected nor sought; he prefers a term other than ‘revelation’ to describe these four elements). On this specific point there was the least agreement among the four authors.”
I highly recommend that Christians read this book for the following five reasons: (1) You will learn much about Christian history – in particular about the Redemptive Historical Method of biblical Interpretation from both a continuationist (Oss) and non-continuationist perspective (Gaffin). (2) You will learn how to argue for a position without using ad hominem arguments. Oftentimes when Christians debate on these issues it all comes down to attacking experiences or one’s sanctification status. All the author’s do a wonderful job treating one another as brother’s in Christ and speak the truth in love with gentleness and respect. (3) You will appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of each argument. You will see that these issues are more complex than you think. They involve weighty matters of hermeneutics, historical theology, biblical theology, systematic theology, exegesis, and real life application. (4) You will appreciate both the intellectual and emotional realities of your relationship with and understanding of the Holy Spirit. (5) You will appreciate the diversity and unity that we can have as Christians even when we agree to disagree. I think the presenter’s were all wise, thoughtful, thorough, clear, articulate, and humble. No one came across as having arrived. As they discussed the Holy Spirit I believe they were also manifesting the fruit of the Spirit. This book is a great example of the way Christians should approach differences – with dialogue, in humility, and pursuing the truth in community.
Our culture teaches us that people are basically good and that their internal problems are the result of external circumstances. But Jesus taught that no outside-in program will rectify the human condition, since our fundamental problems stem from within (Mark 7:20-23). Holiness is never achieved by acting ourselves into a new way of being. Instead, it is a gift that God graciously implants within the core of those who have trusted in Christ. All holiness is the holiness of God within us—the indwelling life of Christ. Thus, the process of sanctification is the gradual diffusion of this life from the inside (being) to the outside (doing), so that we become in action what we already are in essence. Our efforts faithfully reveal what is within us, so that when we are dominated by the flesh we will do the deeds of the flesh, and when we walk by the Spirit we will bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).
A Process from the Inside to the Outside
Holiness is a new quality of life that progressively flows from the inside to the outside. As J. I. Packer outlines it in Keep in Step with the Spirit, the nature of holiness is transformation through consecration; the context of holiness is justification through Jesus Christ; the root of holiness is co-crucifixion and co-resurrection with Jesus Christ; the agent of holiness is the Holy Spirit; the experience of holiness is one of conflict; the rule of holiness is God’s revealed law; and the heart of holiness is the spirit of love. When we come to know Jesus we are destined for heaven because He has already implanted His heavenly life within us. The inside-out process of the spiritual life is the gradual outworking of this kingdom righteousness. This involves a divine-human synergism of dependence and discipline so that the power of the Spirit is manifested through the formation of holy habits. As Augustine put it, “Without God we cannot; without us, He will not.” Disciplined grace and graceful discipline go together in such a way that God-given holiness is expressed through the actions of obedience. Spiritual formation is not a matter of total passivity or of unaided moral endeavor, but of increasing responsiveness to God’s gracious initiatives. The holy habits of immersion in Scripture, acknowledging God in all things, and learned obedience make us more receptive to the influx of grace and purify our aspirations and actions.
“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (1 John 3:21). It is wise to form the habit of inviting God to search your heart and reveal “any hurtful way” (Psalm 139:23) within you. Sustained attention to the heart, the wellspring of action, is essential to the formative process. By inviting Jesus to examine our intentions and priorities, we open ourselves to His good but often painful work of exposing our manipulative and self-seeking strategies, our hardness of heart (often concealed in religious activities), our competitively-driven resentments, and our pride. “A humble understanding of yourself is a surer way to God than a profound searching after knowledge” (Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ). Self-examining prayer or journaling in the presence of God will enable us to descend below the surface of our emotions and actions and to discern sinful patterns that require repentance and renewal. Since spiritual formation is a process, it is a good practice to compare yourself now with where you have been. Are you progressing in Christlike qualities like love, patience, kindness, forgiveness, compassion, understanding, servanthood, and hope? To assist you, here is a prayer sequence for examination and encouragement that incorporates the ten commandments, the Lord’s prayer, the beatitudes, the seven deadly sins, the four cardinal and three theological virtues, and the fruit of the Spirit. This can serve as a kind of spiritual diagnostic tool:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139:23-24)
Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)
The Ten Commandments
- You shall have no other gods before Me.
- You shall not make for yourself an idol.
- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
- Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Poverty of spirit (nothing apart from God’s grace)
Gentleness (meekness, humility)
Hunger and thirst for righteousness
Merciful to others
Purity of heart (desiring Christ above all else)
Bearing persecution for the sake of righteousness
The Seven Deadly Sins
The Four Cardinal and Three Theological Virtues
Prudence (wisdom, discernment, clear thinking, common sense)
Temperance (moderation, self-control)
Justice (fairness, honesty, truthfulness, integrity)
Fortitude (courage, conviction)
Faith (belief and trust in God’s character and work)
Hope (anticipating God’s promises)
Love (willing the highest good for others, compassion)
The Fruit of the Spirit
Letting Loose of Control and Results
One of the great enemies of process spirituality is the craving to control our environment and the desire to determine the results of our endeavors. Many of us have a natural inclination to be manipulators, grabbers, owners, and controllers. The more we seek to rule our world, the more we will resist the rule of Christ; those who grasp are afraid of being grasped by God. But until we relinquish ownership of our lives, we will not experience the holy relief of surrender to God’s good and loving purposes. Thomas Merton put it this way in New Seeds of Contemplation:
This is one of the chief contradictions that sin has brought into our souls: we have to do violence to ourselves to keep from laboring uselessly for what is bitter and without joy, and we have to compel ourselves to take what is easy and full of happiness as though it were against our interests, because for us the line of least resistance leads in the way of greatest hardship and sometimes for us to do what is, in itself, most easy, can be the hardest thing in the world.
