The Ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Believer

Dr. Brian Allison

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The Gift and Supply of the Spirit

The Christian life begins with, and is sustained by, the gift and supply of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 3:1-5 provides some very helpful teaching on these aspects of the ministry of the Spirit in the life of the believer. We read, "You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you [i.e., who has cast a spell over you? who has worked some black magic on you? who has bedevilled you?], before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? [i.e., before whom Jesus Christ was so clearly presented, so openly pictured, as the One Who died for our sins that you could not be in any doubt concerning the truth of the Gospel as it relates to Him?]. This is the only thing I want to find out from you [because you should have known better; it is inconceivable that you could have been misled; it is unbelievable that you could have been led astray in light of that clear, plain teaching]: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law [by following the path of Judaism], or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish [not that you are acting silly, but you seem to be devoid of understanding]? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh [by relying upon your religious works and exercises]? Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain? [i.e., having spiritually embraced Christ, and paid the price of ridicule and rejection, are you now setting Him aside? Was it all for nothing?] Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you [which is the manifestation of that Spirit], do it by the works of the Law, or by the hearing with faith?"

The larger issue in this epistle to the Galatians concerns the means of justification – how one is saved. The question that the apostle addresses is whether one is saved by conforming to the Mosaic Law or by having faith in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul presents two opposing systems of religious thought. On the one hand, there is the system of Law – what a person must do in order to save himself. On the other hand, there is the system of grace and the Gospel – what God himself does in order to save a person. Now, though this is the larger issue in this epistle, I simply want to concentrate on the specific teaching concerning the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is a promised gift

Again, the apostle Paul inquired, "Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" (5:2). In asking how these Christians actually received the Spirit, the apostle implied that the Holy Spirit was in fact given. God Himself gives the Spirit; and when we think of God giving the Spirit (and someone receiving that Spirit), we are certainly thinking in terms of a gift. Indeed, the New Testament uses the language of 'gift' for the giving of the Spirit by God. For instance, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit was poured out on the disciples and miraculous signs appeared. Jews from various nations congregated to the 'upper room' residence because of the commotion. Peter stood up and began to preach. Subsequently, we read, "Now when they heard this [the preaching], they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what shall we do?' And Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:37,38).

Now, the gift of the Spirit is that which has been promised; that is why we read the language of the 'promise of the Holy Spirit.' So, again, in Peter's preaching on the day of Pentecost, he proclaimed, "Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, [Christ] has poured forth that which you both see and hear" (Acts 2:2:33). The Spirit was promised to Abraham and to his Seed (i.e., Jesus Christ) (Gal. 3:16,19). This promise was revealed to, and recorded in the book of, Ezekiel (Ez. 36:26,27; 37:13,14; 39:29). This promise was announced and confirmed by Christ in His preaching ministry (Jn. 7:37-39; 14:16ff; 16:5ff.). The promise of the gift of the Spirit has now come – "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us...in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit" (Gal. 3:13,14).

Now, consider some simple thoughts concerning this notion of a gift. When you think of a gift, what comes to mind? How do you understand a gift? A gift is an expression of favour; it is that which is graciously given. For instance, recently someone dropped into the Church and brought me a gift of a bottle of apple juice. This person was not obligated to bring me this drink; this person was pleased to do it; it was something graciously given. Further, a gift is unearned; it is not something for which you strive or work. You are to simply accept and enjoy it. There is no expenditure of energy, nor any loss of time, on the part of the one who receives it. For instance, recently my wife and I received a note from a couple who were married in June, thanking us for a gift that we had made for them. Now, they did not work for that gift. So, a gift is not only graciously given, but unmeritedly given. Moreover, a gift requires no compensation; it does not demand some payment in return. It is freely given. Over the years I have given books away, and every now and again some one will say to me, "Well, what can I give you for it?" I reply, "Nothing; it is a gift." So, a gift is not only graciously given, and unmeritedly given, but also unconditionally given.

