By John Fitzsimmons
Key Bible Text: Mark 12:38-44
When I read the Gospel’s I often find them deeply challenging as someone who has been a Christian for a number of years. This is because Jesus’ teaching often exposes motives & attitudes in my heart. As well as being extremely encouraging Scripture at times has a way of unexpectedly & powerfully stripping away masks we wear for others, making us face up to the real us! Jesus at times had hard hitting & even seemingly harsh words to say about & to pretentious religious people. One of the milder examples of Christ’s hard hitting words is found in the text we are looking at today. Jesus warns his own disciples, in the hearing of all the people, to beware of the scribes. That word “beware” means “to see” or “to watch” & it carries with it the idea of guarding against the influence of such people.
V38-44 “And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes , who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the market-places and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretence make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
It’s wrong to live in open sin & rebellion against God - the Bible makes that clear! However Jesus teaches here it is even worse to pretend to live for God while really living for self. If there is one thing we need to be as Christian’s it is real & honest about who we are and what we truly live for. To do this we need God’s Word to help us discern the motives & intentions of our own hearts... We rely so much on the Holy Spirit in this area. After encouraging us to take care, Hebrews 3:13 says; “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today”, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Also read 4:12-13). Because of the deceitfulness of sin it is quite possible for us to be convinced we are living for God when we are in fact living for self, just like the scribes Jesus is talking about. That’s why we need God’s help & the help of one another.
We are all capable of being deceived by sin, but an all-seeing God cannot be deceived. He is the discerner of the thoughts & intentions of our heart. His x-ray vision pierces through any hint of pretence we knowingly or unknowingly hide behind. He sees us exactly as we are! Therefore we need his help, via his Word, to know ourselves.
The scribes had deceived many people about who they truly were, but Jesus saw them exactly as they were. At this time no one was more respected than a scribe. They represented the standard of religion; they were viewed as the most spiritual men in Israel. Many were fooled by their outward piety, but Jesus looked directly into their hearts & saw at least three things that made these scribes pretentious, three things we also need to beware of in our own hearts... The word pretentious simply means “trying to appear more important or better than you actually are so as to impress other people - pretending to be something we are not.”
Firstly, these scribes were pretentious because they were ambitious men. Whenever they were out in the marketplaces they loved to be greeted with formal titles. They craved honour & recognition. They expected the best seats at feasts, events & in church. They desired to climb the social ladder. They liked people to know who they were. Here’s a thought that really challenged me lately: God can do more with a heart full of love than he can with a head full of ambition. Challenging isn’t it?
I don’t believe the Bible teaches all ambition is evil. There is such a thing as godly ambition which desires to see Jesus exalted & others rescued & discipled by his grace! Such ambition is motivated by love for God & people. However selfish ambition is evil. Ambition centred on self-promotion, success & gain is evil because it causes us to use others, and even God, for our own ends. Ambition is misdirected when it is focused on something other than Christ and his kingdom! Ask yourself this question: Who & what are my ambitions centred on?
Secondly, these scribes were pretentious because they were proud men. So often pretence & selfish ambition is fuelled by a prideful heart... The scribes wanted to appear in a certain light because they were proud. They liked the conversation to be about them. They liked to show off & exaggerate how spiritual, knowledgeable & successful they were. They loved to have the opportunity to brag about themselves. They loved to pray long prayers to impress others... They were full of self-importance...
Thirdly, these scribes were pretentious because they were greedy men. Not only were they filled with selfish ambition & pride, they also took financial advantage of the most vulnerable people in their society – widows. Widows at the time had no regular financial income. Therefore they depended on what they already owned, or on the charity of friends & family. They had no one to protect them. The Bible teaches us to “plead the widows cause” (Isa. 1:17) and to “visit widows in their affliction” (James 1:27.) But instead of doing the godly thing by looking out for such people, these evil scribes were ripping them off... They used their spiritual influence for financial gain & then they had the nerve to wear a false face of spirituality by praying long prayers in public.
We may not prey on the vulnerable like the scribes, but it is a real temptation to use others for our own gain. To only take an interest in people when there is something in it for us. But if we are seeking to follow Jesus then we have to love people for their own sakes, not for what they can give or do for us. God sees what truly drives us, do we? He sees selfish ambition, pride or greed or whatever it may be in our life. Let’s ask God to search our heart like King David in Psalm 139:23-24; “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”. The way to a better quality of life starts with allowing God to search & try your heart... but the way of pretence leads to greater condemnation according to Jesus.
Here’s something else to think about. Since the scribes wore a costume of pretence by pretending to be something they were not, people who respected & looked up to them naturally would try to live up to what the scribe’s pretended to be. Then when those people realised they couldn’t, they too would begin a life of pretence so they could keep up the appearance of spirituality even though in reality their hearts were far from it... This is rampant in religion – keeping up appearances – the hypocrisy of pretending to be something we are not in order to impress others... This does no good for us or fellow strugglers. There is much more freedom for us & others in being honest about our sin & simply believing the gospel.
For this keeping up of appearances is not only hypocrisy it is also bondage! As soon as we pretend to be what we are not, it’s like stepping onto a hamster wheel. Before we know it we find ourselves living our whole lives trying to keep up with an appearance, & we lose the freedom the gospel gives us to be honest & real about our lives... Because of sin we can be tempted to make ourselves out to be more spiritual than we are. Then we convince ourselves we are more spiritual than we are. Then we have to keep up to being more spiritual than we are. At this point we find we are trapped in the wheel of pretence, running hard to impress others but in reality getting nowhere in our relationship with God.
Thankfully Jesus goes on & teaches his disciples how to be free from pretence! The gospel lifts us out of the wheel of pretence. The scribes made widows their prey; Jesus made a widow his example of true spirituality!
V41-44 “And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
The setting of this is The Court of the Women within the temple grounds. Its name does not indicate it was restricted to women, but that they were not permitted to enter further into the temple courts. Within The Court of the Women there were 13 offering boxes with funnels for all the people to place their financial offerings. There were no notes at this time so all the offerings would be in coins. Therefore the bigger the offering the louder the noise it made when it was cast into the offering box.
The text says Jesus “sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. Many would have sat & watched with amazement as the rich poured their offerings into the treasury, but Jesus was amazed by something else! “He saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.” In the midst of all the busyness & all the crashing of large amounts of coins into the offering boxes, the poor widows offering would have went unnoticed & unheard by all the people. But astonishingly Jesus says; “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of those contributing...” Imagine the disciple’s faces... “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
The widows offering may not have been heard in the temple courts, but it was heard in heaven over & above all the other offerings put together! The noise of all those large offerings ceased as soon as they landed in the offering box, but the two small copper coins this poor widow cast into the offering box have echoed throughout history & are still heard today every time her story is read or preached!
The rich gave God a little of their prosperity, but this poor widow gave God all of her poverty! And Jesus taught his disciples her poverty was worth more to him than all the prosperity of rich! How different God’s value system is from the worlds! How different his assessment of. Isn’t this good to know in a time when many have less to give! God is not counting how much you give he is looking at the attitude of your heart! This also teaches us God can use whatever offering he wants for his purposes. He can use a large offering for a small purpose, or he can decide to use the smallest of offerings for the greatest of purposes... This is both humbling & exalting.
2 Chr. 16:9 NASB “The eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that he may strongly support... (not those who give the biggest offering, but) those whose heart is completely His!” This poor widow’s heart was fully committed to God therefore she gave him all of the little she had, & the eyes of Jesus rested on her & she became the lesson of true spirituality! This unassuming woman had no idea Jesus would take her two copper coins to teach his disciples about real & true devotion. She had no idea her story would find its way into the Bible! Think of how many lives have been enriched because this poor widow gave all of her poverty to God! Are not God’s ways far higher than our ways?! Give him all of the little you have & he will make it count in more ways than you realise!
This story gives us a great foundation for our giving, but it also gives a great foundation for all our living! I don’t believe this passage is only about financial giving. I believe there is an extra dimension provided by the context of Jesus’ words about the scribes. I think he is contrasting the heart attitude of the scribes with that of the poor widow. The scribes tried to cover their spiritual poverty with a life of pretence, but there was no pretence with this poor widow! She simply gave all of her poverty to God and then trusted in him to meet all her needs... This is the way to salvation... This is what his disciples need to see. The gospel calls us to be real about our spiritual poverty before God, to surrender all of our poverty to him, and to trust totally in the provision he made for us in Christ!
You see the scribes gave the appearance of giving everything to God, but this poor widow really did give everything to God! The kingdom of God does not belong to pretenders, it belongs to those are real about their sin & are willing to give all of their spiritual poverty to God & trust in the provision he has made! “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there’s is the kingdom of heaven.” There was no pretence in this woman as she threw her two copper coins into the treasury. Throw your poverty into God’s treasury today. Throw the little spirituality or faith you have into his treasury & you will know the riches of his abundant grace!
The scribes were impressive in the eyes of the people but unimpressive in the eyes of Jesus. The poor widow, on the other hand, was unimpressive in the eyes of the people but impressive in the eyes of Jesus! Don’t pretend to be something you are not to impress people, don’t act more spiritual than you are, just give all of the little you have to God and he will see it & use your life for his glory & as a witness to others...
This woman would never have thought her action of giving all of her poverty to God would be held up as an example of true spirituality for billions of people over 2000 plus years. God can do amazing things when we give him our poverty! In reality our spiritual poverty is the only thing we have to offer. The gospel frees us from the fear of being real & honest about our spiritual poverty, it frees us from living a life of pretence, it’s frees us to be real & honest!
Isn’t it great to know we don’t have to pretend, that we can simply surrender all our poverty to him... doesn’t that take away the pressure of keeping up appearances... There is no need to pretend anymore when you truly understand the gospel! The scribes tried to hide their spiritual poverty with pretence, but the poor widow simply gave her poverty to God! Which example are we following; the bad example of the pretentious scribes or the good example of the unassuming widow?
By John Fitzsimmons
Series: Holy Spirit
Soren Kierkegaard, a 19th Century Christian writer, once told a story of a village inhabited by ducks. On Sunday the ducks would waddle out their doors to church down the street, and they waddled into the sanctuary and they squatted in their favourite pews. The duck choir would waddle out and sit in their place. The duck pastor would waddle up to the pulpit and open the Bible, and he would read: 'Ducks! God has given you wings, with wings you can fly, with wings you can mount up and soar like eagles! No walls can confine you, no fence can hold you! You have wings! God has given you wings and you can fly!' Excitedly they would all flap and quack, and then, after saying a hearty 'Amen', they all waddled home. The difference between being filling with the Spirit & not being filled with the Spirit is the difference between waddling & flying.
We can make a lot of claims, we can sing a lot about it, our core beliefs confess the fullness of the Spirit & yet when we look at our lives are we flying or waddling? Now of course the analogy is imperfect & it breaks down if we over think it. For the Christian life includes times of walking, running, resting & flying. However in the context of what we’ve been exploring it says something important. We don’t just want to say Amen to God’s promise of the Spirit & then go home the same; we need to encounter & reencounter the reality in our own lives.
This is a something that can make a difference in every area of our lives & church. Maybe you're struggling today, you're struggling with temptation & sin; you're not experiencing a victorious Christian life. No one experiences a victorious Christian life every day of the week, every day of the year, 24/7, it just doesn't happen. But maybe you experience little or no victory at all. Or maybe you feel powerless & inadequate to minister for God in whatever way he has called & gifted you to. Or maybe you feel your Christian life has been stuck in the same place for years. You’re struggling, you’re failing, you’re tired & thirsty. Well there is good news for you in the words we explored last week regarding being filled with the Holy Spirit. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
This promise is available to you today because the risen & living Jesus is here to offer living water which can fill us to overflowing, again & again, with the life of God. Maybe the reason you have struggled so long is because you're been trying to live the Christian life in the flesh, and you cannot do that! Here's good news for you today. You do not have to live the Christian life on empty; you can be filled again & again with the energy of the Holy Spirit. The Christian life is impossible humanly speaking, so don't even try it on your own! It cannot be done in the flesh; it must be done in the power of God. It is the life of God after all.