Our resistance to God’s rule even extends to our prayerful attempts to persuade the Lord to bless our plans and to meet our needs in the ways we deem best. Instead of seeking God’s will in prayer, we hope to induce Him to accomplish our will. Thus, even in our prayers, we can adopt the mentality of a consumer rather than a servant.
Perhaps the most painful lesson for believers to learn is the wisdom of being faithful to the process and letting loose of the results.
|Divine Sovereignty||Human Responsibility||Divine Sovereignty|
We have little control over opportunities we encounter and the outcomes of our efforts, but we can be obedient to the process.
Distorted dreams and selfish ambitions must die before we can know the way of resurrection. We cannot be responsive to God’s purposes until we abandon our strategies to control and acknowledge His exclusive ownership of our lives. At the front end, this surrender to the life of Christ in us appears to be the way of renunciation, but on the other side of renunciation we discover that it is actually the way of affirmation. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:24). The better we apprehend our spiritual poverty and weakness, the more we will be willing to invite Jesus to increase so that we may decrease (John 3:30).
Another key to staying in the process is learning to receive each day and whatever it brings as from the hand of God. Instead of viewing God’s character in light of our circumstances, we should view our circumstances in light of God’s character. Because God’s character is unchanging and good, whatever circumstances He allows in the life of His children are for their good, even though they may not seem so at the time. Since His will for us is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2), the trials, disappointments, setbacks, tasks, and adversities we encounter are, from an eternal vantage point, the place of God’s kingdom and blessing. This Romans 8:28-39 perspective can change the way we pray. Instead of asking the Lord to change our circumstances to suit us, we can ask Him to use our circumstances to change us. Realizing that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18), we can experience “the fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings” through “the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). Thus, Blaise Pascal prayed in his Pensees:
With perfect consistency of mind, help me to receive all manner of events. For we know not what to ask, and we cannot ask for one event rather than another without presumption. We cannot desire a specific action without presuming to be a judge, and assuming responsibility for what in Your wisdom You may hide from me. O Lord, I know only one thing, and that is that it is good to follow You and wicked to offend You. Beyond this, I do not know what is good for me, whether health or sickness, riches or poverty, or anything else in this world. This knowledge surpasses both the wisdom of men and of angels. It lies hidden in the secrets of Your providence, which I adore, and will not dare to pry open.
We are essentially spiritual beings, and each “today” that is received with gratitude from God’s hand contributes to our preparation for our glorious and eternal destiny in His presence. In “the sacrament of the present moment” as Jean-Pierre de Caussade described it, “It is only right that if we are discontented with what God offers us every moment, we should be punished by finding nothing else that will content us” (Abandonment to Divine Providence). It is when we learn to love God’s will that we can embrace the present moment as a source of spiritual formation.
As we grow in dependence on Christ’s life and diminish in dependence on our own, the fulfillment of receiving His life gradually replaces the frustration of trying to create our own. It is in this place of conscious dependence that God shapes us into the image of His Son. Here we must trust Him for the outcome, because we cannot measure or quantify the spiritual life. We know that we are in a formative process and that God is not finished with us yet, but we must also remember that we cannot control or create the product. Furthermore, we cannot measure our ministry or impact on others in this life. If we forget this, we will be in a hurry to accomplish significant things by the world’s standard of reckoning. Frances Felenon noted that “the soul, by the neglect of little things, becomes accustomed to unfaithfulness” (Christian Perfection). It is faithfulness in the little daily things that leads to faithfulness in much (Luke 16:10). Henri Nouwen used to ask God to get rid of his interruptions so he could get on with his ministry. “Then I realized that interruptions are my ministry.” As servants and ambassadors of the King, we must be obedient in the daily process even when we cannot see what difference our obedience makes.
Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude
A young man with a bandaged hand approached the clerk at the post office. “Sir, could you please address this post card for me?” The clerk did so gladly, and then agreed to write a message on the card.
He then asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” The young man looked at the card for a moment and then said, “Yes, add a PS: ‘Please excuse the handwriting.’”
We are an ungrateful people. Writing of man in Notes from the Underground, Dostoevsky says, “If he is not stupid, he is monstrously ungrateful! Phenomenally ungrateful. In fact, I believe that the best definition of man is the ungrateful biped.” Luke’s account of the cleansing of the ten lepers underscores the human tendency to expect grace as our due and to forget to thank God for His benefits. “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18).
Remember: God’s Deliverance in the Past
Our calendar allocates one day to give thanks to God for His many benefits, and even that day is more consumed with gorging than with gratitude. Ancient Israel’s calendar included several annual festivals to remind the people of God’s acts of deliverance and provision so that they would renew their sense of gratitude and reliance upon the Lord.
