Filled with the Spirit

April 29, 2011

I have often heard prayers like this prayed, “LORD fill us with your Holy Spirit so we might do mighty works in your name.” The implication this prayer hints at is that somehow the Spirit wasn’t given to us fully at conversion but that throughout our Christian life we need to keep having more Spirit added to us, or, that we received the full Holy Spirit at conversion but keep losing part of him so we need the LORD to keep replacing the lost parts of him.

Author of Spirit of Truth David Jackman makes the ludicrousness of this belief visible. He writes that the Holy Spirit is a person and not a force, so how is it possible to only have a part of him? He compares this to a person entering a house. That person can either be in the house or out of the house. He cannot be partly in the house and partly out of the house. And Christians are the house of God, whom the Spirit fully dwells in. Believers have all of the Holy Spirit at all times and unbelievers have none of the Holy Spirit at all times.

What can the Bible mean when it talks about being filled with the Spirit if it doesn’t mean that there is more Spirit to gain? Ephesians 4 and 5 shed light on this. It talks about following the example of God’s holiness and living a life of good works. It urges us not to be full of wine, which leads to sin but of the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). Intoxication of wine leads to a loss of control over the body. The wine takes charge and the person who has consumed the wine becomes unable to fully control their actions. The more a person is filled with wine the more it has control over his body.

Sin works in exactly the same way. The more we become filled or consumed with sin the more it takes control over our lives. However, more encouragingly, the more we become filled with the Spirit the more control he has over our lives. So what is it to be filled with the Spirit? It is to give him more control over our lives. We need to let him take control over every aspect of our life. It isn’t that we are in need to be filled with more Spirit, but that he is in need to fill more of our life.


A Defence from Modern Attack: A Creed

October 16, 2010

The original creeds were published nearly two thousand years ago. They were a response to the growing division of the church, so that the church could know what it believes. The general principle used was that scripture must make an excellent case for inclusion of a line in the Creed. However, these days many of the truths in the Bible that are under attack cannot be found in the Creed. For example, the atonement of Jesus on the cross being a payment for sin is not mentioned. This is because in the centuries the creeds were written this was not really an issue. However, in today’s society it is a huge issue. It is my belief that we need to produce new creeds using the same principles to defend the faith today in a divided generation. I have attempted this below. It is by no means perfect, and, feedback is always appreciated. It is my hope that this Creed defends the truths of scripture that are at stake today. The scriptures used to create this Creed are listed below.

We believe in One God in three Persons
We believe in the Father
Who created the entire universe and everything in the universe
He did this by and for the purpose of His Son the LORD Jesus Christ
He created man and woman equal in His image to be blameless and holy
He created them different and gave them complimentary roles
He brought man and woman into union with one another as the pattern for humankind
He punished them for their rebellion, through which all sin came into the world
We believe in a rebellious humankind who are guilty of disobeying God and deserving of punishment
Who cannot get right with God through good works
Who cannot get right with God through good intentions
Who cannot get right with God through His refusing to judge sin
We believe in the LORD Jesus Christ
Who is the only way to the Father
He is equally fully man and fully God
He came to die on a cross in order to receive the wrath of God as a punishment for sin
He wilfully gave up His life of His own accord not being pressured by His loving Father
He died not for the sins of the whole world, but for the sins of those who come to believe
He physically rose again on the third day showing that the price for sin was paid
He prayed that all believers would be united by the truth of what he taught
He taught the importance of praying to the Father
He commissioned us to preach the Gospel with words to all nations
He is LORD of all creation and we worship him with every being of our entire lives
He will come back and judge both the living and the dead
He will lead those who treated Him as LORD into His eternal presence
He will cast those who did not into Hell where they will receive eternal punishment
We believe in the Holy Spirit
Who loves nothing more than to glorify the LORD Jesus Christ
He inspired the scriptures in their perfect and final form
He led Paul to teach the Gospel so it may be passed down throughout the ages unchanged
He leads us today and gives us guidance by making the same scriptures known to us
He brings us into fellowship with other believers, which we call the church
He uses church to teach us the word of God so we can be equipped for works of service
We believe in One God in three persons
One crucified LORD is who is Risen
One unchanging Gospel which must be preached to all nations
And, One final judgement that leads to either eternal life or eternal condemnation