Now, these are simple remarks, to be sure, in considering this notion of a gift, but consider afresh that the Spirit is a gift. Consider the fact that God has given to you the Spirit as a gift – an expression of His love and His favour. God has been pleased to give you, my Christian friend, His Spirit; no strings attached. Accordingly, if the Holy Spirit is a gift, it is utter nonsense to think that you need to strive for, wrestle for, or work for this gift. To do so is to render the status of the giving from that of gift to that of reward. Moreover, it is utter nonsense to think that you must beg God for this gift. You cannot merit it, nor can you live your life so as to obligate God to give it to you. It is a gift. I remember a number of years ago, I and some other Christian brethren met every morning during the week at 6:00 am in order to seek the Lord for revival, for the outpouring of His Spirit. My understanding at that time was very wrong. My understanding was this: if we pray, and continue to pray, then God will send His Spirit. Do you see the problem? I was putting more stock in the act of prayer, than in the 'heart' of prayer. I believed that the longer we prayed, and the more often we prayed, the greater the likelihood in securing His Spirit. The Spirit did not come. You see, our religious exercises can in no way obligate God to give His Spirit. Why? It is a gift. He chooses when He will give it; and He gives it according to His good pleasure. Now, I am not saying that we should not pray much for revival and the outpouring of the Spirit. We should. But I am saying that it does not depend upon the length of prayer and how much time one commits to prayer. That is not the determining factor. The issue is the burden of heart to pray; and that burden to pray for revival must come from the Spirit Himself. It is possible to have a burden that has its source in 'the flesh' (i.e., the self life).

Now, what should be your response to receiving a gift? You should respond with courtesy and gratitude. Have you thanked God for the gift of the Spirit? If you have not, why don't you do it now. We take some things for granted. Let us continually thank God for the gift of the Spirit.

The gift of the Spirit is received through faith

However, you may be saying to yourself, "I am not sure that I have received the Spirit as a gift, even though I profess to be a Christian." If you are a true Christian, then you received the Spirit at your conversion, whether you felt it or not. The Holy Spirit is given as a gift to everyone who truly believes in the Gospel; or, the Holy Spirit is given as a gift from God to everyone who has faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. That is what our text teaches – "Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" The original Greek reads, "Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law or by the hearing of faith?" Again, there is a contrast here between two religious systems by which one may approach God. On the one hand, we have Judaism – conforming to the Law; standing alone on one's own merit before God. On the other hand, we have the grace of God, the Gospel, and God being pleased to save one simply by his or her faith. So what is Paul saying here? He is saying, in effect, "Did you receive the Spirit by doing what the Law demands or by believing what you heard about Jesus Christ? Did you receive the Spirit as a gift by performing legal requirements or by simply accepting the truth of the Gospel?" And, of course, the implied answer is that it was through the hearing with faith, or better, the hearing of faith, which simply means hearing related to, and defined by, faith. If you like, it is 'faith's hearing' of spiritual truth.

The hearing with faith is the reason, not the cause, for receiving the gift of the Spirit. Again, God is not obligated to give us His Spirit. The presence of faith does not automatically mean that one will receive the Spirit, but rather God is pleased (it is a principle of the kingdom) to respond to faith by the giving of the gift. He is pleased to respond in such a fashion to the presence of faith because faith honours Him and His Word. So, the Spirit is God's gift only to believers. For example, while Peter was preaching the Gospel to Cornelius and his household, the Spirit fell upon them; the Gentiles thus received God's gift. Afterwards, Peter reported to the Jerusalem church, "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them [the Gentiles], just as He did upon us [the Jews] at the beginning [i.e., on the day of Pentecost]. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, 'John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?' And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, 'Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.'" (Acts 11:15-18).

Again, the presence of faith does not merit, nor earn, the Spirit, but the presence of faith favourably disposes God to freely bless because God delights in faith, for faith honours Him. The reality of faith in Christ Jesus invites the gift of the Spirit, which is simply God making good on His promise, that which He promised to Abraham and to His Seed (i.e., Christ). So, everyone, without exception, who has this faith, has received the Spirit. Do you believe that Jesus is the Saviour of the world? Do you believe that He is your Saviour? Do you believe that He died and was buried, and that God raised Him up from the dead on the third day? Do you believe that He is coming again in power and great glory? If you believe these things, and so live that you do, you have the Spirit indwelling you. Thus, we read, "In Him [Jesus], you also, after listening to the message of truth, [hearing] the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13). In receiving the Spirit, one is sealed with the Spirit; that is, there is the guarantee or assurance that one is a child of God. The sealing spiritually marks that one belongs to God and is destined for an eternal inheritance of glory. In receiving the Spirit, one simultaneously receives the seal of the Spirit – God ratifies the fact that the believer belongs to Him.