In spite of this, they forgot: “they became disobedient and rebelled against You . . . . they did not remember Your abundant kindnesses . . . . they quickly forgot His works” (Nehemiah 9:26;Psalm 106:7, 13). The prophet Hosea captured the essence of this decline into ingratitude: “As they had their pasture, they became satisfied, and being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore, they forgot Me” (13:6). When we are doing well, we tend to think that our prosperity was self-made; this delusion leads us into the folly of pride; pride makes us forget God and prompts us to rely on ourselves in place of our Creator; this forgetfulness always leads to ingratitude.
Centuries earlier, Moses warned the children of Israel that they would be tempted to forget the Lord once they began to enjoy the blessings of the promised land. “Then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. . . . Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth’” (Deuteronomy 8:14, 17). The antidote to this spiritual poison is found in the next verse: “But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth” (8:18).
Our propensity to forget is a mark of our fallenness. Because of this, we should view remembering and gratitude as a discipline, a daily and intentional act, a conscious choice. If it is limited to spontaneous moments of emotional gratitude, it will gradually erode and we will forget all that God has done for us and take His grace for granted.
Remember: God’s Benefits in the Present
“Rebellion against God does not begin with the clenched fist of atheism but with the self-satisfied heart of the one for whom ‘thank you’ is redundant” (Os Guinness, In Two Minds). The apostle Paul exposes the error of this thinking when he asks, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Even as believers in Christ, it is quite natural to overlook the fact that all that we have and are—our health, our intelligence, our abilities, our very lives—are gifts from the hand of God, and not our own creation. We understand this, but few of us actively acknowledge our utter reliance upon the Lord throughout the course of the week. We rarely review the many benefits we enjoy in the present. And so we forget.
We tend toward two extremes when we forget to remember God’s benefits in our lives. The first extreme is presumption, and this is the error we have been discussing. When things are going “our way,” we may forget God or acknowledge Him in a shallow or mechanical manner. The other extreme is resentment and bitterness due to difficult circumstances. When we suffer setbacks or losses, we wonder why we are not doing as well as others and develop a mindset of murmuring and complaining. We may attribute it to “bad luck” or “misfortune” or not “getting the breaks,” but it really boils down to dissatisfaction with God’s provision and care. This lack of contentment and gratitude stems in part from our efforts to control the content of our lives in spite of what Christ may or may not desire for us to have. It also stems from our tendency to focus on what we do not possess rather than all the wonderful things we have already received.
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We cannot give thanks and complain at the same time. To give thanks is to remember the spiritual and material blessings we have received and to be content with what our loving Lord provides, even when it does not correspond to what we had in mind. Gratitude is a choice, not merely a feeling, and it requires effort especially in difficult times. But the more we choose to live in the discipline of conscious thanksgiving, the more natural it becomes, and the more our eyes are opened to the little things throughout the course of the day that we previously overlooked. G. K. Chesterton had a way of acknowledging these many little benefits: “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” Henri Nouwen observed that “every gift I acknowledge reveals another and another until, finally, even the most normal, obvious, and seemingly mundane event or encounter proves to be filled with grace.”
Remember: God’s Promises for the Future
If we are not grateful for God’s deliverance in the past and His benefits in the present, we will not be grateful for His promises for the future. Scripture exhorts us to lay hold of our hope in Christ and to renew it frequently so that we will maintain God’s perspective on our present journey. His plans for His children exceed our imagination, and it is His intention to make all things new, to wipe away every tear, and to “show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” in the ages to come (Ephesians 2:7).
Make it a daily exercise, either at the beginning or the end of the day, to review God’s benefits in your past, present, and future. This discipline will be pleasing to God, because it will cultivate a heart of gratitude and ongoing thanksgiving.
The Secret of Contentment
“We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.” Uncle Screwtape’s diabolical counsel to his nephew Wormwood in C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters is a reminder that most of us live more in the future than in the present. Somehow we think that the days ahead will make up for what we perceive to be our present lack. We think, “When I get this or when that happens, then I’ll be happy,” but this is an exercise in self-deception that overlooks the fact that even when we get what we want, it never delivers what it promised.
Most of us don’t know precisely what we want, but we are certain we don’t have it. Driven by dissatisfaction, we pursue the treasure at the end of the rainbow and rarely drink deeply at the well of the present moment, which is all we ever have. The truth is that if we are not satisfied with what we have, we will never be satisfied with what we want.
The real issue of contentment is whether it is Christ or ourselves who determine the content (e.g., money, position, family, circumstances) of our lives. When we seek to control the content, we inevitably turn to the criterion of comparison to measure what it should look like. The problem is that comparison is the enemy of contentment—there will always be people who possess a greater quality or quantity of what we think we should have. Because of this, comparison leads to covetousness. Instead of loving our neighbors, we find ourselves loving what they possess.
Covetousness in turn leads to a competitive spirit. We find ourselves competing with others for the limited resources to which we think we are entitled. Competition often becomes a vehicle through which we seek to authenticate our identity or prove our capability. This kind of competition tempts us to compromise our character. When we want something enough, we may be willing to steamroll our convictions in order to attain it. We find ourselves cutting corners, misrepresenting the truth, cheating, or using people as objects to accomplish our self-driven purposes.
