Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Holy Spirit’

Series on baptism

We’re still looking at baptism today, however we are doing something a little different as we move to the topic of Spirit baptism.

Being “baptized in the Spirit” is talked about in several places, although the key text(s) is connected to John the Baptist, and is repeated in all four gospels.

In John 1:33 God said to John, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain (Jesus), this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” (See also John 3:34)

 In the first three gospels it comes not just as an identity statement about Jesus, but in the form of a promise from John. In Matthew 3:11 John himself said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me . . . will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Also in – Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16)

 This foundational promise is repeated in Acts. In Acts 1:5, just before his ascension, Jesus said, “for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” In Acts 11:16 Peter, quoting Jesus said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So this promise is emphasized in the New Testament.

Finally, this language of Spirit baptism also shows up in 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” So the idea of receiving the Spirit as a baptism experience is firmly rooted.

But how is it that we can talk of –

Spirit baptism as a water experience?

Well, we’ve already seen how there can be both literal and figurative baptisms. The creation, the flood, the Red Sea crossing and Christian baptism all involve actual water. However, Jesus’ suffering and death is a figurative baptism. The water is used to speak of the evil and suffering that Jesus went through.

In a similar way, Spirit Baptism is also a figurative baptism. This baptism language works because the Spirit is often likened to water in Scripture. Let’s look at this.

1. God “pours out” the Spirit. Isaiah 44:3 says, “For I will pour out water on the thirsty land. . .; I will pour out my Spirit upon your descendants . . ..” Joel 2:28 says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh . . ..” And in Acts 2:33, after teaching that Jesus received the promise of the Spirit, Peter says “he has poured out this that you both see and hear”; talking about Pentecost. In all of these, “poured out” is a liquid or water metaphor. The Spirit is likened to water.

2. We “drink” the Spirit. In John 7:37-38 Jesus said concerning the Spirit, “Let the one who is thirsty come to me and drink.” Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body . . . and were made to drink of one Spirit.” Spirit baptism is here a drinking in of the Spirit.

3. When we drink, we are filled with the Spirit. Acts 2:4 says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” And Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Both of these references parallel being full of wine and being full of the Spirit. In Ephesians it’s obvious. But it’s also true in Acts 2. On the day of Pentecost the crowds thought they “were filled with new wine” (Acts 2:13). Peter says, No! It’s too early in the morning to be drunk! This is the Spirit of God coming down (Acts 2:15). We are not to be filled with wine, which is drunkenness. But we are to be filled with a different drink – the Holy Spirit.

Now all of this, as I am sure you have noticed, points to –

The difference between water baptism and Spirit baptism

Even though Spirit baptism is a water experience, this is a different kind of water than the water that’s involved in water baptism:

  • The waters of water baptism are the deep waters that represent chaos, evil and turmoil. To have these waters is not a good thing. That’s why God must act in power to deliver us from these waters so that we can pass through them to the other side.
  • The water of Spirit baptism is good water; drinking water. It’s the water of the stream, the fountain or the spring. It’s the living water of God that nourishes life. We don’t need to be delivered from this water, rather we are to keep drinking of it.

Just a footnote here: Our Christian tradition allows for flexibility in terms of how people are baptized through immersion or pouring, although certainly pouring is the traditional method. Let me just say that our practice has represented Spirit baptism  well,  and not so much the idea of crossing through the waters or death and resurrection.

Alright, despite the difference in the kinds of water, there are still –

Clear connections between water baptism and Spirit baptism

First, both have the core concept of baptism. The root word (βαπτω) means to “dip in liquid” (BDAG). I don’t think it’s helpful to argue about exactly how this happens. But I do think there was a lot of water involved. I think the best word that covers the full range of baptism language (figurative and literal) is “inundation” which means to cover with a flood, to overflow, to overwhelm, to deluge, to engulf.

  • To be baptized in water is to be inundated with water
  • To be baptized in the Spirit is to be inundated with the Spirit

Second, they are connected in terms of timing. Remember? Just after Israel came up from their water baptism, they were filled with the Spirit so that they were moved to sing prophetic songs to the Lord (Exodus 15; Isaiah 63:11). And also, just after Jesus was water baptized the Spirit descended upon him and he had the prophetic experience of a vision (Matthew 3:16-17).

