How can we tell when God is really at work?



Ray Ortlund:

In The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Jonathan Edwards pulled out of 1 John 4 the biblical indicators that God is at work, even if the people involved are complicating it with their own imperfections and eccentricities.  And we do complicate it.  In this life, the work of the gospel is never pure, always mixed.  The light of God does not stream in unfiltered by us.  To some extent, we even block it out.  We are sorry for that.  But we do not need to be stuck in analysis-paralysis.  The real work of God is discernible, within all the mess, in four ways:

One, when our esteem of Jesus is being raised, so that we prize him more highly than all this world, God is at work.

Two, when we are moving away from Satan’s interests, away from sin and worldly desires, God is at work.

Three, when we are believing, revering and devouring the Bible more and more, God is at work.

Four, and most importantly, when we love Jesus and one another more, delighting in him and in one another, God is at work.

Satan not only wouldn’t produce such outcomes, he couldn’t produce them, so opposite are these from his nature and purposes.  These simple and obvious evidences of grace are sure signs that God is at work, even with the distractions we inevitably introduce.

Biblical, fairminded discernment keeps our eyes peeled for fraudulence but also frees us, and even requires us, to rejoice wherever we see the Lord at work.  Indeed, that is the real purpose of discernment — not to fasten on whatever is wrong, but to rejoice in and promote whatever is right.  After all, God is at work.

How Does the Holy Spirit Actually Produce Change in Us?



A rich and wise answer from Abraham Kuyper:

Dwelling in the elect, the Spirit does not slumber, nor does He keep an eternal Sabbath, in idleness shutting Himself up in their hearts; but as divine Worker He seeks from within to fill their individual persons, pouring the stream of His divine brightness through every space.

But we should not imagine that every believer is instantly filled and permeated. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit finds him filled with all manner of evil and treachery. . . . His method of procedure is not with divine power to force a man as though he were a stock or block, but by the power of love and compassion so to influence and energize the impulses of the feeble will that it feels the effect, is inclined, and finally consents to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. . . .

This operation is different in each person. In one it proceeds with marvelous rapidity; in another, progress is exceedingly slow, being checked by serious reaction which in some rare cases is overcome only with the last breath. There are scarcely two men in whom this gracious operation is completely the same.

It may not be denied that the Holy Spirit often meets serious opposition on the part of the saint. . . . And the Holy Spirit bears all this resistance with infinite pity, and overcomes it and casts it out with eternal mercy.

Who that is not a stranger to his own heart does not remember how many years it took before he would yield a certain point of resistance; how he always avoided facing it; restlessly opposed it, at last thought to end the matter by arranging for a sort of modus vivendi between himself and the Holy Spirit? But the Holy Spirit did not cease, gave him no rest; again and again that familiar knock was heard, the calling in his heart of that familiar voice. And after years of resistance he could not but yield in the end.

–Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (trans. Henri De Vries; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 529–30

(HT: Dane Ortlund)

The necessity of a right gospel order



Mark well the great advantages you have for the attainment of holiness by seeking it in a right gospel order.

You will have the advantage of the love God manifested towards you, in forgiving your sins, receiving you into favor, and giving you the spirit of adoption, and the hope of His glory freely through Christ, to persuade and constrain you by sweet allurements to love God again, who has so dearly loved you, and to love others for His sake, and to give up yourselves to the obedience of all His commands out of hearty love to Him.

You will also enjoy the help of the Spirit of God to incline you powerfully to obedience, and to strengthen you for the performance of it against all your corruptions and the temptations of Satan, so that you will have both wind and tide to forward your voyage in the practice of holiness.

— Walter Marshall
The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification
(Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1999), 97

(HT: Of First Importance)

A richer degree of the Holy Spirit


“All that we spiritually know of ourselves, all that we know of God and of Jesus and his Word, we owe to the teaching of the Holy Spirit. And all the real light, sanctification, strength and comfort we are made to possess on our way to glory we must ascribe to him. To be richly anointed with the Spirit is to be led into all truth, and to be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with love to God and man. . . .

God has never revoked this gift. He has never removed his Spirit from the church. He is still her divine, personal and abiding Resident. . . .

But for a larger degree of his reviving, anointing and sanctifying influences we do most earnestly plead. The Spirit, though the ever-blessed and abiding occupant of the church of Christ and of the individual believer, may not always be manifestly present. The prayerless, unholy and trifling walk of a believer will cause him to withdraw his sensible [felt] presence. The coldness, formality, worldliness and divisions of a church will compel him to withhold the plentiful rain or the gentle dew of his precious influence. He may be so disowned, dishonored, wounded and grieved as to retire within the curtains of his secret glory, leaving for a while the scene of worldliness and strife to the curse and the reproach of barrenness. . .

All we want, brethren beloved in the Lord, is a richer and more enlarged degree of the reviving, sealing and witnessing influence of the Holy Spirit. . .

Descend, holy and blessed Spirit, upon all thy churches, thy ministers, and thy people!”