Now that doesn't mean that you don't have to cooperate with God, and there are not things for you to do - but the energy, that's what we're talking about, the energy you need is not human energy or willpower, it is the power of the Holy Spirit. I love the words Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians in 1:28-29; “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present them mature in Christ.” This was Paul’s mission. He knew his mission & we need to know ours. Another reason we burn out is because we don’t know our mission so end up doing everything... Now listen to verse 29; “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” So yes there is toil & struggle in life & ministry; but the energy we rely on is the very energy of God...
Yet so prone are we to trying things in our own strength, & we wonder why we burn out or grow weary of doing good. If you try driving the car without enough petrol you know what happens? You have to get out & start pushing. There are too many pushers in the Christian life, pushing what they are supposed to drive with energy God supplies. The Galatians were pushers. Paul wrote to them in 3:1-3: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus was publically portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now [ending with] the flesh?” It’s like they were given a full tank to begin with, but once they ran out concluded they had to complete the journey by pushing. Paul said don’t be foolish, the way to the end is the way you began, not by pushing but by being filled again and again with the energy of the Holy Spirit.
When they were initially filled they seen miracles done in their midst (v5), but now they were trying to perfect their Christianity in the flesh by keeping laws. This often happens in Christian circles: you get rid of some burdens of sin or shame etc, and then you join the church and they give you a whole load of other burdens & expectations to live up to. Then you get weighed down again with things too heavy to push through life. That’s not Christianity. One of the things baptism with the Holy Spirit helps do, is liberate you from the expectations of others to simply be & do what God has called, gifted & ordained you to be & do - with his power! This reality is living water to people burned out by demands of religion & the world.
A man visited the World Fair in Chicago on one occasion, and in the distance he saw someone robed in bright, gaudy Oriental clothes, who appeared to be laboriously turning a crank on a pump. Thereby he was making a mighty flow of water come. The man was impressed with the other man's energy, and the smooth motions, and his obvious physical conditioning - he was pumping a tremendous amount of water. Drawing closer, he was surprised to discover that the man was actually made of wood. Instead of turning the crank and making the water flow, the flow of water was actually turning the crank & making the man go. That's Christianity. That’s how it works. That’s why we need to be filled again & again with the Holy Spirit. Do you feel like you have been doing a lot of pumping and not getting too far - that is not life as God intended for you.
Today is all about coming to Jesus to be filled with his Spirit, either for the first time or again. Jesus simply says if anyone wants this living water “let him come to me and drink.” You’ll be surprised at what flows out of your life because you simply come to him in faith. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:18; “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (NIV). When the demands of life get too much don’t turn to alcohol (or whatever your tendency is) turn to Jesus & drink the living water he offers. This will do you much more good to you & it’s free!
So how do we receive the Holy Spirit? This is where the passage from Luke 11 comes in. This passage underlines something about how we should approach God for anything. However verse 13 applies it specifically to asking for the Holy Spirit. This of course can apply to asking for the Holy Spirit in the sense of new birth or in being filled with the Holy Spirit. Remember, the way we start is the way we continue... Grace by faith...
Let me quickly highlight a few important things about what Jesus is teaching. In the story of the friend coming at midnight in verses 5-8 Jesus teaches us something important about our need to ask God for the Holy Spirit. In Biblical times hospitality was a sacred duty. When a guest arrived—especially a friend—the host had a holy obligation to provide a generous meal. So the man in the story was in real need & there was no 24 hour Tesco’s or petrol station to run to. So when the man’s friend arrived, he found himself unable to meet the high demands of hospitality. So he had to go & get what he needed from another. Likewise if we as Christians are going to have something to offer weary travellers who arrive at our church we also need the resources of another!
In the story the man’s friend was already in bed & didn’t really want to be bothered – as most of us wouldn’t at that time of night. But verse 8 says something worth thinking about. Jesus said; “I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is a friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him what he needs.” To be impudent means to be shamelessly presumptuous. The Greek word refers to someone who “acts without any feeling of shame or disgrace.” We may know someone like this who has the sheer audacity to come right out & ask for something no one else would dare... This is how Jesus is teaching us to ask for the Holy Spirit; boldly & shamelessly, because we know if we are going to have something to offer weary travellers then we desperately need to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is not teaching in this story that God gets annoyed when we bother him at midnight, or that we have to beg him to come down & help us. No God is not like the man in bed at all. Jesus is making a contrast just like he does again in verses 11-13. God neither sleeps nor slumbers (Ps 121:4) & he loves to help people in need (Ps 34:15). In the next two verses Jesus assures us God will answers our prayers. He offers this assurance six times in two verses—three times in verse nine & three times in verse 10. Jesus’ point in this story is to teach us to make audaciously bold requests for God to do what he has promised to do... We can ask for the Holy Spirit with confidence then, God is willing to give to those who ask him! Jesus says: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
In the Greek this implies continues action. So Jesus is not telling us to go to God only once, but to keep going to him again and again asking for what we need, asking for more of his Holy Spirit... He will not get tired of us asking & he will not tire of giving... He wants us to have what we need so we can meet the needs of weary travellers who arrive at our door... For this reason we can never ask for too much of the Holy Spirit & we should never stop asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit...
Then Jesus says; “What Father among you, if his son asks for a fish will give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” One of the greatest master strokes of Satan is to make Christian’s afraid of the Holy Spirit! Afraid of what might happen if they are filled with his power. Will they start speaking in tongues or fall over or begin shaking under his power. Well you might & you might not, but do you honestly think if you genuinely come to God, seeking him, knocking on his door that he will do anything to harm you. Yes everything that happens in the name of the Spirit may not be the Spirit. Yes we need to be discerning. However if we ask God for what he encourages us to ask for, then whatever happens can only be for our good. Leonard Ravenhill once said: 'We are warned of false fire by fireless men, and then we too often settle for no fire at all'. There is nothing to fear in asking God to fill you with his Holy Spirit. He is not going to give us something that would harm us; he comes to bring freedom, courage, purpose joy & much more.
1 John 5:14-15 gives us truth to take hold of. It says; “And this is the confidence that we have towards him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we HAVE the requests that we have asked of him.” If you’re asking for something that is clearly God’s will he hears! And if he hears, then you will have what you ask for not something else.
What confidence this gives us in asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We know it is God’s will for us so we can ask today with great confidence. We can come to the Risen Jesus, the baptiser with the Holy Spirit, & ask him for this living water, this power from on high. Jesus said in John 16:23: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive that your joy may be full.” Jesus had been talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit not long before he said this. The Spirit has come & because he has we can all be filled...
By John Fitzsimmons
Series: Holy Spirit
The last thing Jesus said before his ascension is recorded in Acts 1:8; “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Then verse 9 says; “And when he had said these things. As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of sight.” This underlines that the central purpose of being baptised or filled with the Spirit is to make powerful witnesses out of us. It also implies this experience will give us a heart & vision to reach the world. One of the initial thoughts I wrote down as I started studying this subject was “a Spirit filled vision is a global vision” based on what Jesus said in Acts 1:8. It struck me that these disciples were being told this power they would receive would empower them to be witnesses to their own people, & to the Samaritans (their cultural & religious enemies) & to the ends of the earth. Being filled with the Spirit & cultural narrowness do not go together
So this experience could take you anywhere in this world. This experience is to give us the courage to witness to friends, enemies & people of varying cultures. This experience, if it is the real thing, will not turn us in on ourselves, nor will it allow us to limit our evangelistic concern to our own town, people or culture. Rather it will propel us outward & as it does so our mindsets will be challenged & our horizons broadened like Peter’s was in Acts chapters 10 & 11. This is the story of the book of Acts, disciples crossing boarders & boundaries for the sake of the gospel.
However before anything happened, before anyone is filled with the Spirit, Jesus underlines the primary purpose behind what the disciples were going to experience. This is why messages like this one are important. They help bring clarity to what we, the Church, are all about.
There are a few possible mistakes we could make regarding being filled with the Spirit. The first is we could enjoy the experience while forgetting its purpose. If this happens we may find ourselves having a good time without making any real progress or impact on the lives of others. Another possible mistake is we could know the purpose without experiencing the reality. We could become experts without experiencing this power from on high which propels us out of our comfort zones into the mission field.
A third mistake we could make is to understand the central purpose, & even experience it, but fail to see its affects are also for our good. This is what I want to focus on. It is one thing to understand the central purpose of baptism with the Spirit is to make witnesses of us, but it’s also important we understand how it does so. I want us to get that it’s not merely God empowering us so we simply get a job done for him. It’s not as cold as that. It is much warmer, personal & loving. Jesus wants to empower us to make a difference in this world, yes he does! But he desires to do this by assuring us of his presence with us; and by bringing confidence, freedom, breakthrough, joy & courage into our lives. He desires to do so by gifting us personally with what we need to fulfil our unique part in his global purpose.
Baptism with the Spirit gives us a sense of God’s immediate presence. Baptism with the Spirit gives us confidence and purpose in God’s call on our lives. The way it empowers us is by flooding our lives with God’s presence in a way that produces confidence & boldness. That we might go out into this world, our world, fully equipped to play our part in Christ’s mission. Our involvement in God’s purpose is as much for our good & growth as it is for the worlds. It’s always been that way. Like with Moses, Ruth, Peter & all others our good & growth is wrapped up in God’s plan to work through us for his glory & the benefit of others.
At times, when I’ve heard teaching on this subject it is emphasised that being filled with the Spirit is not about us experiencing thrills & goose pimps. This is often said in reaction to the extreme of enjoying the blessing while forgetting the purpose. However I want us to see this experience is even better for us than thrills & goose pimps. When we explore the purpose, results & affect’s this reality had on the disciples, & continues to have on disciples, we find that baptism with the Spirit is a blessing that is for us with a purpose bigger than us.
Think of what happened to the disciples at Pentecost. Here are a group of people who up to this point had failed to fully grasp the teaching of Jesus. They had deserted or denied him in the hour of his greatest anguish. When Jesus left them they didn’t really know what to do with themselves. Every time the door rapped in the upper room they feared for their lives... Their vision for the future was cloudy at best. Then they were filled with the Spirit & they suddenly know what they’re about & they’re suddenly bold enough to do whatever it takes for the gospel. What a transformation, what an injection of confidence, power, vision & faith. All of a sudden they believe they have something to offer, something the world needs.
Peter who had denied Jesus is the first to get up & publically witness to Jesus on one of the busiest days of the year in Jerusalem. Peter the man who was crippled with a fear of being recognised as one of Jesus disciples became Peter the unashamed witness who laid down his life for the cause of Christ! Peter, as well as the others, was delivered from what was holding him back. When they were filled with the Spirit the sense of failure, fear & disillusionment departed from their lives & they became the most confident, determined & focused of people. We need some of that. We can have some of that because the promise of baptism with the Holy Spirit is for us as much as it was for Peter & the others (Acts 2:39).
So the purpose of baptism with the Spirit includes what is best for us even though it does not stop there. Part of its purpose is to deliver us from fear, timidity & insecurity so we can live the Christian life with confidence, courage & certainty. This is for our good & it’s also for the good of others. Part of its purpose is to fill us with a sense of victory so we don’t have to live in light of yesterday’s failures... Part of its purpose is to fill us with joy so we can remain upbeat & strong in the midst of the challenges of life & ministry... Part of its purpose is to fill us with the belief that we have been given something by God that this world needs & for this reason we cannot hold back...
All this is for our good, it is liberating & empowering, & all this equips us to be effective witnesses in this world. Imagine a church full of people crippled with insecurity, timidity, fear & disillusionment... Imagine a church made up of individuals who don’t believe they have anything to offer the world, who don’t really understand or believe in what they’re doing. What’s the point? May as well close shop! Now imagine a church that is confident and courageous, made up of people who know & believe in what they have been entrusted with, who believe they have been called, gifted & sent by God, who believe in what they are doing. This is the difference being filled with Holy Spirit makes. It fills us with all the confidence & courage we need & helps us shake of our inhabitations & just go for it because we believe we have been empowered & gifted by the Holy Spirit...