This close chronological connection is also seen in the book of Acts. For example:

  • In Acts 2 Peter links in his teaching water baptism and receiving the Spirit
  • In Acts 8 the Samaritans received the Spirit not long after their water baptism
  • In Acts 9 Paul is baptized and received the Spirit
  • In Acts 10 Cornelius and his family received the Spirit just before water baptism
  • In Acts 19 some disciples in Ephesus are baptized and received the Spirit

Although there is variation in these stories, water baptism and Spirit baptism are closely connected in time.

Why is this? It’s because the coming of the Spirit is what brings about the new life that is symbolized by water baptism. Romans 6:4 tells us that baptism has to do with walking in “newness of life.” But, as John 6:63 says, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” Now as a part of this we could talk about the fruit of the Spirit which causes us to live in a new way. And we could also talk about the gifts of the Spirit that empower us for ministry in our new life. But the point here is that it’s the Spirit that gives us the new life that baptism points to. So they are connected.

Finally, let me say a word about –

Spirit baptism and Spirit filling

In Acts 2 the disciples are Spirit baptized, but it doesn’t end there. Later, in Acts 4, in a time of need, they are once again filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31).

So it is to be in our lives. The idea is that we receive an initial outpouring (baptism) of the Spirit in our salvation experience. Spirit “baptism” language seems to focus on this initial experience. But we are also to continue to be filled with the Spirit throughout our lives. The “filling” language can refer to the initial filling (Spirit baptism) or to subsequent fillings of the Spirit. Spirit baptism is meant to be the beginning of a life of being full of the Holy Spirit.

Let me end by asking –

Do you want to receive the Spirit?

Whether you need that first experience of the Spirit that brings new life and power, or whether you need another filling of the Spirit for refreshment and empowerment. Perhaps you are beaten down, weary and need help this morning. Wherever you are at, the promise is there for us to claim.

We saw this in John the Baptist’s words at the beginning. Let’s also hear the promise again in a different form from Jesus: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” – Luke 11:13

God wants to give us of his Spirit. As Peter says of the gift of the Spirit, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” – Acts 2:39.

All you have to do is ask! As Jesus said, the Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him – Luke 11:13.

How should we ask? The verses just before this teach us, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10). We are to be persistent and ask, search and knock.

Take God at his word. He is true to his promise. And God will give you of his Spirit in your life.

Read Full Post »

As you know, we are seeking the Lord for guidance regarding our future as a congregation. And as a part of this I want to give some teaching this week and next on Listening for the Spirit – to help us know what this means and how to do it. Today, let me begin by saying that –

It’s normal to be led by the Spirit

That is, this isn’t just for certain people like leaders or “saints.” Or perhaps coming from a different direction, you might think that this is the language of those who have gone off the deep end and so you want to stay away from it. No. This is the privilege of all Christians. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Genesis 1:1-5

I want to share with you today on the topic of overcoming the chaos in our lives. Chaos is defined as a state of disorder and confusion, even total disorder and confusion. It means to be in disarray, to be in turmoil. To say it another way, it means that your life lacks order, peace and calm. Do you ever feel like your life is chaotic – that you yearn for order, peace and calm?

We are in Genesis chapter one today because, as we will see, this is where God overcomes the chaos at the beginning of creation. So we want to learn from this how God can overcome the chaos in our lives.

Let’s read Genesis 1:1-5, as a sample of what is going on in the whole chapter.

“1In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

Chaos in Genesis 1

In vs. 1-3 we see several indicators of chaos:

1. The earth was “without form and void.” This is basically the definition of chaos.

2. “Darkness” was everywhere. Both darkness and formlessness are negative things in the Hebrew way of thinking.

3. “The deep” or “the waters” cover the earth. In the Scriptures “the waters” and “the deep” represent chaos and turmoil. They are associated with hard times (Psalm 69:14), evil or Satan (Yam, Rahab, Leviathan, Revelation 12:9), judgment (Psalm 104:6-7) and death (Psalm 18:16).

4. There is no life. Rather the earth is barren, bleak and desolate.

Next we see in this passage –

How God overcomes the chaos

 And he does this in two ways. First, through his Word. v. 3 – “And God said . . .” This phrase is used 10 times in Genesis 1. From our example, on the first day, God said, “Let there be light.” He is saying, ‘this is my purpose and will. This is what I want.’

By his word of command, God speaks out his will and his way to give order and structure to his creation.

From the New Testament we know that God’s word is God’s Son. In Colossians 1:16 Paul says this about him, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.”

In John 1:1-3 John speaks of him in this way, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”

God also overcomes the chaos through his Spirit. v. 2 says, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The Spirit is the power of God that brings God’s will into being.

