1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years
2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).
Some other housecleaning:
A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.
B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.
C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.
D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.
As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.
OK, now we’re going to go into some territory on which Bible-believing Christians disagree. It’s sadly ironic that the Spirit, who is supposed to unify all believers in one body, is the subject of such division in that same body. I’ve said it before, and I have no hesitation in repeating it: I have plenty of dearly-loved siblings in Christ who disagree with me about some of this stuff. I have no problem worshiping with them, and I have no doubts about their salvation or their sincerity. But I'm thoroughly convinced that they’ve misinterpreted Scripture on some things regarding the work of the third Person of the Trinity.
This is one of those issues on which we’re just going to have to disagree, namely the baptism of the Spirit. A lot of churches and denominations and sincere believers teach that there's some kind of tier system regarding the Christian life. They contend that it’s entirely possible for someone to get saved and then go through a period of time in which they don’t have all of the Holy Spirit, or at least all that the Spirit offers. They believe in a “second blessing” of some type, in which the Christian’s growth goes into overdrive. And they call this the “baptism of the Spirit.” Once you’ve been baptized in the Spirit, you’re on another plane of discipleship and close fellowship with the Lord.
The kindest word I can use for that notion? Nonsense. Let’s take a look at the phrase as Scripture talks about it.
The first time it’s mentioned is in the Matthew passage above. John the Baptist promised the Messiah would come and—in stark contrast with himself—would baptize people with “the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Considering the context of the passage, I'd interpret the “baptism with fire” to not be referring to Pentecost but the Last Judgment. Remember that baptism is actually kind of a made-up word. When scholars were working on an English translation, they basically transliterated the Greek word baptizo into baptism. It literally means “to immerse” or “submerge.” If you take an Oreo cookie and dunk it into milk until it’s completely submerged, that’s “baptizing” it. The only reason you don’t see it as just rendered “immersed” in the English translation is because some translators came from a church tradition in which they sprinkled water on infants. They didn’t like the fact that the Greek word simply means “immerse,” so they--quite frankly--made up a word in order to fit their church tradition. You can guess how I feel about that.
Let’s look at 1 Cor. 12:12-13. In any church that’s been established and growing for a while, you have a wide variety of maturity among members. You (hopefully) have members who are new Christians who just got saved recently, and you have members who've walked with the Lord for decades, and people in between. Unfortunately, the Corinthian church, which you know if you’re familiar with this epistle, had more than its share of immaturity. Most of the book of 1st Corinthians is made up of Paul ripping them up one side and down another. But he can say, unequivocally, that “we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.” Not some, not most. All. The guy who got saved last week and the one who could give Paul a run for his money in walking close with the Lord.
Friend, let me make this as clear for you as possible. If you're a believer in Christ, then you've been baptized by the Holy Spirit. It's not dependent on your performance or your day-by-day decisions. It was decided once and for all once you received Christ. You don’t get saved and then sometime later undergo Spirit-baptism.
Now, just to clear up any further confusion, you aren't baptized into the Spirit. Take a close look at vs. 13, and substitute the word “immersed” for the word “baptized.” We know from Matthew that Jesus does the immersing, but apparently he does this by means of the Spirit. You are submerged--and permanently merged—into the body of Christ, like a drop into an ocean.
Now, why am I making such a big deal over this? Remember, I’m a practical theologian. I don’t raise an issue just to start an argument with my fellow believers. You're told by certain well-meaning people that if you don’t exhibit certain signs or certain gifts, you're basically a second-class citizen in God’s kingdom. You might be saved, but you haven’t really experienced the Holy Spirit until you’ve experienced “Spirit-baptism.” That’s not only nonsense; it's destructive nonsense.
If you’re saved, you’ve already experienced all the Spirit-baptism you’re going to experience. You have all the Spirit now that you will ever need. Right now. You are not a second-class citizen in God's Kingdom. Tomorrow we’re going to look at the real problem, something you do need to do after you're saved. But's it's not being baptized by the Spirit.
Lord Jesus, thank you for placing me within your body. I know some of my siblings drive me nuts sometimes, but I’m sure I do the same to them. Please give me patience with them, and please give them patience with me.
We discussed this topic a little bit back in May when we discussed soteriology, so some of this might seem familiar to you. But even though it’s sort of the same topic, there are some aspects of it I didn’t get to back then which I’d like to address now.
As you’ll recall, John wrote his epistle--along with some issues regarding a heresy called Gnosticism—for one main purpose. He wanted truly saved Christians to be assured of their salvation, and he wanted nonbelievers who'd fooled themselves into thinking they were saved to be stripped of any false assurance. He presented three tests for anyone thinking they were truly saved. If you passed the tests, you’re fine. If not, then you need to examine yourself. The tests were: 1) Right beliefs, 2) Right affection (love for siblings in Christ), and 3) A right direction in your lifestyle.
Again I need to make this point, since some Christians and even some denominations are confused on this. We still sin as believers. I’m going to struggle with sin until I see Jesus face-to-face, and there are few days I can remember in which I didn’t need to confess and repent of something.
But please note the careful wording I made in point # 3. The question is not “Do you still sin?” The question is “What direction are you taking in this area?” Are you heading towards better obedience and more faithfulness, or are you wallowing in a sinful lifestyle?
That’s how most Evangelical teachers interpret today’s passage, and that’s why the NIV translates it as “continue to sin.” The NASB renders it “practices” sin. If someone claims to be a saved, blood-bought redeemed child of God and still practices an unrepentant sinful lifestyle, then the Bible offers him no assurance of salvation. Actually it does quite the opposite.
How does this work out in my own life? I know I placed my trust in Christ as a young adult, but I still screw up. Here’s what's happened: I can’t get away with sin anymore. There are things I used to be able to do with impunity, like cussing, which I can’t do anymore. I used to love pornography. Now any lustful look I afford to a scantily clad girl on the street brings enormous guilt. I can’t enjoy sin anymore.
That’s the difference between a child of God and someone who’s not. My favorite illustration that someone gave me years ago is that of a fish and a man. A fish doesn’t mind being in water. If he could actually think like we do, he wouldn’t even have a word for "wet" in his vocabulary, because he’s never experienced or even dreamed about any other environment. It’s his natural element. But a man’s natural element in not underwater. He can’t breathe water. If he fell into a pool, he couldn’t just sink to the bottom and continue his normal activities. He might even swim around for a while, but he can’t live down there. That’s not his home.
That’s the work of the Spirit. We have a new life implanted within us at the new birth, given to us by the life-giving Spirit. The same Spirit who breathed life into the first man (Adam) and the corpse of the Lord Jesus (the second Adam), breathes life into us. He plants his life in us. That’s why we can’t just keep living like we once did. I don’t mean “we can’t” in the sense of “we shouldn’t” or “It’s really bad if we do. . .” I mean it in the sense of “We can’t jump into the water and breathe in it like a fish.” He won’t let us.
All of this, by the way, is a wonderful act of love. Aren’t you glad that he won’t just let you wander off into a self-destructive life of sin? As someone once told me, “He loves you exactly as you are, and too much to leave you that way.” That’s a good thing, isn’t it?
Holy Spirit of God, you won’t let go of me, will you? No matter what I do, no matter how much I deserve it. Thank you.
Yesterday we looked at the first characteristic of the New Covenant which God promised, namely that instead of writing his Law on stone, he'd write it on our hearts. Once we place our faith in Christ, God the Holy Spirit starts the process of changing our attitudes which will eventually overflow into our actions. Your thoughts will--sooner or later—express themselves in how you live. Only the New Covenant as initiated by Jesus Christ can actually change you from the inside-out.
