The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: God the Holy Spirit (page 1 of 3)

Signs of a True Apostle

The continuationist/cessationist debate nags at me.  A blog, a video, a comment—almost anything brings it to mind. So does 2 Corinthians 12:12.  Here it is in context . . .

“11 I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. 12 The things that mark an apostle– signs, wonders and miracles– were done among you with great perseverance” (2 Corinthians 12:11,12, NIV).

Verse 12 reminds me of that debate because cessationists claim this verse teaches that miracles marked a man as an apostle.  And, since apostles died by the end of the first century A.D., so did miraculous gifts.

Before unpacking these verses, let’s define terms. Most simply, a cessationist believes the gifts of the Holy Spirit (sometimes limited to the “miraculous” gifts) ceased with the death of the apostles.  The continuationist believes the gifts continue to today until Jesus returns.

In 12:11 Paul refers to the “foolish boasting” he did in 11:1-33 (http://theoldpreacher.com/plain-foolishness/).  “ . . . you drove me to it,” he claims.  In other words, “When the ‘super-apostles’ cut me down, you should have defended me. Instead, you took their side.  Listen, I’m not inferior to them in any way.”

In 12:12, according to the NIV translation, Paul is saying, “You saw me perform the signs of an apostle—‘signs, wonders and miracles.’”  So, says the cessationist, there we have it.  Miraculous works were the marks of an apostle.  But they’re all dead, and with them, miraculous gifts must be.

But the NIV translation is poor.  The better translation of the Greek is . . .

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works (ESV).

How to interpret that, though?  Does it mean Paul performed “the signs of a true apostle” accompanied by perseverance and miraculous signs?  (In this case, he’s not identifying the signs of a true apostle.)  Or does it mean perseverance and miraculous works were the signs?  The better ESV translation leaves it unclear.

Either way, miracles weren’t the work of only apostles. Stephen and Philip both performed wonders and signs, but were not apostles.

And Stephen, full of grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8).

“And the crowds all paid close attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs he was performing.  For unclean spirits, shouting loudly, came out of many who had them.  And many who were paralyzed and lame were healed” (Acts 8:6,7).

Other non-apostles also exercised spiritual gifts . . .

The seventy-two: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go . . . ‘Heal the sick who are there and tell them, “The kingdom of God is near you”’” (Luke 10:1,9).

Ananias: “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord– Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here– has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized,  and after taking some food, he regained his strength” (Acts 9:17-19).

Church members in Ephesus: “When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).

Philip’s daughters: “Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven.  He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:8,9).

Believers in Galatia: “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Galatians 3:5).

Believers in Rome: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:6-8).

Believers in Corinth:  “For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit;  to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,  and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:8-10).

Believers in Thessalonica:  “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;  do not treat prophecies with contempt” (1 Thessalonians 5:19,20).

These were not apostles who exercised spiritual gifts, many the so-called “miraculous gifts” such as prophecy, tongues and healing.  How then can spiritual gifts/miraculous gifts be signs that the person is an apostle?  If they’re not, then the argument that the apostles’ death marked the end of the gifts falls apart.

Why is this theological debate important?  Why should it matter to “ordinary Christians”?

One, if spiritual/miraculous gifts have ceased, those who believe they continue and practice them are deceived and involved in something not of God in God’s name.  Two, if they have not ceased, those who believe they have are missing one of the wonderful graces the Lord has provided for the Christian life.

Much more must be said, of course.  And I’ll weigh in more in future blogs. But here in 2 Corinthians, where Paul refers to one of the debate-issues, we’re called to thoughtfully consider it now.

As we do, here’s a good prayer-song, not for spiritual gifts per se, but for the Holy Spirit . .

Please like & share:

Europe Invasion

“Christianity in Europe is sick, perhaps mortally sick. Across this continent, only 5-6% of the population still has some connection to any church tradition, according to church leaders . . . Rome, despite its proximity to the Vatican, has become one of Europe’s most secular cities . . . Antiquity has bequeathed to this generation of Europeans magnificent structures, which once housed the faithful in worship. Today they are significantly empty and increasingly old.”  (http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/christianity/2001/06/european-christianity-a-bleak-picture.aspx#dh5ZlIlzq0wllubB.99)

“[It’s happening in Europe]—the place where apostles preached, and where Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Barth, and countless other spiritual luminaries called home.”(http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/european-christianitys-failure-to-thrive.html) . . .
For a compelling blog suggesting reasons, go to http://www.albertmohler.com/2005/08/18/christianity-recedes-in-europe-is-america-next/ . . .
And for a historical overview of the decline of Christianity in Europe, go to http://www.johnchristy.com/blog/the-decline-of-european-christianity

Today we go back to the beginning of Christianity in Europe, according to Acts  . . .