The gift of the Spirit occasions the supply of the Spirit

But maybe you are saying, "Okay, I have the Spirit, but if I were honest with myself, it really does not seem like it. The Bible says that I have the Spirit, but it sure doesn't look like it. It seems that I am always struggling. It seems that I lack power. I hear about the Spirit, and how one can overcome with the Spirit and have victory through the Spirit; and I hear people's inspiring testimonies, but I am always struggling." Accordingly, you may feel disturbed and confused because you read and hear one thing and apparently you are experiencing another. Is that your experience? Be honest with yourself.

Now, as a Christian, the issue is not whether you have the Spirit, but rather the issue is whether you are accessing, and actually living in, the Spirit. Galatians 3:2 teaches that God gives the Spirit; Galatians 3:5 teaches that God supplies the Spirit. Before actually commenting on this latter reference, consider, for example, 2 Timothy 1:6,7, "And for this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but [a Spirit] of power and love and discipline." God had given His Spirit as a gift, but somehow and in some way, in the mystery of Christian experience, Timothy had allowed the Spirit's 'fire' to wane and His power to decrease. He had become indifferent and reticent. Paul thus reminded Timothy that he had the responsibility to stir up afresh the gift of God Who was in him. Accordingly, though God has freely given us this gift of the Spirit at conversion, we can access more and more of the power and grace of that gift. Thus our text reads, "Does [God] then, who provides [or better, who supplies] you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?" (Gal. 3:5).

On the basis of receiving the gift of the Spirit, one may receive the supply of the Spirit (Gal. 3:5). Again, we receive the Spirit at conversion, but in our Christian life, God is pleased to supply us with that Spirit according to our need. As with the initial giving, so with the subsequent supplying, it is a gracious act on God's part; He takes the initiative and provides. So what does His supplying of the Holy Spirit look like? Well, for instance, that boldness that one may have in standing before a group and speaking may be a specific demonstration of receiving the supply of the Spirit. That peace and joy that one experiences in the midst of tragedy and misfortune may be a specific demonstration of receiving the supply of the Spirit. That understanding and insight that comes in dealing with some complicated issue, and the ability to wisely handle a situation, may be a specific demonstration of receiving the supply of the Spirit. That courage that allows one to stand in the face of opposition and refuse to capitulate may be a specific demonstration of receiving the supply of the Spirit. That inner strengthening in hope so that one eagerly anticipates the coming of the Lord may be a specific demonstration of receiving the supply of the Spirit. Thus, for example, we read in this same epistle, "For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness" (Gal. 5:5).

So, the believer has received the Spirit as a gift, but God continues to supply power and grace through that same Spirit. The problem for you who are struggling is not that you do not have the gift, but may rather be that you are not enjoying the benefits of God's provision of the Spirit, and so Paul could say to Timothy, "Kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you." Now, how can it be that our actions and behaviours can prevent us from receiving that supply? It is almost inconceivable, for we are not stronger than God, and His will cannot be frustrated; but this matter relates to the mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Notwithstanding, the believer has the responsibility to kindle afresh the gift of God (which involves confession and repentance of sin. In the freedom of our willing, we can choose to sin, which grieves and quenches the Spirit).