So on the first day, God spoke out his will concerning the light, and then, “there was light. . . . And God separated the light from the darkness” – vs. 3-4. This is the working of God by his Spirit/power bringing to pass his word/will.

From the New Testament we know that God’s Spirit or power is God’s Holy Spirit. A person, not an impersonal force. The Holy Spirit acting to make God’s will come into reality.

How does God overcome chaos? God speaks out his will through his Word. And God brings it into reality by his Spirit. And because of his Word and Spirit there is:

  • order, not chaos
  • light, not darkness
  • victory over the waters and evil
  • life, not lifelessness

Now despite all this, there is still chaos in the creation. Our job as humans was to finish what God began. We were to subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28). After all Satan was still loose. And then our rebellion against God (Genesis 3) introduced more chaos into the world. And so –

God is still working to overcome chaos

God is working to bring forth a new creation. This is going on at the cosmic level, and it certainly plays out in our individual lives.

We all have times of testing. We go through difficult life circumstances that bring us inner turmoil. These are times when:

  • our lives are disordered; they seem to be without direction or purpose
  • the darkness closes in on us.
  • the deep waters flood in and overwhelm us.
  • We feel lifeless, barren, bleak, hopeless

Well, just as God has acted for the whole world, so also he works in us. The same creative Word of Genesis 1, God’s Son, has become a human – Jesus, to teach us and to model for us God’s will and way. And the Holy Spirit has come to live within us to strengthen us and help us.

And so when your life is in chaos, when things around you are spinning out of control, when the deep waters are churning, look to the Word, to the Scriptures, to Jesus the living word made flesh. Learn from his teaching and example. He shows us God’s will and way.

As the Psalmist says to God, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” – Psalm 119:105. God’s Word shows us the way when things around us are chaotic.

And so ask yourself, ‘Is my life in line with God’s Word?’ If you are knowingly walking in sin you’re opening the door wide to chaos – darkness, deep waters, lifelessness. Walk according to the Word.

And also, are you walking  in the path God has for you individually? We may not know all the details of God’s will for our lives, but he shows us the direction he has for us. Are you walking in that direction?

Look to the Word. This is what gives order and structure to your life when the world is chaotic. This is what gives you a path to walk on.

And also, look to the Spirit who lives within us as Christians. When we feel like we are being overwhelmed, the Spirit can strengthen us to move forward in God’s path for our lives. The Spirit can empower us to endure testing and trials, with God’s peace within us whatever is going on around us.

We can’t do this in our own strength. We can’t do it by ourselves. We have to rely on the Spirit to help us. As Zechariah 4:6 says, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” This is how we can overcome.

When we allow the Word to guide us and the Spirit to help us, just as in Genesis 1, God will bring:

  • order out of our chaos
  • light out of our darkness
  • victory over our trials, Satan and death
  • new life out of lifelessness

We not only learn how God does all this in Genesis 1. We learn that he can do this. And if he can overcome the chaos of all creation, surely he can do this in your life and mine. God is able and we can thank God for this and take courage wherever we find ourselves.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

Series: Paul to the Thessalonians

Paul mosaic

We are in the fifth and final section of the teaching portion of 1 Thessalonians, which Paul began in chapter 4. And so we have looked at relationships with one another in the church, respecting Christian leaders, living in peace with one another, and helping those who struggle in various ways. We have also looked at relationships with everyone, inside and outside the church. And here Paul taught us not to return harm for harm, but to be patient with all, and to do good to everyone.

Today we look at vs. 16-22, focused on our relationship with God. There are eight statements which are held together by two themes:

– vs. 16-18 have to do with speaking to God in praise and prayer

– vs. 19-22 have to do with God speaking to us by means of prophecy (Ben Witherington)

  Let’s begin with vs. 16-18.

Talking to God: Praise and prayer

 “16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Rejoicing has to do with expressing our joy. This is quite similar to giving thanks (Psalm 97:12; Philippians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 3:9), which is the expression of appreciation for benefits and blessings. Given that there is a prayer focus here (prayer comes right between them) these expressions of joy and thanks are given to God. I am calling this praise to God.

Now, rejoicing and giving thanks are a kind of prayer, but here Pau distinguishes prayer from these, so the focus in on petitionary prayer, or making our requests known to God.

  The phrase, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” applies to all three of these things. It is God’s will for us to rejoice, give thanks and offer up our requests to him. God wants us to be in relationship with him; for us to communicate with him our praises and our concerns.