But there’s a second characteristic, and it deserves a day of its own, since it can be a little confusing. What does the Lord mean when he promises that "No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest"?
First, let’s clear this up by clarifying what it does not mean. It doesn’t mean that under the New Covenant (under which we live right now), there’s no further need for teachers. Teaching is listed multiple times as one of the gifts the Spirit gives the Church. Until Christ returns, there will always be a need for people to take God’s word and help God’s people understand and apply it. I’d like to think I have this gift; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing this blog.
So what is the verse referring to? Think about the situation under the Old Covenant and contrast that with today. The Holy Spirit didn’t come inside and make each individual believer a permanent residence like today. He came upon certain individuals for a certain length of time for a specific purpose, and then he might or might not leave. The average believer didn’t have the Spirit to illuminate the Scriptures for him. That’s what the priests were for. They studied the Law (or were supposed to) and were God’s representatives among the people. If you had a question, you went to a priest.
Or if the nation needed a new word from God, that’s what the prophets were for. They were God’s messengers, and the words from their mouths had equal weight and authority to the Torah. But unless and until one of them showed up, the regular believer just had to go with what the priests told him. Keep also in mind that most people would be illiterate and would have little or no direct access to a copy of the Torah anyway. So do you see why the Lord was so hard on priests who went astray?
All that changed when the New Covenant in Christ was initiated. Now every believer has direct access to God through Jesus, our great High Priest. We can come to him anytime day or night to his throne of grace and ask him for answers or direction. Through his complete word and through the guidance of the Spirit, we can know everything we need to know. No earthly priest is needed! That's the sense in which there's no more need for teachers in this age.
And in the next age, I think this verse will be completely fulfilled. Everyone on earth will know God on a personal level, so there really won't be any need ever again for anyone to tell his neighbor "Let me tell you about the Lord!" Witnessing will be obsolete once Christ comes back.
Before we get to the last characteristic, I’d like to make a quick application here. Maybe we need a reminder of this sometimes: You have as much access to God through Jesus Christ as I do. I’ve been a leader in my church, and for some reason some people have seemed to think my prayers carry more “weight” than those of a lay person. Absolutely not. I’m more than happy to pray for them, but I’m not a priest, at least not one as distinguished from anyone else. We have only one priest here, and we need only one. You have access now. Use it.
Finally there’s the one aspect of all this which really is essential. There’s a Latin phrase that’s actually pretty helpful here: Sine qua non. It literally means “Without which, not.” Without this one thing, nothing else works. It’s there in the last phrase of the passage: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Notice that little preposition here: “For.” All the other benefits of the New Covenant (knowing God personally, having his Law written on my heart, etc.) only can take effect if the one problem is taken care of: my sin. Once that’s dealt with, once my sin is forgiven and forgotten, then we can have the intimate fellowship these verses describe. This is a little off-topic, since the Agent of this is mostly Christ instead of the Spirit, but I thought we could all use a little reminder. Our sins are forgiven and forgotten. He’s not going to bring them up again. Ever. Aren’t you glad?
Father, thank you for your Spirit, which is the connection between you and me. I have an intimate relationship with you that the believers in the Old Testament could only dream of. Let’s take advantage of that, shall we?
Throughout history, there've been lots of theories about how to make a better world. Some politicians seem to think we can make a better society by instituting better government programs. The Soviet Union used to boast about how they were building a “new man.” Every religion out there has a new set of rules or a new program to follow to make you a better person.
They’re all missing the point, and this is best illustrated by one of my favorite Bible-based movies of all time: The Prince of Egypt. Produced by Steven Spielberg, it presents in awe-inspiring detail the story of Moses as told in the book of Exodus. It goes through the parting of the Red Sea and the devastation of Egypt’s army. For the most part, it’s either faithful to the Scriptures or at least doesn’t contradict them, and its depiction of his first encounter with the Lord at the burning bush sent chills up my spine. I had one major problem with it, however. The final scene shows Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments in his arms. He returns to the Hebrews, and they are all staring up at him in awe, eagerly waiting for the word from God that he’s about to give them.
Is that what really happened? Um, no. Quite the opposite. When he came down from the mountain, he found them in a sexual orgy as they worshiped a Golden Calf. That’s right: God hadn't even finished giving the Ten Commandments to us before we broke them. I understand why Spielberg wouldn’t want to show that in an animated movie for kids, but his depiction of what occurred when humanity received the Ten Commandments is not just deceptive: It illustrates the fundamental difference between how all religions view our problem/solution and how the Bible views it.
You see, as far as the world is concerned, all we need are the right set of rules. These set of rules don’t work, so let’s try another set of rules. No, those don’t work either, but surely these will do the job! Friend, if all we needed were the right set of rules, then the Torah would have succeeded long ago. I mean, really—Do you think we’re going to come up with a better set of rules than that? As Paul put it, “[If] a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law,” referring to the Old Covenant.
Is the problem with the Torah? Of course not. Again, as Paul said, “[The] law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” In this one case, the “rules” were given directly by God himself. Today’s passage gives both the problem we have and the solution he offers. Let’s look at it.
The Lord here promises that one day he'd make a new covenant with the house of Israel (and with all humanity). This wouldn't be like the old covenant, which was instituted at Mt. Sinai. Why would he make a new covenant? Why would there be a need for a new one? The simple answer is found in vs. 32: “They broke my covenant.” The problem was—and is—us.
We failed. We rebelled. We wouldn’t listen.
So he promised a new covenant, a new contract, a new formal agreement. What would be the characteristics of this?
First, there would be the contrast in what’s being written upon. The first covenant was written on stone. It was permanent and unchangeable. It was a wonderful set of rules. But just because a law is written down in the books, that doesn’t mean people will keep it. The speed limit laws are on the books, but anyone driving on the highway can see how closely followed that is. But what if. . . the government could make you want to follow the speed limit?
That the difference. That’s what the Lord is talking about here. Instead of just telling us not to steal, he can change our hearts so that we don’t want to steal. He places within us a desire to obey and please him.
That’s one of the works of the Spirit. Yes, I still sin and fail. But he’s written his word on my heart, and I want to please him. I don’t want to grieve him anymore.
We’ll save the second characteristic until tomorrow.
Holy Spirit of Truth, thank you for writing your word on my heart. You do what only you can. No one else can change me from the inside-out. Please keep it up.
I know I’ve said before that the Bible doesn’t have a lot of humor in it, and there’s a good reason for that. But it’s also true that the disciples produced some unintentional humor by their lack of understanding and comprehension. I mean, how many times and how clearer did Jesus have to tell them that he was about to die in Jerusalem? With all reverence and respect, it’s like a Saturday Night Live skit sometimes: He tells them “I’m about to go to Jerusalem, where I'll be betrayed, arrested, tortured, and die. But the good news is that three days later I’ll be coming back from the dead.” And he might as well be Charlie Brown’s teacher from the TV specials for how well they were listening—“What was that, Jesus? You said that you’re going to diet? What type of diet are we talking about? I hear the Adkins works wonders.”
Why was this so? Was it a case of lack of spiritual enlightenment, or was it just a case of someone telling them something they didn’t want to hear and tuning him out? I suspect both are partially true. The O.T. had made it clear that the Messiah had to die for the sins of God’s people in order to be reconciled to him, but most Jews either weren’t paying attention to it or reinterpreted it to fit their theology. Paul later referred to non-believing Jews thus: “Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.” Today practicing Jews read through the O.T. on a rotating basis every Sabbath, but some of them actually skip over portions like Isaiah 53 for some odd reason.
