Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blogging to Return!

It's been a busy week. I start the Ph.D program soon, and I have to take the French proficiency exam Friday. I haven't had French since 1996, and since then I've studied several languages. I have to cram. Au revoir.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Holy Spirit is Gracious

I believe that, at least in word, most who call themselves evangelicals consent to the fact that salvation comes by grace alone. I say that we consent to this mentally, but not always in reality. In truth, coming to terms with the absolute freedom of God's gift of salvation is part of the maturing process.

I am, however, remorseful that we have largely failed to connect the grace of God with the Spirit of God Himself. He is, after all, as gracious and kind at the Lord Jesus and God the Father. Indeed, of all the persons of the Trinity, we ought to feel the comfort and grace of the Spirit most keenly in our daily walk. He is called the "Comforter" for a reason.

Think, for a moment, on the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church. If He is mysterious to us, it is because of the position that He has chosen for Himself. He is the author of Sacred Scripture, is He not? And yet, how did He choose to write that wonderful book? He wrote it through men. He used their personalities and their thoughts and their experiences, and He guarded them from error. What a gift to the Church and to these men the Spirit gave! The Holy Spirit could have written the Bible on papyrus directly in the sight of all of Israel and then forced men to copy it. He did not need a human agent. Yet, He chose to use people. Can you see the grace in that?

And what of His ministry in the Church? Is not the Spirit of God as glorious as the Son of God? Is His ministry in the Church any less needful? Never forget that without the Spirit there would be no Christians and no Church. Yet, all of the Holy Spirit's energies are focused on bringing the glory to the Son of God. If Christ is on center stage, He is visible because the Holy Spirit is operating the spotlight. As we see the panaromic view of salvation in the Scripture, as we become enthralled with the beauty of God's salvation, we are hardly aware of the Spirit's direction in all the details until the end. He appears in the credits. All that you have seen and marveled at in God's Word, all that you have tasted and seen as good in the world, comes because the Spirit has graciously revealed it to you.

And so it is with sincere grief that I see Christians act as if the Holy Spirit is stingy with the giving of Himself. We know that salvation is free, and yet we act as if the affections of the Spirit who grants salvation must be earned. How backward is our reasoning! Shouldn't we see that salvation is free and gracious precisely because the Spirit Himself is free and gracious?

You know, I trust, that when you are born from above you are ushered into the family of God. You know that God the Father is now your heavenly Father. You know, I trust, that you have been elevated to be a co-heir with Christ Himself, and that your destiny is to sit with Him on His throne. You know as well that Christ died for you, and that the Father sent Him to do this because He loved you with an everlasting love. And you know these things because the Spirit has whispered them into your spiritual ear as a mother whispers "I love you" to her babe.

And now, dear child of God, after all of this grace upon grace, after seeing Christ crucified, willingly, for you while you were yet a sinner. After knowing and believing that God the Father loved you so much that He did not spare His only-begotten Son and gave Him on your behalf...do you now believe that the third person of this gracious Trinity will withhold from you anything?

What an affront to the character of the Great Comforter to imagine Him stingy with His grace and presence! What a slap in the face to He who has freely given us all things to imagine that He now requires works of us and acts of piety in order to receive His refreshing! The Holy Spirit gives you life and breath! He spared you while you blasphemed the Beloved! He wooed you like a lover when you were far from Him! And now, now do you feel that He wants you to fast and pray and conjure faith so that He may give you something else?

The Holy Spirit is gracious. Even in our dissatisfaction with the gift of God Himself, He still bears with us.

If you are thinking that you are "missing out" on something in the Christian life because you haven't had a certain experience, then I say that you grieve the Lord with your ingratitude. (Unless, of course, you have missed salvation altogether!) The Holy Spirit is enough, and with Him I am content, for He who has the Spirit has the Son and the Father. This, in itself, gives me joy that I cannot express in words. This does not mean I must resort to meaningless mumbles to demonstrate gratitude. Yes, English, French, Greek and Hebrew are inadequate to express the great love for God that has been born in my heart. And I further submit that the tongues of angels is insufficient as well. Part of the joy is trying to express the great wonder of salvation and knowing that I am altogether incompetent to do so. Part of the joy is knowing that I will spend all of eternity trying and never feeling as if I can say, "It is enough! I have praised Him fully and completely. There are no more words of gratitude to say."

I sat down to write a exegetical treatise on why the Spirit is a gift of grace, but this post has not done that. Instead, this has been more devotional and exhortative in nature. Later, I may examine the Scriptures that demonstrate the truths I've tried to outline here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Did You Receive the Holy Spirit?