But how can we do these thing always? How can we rejoice always? How can we pray without ceasing?

If we take this literally, it doesn’t make sense. We have to sleep for one thing. But more to the point, you can’t both talk to God and also to someone else – at the same time. Or again, you can’t both rejoice with those who rejoice and also weep with those who weep, as Paul says (Romans 12:15) – at the same time

Rather, Paul is referring here to set times of daily prayer according to the biblical pattern. That is, morning and evening prayers, or perhaps also afternoon prayers. We see this all throughout the Old Testament in the Psalms and in Daniel for instance, as well as in the New Testament. In fact, there is a reference to this in 1 Thessalonians 3:10 – “we pray most earnestly night and day . . ..” This was a common Jewish way of talking about daily prayers in the evening and the morning.

Paul is saying, keep to your daily prayers, continue day and night; morning and evening. Always rejoice by coming before God constantly morning and evening. Unceasingly pray by coming before God morning and evening. And, of course, we can also pray and rejoice as we are able throughout each day. 

But there’s another part to this. Paul is saying keep praying even when things are hard. They were going through persecution, so the message is:

  • Keep on rejoicing, as individuals and as a group, not just when things are good, but when things are hard. This echoes Jesus in Matthew 5:11-12. When you are persecuted “rejoice and be glad.”
  • Keep on praying, as individuals and as a group, not just when things are easy, but when you have difficulty after difficulty. This echoes Jesus in Luke 18:1. “And he told them . . . that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”

This also fits with v. 18 – give thanks “in all circumstances.” It’s easy to give thanks when things are just fine, but we are also to do this when things are not good – that’s what “in all circumstances” means.

But how can we rejoice and give thanks in bad times? Well, it’s certainly not based on our feelings or that we’re having a good day. It’s based on understanding what God is doing in our lives, and the bigger picture of the hope that we have, which is far greater than whatever temporary suffering we may have in this world. And we can do this because the Holy Spirit within us is the source of our joy (1 Thessalonians 1:6).

Some questions to consider . . . How is your prayer and praise life? Rate yourself:

  • Do you only come to God in an emergency?
  • Do you only pray and give thank on Sundays at church?
  • Do you have a private prayer life?
  • Are you constant in your prayer life?

Paul is teaching us here to be in this last category. Think about it. God spared nothing to be in relationship with us. He created us, bore with us, gave his only Son. But often we make little or no effort to spend time in relationship with God. This helps put things in perspective.

Are you overwhelmed by hard times? Paul calls the Thessalonians not to give up in persecution. And his word to us is don’t lose heart. When you have difficulty after difficulty piling up on you and it seems like praying is useless – keep at it. Press through. God will take care of you.

God talking to us: Prophecy

“19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies, 21but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22Keep away from every evil kind.” I want us to look first at what is the key to understanding these verses, prophesy. And so I ask what is prophesy? We have to turn to 1 Corinthians since it is just mentioned here in 1 Thessalonians.

  • It consists of words the Spirit prompts you to say. It is a manifestation of the Spirit, like all spiritual gifts, which in this case comes in words – 1 Corinthians 12:7; 14:12. It might be a word of encouragement, insight or even challenge.
  • It is directed “to people,” in contrast to speaking to God – 1 Corinthians 14:3.
  • It is intended for “their strengthening and encouragement and comfort” – 1 Corinthians 14:3.

So prophecy is simply speaking out a word from the Spirit in your own words. It’s a part of the promise of Joel 2:28-29 that all believers will have the Spirit and prophesy. Although some are classified as prophets since they have a specific ministry in this, God can speak through any of his children to say a word of encouragement, insight or challenge.

Prophecy was a completely normal part of the life of the New Testament church. We see references to it throughout the New Testament. And it happens among us as well – from the pulpit, from Sunday school teachers, in our Sunday school classes and small groups and in our praise time. We don’t call it this necessarily, but it happens.

I wanted to give you a specific example today and so I asked God to give me a word for us today. I have actually already said it as a part of my teaching. If I were to say it as a prophecy in the congregation I would say it like this, “I believe the Spirit is asking us today – God spared nothing to be in relationship with us. So why do we make such little effort to be in relationship with him in prayer?”

Now let’s break down these verses and see how they fit together. “19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies.” These two phrases basically say the same thing. For it is the activity of the Spirit that animates prophecy. And so to quench the Spirit is to despise prophecies.