But after Jesus ascended, the Spirit came on Pentecost. On that day, everything changed. The same Spirit who breathed truth into the prophets now did the same for the Gospel writers and the authors of the rest of the N.T. For a few years the church depended on orally passing down the truth of the New Covenant, but quickly it was recognized that we needed to write these things down, especially as the apostles (and the first generation of Christians) started to die off.
That’s the work of the Spirit that Christ is referring to in today’s passage. He reminded the apostles of what Christ had said and did and oversaw the process of writing it down so that were no errors in what was recorded. He used the backgrounds, vocabularies and writing styles of the various authors, but he made sure that they only wrote down what he wanted them to write down.
But just as importantly, he also taught them to make perfect interpretations of what they remembered. When John makes parenthetical comments in his Gospel, that is just as inspired and authoritative as the words of Christ themselves. The rest of the N.T., which is basically commentary on what we read in the Gospels, is also just as authoritative as the words of Christ. That’s why it bugs me when someone calls himself a “Red-Letter Christian,” as if the words of Paul are any less inspired than something from the mouth of Jesus in the Gospels.
Why is this important today? Because this is describing to you and me how we got the N.T. When the church was officially confirming what books belong in the New Testament, the standard was that the author had to either be an apostle (like Matthew or Paul) or a direct associate of an apostle (like Luke or Mark). This is not the “gossip” game where you whisper in someone’s ear who then whispers the same message in someone else’s ear who then repeats the process in a circle.
There are two questions for you to answer then. First, do you actually believe in this book? Either you do or you don’t. If you don’t, then please don’t pretend that you do. It’s either the inspired inerrant word of God, or it has no more authority than Dear Abby in telling me what to do. Second, if you do believe it, does that fact show up in your life?
Holy Spirit of God, I thank you so much for breathing your word into these men and perfectly preserving its truth for us. I know I grieve you pretty frequently, and I’m sorry about that. May my faith and my actions be in perfect sync
Yesterday we talked about what the Spirit does for the world, referring to nonbelievers: He convicts them of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He’s the one who draws people to Christ, shows them their need for them, and makes clear the Good News to them. Today we’re going to examine what the Spirit does for believers. Actually, we’re going to spend a few days on this topic, since that’s the bulk of what the N.T. says about his work. The Spirit was involved in every physical aspect of our salvation (the Incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection, etc.), but he’s involved in every spiritual aspect of our salvation as well.
The Last Supper was their version of the Passover. Since they were having it a day early, there were some modifications that were necessary, but it was supposed to be a celebration. It should've been, but it wasn’t. Jesus’ mood was very dark, as if a cloud hung over every piece of the conversation. He kept telling them what was going to happen to him, but they couldn’t understand, or they didn’t want to. But he kept trying to give them the hope they needed to make it through the next few days.
Like I said yesterday, John 14-16 has the most complete of any section of any teaching on the Spirit. He was trying to impress on them the necessity of his departure, and his main appeal was the imminent arrival of the Spirit after he left. Let’s take a brief look at it.
He says that when he returns to the Father he will send “another advocate” to them. There are two very important points to make here from the Greek. First, the word translated as "advocate" in the NIV, although it's been rendered various ways in different translations: "counselor," "helper," and "comforter." The Greek word is Paraclete, literally "someone called to walk along beside [to help someone]." It was used as a legal advocate, roughly equivalent to a defense attorney in a trial (used of Jesus in that sense in 1 John 2:1), or it could be used in the sense of "encourager" (used in that sense of Barnabas, the "son of encouragement" in Acts 4:36-37). So it's a really rich word which defies simple one-to-one translation . The NIV chose to translate it as "advocate" in today's passage, and that's as good as any. However you translate it, the Spirit was sent by the Father and Jesus to be the One called to help us, counsel us, comfort us, and encourage us .
The other major point is regarding the word "another." The Greek is very clear that it's "another of the same type." What Jesus was to his disciples while on earth, the Spirit is about to become to them and to us. Our Savior walked along them, providing comfort, power, encouragement, instruction, and rebuke to his followers. And he always did so in exact measure of what they needed moment by moment.
His promise is that the Counselor will do that same type of work for us. In fact, it'll be better. Jesus, under the Father’s plan, limited himself to time and space in a physical body. He could only see and help so many people per day. His personal attention was a zero-sum game: If he paid attention to person X, it could only be at the expense of person Y.
Not so the Spirit. If there are umpteen kajillion believers out there, the Spirit lives in each of them and gives them as much personal attention as if he only had one believer to attend.
The other reason it’s better than what the disciples had is because of internal instead of merely external instruction. We’re going to discuss this in further detail in a couple of days, but we can mention it here. The Holy Spirit has always been with believers in one sense: He’s the Spirit of truth, and no one knows God at all apart from his revelatory action. But Jesus here talks about something never seen before in human history: He was “with” you, but once this happens he’s going to be “in” you. He’s coming to live permanently. Not just until you screw up. Not just until he’s finished some task. Forever and forever and forever.
This is pretty comforting to me. The disciples certainly felt like Jesus left them as orphans over the next few days. Even his resurrection appearances, as wonderful as those were, were only a temporary respite until he ascended. But he would return in the sense of coming back in the Person of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is how Jesus comes to us. His presence is as real to us now as it was when he walked the planet with his followers.
We certainly don’t experience as intimate a fellowship as we’d like or as God would like. But he’s here. Right now. You can have a taste of his presence right this second. Why don’t you?
Lord Jesus, I thank you so much that I’m not an orphan. You are here in the Person of the Holy Spirit. I know I have you, but I want more. Please.
I love God’s word, but it’s not always arranged in the way I’d like it. I love systematic theology: setting out what you believe in an orderly fashion. With a few exceptions, the Bible doesn’t have that. If you want to know what God has to say about, say, money, then you need a concordance and use it to look up verses which are scattered here and there. The main exception I can think of is the book of Romans, which—not coincidentally—is my favorite book of the Bible. It’s not styled like a letter so much as a theological treatise.
That’s why I’ve needed to skip around a bit in discussing the nature and work of the Holy Spirit. There are no sections of the Bible to which you can point and say “This is what the Bible says about him.” However, John 14-16 is the closest thing you’ll find in the Scriptures to it. It contains more information and teaching about his work than any other section.
In today’s reading, Jesus is trying to comfort his disciples about his imminent departure, and he reveals to them that it’s absolutely necessary for him to return to the Father. It’s all one seamless plan, and if one part isn’t completed, then everything else falls apart. He’s about to return to the Father’s side, and when he does, he’s going to send another “Helper,” obviously the Spirit. Then he reveals some things regarding the Spirit’s activity to come.
You might've noticed that I didn't use the NIV for today's reading. The reason is because I disagree with them about the translation of a certain phrase. In the NASB the word is "convict," which other translations (e.g. NIV) render it as "prove wrong." John MacArthur says "This word has two meanings: 1) the judicial act of conviction with a view toward sentencing (i.e., a courtroom term-conviction of sin) or 2) the act of convincing. Here the second idea is best, since the purpose of the Holy Spirit is not condemnation but conviction of the need for the Savior. The Son does the judgment, with the Father ( 5:22, 27, 30). In v. 14, it is said that He will reveal the glories of Christ to His people. He will also inspire the writing of the NT, guiding the apostles to write it (v. 13), and He will reveal "things to come," through the NT prophecies (v. 13)."
What does the Spirit convince the world of? He reveals to them three things. He shows them their sin, Jesus’ righteousness, and the judgment to come. The interesting thing is that Jesus doesn’t just leave it at that. He’s very specific about further details.