Octavius Winslow, The Inquirer Directed to an Experimental and Practical View of the Work of the Holy Spirit (New York, 1840), pages iv-v.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

It Multiplied


Ray Ortlund:

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. Acts 9:31

I’m not against strategic plans. I’m for them. They have their place, as a matter of wise stewardship. But they cannot generate the astonishing outcomes described in the book of Acts.

I remember hearing Michael Green at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974. He asked us, Why don’t we see anywhere in the book of Acts a man-made strategic plan for evangelizing the world? His answer: They didn’t have one.

What then did they have? Two things, for starters: the fear of the Lord, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

In the fear of the Lord, they were teachable, they were humble, they were listening to the gospel, they were open and grateful and easily bendable. They did not have a spirit of self-assurance. They were eager to learn and grow and change in any way the Lord wanted them to.

In the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were gladdened, they felt forgiven, they were reconciled to God and reconciling with one another. They saw their sins and failures, but they also saw the far greater reality of Jesus crucified for them. To put it in a secular way, they couldn’t believe their luck.

Openness in a know-it-all world, comfort in an angry world – that ancient world simply could not resist these heaven-sent powers. So the church didn’t just grow, it multiplied.

Those early churches had no master plan for their future. But they were walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and it worked.

Church growth takes planning. Let’s do it. But church multiplication takes miracle. Let’s be open to what only God can do.

That’s how you got saved


John Piper:

Christianity is not the conclusion at the end of a syllogism. It is a meeting with God. It is a living supernatural power, called the Holy Spirit, moving into our hearts, shedding abroad the love of God experientially…

So Christianity, While not being merely the conclusion at the end of an argument is neither an experience at the end of a needle… Christianity is a supernatural experience of the Holy Spirit mediating the love of God to you through a historical person who did a historical act, namely, dying and rising to bear your sin…

To become a Christian is not to draw a conclusion at the end of a syllogism and sign a card that you think it is good logic. That makes nobody a Christian. To be a Christian is as the syllogism unfolds the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the heart so that in the truth of the gospel being presented… as the gospel is unfolded and the historical events of Jesus embodying the love of God are pointed to the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of your heart and you see them as glorious, true, beautiful. You see God in Christ and He stands forth in those historical facts mediated along the news of the gospel into your mind and then down into your heart as the Holy Spirit pours out the love of God as your eyes are opened by the Spirit to see the love of God as the most precious treasure in all the world. That’s how you got saved.

Sermons from John Piper (1990–1999): Romans 5:3-8 – God Demonstrates His Love Toward Us (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 1999).

(HT: The Cross Quoter)

Believer, Become What You Are

John Piper:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2)

Believer, you died and the new you is alive, and you are God’s. The whole of our Christian life is learning to become — by God’s Spirit — what we already are in Christ. These verses show us how this newness in us comes to life in our everyday choices. In this four-minute video, John Piper explains how the Spirit within and the word of God without work together to make us new.

The Spirit-Formed Community

Acts 2:1-4. When the day of Pentecost came. Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.

Trevin Wax:

The power of Pentecost makes for a fantastic story. Rushing wind, flaming tongues, and the proclamation of a fisherman turned evangelist calling people to repent and be baptized.

But don’t miss how Acts 2 ends. The power of the Spirit that flowed through the apostles’ proclamation is the power that gathers people into a new community.

So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and had everything in common. So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. And every day they devoted themselves [to meeting] together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.

Evangelicals in the West tend to think of the gospel as just a transaction between the individual and God. Just me and Jesus, thank you. Of course, salvation is indeed about an individual being reconciled to God. The Spirit ushers us into a restored relationship with the living God, an intimate knowledge and love of Him who loved us first.

But we mustn’t leave out the result of the gospel’s proclamation in Acts 2. The cross restores our relationship to God, and the result is restored relationship with others. Vertical reconciliation makes possible horizontal reconciliation, and the horizontal dimension then magnifies the vertical.

Here’s an example. Ephesians 1 is all about God’s magnificent plan of salvation. Ephesians 2:1-9 is all about God’s magnificent plan of saving individual sinners like you and me. But the rest of Ephesians 2 and 3 (and 4-6, for that matter!) is about how God’s magnificent plan results in the creation of a renewed people – bringing together former enemies, Jew and Gentile, into one family. Jesus is our peace.

The Holy Spirit not only gives us power, not only leads us to proclamation, and not only fulfills God’s promise. He forms a new people.

What Kind of People?

That’s where Acts 2 gets most interesting. The characteristics of this new people reflect the work of the Holy Spirit. What are they doing?

