Saturday, 19 June 2010

A Spirit Filled Life & Church

Back to Pentecost and the things of the Spirit
Jesus on the last day of the feast “cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive…” (John 7:37-39). Then in John 20 he breathes on the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Receive in the Greek means, receive now, at this moment.

Initial Experience
Throughout the book of Acts there are various ‘initial’ experiences of the Spirit

• Disciples at Pentecost Acts 2,
• Samaritans – Acts 8,
• Saul/Paul – Acts 9,
• Cornelius (Gentiles) – Acts 10
• Ephesus – Acts 19

An Ongoing Experience
In fact throughout the New Testament you see not only initial experiences but an ongoing experience of the Spirit, a dynamic of life about the church. As Larry Tomczac put it some years ago, “Remove the pages from the book of Acts where supernatural activity is recorded and there’s hardly anything left!” Larry Tomczak, Beyond the Ordinary – A Supernatural Lifestyle, Restoration Magazine, July/August 1990, Harvestime Publications, Leicester.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “The essence of the Christian position is experience – experience of God! It is not a mere intellectual awareness or apprehension of truth.” Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Ephesians Chapter 6:10-13 – The Christian Warfare, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh (1976) – (p197).

“The Spirit is thus the empowering Presence of God for living the life of God in the present”. Gordon Fee, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God, Hodders, p183.

Such experiences of the Spirit were the normal part of church life for the first 8 centuries of its life. They were the very soul of the church, take them away and you have a body, a form, a structure. Excesses crept in, theological balance was sought, but the balance tipped too far in the other direction, and such experiences of the Spirit began to die out and the church became institutionalised. Form became everything. There was no longer any expectation of such a thing.

Lloyd-Jones said, “If your doctrine of the Holy Spirit does not leave any room for revival, then you cannot expect this kind of thing. If you say the baptism of the Spirit was once and for all on Pentecost and all who are regenerated are just made partakers of that, then there is no room left for this objective coming, this repetition, this falling of the Holy Spirit in power and authority on a church. But thank God – there IS room left! The teaching of Scripture plus the long history of the Christian church shows this so clearly.” Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable, Kingsway Books, Eastbourne, p44o.

‘There must be more than this’
Praise God there have always been people who have not accepted the status quo and said ‘there must be more than this,’ people who are hungry for the reality, and so there have been revivals, fresh outpourings of the Spirit, new manifestations of His presence and power.

Paul exhorts, no, commands in Ephesians, “Ever be filled and stimulated with the (Holy) Spirit.” Eph 5:18 AMP

Bible Versions

Just side stepping things at the moment, this week I purchased a Holman Christian Standard Bible having read something about it on the internet.

I had briefly considered it some time ago but got taken up with the English Standard Version, which for a few years now has been my main study/preaching bible, but, having read more about this one and bought a copy (just under £5 and an excellent example at that price!), I’ve been suitably impressed by the translation, so much so that I’m beginning to think of moving over to it!!!!

Not only is the translation good (it also includes many of the verses missed out of modern bibles, which has been a real issue for some people), it reads extremely well having moved away from what some term ‘Biblish.’ In many ways I think it stands between the NIV and ESV as transalations go.

You can find out more about it here:

Friday, 11 June 2010

Pentecost - Past Event or Present Reality?


What a day in the life of the church! And what a difference it made to those who were there! In fact if you took the dynamic of the Holy Spirit out of the book of Acts you wouldn’t have a story to tell.

The big question is, is it simply a past event or should it be a present reality? The question has caused all sorts of discussions and disagreements in the church. Church history though reveals that it experienced the Spirit in a powerful and dramatic way for at least the first 8 centuries – so such experiences certainly didn’t die out with the Apostles. So much for cessationism.

Then time and again throughout church history to this day there have been breakouts of the Spirit’s dynamic activity. The history of revival is largly a history of Spirit movements. They’ve not always or rarely have been tidy, but then neither was what was going on at the church in Corinth.

The problem is that when it’s no longer, or never has been our experience, instead of questioning our lack of experience we want to justify oursleves, our lack of it, so we go to the Scriptures and seek to make them fit.

To tight a theology

I grew up in a cessationist backgroud, I know the arguments, and Church and the Christian life were predictable. Then in my late teens I came into an experience of the dynamic of the Holy Spirit while I was still trying to get my head round it! The experience changed my life and witness.

I studied and developed my theology, and thought I understood, but over the years as I have gone back to the scriptures I have found that my neat and tidy package was neater than the Bibles! My conclusion? The desire to have such a neat and tidy package may have more to do with our western mindset, and little to do with God.

A straightforward reading of the scriptures gives the game away. It uses overlapping words/terminologies for the various experiences of the Spirit, and maybe, just maybe this all part of God’s design. After all, if we could define the experience and nail it down, then we could package it and God would become predictable.

But God will not allow himself to be boxed in or used by man or woman … God is still a mystery. God will not allow himself to be reduced to a formula.

Symbols & Expressions

The very symbols and expressions should tell us that: wind, fire, oil, fell upon, baptised (immersed), filled, drink, etc. …. God in his Word has used a whole range of earthly symbols and descriptive terms to show us something of the variegated work of the Spirit.

So, past event or present reality? God never intended that the experience of the Spirit should come ‘to pass,’ but to be the continuing and variegated experience of the people of God through every generation, in every land.