It is only when we allow Christ to determine the content of our lives that we can discover the secret of contentment. Instead of comparing ourselves with others, we must realize that the Lord alone knows what is best for us and loves us enough to use our present circumstances to accomplish eternal good. We can be content when we put our hope in His character rather than our own concept of how our lives should appear.
Writing from prison to the believers in Philippi, Paul affirmed that “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Philippians 4:11-12). Contentment is not found in having everything, but in being satisfied with everything we have. As the Apostle told Timothy, “we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8). Paul acknowledged God’s right to determine his circumstances, even if it meant taking him down to nothing. His contentment was grounded not in how much he had but in the One who had him. Job understood this when he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). The more we release temporal possessions, the more we can grasp eternal treasures. There are times when God may take away our toys to force us to transfer our affections to Christ and His character.
A biblical understanding of contentment leads to a sense of our competency in Christ. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). As Peter put it, “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5). Contentment is not the fulfillment of what we want, but the realization of how much we already possess in Christ.
A vision of our competency in Christ enables us to respond to others with compassion rather than competition, because we understand that our fundamental needs are fulfilled in the security and significance we have found in Him. Since we are complete in Christ, we are free to serve others instead of using them in the quest to meet our needs. Thus we are liberated to pursue character rather than comfort and convictions rather than compromise.
Notice the contrast between the four horizontal pairs in this chart:
|WHO DETERMINES THE CONTENT OF YOUR LIFE?|
As we learn the secret of contentment, we will be less impressed by numbers, less driven to achieve, less hurried, and more alive to the grace of the present moment.
Article adapted from several sources on the Internet – most likely originally from Bible.org or Monergism.com. Dr. Ken Boa is an outstanding Bible scholar, and Spiritual director, and author of numerous helpful books including the Outstanding Textbook on the Subject of Sanctification and Spiritual Formation: Conformed To His Image.
GIVING THANKS TO GOD FOR EVERYTHING
Ephesians 5:19-21 “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
We often hear that the Bible is a gloomy book, and we’re regularly told that a religion based on it, and worship that comes out of it is bound to be gloomy and sorrowful. So the Puritans are normally portrayed as melancholic, severe people, and Calvinism is especially targeted as a faith that tends to depression. Yet we come across this exhortation in this extraordinary letter with its immense theology. It is an exhortation to Christians, “Sing!” and, “Make music in your heart to the Lord.” The apostle tells us that our lives are to be characterised by constant doxology – “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
These exhortations are not rare in the Bible. In the heart of the Old Testament the Psalter is full of psalms of rejoicing, psalms of hopefulness, and psalms of abundant joyfulness. They are concerned with people singing to God, possessing an inward serenity, knowing a profound joy and peace. We are faithful to biblical religion not only if we knows its truths and live by its immensely stringent ethic but if we also reflect its praise.
Here is a Christian church in Ephesus, the first generation out of paganism, in a city dominated by the temple of Diana, and the congregation hear this mighty letter read to them explaining the glorious grace of God. They are urged to live in a vitally new way unheard of in Greek or Roman circles before – “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v.21) – and they are being told to sing to one another in their homes and churches and places of work and to make constant melody in their hearts to God. That is the impression they are to make on their neighbours of sustained happiness. This is one of the ways they triumphed over Rome; they out-sang Roman philosophy and religion. They were singing because as they saw things, they had good reason to sing. In the great objective universe around them there were facts and entities, and there had been events; there were great concrete promises unfolding in their own experience day by day, and it was upon the basis of these realities that there was in their hearts music to God and songs of praise to one another.
You will find in the entire Bible this emphasis that this is the heart response of authentic Christianity. If you read this letter you will discover the rational for these emotions. We’re not only told to rejoice and sing but we’re shown why we should. We’re not simply told to exert feelings of delight and contentment; we’re pointed to certain great reasons why we must be gripped by them. In other words, the exhortations to a different kind of life in chapters 4, 5 and 6 are built on the glorious truths of chapters 1, 2 and 3, and within these chapters Paul is presenting us with the glories of God’s love and then exhorting our behaviour to reflect that love.
1. HOLY SPIRIT FILLS US.
Here we are told of the third person of the Godhead, God the Holy Spirit, and that he doesn’t just touch our lives, but that he fills every part of our beings, and that we under an obligation to ensure that he does, more and more. God stands pledged to be within his people, to make them his abode; the church is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and as long as we continue as an authentic Christian church, so long as this particular congregation remains faithful to its divine mandate, just as long as it continues in its testimony to the glory of God’s salvation then we will continue to know the Spirit glorifying Jesus Christ in our midst.
We may go beyond that fact; we will know in the depths of our hearts, in the profoundest realities of our own personal experience, that the mighty Creator of the universe is our God. He is the one who is supplying all our need. He has committed himself not only to the cause in general, not only to particular churches, but to us as individual Christians so that we can say from hearts as Paul said, “He loved me and gave himself for me.”