The sin the Spirit convicts people of is not just any sin, like murder or adultery or theft. The sin that the Spirit reveals is that of not believing in Christ. In a sense, any sin will keep you out of heaven, since all of it is worthy of eternal condemnation. But there’s another sense in which there’s only one sin which is a complete "deal breaker": failure to put your trust in Christ. I firmly believe that if today someone can actually commit the “unpardonable sin,” then this is the only way to do it. There will be murderers in heaven (David and Paul, just off the top of my head), and there will be adulterers (ditto on David).
The righteousness which the Spirit reveals to us is not (at least in this context) just whatever Jesus did which was righteous. There was a specific sign that Jesus had perfectly obeyed the Father and had fulfilled everything he had come to do in order to save us. When Jesus returned to the Father’s side, that was the final “stamp of approval” on who Christ is and what he did.
The judgment to come refers to the fact that the “Prince of this world” now stands condemned. Not just in the future, although that will be the complete fulfillment of his condemnation when he’s thrown into the Lake of Fire. But he’s condemned now. You ever hear the term “dead man walking”? It was popularized in The Green Mile, a movie about prisoners on death row. As they were walking the last “Green Mile” to the electric chair, they were considered dead men, even though they were still technically alive. It’s the same with Satan’s kingdom. His authority was on its way out even as Christ was about to be arrested, tortured, convicted, and executed.
And why does the Spirit point this out to the world of lost souls? Because if you don’t belong to Christ, you share in that condemnation. You’re a part of his system. You’re a citizen of the Third Reich as the bombs are falling on Berlin. The Spirit is telling you that you desperately need to hoist the white flag and openly switch allegiances.
So what’s the application here? There’s one thing that sticks out to me: Quit trying to be an amateur Holy Spirit. It’s his job to convince people to follow Christ. Your job is to be a witness for Christ. Your job is to present the claims of Christ and live a Christ-like life as much as possible before the world. As someone once said, Jesus isn't issuing any general call for defenders. He's calling for witnesses.
Here's another application: If you’re scared to death about telling people about your faith, relax. It’s not your job to convince anyone of anything. Learn how to share the Good News as effectively as you can, and leave the results up to him. Isn’t that a relief?
Lord Jesus, I confess that sometimes my mouth and actions don’t mesh. I’m a pretty sorry witness for you sometimes. Please change me, shine through me, and let there be a LOT more of you and a LOT less of me in front of the world.
It’s my contention that the Spirit is an integral part of--and active participant—in every aspect of our salvation. The Spirit conceived Jesus within Mary’s womb, and he anointed our Savior at his baptism. He led Jesus and was the means by whom the Father instructed Jesus every step of the way. There are indications that Jesus performed his miracles and preached in the power of the Spirit. How does all this jibe with the fact that he’s the Son of God and can therefore do whatever he darn well pleases? The best explanation I’ve found is that within the Father’s plan, he somewhat limited himself, and utilized the power of the Spirit in order to accomplish that plan.
Now we come to the reason why Jesus came. He didn’t come primarily to teach, although his sermons and teaching sessions are the best human ears have ever heard. He didn’t come primarily to heal, although his miracles were astounding. Find someone who can raise up someone else who’s been dead for four days. Find anyone else who can heal blindness or deafness or paralysis with a touch and/or a word. Whatever Jesus does, he does it extremely well, actually the best that anyone ever experienced. When he made wine, he didn’t make some stuff that only tastes better after you’ve “had a few.” He made the best of the best of the best. That’s the type of God/man he is.
No, he came primarily to die. Behind all this was his all-consuming desire to glorify and obey his Father, but in practical terms it came down to him dying a horrible death. He offered up himself as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. I mean the word “ultimate” literally: Not just in the sense of “most important ever” but “final.” His once-and-for-all sacrifice was all that was needed to cover all the sins of humanity, yours and mine.
Now, I can’t go into too much detail here, because Scripture doesn’t. In fact, the Hebrews passage is the only one I can find which even mentions this. In some mysterious way (there’s that word again!), Jesus offered up himself to the Father through the Spirit. Just as all the members of the Trinity were included in his Incarnation, baptism and earthly ministry, now they were each involved in the actual act of atonement for our sins.
And of course you know what happened three days later. One moment you have a cold, dead, lifeless corpse lying in a tomb. No breath, no heartbeat, no synapses firing in the brain. Then the Spirit brings our Savior back to life. Air comes back into lungs and is expelled in respiration. A heart starts to pump blood once more. The once-dead body of Jesus stands up and steps out of his grave clothes. And this is the Spirit’s doing.
Again the Savior’s actions are the pattern for us. We can never atone for sin, but right now the Father still desires sacrifices. Not dead ones—That train has left the station. No, he wants living sacrifices. Think about it for a moment. Once you set fire to that body of a lamb or goat, it was given over to God. There was no going back. Whatever use I had for that animal was gone forever. Whatever was on the altar now belonged totally to the Lord.
As believers, we're to be living sacrifices. I’m walking around, I’m breathing, etc. But I’m supposed to be as much given over the Lord as that barbecued animal on the altar. And how is this accomplished? Through the work of the One who lives inside me, the Holy Spirit of God.
I’m supposed to be offered up to God through the Spirit just like my Savior was, and the pattern continues after that. The same Spirit who raised up Jesus lives inside me as well. In fact, there are two ways in which this is fulfilled in my life. First, this all-powerful Spirit gives me the strength I need to accomplish God’s will. Think about the power that it took to raise Jesus from the dead. That’s the power we have access to when we’re tempted or under assault from the Enemy or the world. Second, the same Spirit who raised Jesus will someday do the same thing to us. If my Lord delays his return, then one day I’ll be laid in a grave. My body will be as cold and lifeless as my Savior’s once was. But the same Spirit who breathed life into the first man (Adam), and who breathed life into the Second Adam (the Lord Jesus) will breathe life into me. Seems like kind a pattern with him, huh?
Holy Spirit of God, you are the Life-bringer. Would you please blow through once more this dusty temple? Would you breathe new life into me? Please?
Like we said yesterday, the Incarnation is a glorious mystery that should lead to worship, and the Spirit was the One sent by the Father to initiate the process. For about thirty years, the Son of God walked among humanity, and most people had no idea who he really was. Presumably he took the job of his adopted father Joseph, and quietly waited for his Father’s timing.
Then finally the day came for him to reveal himself to mankind. His cousin John was baptizing crowds of people in the Jordan, and he joined them. He approached John to be baptized like everyone else, and the Baptizer’s reaction was pretty unexpected. Somehow the Spirit made it clear to him that this was the One they were waiting for, and he tried to dissuade Jesus from being baptized: “I need this from you, and you’re coming to me?”
What was Jesus’ response? Basically you could paraphrase it as “This is the right thing to do. This is the Father’s plan, and we’re going to stick with it.” In order to be our Savior, he had to not only keep from disobeying the Father; he had to actively choose to obey him in order to—for lack of a better term—store up the righteousness we need.
Now here’s where the Spirit’s work comes in. Have you ever wondered why Jesus is called “the Christ”? Strictly speaking, it’s not a name; it’s a title. The word “Christ” or “Messiah” literally means “anointed one.” When a king or priest was inaugurated into his new position, they traditionally poured oil on his head. This was roughly equivalent to a president placing his hand on a Bible while taking an oath of office.
But there was no oil poured on Jesus’ head here. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit, just like Isaiah prophesied. The Holy Spirit came down on Jesus’ head, and at that moment he became the official Messiah. He’s the One chosen by God the Father to be our Savior and fulfill all the promises he'd made prior. This was completed by a public acknowledgement and official “stamp of approval” by the voice of the Father himself.