Quench is a fire metaphor. It is when you put out a fire. The Holy Spirit is compared to fire in several places (e.g. Matthew 3:11). And so to quench the Spirit is to suppress or restrain the movement of the Spirit among us.

To despise prophecies is to look down on them, reject them, to treat them with contempt. So both of these phrases are about restricting prophecy.

Why restrict prophecy? The answer is simple – it’s easy to abuse. I have seen this and perhaps you have as well. People can speak out their own opinions as if they were God’s, or mix the two together. People can speak out wrong teaching (see 1 Corinthians 12:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). People can speak out things that come from the flesh, from the world, from the evil one – and not from the Spirit.

  So there is certainly a temptation, perhaps especially by leaders, to suppress it; to look down on it. But Paul’s word to us is don’t quench it or despise it because of abuses, rather the answer is test prophecies (also 1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 John 4:1-3).

He doesn’t’ say anything here about how to do this but certainly testing it against the apostolic message, now written down in the New Testament is foundational (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Once we test what is said, we are to “hold fast what is good.” That is, receive what is truly from the Spirit. But if it is not of the Spirit we are to “keep away from every evil kind” of prophecy – that is, keep distance from receiving bad or evil prophecies. (Notice the spatial language hold on to the good, keep away from the bad) (Gordon Fee’s discussion of these verses is very helpful).

So any prophecy has to be tested. Any if you want to share I encourage you to test it yourself before you share. It might be a bit embarrassing for me or the Elders to have to correct you in front of the whole group. But I will if necessary.

Some questions to consider . . . Are we OK with people speaking out by the Spirit? (Maybe we are more comfortable when we don’t call it prophecy). We will find out because I want to give you a chance to do this next week during the praise time. Think about this. Can we expect the Spirit to move among us, which is what we pray for and desperately need, but only on our terms and in ways that we dictate? “Oh Spirit come and do your work; give us revival; transform lives among us; bring people into your kingdom. But don’t do anything that we are not comfortable with; don’t use any spiritual gifts; don’t let our routines get messed up. We want you, but only on our terms.” Do you think God hears this prayer?

Finally, do you quench the Spirit in other ways? Do you restrain the work of the Spirit in ways beyond the topic of prophecy. When the Spirit speaks to you, but you don’t like what you are hearing – do you suppress the Spirit? When the Spirit seeks to lead you but you don’t want to go – do you quench the Spirit?

I will tell you plainly – we need the renewal and transformation of the Spirit among us as individuals and as a congregation. But we will only receive this when we open ourselves up fully to the Spirit – no strings attached.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

[rewritten]

We are looking at five steps that you can take to overcome sin in your life; to overcome in the area where you struggle to do God’s will. Today we look at step #4. Once you are in a test, receive strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. Now, we need strength in a time of testing, because not only does Satan attack our mind, he attacks our heart – our desire to stay true to God.

 Satan pushes hard to get us to choose sin

And we are weak and prone to sin. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. And this is especially the case when we are put under pressure to do what’s wrong; when we are in a test. Satan wants to make it so that it is really hard to follow God and easy to sin.

When the pressure is applied, what happens is that there is a conflict between the desires of the Spirit, who encourages us to do God’s will even if it is hard and requires sacrifice, and the desires of the flesh, which want us to take the easy way out even if it means sinning against God. It’s like Paul said, “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” – Galatians 5:17.

We have to choose which way we will go – the desires of the Spirit or the desires of the flesh.

Let me give you an example of this conflict. I worked as a house painter when I moved to Boston in my 20’s. Well, when tax time came around I asked for my information and I found out that most of my pay was meant to be “under the table.” So I am on the phone with my boss and he is telling me this and I realize that he expects me to go along, because it helps him save money and if I don’t then my coworkers might have to start declaring their income and paying more taxes as well.

I was under pressure and I felt the conflict. I knew I should pay my taxes (Romans 13:7) and that this was a matter of integrity. But I didn’t want to lose the job; I didn’t want to cause my coworkers trouble; and I was poor and the thought of having more money was pretty appealing. I should probably just go along and get along. It’s just the way things are done, right?

This is a conflict between the desires of the Spirit and the desires of the flesh. We have all experienced this many times and in different ways.

Well, in times of testing, when we are struggling, what I am saying is that –

The Spirit can help us

So in your moment of weakness pray, “Spirit fill me and empower me. Give me the strength I need to do your will.” The Spirit is powerful and can enable us to overcome.