The supply of the Spirit comes through prayer and faith

So, God is pleased to supply the Spirit to His people. For instance, we read that when Paul was in prison in Rome, he experienced privation, and yet he had hope. He testified, "For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ" (Php. 1:19). Didn't Paul already have the Spirit? Yes, he did, but God was pleased to continue to manifest that Spirit in his life. The supply of the Spirit, the provision of the Spirit, is simply the Spirit's enablement and energy. Did you notice that prayer is instrumental in receiving this supply?  He wrote, "Through your prayers and the supply of the Spirit." This is one way that we kindle afresh the gift of God that is within us. It is prayer that turns on the spiritual faucets so that the Spirit may freely flow. Show me someone who knows the power of the Spirit, who is living in the Spirit, who knows the supply of the Spirit, and I will show you someone who prays. When the Lord Jesus Christ entered into His passion in the garden of Gethsemane, He sweat, as it were, great drops of blood; and He prayed more fervently. As a result He received a supply of the Spirit. Through prayer, He received boldness and determination by which He was thus prepared to die on the cross.

But further, coupled with prayer is faith. Faith is not only instrumental in receiving the gift of the Spirit, but it is equally instrumental in continuing to receive the blessing and supply of the Spirit – "Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles [by the Spirit through the demonstration of power and grace], do this by the works of the Law, or by the hearing with faith?" (3:5). Of course, the implied answer is 'by the hearing with faith.' Through faith, we receive the gift; and through faith, we have access to this gift and continue to enjoy the depths and fullness of it. As you have begun your Christian life believing and trusting in Jesus, so you must continue in the Christian life believing and trusting in Jesus; and not only that, but you must believe and trust everything that He has taught. Could it be that you are not enjoying the supply of the Spirit (even though you have the Spirit) because you are entertaining doubts about Christ? Could it be that you really do not believe God's Word; you do not accept it as the truth?

Trusting faith receives the Spirit

What is Biblical faith? It is essentially, not only, a decision. Faith is based on knowledge, and thus is an assent to a fact or witness, but the act of the will underlies assent. You must choose to accept the fact or witness without question and without reserve. In accepting God's Word without question and without reserve, you invite and make room for the Spirit's activity and ministry. I would not be surprised that if we could look into the hearts of some of those who are spiritually struggling, that we would find a heart of unbelief. It is faith that opens up the floodgates for the free flow of the Spirit; and those who have faith experience the deep wells of the Spirit.

Many Christians, as mentioned, are struggling, not because they do not have the Spirit, but because they waver in their faith; they are plagued with doubts; or to change the language (and this is the key when we think of faith), they are lacking trust in God and Jesus Christ. Why are Christians weak and defeated? They lack trust; they are not resting in the truth of God's Word. If that is your situation, then you need to feed your faith. John Wesley (1703-1791), the father of Methodism, grew up in a Christian home. He had a very godly mother, Susannah, who gave him, and his siblings, individual religious instruction every week. During that time together, she would question him about his soul's state and his relationship to God. She would also pray with him. Wesley later received theological training and became a minister in the Church, following in his father's steps. He taught the doctrines of the Bible; he preached the doctrines of the Bible; he was a leader of a Christian society, the Holy Club. Moreover, he went from England to America with his brother, Charles, to be a missionary in Georgia. He wrote in his journal on January 24, 1738, in his 34th year, "I went to America, to convert the Indians; but oh, who shall convert me? who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief?" Yet, he wrote in his journal on May 24th of the same year, with all his religious training and experience behind him, "In the evening I went unwillingly to a [Christian] society gathering in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the Law of sin and death." Wesley previously had possessed an intellectual faith in Christ, but on this memorial evening, he acquired a real faith, which entails trust – a resting in the love and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. And with 'faith's hearing,' he received the Holy Spirit and His seal, which entails 'assurance' (Note: this assurance may not always be subjectively experienced, though it is always objectively true. The true believer is eternally secure in Christ. No one or no thing can remove him or her from the Father's hand).