  • They are devoted to the apostles’ teaching. This is a Word-centered group of people, aren’t they? No surprise there. The Spirit inspired the apostle’s teaching.
  • They are devoted to fellowship. They love each other. No surprise there. The Spirit of love has been poured into their hearts.
  • They break bread together at the Communion table. No surprise there. Through the Spirit, Christ is present with us when we gather and proclaim His death through the Lord’s Supper.
  • They are devoted to praying together. No surprise there. The Spirit is the One who groans within us when our words run out.
  • They are marked by fear of the Lord. No surprise there. God has given us the Spirit of all wisdom, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
  • They are marked out by witnessing the signs and wonders of the apostles. No surprise there. We too have seen God’s wonders. We’ve seen Him rescue people from sin, we’ve seen Him heal people of sickness in answer to our prayers, we’ve seen Him soften the hardest heart.
  • They are willing to share their belongings and give to one another. No surprise. The Spirit of generosity has been poured out on God’s people.
  • They show hospitality, going from house to house. No surprise. This is the Spirit who welcomes us into the throne room of grace.
  • They are filled with gladness and simplicity. No surprise. This is the Spirit, the Comforter who brings us joy in God.
  • They praise God. No surprise. The Spirit lifts up Jesus, and whenever we proclaim Him as Lord, it’s through the work of the Spirit.
  • They find favor with all the people. No surprise. The Spirit fills us with love and self-giving devotion to others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.

The Gospel of the Promised Spirit

The Holy Spirit is part of the promise of the gospel.

  • He gives us power to fulfill Christ’s mission.
  • He leads us to proclamation of Christ’s gospel.
  • He fulfills God’s promise of regeneration.
  • And He forms a new people who know and love God, and overflow with love for others.

John Owen on the Four Main Functions of the Holy Spirit


John Owen:

The chief and principal ends for which the Holy Spirit is promised and received may be reduced to these four heads:—(1.) Regeneration; (2.) Sanctification; (3.) Consolation; (4.) Edification. There are, indeed, very many distinct operations and distributions of the Spirit, as I have in part already discovered, and shall yet farther go over them in particular instances; but they may be reduced unto these general heads, or at least they will suffice to exemplify the different manner and ends of the receiving of the Spirit. And this is the plain order and method of these things, as the Scripture both plainly and plentifully testifies: — (1.) He is promised and received as to the work of regeneration unto the elect; (2.) As to the work of sanctification unto the regenerate; (3.) As to the work of consolation unto the sanctified; and, (4.) As unto gifts for edification unto professors, according to his sovereign will and pleasure.

(HT: The Old Guys)

10 Reasons to Desire All the Spiritual Gifts


By Bryan DeWire, Desiring God blog:

Some might tell you not to really desire all the spiritual gifts. But when you say that, it does not seem to do justice to what 1 Corinthians 12–14 really says.

The apostle bookends his famous chapter on love (1 Corinthians 13) with these two (perhaps surprising) charges: “earnestly desire the higher gifts” and “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 14:1). God means that we desire all of God’s gifts, not to glut our selfishness, but to selflessly strengthen others — “so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:5).

Here are ten ways and reasons from the New Testament to desire all the spiritual gifts, not just the comfortable ones.

  1. Desire all the spiritual gifts because you desire God himself. “To each is giventhe manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).
  2. Desire all the spiritual gifts, knowing that “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13; cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3). Compared to other “higher gifts” (such as tongues, healing, and prophecy†), love is “a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).
  3. Desire all the spiritual gifts because you need him to overcome the satanic fear that dwells in your heart (2 Timothy 1:6–7). As Sam Storms writes, “My opposition to spiritual gifts was also energized by fear . . . [like] the fear of what might occur were I fully to relinquish control of my life and mind and emotions to the Holy Spirit” (The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts, 10).
  4. Desire all the spiritual gifts, knowing that discernment is needed. “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:19–20). “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, buttest the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:29–32).
  5. Therefore, desire all the spiritual gifts, knowing that good things can be twisted and corrupted. But, as Storms says, “abuse is no excuse for disuse” (Convergence: The Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist, 206).
  6. Desire all the spiritual gifts because God commands it (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1, 39). In fact, God tells us, “Do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39) and, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies” (1 Thessalonians 5:19–20).
  7. Desire all the spiritual gifts, knowing that “all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).
  8. Desire all the spiritual gifts because you long for God’s people to be as built up and encouraged and consoled as is pleasing to him (1 Corinthians 14:3). In fact, “since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12). In other words, desire the gift of prophecy in order to build up and encourage and console others, in order to have a greater manifestation of the Spirit of God himself.
  9. Desire all the spiritual gifts, knowing that prophesying and casting out demons is no sure sign of being known by God (Matthew 7:22–23).
  10. Desire all the spiritual gifts, knowing that suffering will come. First, just as God did with Paul, he may choose to afflict you so that you might not become wickedly proud because of your great giftings (2 Corinthians 12:7). Secondly, the world, the flesh, and the devil will all fight against a greater manifestation of God through his Spirit in your life because of these gifts.

†Storms writes, “The gift of tongues is simply the Spirit-energized ability to pray, worship, give thanks or speak in a language other than your own or one you might have learned in school” (Beginner’s Guide, 151), and new-covenant prophecy is “‘the human report of a divine revelation.’ Prophecy is the speaking forth in merely human words of something God has spontaneously brought to mind” (110).