When we do this there is a death and resurrection that takes place within us. The wrongful desires of our flesh are crucified and the new life that God is raising up in us is more fully manifested.

Although the flesh is weak, Jesus also said, “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. That is, the Spirit is willing to help us. How does this work? Well, it is the Spirit of God that first gave us a new heart with new desires when we were born again. And the same Holy Spirit can strengthen our desires for righteousness in a time of testing, when the desires of the flesh seem to be prevailing so that our desire for righteousness is greater than our fleshly desires and so we choose to do God’s will.

As Paul said, “Walk by the Spirit (the power or strength of the Spirit), and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” – Galatians 5:16 (NRSV). The power of the Spirit gives us the strength we need to override the desires of our flesh.

What we are really doing when we do this is putting to death the desires of our flesh that oppose God. Paul writes in Romans 8:12-13, “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” By the Spirit, that is, the strength the Spirit gives us, we put to death the deeds of the body; we deny or say “no” to our fleshly desires that oppose God, so that we can do God’s will in our lives. As Jesus told us, we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross in this way daily – Luke 9:23.

Another way?

Now, often we try to overcome the desires of our flesh on our own. We don’t look to God for help. Sometimes we use rules or being hard on ourselves; sometimes even religious rules. Paul talks about, “self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body” and he says these, “are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” – Colossians 2:23.

Sometimes we rely on our own good intentions and will-power. And we may make some progress here or there, but there will always be areas where we fail. Paul describes such a person, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. . . Wretched man that I am!” – Romans 7:18-19; 24.

The problem with these other ways is that the flesh can’t fix the flesh. The power of sin is too strong. The flesh is too weak.

It is the Spirit alone who can set us free from the power of sin. As Paul says, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” – Romans 8:2. The Spirit sets us free! The Spirit enables us to do “the righteous requirement of the law,” that is, God’s will – Romans 8:4.

How do we receive strength from the Spirit?

We ask for it. We pray for the Spirit to come and fill us and empower us. This is the promise regarding receiving the Spirit, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” – Luke 11:10

We should pray this, opening ourselves up to the Spirit to change our hearts and strengthen us in righteousness.

Now, let’s illustrate this step with –

Peter and Jesus

First, Peter’s failure. He tried to stay true to Jesus, but he only relied on the power of the flesh. As you remember, he secretly followed Jesus after he was arrested and was outside in the courtyard where Jesus was being tried – Mark 14:66-72. Satan used the world to pressure him. The crowd put him on the spot. They said, “This man is one of them!” – Mark 14:69. And they did this three times. The third time it says, “Peter began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man (Jesus) of whom you speak’” – Mark 14:71.

Despite what he had said earlier, Peter wasn’t prepared to die for Jesus. When it came down to it he denied Jesus in order to save his life. Only relying on the power of the flesh and under pressure – he gave in. To use the words of James 1:14-15, Peter was “lured and enticed” by his desire to live. This “desire gave birth to sin.” He denied Jesus to save his life.

Jesus’ example. He received strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. Jesus didn’t want to die on the cross. He didn’t want to be abandoned by God. He didn’t want to come under the judgment of death.

But Jesus received strength from the Spirit. Again, “the flesh is weak,” but “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. And the Spirit was at work in him. You can see this in his prayer in Gethsemane, “not what I will, but what you will (God)” – Mark 14:36. His desire to do God’s will was greater than his desire to stay alive.

He received strength to undergo arrest, false accusation, mockery, torture, crucifixion and death. Jesus crucified the desires of his flesh in his heart, which led, in this case, to him offering up his body for literal crucifixion.

Do you receive strength from the Spirit?

When you are in a time of testing and you feel weak, do you ask God to empower you and enable you to do his will?

This is absolutely the key to overcoming sin in your life, above anything else we will talk about. Even if you want to do God’s will, you will find yourself in situations where you don’t have what it takes. You are too weak. And if you don’t access God’s power, you will fail.

The Spirit gives us power beyond what we have in ourselves – to do what is impossible in our own strength. And by this power we can deny any fleshly desire in order to do God’s will. Even when it is extremely difficult and involves self-sacrifice.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

We are looking at Five Marks of Spiritual Renewal trying to see what our Christian lives should look like, so that we can examine ourselves and see how we are actually doing. I suspect we already know where we are failing. But it is good to be encouraged to deal with what we already know about.