We sing and make melody in our hearts because God has come to us in his eternal and unconditional sovereign love. He has sent his Son into the world to bear my sin. He has sent his Spirit as the Spirit of consolation and courage into my soul. He is totally determined to present me faultless in the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. My God is a committed God. All his resources, and all his attributes, and all his grace and power he has dedicated to my salvation. There is a love that will never let me go. I am caught up, not in something visible and physical, and not in something temporal and terrestrial, but I am caught up in something eternal, something invincible, and something infinite. I am saying that in my heart there is music going out to the Lord, and on my lips are psalms and hymns and spiritual songs because the mighty God is not simply committed to his cause in the world, or in Wales, or even to this congregation’s testimony, but God is committed to each believer in particular. God is committed personally by his Spirit who indwells us so that we can know “He is my God; he is love; he has given himself for me; he has filled me with his Spirit.” I know that Almighty God is totally committed to my salvation, and that the work that he has begun is a work from which he will never desist until we are presented without spot or wrinkle before the throne. The Spirit of God fills his people. “Make sure you go on being filled with him,” Paul says, “and sing and make music in your heart to God.”
2. THE HOLY SPIRIT IS WITH US TODAY.
“Where can I go from your Spirit?” asks the psalmist (Psa. 139:7) because of the sheer naked fact of his omnipresence. He is everywhere in this universe and beyond. I take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the ocean but when I arrive there the first thing I discover is that the Spirit of God is already there. Paul and Silas were thrown into the darkest deepest dungeon in the jail of Philippi, but the first discovery they made in that stinking blackness was that the Holy Spirit was there. So they could sing to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and all the other prisoners listened to them. It is his presence in us in grace, in all the consolations of his personal love, in all his enabling resourcefulness that make us songsters. He is in us to help, and sustain, and guide, and encourage, and bless. It is not his universal cosmic presence that makes us sing so much as his presence in redeeming pity and encouragement.
You remember how the Spirit is with us, in every challenging phase of our lives. God has sent us individually on a mission. We leave this church today and enter our own mission field. We are to go and teach the nations. We are to hold fast to our confession, and we are to point men to the glory of God in Christ. And for us to fulfil this task God provides us with the indwelling Spirit. In every congregation which today is pointing men to that Lamb who bears away the sin of the world the Spirit is present and working. In every pulpit which declares the truths of the gospel – that we deserve eternal death because we are sinners, but Jesus because he loved us died for us – in every such pulpit the Holy Spirit is present steadfastly and consistently and unadornedly. In the life of every single believer who is holding fast to his confession then there is this great reality, the presence of God the Spirit, and as you go and stammer and speak and serve, and as you maintain the integrity of your own Christian witness then this is your privilege, the Holy Spirit’s presence in and with you.
I can put it like this, where two or three are gathered together in the Lord’s name then the Spirit is present, not only in our evangelism and outreach and our witness and testimony but as we meet at a prayer meeting for our own comfort and edification. Then we show forth the glory of our God and Saviour and we have the assurance that the Spirit is there, indeed that the Spirit is here now. He is blessing this sort of gathering right now; he is applying his word to every need of our souls; he is alongside us as we write that difficult letter, or as we turn the other cheek, or as Paul says here, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v.21). We must know that we are indwelt by God’s Spirit permanently and irreversibly, no matter where we are or what we are doing. It is the greatest reality of this Christian life that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, that we have been baptized by one Spirit into one body. We cannot be, without the vitality of the Spirit coursing through our hearts and souls and spirits. We cannot be, and not be temples. We cannot be, and not have the presence of the Spirit. No matter what we are relating to, and no matter what we are confronting, and no matter what we are experiencing, and no matter what we are doing, we are doing it as those energised and motivated by the indwelling Spirit of God. I am saying that God the Spirit is present with us not only in the great evangelistic movements, and not only in the large worshipping congregations with their meetings every night of the week and their huge staffs, but the Spirit is in the heart of each individual believer. He is there with her private sorrows; he is there with her individual stresses; he is there with her personal temptations. The Spirit is there.
Yet, you remember this truth that you never take the Spirit for granted. “Go on being filled with the Spirit,” says Paul. His presence is, in some respects, an irreversible reality, and yet we know from the church of Laodicea something was missing. There was a curious and peculiar relationship to the Lord which they professed. He was very near that church, but he was only near it in so far as he was at the door. It is true that he was knocking; he was claiming admission and begging entry, but none of that alters the fact that he was outside. That church had no right to claim that is was a Spirit-filled congregation. She had the name of a church; she had all the machinery of a church; maybe she had the authentic message of a church, and yet the Lord was outside.
There may be moments in our own individual lives when we have given such offence to the Spirit that we have grieved him, and he has turned away and hidden his face from us. Though his preservation is not withdrawn yet his saving and comforting works are not present. There are Christians today – there may be even some at this meeting – and the Spirit is not filling them. Certainly God will never let them go; they will not fall utterly. Yet they do not know his consolation. They do not know his help. They do not know his guidance because for one reason or another they have grieved him. They are not singing and making melody in their hearts to God.
There is this whole emphasis on the presence of the Spirit with the Christian. It is a reminder to us of how accessible God is to us. He is within such easy reach. Let’s imagine for a moment that we are in trouble and need help. Where do we get it? We have illimitable access to the indwelling Spirit. Paul is saying, “You don’t have to go miles to look for him. You don’t need some special code. You don’t need outriders and guides to take you to him. He is in you and you talk to him.” Or to put it better, using Paul’s words in Romans, you just send him a message by means of a groan that cannot be uttered. He is so near that he hears that. We sometimes cannot sing a hymn with our voices; we sometimes cannot shout; we cannot send eloquent prayers or beautiful petitions to the Lord, and yet he is so near that if only we mutter a few words he can hear us. Just a wordless groan and the Spirit is so near he understands and cares.