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.  So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.  During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.  From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis (Acts 16:6-11).

It’s supposed that Paul, Silas and Timothy ultimately aimed for Ephesus, a major city on the west coast of Asia.  (Paul’s general tactic was to evangelize cities.)  But they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.”  Whether this came through a prophetic word in a church meeting or to Paul directly, we’re not told.  In any case, God clearly had a destination in mind for these missionaries.

” . . . they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”  F.F. Bruce comments:  “If the province of Asia was not to be the field of their evangelistic activity for the present, then it was natural for them to cast their eyes further north, and think of the highly civilized province of Bithynia in North-West Asia Minor, with its Greek cities and Jewish colonies.”  But again, God interposed.  (The “Holy Spirit” and “the Spirit of Jesus” are, of course, the same Spirit.  We’re not told why he’s identified two different ways.)  The important point:  God is directing these men.

The most stunning direction comes to Paul in a night vision at Troas.  Troas was a Roman colony (originally a military outpost securing surrounding conquered territory; eventually a city of high status) and a port city for ships traveling between Asia and Macedonia.   How “convenient” given Paul’s vision!

(By the way, notice “we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia”, suggesting that here author Luke joined the missionary team.  We’re not told any details.)

Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology Online explains:  Visions occur frequently in the Bible as instruments of supernatural revelation . . .  Revelatory visions portray scenery or dramatic circumstances to the human recipient while the human is awake. The distinction between a vision and a dream has to do with whether the human is awake or asleep; the result is the same . . . Throughout the Bible, visions of God and his sovereign lordship are needed in order to propagate his truth among humankind.

In his vision Paul saw a man standing, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  They immediately concluded God had called them to preach the Gospel to the Macedonians.  So they boarded ship and sailed to Samothrace and the next day to Neapolis, the port city for Philippi about ten miles away.

From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.  On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.  One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.  When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.  (Acts 16:12-15, NIV)

Typically, Paul would first visit the city’s synagogue.  It seems, however, Philippi had none, meaning fewer than than ten Jewish men lived in the city.  Outside the city gate at the river Jewish women (and probably some God-fearing Gentiles) met for the traditional Sabbath prayer.  Paul and his team found the unofficial meeting place, preached the Gospel and “The Lord opened [a woman name Lydia’s] heart to respond to Paul’s message.  After she and her household were baptized, Lydia invited the missionaries to her home.  Lydia thus became the first European believer in the Lord.

God moves in a mysterious way, huh!  Paul “invaded” Europe with the Gospel and his target was a small group of women meeting by a river.  His ways are not ours.  So, while the state of Christianity in Europe today saddens us, we shouldn’t despair.  Just look, for instance, how he directed Paul and his team to Philippi.  By some means and for reasons unknown to us, they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.”  That meant direction-change.  Bithynia seemed the next logical place.  ” . . . but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”  Only other option—Troas.  And there “a vision appeared to Paul in the night”, a vision they concluded was God-sent.

Ancient history, right?  Today we have the Bible through which God communicates to us.  It’s the word by which we must evaluate everything else, because it is the written revelation of God’s last word—and his name is Jesus.  Does that mean, however, that God no longer speaks through visions?

This book tells the fascinating stories of several people among thousands who are receiving dreams and visions from God through the Middle East as he reaches out to Muslims and they respond.

It’s available at the following link from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/DREAMS-VISIONS-Jesus-Awakening-Muslim-ebook/dp/B0078FAA3M

But even if you don’t buy it (I don’t get a cut!), we should know that God the Holy Spirit is moving in this fallen, lost world.  Christianity may be sick in Europe.  America may not be far behind.  But Jesus is Lord.  And where we can’t go, the Holy Spirit can.

Father in heaven, may we not limit you or box you in by our narrow thinking.  “The wind blows where it will.”  How the flaming Middle East and spiritually-dead Europe need the wind of the Spirit to blow!  And then there’s us, Father, living in a country where you are being pushed further and further out of our public life, starting to walk in the dead-end ways of Europe.  Blow on us, too, Holy Spirit.  Ignite our hearts to flame for Jesus in these last days.  You are able to do more than all we can ask or even imagine.

 

Please like & share:

Spiritual Gifts: Just Then or Now Too?

O PreacherThe question shouldn’t be left to Bible scholars or serious theologians.  It has important practical and personal ramifications for the whole church of Jesus Christ.

For example, in Romans 12:6 Paul writes, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us us them . . . ”  If spiritual gifts have ceased, then the “user” has no gift-grace to offer and the recipient none to receive.  We might say grace in the form of gifts is scarcer now than in the first century.