This is not arrogance, this is dependence on God & genuine dependence on God produces great confidence in God! This is not about being full of ourselves; this is about being full of God – the source of true confidence! This is a reality we need to rediscover! This is a reality that could make all the difference in our lives & church. Psalm 3:3 says; “But you O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” Is your head hanging down today like the disciples before Pentecost..? This is the experience that will lift your head & fill you with the confidence & courage you need... God does not want his people going around with heads down...
May we experience a fresh baptism with the Holy Spirit in these days, for our good & for the good of others!
This is a reality which will fill our lives with God’s power & it is something which overflows out of us! Jesus said in John 7:37; “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Glorified in John’s Gospel means crucified... The reality of being filled with the Spirit provides both what we need & it overflows out of us for the benefit of others. In Jesus’ analogy the thirsty person is satisfied to the point living water flows out of them. I believe this Scripture is describing the reality of baptism with the Holy Spirit. It is for our good but it does not stop there! It is a blessing for us with a purpose that is bigger than us!
We know from John 20:22 that the disciples received the Spirit at some level before Pentecost. No one can be a Christian; can be born again without the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:9 says; “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” This is clear. However it’s also clear the disciples, who had received the Spirit at some level, were not filled/baptised/immersed/overflowing with the Spirit until the day of Pentecost. This is what we’re talking about now. This filling, this empowering of the Spirit for mission, ministry & life! This is what I’m encouraging us to thirst for so that living waters can flow out of our hearts... For if we are going to have something to offer others in this spiritually barren world then we need to be full & overflowing!
Let me finish today with one more Scripture. Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:5-8. I’ll read it in the Amplified Version:
“I am calling up memories of your sincere... faith (the leaning of your entire personality on God in Christ in absolute trust and confidence in his power, wisdom, and goodness), [a faith] that first lived permanently in [the heart of] your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am [fully] persuaded, [dwells] in you also. That is why I would remind you to stir up (rekindle the embers of, fan the flame of, and keep burning) the [gracious] gift of God, [the inner fire] that is in you by means of the laying on of my hands... For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [he has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control. Do not blush or be ashamed then, to testify to and for our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake, but [with me] take your share of the suffering [to which the preaching] of the Gospel [may expose you, and do it] in the power of God.”
This is the Spirit & power Jesus wants to clothe us in. Like Timothy God has a ministry, a gift package for each person. When Paul talks about the gift of God that is in Timothy he could very well be taking him back to the moment he was first baptised with the Holy Spirit. For the laying on of hands is one means by which early Christian’s received the filling with the Spirit! We can’t be certain but it’s a real possibility since this reality is what empowers & equips God’s people for service.
Keith Warrington writes on verse 6 “that this gift is within Timothy, though he does not identify it. Paul may be referring to Timothy’s... commission to ministry, or to the particular gift of the Spirit that enables him to function in ministry. Since Paul, alluding to fire within the word “rekindle”, says that God gave this gift to Timothy, it is possible that he is referring to the Spirit himself, who is associated with power, love and self-control.”
Personally I believe Paul is talking about the whole package. For the gifts, the calling, the ministry are nothing without the presence & power of the person of the Holy Spirit. As I reflected on this possibility a clear picture began to develop in my mind of the Holy Spirit filling all of us afresh with his presence & power. As he done so each one of us was given a unique gift package which contained everything we need to accomplish the part God has for us to play in mission, ministry & life. Our part is not every part... it’s important to know this when judging ourselves & others... when the Spirit fills us he equips us to play our part so he equips different people in different ways. It’s always been this way. For example in Exodus 31:1-11 we read of God equipping two men in very specific ways...
It’s the presence & power of the Holy Spirit filling our lives which gifts us with all we need & which will give us the courage & confidence to use the gift package he has personally graced us with. These things will bring fresh freedom, significance, purpose & blessing into our lives but it will not stop there. For a fresh baptism or filling with the Spirit is a blessing for us with a purpose that is bigger than us! This is an exciting vision Scripture gives us but I believe there is one other important thing we need to take note of...
R. T. Kendall says; “Four proofs you have been filled with the Holy Spirit: love, power, fearlessness and self-control.” Paul wrote to Timothy “for God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” This verse brings a much needed balance in case we go over the top & forget the purpose is bigger than us. Keith Warrington writes; “All believers must use their gifts with power, love and self-control—all of which are possible under the influence of the Spirit, and all of which ensure that gifts will not be used in an insensitive, tentative or undisciplined manner.”
The same Spirit who fills us with passion & power gives us the self-control & love we need to channel it for the good of others. The same Spirit who empowers us with charismatic gifts gives us the reigns of self-control & love to harness our gifting for the good of others. Because the filling of the Spirit is a blessing that is for us with a purpose that is bigger than us!
By John Fitzsimmons
Bible Reading: John 4:4-26
The chances are the woman in this story knew the location of every water source in the area. So when Jesus said what he said she probably didn’t take him seriously. She most likely thought he was being funny. All she sees in Jesus is a weary Jewish traveller, and after all, why would Jesus ask her for a drink if he had his own water supply?
Jesus is offering her living water. Living water refers to water that flows, moving water as opposed to still water that could be found in a cistern, a still well, or a pond. Living water was precious and valued and was the only water that could be used in ritual washings to purify unclean worshipers. However, the living water Jesus is talking about has the potential to quench her deepest thirst, satisfy her deepest longing, meet her deepest needs and make her clean before God, but she doesn’t understand, she thinks Jesus is just being humorous.
All she can say is “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” This reminds me of Nicodemus in the previous chapter when Jesus tells him “You must be born again”. All Nicodemus could think is ‘I’m too big to crawl inside my mother’s womb and be born again.’ Both Nicodemus and this woman are a picture of us! We don’t get it until God opens our spiritual eyes.
But there is another reason this woman didn’t understand what Jesus was referring to. She didn’t have the verses in her Bible! She didn’t know the truth that would help her understand what Jesus was talking about. Being a Samaritan her Bible would have consisted only of the first five books of the Bible. This reminds us of the importance of accepting all of God’s Word. There are many Scriptures this woman wouldn’t have known about like Zechariah 14:8 and Ezekiel 47:9 which talk of living water flowing out of Jerusalem. These passages tell us of the grace and knowledge of God and of the life transforming power of the Holy Spirit. In Isaiah 1:16-18 water also speaks of cleansing. John picks up on all of these uses of water or living water in his gospel.
Also she wouldn’t have known Jeremiah 2:14; “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” This verse speaks of God’s people rejecting the fresh, running, unending supply of God’s grace and goodness and instead trying to find satisfaction apart from him just like the girl in the drama.
Many of us make the same mistake we try to find satisfaction and happiness in other things apart from God. In relationships, achievements, possessions, eventful social lives… These things can’t satisfy our deepest thirst & some of them leave us in a worse condition & only increase brokenness, shame, dissatisfaction... We all need Jesus more than we know! He is the only one who can satisfy, cleanse and fill us with the transforming reality of His Holy Spirit!
In verse 12 the woman asks Jesus; “Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus says to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Here are three interesting things about Jacobs well. Firstly there was a seat for weary travellers beside the well. Secondly it was fed by an underground stream. And thirdly the well is still producing water today! Today the well lies within the complex of an Eastern Orthodox monastery in the in the West Bank. For thousands of years this well that Jacob dug and that Jesus sat at has been producing fresh water satisfying people’s thirst.
This woman asks Jesus; “Are you greater than our father Jacob?” Of course the answer YES… In Christ there is a place of rest where you can lay you’re weary and restless soul. In Christ there is a never failing stream of living water that springs from the endless love and unlimited resources of an immeasurable God! This woman thought Jacobs well was deep, but the well of Jesus is bottomless, overflowing & eternally fresh…
One day, as impressive as it is, Jacobs well will fail, but there is a well that flows forever! It is a well of living water that can satisfy for all eternity! You cannot get this living water from anyone else but Jesus. He alone is the source! There is no lasting heart-satisfaction in this world, only in Christ. Jesus alone can fill up the empty places in our inner most being. Jesus alone can give lasting and eternal joy. Jesus alone can wash us and make us clean before God. Jesus alone can fill us to overflowing with the Holy Spirit... What He gives is a stream of living water, once you believe in Him he sets it flowing into your life, and it flows for all eternity.
The woman in this story didn’t understand what she was being offered, nor did she understand who Jesus was. In V15 the woman asks; “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” She was still thinking in the natural. Thinking about making her life easier by not having to journey to the well everyday… Jesus was talking about satisfying the deepest longing of her heart. So he does not give up.
Out of the blue in V16-18 “Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” Jesus takes the conversation to a deeper level.
He has offered her living water but she doesn’t understand what he is talking about. So what does Jesus do? He goes into the murky depths of her private life and brings up her sin! Jesus knows her past and he also knows her present but he still loves her. Nothing is hidden from Jesus. He sees everything. His eyes search the very depths of our souls, just like they did this woman’s, and they bring things up that make us uncomfortable. Sins which have taken root. Issues we’ve buried. Things we’ve avoided dealing with. Things we’ve done & things that have been done on us. Jesus will not stay on the surface of our lives! He will dive deep into our lives & put his finger on things we didn’t even know where there or things we’ve forgotten. He will make us face up to ourselves & our issues.
Jesus will not stay on the surface of things. He shines his light into our hearts, into the darkest places of our lives. As John has already said in chapter 1:9 of this gospel; Jesus is “the true light, which enlightens everyone”… I admire this woman! Even though Jesus brings up her issue, her sin in her case, she still remains in The Light! She continues to speak with Jesus. She does not run back into the darkness, she stays in The Light.
This is exactly the point when many back off or walk away from Jesus, when he shines his torch into the dark areas and exposes what they try to hide. It is too uncomfortable, too convicting, and too real. We all do it at times & at some level. Jesus shines his light on our issue and we scamper back into the darkness, because it’s too painful to contemplate… We would rather talk about what is wrong with the government, or work, or church, or even the weather, than what is wrong with us…
But can I encourage you? STAY IN THE LIGHT! Don’t run back into the darkness. I know it is uncomfortable, but understand this; when Jesus shines his light on your issue it is not to condemn you, but to free you from sin and condemnation! John 3:17 says; “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” When Jesus puts his finger on your sin, or your issue, it is because he wants to help you. In this gospel of John Jesus is not only revealed as ‘The Well’ and ‘The Light’ but he is also revealed as ‘The Lamb’! John 1:36 declares; “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” When Jesus plunges into the depths of your life and reveals your sin it is ultimately so he can take your sins away, as far as the east is from the west! And with it he takes all the shame, all the guilt and all the condemnation.
This woman’s life was filled with these things. The reason she came to the well at 12oclock in the day (which was the hottest part of the day) was because she wanted to avoid the other women… As well as going to the well to draw water many woman would use this time to catch up on the latest gossip. She could not bear the shame of being the subject of their gossip. That’s likely why she said (even though it was probably with a hint of sarcasm) “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here and draw water.”
In her mind if what Jesus said was true, if he could give her such water then she would not have to leave her house everyday and face all the shame and condemning looks. This was appealing to her. However Jesus wanted to do more than that! He had a better plan. He wanted to cleanse her of all the sin, shame, guilt, and condemnation altogether and give her a new start!
It’s interesting to note that when the woman changes the subject to worship in verse 20 Jesus never brings the conversation back to the issue of her sin! He doesn’t go anywhere with it. He doesn’t see the need to bring it up again. Why? Because he didn’t bring it up to condemn her, he brought it up to identify the thirst she doesn’t even know she has. Jesus has moved into this woman’s inner life. He has used the prophetic key to let himself in. The living water he has offered her, it is not water you drink with your mouth. It is water you drink with your heart! This woman has a thirsty heart. No woman goes through sexual relationships with six men without either starting desperately thirsty or ending desperately thirsty.