You may ask, "How may I acquire this kind of faith which truly rests in Christ?" We read, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rm. 10:17). With the speaking of Christ (which is the better translation; the original Greek is rhema, not logos), one spiritually hears; and real faith arises from such a spiritual hearing. Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him (Jn. 10:27). If Christ is actually speaking to someone, he or she cannot help but hear; and the act of spiritual hearing is, of necessity, the act of faith. In being encountered by Christ, one must believe. Yet you may say, "But I cannot control when Christ will speak." That is true, but you have a responsibility to do all that you can so as to make possible or occasion such speaking. Thus, you have a responsibility to expose yourself to the Word of God, either proclaimed or written, even as Wesley did. Hence, the Scriptures teach, "How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GLAD TIDINGS OF GOOD THINGS!" (Rm. 10:14,15). Christ is pleased to speak His personal and spiritual word in the context of the human proclamation of God's objective Word, the truth of the Gospel. Christ does not savingly and sanctifyingly 'speak' apart from, or independent of, His revealed Word, but only in and through that revealed Word. And when He speaks, one must hear; and in that hearing, faith is brought to birth; the faith that receives God's Spirit, both the gift and the supply.


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The Supply of the Spirit

In the previous chapter, we were reminded that every true Christian has received the gift of the Spirit at conversion; and on the basis of receiving this gift, Christians may receive the supply of the Spirit throughout their spiritual pilgrimage. Now, though you may have the gift of the Spirit, it is true that you may not be experiencing the supply of the Spirit. It is possible to possess the Spirit and not access and enjoy all the resources of that Spirit. Accordingly, we read in 2 Timothy 1:6,7, "And for this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline."

Timothy, to whom the apostle Paul wrote this epistle, apparently was a true believer; and Paul here exhorted Timothy to experience again the supply of the Spirit – "I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God" (1:6a). This phrase – the gift of God – is a definite reference to the Holy Spirit, but more specifically, it is a reference to the grace or supply of the Spirit. That fact is certainly implied as we consider verse 7. Having given the exhortation to Timothy to kindle afresh the gift of God, the apostle Paul continued, "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but [a Spirit] of power and love and discipline." Thus, the gift of God has reference to the power, love, and discipline (or self-control) which the Spirit Himself supplies.

So, Paul exhorted Timothy to kindle afresh this gift, that is, to fan into a flame the embers of the grace of God, to set ablaze the kindling of the blessings of the Spirit, and so ensure that the supply of the Spirit would freely flow. To put it simply, when Paul exhorted Timothy to rekindle the gift of God, he was simply instructing Timothy to access and enjoy the power, the love, and the discipline of the Spirit – these resources and benefits that the Spirit offers and provides. An example of the free flow of the supply of the Spirit is found in Acts 4. This is an account of the early Church. We read, "And when they [the Church] had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the Word of God with boldness. And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul [this is a demonstration of the reality and presence of the Spirit]; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all" (vv. 31-33).

The supply of the Spirit may be stopped up

Now, Paul gave this exhortation because apparently Timothy had become reticent; he had become cowardly; he had become withdrawn. Hence, Paul affirmed, "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity" (1:7a). Seemingly, timidity (or cowardice) characterized Timothy's temperament; and having become unnerved perhaps because of reaction and opposition to the Gospel, he was fearfully shying away from preaching that Gospel boldly and confidently. Thus, the apostle Paul further exhorted, "Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God" (2 Tm. 1:8). Paul exhorted Timothy to be courageous. So, he further instructed, "Guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure that has been entrusted to you" (2 Tm. 1:14); again, "You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tm. 2:1).

Now, this text teaches that it is possible for a Christian to live less than a victorious life, failing to tap in to, and draw from, the Spirit's resources and benefits; that is how we must understand the rationale underlying this exhortation of 2 Timothy 1:6. It is possible for a Christian to neglect the grace of God that is in him or her; and as a result, he or she will become spiritually dull, lazy, weak, or cold. Recall the rebuke leveled against the Hebrew Christians – "Concerning him [Melchizedek] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food" (Hb. 5:11,12). I have a friend whom I have known and associated with for about 9 years. He became embroiled in a very emotional and controversial situation. He experienced betrayal and attack from other Christians, and the result was that he became disillusioned with Christians and with the Christian faith. Consequently, he became spiritually stalled in his faith. This brother lost his spiritual appetite for the Word of God and his spiritual thirst for the things of the Spirit, and the result was that he became spiritually cold; it is possible.