Again in 1 Corinthians 12:7, Paul writes, “To each person is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  And in 1 Corinthians 14:12, Paul admonishes the church, ” . . . since you are eager for the manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.”  If these manifestations have ceased, the Body of Christ no longer receives “good” from them and is left without a means of upbuilding available earlier.

Recently I discovered an excellent study by Dr. Sam Storms.  He introduces himself as “an Amillennial, Calvinistic, charismatic, credo-baptistic, complementarian, Christian Hedonist.”  (If  you draw a blank at any of those terms, don’t worry.  Just remember we’re saved by grace through faith!)  Since 2008, Sam has  been Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Below are links to the study.  If you have any interest in this subject or especially if you’re trying to decide on which side of the line you should stand, I heartily recommend this to you.

http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/are-miraculous-gifts-for-today—part-i

http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/are-miraculous-gifts-for-today—part-ii

What do you think?  Just then or now too?  I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

Please like & share:

The Holy Spirit and Me

O PreacherHaving clearly road-mapped my future blogging  (http://theoldpreacher.com/explain-james/) , I’m abruptly turning down an unexpected side road . . .

Christian Titles.

I’ve never paid much mind to Christian titles, whether denominational (Baptist, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, etc.) or theological (Arminian, Reformed, amillennial, etc.)  They sometimes categorize unfairly.  Like: every Baptist is like every other Baptist and so on.)  As far as the theological groupings, (as I’ve said before), I think they all have to twist certain texts to fit their systems.  I suspect when we see Jesus we’ll all realize we were a little wrong.

For that reason, I’ve never been big on systematic theology.  In 44 years of preaching and teaching, I’ve primarily focused on the text at hand, trying to read it as much as possible as the original readers would have, and hopefully close to what the author intended.

My Story.

I was raised, and originally ordained, in an Assemblies of God church.  I have a Pentecostal heritage. (Note: I don’t hold to all the A/G tenets of faith.)   Neither time nor space allows me to fully define Pentecostalism nor relate its history.  (Google “Pentecostalism” and find plenty.)  To some, Pentecostal conjures up images of people falling on the floor or barking like dogs or prophesying the future.  While sadly those images are based on fact, that’s not the Pentecostalism I grew up in.  Yes, being baptized in the Spirit with “the initial physical evidence of speaking in other tongues” was emphasized, occasionally overly.  But, by and large, the manifestations of the Spirit’s gifts were kept within biblical bounds.  More than gifts, Pentecostalism meant, at least for me,  a rich presence of God the Holy Spirit, a personal experience with him that reached deeper inward than the mind alone.

In later years of pastoring, I was progressively drawn to Reformed theology (Calvinism).  It answered many questions, but gave rise to others.  Again, I won’t give details, except to say it remains a vital part of the theological foundation of my faith.  Now I find Charismatic (a so-called “second wave” Pentecostalism) Reformed folks, Sam Storms, for one  (http://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog).  I’m not sure I fit comfortably in that camp either.  But I do know in my limited experience I have missed the sense of God’s empowering presence (to use Gordon Fee’s term) among the Reformed.  (As I’ve said, none of us has it all right!)

So now in my “retired” years, without letting go of the good Reformed theology provides, I find part of my heart returning to some of my Pentecostal heritage.   I have recently quoted Dr. Gordon Fee, an American-Canadian Christian theologian and an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God (USA). He currently serves as Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia.

God’s Empowering Presence.

I recently came across the following from Dr. Fee in his book, Listening to the Spirit in the Text ( https://www.amazon.com/Listening-Spirit-Text-Gordon-Fee-ebook/dp/B003U6Z63M?ie=UTF8&keywords=listening%20to%20the%20spirit%20in%20the%20text&qid=1465236726&ref_=sr_1_1&s=bookssr=1-1I include it here because I’ve written recently about God the Holy Spirit in Galatians.  Fee’s  words profoundly spoke to me.  To them, my heart said, “Amen!”

Product Details                                                                                                              

” . . . I began to think of my own Pentecostal heritage (that is, Fee’s), and how we have depersonalized the Spirit–not in our theology itself, mind you, but in our ways of thinking and talking about the Spirit.  Our speech is what betrays us.  With us the Spirit is depersonalized into an empowering experience.  We are empowered by the experience, but not by the empowering presence of God himself.  And then I thought of my lifelong existence in evangelical circles–where the Spirit is kept safely in the creed and the liturgy.  He is personal, well enough.  We would be unorthodox to think otherwise.  But for many, he is anything but God’s empowering presence.  Our images are biblical, but they are also impersonal.  He is wind, fire, water–comes to us as an influence, or whatever.  But he is not the one in whom and by whom we are sharing in the very love and grace and life of God himself.  And I do not mean in some mystical way.  Our problem is that the language of Father and Son evokes personal images; but the Spirit evokes that which is intangible, not quite real, because incorporeal (immaterial, ethereal). Paul’s prayer on the other hand (“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”–2 Corinthians 13,14), is that they might know the grace of Christ, the visible historical expression of the love of God, because as people of the Spirit they live in constant, empowering fellowship with God himself.  This is how the loving God and gracious Lord Jesus Christ are now present with us” (p. 29).