Col 1:16, Gen 1:27, Eph 1:4, Gen 2:20, Gen 2:23:24, Gen 3:15-19, Rom 5:12, Jn 14:6, Rom 3:25, Rom 3:22, Rom 3:23, Mk 10:45, Jn 10:18, Jn 20:20-21, Matt 6:5-15, Matt 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, Rom 10:9, Rom 12:1-2, 2 Tim 4:1, Rev 20:10-15, Rev 21:1-4, Acts 2:1-41, 2 Tim 3:16, Jn 16:13, Ti 1:1-4, Jn 16:13, 1 Thes 4:3, Ti 1:9, Acts 2:42-47, Eph 4:11-16

Living by Faith

June 25, 2010

As a Christian I know that I am saved by the grace of God through faith in the LORD Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8). Paul reminded the church in Galatia that they were saved by believing what they heard (Gal 3:2), and, our LORD Jesus himself told the woman who anointed him that her faith had saved her (Lk 7:50). However, we live in a society that is losing its grasp of biblical terminology. The modern atheist is quick to point out that living by faith is to take something on blind trust. They reason that believing in God cannot be proved rationally, nor, empirically, and therefore is no different from believing in the pixies at the bottom of the garden, or, the flying spaghetti monster. For this reason it is important to consider precisely what living by faith means. What does God have to say on the issue?

Consider Romans 3:21-26, a passage about living by faith in Jesus. Amongst its vast treasures I wish to assert two things about faith.

Our faith is based on eyewitness accounts
When an atheist questions faith he or she assumes that they are the only one who is basing their belief on evidence, or, on a lack of opposing evidence. However, my Christian faith is not blindly based on a desired wish, but is based on the eyewitness accounts of those who wrote the Gospels. God has decided to reveal his righteousness v21, which John Stott writes, is ‘God’s righteous initiative in putting sinners right with himself, by bestowing on them a righteousness which is not their own but his[i].’ And God has chosen to reveal this by the medium of scripture. The entire Law and Prophets, which is another way of saying the entire Old Testament, testify that God’s righteousness has been revealed v21. It is in this testimony that I can affirm my faith. Atheists may question the reliability of the Bible (Lee Strobel writes an excellent defence of scripture in The Case for Christ), but they cannot claim that my faith is not based on written evidence.

Our faith is based on an accomplishment
The way I sometimes speak of Heaven can accidentally convey the message that Heaven is a future hope that can only be confirmed once I arrive there. “I have faith that I will go to Heaven.” However, this passage in Romans guarantees that those who have faith in Christ will go to Heaven. God presented Jesus as an atoning sacrifice v25 approximately two thousand years ago in order to redeem us v24.

In the ancient world there was no welfare state. If a family got into debt they could sell themselves into slavery in order to raise the debt money. The price they sold themselves for was a new debt they had to pay to their new owners, which was called a ransom. Once this ransom price was paid the family were released from slavery, which was called being redeemed, or, an act of redemption.

Christians carried a debt of sin. However, Christ paid the ransom by offering himself into slavery. On the cross he became a slave to our sin and was punished accordingly with death, which was the agreed price for sin (Gen 3:17, Rom 6:23). Once Jesus had finished being punished the ransom was paid and Christians were redeemed from their slavery to sin.

Because I have been redeemed by Christ I can be assured of my Heavenly citizenship. The cross is an event in the past, which makes a Christian certain of his or her future even though that future has not happened yet. For example, many students this year will be moving into a new flat or house at the beginning of term. They are not yet a citizen of that flat or house, but, they will have already paid a summer retainer and deposit. This past exchange of money has guaranteed their future dwelling in their chosen flat or house. Jesus has made a past exchange with his blood to make certain our dwelling in Heaven. Atheists might be able to make the valid claim that Christians cannot know what my new home will be like, but, they cannot claim that I do not hold the key to my new home. The key is Christ’s blood, and he gave out that key over two thousand years ago whilst on the cross.