The Holy Spirit as the “wellspring and taproot of all holy and Christ-like action”


J. I. Packer’s insight into the nature of godly living must be noted. He rightly insists that:

“we can never hope to do anything right, never expect to perform a work that is truly good, unless God works within us to make us will and act for his good pleasure. Realizing this will make us depend constantly on our indwelling Lord – which is the heart of what is meant by abiding in Christ. Our living should accordingly be made up of sequences having the following shape. We begin by considering what we have to do, or need to do. Recognizing that without divine help we can do nothing as we should (see John 15:5), we confess to the Lord our inability, and ask that help be given. Then, confident that prayer has been heard and help will be given, we go to work. And, having done what we could, we thank God for the ability to do as much as we did and take the discredit for whatever was still imperfect and inadequate, asking forgiveness for our shortcomings and begging for power to do better next time. In this sequence there is room neither for passivity nor for self-reliance. On the contrary, we first trust God, and then on that basis work as hard as we can, and repeatedly find ourselves enabled to do what we know we could not have done by ourselves. That happens through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, which is the wellspring and taproot of all holy and Christ-like action. Such is the inside story of all the Christian’s authentically good works

Hot Tub Religion, 180 (emphasis added)

(HT: Sam Storms)

Three Surprising Ways to Grieve the Holy Spirit


Kevin DeYoung:

The Holy Spirit is often described as light. He shines into the dark places of the heart and convicts us of sin (John 16:7-11). He is a lamp to illumine God’s word, teaching what is true and showing the truth to be precious (1 Cor. 2:6-16). And the Spirit throws a spotlight on Christ so that we can see his glory and be changed (John 16:14). That’s why 2 Corinthians 3:18speaks of becoming more like Christ by beholding the glory of Christ. Just as Moses had his face transfigured when he saw the Lord’s glory on Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:292 Cor. 3:7), so will we be transformed when, by the Spirit, we behold God’s glory in the face of Christ.

The Spirit, then, is a light to us in three ways: by exposing our guilt, by illuminating the word of God, and by showing us Christ. Or to put it another way, as Divine Light, the Holy Spirit works to reveal sin, reveal the truth, and reveal glory. When we close our eyes to this light or disparage what we are meant to see by this brightness, we are guilty of resisting the Spirit (Acts 7:51), or quenching (1 Thess. 5:19) or grieving the Spirit (Eph. 4:30). There may be slight nuances among the three terms, but they are all speak of the same basic reality: refusing to see and to savor what the Spirit means to show us.

There are, then, at least three ways to grieve the Holy Spirit—three ways that may be surprising because they correspond to the three ways in which the Spirit acts as light to expose our guilt, illumine the word, and show us Christ.

First, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we use him to excuse our sinfulness.

The Spirit is meant to be the source of conviction in the human hearts. How sad it is, therefore, when Christians try to use the Spirit to support ungodly behavior. We see it when people—whether genuinely deceived or purposeful charlatans—claim the leading of the Spirit as the reason for their unbiblical divorce, or for their financial impropriety, or for their new found sexual liberation. The Holy Spirit is always the Spirit of holiness. He means to show us our sin not to excuse it through subjective feelings, spontaneous impressions, and wish fulfillment disguised as enlightened spirituality. If the Holy Spirit is grieved when we turn from righteous into sin, how doubly grieved he must be when we claim the Spirit’s authority for such deliberate rebellion.

Second, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we pit him against the Scriptures.

The Spirit works to reveal the truth of the word of God, not to lead us away from it. There is no place in the Christian life for supposing or suggesting that careful attention to the Bible is somehow antithetical to earnest devotion to the Holy Spirit. Anyone wishing to honor the Spirit would do well to honor the Scriptures he inspired and means to illuminate.

Sometimes Christians will cite the promise in John 16:13 that the Spirit “will guide you into all the truth” as reason to expect that the third person of the Trinity will give us new insights not found in the Scripture. But the “truth” referred to in John 16 is the whole truth about everything bound up in Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life. The Spirit will unpack the things that are to come, insofar as he will reveal to the apostles (see v. 12) the significance of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and exaltation. The Spirit, speaking for the Father and the Son, would help the apostles remember what Jesus said and understand the true meaning of who Jesus is and what he accomplished (John 14:26).

This means that the Spirit is responsible for the truths the apostles preached and that in turn were written down in what we now call the New Testament. We trust the Bible—and do not need to go beyond the Bible—because the apostles, and those under the umbrella of their authority, wrote the Bible by means of the Spirit’s revelation. The Bible is the Spirit’s book. To insist on exegetical precision, theological rigor, and careful attention to the word of God should never be denigrated as stuffing our heads full of knowledge, let alone as somehow opposed to the real work of the Spirit.

Third, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we suggest he is jealous of our focus on Christ.