The process of spiritual dullness or coldness which warrants the exhortation, "kindle afresh the gift of God," is simple (N. B. the following process is just one way by which one becomes spiritually dull or cold, as we confine our thinking to the passage in which our text is found). First, the Christian experiences a trial in his life – some conflict, some struggle, some opposition which he must deal with. Second, the trial gives rise to the reaction of fear and anxiety (and even anger or depression). Third, the fear and anxiety breed notions of doubt and uncertainty. Fourth, the doubt and uncertainty result in spiritual dullness or coldness. So, Timothy experienced a severe trial (he received opposition to the Gospel); he reacted with timidity (the fruit of fear and anxiety), he became ashamed of the Gospel (doubt concerning the primacy and uniqueness of God's truth); he became spiritually cold. Now, it is important to remember that the one who becomes spiritually dull or cold, is experiencing a problem or crisis in his or her faith (and we shall return to this matter of faith).

Let me give you an example of this process of spiritual decline. Maybe someone has lost a loved one; that is the trial. Accordingly, he may react with fear and anxiety. He may be concerned and fret about how he is going to survive, what the future is going to bring, how he is going to make ends meet. Fear and anxiety necessarily work against, and undermine, faith; and thus one may begin to doubt the goodness and faithfulness of God; and so begin to doubt whether God will provide. Through doubt, one may mistrust God's care and love. Consequently, in his 'unbelief,' one becomes cold; he no longer reads his Bible as he used to; there is no longer that joy in meeting with God's people; there is no longer that sense of anticipation in entering into the house of God. Let me give you another example of this process of spiritual decline. Maybe someone has experienced a financial crisis; he cannot make enough money to pay his bills. This is his trial. Accordingly, he may begin to worry about his family's needs and the possible consequences of his dire situation. Fear and anxiety consume him. Accordingly, he may wonder whether God is hearing his prayers and whether He really cares. Thus, he begins to waver in his trust of God. He believes that God has let him down. He becomes disillusioned and eventually turns away from God. The result is that he becomes spiritually cold.

As Christians, we face many trials, many conflicts, and many problems which may become a struggle or a crisis for our faith; I do not care how long you have been in Christ. Depending upon how we respond to such trials, conflicts, and problems; and depending upon how we handle the struggle posed to faith, we will thereby determine whether our spiritual moorings remain stable and well-grounded or whether we become spiritually cold and adrift. I tell you, my Christian brothers and sisters, that once we sink to that spiritually low state, it may be a long time before we can ascend out of it. I think of a Christian sister who had a series of problems and difficulties in her life, and she panicked. She momentarily lost faith in God; she did not believe that He would 'come through' for her, and thus she put her Christianity on the shelf, believing that it does not work. It took a while for her to regain spiritual vigour. Is that where you are right now? Have you been there? That is a heavy load to bear. Do you need to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you?

Faith is required to unstop the supply of the Spirit

Christians have the responsibility to access and experience the Spirit's resources and benefits. You have an obligation to lay hold on, and live out, the grace of God which the Spirit affords. God gives you the Spirit, but He does not force the Spirit on you, nor does He automatically reveal the resources and benefits of the Spirit to you. No; you have an obligation, a responsibility, to tap into that grace. Again, we are faced with the mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility; but we need to assume our responsibility; we need to exercise our will; we need to decide if we are going to advance spiritually. Now, the question is this: How do we kindle afresh the gift of the Spirit of God? How do we access and enjoy the resources and benefits of the Spirit? It is very simple. We kindle afresh the gift of God by strengthening and nurturing faith; I want to develop that point with you.

Again, we receive both the gift and the supply of the Spirit through faith. Paul exhorted Timothy to kindle afresh the gift of God which was in him on the basis of the reality of his faith. So, he stated, "And for this reason kindle afresh the gift of God" (1:6a). For what reason? Well, the previous verse provides the answer, "For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it [sincere faith] is in you as well" (2 Tm. 1:5). As a sincere believer, Timothy was to live and act like an believer, and so reflect what it would mean to be a believer – one who knew the grace of the Spirit revealed in his life. On the basis of Timothy's genuine faith, Paul reminded him to access and enjoy all the benefits and resources of the Spirit. Hence, Timothy would kindle afresh the gift of God in so far as he expressed and strengthened his faith. True faith makes possible the receiving of the blessings of the Spirit; and thus with faith's presence, Paul was confident that Timothy would be able to access and enjoy the Spirit's supply. Now, this is a critical point: the reality and the exercise of faith go hand in hand with knowing and experiencing the Spirit's resources and benefits. The exercise of true faith receives and unleashes the supply of the Spirit. So, if kindling afresh the gift of God counters spiritual dullness and coldness, then, logically speaking, exercising true faith counters spiritual dullness and coldness; for, again, the presence of the Spirit is commensurate with the presence of faith. They go hand in hand.