What is living by faith then? It is not as the Atheist suggests, living by a blind trust in a vague hope that what I believe is true. On the contrary, living by faith is too trust in the evidence that is written down in scripture by the eyewitnesses, in order to remind myself of the historical event that was Christ’s crucifixion, which reminds me of how Jesus’ sacrifice has already obtained my freedom from slavery to sin and guaranteed my citizenship in Heaven.

[i] Stott, J. (2008) The Message of Romans. (11ed) Nottingham, IVP.

Reasons to pursue holiness from a putrid and vile sinner

May 31, 2010

We live in a world that glorifies sin. Fresher weeks across the country encourage drunkenness. Sex before marriage is flaunted as normal practise on our television screens. Pornography is readily available on the Internet. Stealing is as easy as downloading, and the government wants to make it illegal to proclaim that practising homosexuality is an immoral act. Our world loves sin. This should not be surprising considering that the Bible says that those who do not know God love what he hates (1 Jn 2:15). Holiness is an unpopular concept even amongst Christians (we are sinners who desire to cling to our transgressions after all (Rom 7:22-23)), yet God desires that we live holy lives. Therefore, below I have decided to offer some reasons for why Christians should aspire to live in a manner that is worthy of being called holy.

a)   The LORD is holy. (Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16)
Above all else Christians should be holy because the LORD is holy. He is without fault and is blameless in all ways; this is his beauty. He is the blueprint for perfection and as his people who are created in his image we too should be like him. It is illogical for Christians to be in Christ and not holy (Col 3:1-3, 9-10). The LORD is holy; on this matter law and gospel agree.

b)   Scripture says so. (1 Thes 4:3)

Scripture is the medium in which God has chosen to reveal himself to humankind (Heb 1:1-2, 2 Tim 3:15), and God reveals in scripture that his will for each and every Christian is to be made holy (1 Thes 4:3).

c)   We are to fear God. (Deu 6:5).

Fearing God does not mean trembling before someone of whom you are afraid and doing acts they command in fear of being punished. Fearing God means giving God the reverence he deserves and obeying his commands in love of who he is. On this topic the Bible says that seeing God’s perfect character through the medium of scripture will cause us to fall in love with God more (Phil 1:9).

d)   We are to love what God loves (Jn 14:15)

Loving God will mean obeying him. I believe that some do not understand this concept. They understand that love is someone allowing them to do what they please, which is usually what feels good to them at that time. However, imagine a parent who restricts their son or daughter from taking drugs whilst insisting they get an education. This is the love God gives his children. It is a love that desires the very best for those who are in him (Rom 8:28). Loving and obeying God are not separable. Jesus commands total love and obedience.

e)   Christ died so we can be holy (Eph 5:25-26)

Jesus died on a cross not only so we can be saved but so that we can also be holy. This means that when we reject the notion that Christians must live holy lives we also reject the fact that Jesus died on a cross to sanctify us.

f)     By sinning we add to Christ’s punishment (Rom 3:5-6)

On the cross Jesus suffered the wrath of God for every one of each Christians’ sin. If you are a Christian then Jesus suffered the punishment for each one of your sins. This means that every time you sin you have added to the punishment that Jesus suffered on the cross in order to save you. This alone should be encouragement enough to live a holy life: which of Jesus’ children wants to be actively responsible for adding to their saviours’ punishment?

g)   Holiness is the only evidence of our salvation (Js 2:17)

Christians receive the Holy Spirit upon conversion (1 Cor 1:21-22). He is our guarantee that we are headed towards Heaven (2 Cor 5:5). His job is to sanctify us (Rom 5:3-5). His work of sanctification in our lives is the only evidence we have of our salvation. If a Christian claims to be a Christian but does not act like Christ then he walks in darkness and not light (1 Jn 1:5-7).

h)   Holiness is the only evidence that we love Christ (Jn 14:15)

Jesus says that those who love him will obey his commands. It is logical to assume that those who do not obey his commands do not love Jesus. The only evidence we have of loving Jesus is measured by whether we obey him.

i)     Practising holiness will mean that we are more likely to act holy towards others (Lev 19:18)

God commands that we love our neighbour as we love ourselves. This is a hard thing to act out as our default sinful behaviour is to desire the good of ourselves. However, if we are practising holiness regularly we will be more likely to have holiness as our default position and treat others with the love Christ showed us.

j)     We will never enjoy Heaven without Holiness (Rev 21:27)

Heaven will be a place of perfect holiness. There will not be found a single sin or a blemish of ungodliness. Heaven will be completely unlike the sinful world. God is using our life now to prepare us for an eternity of perfect righteousness. If we do not desire holiness now then we will not desire Heaven. God is the epitome of holiness, and his home is in Heaven.