Now here’s where it gets really sticky. Right after the certification and pubic approval by the Father, Mark’s Gospel tells us that the Spirit “sent” him into the desert to be tempted by the Devil. Quite frankly, this might be too soft a term. This is the same Greek word which the Gospel writers used to describe the driving out of demons (like here). In other words, the Spirit strongly pushed our Savior out from civilization and into the first encounter with the Enemy of our souls. The same Spirit who anointed him and thus proclaimed him to be the Messiah now sent him into combat with his greatest enemy.
I get two applications out of this. First, this is the pattern for our Savior. He took on human flesh with all its frailties and weakness, and he laid aside his privileges and rights as God’s Son. He obeyed his Father’s instructions, and apparently these instructions and leading were through the Holy Spirit, at least in this case.
Of course, this is definitely the pattern for us as well. As believers, this is one of our greatest privileges of being God’s redeemed children: His Spirit lives inside us and leads us where we need to go.
Second, we need to keep in mind that the Spirit might lead us directions we might not be inclined to follow. His paths are counterintuitive at times. He never tempts us, but sometimes the road map he gives us can bring us under assault from our Enemy. At those times, it might even seem like we’re alone and unguarded. Take comfort. Although it may feel like it at times, he never ever ever leaves us unguarded. We’re the precious jewels in his crown! Would you leave something that valuable unsecured for some thief to snatch? What do you think?
Spirit of wisdom and understanding, your ways are not my ways, and your thoughts are not my thoughts. They’re much higher and better. Please give me listening ears and a soft heart.
So we’ve looked at how the Holy Spirit has been at work as God’s agent on earth since the creation. He was involved in the unique, intimate creation of mankind, in some mysterious way breathing into that lump of dirt and bringing it to life. He was behind every judge and every prophet. Every inspired (“breathed in”) word which a prophet uttered came from the Spirit. Now we come to the earthly life of Christ, and we’re going to see over the next few days how the Spirit was involved in every single major aspect of our redemption.
I really have to be careful here, because the Incarnation of Christ is a true mystery which the church took almost three hundred years to clarify. A word here needs to be examined further: “mystery.” When we use that term in the theological sphere, we aren’t referring to anything like you read about in detective novels. When we hear the word, we normally think of something that needs to be solved. We don’t know or understand X, so we need to keep probing and asking questions until we get a complete answer.
But that’s not the case here at all. When we talk about a “mystery” in this context, we’re looking at something so deep and so beyond our understanding that any human endeavor to unwrap it only ends up in frustration. Of course we want to understand it as best as our puny minds can allow, but we have to come to a realization sooner or later that we’re Aborigines trying to grasp nuclear physics. Actually that’s not a good analogy, because the Aborigine can eventually—with the right information and training—grasp the concept as well as any Westerner. But we could ponder and investigate a mystery in this sense for a million years and still never really wrap our heads around it. There are three of these mysteries we encounter in Scripture: the nature of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the relationship between human will and divine sovereignty. Anyone who comes up to you and claims to fully grasp these things? Run the other direction.
We aren’t going to completely unwrap this mystery, and we aren’t supposed to. The proper response to something like this isn’t a scientific inquiry, but worship. Glory in the supposed contradictions. Kneel at the feet of the One whom we’ll never figure out. As I heard long ago, if I could completely understand him, I’d be him.
So we get to the Incarnation and the Spirit’s part in that. In some unknown fashion, the Holy Spirit entered the body of Mary and fertilized an egg within her. That egg became a fetus. No male bodily fluids involved. The fetus grew within the body of Mary to become a full-grown baby. How did the Spirit accomplish all this? Beats me. That’s why we call it a. . . well, you know.
So why is this important to us? It’s found within verse 23. In fact, the inscrutability of the Incarnation is found within these few verses, and this in particular captures the tension perfectly. Jesus had Mary’s DNA inside his body. He might've physically resembled her. He was fully human, with all the human frailties and weaknesses which we have, with the exception of sin.
But we have to remember the other part as well. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit—again—was the agent of the Father on earth. He was the instrument by whom the Son came into the world. And because of this, one of the names of Jesus captures this wonder for us: God with us. He’s God, and he’s with us. Not just visiting for a time, like he did on Sinai. No, he was, and is, permanently joined with human flesh. He is God with me. He’s God with you. He’s the forever bridge between humanity and God.
And the Spirit was the One who started the ball rolling.
Lord Jesus, I think this is a wonderful time, once again, to imitate Job for a while. Let me close my hands over my mouth and ponder this for a bit.
We touched upon this yesterday, but I thought it deserved another day’s treatment. When discussing the issue of biblical inerrancy, 2 Peter 1:19-21 is one of the main passages to consider, and then today’s is the other. Keep in mind that 2 Timothy is a collection of the last words of Paul, so whatever’s in this book deserves the utmost attention. Just about every word in these two short verses is wealth of wisdom concerning God’s word and the Spirit’s word in producing it.
We need to note the very first word here, because it’s pretty relevant: “All.” Not “some,” not “most,” but “all.” This includes the parts we like to read, like the Gospels and the stories in the O.T., and the “boring” parts as well. It includes the genealogies (lists of names) you find scattered throughout Scripture. It includes the building plans of the tabernacle and the temple. It includes the prophecies of doom with names of nations you've never heard of. My wife and I just finished the book of Jeremiah on our 3-year Bible reading plan, and—to be brutally honest—it was a beating. Chapter after chapter after chapter after chapter about how God is about to punish his people doesn’t personally appeal to me. I promise next year when we get into the prophets in the blog, I’ll keep that in mind. But I keep coming back to that one little word: “All.” As a pastor of mine once said, the Holy Spirit is incapable of small talk. If it’s in there, there’s a reason for it.
The next word I want to focus on is “God-breathed.” If you’re used to another translation besides the NIV, you might have seen “inspired by God.” There’s nothing wrong with that translation, since the word “inspire” literally means to “breathe into.” The only problem I have with the word “inspire” is that it’s used too broadly in modern communication. I can say I’ve been “inspired” by Abraham Lincoln or George S. Patton. But to say that it’s “God-breathed” denotes more precisely what happened. God the Holy Spirit “breathed” (remember the quirk about spirit/breath/wind being the same word) into the hearts and hands of the authors of the Bible. Sometimes he gave them word-for-word what to say, but most of the time he used the author’s vocabulary, writing style, and background in order to have the author write down the exact meaning of what he (the Spirit) wanted to convey.
There are four ways in which the Spirit uses Scripture to change us. First, it teaches us. It imparts information, gives direction, and reveals truth we would never know otherwise. Second, the Scripture rebukes us when we need it. If you listen to a Bible-teacher or preacher who consistently makes you feel good about yourself, you need to drop that person like a hot potato. One of the main purposes of the Bible is to show us where we’re falling short of God’s standard. The third thing that the Spirit does through the Scriptures is to correct us. This might seem like a repeat of the second, but it’s not. According to MacArthur, the word was used in extrabiblical Greek to denote the act of righting a fallen object or helping someone back on their feet after they stumble. The word points out where we’re wrong (rebuke) but then shows us Christ and leads us towards restoration. And fourth the Spirit uses the word to train us in righteousness. It’s the main tool of the Spirit in the process of molding us into the likeness of Christ, in the way we think and talk and act.
Remember the importance of links between verses. The purpose of Scripture is to thoroughly equip us to do every good work. If you read and know and follow the Scriptures, you have everything you need for fulfilling what the Father has for you to do.