3. WE RESPOND IN SINGING GOD’S PRAISE TO ONE ANOTHER.
We enjoy the blessings of God each day. Success in our exams, the joy of our families, food in our refrigerators, long life, happy relationships, all such temporal mercies from God call for songs of loudest praise. There are also the blessings that the gospel brings in this life and the life to come, justification, full forgiveness, adoption into the family of God, the end of the reign of sin, union with Christ and glorification. How do we respond to all God’s goodness? The world celebrates everything with its drinking, but in our hearts there rings a melody of love, and on our lips there is a song of doxology:
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise him all people here below.
Praise him above ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”
We respond to all that the Spirit of God applies to our lives by great praise. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised. We have to make sure that each one of us praises God. “I am going to sing to him.” We are not going to leave it to others. We are not going to say, “Let all the world praise God.” I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve got breath. I will do it. My old, cracked, weak voice that is tone-deaf will sing to him, with my own powers and initiative, because I am not standing before the Force, or an abstraction, or a memory, but I am standing before the Jehovah Jesus who is “My God.” I will praise my God for myself.
Have you ever been struck by the opening words of the 108th psalm. It says this. “A song. A psalm of David. My heart is steadfast, O God.” A psalm of David . . . my heart is steadfast O God. There seems to me such irony in those words. This is David writing these words, the man who once could babble away outside the gates of a city of the Philistines to give them the impression that he was mad. This is David who could walk on the roof of his palace and spot Bathsheba washing and then draw himself and her family into evil tragedy. Think also of David as he begins Psalm 69, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God“ (Psa. 69:1-3). We say, “That’s David, so like me!” and we are glad to know someone as wobbly as David was in the kingdom; then there is hope for me too. If ever there was a man who was not steadfast it was David, and yet he begins Psalm 108, “My heart is steadfast O God.” He has enjoying a day of gospel assurance; he is expressing his highest confidence in God; he has grown in grace; through all his great falls he has kept coming back to God; a new maturity has come into his life. David’s heart is steadfast, and how does he show it? See what he goes on to say in that psalm, “I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth.” (Psa. 108 2-5). David is steadfast in praising God. This is what must characterise the Christian.
Aren’t we in many ways a strange gathering? We are a company of men and women who say that for them to live is Christ. So the challenge comes to us that if that’s our profession and privilege then are we determined to sing our God’s praises? “I for myself will make melody in my heart and on my lips to my Lord.” It is simply marvellous that in this universe there are two such different existences. There is the unsearchable God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and there is puny man, a mere speck. Yet these two can come so close together, “I . . . and . . . Thee.” I may sing to Thee; Thou art pleased with my singing. There is this amazing proximity of us and him. My soul can be totally involved with God. I can sing, and he is listening. I can be making music in my heart with no one around able to hear my praise, but to God my heart-song of thankfulness sounds like a huge cathedral organ with all the stops pulled out.
The great challenge is to be doing it for ever and ever. We will praise him on special occasions when we are members of a vast congregation when every seat in the church is taken. We will praise him when the preacher happens to choose our favourite hymn on a Sunday. We will praise him, on every good day we have; at every gathering of the Lord’s people we will sing to him. “Always giving thanks to God the Father.”
Then there is something else, that it is to one another that we sing our psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. Often we are told of the existence of a ‘generation gap,’ but we cannot allow a generation gap in the church because in the church there is neither young nor old, but all are one in Christ Jesus. And this is one way that the gap between old Christians and young Christians is crossed; the old praise God’s works to the young. The old commend God’s works of creation and providence and also God’s works of redemption to the young. They do it in the words of their hymns. We have to be sure that we don’t compartmentalise the age groups of the church so that the young never hear the old, never hear them speaking of God’s faithfulness, and shepherding and love. The trend today is for larger churches to have two kinds of services. There is the so-called ‘contemporary service’ and all the young people go to that, and there is the so-called ‘traditional service’ and all the old folks go to that. What a tragedy. What a tearing apart of the body of Christ. The older generation has to praise his works to the younger and declare his mighty acts. We do this by demonstrating their reality in our lives. We believe these things. We commend these things. We praise God for these things, and of course, best of all, we live them. We live them out. As we grow older and become more feeble, death coming nearer, then God’s works are our theme. His mighty acts are the theme of our psalms and hymns and songs.
4. FOR EVERYTHING WE WILL GIVE THANKS TO GOD.
You notice Paul’s insistence on this, “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”Not all days are holy days; not all days are good days, but whatever its character, and whatever my circumstances may be I’m to be “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”Some days are simply dreadful; there are great dark weeks which come into the lives of some of God’s people, and for some of you, today, it may be one of these times. You ask your best friend how things are going, and she says, “Not a good day today.” There is darkness and no light; the waters are rising and going over my soul; deep is calling unto deep. Yet on these days too I am to be giving thanks to God the Father for everything, whatever the storms, whatever the pain and privations, however desolate I may feel, whatever burden is crushing my spirit, thanks . . . always . . . for everything.