It is unfortunate that the idea that one can be born again and yet have not received the Holy Spirit in His fullness still circulates in Christianity. It is even more unfortunate that such proponents of a "second blessing" cause otherwise faithful Christians to feel as if they are "missing something." I do not believe that the inability to babble incoherent phrases with a straight face is anything to be ashamed of.

One of the proof texts for such theology comes from Acts 19:1-6. Here's the text:

And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" So they said to him, "We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." And he said to them, "Into what then were you baptized?" So they said, "Into John's Baptism." Then Paul said, "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophecied.

Far from teaching a second blessing or a subsequent, new type of anointing of the Holy Spirit, I believe that this text teaches that, upon belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the believer receives the Holy Spirit. But that's not exactly the angle I want to take with this post. What I want to affirm to the Christian who may be worried that they are missing something by not speaking in an unknown tongue is that they are certainly recipients of the Holy Spirit already if they believe the gospel. And secondly, a believer ought to know that he is filled with the Holy Spirit.

I do not believe that the entirety of Paul's conversation with these disciples of John is recorded for us here. It seems that during the course of conversation, Paul realized that the testimony of these guys was not exactly accurate with the gospel. (If you look back at the preceding verses in chapter 18, you will find that Apollos had a similar problem corrected by the mentorship of Aquila and Priscila.) So Paul asks them if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed. I will draw two conclusions from this:

1. Paul assumes that when people believe the gospel, they receive the Holy Spirit.
2. Paul assumes that when a person receives the Holy Spirit, they realize it happened.
3. The ultimate spiritual gift of God is the Holy Spirit, and that is a gift of grace.

Let me deal with point #1 first. Let's take a couple of Scriptural quotations that should settle this once and for all:

"In Him you trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Ephesians 1:13). This follows the order of Paul's statement in Acts. We trust in Jesus Christ after hearing the gospel, and when we hear and believe the gospel, we are sealed "with" the Holy Spirit. Not just "by" Him, but "with" Him. The Spirit Himself is the seal on our hearts. It follows that if we believe, we must necessarily be sealed (and I add filled) with the Holy Spirit.

"You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have Spirit of Christ, he is not His" (Romans 8:9). Could it be any more evident that if a person does not have the Holy Spirit he is not simply missing a blessing? A person devoid of the Spirit is simply not saved.

It is important to note that, having ascertained that these men had not received the Holy Spirit, Paul immediately moves to the gospel. He does not say, "Ask God, and He will give you the Holy Spirit. Ask and don't doubt!" Or, "Just start moving your lips and mouth. Say the first thing that comes to mind. You can do it! Do it, and you will receive the gift of tongues!" Pointedly, Paul begins to share that these men must believe on the one who John the Baptist longed for, Jesus Christ. Once they believe in the Messiah, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is assured.

Secondly, Paul assumes that if one receives the Holy Spirit, one ought to realize that something has happened. Paul's question to the disciples of John the Baptist makes no sense if these men could have receieved the Holy Spirit unawares. Here is where we must be cautious. In this case, these men spoke in tongues (which I regard to be known languages, as did 2,000 years of Church History until the Azusa Street revival) and they prophecied. Clearly, they did this because they received the Holy Spirit. But is this the only way to know if one has the Spirit of God?

We have already seen that the Holy Spirit is received by promise. He is ever and always indwelling those who believe in Jesus Christ. But there are other tests given in Scripture to see if one has the gift of the Holy Spirit. John, the beloved disciple, gives us many ways to test to see if we have fellowship with the Spirit of God:

"He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him" (1 John 1:10).

"Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He has promised us--eternal life" (1 John 2:24-25).

"We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14).

1 John is a manifesto on fellowship. John's points are that if we have fellowship with the Son, then we have fellowship with the Father. If we have fellowship with the Son and the Father, then we are filled with the one who is "greater than He who is in the world." If we have the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then we will love and long to be with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is the test to see if we have the Holy Spirit. Do we walk in love for God and the brethren? Do we walk in righteousness and truth? We do not love Christ without the Holy Spirit, and we certainly do not love His church without the Holy Spirit. And if we love Christ Jesus, the only-begotten Son of the Father, then we will love the Church of Christ and in this we may assured that we have the Holy Spirit.