The reason Jesus brought up this woman’s history of failed relationships is to show her that her heart was desperately thirsty. To show her there was a deeper issue. Perhaps she thought she could find happiness & satisfaction by finding Mr Right. But it didn’t work out that way. Even if she had have found Mr Right he would still not have satisfied her thirst. No one will ever find all they need in another human being. We should never place that expectation on anyone. If we do we will live our whole lives disappointed and frustrated and we’ll lay too heavy a burden on others. Other people can never be for us what we need most…
This woman moved from relationship to relationship to try and satisfy her thirst, but maybe for you it’s something else. Maybe you move through friends, jobs, careers, hobbies, or even churches... trying to find meaning or fulfillment… Let me tell you that you will not find it in any of the above. They may satisfy for a time but they will not quench your deepest thirst…
All of us need to drink continually of this living water Christ is offering. When we do we no longer need to wander from here to there looking for something to satisfy us, something to complete us, something to give us meaning, identity and happiness. When we have drunk of this water Jesus offers we don’t need to look anymore, we have found what we’ve been looking for in him. It’s all found in him. All our deepest longings are met in him. No one or nothing else can complete us, satisfy us or give us what we truly crave. We were created to find ultimate and lasting satisfaction in Christ alone. He is the only one who will not disappoint!
When Jesus told this woman “Go call your husband” he knew exactly what he was doing. He was identifying her deepest thirst. He was getting her to ready to receive what she needed most – living water! He was able to look beyond her sinful past & present because he was going to the cross to die in her place to pay the price for her sin so he could have her heart.
The lady in the story is not unlike the girl in the drama. She lost connection with Jesus by trying to find what only he can give in other things. Then when she came to the end of herself Jesus stepped into her mess & saved her. He wants to step into your mess & reveal himself as your Messiah…
By John Fitzsimmons
Series: Holy Spirit
Let me begin by saying this: Baptism with the Holy Spirit is not about different levels of Christianity. The experience of Spirit-baptism is about our need for power & confidence to fulfil Christ’s mission. In the book of Acts the filling of the Spirit was not a reward for being holy. It was a free gift given to empower weak & ordinary people to live lives they otherwise would not have lived. That’s what we’re talking about. The gift was given before they done anything! The gift enabled them to do what they did! So this teaching is not about making Christians feel inadequate who haven’t had a certain experience because they haven’t reached a certain milestone of... Rather it is to help us all see that the Holy Spirit has come to make us adequate for everything God calls us to. There is power from on high for you & you do not have to reach a certain level of anything to qualify for it! Isn’t this good news? As I quoted at the end of the service last week:
"Being filled with the Spirit is not being holy enough. Some people have taught down through the years that you need to get holy, you need to stop doing this, you need to start doing that; you need to sanctify yourself, almost, and then the Holy Ghost will come upon you. If you were able to do all those things, you wouldn't need the Holy Spirit!" - David Legge
The Christian life is impossible from start to finish without the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit was to withdraw himself from the Church genuine Christianity would go with him. It is impossible to be a Christian apart from the Spirit’s work of New Birth. It is impossible to grow as a Christian without the Spirit’s work of sanctification. It is impossible to fulfil your mission as a Christian without the Spirit’s work of empowerment.
Last week I shared a bit of my own story. I put so much down to that first encounter with the Holy Spirit. I had been born again around a year. I had been timid about my faith outside of church life. I was extremely timid in general. I had low expectations for my life. I had failed everything at school. I had no confidence in my ability to do anything. I had never read a book right through. I did not have the discipline to apply myself to study. My writing & my communication skills were very poor. And what I’m doing now was my worst fear... I believed I was stupid & I didn’t think I had anything to offer anyone. I would have literally freaked out at the thought of this. I cannot emphasise all this enough. Every time I get up to preach it is a fresh reminder to me of the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit.
I had been asking God for boldness to share my faith for a number of months & then I found myself camping at Hillsborough Bible Week. In one of the evening meetings I felt strongly compelled to go forward for prayer during the ministry time after the preaching. I wrestled about this for a bit for the reasons I mentioned last week. Then I went forward, a man prayed for me & as he did I fell over as the the power of the Holy Spirit surged through me. As I lay on the floor, totally still, every part of me was filled with the presence & peace of God. I could have got up at anytime, but I wanted to stay in that moment forever. God was so present & so real.
This isn’t the only time I’ve had such an encounter but it was the first time & it was the one single experience that changed the direction of my whole life. After this encounter there were a number of new things in my life... One of new things was an increasing desire to read the Bible & books that helped me understand more about the Bible & the Christian life. I also began to write out my thoughts & desired to share with others what I was learning. My desire to learn, study & preach eventually led me to Bible College & then into ministry training with Elim, working on & off in between everything. I was not primarily equipped for ministry at Bible College. I was called & equipped for Bible College & ministry through the baptism with of the Holy Spirit. That’s a vital part of my testimony.
1. Is Spirit-baptism a once off experience?
Is baptism with the Holy Spirit a once off experience in the life of a Christian? I do not believe it is. Here’s why. One of the phrases I’ve heard a number of times regarding this question is: One baptism, many fillings. Meaning there is one baptism with the Spirit, but many fillings with the Spirit... I struggle with this conclusion because when I read the NT I don’t see baptism with the Spirit & being filled with the Spirit being distinguished from each other at all. For example in Acts 1:5 Jesus says; “For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” Then in Acts 2, the first time it happens in verse 4 it says “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” Baptised with was the promise, filled with was how it was fulfilled. The way these disciples were baptised with the Spirit was by being filled with the Spirit. Luke uses the term filled with to describe the fulfilment of Christ’s promise of baptism with the Spirit. The two terms are used to describe the exact same experience.
Another example is in Acts 10 while Peter is in Cornelius’s house. Verse 44 says “When Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on (or fell on) all who heard the message.” Then in the next chapter when Peter is reporting the event Peter says; “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he came upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord said: ‘John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 11:15-16). So Peter is also happy to see being filled with the Spirit at Pentecost & the Holy Spirit coming on all who listened in Cornelius’s house as baptism with the Holy Spirit.
The same reality is described in a number of different ways & I can’t see any evidence for one term being distinguished from the others. Baptism with, filled with, falling on, coming on, clothed with are all interchangeable terms describing the same reality. Of course there is a first time, there’s a first time for everything, but the first time is not the only time as we will see, & the first time is not given a distinct term. The terms are all describing the same experience. For this reason we can expect to be baptised with, filled with, or clothed with the Holy Spirit more than once. We need it more than once, just like believers in Acts did. Surely a fresh baptism or filling is what we need today!
So this is why I don’t think the term one baptism, many fillings is very helpful. It seems clear that the different terms describe the same experience which can be repeated throughout our lives. This means all of us can ask God for a fresh baptism or fresh filling with the Spirit. It’s not a case of I’ve been there got the T-shirt. There is more & you need more.
There are times in life when energy is running low, when our courage, confidence & vision are almost gone. When fear or discouragement etc threaten to get the better of us! In such times a fresh baptism or filling or whatever you want to call it is the answer needed. The Holy Spirit can energise us again; he can encourage & embolden us again; he can fill us with fresh confidence, vision & power. It’s not a case of us pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps; it’s a case of us being filled again & again with the Spirit of the living God.
Turn with me to Acts 4:31 ESV. It says; “And when they had prayed, the place in which they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” Here again we find believers being filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s the exact same term used to describe what happened at Pentecost... Now think about this. Acts 2:47 tells us “the Lord added daily to their number those who were being saved.” So everyday there are new believers. Now we find ourselves in chapter 4. Peter & John have just been released from prison & banned from preaching about Jesus. They report what happened to their fellow believers... Then they all pray together. One of the things they pray for is boldness. They must have felt a level of intimidation & fear creeping in, but God answers their prayer & they are ALL filled with the Spirit & continue to speak the word of God boldly.
Here’s why I’m pointing this out. If the Lord has been adding daily to the number of those saved... Then in that house there are surely believers who experienced Pentecost alongside those who have become believers since Pentecost. Therefore if ALL were filled with the Spirit then some were filled for a second time & others were likely filled for the first time. And the result this time is they ALL spoke the word of God with boldness.
In their prayer they may well have been praying that God would enable Peter & John to continue speaking God’s word boldly. “Grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness...” However, God’s answer was to fill them ALL to speak God’s word boldly! God’s plan is to fill & refill, to baptise & re-baptise every believer with the power of the Holy Spirit so we can ALL continue to boldly declare & demonstrate the reality of the gospel! Let’s pray to God like these early believers...
2. Is tongues the initial physical evidence of Spirit-baptism?
Many Pentecostal’s believe speaking in tongues is the initial physical evidence of baptism with the Holy Spirit. I don’t. Firstly because it wasn’t part of my first experience of being baptised with the Spirit & more importantly because I don’t think the NT teaches so. It teaches that it can be but it doesn’t teach that it always is. One thing to point out is that much of the argument of speaking in tongues being the initial physical evidence is based on what I see as a misguided assumption that the NT teaches this concept, of one baptism, many fillings... there is no such distinction!
In the book of Acts there are at least ten occasions when it talks about an individual or a group being filled with the Spirit. On three of those occasions people spoke in tongues. On the first of those three occasions, Pentecost, there was also wind & what looked like a tongues fire resting upon each person (Acts 2:1-4)... On another of those three occasions the believers spoke in tongues & prophesied (Acts 19:6). So even on these three occasions, when people definitely spoke in tongues, there was something distinctive about each time the Holy Spirit fell. This fits with what we have learned about the unpredictability of the Spirit. He moves in new & unexpected ways, no time or event is exactly the same as before. He desires to fall on us in fresh & new ways.
Now this leaves at least seven occasions in which tongues is not mentioned. In Acts 4:8 it says; “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them...” 4:31 says; “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” Remember this occasion included new believers. 7:55 says; “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand.” In 8:17, in Samaria, it says “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” In 9:17 Ananias says; “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 13:9 talks again of Paul being filled with the Holy Spirit as he confronted Bar-Jesus... 13:52 says; “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Many of these disciples were new believers!
Tongues is a wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit & it is 100% for today & like Paul I would say I wish everyone of you could speak in tongues & even more that you might prophesy. However let’s not limit the Holy Spirit with theological assumptions. When you are baptised, filled, clothed with the Holy Spirit you might well speak in tongues but you might not. Our fundamental belief regarding this is that the believer is... promised an enduement of power as the gift of Christ through the baptism in the Holy Spirit with signs following. It leaves it open. This is unique in Pentecostal circles, but it makes us no less Pentecostal.
The important thing about the baptism or filling with the Spirit is this: You can’t miss it – it is an experience! If it happens something happens & you know it does. Every time people were filled with the Spirit in Acts something happened. Sometimes is tells us what, other times is doesn’t, but the sure thing is it was noticeable. In his book Joy Unspeakable on the baptism & gifts of the Spirit Martin Lloyd-Jones says 1. It is conscious. 2. It is usually subsequent to a person having believed. 3. It is the highest form of assurance.
You see when it happens you cannot but help know God is real & near & with you & for you, because you experience him in a conscious way. It is an encounter with God & encountering God has always been the heartbeat of the Pentecostal movement, which partly grew out of frustration with cold overly rational & overly formal & overly doctrinal forms of Christianity...
In an ecumenical gathering a number of years ago a Pentecostal leader was asked to identify the difference between him & the others. He responded, ‘You have the truth on ice, and I have it on fire’. He might have been a bit cheeky, but he catches something of the heartbeat of Pentecostalism. THE FIRE. We need the heat of the holy fire of Pentecost back in our hearts & lives & for that to happen surely we need a fresh baptism with the Holy Spirit! And whatever happens; it happens.
Another person describes Pentecostalism as ‘Christianity standing on tiptoe, expecting something to happen.’ I love that! Let’s get on our tiptoes again, let’s climb up on our chair’s again, expecting something to happen. In a couple of weeks we will look at the purpose of baptism with the Spirit & how to receive it but for now let’s prepare our hearts by getting on our tiptoes again, getting our expectancy back.