Matthew Henry was once robbed; how can you possibly give thanks to God the Father for a robbery in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? That night Matthew Henry wrote these words in his diary: “Let me be thankful. First, because I was never robbed before. Second, because although they took my wallet, they did not take my life. Third, because although they took my all, it was not much. Fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”
Let our minds for a moment contemplate the grandeur of such a spirit. We can recall, I’m sure, some homes and some hospital beds where a word about thanksgiving has a special poignancy – “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”Men and women suffer intensely, and suffer helplessly, and suffer hopelessly, and suffer pathetically with their grieving families gathered around them; they are men and women of faith, but they have no hope of healing or of their lives being prolonged. These are the last months of their lives. What does this “always giving thanks” mean to them? What kind of day is it to them? It is a day the Lord has made. It is his workmanship and from their hearts they can affirm, “We will be glad and rejoice in it.” The Lord has made everything in it and suited grace for this day. You existentialists and atheists – none of you can say that!
Think of the despair of the unbelieving world. Its greatest hope is that men will be annihilated and cease to exist. They don’t want an eternal sleep with nightmares of memories of their lives eternally haunting them. They prefer non-existence, and they dread non-existence. What a life – a life without loving the living God! What a journey into darkness! Think of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and the character called Lucky (!) Pozzo’s slave, as he makes his final, long, anguished, monologue. In spite of philosophy, invention and progress what is his life without God(ot)? We “shrink and dwindle, waste and pine,” Lucky intones. Ours is the generation who put its faith in Caesar, that is, in the power of the state to regulate and control and provide for our lives from cradle to grave. This generation is now realising that Caesar’s promises to comprehensively help them are vain. This is the generation who have lived through the political confidence of their twenties but are now sandwiched between young children and ageing parents, burdened with mortgages and fears of dirty bombs and Islamic terrorism. The trust their parents had in the institutions of Caesar they themselves have lost, but there is no other object for their trust. The local maternity unit is so overstretched that new mothers have been turned away to have their babies on the kitchen floor. The neighbouring streets are clubbing together for private security to replace the non-existent police. The Old Age Pension seems to be shrinking as they approach pay day – like the pot at the rainbow’s end. What do they have to praise and worship?
There are those who think that being a Christian is something instinctive, simple and automatic. Now they ought to contemplate the glory of the notes of praise which run through a mere Christian’s life. You know how you can recognise someone who is full of the Spirit. It is not by glossolalia; it is that when he is in the depths and his heart is breaking he is still able to give thanks to God the Father for everything. Whatever kind of day it is he won’t be quarreling with God; he won’t be questioning the will of God he will be humbly praising giving God.
It is a description of the Spirit-filled life, and it is a commandment, and so by the grace of God it becomes our experience for whatever God commands to do he enables us to perform. We can give him thanks always for everything not because we force ourselves but because on every day there are subjects of new praise and fresh gratitude. Morning by morning new mercies I see. There are times when faith must concentrate; it must focus its attention; it must screw up its eyes; it must scan the horizon; it must look to the short distance, to the middle distance and to the distant horizons. Look every which way and consider every sign of God’s blessing. The apostle says that there will be a cause for thanksgiving always. Every day will I bless thee! Where is today’s reason to be grateful? I ask you.
Some of us have come out of comfortable, affluent, marvellously benign providences. I’ve come from such a background. I often think that I’ve had the easiest and most trouble-free life of anyone. Yet how often do we come to God with complaints? We have a sense of deprivation instead of this great alertness to the marvelous goodness of Almighty God. We grumble and complain; our spirits are hard, and I am saying that at such times, in the midst of so much human grief, could I suggest that you and I might have the discipline and self-possession by the grace of God to look all around and say to ourselves, “Well, God has said that there would be blessing every day, so where is today’s cause of thanksgiving? There must be blessings today because God said there would be. Then when I see it I think, “How good God is in providing this for me,” and I praise him, and bless him for today’s blessing – always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.
“Always”! I will never stop being grateful, even on the darkest days. You know how on many a dark day your prayers had stopped, but Paul tells us that we should never stop being thankful. Paul knows, as you and I know, that one day soon this poor lisping stammering tongue will lie silent in the grave, but when that happens the voice of thanksgiving will not be silent. I shall see the once crucified Saviour; he will bear the marks of my redemption and he now has all authority in heaven and on earth. That day will be the day of the fierce indignation of God, for the great day of his wrath is come and who shall be able to stand? Men will cry to the rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them from his face.
We shall bow before him – we Christians, lost in wonder love and praise, for through the blood of Christ a sinner is justified, the Father is reconciled and all our sins are pardoned. Doesn’t that give us much to be thankful for? Then in a nobler sweeter song won’t I be grateful for God’s power to save? When I stand before Thy throne, dressed in beauty not my own, then I’ll be so grateful for the robes of righteousness. When I see the Lamb and his fair army standing on Mount Zion then I’ll praise him who loved me and washed me from my sins in his own blood. For ever and ever – “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”
5. WE WILL NEVER CEASE GIVING THANKS TO GOD.
Now, you see it’s a sad world; it’s a very empty world; it’s full of bitterness and resentment. “What have I got to give thanks to God for?” people say. I want to say to you that out there, objectively, really, sovereignly, there is the only God there is. You might think that he is tremendously august, and wholly other, a God of majesty and righteousness and unimaginable power to have made this whole universe. He is a God who speaks with such awesome holiness in his law and to our consciences, and all of that is true. But out there, I tell you, there is a heart so tender and loyal and generous and forgiving that the man or woman who is reading this and whose life is in the biggest shambles conceivable may go to this God, and ask him to forgive it. He or she may go to God and ask him to bless it with his own generosity. He may go and expect God to be true to every promise he has made.