The first mark is Complete Yieldedness to God. And, as we saw last week, it is the key to all the rest. Because when we deal with our sins, then we are able to experience all that God has for us. And as we’ll see today it is the key that releases the Spirit to work in our own hearts, and then also to work through us to touch other people’s lives.

I want to begin by pointing out that . .

Our sin blocks the Spirit from working in and through us

When we don’t yield ourselves to God we grieve the Spirit. Did you know that you can do this? Paul says in Ephesians 4:30, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” We can cause the Spirit to be distressed, sorrowful, pained, sad; that’s what the word “grieved” means. We do this when we sin.

In the verses just before and after v. 30, Paul talks about various sins in the lives of Christians:  v. 25 – lying; v. 26 – inappropriate anger; v. 27 – stealing;   v. 29 – corrupt speech; and v. 31 – bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice. We grieve the Spirit through these things, and any other sins which we allow to remain in our lives.

Also when we don’t yield ourselves to God we quench the Spirit. Paul talks about this in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, “Do not quench the Spirit.” To “quench” means to suppress, or to extinguish, like putting out a fire. This is what we do when we sin. We put out the fire of the Spirit within us. We put a lid on what the Spirit wants to do. We shut the Spirit out of our lives.

And that’s why David prayed in Psalm 51:11, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” He was repenting of adultery and murder and he knew this would affect the Spirit’s presence in his life. And he didn’t want that to happen.

The result of our sin is that we hinder the work of the Spirit in us and through us. God is not able to do what he wants in us to strengthen and help us. And we are certainly not in a place where the Spirit can work through us to minister to others.

Instead of being filled with the Holy Spirit, we are empty. We are dried up spiritually. We are weak and helpless.

Now, the Spirit doesn’t give up on us. The Spirit still works to convict us of our sin and unrighteousness, as Jesus talks about in John 16:8. The Spirit waits for us to respond to deal with our sin.

And this is exactly what you should do. Yield yourself completely to God. Submit every area of your life to God. Hold nothing back. Deal with all your sins, your failures and your compromises. Remove all the hindrances to the Spirit’s full working in and through you.

And then, ask God for the Spirit to come into your life anew. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Luke 11:9. He goes on to say, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” – Luke 11:13

Once we have dealt with our sin and found forgiveness, the Spirit is free to come and work. All we need to do is ask in faith and God will give us of his Spirit.

This brings us to the fourth mark of spiritual renewal . . .

4. The Spirit comes to work in us

When the Spirit comes we come alive again. The Spirit’s presence rejuvenates us. As Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” When the Spirit is present, the Spirit brings forth life. Just as we were born of the Spirit when we first became a Christian, so our life is renewed when the presence of the Spirit comes again in fullness.

We are also transformed within. Instead of a heart of stone that is dead to God, as Paul says in Romans 5:5, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit works in us to produce change. Paul speaks of this as fruit in Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control.” Something new and different, happens within us.

And a part of this is that we are enabled to do God’s will. In Romans 8:4 Paul talks about how “the righteous requirement of the law” is “fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

And Jesus said in Mark 14:38, “the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” All of us have weaknesses and brokenness in us; our flesh is weak. And these are sorely tested in times of difficulty and trial. But the Spirit helps us to endure and to overcome despite our weaknesses and times of testing.

The Spirit not only comes into us to make us new, the fifth mark of spiritual renewal is that . .  .

5. The Spirit comes to work through us to minister to others

The Spirit empowers us. Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . .” throughout the world.  – Acts 1:8. The word power means also, strength and ability.

The disciples are a good example here. Before the coming of the Spirit, they were fearful. But once the Spirit came they were strengthened to speak with conviction and boldness.

The Spirit gives us words to say. Jesus says that when you are being persecuted and brought before the authorities and you are anxious about what to say, “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:12). And if God can give us the right words to say under such duress, how much easier in our everyday lives?

The Spirit gives us gifts or abilities. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Each one of us is to receive and use the gifts of the Spirit to minister to the needs of others. Paul mentions things like words of wisdom and knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues.

After giving these examples, he says, in 1 Corinthians 12:11, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

So we are not alone, or left to try to serve God in our own strength. The Spirit helps us in all these ways and more.

Let me end by saying that as we minister to others in the power of the Spirit, the cycle starts over. Those we minister to

1. Are convicted to yield themselves completely to God

2. They experience renewed relationships with God, and 3. others

4. The Spirit comes to work in, and 5. through them.

And the cycle continues, again and again. This is how spiritual renewal works.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

We’re looking at the gospel, that God is doing something new in the world. And how God invites each of us to be a part of it. And the first way to do this is to . . .