The receiving of the Holy Spirit comes with believing the gospel. And just as the gospel is a total and free gift of grace, so is the gift of the Holy Spirit. I want to devote the next post to the sovereign gracious gifting of the Spirit of God. I hope you stay tuned.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Knockdown Argument

The argument over the sinfulness of man continues in the comments over at The Evangelical Outpost. Matthew Goggins is arguing that man isn't totally depraved. Here's his reasoning:

Although I do think your phrase, "the Christian doctrine of human depravity" is a bit overwrought. The traditional orthodox church would have made reference, instead, to a doctrine of "original sin", a phrase which I believe better conveys the nuances of your views.

But what have I myself been saying about this doctrine?

I'm not saying that you can't find it in the Bible. Of course you can.

And I'm not saying it wasn't a doctrinal pillar of the Christian church for many centuries. Of course it was.

And I wasn't even saying that the doctrine says we are 100% evil, as opposed to 51% evil or whatever percentage you are claiming it to be.

All I was saying is that this particular bit of biblical wisdom is just flat out wrong.


Because it is.

Follow the link from the previous post to read the rest, if you want to. This reasoning reminds me of why my son now believes he can do anything he wants by inserting, "Because I said so" at the end. Of course, he's two, and we're trying to deal with that.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The End of the World and Apologetics

I meant to post something here yesterday about the gospel and evangelism. But I got busy in a little debate with someone over at Joe Carter's Evangelical Outpost. It all started over a "rapture friendly" theological video. You can view the video here and then scroll down to read our exchange. So, what do you think? Is that evangelism? Did I present the gospel? Or is it apologetics? Or some of all. I'd appreciate your input since I'm apparently gone off the deep end.

Update:So, is this a complement?


I respect you for sticking up for your beliefs in a polite and thoughtful way. But the divergence between your good character and the horrible things you claim to believe is just made all the more stark to me by your calm, rational delivery.

The horrible things that I am claiming are that men are sinful and deserving of death and hell. Also, I claim that outside of Jesus Christ there is no salvation.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Return from a Mountain Adventure

I just finished the 26 mile hike on "Eagle Rock Loop Trail" in Ouachita National Forest. That's in Southwest Arkansas, if you are interested. It's truly a beautiful place, but part of the trail is quite grueling. You'll need to be in shape for it.

I went into the woods for several reasons. One, I wanted to do a little fishing in pristine mountain streams. Mission accomplished. Second, I wanted to hang out with a couple of good friends on the trail. That was a blessing. Thirdly, I had hoped that being out in nature's beauty would remind me of God's magnificence in creation. That mission was not so successful.

I know that this sort of confession will draw gasps from nature lovers everywhere, but I confess that the mountain-top views did not inspire much wonder and awe for me on this trip, and that got me thinking about the Christian life. I hope that this analogy will help you understand the Christian life a little better.

Since the advent of the car and paved roads, it is fairly easy to get a good view from a mountain top somewhere. You can simply drive to some "Look Out Point," put the car in park and enjoy the view. You cannot do that in the wild. In one day, my friends and I had to walk over four mountains, carrying 35 lbs. on our backs, fighting the heat and exhaustion just to get to a decent campsite. Not only did we have to contend with heat and fatigue, we had to fight ticks, chiggers, biting flies, and even snakes. And it rained. In fact, the wood was so wet that we could barely build a decent fire.

So what did I learn from nature? It's fallen. Instead of fruit trees, the ground grows thorns and prickly things. There is almost nothing edible in the forest, and even that which is edible is fairly lousy. Except the occasional blackberry, but even that gift comes with thorns. Even clear mountain streams can prove lethal if the water is not filtered and treated before drinking.

The Bible teaches that "the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom. 8:20-21). So even the beauty of nature is tainted with the corruption of the fall. I could not see God as clearly as I wished in nature because it is fallen as I am fallen. Sin permeates the natural world and obscures the glory of God.

So as I walked over the cursed land I dreamed of a day when the Creator will liberate His creation from bondage. I imagined a day with no more thorns, chiggers, mosquitoes, and ticks. Even the earth longs for the day of redemption. Together we groaned for the return of the King.

With all of this negativity, you might imagine that I did not enjoy myself. I actually enjoyed myself immensely, and I will backpack again with eagerness. My point is that I will not enjoy it as much as I will someday, in that day when Christ reigns in Jerusalem and all of creation is perfected at last.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Gone Fishing!

I'm officially on vacation tomorrow. I'm heading for the mountains of Arkansas to catch smallmouth bass. I'll be backpacking in and staying until Saturday. Try not to miss me too much.