This, whatever our theological stripe, I pray for us all.

 

 

Please like & share:

The Climax: Old Cross & New Creation

O PreacherGrabs the stylus from his scribe.  No dictation now.  With his own hand, he climaxes his letter, even though his eye trouble (Galatians 4:13,15) makes the words ungainly large.  See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! (6:11). Better, perhaps, to rivet home his final message.

Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ (6:12).  The Judaizers (professed Christian Jews troubling the Gentile Galatians preaching faith in Christ plus Jewish circumcision for justification to the end)  are pressuring them.  Paul warns they have impure motives.   They want to put the (circumcised) Gentiles on display, so Jewish unbelievers won’t persecute them.  Cover up the objectionable cross with honorable circumcision.

A crucified Messiah?  Shameful!  The gold cross draped about my neck is a badge of faith, a sign of to Whom I belong and how.  To the Jew, the cross symbolized utter weakness and criminality and worthless rejection.  Like an African-American proudly wearing a noose around his neck.  Disallowed!

Circumcision, on the other hand, was a badge of honor.  A sign (albeit generally covered!) that this man descended from Abraham, the one through whom Yahweh would make a great nation to bless all the (inferior) nations.  Cover the cross with circumcision.  Jewish law-devotion would show them superior.

Sadly, we’ve “cleaned up” the cross.  Or at least allowed the world to.  It’s jewelry or art.  To the world at worst it represents execution.  But a punishment empty of meaning.  “Jesus died for my sins”— a vacuous slogan.  But the cross declares, “My Messiah was rejected and executed in utter weakness and abysmal defeat in my place for my sins.  He was, in the world’s eyes, an embarrassing loser.”

Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh.  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (6:13,14).  Prosecuting, Paul points at the circumcised and roars, “Even they don’t obey God’s law.  The only reason they want you Gentiles to be circumcised is to proudly carve more notches on their “we got-’em-circumcised-belt.”

Paul’s only boast was that the Lord Jesus Christ outrageously, despicably died on a cross for him.  It forever redefined Paul’s estimation of the world.  It “has been crucified to me and I to the world.”  In other words, “Its values don’t govern me.  Its successes don’t beckon me.  I don’t evaluate my life by its measure.  I don’t care what it thinks of me.  Christ’s cross has freed me from the world’s lure.  My crucified Messiah is my treasure.”

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God (6:15,16).  The literal Greek here is, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything”;  the translator supplies “means.”  Again the translator supplies “counts”, because the Greek says, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything . . . ”  They’re trying to capture Paul’s intent.

More significant is how Paul defines the nature of the Christian life.  It’s not a matter of outward religious symbolism, like forehead-ashes for Lent or Bible-carrying  or cross-wearing.  The Christian is “a new creation.”  Startling statement.  Circumcision can’t affect that.  Only the gift of the Spirit can.  As Paul would later write to the Corinthians . . .

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
(2 Corinthians 5:17)

“And we all with unveiled face,
beholding the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image
from one degree of glory to another.
For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
(2 Corinthians 3:18).

Far more than mere personal transformation!  This means the new eternal, righteous creation has burst back into this present age and has already been birthed in us who believe!

Such Christianity isn’t a meritorious faith.  It’s a grace faith by which God the Holy Spirit applies the crucifixion (and resurrection) of Christ in us to create a new righteousness out of our old moral corruption.  This, not circumcised Jews naturally descended from Abraham, is “the Israel of God”—Jew and Gentile one new people through faith in Christ, alive with his life by the Spirit.

Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen (6:17,18).  Paul wants no more messes from these Judaizers, who may even want to turn Paul to their cross-less ways.  He is committed to Jesus.  And his body bears the scars (Greek, stigmata) from following his crucified Lord through a proud and hostile world.

* * * * *

The Cross vs. Prosperity.  Christianity that draws the crowds plays down the cross’ rejection and shame.  It promises “your best life now.”  It trumpets how to be a winner.  It (subconsciously ?) seeks ways to succeed in the world without being “worldly” (not possible).  It’s gloriously true that Christ didn’t remain on the cross.  But we don’t get resurrection without the cross–Christ’s and ours.  May the world be crucified to us and us to the world!

A New Creation.  I look in the mirror and don’t see one.  I know my sins; they are ever before me.  I look at the church and see no difference from what I see at the office or supermarket or ball game.  Where is the power of Christ to transform our lives by means of the Holy Spirit, so people catch glimpses of a new creation in us?