I have a great problem and that is this, that I speak to such ordinary people, and I have the impression sometimes that so many are trying to make themselves different. You are trying to make yourselves special, and if you achieve that then you think perhaps you may be converted. There are some very odd people and they’re afraid of being saved. They are afraid of some outburst of emotion and embarrassment. They don’t want to make fools of themselves. They are more afraid of missing a dance because they imagine being converted means missing a dance. That worries them far more than losing out on the love of God and experiencing a lost eternity. So you are doing all you can to avoid being converted.
There are others of you and I believe that you are very anxious to be converted, but you want to make yourself special first. You don’t want to come to God ordinary; you want to come to God standing. But everyone I’ve known who’s come to God has come kneeling. He has come to God ordinary, feeling unqualified and unprepared, wishing he was more sincere and with more conviction, hungering and thirsting for that. Some of us try to come breaking our hearts from guilt, but in spite of all this when we come to God we feel terribly unprepared. Yet many of you are playing with your souls because you are trying to prepare first, and you won’t come ordinary. I am saying, let’s come just as we are, with many a conflict and many a doubt.
That’s not a bad thing, as all of us can testify, to come to God saying, “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.” That’s not a bad way to come, and all who come that way say, “God met all my desires.” Why shouldn’t Christians go and tell people that? The world thinks of all that it will have to give up, and the difficulties it would face and how narrow the road would be. Well, let us go and tell the world we are so thankful to God for all he has given us every day. We are abundantly satisfied with him. What glory it has been to have Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and what hopes we have of eternal life.
Where is your music? Why is your heart silent? Where have your convictions gone? If the Lord is your salvation, and if you feel convinced by the great gospel themes of our preaching then where is the melody? Bring your heart under the control of your theology. “My heart is steadfast O God.I will sing and make music with all my soul”(Psa. 108:1&2).
You are seeing the enormous pressures coming on the Christian church. There is militant Islam and militant humanism. Two mighty threats. And yet throughout human history the church has faced such challenges. In the Old Testament there was Egypt and Assyria and Babylon. In the New Testament there were terrible attacks on the church of Jesus Christ, and where are those enemies now? Some of them seemed so mighty that they were the occasion for the writing of New Testament epistles. Yet where are they now? We don’t even know what Gnosticism was, and yet at one time it threatened to destroy the Christian church. Where is it now – Gnosticism? Where has it gone? All those enemies that emerged for a while, look what the Lord did to them. Today where is Hume? Where is Rousseau? Where is Voltaire? Where is Bertrand Russell? They are all dead, but the church lives on, as Christ lives.
In other words the gates of hell have not prevailed against the church. Is that not cause for praise? Time and again men have written the church’s epitaph; they have described the world as ‘post-Christian’; they have said that the influence of the church is gone never to return, and yet the men who wrote those epithets are forgotten and the church lives. In the 1950’s I remember the fuss George Orwell’s book and play called ‘1984’ made. What a bleak world it portrayed. No singing; no music in the heart; no church and no gospel would exist in 1984. There were the common prophesies of science fiction, that life in the 21st century would be a bleak dictatorship. We boys in school asked ourselves, “Is that what it will be like in 30 years’ time?” But the year 1984 has come and gone and another twenty years have passed, and the church is, and the gospel is, and there is still melody in our hearts. “Come, behold the works of the Lord!” The very facts are saying to us that our labour in the Lord is not in vain. We are not whistling in the dark to keep our spirits up. We are singing and making melody in our hearts to the living God. Of course we would be facing enormous difficulties even if we gathered here in Aberystwyth all the Christians of mid-Wales with all their gifts and resources. Even then it would still be a huge battle, but is it an impossible one? Does any Christian here today hold to the principle that labour in the Lord is in vain? Not one. How can we possibly hold to such despairing ideas if the living God is our Shepherd, and Rock, and Teacher, and the Sovereign Ruler of earth and heaven? Then we will sing our praises to him and to one another. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.
About the Preacher of this Sermon:
Geoffrey was born in Merthyr Tydfil and became a Christian in Tabernacle Baptist Church in Hengoed. He went to University in Cardiff to study Biblical Studies as did his wife Lola one year behind him. Geoff then went to Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. In 1965 he was called to pastor the Baptist Church in Alfred Place, Aberystwyth where he has been ever since. Geoff and Lola have three daughters, eight grandsons and one granddaughter. His activities include maintaining the Banner of Truth website.
Geoffrey’s books include Daniel, Servant of God under Four Kings (Bryntirion), The Life of Ernest Reisinger (Banner of Truth), Philip and the Great Revival in Samaria (Banner of Truth), Preaching: the Man, the Method and the Message (Reformed Academic Press), and The Sure Word of God (Bryntirion). The full text of 550 of Geoff’s sermons has been published on the Alfred Place website @ http://www.alfredplacechurch.org.uk/ The sermon above depicts the original Welsh/English spelling of the preacher. It was delivered on August 29th in 2005.