1. Believe

Now, it’s obvious enough that something is wrong with the world. We see it every day, evil, injustice, suffering and death. And we don’t just see it, we experience it ourselves. Its in the news headlines all the time: wars, murders, theft, hunger and oppression. Human suffering is all around us.

But Jesus came with good news. God has begun to act through him to make all things new! He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand . . . ” – Mark 1:15. Jesus is saying, its begun; and its begun with my coming.

And God confirmed that he was right:

  • God worked through Jesus’ ministry in amazing ways to manifest the kingdom, through healings, the casting out of demons and transformed lives.
  • And God raised Jesus up from an unjust death and made him Lord of all things.

God’s kingdom has begun with Jesus – his ministry and especially with his resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection heralds the decisive inbreaking of God’s new creation; of resurrection life.

In Jesus, God has begun to do away with the old – the evil and the suffering of our world, including death, and God has begun to bring in the new – life, joy and peace. And Jesus calls us to “. . . believe the good news” – Mark 1:15.

To be a part of this new thing that God is doing, this new creation, choose to believe that God is making all things new through Jesus.

2. Turn

We not only experience evil in our lives, we also practice evil. We are by nature self-centered. And because of this we often harm others, we practice injustice, we are cruel to others. If we wonder why the world is like it is, we only need to look at ourselves. We are the problem.

So Jesus came to teach us a new way of living.

  • He lived a life of love for God, doing what God wanted not what he wanted. He was “God centered” in his attitudes and actions.
  • And he lived a life of humble service to others, sacrificially loving everyone, including his enemies who killed him. He was “other oriented” in his attitudes and actions.

And Jesus not only modeled this for us, he calls us to turn from our ways, to learn his new way. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” -Matthew 4:17.  He calls for a change of mind and heart that leads to a change in our attitudes and actions.

To be a part of God’s new creation, turn from your old life and follow the new way of Jesus.

3. Receive

God hates injustice and evil more than anyone; all the pain and suffering that it causes. That’s why God has decreed that the penalty for wrongdoing is death.

But the depth of God’s love for us is beyond understanding. And so as God looks at us, under his judgment, he has taken pity on us. God doesn’t want us to die.

So God sent Jesus to set us free from his own decree of death by dying in our place. Because of this, we are given another chance! Now we can be made new ourselves.

  • We are made new by receiving the forgiveness for our sins. All the old is wiped away. This allows us to begin a new relationship with God and to have a new start on life.
  • We are also made new by receiving the Spirit of God. The Spirit gives us a new heart and a new power to walk just like Jesus walked. We don’t have to live like we used to. We have new life.

Jesus calls us to receive these gifts of new life when he says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7

To be a part of God’s new creation, receive God’s gifts of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit.

4. Belong

Jesus didn’t just come to make individuals new. Jesus came to gather a new nation; a movement made up of people from all tribes and nations and languages – all made new through him. This community is different from all the nations of the earth because it is under his lordship.

And Jesus called his people to bring others in so they can belong as well. He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19-20. Jesus wants everyone to be a part; to be baptized and to learn his ways.

This community is Jesus’ family. We become brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Like any family should, it will strengthen and encourage you as you follow Jesus in your new life.

To be a part of God’s new creation, belong to God’s new community.

5. Wait

That’s because God’s new creation will only be complete when Jesus returns on the final day.

  • Then evil, suffering and death will be destroyed forever.
  • Then there will be resurrection to eternal life, joy and peace.

Now, no one knows when this will happen. And God’s mercy is such that he delays, waiting for more to receive. And so we need to wait until God is finished. As Jesus said, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” – Mark 13:13.

As we wait we must continue to be faithful to:

  • Believe – for our faith will be tested.
  • Turn – from our failures and walk again in the way of Jesus.
  • Receive – forgiveness for our sins and the strengthening, renewing presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
  • Belong – to be a part and to be strengthened and to strengthen others in the community of Jesus.

If we do this, the Lord Jesus will gladly welcome us into God’s new creation, on that final day.

To be a part of God’s new creation, faithfully wait for Jesus to return.

————————–

This is the gospel, the good news of Jesus. I trust that wherever you are at – whether you need to believe, turn, receive, belong or continue faithfully waiting – that you will receive the word this morning by acting on it and moving forward.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »