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 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.
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)
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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- Desire all the spiritual gifts, knowing that “all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
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)
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. 34:29; 2 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.
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 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,”
“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)
“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)
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 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.”
“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)
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.
The role of the Spirit in decision making can bring up some contentious issues. Extremes range from the charismaniac who is always looking for some type of “sign” from God to the hardcore cessationist who will deny any sort of input-prompting, impulse, intuition-that could be attributed to God’s direction. This may be a difficult area for Christians to navigate, but I think this excerpt from Gospel Centered Discipleship is helpful in terms of adding some balance to the backlash against the Spirit’s involvement in our decision making.
After his baptism, Jesus was “lead by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1-2). Notice that the Spirit played a directive role in the life of the Son of God. Mark tells us that the Spirit “drove” Jesus into the wilderness (Mark 1:12). Jesus clearly relied on the Spirit for direction. This sensitivity to the directing influence of the Holy Spirit is characteristic of the disciples in the book of Acts. Philip is directed to speak to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8). Peter is directed to the house of Cornelius (Acts 10). The Jerusalem Council is Spirit directing your life? Very often, our modern, self-reliant sensibilities cut the Spirit right out of everyday decision making. Rarely do we request or expect the Spirit’s direction. Yet, we are repeatedly told to “walk” in the Spirit throughout the Bible (Ezek. 36:27; Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:16,25) and to make decisions by seeking the Lord (Prov. 5:4-6; James 4:13-15). Being motivated by the Spirit should affect not just normal decisions but also our general approach to life. Paul tells us to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). How often do we start our day by requesting a fresh infilling of the Spirit’s power for the day that lies ahead? Instead, we assume his presence and barrel forward. Our assumption of the Spirit reveals a self-reliant faith. Instead of starting and continuing our days in our own strength, what would it look like to fight for faith with utter dependence upon the power and direction of the Holy Spirit? (92)
By Sam Storms:
It seems everyone has an opinion on what is known as the charismatic movement. I’m no exception. But in this article I want to focus on what I perceive to be both its strengths and weaknesses. In a subsequent post I’ll comment on what I think is most needed in the charismatic world for it to move forward to the glory of God.
(1) The charismatic tradition has done well in emphasizing the role of authentic experience in Christian living. Charismatics are to be applauded for bringing a more holistic approach to our relationship with God. In doing so, the dualism between body and spirit, as well as between the affective and cognitive dimensions, has been overcome. On the other hand, this has led at times to a de-emphasis on the mind (even a “demonizing” of it) and a failure to appreciate the necessity of a rigorous intellectual engagement with the faith.
(2) The charismatic renewal has also contributed greatly to a biblical egalitarianism in terms of the distribution of spiritual gifts and the breaking down of socio-economic and educational barriers that tended to reinforce the older distinctions between clergy and laity (I think immediately of John Wimber’s emphasis on “every-member-ministry” in which all believers are called and gifted to “do the stuff!”). On the other hand, one can also see the emergence of an unbiblical egalitarianism that fails to acknowledge the complementary but differing roles and levels of authority that God has ordained for men and women.
(3) Whereas much of mainstream evangelicalism can become mired in an under-realized eschatology that breeds defeatism, passive acquiescence to the status quo, and a loss of the joy that comes with experiencing the power and privilege of what we already have in Christ, the charismatic tradition can be guilty of an over-realized eschatology that breeds naïve triumphalism, presumptuous prayer, and an unrealistic expectation of spiritual and physical blessings that are not yet God’s purpose to bestow. Thus, whereas evangelical cessationists fail to recognize and act upon the authority that is already ours in Christ, evangelical continuationists fail to acknowledge how a theology of weakness can serve the greater glory of God.
Mark Cartledge (Encountering the Spirit, 2006) puts it this way: “With the emphasis on power and the immediacy of the transcendent within the immanent, the charismatic tradition can err on the side of expecting too much now” (135). Thus “the power of the resurrection can eclipse the weakness of the cross . . . [and] success and celebrity status can be sought as signs of power and blessing rather than a commitment to suffering and weakness in the ordinary of everyday life” (135).
The essence of charismatic triumphalism is the belief that the overt and consummate victories that we will experience only in the age to come are available to us now. By all means rejoice that we have authority over demonic spirits (cf. Luke 10:17-20), that we have been blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3) and have been “raised” up with Christ and are “seated” together “with him” (Eph. 2:6). We who believe “that Jesus is the Son of God” have “overcome” the world (1 John 5:5). And Jesus himself promises great and glorious rewards “to the one who conquers” now (Rev. 2:7, 11, 12; etc.).
Where many often go astray is in their claim that such truths necessarily entail visible and irreversible victories in the present that result in a life free from persecution, suffering, or demonic assault. It’s the notion that since I’m a “child of the King” I have a right to live in financial prosperity and complete physical health, free from that “groaning” under the lingering curse of the fall which Paul appears to indicate will continue until the return of Christ (cf. Romans 8:18-25).