I pray that these reasons to strive for holiness have been encouraging. I have certainly been challenged by my inability to be holy through my continual desire to reject God and his love. May God continue to work sanctification in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit via the medium of his word as it reveals the work and love of Jesus Christ so that the Father might be glorified through our holy living.

Advice for Sharing the Gospel from Someone in dire need of Advice

April 8, 2010

I have found at university that it is not an uncommon thing for a member of the Christian Union to be under confident in their knowledge of the Gospel, which whilst ironic since the primary purpose of the CU is to evangelise, is also somewhat a relief considering I too fit into this category. Many times I have tried to practise evangelism by explaining the Gospel to myself, but often my thoughts have become confused. I know that we are saved by grace and that it has something to do with the cross. And the Holy Spirit figures somewhere doesn’t it, err he? And there is something to do with good works but they definitely do not save us. Surely there must be a simpler way to explain the Gospel?

Evangelist Rico Tyce, author of Christianity Explored, has been known to say that the British have forgotten how to evangelise and that it has taken Australian Christians in order to re-teach them. How fortunate it then was that one Sunday morning I was able to press Australian evangelist John Chapman for advice on how to share the Gospel.

Summing up the Gospel

Before I reveal what John Chapman said I want to first recall what I once heard British Christian Justin Mote teach. He said that Jesus sums up the Gospel in Mark 1:15:

15“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” – Mark 1:15

To set the context, “The time has come,” and “The kingdom of God is near,” point to the time period between Jesus’ first coming and his second coming. It is the time in history in which God has given people the chance to “Repent and believe the good news.” Justin taught that the Gospel can be summed up in six words. “Repent and believe the good news.” This was exceptionally comforting news to someone like me who thought the Gospel was complicated.

Returning to the advice Australian evangelist John Chapman gave. He said that the Gospel is simply this: “Jesus is lord and Jesus is saviour.” I see his point. Jesus says, “Repent and believe the good news.” In order for people to repent they need to see that they are unworthy before God [Rom 3:23], and that they should follow his decrees [Lk 8:21]. He is their only lord. For people to believe the good news they need to understand that there is nothing they can do in order to win favour with God [Gal 2:15-16], and that they must place their entire hope in Jesus trusting that he died to make them right with God [1 Pet 3:18]. He is their only saviour. Preaching that people should repent and believe the good news is the whole Gospel summed up and is a great thing for us to tell our friends.

Further reflection on John Chapman’s Gospel summary led me to believe that there are two dangers when sharing the good news. Either I might be tempted to overemphasise repent, or I might be tempted to overemphasise believe. I wondered what would happen to those I spoke the Gospel if I preached repent without believe, or believe without repent. The answer I deduced is that they might be tempted to believe that Jesus is lord but not saviour, or tempted to believe that Jesus is saviour but not lord. I want to reason that believing either of those is a dangerous thing.

The Danger of accepting Jesus as Lord but not as Saviour

By accepting Jesus as the rightful Lord of our lives we will follow him and obey his commands. This is a good thing. However, if we fail to acknowledge Jesus as our only saviour then we will try to get to God by keeping his laws and this is utter foolishness. Jesus alone has paid for every one of our sins.

The Danger of accepting Jesus as Saviour but not as Lord

To see that Jesus is our only saviour is the heart of the Gospel. However, if we fail to acknowledge that Jesus is lord then we will believe that we can sin as much as like and still be saved. There is a half truth in this sentence. No matter what sin we have committed we can be forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross. This is done through our repentance, by accepting that what we have done is wrong and needs forgiving. But it is impossible for us to repent of an act if we do not believe what we did is wrong. To be saved we need to accept that we are spiritually sick and repent of our sin. In order to repent we must truly hate what is offensive in God’s eyes. We cannot do this if we think that Jesus’ death is a license to freely commit sin. Jesus is our lord if we claim to be a Christian and we must obey him.