So do you really believe this? Maybe you have a completely orthodox view of Scripture being God-breathed, but your actions and reading habits don’t show that you think that all of it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. If you do believe that, then do you actually read and try to apply all of God’s word, or do you just stick to the parts you like? Really?
Father God, I’m sorry for all the times I’ve let other things get in the way of studying your word on a regular basis. It’s your tool for changing me, and I keep it on the shelf. Please forgive me and use your word to bring me back to where I’m supposed to be.
I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but several years ago the Southern Baptists, one of the most conservative denominations among Evangelicals, had a huge debate amongst themselves. The big question: How are we to view the Scriptures? Do they contain the word of God, or are they the word of God? Are they inerrant, and what do we mean by that term? They finally came down to a simple answer: They are inerrant, meaning they are 100% without error—not just in matters of faith and morals, but in matters of science and history. This all takes into account the different genres of literature: We don’t interpret historical narratives the same way we interpret poetry or prophecy. But what it comes down to is that the Bible does not just contain the word of God. It is the word of God. For a great article on how to interpret different genres of the Bible and how to answer the question "Do you take the Bible literally?" see here.
But how did all this work out in practical terms? If the Lord is the ultimate source of the Scriptures, then why do all the human authors sound so different from each other? Moses doesn’t sound like Isaiah in their respective vocabulary, imagery, emphases, etc. Paul’s letters and John’s letters are verrrry different from each other.
Today’s passage has some of the answers to those questions, and it has several important points for us.
Before we get to the passage itself, we need to know the context of it. Right before this, Peter was authenticating his message and credentials as an apostle. He pointed to the Transfiguration, an awe-inspiring moment he shared with only two other men out of the entire human race.
Now, I love the NIV, but it doesn't exactly make clear Peter's point that he's trying to make re: the Transfiguration and the O.T. Scriptures.
Here's John MacArthur's commentary on verse 19: "This translation could indicate that the eyewitness account of Christ's majesty at the Transfiguration confirmed the Scriptures. However, the Greek word order is crucial in that it does not say that. It says, 'And we have more sure the prophetic word.' That original arrangement of the sentence supports the interpretation that Peter is ranking Scripture over experience. The prophetic word (Scripture) is more complete, more permanent, and more authoritative than the experience of anyone. More specifically, the Word of God is a more reliable verification of the teachings about the person, atonement, and second coming of Christ than even the genuine first hand experiences of the apostles themselves."
Peter then goes on to exalt Scripture even further. We’re sitting in the dark now. Even believers have to walk in a dark world. Our understanding, our love for what’s right, and our relationship with the Lord are always hindered by this. But God’s word is our “night light.” That will suffice until the “Morning Star” appears and the New Day arrives. Once the Morning Star is sighted, that means that the nighttime is almost over, and the sun is about to blaze over the horizon.
But here’s the punch-line we’ve been waiting for concerning how we should see Scripture. We have here a marvelous set of “tension” verses, which aid our understanding of the whole process of what happened. First, though, we need to fully grasp what did not happen. Scripture did not come about by human origin. Man did not make this stuff up. No one sat down and thought it out. Either you believe that or you don’t, but that is what Scripture claims about itself.
What did occur? The Holy Spirit (remember, it’s the same word as “breath” or “wind”) came and moved within the hearts of the prophets (which would include not just the official “prophets” such as Isaiah and Amos but all the people whom God used to write Scripture). The word “carried along” was a nautical term. It was used to describe what wind did as it filled up a sail and moved a boat. The boat was still a boat, but the wind moved it in the proper direction.
So it was the Spirit who moved the authors to write what they did. He supervised the entire process, and edited out any errors which they would've introduced. But just because he did this, it doesn’t mean the authors were just passive instruments in his hand. He utilized their unique personalities, their backgrounds, their respective vocabularies, their writing style, etc., to have them write down exactly the message he wanted to convey.
So what does this mean to you and me today? We’re going to examine that further tomorrow. But for now, let’s thank our wonderful Father for giving us our Night Light. Until the Son arrives, it’s more than enough.
Father God, this really is a dark world. If I didn’t have your word as the lamp for my feet and the light for my path, I’d be in pretty sad shape. Thank you.
We talked about the Judges last year, so I apologize if some of this is repetitive for you. I grew up in the church, and was taught the Bible as far back as I can remember. I also remember reading and thoroughly enjoying a children’s illustrated Bible. It basically displayed drawings which told the stories of the Bible like in a comic book. If you’re read my spiel on the Judges before, you might recall that my favorite judge, in fact one of my favorite characters in the entire Bible was none other than Samson. I read comic books as a child (well, actually I still do), and thrilled to the stories of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Spider-man , etc. And this was a real-life superhero! He really lived, not just in the imagination of some guy, but in the real world! He had super strength, partial invulnerability (or so it seemed), and superhuman stamina.
And how did he get these abilities? The same source which gave abilities and performed miracles through the rest of the judges, the Spirit of God. This was the usual pattern: The people of Israel rebelled against the Lord's authority and laws, and he punished them by giving them over to some of their enemies (there was never a shortage of those). The people eventually would wise up and call upon him, and he empowered someone (mostly guys, but there was one lady) to step up. Actually the word “judge” is a bit of a misnomer, since the word can also mean “deliverer” or “savior,” and those terms apply better, since the “judges” rarely sat and judged anyone like in a court of law. The Holy Spirit is usually mentioned as coming upon the newly appointed deliverer, and he (the Spirit) gives our hero whatever he needs in order to complete his task.
What was the problem with this? First, you can see it in the last verse from today’s reading. The people stayed at least somewhat faithful and the land had peace until the judge died. You could get the impression from Scripture that at the hero’s funeral they were planning their next idol-worshiping party, judging by how quickly they fell after he left the scene. They sinned egregiously against the Lord, he punished them again by handing them over to their enemies, and the downward spiral started anew.
Another problem was the way in which the Spirit came upon his chosen ones during this period. When he entered them, he equipped them for the task at hand: He might give them military skill or diplomatic abilities or wisdom in leadership decisions. Regrettably this often didn’t include moral reformation of the person’s character. My old hero—Samson—is the worst example of this. One of my favorite stories as a kid was about how his enemies trapped him in a city at nighttime and watched the city gate, planning to kill him the next morning once he could be found. Samson went up to the city gate (weighing several tons) and picked it up, carried it several feet outside the city, and dropped it there! That showed them who was da man!!! But the children’s Bible I read didn’t mention why he was there in that city in the first place. Let me give you a hint: He wasn’t there to start a new chapter of Promise Keepers. He was visiting one of his. . .ladies of the evening. So just because the Spirit came upon a man to equip him to do some things, that didn’t necessarily translate into changing his moral character.
And finally we come up on the age-old problem regarding the Spirit in the O.T. He came upon certain people in certain times under certain circumstances. Most of God’s people had little to no experience of a direct one-on-one encounter with the Spirit within them. And even when the Spirit anointed someone, that wasn’t necessarily permanent: Saul is one case in particular.
So why am I bringing all this up? What’s my point here? There’s only one reason I’ve gone through all this: To compare favorably what the O.T. saints had versus what we have. I’m going to hammer this as many times as needed—This is for every believer in Christ. If you’re a believer, the Spirit has come to live inside of you, and he’s not going anywhere, ever. He’s going to equip you to do what he wants you to do, but he’s also going to conform you to the likeness of Christ. And you don’t have to be some “superhero” to get into this action. If it’s not happening, it’s not because of him.
Father God, thank you so much for the incredible heritage I have as your child. Please use your Spirit to break me and change me, by your grace.