The promise is for you and your childrens children, and to all who are afar off. (Acts 2:39)

Friday, 4 June 2010

The Gospel/Good News

Three things to note about the Gospel:

  • The gospel is central to faith in God. There is no other name, no other way to know God.
  • The gospel is central to the church. It is the centre and circumference of the church’s existence. We exist because of the gospel, we exist for the cause of the gospel. If we forget the gospel we are in trouble! The great need of our world is not more politics or education it is salvation – a saviour.
  • The gospel is essential to the Christian life – without it we are in trouble. The gospel is as essential to the Christian life as it is to salvation.

Five problems we face today concerning the gospel:

  1. The me gospel, or the gospel as a therapy: in the modern western world of the 21st century it’s all about me, my story, what’s in it for me, and for many the gospel has simply become a means of self-improvementit’s about me, what it does for me, and a home in heaven when I die. In our therapeutic society the gospel then becomes simply another competing therapy, something to help soothe away the trials and pains of life. When we do this we make the gospel subjective, inward. It’s about what I do or don’t feel. In one sense that’s about as far from the gospel as you can get.
  2. An overemphasis on our role in the gospel that leads to confusion: modern evangelical revivalism has placed a lot of emphasis on inviting Jesus into our hearts; on our repentance, our faith, our decision in making Jesus our/my personal Lord and Saviour. So it becomes more about what I do than what he has done, and the outcome of that type of thinking is that it then causes me/us to look inwardly for assurance instead of outwardly. We ask the questions, have I believed enough? Did I do it in the right way? Is he there?
  3. A blurring of the gospel: over recent years some in evangelical circles have reworked the gospel, and now speak of final justification. In other words we receive grace to change our lives and the change results in our ultimate justification which is nothing short of the Roman Catholic teaching on infused righteousness!
  4. A lack of the knowledge of God: How many are aware today of the awesome holiness of God? Much today is made of the love of God, and what we have is no more than ‘sloppy agape’ as someone has put it. We must not speak of the love of God at the expense of his absolute (and terrifying) holiness. That is to trivialise God, to make himj in our image. In fact it is only in the light of God’s awesome holiness that is resplendent and amazing love shines through!
  5. A lack of the knowledge of sin: Today it is common to say that humaity is sick, but the Bible says it’s worse than that, humanities problem is utter sinfulness and rebellion. We have fallen totally.

When sin is no longer an issue, and God’s holiness and wrath no longer a problem, Christ’s cross is no longer needed as the solution. You will NEVER understand the gospel without the knowledge of God and the knowledge of sin.

What is the Gospel?

  1. The gospel is first and foremost an objective announcement about what God has done in Christ. The gospel calls us to look away from ourselves, our world. It is UNREPEATABLE FACTS. It is God’s story. God has ACTED. It’s not about us, how he fits into our story but how we fit into his! Mark 1:1: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”“This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. ….. Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”” (Act 2:32, 33, 36). We do not make Christ Lord, or Saviour. God has made him such already.
  2. The gospel announces a different relationship with God based on Christ. Everyone is in some kind of relationship to God whether they like it, realise it, or not. The question is what kind of relationship? The gospel brings about a changed relationship to God. It is not how God might help us in our world but how we might be right with him in His. The gospel is not about how we become Christians, it is the message about Christ that brings about conversion. God justifies the ungodly! We confess Christ as Lord and Saviour; We surrender to his claims, it is not something we make him to be for us. The gospel then is an objective announcement based on the facts of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, not a subjective experience based on how we feel.
  3. The gospel is a life transforming message. The Gospel doesn’t depend on anything in us. It is an external word, outside and beyond us, but near to us in Christ, and made real to us by the Spirit. It is both a justifying and transforming word. We are made new n Christ.

Sanctification is a ‘lifelong process of letting that Good News sink in and responding appropriately.’ If we do not understand the gospel and its justifying message it will not be long before our sanctification becomes our justification – We can only fulfil the imperatives of Scripture when we’ve understood the gospel.

Some practical aspects

  • Our worship: it’s about the Big Story, not our little one. it’s about remembering, rehearsing & proclaiming. It’s all about HIM. Taking our eyes off our tiny little lives and reconnecting with HiStory. As we do this the church will be what it should be, a well of living water in the wilderness.
  • Our faith: We personally need to drink and drink again of the well of salvation. It is not only the power of God unto salvation for the unsaved but also for those who are saved. It takes the emphasis off ourselves and puts it on Christ. If we don’t, as I said before, our sanctification will become our justification rather than our justification fuelling our sanctification.
  • Our witness: we are not witnesses to our selves, but Christ and his Word. We should “not be ashamed of the gospel,” for there is no other name, no other faith, no other person, no other way – Jesus only is our nessage.

We need to focus on faithfulness to the gospel, not fads (they come and go), not programs (I’m not saying they all bad, but they can become the thing!), or goals. What we win people with, we have to keep them with. If you win them with music you keep them with music. If you win them with the latest thing you have to keep them with the latest thing. Fads come and go and we must be careful not to get drawn into them. The Gospel though is timeless and must be the reason. We are here to preach Jesus.

  • We need then to be preaching the gospel in all that we do. Everything needs to be gospel oriented.
  • We need to be calling people to repent and believe in Christ, who alone can save.

The church needs to be and must be Gospel centred, the gospel must guide and direct its whole focus. Jesus said, “GO into all the world and preach the gospel” The gospel IS the good news. Jesus Christ has lived and died and risen again. He is the Saviour. There is salvation in no other. The gospel must be at the centre of all that we do.