Two responses come to mind. First, the familiar slogan, “Be patient; God’s not finished with me yet!”    And, second, “walk by the Spirit, follow the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit.”  Do in living the desires he’s working in us.  We’ve got to risk stepping to learn to walk!

<b>baby</b>_<b>learning_to_walk</b>_01?$lp-content-img$

Please like & share:

Mess in the Flesh/Miracle in the Spirit

O PreacherAudacious are the Gospel’s claims.  No more so than in Galatians 5:19-26.  Paul has been correcting confused new Christ-believers that having begun by faith in the Spirit’s regenerating work, they must not presume to defeat their still-present sin-nature desires by scrupulous law-keeping (Galatians 3:3).

But I say, walk by the Spirit,
and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit,
and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh,
for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing what you want to do.
But, if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
(Galatians 5:16-18).

Mess in the Flesh.

“Flesh” is human nature apart from Christ.  Fallen from grace.  Sinful before the holy God.  “Flesh” has cravings it seeks to satisfy.  And, when it does, Paul warns, this is what it produces . . .

Now the works of the flesh are evident:
sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery,
enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions,
divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like that.
(Galatians 5:19-21a).

By “things like that” Paul makes his list representative, not exhaustive.  “Flesh” (human nature apart from Christ) produces this kind of mess.  Not every human is this “messed.”  But “messes” like these corrupt every one who is without Christ.  More seriously . . .

I warn you, as I warned you before,
that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
(Galatians 5:21b).

Paul now is thinking eschatalogically—that is, of the consummation of the new eternal creation.  Then, God will reign in unopposed righteousness and perfection.  Sin, decay and death will be no more.  Therefore, those whose lives are marked by corruptible vices will not inherit God’s kingdom.

What Paul writes here should rattle every systematic theologian whose doctrines all fit like a huge jig-saw puzzle:   the apostle Paul is writing to Christians.  They have begun the Christian life.  But if they live it “by the flesh”—whether by trying to keep God’s holy, good and righteous law or by abusing Christ’s liberty with license—they will not inherit God’s kingdom.  Legalism and licentiousness both end with the kingdom door closed and the inheritance lost.

But I say, walk by the Spirit,
and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

(Galatians 5:16).

Miracle in the Spirit.

Look what God has graciously done!  What we could not!

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son,
born of woman, born under the law,
to redeem those who were under the law,
so that we might receive adoption as sons,
And because you are sons,
God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! Father!”
So you are no longer a slave
(neither to sin nor law)
but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
(Galatians 4:4-7).

And the Spirit,  in the Son-followers produces “fruit”, a “harvest” of Christ-like virtues.   These virtues, though personal, aren’t private.  That is, Paul wants us (as he did the Galatians) to understand these virtues in the context of Christian community, the church.  This is the “fruit” the Spirit (not us) grows . . .

Love:  wanting the best for others and sacrificing ourselves so they might have it.
Joy:  rejoicing in the fullness of grace with which God has blessed us and spreading that joy to the downcast.
Peace:  an inner wholeness and well-being before God, a harmony we sow among God’s people.
Patience:  a heart quiet under stress, enduring  the pain others inflict.
Kindness:  a gracious heart toward sinners shown by our attitude and actions toward them.
Goodness:  a generous attitude toward others that transcends mere justice.
Faithfulness:  trustworthiness expressed in devotion and allegiance, especially in adversity.
Gentleness:  consideration for others, especially the weak.
Self-Control:  the ability to keep one’s desires and passions under restraint, so we don’t indulge ourselves at others’ expense.

March in the Rhythm.

Years ago when I preached this passage, trying to emphasize the work of the Spirit and not ours, I would close my eyes, scrunch my face, pull my whole body tight ’til I quivered, then ask the people, “Is this how a tree grows fruit?” “No, it grows by the creative work of God.”  Ah, now years later, I realize my analogy falters.  We are not trees.  Truly the Spirit grows “miracle fruit” in us.  We are to “keep in step” . . .

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
(Galatians 5:25,26)

The Spirit sets the rhythm and enables us to follow.  The apostle charges us to keep in step with the Spirit’s beat.

We don’t, at least, not always.  A different image comes to mind.  I’m leading worship.  The congregation is singing and clapping.  I notice a man on the left and a woman in the center whose clapping only occasionally and accidentally hits the beat.  They simply can’t clap with the rhythm.  What shall I do?  Stop and reprimand them?  Prohibit their clapping?  No.  Eventually, if the Spirit indwells them, they’ll get it.  So I let them clap along slightly off for now.  As the Lord does me.  One day, he’ll see to it that we all get it . . .

Technologyis serving and solving problems and is also a creative and ...