I was born an American citizen, and I’m very glad I was. I love this country, and believe it’s a force in the world more for good than the bad. Having said that, I have one major pet-peeve, and it’s woven into the very DNA of American culture.
What I’m referring to is the utmost disdain for leaders. I know it’s part of our heritage: This nation started out officially by thumbing its nose at the Mother Country and saying “You can’t tell US what to do!” Since then, we’ve had an ambivalent love-hate relationship with our leaders. To a degree, I understand it and even applaud it. We’re in a fallen world with fallen people, and there’s no leader I trust with absolute power other than my Lord.
The problem I have is the complete lack of respect we have for our leaders, and especially as this bleeds into our attitude in the church. Again, no leader is sinless. The church has to have checks and balances, which is why pastors have to have some type of body within the church that they answer to.
But I promise you, the vast majority of leaders in the church are there because they love God and love people. I assure you, they’re not in it for the money. If money was their primary concern, they’d find another profession. Of course, there are exceptions to this, as seen on TV.
So who appoints leaders? Well, every church has a different approach, but most are voted in by majority of members. There’s nothing wrong with that in particular, but I think it’s easy to forget to that strictly speaking, it’s the Spirit who’s doing this. It might be (and I hope) that he’s working through the choices of the congregation, but ultimately it’s the Spirit who appoints our leaders in the church. The way I've always understood it, the vote of a congregation should only be officially recognizing what the Spirit has already made clear he wants us to do.
Today’s passage gives us some more insight on the Spirit’s work in empowering leaders. If you’ve read the Torah, you know how frustrating Moses’ job was. In fact, if you just read the rest of this chapter without skipping the verses which I passed over, you’ll see just how bad it was. Moses was on his last nerve, and the Lord graciously intervened and said that he (God) would provide other leaders to share the load.
The Holy Spirit came down and filled the elders who had come. They prophesied in order to publicly authenticate their appointment. He equipped them with the skills, gifts, and talents they'd require to govern effectively. They'd need wisdom, discernment, courage, compassion, and a healthy fear of the God who held them accountable. All this was provided by the Spirit.
Then we see an epilogue to this story which wonderfully illustrates what type of man Moses was. There were two men who missed the meeting, and they received the anointing just like the rest did. They started prophesying like the others, and Joshua—always zealous for his master’s honor--tried to stop them. Moses instructed him to back down: “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” This is a mark of true leadership, and it’s a sign of a Spirit-led man, that he’s willing to delegate power and loves to see others excel, even at the cost of some of his own prestige. He longed to see all God’s people experiencing what he experienced in the Lord’s presence. The wonderful thing is his wish came true. At Pentecost, Moses’ longing was fulfilled, and from that point forward, every single one of God’s redeemed children has the Holy Spirit placed upon them and within them.
You. Yes, you--sitting right there—you are Moses’ dream come true.
Father God, may I always show the proper respect to the leaders you’ve placed over me. When I’m called to lead, please give me a double-portion of your Spirit. Yes, I need it.
I know, it’s part of the American Dream. Every school child is told “You can be anything you want to be.” I understand the motive behind telling kids this: You want to encourage them to stretch themselves and to dream big. The stereotypical “Rags to Riches” story has at least a grain of truth in it. But we need to be honest. The motivation might be correct, but it’s not really true. I might've grown up wanting to be a professional basketball player. There are only two little problems with this—I’m 5’4” and have absolutely no innate talent. I might really really really really want to play professional basketball, but it’s not going to happen.
That’s because we all have different talents that we’re born with. Mozart was composing at the age of five. I can play my guitar and my MP3 player. No matter what I do, I’m never going to be as good as Mozart. Hard work plays a huge part in it, and you have to strive to develop your natural talents in order for them to reach their full potential, but you must have something to work with.
Among Christians we talk a lot about “spiritual gifts.” We’re going to discuss them at a later time, but they’re very different from today’s topic. Spiritual gifts seem to come at the point of salvation, and they’re not a talent you’re born with.
But if we’re born with certain talents, then what’s the source of these? Well, there’s good reason to believe they come directly from the Holy Spirit, at least some of the time. We do know that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” When he says every good gift, that would indicate to me that it includes any talents.
But today’s passage is a bit more specific than that. God was instructing Moses in the construction of the Tabernacle. Moses had a lot of gifts, both natural and supernatural, but artistic craftsmanship was not one of them. And this was needed. The tabernacle had to be built in order for man and God to meet on a regular basis, and the Holy Spirit had provided someone to fill the gap.
This is important. If you’re ever playing Bible trivia, and the question is “Who’s the first person that Scripture says was gifted by the Holy Spirit?” this guy is the answer. Yes, the spiritual gifts are vital: We have to have people with the gift of teaching, the gift of administration, the gift of evangelism, the gift of mercy, etc. But I can’t count how many times we’ve had a practical need in our church, and someone stepped forward who happens to have skills in that area. I have the gift of teaching, but that doesn’t do me a lot of good when my car won’t start. But there are people in our church who have talents and knowledge in that area.
Specifically this passage is referring to someone with artistic ability. It’s easy to see how someone is gifted if they can stand in front of hundreds of people and present a God-given sermon. But musical ability is a gift of the Spirit as well. If someone designs a church building for the glory of God, he’s following in the footsteps of Bezalel.
So what does this mean to us? I thoroughly believe that every Christian has a spiritual gift. No one’s left out of this honor and responsibility. But he’s also gifted you with innate talents and skills. Certainly you had to hone those talents, but the Spirit gave you the raw material to work with. Are you using them for the church? Or are you hiding your talent “in the ground”? Yes, that parable is actually where we get the word “talent” from. Do you remember the Lord’s reaction to the servant who hid his talent away and didn’t use it for the Master’s profit? Just a word to the wise.
Father God, you’ve given me talents, skills, and abilities. They're not there primarily for my sake, but for yours and for your church. How can I channel them into advancing your Kingdom?
Now that we've done a quick overview on the nature of the Spirit, let's spend some time on his work, both in history and in our lives today. Quite frankly, there’s a lot more information in Scripture about his work than about his nature. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is because the Spirit has the same essence as the rest of the Godhead, so whatever we can say about another Person of the Trinity (as far as their essence is concerned), you can say about the Spirit. The second reason is more subtle, but you can discern it from a pattern you’ll notice as you go through the Scriptures. The Spirit usually works behind the scenes. His purpose in the world is not to call attention to himself. This is especially true as we get into the N.T. period.
However, his work is ubiquitous throughout the Bible’s narrative. That’s what we’re going to examine over the next few days. Once you take the time to look, you’ll see that the Spirit has been at work, accomplishing the divine plan since before the beginning of time. In fact, he’s usually the agent of God on the earth to carry out the divine will.
Let’s start at the creation. The Bible has one main purpose in the first two chapters of Genesis. That purpose is to reveal to us that God created everything, and the lessons which flow from that premise. At the beginning of creation, the Holy Spirit was there. The Hebrew verb in verse 1:2 has the connotation of “brooding.” Why? The earth was “formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep.” The point here is that the world was not what God intended it to be. He fully intended to populate it and fill it with light. Right after this verse, the all-powerful voice split the darkness and called forth light where there was none a moment before.
Exactly which parts did the Persons of the Trinity have in the creation as narrated in chapter one? We’re not told, so I’m not going to speculate. But it’s undeniably true that the Spirit had a role to play in this.
But then we come to the crown of the physical creation: Humanity. This is very important for you to know—Hebrew and Greek have at least one thing in common. The English words “breath,” “wind,” and “spirit” all come from the same word in both languages: Ruah in Hebrew and Pneuma in Greek. The only way we know which meaning to assign in a certain passage is by context.