I feel that there is a difference in me now when I come to share my faith. Am I still afraid when I evangelise? Yes. Am I still under confident in my Gospel knowledge? Yes. Am I still unsure what to say to people? No. “Jesus Christ is both lord and saviour, so repent and believe the good news.”

Loved Yesterday, Today and Forever

April 2, 2010

With it being Good Friday it is great time to be reminded of the core Gospel truth: That God loved the sinful world so much that He came to earth in the form of a lowly human to suffer an agonising death on a cross as a once and for all perfect sacrifice for the sins of those who trust Jesus. It is an awesome truth that shows to what extent God was willing to go in order to have a loving relationship with His people, and it serves as the primary motivation of worship to Him. As the scriptures say:

19We love because [God] first loved us. – 1 John 4:19

I was reminded today that what is specifically remembered on Good Friday is something that should be joyfully remembered daily. It is the foundation of all Christian belief and the reason for the hope God’s people have in Heaven. Furthermore, without the cross the true extent of God’s love cannot be seen. How great it is to commemorate the death of Jesus in celebration. And so as God’s people lavish themselves on this Good Friday with the beautiful grace that God has provided, I desire to offer three encouragements from scripture that will help with the joy of daily revelling in God’s love.

God loved His people so much that He created them foreknowing He would have to die on a cross

4For [God] chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – Ephesians 1:4-5

There is an age old question that goes like this: If a parent was planning to have a baby but had the foreknowledge that their child was going to grow up into an evil person, should they still decide to have that child? It is a tough question to answer. Many people use examples like Hitler, or Stalin to illustrate the severity of giving birth to a child who will grow up to become evil. They question whether it is worth having a child who will cause countless evils. I personally would not know how to answer that question were I asked it. But, God does have an answer. He has already answered that question by deciding to create humanity. God foreknows all things. He foreknew the fact that Adam & Eve would rebel against Him in the Garden of Eden and cause the fall of humanity. God foreknew that He would have to come down to earth and suffer the punishment for sin on a cross in order to be able to have a loving relationship with His children. And yet He still chose to create them in spite of this.

God loves His people with the exact same love He loved them with on the cross

8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. – Hebrews 13:8

I was recently struck by how readily I affirmed this scripture without truly understanding its riches. I acknowledged the fact that God was the same today as He had always been, but I always carried the underlying assumption that His love was greater for me at the cross because of the amount of suffering Jesus was willing to endure in order that I enter His kingdom. It was almost as if I felt His love for me today had diminished because He was no longer going to great lengths for me. I look back now and realise how me-centred this was. God was gracious towards my ignorance. He pointed out that the love with which Jesus was willing to die for His people is the exact same love He has for them this very day. This means that the love Jesus showed for His people when He choose to be brutally flogged by whips, cruelly pierced by nails, viciously humiliated with insults and forsaken by the righteous wrath of God, is the exact same love He has for His people today and will continue to have for them forever.

God will continue to show His people His love in Heaven by continually reminding them of the cross

11Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” – Revelation 5:11-12

Current society is production driven. Goals and targets are assigned and expected to be met. How these targets are achieved is of little importance, as long as the means leads to the ends. It is possible that this culture has influenced some Christian thinking. It certainly affected me. I assumed that once I was in Heaven (the ends) that Jesus’ death on the cross (the means) became largely academic, a thing of the past. But the striking truth recorded in Revelation is that God’s people never stop praising Jesus for His wonderful death. This should not be surprising considering that the cross is where Jesus’ majesty, glory and beauty can be seen most clearly. A king’s throne is the centre of his power and it is the cross that is Jesus’ throne. It is by remembering Jesus hanging on His throne that His people are reminded of His holiness and their sinfulness, and are therefore able come to a deeper understanding and adoration of His awesome love and perfect justice which He brilliantly masterminded through His plan the cross.

It is my prayer that these three encouragements has helped to show that God not only loved His people with the love He showed them on the cross whilst He was suffering, but that He also loved His people with that exact same love before He had even created them, and that He will continue to love them with that exact same love forever and ever because God loves His people the same yesterday, today and forever.