Please like & share:

Spirit-Walking: The How To

P.AllanHow-To books sell.  Maybe because about something we’re all  “DUMMIES.”  I’m not admitting to “dummie-hood;” but, since reading the apostle Paul’s imperative,  “But I say, walk by the Spirit”  in Galatians 5:16  (see link . . .     http://theoldpreacher.com/spirit-walking/ ), I’ve been asking, “How to?” 

Look at the second imperative Paul issues in 5:25:  “keep in step with the Spirit.”   Notice, too, he references to being “led by the Spirit” in 5:18.  I contend  that by these phrases (walk by the Spirit, [be] led by the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit) Paul is saying essentially the same thing.  The Christian life is a Spirit-walk, Spirit-led, Spirit-step life.

These terms also paint a picture.  I walk by [means of] a walker for support and strength. When our four-family family vacationed together, three cars in caravan would follow the lead driver.  I never tried out for high school marching band fearing my feet couldn’t stay in rhythm with all the rest.  Walk by the Spirit (like me on my walker).  [B]e led by the Spirit (like us in our caravan).  Keep in step with the Spirit (like me, if I could, in marching band). 

In a sermon entitled “Live by the Spirit,” Dr. Kim Riddlebarger, senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, California, and a co-host of the White Horse Inn radio program, explains . . .

“The Spirit works in and through the Word” and  “motivates us to pray” and “causes us to live in freedom by serving one another in love.”  He summarily concludes:  “But we do not fulfill Paul’s imperative  by merely re-doubling our efforts, or by attempting to reach and attain a higher-level or more intense Christian experience. Walking in the Spirit is participating in the means of grace—Word and Sacrament—as well as things such as prayer and fellowship, the result of which is growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and progressive conformity to his image.”

Riddlebarger (one of my Reformed “go-to guys” for perspective) hardly hints at an answer here.  Certainly participating in every means of grace enables us to walk by the Spirit.  But it isn’t the walking itself.   There has to be more.

In a sermon entitled “Walk by the Spirit,” Dr. John Piper, founder and teacher of desiringgod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota and former Pastor for Preaching and Vision of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. says . . .

“But the $60,000 question is, How do you walk by the Spirit? All of us have heard preachers say, ‘Let the Spirit lead you,’ or, ‘Allow the Spirit to control you,’ and have gone away puzzled as to what that means practically. How do you allow the Spirit to control you? I want to try to show you that the answer is, You allow the Spirit to control you by keeping your heart happy in God. Or to put it another way, you walk by the Spirit when your heart is resting in the promises of God. The Spirit reigns over the flesh in your life when you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you and now is working everything together for your good.” 

Piper (a mentor through books and Internet) takes us a step closer.  But, while “resting in the promises of God” and living “by faith in the Son of God” fuel our Spirit-walk, it seems to me that “walk by the Spirit” and ‘keep in step with the Spirit” call for more action than resting and trusting.

I think Dr. Gordon Fee, Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada in his excellent book God’s Powerful Presence takes us closest . . .

“[Paul’s] appeal . . . is to ‘go on walking by the very same Spirit by which you came to faith and with whom God still richly supplies you’ . . . That is, a powerful and experiential–supernatural, if you will–presuppositional base lies behind this imperative . . . Life in the Spirit is not passive submission to the Spirit to do a supernatural work in one’s life; rather it requires conscious effort, so that the indwelling Spirit may accomplish his ends in one’s life.  One is urged to ‘walk by the Spirit’ . . . by deliberately ‘conforming one’s life to the Spirit’ (‘keep in step with the Spirit’, 5:25).  If such a person is also described as being ‘led by the Spirit,’ that does not mean passively; it means to rise up and follow the Spirit by walking in obedience to the Spirit’s desire . . .

The difference between ‘them’ and ‘us’ many centuries later is almost certainly at the experiential level, wherein their dynamic experience of the Spirit both at the beginning of life in Christ and in their ongoing life in the church would have made this imperative seem much more ‘practical’ and everyday.  Since the Spirit is God’s own empowering presence, Paul expected God’s supernatural aid to enable them to live in keeping with God’s character and purposes . . .

In a world in which Torah observance no longer obtains, the Spirit is sufficient and adequate to accomplish God’s purposes in and among his people.  Spirit people march to a different drummer, and the Spirit empowers them to live in such a way that their lives evidence that fact.”

The Spirit is like my walker.
He gives me support and strength to walk in the Word-centered ways he desires.
I’m urged to walk.
“Walk by the Spirit.”

The Spirit is like the lead car in our caravan.
He, in my new-born nature, leads me in the Word-centered paths he wants.
I’m urged to follow.
“[Be] led by the Spirit.”

The Spirit is like the marching band conductor.
He sets the Word-centered tempo and pace he favors.
I’m urged to keep in step.
“Keep in step with the Spirit.”