The nature of what I call “toxic triumphalism” is nowhere better seen than in 2 Corinthians 13:1-4. There Paul writes:
“This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them – since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God” (2 Cor. 13:1-4).
D. A. Carson explains: “They were so sub-Christian in their thinking that Christlike gentleness and meekness meant little to them. They preferred manifestations of power, however exploitative and arbitrary they might be (11:20). Paul’s gentleness they therefore misjudged as weakness, preferring the triumphalistic pushiness of the false apostles. Paul responds by saying that if it is power they want to see as the absolute criterion of genuine apostolicity, they may get more than they bargained for: he may be forced to display the power of the resurrected Christ, speaking through him in the thunderous tones of punishment, another version perhaps of the judgment meted out to Ananias and Sapphira” (Showing the Spirit, 174).
Paul’s point is that his life and especially his relationship to the Corinthians mirror that of Christ. Jesus, says Paul, was the supreme embodiment and example of both weakness (in his crucifixion) and strength (in his resurrection and exaltation). Jesus was “obedient to the point of death” (Phil. 2:8b) and refused to retaliate or react against his accusers (Mt. 26:52, 67-68; 27:11-14, 27-31; 1 Peter 2:23). Herein was his “weakness” as well as the public demonstration of his essential mortality. But unlike us, he did not remain in weakness but came to life again through the resurrection “power of God” (v. 4a).
Yes, says Paul, I am weak, as Jesus was, a weakness you’ve despised and used to undermine my credibility. But “in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God” (v. 4b). The phrase “we will live with him” is not, as most triumphalists would prefer, a reference to the final resurrection and our hope of living in Christ’s presence in the age to come. Rather “Paul is speaking of his imminent visit to Corinth when, in unison with Christ and with God’s power, he would act decisively and vigorously against unrepentant evildoers within the congregation” (Murray Harris, 2 Corinthians, 916).
(4) Charismatics are to be applauded for their focus on the OT and its narrative portrayal of the immediacy of God in the lives of his people, primarily as expressed in signs, wonders, and prophetic revelation. But they often fall into the trap of applying old covenant models for ministry and leadership to people living under the new covenant. Even more egregious is the tendency to elevate old covenant types and shadows while failing to recognize their antitypical fulfillment in Jesus in the new covenant.
(5) The charismatic tradition has awakened the evangelical world to the reality of spiritual warfare and to the authority of the believer over all the power of the enemy. However, in their zeal to do justice to the presence and activity of the demonic, there has been a tendency to demonize the flesh. That is to say, if secular scientists are guilty of looking for a genetic or bio-chemical cause for all human misbehavior, some forms of charismatic hyper-spirituality look for a demonic explanation. The result is that sins of the flesh are reduced to “spirits” of lust, nicotine, envy, homosexuality, alcoholism, etc. Similarly, among charismatics “the category of creation or nature can be lost in a worldview that sees reality in the dichotomous terms of light and darkness, or the spiritual kingdom of God versus the spiritual kingdom of Satan. This cosmological dualism can fuel spiritual warfare, but it also misses the important category of creation as good but fallen” (Cartledge, 135).
(6) Although the charismatic renewal is responsible to some degree for bringing to light the reality of the spiritual realm in a world dominated by scientific naturalism, it is also at times guilty of a modern form of Gnosticism. This hyper-spirituality has led to a neglect of the routine disciplines of Christian living and the ordinary means of grace, a failure to appreciate the presence of God in natural processes, and a loss of appreciation for the beauty and value of the material creation.
(7) Charismatics are to be applauded for their emphasis on spiritual gifts, especially that of prophecy and the reality that God still speaks. Sadly, though, this gift has often been turned into a crystal ball for routine daily decision making. And notwithstanding their protests to the contrary, charismatics are somewhat inclined to elevate the spoken word of God over the written word of canonical Scripture.
(8) The charismatic renewal has rightly brought to our attention the reality and importance of multiple post-conversion encounters with the Holy Spirit. These experiences can serve to impart spiritual gifts, empower believers for ministry and witness, and enhance and deepen our intimacy with the Father. But they can also be distorted by becoming “badges” of spiritual superiority. The desire (which can all too often degenerate into an unhealthy craving) for fresh encounters with the Spirit can easily be used as an excuse for the neglect of healthy involvement in a local church, all the while the believer moves from conference to conference, from revival to revival, ostensibly in search of the next “great move of God.”
(9) Whereas the charismatic tradition is correct in insisting that the apostolic gift is in some way still valid for the church today, it has given unhealthy credence to an effort by some to restructure local church leadership on a foundation other than that of the Elder / Deacon pattern so clearly endorsed in the NT epistles.
(10) Whereas charismatics have rightly turned our attention to the importance of revival and power encounters with the Spirit that often lead to deliverance, healing, and renewed fellowship with God, they have also drawn unbiblical connections between physical manifestations and spiritual maturity, as if the presence of the former is a clear sign of the latter.
I think one of the main reasons we struggle to tell people about Jesus is that deep down we just don’t think it will ever work. We think we’ve already tried to share with people before and nobody was interested. We imagine sharing our faith to be nothing but muscling up our strength to go do our duty and embrace failure. We soldier on, expecting fruitlessness, so we can say, “I did it, pastor.”