The thing I love about baptism with the Spirit being a distinct & repeated experience in the Christian life is that it encourages us to desire fresh encounters with God. It encourages us to expect new experiences with God & to depend on his empowering presence in our lives. If we are new believers it teaches us from the beginning to expect more! If we have been Christian’s for a while it teaches us there is always more! And we need more; we need to be filled again & again with the Holy Spirit.
Some Christian’s teach we get everything at new birth & need nothing else. Martin Lloyd-Jones challenges such believers, “Got it all? Well, if you have got it all, I simply ask in the name of God why are you as you are? If you have got it all, why are you so unlike New Testament Christians? Got it at your conversion! Well where is it, I ask.” None of us got it all at our conversion but we can all be filled over & over with the Holy Spirit. There is something about this truth that keeps our hearts depending on & seeking more of God... There is fresh power for every hour of our lives... There is fresh power for this hour! In the book of Acts Peter & John did not rely on the experience of Pentecost for the rest of their lives. It changed their lives but they did not live of that single experience for the rest of their lives. They were filled again at the beginning of Acts 4 (4:8) & at the end of Acts 4 (4:31). This set a pattern for us. We too can, & need to be, filled again & again with the presence & power of the Holy Spirit. For it is only his inexhaustible power that can equip us with all we need as a church, to keep advancing & keep believing that we have what it takes in God to see this city, this county, this island, this world changed one life at a time!
By John Fitzsimmons
Series: Holy Spirit
We all come from different places! We all have different stories. Our experience of life, faith, culture, church, family etc all differ & our experiences have helped form our perspectives, cautions, frustrations & expectations. For this reason everyone’s questions, reservations, concerns, frustrations etc are valid. We are all on a journey & on our journey so far we’ve been taught different things, influenced by different circles, warned of different things, enthused for different things. And now at this time in all our lives we’re all together in the same room, part of the same church. As we develop as a church I think it is very important we are aware & sensitive to where one another are at in every respect. I believe it’s especially important concerning this next aspect of the Spirit’s ministry – The Baptism & Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
One reason I believe in taking things slowly, when it comes to teaching the Bible, is so we all have time to think, rethink, process, to ask questions, discuss & listen to each other & not just me. It also allows time to listen to people’s responses, feedback, questions & perspectives & then engage in with them in conversation & preaching. For this very reason I know there are some of you who are nervous even at the mention of this subject, you’re wondering where it’s going to lead, are we all going to be speaking in tongues & falling over etc. Then there are others & you think that’s the best thing I’ve ever said, you just want the wind, fire, & tongues to happen right now, you feel frustrated, maybe even limited, that it hasn’t. Then there are others somewhere in the middle. You want something to happen... but you’ll keep the seat belt on for a while...
In 2 Timothy 4:1-2 Paul charges Timothy, & this is a charge that extends to all ministers. “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” With great patience and careful instruction Paul says in the context of a ministers preaching. Why? Because as a minister preaches the Word he finds everyone in different places & they need to be met where they are & led on from there into the fullness of life in Christ. This takes great patience and careful instruction because it is his responsibility to guide everyone towards unity, maturity & fullness in the Christian life.
This is vitally important when it comes to the Baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit because there has been so much confusion, division and disagreement over these things. Yet we ought to humble ourselves before the trustworthy Word because none of us, & no stream of Christianity, has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit, just as none has a monopoly on the Scriptures. We all see in part as in a mirror dimly...
As always in body of Christ we listen to & learn from one another with humility. We are part of a kingdom which transcends & outlasts denominations, streams & movements; therefore we recognise the value & need of every part of the universal Church. We are not competitors but partners in the gospel. Jesus is building his Church and it is much bigger than Pentecostalism, so I encourage you to get outside the Pentecostal/Charismatic box & mingle with & learn from & be influenced, challenged & balanced by the wider body of Christ. We are not a clique; we are part of the global multicultural, multi-denominational movement.
Now with that said let me now say this: If we don’t be ourselves nobody else will be. If we don’t play our part nobody else will. If we don’t emphasis our distinctive no one else will. We are called to be Pentecostal. This doesn’t mean if you don’t see yourself as Pentecostal today you’re not welcome, you are very welcome – everyone is welcome! You are still part of the family because the family is bigger and like I already pointed out your questions; reservations & concerns etc are also welcome & even needed. I’m just simply pointing out that we are what we are & we need to become what we are more... And we are what we are primarily because of what we believe about the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
We are not distinctive because of what we believe about spiritual gifts or healing etc... loads of churches believe what we believe about those things today. No our distinctive is what we believe about the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Or maybe it’s what we used to believe... This is what we’ll be looking at over the next month or so.
What is the baptism with the Holy Spirit?
In Matthew 3:11 John the Baptist says; “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” This same statement, “baptize with the Holy Spirit”, is recorded in each of the four gospels (Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16 & John 1:33).
Note that Jesus is the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit. Note also the imagery of water, wind & fire... which all help describe the work of the Spirit. The word baptise means to be immersed in water. That’s the analogy John uses to help us understand this aspect of the ministry of Jesus. J. R. Williams writes; “Baptism in water means literally to be immersed in, plunged under, and even drenched or soaked with” water. John W. Wyckoff notes; “to be baptised in the Holy Spirit is to be totally enveloped in and saturated with the dynamic Spirit of the living God.” Now the Bible also uses other terms for this reality of the Holy Spirit including “being filled with the Holy Spirit”; “receiving the Holy Spirit”; “the Holy Spirit falling upon”; “the Holy Spirit coming on”; “clothed with power from on high.” Each of these phrases help us understand the nature & purpose of Spirit-baptism & we will pick up on these as we explore.
Now many Christian’s believe baptism in the Holy Spirit is part of or the same as the new birth experience. Pentecostal’s believe it can happen alongside new birth but also believe it can happen after because we believe it is a distinct experience with a different purpose. New birth is the work of the Spirit connecting us to life in Christ. Baptism in the Spirit is Jesus immersing us in the power of the Spirit. New birth is the Spirit giving new life in Jesus. Baptism in the Spirit is Jesus giving us power for witnessing. So this means there are three distinct aspects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry if you like. 1. To bring new life in Christ – New Birth. 2. To empower us for our part in God’s mission – Baptism with the Spirit. 3. To make us progressively like Jesus – sanctification. Everything the Holy Spirit does is included in these three aspects of his ministry & we will look at them as we continue to get to know the best Friend the Father has given.
Why Pentecostals believe Baptism in the Spirit is a distinct experience from new birth.
At the end of the Gospel of Luke in 24:49 Jesus says; “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Then in Acts 1:4-5 while he was eating with his disciples he commanded; “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” This is Jesus talking to his disciples remember. Then in verse 8 of the same chapter he says; “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Then of course Acts 2 happened, the Holy Spirit came in the most dramatic and powerful way. Frightened disciples where transformed into brave witnesses. This baffled the Jewish leaders, how could these unlearned Galileans speak with such authority with the most astounding results?
We have to recognise this was a very unique time in history; this was a turning point... The disciples in the upper room were followers before the cross, resurrection & day of Pentecost. Salvation had not yet been secured. Resurrection life was not yet available. These disciples lived through all these events and were followers of Jesus as they took place. Pentecost was a unique event in this way. The Spirit came with wind & fire & birthed the church... For this reason the day of Pentecost by its self is not the strongest basis for seeing baptism in the Spirit as a distinct experience from new birth. However the book of Acts provides plenty of examples of how new Christians, saved after the day of Pentecost, experienced the Spirit.
Shortly after the day of Pentecost, Philip, the only named evangelist in the NT, preached the gospel in Samaria. Acts 8:12 says; “But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women.” So they are new believers, they are born again & baptised, but then it says in 8:14-17; “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them, they had simply been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”
So these people had believed through the ministry of Philip. Then they receive the Spirit in a significant & noticeable way afterwards through the ministry of Peter and John. This experience of the Spirit was a distinct experience from their coming to faith.
Next we have Saul who became Paul. Miraculously converted on the road to Damascus! Three days later he is met by Ananias, an unknown disciple who laid hands on him so that he might not only regain his sight but also be filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul was “filled with the Holy Spirit” three days after his famous conversion. You can read the story in Acts 9:1-19.
Then we go on to chapter 10 when Peter reluctantly goes into a Gentile house – Cornelius’s house. Peter preached the gospel to the household. Verse 44 says; “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.” The Jewish Christians where amazed at this, hearing them speak in tongues & praising God. This account shows people can come to faith & be baptised in the Spirit at the same time. The most important thing to Pentecostals is not that baptism in the Spirit is subsequent to new birth, but that it is distinct from. New birth gives life; baptism in the Spirit gives power for mission, worship & ministry.
Here is one more example from Acts 19. Paul meets twelve men who are described as disciples in verse 1. Listen to the story in verses 1-7;
“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ ‘John’s baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.”
Do we receive everything at new birth? Certainly Cornelius’ story shows a person can be saved & filled with the Spirit the same day. But for Paul & those in Samaria & Ephesus things were different. They heard the gospel & believed it, but received the filling of the Spirit later.
Christians disagree about when a person is baptised with the Holy Spirit... Some believe it happens in new birth while Pentecostals view it is a distinct experience empowering believers for ministry. The weakness of the first view is that few can honestly say they knew what it was to be saturated in the presence of the Spirit when they first believed. The weakness of the second view is some Christians are still relying on an experience they had many years ago... Our fundamental belief on the Holy Spirit is this:
“We believe in the deity of the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son and the necessity of His work in conviction of sin, repentance, regeneration and sanctification, and that the believer is also promised an enduement of power as the gift of Christ through the baptism in the Holy Spirit with signs following. Through this enduement the believer is empowered for fuller participation in the ministry of the Church, its worship, evangelism and service.”
We’ll explore this more fully in the coming weeks. However the most important thing is not how we define the work of the Spirit theologically... the most important thing is that we experience his ongoing power in our lives in fresh & new ways. That we are immersed, filled, clothed in his presence & power over & over again. Samuel Chadwick wrote; “Theology without experience is like faith without works: it is dead.” If there is one thing we cannot put in a tidy little box it is the work of the Holy Spirit... My question would simply be: Have you ever experienced what it’s like to be saturated in the Spirit of God, to feel as though every part of you is filled with the presence of God? If you have: When was the last time the Spirit’s power was manifested in your life in such a way?
One last thing, I’m very purposely doing this series in the order of New Birth, then baptism in the Spirit & then sanctification because we need to understand baptism in the Spirit is not something we earn! It is not something we’re given when we reach a certain level of holiness. There is no hint of that in any of the Scriptures looked at or mentioned today. Spirit-baptism is a gift we’re given to equip us for life, ministry & mission. It gives us freedom, confidence & boldness to do what God has called us to do. So this is really not about levels of Christianity... this is about our need for power & confidence to fulfil God’s purposes. In the book of Acts the filling of the Spirit was not a reward for being holy. It was a gift given to empower weak & ordinary people to live lives they otherwise would not have lived. Therefore it’s available for you... David Legg says;
Being filled with the Spirit is not being holy enough. Some people have taught down through the years that you need to get holy, you need to stop doing this, you need to start doing that; you need to sanctify yourself, almost, and then the Holy Ghost will come upon you. If you were able to do all those things, you wouldn't need the Holy Spirit! Eh? I've said to you already, and I will say it many times: the whole Christian operation is a by grace, through faith exercise. God gives it all by gratuitous grace through the merits of the shed blood and the resurrection of His Son, it's all because of Jesus - and the only way we get any blessing or benefits of it is receiving it by faith. Grace is the hand of God that gives it; and faith is our hand that receives it. The fullness of the Spirit, or whatever you want to call it, baptism of the Spirit, is exactly the same.