 

Please like & share:

Spirit-Walking

O PreacherSounds like a low-budget horror movie.  Or a TV preacher’s new “blessing”.  Spirit-Walking.  Actually it’s the way the apostle Paul directs the Galatian church (and us) to live the Christian life.  (Note:  Haven’t read “The Summit:  The Spirit”?  Good to read now— http://theoldpreacher.com/the-summit-spirit/.)

Paul continues with a “But”, contrast.  What’s Paul “but-ing”?   Submitting again to a yoke of slavery (5:1) by accepting circumcision (5:2) and so obligating oneself to keep all God’s Law (5:3).  Also, using Christ-given freedom from Law (5:1) as an opportunity for the “flesh” (5:13) . . .

But I say, walk by the Spirit,
and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit,
and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh,
for these are opposed to each other
to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
(Galatians 5:16-18, ESV).

” . . . walk by the Spirit” . . . “Walk” literally translates the Greek, perapatayte.   Figuratively perapataye is translated “behave, conduct oneself, live”.   Under sunny skies and rainy, along a woodsy path, down a plunging, stony trail into a dark valley, up and up a mountain side to a spectacular panaroma.  Perapatayte pictures the Christian way of life as an ongoing walk.

” . . . walk by the Spirit”By” implies means, mode, method.  Yesterday morning I went  to my chiropractor’s office (don’t ask) by truck (sitting in the seat, not dumped in the bed).  Paul directs the Galatian church (and us)  to walk through the Christian life, not by means of personal effort to scrupulously keep God’s Law, but by means of the Spirit.  “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts . . . ” (4:6).  The Spirit doesn’t hover way up in heaven but indwells us who believe in Christ.  By means of the now-indwelling Spirit, we are to walk.  Paul couples his command with a promise . . .

” . . . and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  “Flesh” here doesn’t refer to our physical body or (what this word often brings to mind) sexual sin.  Usually, as here, it refers to our human nature.  Us apart from Christ.  And that “us”, our nature, sinfully seeks opportunities to gratify its desires.  That’s what lies behind Paul’s earlier warning:   ” . . . do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” (5:13a).

See Law’s weakness?  “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).  “You shall not covet . . . your neighbor’s wife” (Exodus 20:17).  The Commandments may give us pause, but are powerless to push away our sin-nature’s desires.  ” . . . if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law” (3:21).  God’s Law is ” . . . holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12), but is “weakened by the flesh” (Romans 8:3).  So “God has done what the law . . . could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3,4).  God the Actor.  God the Giver.

Why, though, does “Spirit-walking” work? . . .

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  Our human nature is wired to gratify its sinful desires.  The Spirit of God’s Son sent into us opposes sinful desires with Holy Spirit desires.  Think magnets.  Point two north-seeking magnet poles toward each other and they repel.  So the Spirit’s presence in our fallen human nature creates resistance.  The opposition “keeps you from the doing the things you (that is, your fallen, sinful human nature) want to do.”

Two important points.  One, though justified (in right-standing with God) and Spirit-filled, we have to contend with our sin-nature’s desires as long as we’re in this body.  ” . . . we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). 

Two, we must “walk by the Spirit.”  In other words, the against-the-flesh activity of the Spirit in us is not without action on our part.  Take a young man with natural-born baseball-pitching ability.  It’s there in his arm—the strength, the finesse, the feel, the touch.  But he has to develop it, work out, practice, pitch in crucial games.  We have to “walk by the Spirit.”

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”  If we are “Spirit-walkers” we are not “under law” (don’t have to post-note the Ten Commandments to our refrigerator and grim- faced sweat to obey them today), because we are being “led by the Spirit.” Hint:  here’show to “walk by the Spirit”.  Be led by the Spirit.  More on this next time.

Let’s finish now by allowing God’s Word to strengthen our faith.  We are not doomed to sweaty, desperate efforts to be a better Christian.  We are not imprisoned by God’s good Law we can’t hope to keep.  We are not sentenced to create our own more-workable system of religion to sooth guilt-feelings.  WE ARE NOT LEFT ON OUR OWN.

But when the fullness of time had come,
God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under law,
to redeem those who were under law,
so that we might receive adoptions as sons.
God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,    
crying, “Abba!  Father!”
So you are no longer a slave, but a son,
and if a son, then an heir through God.
(Galatians 4:4-7).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please like & share:

What Counts? Only Faith Working through Love

O PreacherDon’t misread this title.  It doesn’t mean what it seems.  It comes from the apostle Paul’s declaration in Galatians 5:6 . . .

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything,
but faith working through love.

Paul doesn’t suggest nothing else matters, but faith working through love.  He means rather in the context of being in right standing with God, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything.  The only thing that counts in  being right with God is faith in Jesus Christ—faith that shows itself through acts of love.