The Holy Spirit’s work is to serve. He speaks only what he hears (John 16:13). He declares what he is given; his mission is to glorify another (John 16:14). All three persons of the Trinity are fully God, yet in the divine economy the Son makes known the Father and the Spirit glorifies the Son. Yes, it is a terrible thing to be ignorant about the Spirit and unwise to overlook the indispensable role he plays in our lives. But we must not think we can focus on Christ too much, or that when we exalt Christ to the glory of God the Father that somehow the Spirit is sulking off in the corner. The Spirit means to shine a light on Christ; he is not envious to stand in the light himself.

Exulting in Christ, focusing on Christ, speaking much and singing often of Christ are not evidences of the Spirit’s dismissal but of the Spirit’s work. If the symbol of the church is the cross and not the dove, that’s because the Spirit would have it that way. As J. I. Packer puts it, “The Spirit’s message to us is never, ‘Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,’ but always, ‘Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.’”

Again, to know nothing of the Holy Spirit is a serious mistake (cf. Acts 19:2). But when Christians lament an over-attentiveness to Christ or moan about too much emphasis on the cross, such protestations grieve the Spirit himself. The Holy Spirit is not waiting in the wings to be noticed and lauded. His work is not to shine brightly before us, but to shine a light on the glory of Christ. To behold the glory of God the Father in the face of Jesus Christ the Son is not to sideline the Holy Spirit; it is to celebrate his gracious work among us.

Whether we are talking about holiness, the Bible, or Jesus Christ, let us never set the Spirit against the very thing he means to accomplish. We do not honor the Spirit by trying to diminish what he seeks to exalt. And we do not stay in his step by pushing others (or ourselves) in the direction of the very things that grieve him most.

Continuationist Pneumatology


Benny Phillips:

The spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians

Paul paints a picture for us in 1 Corinthians 12–14 of what continuationist pneumatology might look like in the New Testament church. The passage is not primarily designed to explain individual gifts of the Spirit, but rather to place their usage in the context of the larger picture of local church worship. Continuationist pneumatology is about more than our corporate worship; it carries implications for how we live life with others, and that includes our times together as a local church.

Today’s church culture tends to highlight the theatrical. The music, drama and preaching all seem to be directed at an audience. The goal seems to be a good experience, including moving, engaging entertainment.

As someone recently said to me after visiting a church, “I felt more like I was at a good Christian concert than a time of worship.” I don’t know how conscious church leaders are of this, but the reality of it is undeniable. Today’s churches are competing for the affections and attention of a culture characterized by fast-moving images and slick technology. It’s not that God’s active presence can’t intersect with “cool”—but what Paul is encouraging is something mysterious and clearly supernatural.

Engagement with God

When contemplating the importance of maintaining our “charismatic distinctives,” it’s tempting to focus on what makes us unique as a network of churches. We all know that engaging with God is not unique to Sovereign Grace churches. In reformed circles, recognizing that utilization of all the spiritual gifts in the church today is not a secondary issue, but gets at the very mission of the church and how we live out our calling, may be. How we engage the world, deal with the enemy, minister in a broken world, and effectively engage God in worship needs an infusion of the utterly awesome activity of God.

At the heart of Spirit-filled worship is the desire to cultivate corporate interaction with God “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:4). Paul states that the diversity of spiritual gifts are given by God “who empowers them all in everyone.” Whether these expressions of God’s activity are utilized in the corporate worship, in the dynamic of biblical fellowship in our small groups, or in sharing the gospel in the marketplace, they are designed to bring healthy engagement with God. Spiritual gifts are not God bestowing to his people something external to himself. They are God himself in us working his sovereign and gracious purposes through us. Sam Storms calls the charismatic gifts of the Spirit “God going public.”

Experiencing and welcoming the presence of the Spirit

Most of us have experienced it at one time or another. A prophetic word discreetly whispers to shamed secrets a woman has never disclosed, and as tears falls she’s reminded that a holy God knows, accepts and loves her. A message in tongues peeks the interest of a man who has never heard this before, and the interpretation draws his heart to a powerful God who has everything under control (including his wife’s cancer). An impression that someone is battling guilt over unconfessed sin results in a teen confessing her sexual compromise to her parents. An exhausted and discouraged former youth leader shuffles into a meeting and receives personal ministry that addresses struggles the person praying for him could never have known without the Spirit’s prompting. These stirring stories are real life examples I have been privileged to witness in our new church plant by the moving of the Holy Spirit who knows, sees, and loves all.

The Holy Spirit moves in our churches and changes lives primarily through His powerfully efficacious word. Yet as reformed “charismatics,” we have both the awesome privilege and responsibility to robustly welcome rather than politely endure the mysterious yet life-changing and active presence of the Spirit of God in our churches.

The Hidden Floodlight Ministry of the Holy Spirit


J.I. Packer:

The Holy Spirit’s distinctive new covenant role, then, is to fulfill what we may call a floodlight ministry in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. So far as this role was concerned, the Spirit “was not yet” (John 7:39, literal Greek) while Jesus was on earth; only when the Father had glorified him (see John 17:1,5) could the Spirit’s work of making men aware of Jesus’ glory begin.

I remember walking to a church one winter evening to preach on the words “he shall glorify me,” seeing the building floodlit as I turned a corner, and realizing that this was exactly the illustration my message needed.

When floodlighting is well done, the floodlights are so placed that you do not see them; you are not in fact supposed to see where the light is coming from; what you are meant to see is just the building on which the floodlights are trained. The intended effect is to make it visible when otherwise it would not be seen for the darkness, and to maximize its dignity by throwing all its details into relief so that you see it properly. This perfectly illustrates the Spirit’s new covenant role. He is, so to speak, the hidden floodlight shining on the Savior.

Or think of it this way. It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over our shoulder, on Jesus, who stands facing us.

The Spirit’s message is never,

“Look at me;

listen to me;

come to me;

get to know me,”

but always

“Look at him, and see his glory;

listen to him, and hear his word;

go to him, and have life;

get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.

Keeping in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), p. 57; emphasis original.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Union With Christ as Assurance of Life


“I grew up in a common form of American Christianity that basically treated anxiety like a fruit of the Spirit. If you were not worried about your own holiness, something was wrong. In relation to this, Reformed teaching on the double grace and the will’s bondage is very good news: rather than being ‘tossed back and forth without any certainty,’ with ‘our poor consciences . . . tormented constantly,’ as the Belgic Confession says, we come to rest in Jesus Christ, knowing that new life is a gift received in union with him. In this way, we are freed to actually love and delight in God and neighbor. Otherwise, our praying, our acts of mercy, our evangelism, all are done to build up our own holiness — which blocks God and neighbor from being our focus. When both our justification and our new life are found in Jesus Christ, then this burdensome, disingenuous Christianity is replaced by Spirit-empowered gratitude.”

– J. Todd Billings, Union With Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church (Baker, 2011), 47.

(HT: Jared Wilson)

Let’s Pray for Revival

The Gospel Coalition Council members Kevin DeYoung, Bryan Chapell, and Richard Phillips recently sat down to tackle this knotty topic. “In a true revival, you’re not adding human manipulative techniques to a biblical ministry,” Phillips explains. Rather, you’re “doing biblical ministry, fortified by prayer, and the Holy Spirit is giving you a great harvest.”

Moreover, Chapell points out, “True revival is often very disruptive to the traditional church.” As a result, many churches “want revival until it comes.” On the other hand, DeYoung adds, some don’t desire to see revival unless it occurs in their church.

To be sure, the history of revivalism is shot through with examples of well-meaning people seeking to engineer what only God can do. As Lloyd-Jones warned:

“Pray for revival? Yes, go on, but do not try to create it, do not attempt to produce it; it is only given by Christ himself. The last church to be visited by a revival is the church trying to make it.”

Watch the full eight-minute video to hear these pastors discuss the temptation to manufacture, the danger of giving up, the problem with measuring success in revival terms, and more.

The Twin Temptations of Pragmatism and Authoritarianism


Jonathan Leeman:

It is easy for church leaders to look only to their left or only to their right in seeking to avoid the errors of others. Something I have learned from watching Tim Keller is the importance of looking in both directions. Hence, the man always seems to have a “third way” on offer.

When the topic turns to philosophy of ministry or church practice, it has been the tendency of 9Marks writers like myself to look leftward toward the squishy tendencies of mainstream evangelicalism. This is a response to the evangelicalism of my youth that was constantly anxious to avoid slipping too far rightward toward some type of authoritarian fundamentalism.

Many things in life are binary, and there is no third way. But I do believe there are errors both to the right and to the left of a biblical philosophy of ministry. On the left are the errors of pragmatism, and on the right are the errors of authoritarianism. What’s most striking to me is what they share in common.


At first glance, they look pretty different. Pragmatism is flexible. It says, “Let’s try this, or this, or this, or this, or this!” Authoritarianism is rigid. It says, “Do what I told you, now!” Pragmatism respects autonomy and the role of assent, even if things get a little messy. Authoritarianism respects order and efficiency and completion. Surely, pragmatism and authoritarianism are not identical twins.

But they are fraternal twins. Look beyond the surface and you will find a surprising number of commonalities:

Both pragmatism and authoritarianism are fixated on results.

Both define success by outward or visible change, and therefore they subject their methods to any number of metrics for measuring visible fruit.

Both depend upon human ingenuity to get the job done. They rely upon brains, brawn, or beauty to accomplish their ends. One strong-arms. The other strong-charms.

In the area of Christian ministry, unlike authoritarianism, pragmatism does not assume there is a “right way” to get things done but that God has left these things to us. So it sheepishly concludes, “My way is as good as any, I suppose.” But this, ironically, is not totally unrelated to the authoritarian’s “My way or the highway!” Both can overlook “God’s way.”