The Christian life is impossible, from start to finish, without the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit was to withdraw himself from the Church genuine Christianity would go with him. It is impossible to be a Christian apart from the Spirit’s work of New Birth. It is impossible to grow as a Christian without the Spirit’s work of sanctification. It is impossible to fulfil your mission as a Christian without the Spirit’s work of empowerment. All these things overlap reminding us we depend completely on the Holy Spirit enlivening, empowering & transforming us & others.
By John Fitzsimmons
Series: Holy Spirit
Key Bible Text: 2 Corinthians 2:12--3:18
I can’t stand the smell of air fresheners. To me they do not freshen air; they pollute it & make me choke. If I want fresh air I open a window or go outside. When a new air freshener is put in the car I drive with the windows down even if it is snowing outside. In our hall at home at the minute there is one of those air fresheners with a sensor on it. If it senses movement at all it goes off... So every time I walk past it I try my best to sneak by it to prevent it going off. It’s like mission impossible. For Joanne it makes the house smell better, for me it is the fragrance of death.
The very mention of fragrance in verses 14-16 would have brought different images to the minds of the Christian’s in Corinth... One such image that fits with these verses was when a king, a general, or some other significant leader won a notable victory. In such an occasion the whole city would come out to welcome him & his soldier’s home. They would bring with them prisoners they had captured, making clear to their people they had been victorious. All kinds of rituals were involved in such a procession including the burning of incense. Paul is either implying that Christian’s are trophies of Christ’s victory being paraded in this procession or he is implying they are his soldiers in the victory parade. If we take the first view, which most do, then it’s important to point out the freest people in the world are those who have been captured by the King of Grace...
To the victorious king & his kingdom this incense would be the smell of victory, but to others it would be the smell of death. No matter what way we view the analogy the point remains: As God’s triumphal procession makes its way through the world announcing the victory of King Jesus, to some it is the smell of victory & to others it is the smell of death. To those who are being captured yet liberated by the power of the gospel it fills their lungs with the hope of new life, but for those who dislike the gospel & the advancement of Christ’s kingdom it is the smell of death.
Paul says God uses us to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. Paul is taking specifically about his call as a preacher, apostle & minister & when he says “us” or “we” he is primarily thinking of fellow ministers like Titus who he has just mentioned. However it is also true of every Christian at some level. We may not all be preachers, apostles or pastors like Paul & Titus but we are all ministers of a kind & God wants to use all of us to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus wherever we go. We do this by sharing who Jesus is & what he has done for us & the world & we do so by living lives worthy of the gospel of grace... God wants us to be a fragrance of hope to people, a fragrance of grace in a graceless world, a fragrance of Good News... This may well cause us to ask like Paul: “And who is equal to such a task” (NIV) or “who is sufficient for these things?” (ESV). Paul goes on & tells us exactly why we are equal to & qualified for the task.
3: 1-3 “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
Let me quickly overview what was going on Corinth. A group of people who didn’t like Paul, who wanted control of the church, where out to discredit him. They wanted to cut his influence. Large parts of this letter are written to address this issue which is why Paul gives defence of his ministry. These people were saying Paul & his colleagues needed letters of recommendation if they were to continue to have input in Corinth... Paul however says, actually we don’t, because we founded the church & are still responsible for overseeing it. So our letter if you like, is your very existence & growth. In that sense you yourselves are our recommendation – the fact you exist authenticates our ministry. You are “the result of our ministry.”
Now this is very encouraging in at least two ways. Firstly the Church in Corinth was far from perfect, it was one of Paul’s most difficult to deal with churches. However in spite of all the issues, division & charismania he still felt confident there was enough evidence of God’s working to authenticate his ministry. For Paul a messy church was evidence of the gospel of grace at work in the lives of real people. That is very encouraging! There is no such thing as a perfect church because there is no such thing as perfect people. Hence the whole concept of grace!
Secondly it encourages us because it teaches that as we faithfully minister, as we faithfully do our thing, the Holy Spirit will work in people’s hearts. As Paul faithfully preached the gospel of grace the Holy Spirit worked in the hearts of people & Jesus built his Church! Paul was seeing fulfilment of something prophesied in Jer. 31:31-33;
“The days are coming”, declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord: I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Or Ezekiel 36:26-27 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
So Paul did not need a letter written with ink when the Holy Spirit had already recommended his ministry by writing something of the reality of the new covenant on human hearts. So Paul continues & says:
V4-6 “Such is the confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. H has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
Paul saw himself & others as sufficient, competent, qualified in God. In 2 Cor. 12:9 he reveals that God told him directly, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul was able to write to the Colossians that the Father “has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light” (1:12). We are qualified for ministry & heaven because of God’s sufficiency & grace, not for any other reason. God has given us his stamp of approval & he has provided us with all we need for life! God is able to make us what we are not. He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant. This is the confidence we can have because of Christ’s complete work on our behalf & this is the confidence we can have because of the Spirit’s presence in our lives & in the Church.
In 3:3 Paul describes believers as a “letter from Christ” because the Spirit is working in their hearts. He also describes the Spirit as the “Spirit of the living God.” Paul wants us to understand true Christianity is alive & enlivening because of the presence of the Spirit of the living God. We can be ministers of life, spreading the fragrance of life everywhere, because the Spirit of the living God is in & with us wherever we go. So as we spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus we should expect the Spirit to work in the minds & hearts of people.
In 3:6 Paul continues the same theme but adds that while the Spirit is life & gives life, the letter kills. When Paul talks about the letter he is not talking about the Scriptures which are living & active, but specifically the law given to Moses. The Law identifies & points out sin, warning of the consequences...
The Spirit however empowers believers to overcome sin & guilt by bringing gospel hope & energy to condemned & enslaved hearts. The letter brings no hope & therefore no life, it simply highlights the problem. But where the law points out the problem & failure, the Spirit gives the solution – life in Christ... The Spirit gives us all the hope & energy we need by connecting us to life in Christ!
Paul then contrasts the Old & New Covenants in 7-16. Read & note how Paul contrasts the Old & New covenants. He calls the new covenant “the ministry of the Spirit” (v8). Then the chapter finishes with verses 17-18. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
The law will focus us on our failure but the Spirit will focus us on Jesus... The Spirit has come to bring freedom to our lives by focusing us on Jesus. Freedom to live... Freedom from being under Law... Freedom from inadequacy & expectations... Freedom from fear & failure... Freedom from competitiveness & comparing... Freedom from whatever... This is what we want to see in our lives & others... The freer we are the more alive we are... Think of how a prison is made to contain lives in one space, it's designed to stop people from living fully, as a punishment... We can be in prison spiritually, the prison of fear or guilt or failure or depression... When the Spirit come into your life he comes to shatter the walls that confine your living to one small space, he comes to make you fully alive & free... Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom...
This is the vision: To see people fully alive in Christ... This is the vision I've be captured by as I have prayed, thought & studied this last month - PEOPLE FULLY ALIVE IN CHRIST. What would that look like? What would it look like in your life, your family, your community, our church? This is a vision 100% dependent on Holy Spirit, but God wants to involve us by using us to spread the fragrance of life everywhere!
By John Fitzsimmons
Series: Holy Spirit
Key Bible Texts: John 2:23-3:8; 1 John 5:4-5; John 17:3; 1 Peter 1:23
Every breathing person is alive at some level today, that goes without saying; but some are more alive than others. Every breathing person is physically alive – they think, feel, talk, move etc – but not every breathing person is spiritually alive. There are people who appear to have some kind of spirituality who are not actually spiritually alive as Scripture would define it. Apart from being born of the Spirit we are spiritually dead.
Whether it is Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, New Age... or anything else; every kind of spirituality void of the Holy Spirit is in reality spiritual death. In fact this is so true that Jesus once said to a group of Jewish religious leaders in John 5:39-40; “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Even the right Holy Book is not enough, only the Spirit who inspired the Book & the Christ who the Book bears witness about can give life... These verses also introduce the fact that while the Spirit gives new life, Jesus also gives it. Jesus is the vine that gives life to every branch that is connected to him (John 15:1-8). So it is equally true to say apart from Christ there is no spiritual life.
1. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NEW BIRTH & FAITH IN JESUS
In last week’s message I finished by briefly highlighting how new birth & genuine faith come together. This week I want to begin by highlighting that new birth awakens genuine faith in Jesus. I want to make sure we see the connection between being born again by the Holy Spirit & having life through faith in Jesus. We cannot become spiritually alive unless the Spirit of God breathes life into us. If we are spiritually dead we cannot hear, see, think or feel spiritually speaking. There is no real spirituality without the Spirit of God. When a person is physically born they are born with new ears, new eyes & new heart & new mind. Likewise new birth gives us new spiritual eyes & ears & heart & mind. And just as it takes time for a new born baby to adjust to the world & figure out what has happened. So it can take time for a newly Born Again Christian to adjust to new life in Christ.
We have already seen that new birth is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in a human life. The only true Christian is a born again Christian, we cannot be a Christian without the Spirit. However the Gospel of John also makes something else clear: Jesus himself is the life the Holy Spirit gives. New birth connects us to Christ by awakening faith in him. In the new birth the Holy Spirit makes us fully alive by connecting us to the One who is life! Jesus said in John 14:6; “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In John 6:35 he says; “I am the bread of life.” In John 4:10 he offers living water. In John 20:31 John says; “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
There is no spiritual life apart from connection to Jesus & faith in Jesus. In Galatians 2:20 it says; “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. Colossians 3:4 says; “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” The reality is this: In the new birth the Holy Spirit connects us to Christ in a living union. Christ is life & his life becomes our life... His love becomes our love, his power becomes our power, his righteousness becomes our righteousness, his obedience becomes our obedience, his faithfulness becomes our faithfulness, his mind becomes our mind, his Father becomes our Father, his mission becomes our mission... his victory over Satan, sin & death becomes our victory over Satan, sin & death. We could keep going. All of this comes as a result of new life. The Spirit is the cause & Christ is the source of our new life!
For this reason we should never disconnect the reality of new birth from faith in Jesus. Before the story of Nicodemus Jesus would not entrust himself to the fickle faith of the crowd referred to in John 2:23-25, but after highlighting to Nicodemus the vital need to be born again he talked about a faith that gives eternal life. V15 says; “Everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” V16 says; “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
So before the born again conversation we see a fickle faith but afterwards it talks of a faith which gives eternal life. I think John might just be trying to communicate something. When our best Friend the Spirit makes us born again he does so by awakening genuine, enduring, focused faith in Jesus in us – the eternal kind of life faith. The kind of faith that saves which Paul talks about in Romans 10:9-10. The Spirit gives us new ears that hear Jesus... new eyes that see his glory... a new heart that longs for & responds to him in faith & love. Keith Warrington reminds us that this eternal life is about the quality as well as the length. He writes: “The Spirit’s role is to mediate the quality of life enjoyed by God to believers. Eternal life is not simply life that lasts forever. Rather, it is descriptive of the kind of life associated with eternity. It is not simply everlasting life but fullness of life that can be experienced because one has entered into a relationship with the eternal God himself.”
John records in John 17:2-3; “For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Or as Jesus says in John 10:10; “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus came to make us fully alive & the Spirit has also come to make us fully alive by connecting us to the life of God in Christ. This means we are not only to anticipate the wonder of that life to come but we are also to begin experiencing it now. New Birth births something of the life we will enjoy for all eternity in us. Through new birth & faith in Jesus we can be connected to that eternal kind of life now...
Born Again Christian’s live in the paradox of the already but not yet. The eternal kind of life has invaded our life in this world. Our new hearts, minds, ears, eyes are made for the eternal kingdom of God & some day we will have a new body to match this new life which has been freely given us!
Here is how John puts new life & faith in Jesus together in his first letter. He says in 1 John 5:4; “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” So being “Born of God” is the key to victory & “Faith” is the key to victory because the life given in our new birth is the life of faith. The two are never separate. Faith without new birth is fickle faith & and new birth without faith would have no objective focus. But the faith & life that the Spirit brings is focused on Christ! It is no easy come easy go faith. No it lasts as long as eternity & it brings something of eternity into our lives today! This is what our best Friend has come to do for us! He has come to connect us to Christ, who is our life!
2. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE SPIRIT & WORD IN NEW BIRTH
In theology it is common to say that the Holy Spirit is the agent of new birth. Titus 3:4-6 says;
“But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
So rebirth & renewal are the work of the Holy Spirit. However other Bible verses make it clear that, if the Spirit is the agent in rebirth, the Word of God is the instrument he generally uses to bring new birth about. 1 Peter 1:23 says; “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. Verse 25 says “and this is the word that was preached to you.” James 1:18 says; “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all be created.”
So the Word itself has life in it. It was inspired by the One who causes life & bears witness to the One who is the source of life. In the verses I just read new birth is compared to growth from a seed. The human heart is the soil, “the seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). Every preacher or witness to the Word is a sower, but the Spirit of God is the One who quickens the seed. New life springs up as the result. There is potential soil everywhere there is a human heart. There is abundant seed in God’s Word, but unless the Spirit softens & changes the heart of the hearer so that their heart can close around the seed in faith, there will be no harvest. New birth is a work of the Word & Spirit... Every reader & preacher needs to realise their utter dependence on the Holy Spirit to bring new life from the seeds sown.
Here is something else we really need to understand. The vital thing is not merely having the seed of life but planting it in our own hearts & others hearts. You can study seeds, you can hold them in your hand & examine them from every angle; you can even count how many seeds there are. However seed will stay seed until you plant it in the ground. Likewise we can have God’s Word, we can study it & know it to some degree, we can know verses off by heart & we can know how many books & verses there are but until we plant it in our own hearts we will see no fruit in our lives. R. A. Torrey wrote; “No amount of Bibles upon our tables or in our libraries will save us, but the truth of the Bible written by the Spirit of the living God written in our hearts will save.” The most important thing is not that the Word is written on paper but on our hearts by the Spirit (cf. 2 Cor. 3:3).
Here is a scary fact, we could even potentially preach & teach it to others... we could potentially sow the seed of God’s Word in the hearts of others by reading it publically or teaching it at some level & yet miss planting it firmly in our own hearts by believing it personally. This story is told by Spurgeon:
In a certain parish church, as the result of the clergyman’s preaching, there was a man who was under deep conviction of sin. He went down to see his minister, but the poor man did not know what to make of him & said to him, “I am very sorry if there was anything in my message that made you uncomfortable; I did not mean it to be so.” “Well, sir,” answered the troubled man, “you said that we must be born again.” “Oh!” replied the clergyman, “that was all done at baptism.” The man, who was not to be put off, said, “But, sir, you did not say so in your sermon; you spoke of the necessity of regeneration.” “Well I am very sorry I said anything that made you uncomfortable, for really I think all is right with you. You are a good sort of fellow; you were never a poacher, or anything that is bad.” “That may be, sir, but I have a sense of sin, and you said we must be new creations.” “Well, my good man” said the perplexed minister, “I do not understand such things, for I was never born again.” He sent him to a Baptist minister. The man became a Baptist minister, partly as a result of what he learned from the preacher who did not himself understand the truth he had declared to others.
I find this story both scary & encouraging. Scary because of the position of the preacher, teaching something he had not experienced & did not really believe or understand. Encouraging because even though this was the case, someone still came to Christ because of the Spirit’s working through the Word! This gives hope to all people who attend churches where the Bible is read every week & taught at some level, but perhaps not really valued & believed by the clergyman. All it takes is one seed of truth for the Spirit to bring new life from it. As Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:8: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot see where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” You just cannot predict where the Spirit will blow. I think this verse in & off itself also rules out baptismal regeneration. The Spirit is just not as predictable as that. He brings life in his way at his time as he pleases...
By John Fitzsimmons
Series: Holy Spirit
Bible Text: John 2:23-3:8
Last week I gave three aims I have for this series. This week I want to begin by adding one more. I don’t want this series to only be theological information about God the Holy Spirit, so we only have right understanding about who he is & what he does. Right understanding is important, & it’s vitally important regarding God, but it’s not the end goal. A growing friendship with the One we’re learning about is the primary goal of all good theology. This is the primary goal of these messages. Genuinely getting to know someone takes time...
In John 14:16-17 Jesus said: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” In these verses Jesus assures his disciples he will not leave them alone but will give them another advocate to help them & be with them forever. The Greek word for advocate could be translated with a number of English words – helper, upholder, supporter, comforter or counsellor. The Holy Spirit is all these & more. It’s also helpful to point out that the opposite of an advocate is a critic. But there’s another word advocate could be translated as & it’s the one Eugene Peterson uses in The Message; “I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you – this Friend is the Spirit of truth.”
This is the word I want us to really take to heart - Friend. The primary aim of this series is that we would all have a growing friendship with & appreciation for the Friend the Father has given... We talk of having best friends, & we thank God for them, but the Holy Spirit is the Best Friend ever given by God. He can do for us what no other friend can do. He comes not to criticize, but to help, counsel, uphold & comfort us. He is the biggest supporter we could ever have in our lives. He is 100% committed to our success in life. He comes to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
These messages are about the One who has come to be the best Friend of every believer in Jesus. He is the best Friend you can have whether you know it or not. You will not find another who knows you better, who can do more for you, who will always be with you. He will be honest enough to convict you but he will also give you the power to change & will never abandon you. These messages are about what he has done, can do & will do for, in & through you... Jesus said; “Very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go I will send him.” Peterson translates it; “It’s better for you that I leave. If I don’t leave, the Friend won’t come. But if I go, I’ll send him to you.” The Friend has come, & he has come for our good & to do us good! God is more committed to our good than anyone else! In our Triune God we have the best Father, the best Brother & the best Friend we could ever ask for. Let’s ask our Friend to help us know him better...
The first subject I want to focus on is that our Friend the Holy Spirit has come to give us new life. The most important thing the Holy Spirit can ever do for you is make you born again! Therefore it is of enormous consequence that we know what being born again really means. Everything else is dependent on this! Let’s turn to & read John 2:23-3:8.
Born Again Christian is a term that has been banded about a lot, but I wonder how well it is actually understood. I was once witnessing to a man on the streets of Ballina. He said to me; ‘you’re not one of those born again Christian’s are you’. I said; ‘well that’s one way of putting it’. He said ‘you people just take one verse & make everything about being born again.’ I tried to explain why I didn’t entirely agree with him, but at the same time he did make me wonder. Is that how ‘Born Again Christian’s’ are perceived, as making too much of a single verse in the Bible?
The reality is, in house; we don’t actually talk that much about being Born Again anymore, do we? What does it mean to be a Born Again Christian? Are we Born Again Christians? Is it the best way to describe ourselves? It’s certainly one valid way, but is it the best way to distinguish ourselves? You can decide for yourself. All I want to do is show you this is the first & most important thing the Holy Spirit personally does in the life of every genuine Christian, he makes them born again. And I want us to see this is not a teaching dependant on one verse in the Bible.
The reason I included John 2:23-25 in the reading is because I want us to see something very important. These words set the scene for Jesus’ encounter with this man called Nicodemus. John records;
“Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.”
Notice that many people, at some level, believed in Jesus because they saw the signs he was doing. However also notice that “Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people” as John puts it. What does he mean? Simply, Jesus knew people can be fickle. People can get caught up in the excitement of a moment or an event... People change their minds... People can be for you one day & desert you the next... John 6:66 tells us many of these same disciples deserted Jesus just before the next big religious event - they found his teaching too hard. For this reason Jesus did not put much trust in their initial believing. Jesus knew that true & lasting faith rested on something much deeper, much more powerful & much more miraculous than human response or decision, it rested on a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in a human life.
It’s very significant that that John highlights this just before the Born Again discussion between Jesus & Nicodemus. Puritan William Gurnall wrote; “We have known many who have joined the army of Christ and liked being a soldier for a battle or two, but have soon had enough and end up deserting. They... are easily persuaded to take up a profession of religion, and are just as easily persuaded to lay it down.” Jesus knew this was the case & therefore Jesus knew something deeper had to happen in people if he was to make lasting disciples... The only persuasion that lasts is new birth... I can testify to this in my own life. I prayed a prayer of commitment to become a Christian a number of times in my childhood & teens; but none of them lasted or led to lasting change until the Holy Spirit done a deeper work in my life. A work that produced what I could not produce myself – genuine & enduring faith in Christ alone.
My reason for highlighting this is not to be overly pessimistic about human decisions, but because I personally know there is much more security & assurance to be found in God’s miraculous work in my life than any prayer, decision or commitment I ever made to him... For me the prayer did not work until the Holy Spirit did a work in me & made me born again – that’s my story! And more importantly it’s what Jesus is pointing out in this story.
V1-3 “Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
1. We Need New Life, Not New Religion
Being born again is not getting new religion but new life. John is very careful to include that Nicodemus was a Jewish religious leader. The Pharisees were the most rigorously committed of all Jewish groups... Here’s what we need to understand: All the religion in the world cannot replace the need for new birth. All the study, discipline, rule-keeping, good works, morality & devotion cannot replace the need for new birth. Jesus says; “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” NO ONE Jesus said – that includes you & me!
Genuine Christianity is not about finding religion, joining a new church, or a new stream of Christianity it’s about personally experiencing new life. This is what we need to understand. We could try every church & stream of Christianity there is but if there is no new birth in us we cannot see the kingdom of God. Why did the 12 stay with Jesus when the many deserted him? Peter answered; “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). They saw life in the teaching of Jesus that they did not find in their own religion. A few verses before Jesus says; “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life” John 6:63. The fundamental need of every human being is new life if they are to see the kingdom of God.
Of course Nicodemus was physically alive. He was breathing, thinking & talking to Jesus. But Jesus sees no spiritual life in him – even though he is a rigorous religious leader & teacher – spiritually he is unborn. He needs life, not more theology, morality or religion – he has more of those things than most. He needs life.
Genuine Christianity is not fundamentally about going from bad to good, or good to great, or immoral to moral... It is fundamentally about going from death to life – it’s being raised from spiritual death to spiritual life so you can have a living relationship with a living God. As Paul writes to the Ephesians in 2:4-5, after highlighting the total depravity of mankind he writes; “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” Therefore the only genuine Christian is a Born Again Christian, that’s what we need to realise.
2. We Need To Experience God, Not Just Affirm Him
New Birth is not merely affirming the supernatural in Jesus, but experiencing the supernatural in yourself! Like the many at the end of chapter two, Nicodemus believed at some level Jesus had come from God. He said in V2 “Rabbi we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Nicodemus sees Jesus’ ministry as from God. He affirms Jesus is from God & that Jesus is doing the works of God. You would think this would impress Jesus since so many other Pharisees & religious leaders didn’t share Nicodemus’ belief. However Jesus says; “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” And he says very directly to Nicodemus in verse 7; “You must be born again.”
Affirming things about Jesus is not the same as being Born Again. All across this Island today there are people affirming things about Jesus at some level through liturgies, songs & prayers. This is not wrong but it does not mean they are born again because new birth is not merely affirming things about Jesus; it’s experiencing supernatural awakening to new life.
The demons affirmed Jesus at some level. In Mark 1:24 one said; “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” So affirming Jesus in & of itself is clearly not enough. We need to be born again as Jesus puts it. Jesus teaches us this is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. He says;
V5-8 “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to Spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
The Spirit is not part of this natural world. He is above nature. He is supernatural. He is God. He blows where he wills. We don’t control him. We can see his work but we cannot predict where is going to blow next. There is unpredictability about him but wherever he blows he brings new life. THIS MEANS HOPE FOR EVERYONE... He is the agent, the immediate cause of New Birth. We cannot become spiritually alive unless he breathes life into us. If we are spiritually dead we cannot hear, see, think or feel spiritually speaking. But new birth gives new eyes, new ears, new heart, new mind, new hope as well as new life. We’ll look more at these things next week. The Friend has come to do all this in us & for us. We were spiritually dead in sin but our Friend brings new life in Christ.
You may have failed at religion altogether or you may feel burned out doing good works. You may have failed at living a moral life or you may have lived a relatively good life but still feel there’s something missing. Or maybe you have spent your whole life affirming God at some level, but have you experienced the life Jesus brings? Have you been born again? Can you say you have a living relationship with a living God? 1 Peter 1:3 says; “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Can you say you have living hope in a living Jesus? This is what the Friend, the Holy Spirit, has come to do for you & in you so that you become fully alive.
New birth & Genuine Faith Come Together
We have seen already there is a fickle kind of believing but I also want us to see there is a born again kind of believing! A living faith in a living God! We’ll look more next week at the connection between new birth & faith in Jesus. However know this for now, the only kind of believing that lasts & endures is born again believing.
The fickle kind of believing is the easy come easy go kind, the give your life to Jesus until he says something you don’t like kind – this is the kind of believing Jesus did not entrust himself to at the end of chapter two. Have you got the born again kind of faith? If not ask God to give it to you. For this is the faith which is awakened by the new life the Holy Spirit brings. 1 John 5:4-5 says: “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
New birth & true faith in Jesus come together.
By John Fitzsimmons
Series: Holy Spirit
Key Bible Texts: John 16:12-15; 2 Peter 1:19-21; Acts 4:31; 1 Thes 1:4-5
I don’t know how long this series on the Holy Spirit will last. My aim is not to simply give an overview or cover things in X amount of weeks. My aim is to be as thorough as possible because I believe it is that important. We are talking about God, the third person of the Holy Trinity. He is present when we talk about him. I am very aware of that. I’m also very aware he is here to help us know him more. This gives me great confidence as we begin this series. I have come across many misunderstandings & much confusion regarding the Holy Spirit. But I have also experienced his power in my own life in undeniable ways. I will talk about some of my own experiences & testimony as the series unfolds... My aims are as follows:
1. To lay a solid foundation regarding the Holy Spirit, his work & his ministry so we might understand him more fully.
2. To challenge narrow thinking regarding the activities of the Holy Spirit so we see more fully the scope & magnitude of all he has come to do in, for & through us.
3. To create a fresh expectation for encountering him in new, dynamic & diverse ways.
I have chosen to open the series by emphasising how we need to be a church of both the Word & Spirit. In fact I want us to see that to be a church of the Spirit means being a church of the Word. R. T. Kendall writes in his latest book Holy Fire; “There has been a silent divorce in the Church, speaking generally, between the Word & the Spirit. When there is a divorce, sometimes the children stay with the mother, sometimes the children stay with the father. In this divorce you have those on the Word side & those on the Spirit side.”
Of course we need to be clear that the Word & Spirit have not & cannot be literally divorced. Yet at the same time there is a real sense in which they have been separated by churches deciding to focus on one more than the other. But then again can you really have one without the other? Can we understand & live out this book without the Holy Spirit’s help, & can we genuinely claim to know the Holy Spirit if we reject, undermine or undervalue the words he inspired? I don’t think we can. Think about it. How do we know there is a Holy Spirit? How do we know about spiritual gifts? How do we know about New Birth & Pentecost? How do we know who he is & what he does? We know because of the words he inspired – the God-breathed words of Holy Scripture.
There is a danger we can get locked into a narrow view of the activity of the Spirit... We need to understand the Holy Spirit is dynamic, diverse & unpredictable. Yet he is also the Spirit who brings self-control & order. Sometimes he comes as a gentle dove & sometimes he comes like a hurricane. His ministry covers many areas – awakening, illumination, spiritual gifts, conviction, freedom, unity, empowerment, sanctification & much more. We know all this because of the words he inspired. The Word helps us understand the scope & magnitude of his activity. It helps expand our vision of who he is & what he has come to do in, for & through us.
How do we become a Church solid in God’s Word & dynamic in the Holy Spirit? The answer is we embrace both wholeheartedly & we accept that they are so intimately related they cannot actually be separated. To an extent we can have the Word without the Spirit but we cannot have the Spirit without his Word! For the ministry of the Word is the foundational ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is his sword (Eph 6:17). The Word provides the cutting edge - the vision, power, substance, benchmark, expectation and plumb-line for everything else. The God-breathed Word is the only foundation for a genuinely Spirit-filled church.
1. The ministry of the Word is the foundational ministry of the Spirit
This is the clear testimony of the New Testament. Sometimes we miss the forest for the trees. We get so focused on one chapter that we miss the big picture. In John 16:12-15 Jesus says to the disciples: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
Part of the fulfilment of these words is the Bible you now have in your hands, or on your phone or tablet, especially the teaching contained in the New Testament. We have it because the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, guided these men into all truth as Jesus promised. This truth is given to glorify & magnify Christ – his person & work – which is the Spirit’s primary agenda!
Of course at the time these men didn’t know we would have these words in the fashion we do today. They simply preached, wrote & recorded as the Holy Spirit guided them. They where preaching sermons based on OT Scripture & what they had learned from Jesus! They were writing accounts of Jesus’ life & early church life. They were writing letters to individuals or church’s, teaching them doctrine & giving instruction regarding real issues. In John’s case he also wrote out a Revelation given to him by the Holy Spirit (Rev 1:10). It was as these men preached, laboured, travelled, suffered & ministered to real people, in varying cultures, in different circumstances that the Holy Spirit guided them into all truth. He used imperfect men to complete the perfect Word of God.
The same Holy Spirit guided others to compile their writings together into what we know as the New Testament completing the Canon of God-breathed Scripture. And it is the same Spirit who has preserved them right up until today when the Word of God is more accessible than ever before. The Spirit is on a mission to fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of God.
In his second letter Peter writes in chapter 1:19-21; “We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
This is true of every part of Scripture – Old & New Testament. Scripture is the completely reliable prophetic word of God. It was written as the Holy Spirit carried men along. I was struck lately by how clear this is in the book of Ezekiel. Over & over again Ezekiel testifies. “As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me” (2:2). “Then the Spirit of the Lord came on me, and he told me to say...” (11:5). “The Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the exiles in Babylonia in the vision given by the Spirit of God” (11:24). Over & over again phrases like this appear in the book, Ezekiel was very aware of being carried along by the Holy Spirit. If fact we will learn more about the Spirit from Ezekiel.
No prophecy outside of Scripture itself can be called “completely reliable”. Everything else needs to be tested by Scripture, but the prophecy of Scripture itself is completely reliable & the foundational ministry of the Holy Spirit is to ensure that it is heralded & taught as the authoritative Word of God. Paul warned the Corinthians “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). And he told Timothy that the church of the living God’s role is to be the pillar & foundation of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). It other words the churches job is to hold it up high.
For such reasons the pure word of God needs proclaimed more than anything else. This is one of the primary things the Holy Spirit empowers the Church to do; this is a primary ministry of the Holy Spirit! The apostles couldn’t stop heralding the Word of God even when they were arrested & told to stop (Acts 4:20). In fact when they got released they had a prayer meeting & Acts 4:31 says; “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” So the direct result of being filled with the Spirit was that they continued to preach the word of God boldly. A Spirit-filled Church is a Church that continues to herald & teach the word of God.
A Spirit-filled church is also a church whose leaders give their primary attention to the ministry of the word. As the Church grew in Acts the apostles delegated other responsibilities to other people because the ministry of the word was so important to the health & growth of the church. When they took this step things grew even more rapidly (cf. Acts 6:1-7). They were even accused of filling cities with their teaching. All this helped to lay a foundation for the young Church in Acts. There was lots of amazing things happening but it was the ministry of the word which was given priority. We see this clearly all the way through the book of Acts.
We see this priority in how God gifted the Church with various leaders. In Ephesians 4 the four key ministry roles are roles which focus on the ministry of the word... In 1 Cor. 12:28 the top three ministry roles listed, & the only ones numbered, are roles focusing on the ministry of the word... We see this emphasis in how Paul taught ministers to prioritise their lives. He told Timothy; “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Tim 4:13). He said; “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress” (1 Tim 4:15). He charged him before God; “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and teaching.” And just in case we are in any doubt as to what the word is, Paul set the context by reminding Timothy “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training for righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). Paul also said that church overseers should be able to teach (1 Tim 3:2), although he also made it clear that not every elder is called to make preaching & teaching his life’s work (1 Tim 5:17-18).
Jesus made the ministry of the word his priority. Mark 1:35-39 says; “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
In Luke 4:18-19 he quoted from Isaiah & applied the words to himself; “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
The reason he said he came was to preach & the Spirit anointed him to proclaim good news... to proclaim freedom... to proclaim the year of God’s favour! I could easily keep labouring this point with Scripture after Scripture, however I also need to point something else out. Word’s alone, preaching, teaching, bible-studies & discussion alone are not enough. They are not the end, they are meant to lead to somewhere. Faith comes by hearing, but that hearing leads somewhere.
2. Word’s alone are not enough – we need more than talks, preaching & discussion
It says in 1 Thes 1:4-5: “For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.” Word’s alone are not enough! We also need power, the Holy Spirit & deep conviction. These things need to accompany the ministry of the word or else it will be of little or no effect. We need the breath of heaven upon everything we do, including the ministry of the word. I find it interesting the way Paul worded this. He seems to be implying that he ministered in other places were these things were not evident. However in Thessalonica he saw power, the moving of the Spirit & deep conviction accompanying his preaching. That’s how he knew God had chosen them. That’s how he puts it! He saw these things as evidence of God’s favour on these people!
In Thessalonica the ministry of the word was accompanied with power, with the Holy Spirit & deep conviction. We need the same things to accompany it here; we need the awakening, illuminating, miraculous & strengthening power of God. Paul said the Corinthians; “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1 Cor. 4:20).
We need the deep conviction of sin that leads to real repentance & we need the deep conviction that the gospel is true – we ARE made completely righteous in Christ, the gospel IS the power of God unto salvation, every word of God IS true, we ARE more than conquerors, God IS love & everything he declares he is; God IS with us & for us in Christ!
We need the Holy Spirit & ALL HE BRINGS becasue words alone are not enough.
This is what much of the rest of this series is about. The Bible & the ministry of the word, they are not ends in themselves... Their purpose is to bring us to God, to reveal him so we encounter & know him & are changed by him. We do not worship a Trinity consisting of Father, Son & Holy Bible. We worship the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Some churches who have taken the Word side, to use Kendall’s divorce analogy, almost forget that. It’s a fine line but I think Spurgeon got it right when he said; “To me the Bible is not God, but it is God’s voice, & I do not hear it without awe.” We esteem the Bible so highly not because it is an end in itself but because it is God’s Word. And it is given to bring us to him & to lead us into all he has for us – it is a lamp to our feet a light to our path – it is given to awaken & sustain desire to encounter him & to show us how he wants to encounter us.
Let me conclude with this. Smith Wigglesworth gave the following prophesy in 1947:
During the next few decades there will be two distinct moves of the Holy Spirit across the church in Great Britain. The first move will affect every church that is open to receive it and will be characterized by a restoration of the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit. The second move of the Holy Spirit will result in people leaving historic churches and planting new churches. In the duration of each of these moves, the people who are involved will say "This is the great revival', But the Lord says 'No, neither is this the great revival but both are steps towards it.
When the new church phase is on the wane, there will be evidenced in the churches something that has not been seen before: a coming together of those with an emphasis on the Word and those with an emphasis on the Spirit. When the Word and the Spirit come together, there will be the biggest movement of the Holy Spirit that the nation, and indeed the world, has ever seen. It will mark the beginning of a revival that will eclipse anything that has been witnessed within these shores, even the Wesleyan and the Welsh revivals of former years. The outpouring of God's Spirit will flow over from the UK to the mainland of Europe, and from there will begin a missionary move to the ends of the earth.
If we are to be a part of what God is doing, not 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago, but today, then we need to be a church that embraces the Word & Spirit. We need to become a church solid in the Word & dynamic in the Spirit.