I wrote about this in a previous blog (http://theoldpreacher.com/christ-set-free/).  But I’ve since realized how important this text is for what follows (5:16-26).  I’ve come across three important observations by Dr. Gordon Fee in his book, God’s Powerful Presence.  Before passing them along, just a word about circumcision.

A non-issue for us.  However, in our context it represents both our futile attempts to be right with God by trying to keep his Law (centered in the Ten Commandments) and our attempts to be right with God by constructing our own rules and regulations.  “Real Christians don’t drink, smoke or chew or hang around with girls who do!”  Not sure I got that old slogan right.  But you know what I mean, right?  Legalism.  Extra-biblical rules and regulations we make necessary for being righteous before God.

It’s in that context that Paul writes, “In union with Christ Jesus keeping God’s laws or your self-created rules counts for nothing.  The only thing that counts for being right with God is faith in Christ Jesus that shows itself in acts of love” (my paraphrase).

Here, now, is Galatians 5:13-15 from which Fee identifies three important points we should note before moving on . . .

You, my brothers, were called to be free.
But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature;
rather, serve one another in love. 
The entire law is summed up in a single command:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” 
If you keep on biting and devouring each other,
watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

One:  “Freedom from enslavement to Torah (Law) paradoxically means to take on a new form of “slavery”—that of loving servanthood to one another.”

In Paul’s allegory (4:21-31) he refers to Jews under the law as the daughter of Abraham’s wife’s maid servant (Hagar) who “bears children who are to be slaves [to Law] (4:25).  Earlier he wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law . . . ” (3:13).  And later, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1).

Then he warns, “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love” (5:13).  A reminder, as someone wisely noted, Christ freed us not so we can do what we want, but what we should.

Also a reminder that God designed the Christian life to be lived in community with one another.  Therefore, we don’t speak of attending church, but being the church.  Therefore, Jesus gave us a new commandment:  “Love one another . . . By this all people will know you are my disciples” (John 13:34,35).

Two:  “Love of this kind is the way the whole of Torah (Law) is ‘fulfilled’.”

“The entire law is summed up in a single command:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  Fee explains:  “The aim of Torah . . . was to create a loving community in which God’s own character and purposes are fulfilled . . . as God’s people love one another as he loves them.”  The Law, of course, is powerless to do this.  But the Spirit is, in the title of Fee’s book, God’s Powerful Presence”.  Thus he empowers believers to live toward fulfilling the Law, which is the Law of love.

Here, too, we find the focus for the Christian life:  as part of the Christian community, the church.  As we, empowered by the Spirit, love one another as members of the church, the whole of Law is fulfilled in our relationships with one another.

Three:  “Freedom from Torah (Law) does not mean ‘lawlessness’.”

This was the Jews greatest objection to the absence of Torah.  If we don’t let it fence us in any longer, do we have license to gratify ourselves however we wish?  As we’ll see in the coming paragraphs, the Gospel provides a new fence.

As long as we’re in these bodies, sin is in our nature.  And typically, we view sins as personal, not as relational.  That is, wrong before God and hurtful to us, but not to the church.  I would suggest that every personal sin “bad marks” the whole Christian community.  And some, of course, like gossip, directly harms the Body.  Such “lawlessness” corrupts us all.

But the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel Paul preached, is not lawlessness.  It is Spirit-saturated.

With this preface in mind, next time we’ll finally reach the summit of Paul’s letter:  the exciting, transforming, powerful presence of God the Holy Spirit.

Image result for photos of the holy spirit

 

 

Please like & share:

Holy Spirit, You Are Welcome Here

O PreacherWhat a fitting, beautiful, God-present way to begin Sunday Worship!

For if we don’t humbly and hungrily pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit, what have we in our gatherings?  Yes, we have the written Word of God.  But it is the Spirit who enlivens the Word to our hearts.  And, yes, we have each other.  But it is the Spirit who kindles love and binds hearts.  If we don’t meet with the presence of the living God—our Father through our risen Lord—our meeting becomes little more than a memorial or a classroom.  Yes, we sing songs that proclaim the gospel of our faith.  But if we are merely making a proclamation without the presence of the One we proclaim, we are speaking into the wind.

How beautiful, how sanctifying, the “holy hush” after all the music and singing has stopped!  How we need to stand like that on holy ground in his holy presence and be filled with the Holy Spirit!  How precious those quiet moments when the world fades and all we sense is him!

If your church lacks his presence  like this, perhaps the video and these words have created a thirst . . . and somehow the Spirit will come for his glory and the joy of his reborn people.  I pray it might be so . . .

Please like & share:
Older posts

© 2017 The Old Preacher

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)