Accordingly, having said to Timothy to rekindle the gift of God – which counters a spirit of timidity by accessing the Spirit's power, love, and discipline – he encouraged him therefore not be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord or of him. Being ashamed is overcome by rekindling the graces of the Spirit. Yet, further on, the apostle Paul, in still referring to this matter of being ashamed, said, "For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day" (2 Tm. 1:12). What is the conclusion of this parallel language? Timothy would avoid being ashamed because of receiving the supply of the Spirit; yet, Paul said that he was not ashamed because of the reality of faith. Again, the resources and benefits of the Spirit are concurrent with the presence and exercise of faith.

Receiving the supply of the Spirit through faith

Again, in so far as we strengthen and nurture our faith, we rekindle the gift of God within us. Now, the question is this. How do we nurture and strengthen our faith? Again, we read, "For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day" (1:8). Do you see it there? We nurture and strengthen our faith by acquiring and developing a clear, accurate, and personal knowledge of Jesus Christ – "I KNOW whom I have believed." Can you say that my Christian brothers and sisters? Not, "I think I know whom I have believed;" or, "I am pretty sure I know whom I have believed." What I am saying is this: the strength of faith is dependent upon, and correlative with, a clear conception and understanding of the object of faith. Those who are defective in their faith are those who are defective in their personal knowledge of Christ. If you are struggling in your faith, most likely you do not clearly understand the object of that faith.

Do you have a weak faith? Do you struggle in trusting God? Are you spiritually cold in your faith? Then I suggest that you make your chief spiritual purpose to study the person and work of Christ. I suggest that you read such books as The Fountain of Life by John Flavel; or K. Schilder's trilogy, Christ in His Sufferings, Christ on Trial, and Christ Crucified. I gave John Flavel's book to a struggling soul who came to me a number of months ago. Her major complaint was that she did not have trust in God. After digesting it, she came back to me and said, "That was great; I understand now." She has learned how to trust more in her Saviour.

Now, we are looking at more than a mere intellectual knowledge of Christ; that would be insufficient. It is possible to study intensely about the person and work of Christ and still not grow in your trust. Along with the intellectual knowledge of Christ, you need to nurture an experiential knowledge. You need to seek Him and know Him in an experiential way; and, of course, that means that you must experience spiritual fellowship with Him. There must be a personal encounter with the living Christ; and that means that meditation and prayer must be central to your seeking of Him. To nurture communion with Christ is to nurture your faith. Now with this clear, accurate, and personal knowledge of Jesus Christ through the study of, and fellowship with, Him, you will know trust. Because the apostle Paul really knew whom he had believed, he was then convinced [trusting assurance] that God was able to keep that which he had committed to Him until the final day of history. When you really know whom you have believed, there will be trust. In really knowing Christ, you will realize His goodness, His faithfulness, His sovereignty, His glory; and in really knowing Him, you will truly rest in Him, which entails receiving the supply of the Spirit.

Where are you spiritually? Do you need to kindle afresh the gift of God that is in you? As you look at the Church, do you think that the Church needs to kindle afresh the gift of God? What do you think? As you look at the Church, is there an aliveness, a vibrancy, a freedom, a spontaneity, a spiritual hungering and thirsting? Do you even care about kindling afresh the gift of God? Do you? Again, John Wesley, having been a minister of the Gospel, who had preached the Word of God and who had been a missionary, was still unsaved at 34 years of age. He admitted that he did not have true faith, but rather an intellectual one. Is your faith just an intellectual one? As a professing Christian, there is no more important question for you to answer than this one. You may believe in Christ; you may believe in His salvation; you may believe in His love, but true faith receives the Spirit, knows the Spirit, experiences the infilling of the Spirit, and rejoices in the life of the Spirit. Do you have a real faith?