That’s why 1:26-27 and 2:4-7 are so important. We’re not like the animals and plants, or at least there are biiiiiig differences between us. Yes, physically we’re very similar to the animals. But they weren’t made in God’s image, and we are. And all the Persons of the Trinity are involved in this (note the “Us” and “our”).
This is especially true in 2:4-7, the more detailed version of our creation. All the plants and animals and everything else came into existence from just a word of command. Not us. God himself stooped down, so to speak, and “breathed” life into us. Again, remember the connection between “breath” and “spirit.” When people say that there’s a “spark of divinity” in each person, there’s more than a kernel of truth in that. Just to be clear, it's not saying we're divine. But we’re not just made in God’s image, like a painting or a sculpture is made in the image of a person. We have the breath of life intimately placed within us by means of the Spirit himself. I wish I could've seen it. Maybe I will, someday, if God offers “rewind” in glory.
By the way, this is a wonderful image of what happens at the moment of salvation. We’re lifeless, completely dead to God and what he has planned for us. Then God comes and breathes himself into us, and we come to life like Pinocchio. In a real sense, he's "re-creating" us.
Jesus said that "the Spirit gives life," and this is true in the physical sense (at our creation) and in the spiritual sense of what happens when we receive Christ. And only the Spirit can do this. I could go to a corpse or a mannequin and talk to it, try to reason with it, threaten it, cajole it, or anything else I’d like. But only the Spirit can actually breathe life into a dead lump of dirt and make it alive. Pretty amazing when you think about it, huh?
Holy Spirit, you gave me life when I came into the Kingdom, and you are the Source of life to me each day. Give me a breath of fresh air, please.
Just as the triune God has many titles, the Holy Spirit has multiple titles, and he has seven listed here. Please remember that in biblical times, one’s name or title was considered a lot more than just what everyone calls you. One’s name was considered an extension of oneself. To give one’s name to someone was thought to give power over oneself to that person; that’s why Jacob was so eager to get his attacker’s name in the great wrestling match. Of course, knowing God's name doesn't give us power over him, but it does allow us to relate to him on a personal level.
So here we have seven names, and each of them reveals something about the Spirit which we need to know and act upon.
His first name is the Spirit of the Lord. This reminds us that he is the third Person of the Trinity. Everything that God is in his nature, the Spirit is: omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal (from eternity past) and worthy of all worship, allegiance, obedience.
The second name listed is the Spirit of wisdom. He’s the source of all true wisdom, and there’s no wisdom in this world without him. He’s the One who gave wisdom to Solomon, and he’s the way that God fulfills his promise to give us what we need in this area: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” When we need this, the Spirit of Wisdom is the Person who gives it to us.
Third, he’s called the Spirit of understanding. This is parallel to wisdom and is thus linked to it, so it’s similar but not completely synonymous. I see it as discernment, the ability to see the world as it really is, the ability to see beneath the surface, the ability to not be fooled by appearances. If you want that, there’s only one place to go.
Fourth on the list is the Spirit of counsel. If we just listen, we’ll find him giving direction a lot more often than we thought. He’s all around us, offering lessons and giving instructions in life. When you’re in tune with the Lord and feel that little “nudge” onto a certain path, he’s the One doing it.
He’s also the Spirit of power. Of course, he’s God, so he’s all-powerful, right? Of course he is, but I think this is talking about more than that. He’s the source of our power. He’s the One who empowered the apostles to perform their miracles, and he plans to change your life in no less dramatic ways. When you’re surrounded by temptations and think you can’t say “no” one more time, you can. When you’re burdened down by trials and think you can’t take one more step under them, you can. Because the Spirit of power lives within you.
He’s also the Spirit of knowledge. This reminds me that he’s the One who inspired (literally "breathed in") the Scriptures, who "moved" the prophets and other writers to write down what he wanted them to. That means all the Special Revelation, the things we know about: God, the universe, the spiritual realm, our eternal destiny. And keep in mind the definition of Special Revelation—things we we'd never be able to figure out unless he took special effort to reveal them to us through the Bible.
And finally he’s the Spirit of the fear of the Lord. He is the One who inspires true worship. He’s the One who brings about that sense of awe when we know we’re in the presence of the Holy One of Israel. God is not our buddy, and he’s not our Pal. We’re made in his image, but he's unlike us in so many ways. The Spirit reminds us of that and draws us back into a sense of holy fear that brings us closer instead of driving us away, who inspires (as Eugene Peterson puts it) "a fear that pulls us out of our preoccupation with ourselves, our feelings, or our circumstances into a world of wonder."
Yes, most of his work is behind the scenes, but what work it is!
Holy Spirit of God, you're the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. What would I do without you?
Remember our little talk about the name of God last year in Exodus? He has several titles that tell us about something that he is or does in relation to us: Lord, Savior, God, Master, Friend, Healer, etc. But he only has one name, something he is in and of himself: I Am. Within that name holds a mystery of tension. The first part “I,” refers to his personhood. He is a person, not a force. He has a will, emotions (in some sense of the word), and sentience. He likes some things, loves others, and hates others. The other part of his name—“am”—reminds us of his omnipotence, eternal nature, immutability (the things that make him deserving of worship). If we forget either part of this tension, we’ll have a severely deficient view of God, and we won’t be relating to the God of the Bible.
Why do I bring this up? Because we need to be reminded that the Spirit, like the rest of the Godhead, is a person. He’s not a force or a thing. Let’s look at some Scriptures that tell us this.
Paul was giving some instructions to the church at Ephesus (and us), and he gives some specific directions on how to live. In today’s passage he tells us that Christians should stop stealing and instead make an honest living. We also need to watch our mouths, not just avoiding “bad” talk but employing our tongues for positive uses. And why do we need to do this? Because our behavior can cause the Holy Spirit of God to grieve. When we live disobedient lives, that grieves him. Electricity can’t be grieved.
Paul also spent a lot of time talking to the church in Corinth about the proper use of spiritual gifts. Why do we call them spiritual gifts, by the way? Because they come from the Spirit. Paul makes it clear that the Spirit picks and chooses how to distribute the gifts to each individual member of the church. If you have a gift or don’t have a gift, it’s because the Spirit made a choice. Gravity doesn’t make sentient choices.
And finally we come to the portion from Acts. The disciples were praying, and the Spirit specifically spoke to them. He told them to set apart Paul and Barnabas for the work to which he had called them, and thus started Paul’s first grand missions trip. A force doesn’t talk to you.
Why do I make such a big deal over this? Well, for two reasons. First, there are cults out there that deny this teaching. They don’t come out and say it, but their view of the Holy Spirit doesn’t come from Scripture.
But there’s another reason which is far more serious, at least to me. Bible-believing Christians—hopefully—have an orthodox view on this subject. But do we treat the Spirit as a person? Maybe, maybe not.
Do I ever think about how I grieve the Spirit at times? I know better than doing X, and I do it anyway. For example, the words coming out of my mouth might not be appropriate for a child of the Holy One. How does he react to that, I wonder?
I see how he’s blessed someone else with more “showy” gifts, and I resent that. I think I should be in the spotlight and get the applause, not this other guy. What does that say about my attitude towards the Giver?
He’s trying to speak to me from his word, and I ignore it. He gives me clear instructions, and I turn a deaf ear to them. What does he think about that?
My creed or set of beliefs might say that the Holy Spirit is a person with will and emotions, but what do my actions say?
Holy Spirit of God, for all the times I don’t listen, I’m sorry. Please use your word and whatever other tools you have to correct that.