Most of us lack faith that God actually has people prepared for us who will listen. This is where the doctrine of predestination is the best news in the world. We have not yet exhausted the number of God’s elect. God has more people to be saved, so keep on sharing.
When Spurgeon was asked why he kept preaching the gospel when he believed in election, he replied, “Because the elect don’t have yellow stripes down their back.” In other words, he could not see who was elect and who was not, so he had to keep sharing, believing that God had more people who would listen.
The sovereignty of God is the greatest motivation for mission. God still has people, preordained from the beginning of time to be responsive to the gospel message. You may think that you have already shared with everyone who would possibly be interested in the gospel, but it is not so. Remember: that the Spirit of God goes before you. As the it says in Zachariah 4:6, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”
God is more interested in saving people than we are in telling people how to be saved. So as we keep sharing, he will keep providing some to be saved.
“So, then, what is this effectual, internal call that we are speaking about? Well, the most we can say about it is — and this must of necessity be true in the light of these scriptures — that it is the exercise of the power of the Holy Spirit in the soul. It is a direct operation of the Holy Spirit within us. It is immediate, it is spiritual, it is supernatural, miraculous. And what it does is to make a new mode of spiritual activity possible within us. Without this operation we are incapable of any true spiritual activity but as the result of this operation of the Holy Spirit upon us, we are rendered capable, for the first time, of spiritual activity and that is how this call now becomes effectual, that is what enables us to receive it.
“Now this is very important and I want to emphasise the immediacy, the direct action. You see, what happens when the call comes to men and women effectually is not simply that the moral influence of the truth is exercised upon them. Some people have thought that; they have said that the gospel is preached and that the truth has a kind of general moral effect upon people. For instance, to take a human theme, a capable orator, a man wanting to persuade men and women to vote at an election for a given party, can put the case so well that he can exercise a moral influence upon his listeners. But it is not that. It is an operation of the Spirit upon the men and women themselves, in the depths. It is not merely that the Holy Spirit heightens our natural faculties and powers, it is more than that. It is the Spirit acting upon the soul from within and producing within us a new principle of spiritual action.
“Now it must be that; it cannot be less than that. Because these things, says Paul, are all spiritual. And that is why the natural man does not understand them; and that is why, as I have often reminded you, we should never be surprised, or to the slightest extent disappointed or put out, when somebody brings us the argument that ‘Christianity cannot be right because look at this great man and he doesn’t believe it!’ How often have you heard that argument! Someone says, ‘You know, I cannot believe this, because if Christianity were true, it could not be possible that all these philosophers and scientists and all these great statesmen and other men do not believe it.’
“In the light of these things, it is very natural and we can understand it perfectly well. The greatest natural intellect cannot receive this, he is ‘a natural man’. And you need a spiritual faculty to receive the wonderful truth about the two natures in the one Person; the outstanding doctrine about the Trinity; the whole doctrine of the incarnation and the atonement, and so on. This is spiritual truth and to the natural person it is utter folly, it is foolishness, as Paul says. So when the Holy Spirit does enable us to believe it, it must be something beyond the heightening of our natural faculties. It is not simply that He brings the truth of His great moral suasion to us. No, no. We need some new faculty, some new principle, and that is the very work that He does. He implants within us this new spiritual principle, this principle of spiritual vitality and activity, and it is as the result of this that the general call of the gospel comes to us in an effectual manner.”
– Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Effectual Calling and Regeneration”
(HT: Jared Wilson)
“There is no inconsistency or incoherence in the teaching of the New Testament about, on the one hand, the offer of Christ in the gospel, which Christians are told to make known everywhere, and, on the other hand, the fact that Christ achieved a totally efficacious redemption for God’s elect on the cross.
It is a certain truth that all who come to Christ in faith will find mercy (John 6:35, 47–51, 54–57; Rom. 1:16; 10:8–13). The elect hear Christ’s offer, and through hearing it are effectually called by the Holy Spirit. Both the invitation and the effectual calling flow from Christ’s sin-bearing death. Those who reject the offer of Christ do so of their own free will (i.e., because they choose to, Mat 22:1–7; John 3:18), so that their final perishing is their own fault. Those who receive Christ learn to thank him for the cross as the centrepiece of God’s plan of sovereign saving grace.”
J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), 138-39
(HT: Of First Importance)
Jonathan Parnell posts a conversation between two of my heroes:
Few people work faithfully for the same organization for almost 60 years. Yet it was 1955 when Jerry Bridges, a Korean War veteran, joined the team at The Navigators where he continues to this day. An author of several books, Mr. Bridges is a leading voice in explaining the significance of the gospel in everyday life, including The Discipline of Grace,The Gospel for Real Life, and The Pursuit of Holiness, to name a few.
John Piper recently sat down with Mr. Bridges in Minneapolis to talk about life and ministry. In this 25-minute video, they discuss key issues regarding God’s providence, spiritual disciplines, and the Christian life.