Listen to either the pragmatist’s sermon (“Seven Steps to a Healthy Marriage”) or the authoritarian’s sermon (“Repent or Else”). What might you hear?

  • Both exploit the flesh (whether through fear or appealing to appetite) in order to motivate action instead of appealing to the spiritual new man in the gospel.
  • Both start with the imperatives of Scripture, not the indicatives of what Christ has accomplished.
  • Both loom heavily over the will, doing all they can to make the will choose rightly, apart from a consideration of where the will has its roots planted—in the heart’s desires. Shame and moralism are the favorite tools of both methodologies.
  • Both require outward conformity rather than repentance of heart. In so doing, they create only Pharisees.
  • Both overstep the boundaries of where the Bible has given us permission to go, whether by expanding the scope of corporate worship and Christian mission or by laying down commands where none exist. Both routes bind the conscience where the gospel does not.
  • Both are impatient, and want to see decisions made “today!” Since they do not recognize that decisions have their ultimate foundation in the heart’s desires, they feel successful whenever they produce a right decision, whether or not that decision was forced or manipulated.
  • Both rely on their own strength, rather than leaning on the Spirit by faith (see John 3:66:63).

Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with relying upon human wisdom and strength for some ends, particularly when there is a lack of divine revelation. How do you promote your coffee shop? How do you win football games? How do you keep your teeth healthy?

But when it comes to Christian ministry, the chief error of both pragmatism and authoritarianism is their reliance upon natural methods to accomplish supernatural ends. To borrow from Paul David Tripp and Timothy Lane, they staple apples onto trees instead of watering and feeding the trees.


How do you feed and water the trees? That takes us to the third way. Christian ministry must rely fully on God’s gospel Word and God’s Spirit.

Gospel ministry has the following attributes:

  • It is by faith. It believes that God’s Spirit always has the power to change, and that he will if he so determines.
  • It relies on God’s gospel Word. True change happens when the eyes of a person’s heart open to the truth of God’s gospel Word, accepting and embracing it. They see its truth for themselves. It’s not beauty or brawn that entices them, it’s God and his Word.
  • It recognizes the role of authority: Jesus has authority; Jesus’ gospel word has authority; Jesus’ church and its leaders have authority. But each of these authorities is different, possessing different mandates, prerogatives, jurisdictions, and sanctions. And gospel ministry is very sensitive to these differences, never confusing one authority for another.
  • It helps people to consider what they truly desire before telling them what they must do.
  • It appeals to Christians on the basis of their status in the gospel, not on the strength of their flesh. A Christian pastor or counselor should not say things like, “I expect more from you” or “You’re better than that.” Instead, he will say, “Don’t you realize that you’ve died and been raised with Christ? You’re a new creation. Now, what should that mean?” A Christian authority will give commands (e.g., 2 Thess. 3:6,1012), but these commands will be issued by virtue of membership in the gospel. It appeals to the new realities of the Spirit. The imperatives should always follow the indicatives of what Christ has given.
  • It is exceedingly patient and tender, knowing that only God can give growth (1 Cor. 3:5–9). An immature Christian may need to walk a hundred steps before he arrives at maturity, but a wise pastor seldom asks for more than one step or two. Our example in this is Jesus. “Take my yoke and learn from me,” he says (Matt. 11:29). To take his yoke is to become a disciple. It’s to learn. But he is gentle and lowly in heart, and his yoke is easy and light (11:29–30).
  • It is always carefully measured or calibrated to where a person is spiritually. The godly elder and church seldom, if ever, make spiritual prescriptions without asking questions and doing the exploratory work of a good doctor.
  • It is also willing to draw lines and make demands that it knows cannot be met. A good doctor not only asks careful questions, he identifies cancer when he sees it. Likewise, a church or an elder should not use its authority to obscure God’s gospel realities but to illumine them. The power of the keys, for instance, is to be used exactly to this end.

In short, Christian ministry works by the power of the Spirit and the Word, not by the power of the flesh.

Like a pragmatic approach, it makes appeals to people. It asks for their consent. It recognizes that a true act of faith cannot be coerced.

But like an authoritarian approach, it recognizes that Jesus is king and possesses authority.  True actions of faith do not proceed from autonomous but manipulated actors. Rather, people must lovingly submit to his royal word.

Christian ministry loves and confronts. It honors and challenges. More than anything, perhaps, it speaks…and waits…

Jonathan Leeman, an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and the editorial director at 9Marks, is the author of Reverberation: How God’s Word Brings Light, Freedom, and Action to His People. Portions of this article have been taken from The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter.

Newton on Preaching Unsearchable Riches


Tony Reinke:

The following story was shared by John Newton in a letter to his friend, a theological liberal minister, Thomas Scott, on November 17, 1775. Newton’s role in the theological formation (transformation) of Scott is a remarkable story worth studying in itself. But for now, here’s the story Newton shared with Scott, as published in Newton’s Works (1:596-98):

A most valued friend of mine, a Clergyman now living, had for many years given a rational assent to the Gospel. He laboured with much earnestness upon your plan; was very exemplary in his whole conduct; preached almost incessantly (two or three times every day in the week for years), having a parish in the remote parts of Yorkshire, of great extent, and containing five or six different hamlets at some distance from each other.

He succeeded likewise with his people so far as to break them off from outward irregularities; and was mentioned, in a letter to the Society for propagating the Gospel (which I have seen in print) as the most perfect example of a parish priest which this nation, or perhaps this age, has produced. Thus he went on for many years, teaching his people what he knew, for he could teach them no more. He lived in such retirement and recess, that he was unacquainted with the persons and principles of any who are now branded as enthusiasts and methodists.

One day, reading Ephesians 3 in his Greek Testament, his thoughts were stopped by the word ανεξιχνιαστον [unsearchable], in verse 8. He was struck, and led to think with himself to this purpose: The Apostle, when speaking of the love and riches of Christ, uses remarkable expressions; he speaks of heights, and depths, and lengths, and breadths, and unsearchables, where I seem to find every thing plain, easy, and rational. He finds mysteries where I can perceive none. Surely, though I use the words Gospel, faith, and grace, with him, my ideas of them must be different from his.

This led him to a close examination of all his Epistles, and, by the blessing of God, brought on a total change in his views and preaching. He no longer set his people to keep a law of faith; to trust in their sincerity and endeavours, upon some general hope that Christ would help them out where they came short; but he preached Christ himself, as the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

He felt himself, and laboured to convince others, that there is no hope for a sinner but merely in the blood of Jesus; and no possibility of his doing any works acceptable to God, till he himself be first made accepted in the Beloved. Nor did he labour in vain. Now his preaching effected, not only an outward reformation, but a real change of heart, in very many of his hearers. The word was received, as Paul expresses it, not with a rational assent only, but with demonstration and power, in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; and their endeavours to observe the Gospel precepts were abundantly more extensive, uniform, and successful, when they were brought to say, with the Apostle, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life I live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God.”

This he said about the Spirit


“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.  John 7:37-39

“‘Ah,’ you say, ‘I have not reached to that.’  A point is gained when you know, confess and deplore your failure.  If you say, ‘I have all things and abound,’ I am afraid you will never reach the fullness of the blessing.  But if you know something of your failure, the Lord will lead you further.  It may be that the Spirit of Life which comes forth for you is but a trickling brooklet or even a few tiny drops.  Then be sure to confess it and you will be on the way to a fuller blessing!

What a Word of God is this!  Rivers of living water!  Oh, that all professing Christians were such fountains!  See how spontaneous it is—’Out of his heart shall flow.’  No pumping is required!  Nothing is said about machinery and hydraulics!  The man does not need exciting and stirring up but, just as he is, influence of the best kind quietly flows out of him.

Did you ever hear a great hubbub in the morning, a great outcry, a sounding of trumpets and drums?  And did you ever ask, ‘What is it?’  Did a voice reply, ‘The sun is about to rise and he is making this noise that all may be aware of it’?  No, he shines, but he has nothing to say about it.  Even so, the genuine Christian just goes about flooding the world with blessings and, so far from claiming attention for himself, it may be that he is unconscious of what he is effecting.  God so blesses him that his leaf does not wither and whatever he does is prospering, for he is like a tree planted by the rivers of water that bring forth its fruit in its season—his verdure and fruit are the natural outcome of his vigorous life.  Oh, the blessed spontaneity of the work of Grace when a man gets into the fullness of it, for then he seems to eat and drink and sleep eternal life!”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Indwelling and Outflowing of the Holy Spirit,” May 28, 1882.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

How can we tell when God is really at work?


Ray Ortlund:

In The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Jonathan Edwards pulled out of 1 John 4 the biblical indicators that God is at work, even if the people involved are complicating it with their own sins and eccentricities.  And we do complicate it.  In this life, the work of the gospel is never pure, always mixed.  But we do not need to be stuck in analysis-paralysis.  The true gold of grace is discernible, within all the mess, in four ways:

  • One, when our esteem of Jesus is being raised, so that we prize him more highly than all this world, God is at work.
  • Two, when we are moving away from Satan’s interests, away from sin and worldly desires, God is at work.
  • Three, when we are believing, revering and devouring the Bible more and more, God is at work.
  • Four, and most importantly, when we love Jesus and one another more, delighting in him and in one another, God is at work.

Satan not only wouldn’t produce such things, he couldn’t produce them, so opposite are these from his nature and purposes.  These simple and obvious evidences of grace are sure signs that God is at work, even with the imperfections we inevitably introduce.

If we hold out for perfection, we will wait until we are with the Lord.  True discernment keeps our eyes peeled for fraudulence but also unleashes us, and even requires us, to rejoice wherever we see the Lord at work right now.

Don’t turn away because of the non-gold; prize the gold.  Defend it.  Rejoice over it.  God is giving it.