~ 3 ~

The Seal and Pledge of the Spirit

Recently I arrived at the Seminary early in the morning in order to teach my class. Shortly after I began to lecture, a student came and interrupted the class and insisted that I go with him. Walking down the hall with him, he informed me that my car had been broken into and that the police were waiting to receive some information. A vandal and thief had stolen my wallet from the glove compartment and my tape deck. I was disappointed, but I was not upset. One of my first thoughts was: "God is sovereign; He is in absolute control, and absolutely nothing happens by accident." This fact is true not only of our lives in general, but also of our salvation in particular. Because our salvation is wholly of God, we have the assurance that our salvation will remain. We have the assurance that we, as believers, will never lose our salvation.

The story is told of Martin Luther (1483-1546) who one day was encountered by the devil. Such encounters apparently were not uncommon. On one occasion, he was so upset and so frustrated with the attacks of the evil one that he picked up his ink well and threw it at the wall. Well, on a certain occasion, the devil came to Luther reminding him of how fallible human beings are. The devil sought to discourage him, by making him feel guilty, through rehearsing a list of his sins. When the devil had finished, Luther purportedly said, "Think harder; you must have forgotten some." And the devil did think, and he listed more sins. When he was done enumerating the sins, Luther said, "Now, with a red pen write over that list, 'The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses us from all sin.'" The devil had nothing to say. Luther knew the joy of the assurance of salvation. When we talk about the believer's assurance of salvation, we are, of course, referring to one of the work of the Spirit. The assurance of salvation is entailed in the sealing of the Holy Spirit.

The seal of the Spirit confirms salvation

We read in Ephesians 1:13,14. "In Him [Jesus], you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory." As this text clearly states, the seal of the Spirit takes place at conversion. At conversion, one receives the gift of the Spirit (i.e., one is baptized with the Spirit, and is brought into the mystical body of Christ); and with the receiving of the gift of the Spirit, one simultaneously receives the seal of the Spirit. Now, the Spirit not only seals us in Christ, the Spirit Himself is the seal in Christ.

What is the seal of the Spirit? It may be helpful to first consider what is meant by a seal. A seal is that which confirms or ratifies; it establishes or proves the truth of something. For instance, recently I was speaking to one of my students and he mentioned that the university was sending him his degree; he did not attend the convocation. When you receive a degree from a recognized institution, you customarily find the seal of that institution stamped on the document. What that seal communicates is that the contents of the degree are authentic. The seal validates that one has accomplished a certain amount of work and has earned a certain level of creditation. So, a seal confirms or ratifies; it establishes or proves the truth of something. Thus, the apostle Paul, in writing to the Church at Corinth, could say: "If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord" (1 Cor. 9:2). In effect, he was saying, "You are the proof – your conversion (your response to the gospel call by coming to, and obeying, Christ) is the clear evidence – that God has called me to be an apostle; the work of grace in you through my ministry, validates the fact that God has commissioned me to authoritatively minister His gospel."

Accordingly, the seal of the Spirit is the Spirit Himself confirming that one is a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. The seal of the Spirit indicates and ratifies that one indeed is a true child of God. The Spirit's sealing is identified with His indwelling. We are sealed with the Spirit in virtue of being indwelt by the Spirit; and with the sealing (or indwelling), there is thus the definite guarantee that one belongs to Christ. So, with the seal of the Spirit, one becomes Christ's personal possession.

Do you see what is implied when we talk about the seal of the Spirit? What is implied is that there are those who believe who do not truly belong to Christ. Romans 8:6-9 reads, "For the mind set on the flesh [on worldly things, on the pleasures of this world, on the self-centred life] is death, but the mind set on the Spirit [on the will of God, on righteous and holy matters] is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh [acting worldly, yielding to the pleasures of the flesh] cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him." Hence, it does not matter about the intensity or the fervency of your profession of faith; it does not matter about the sincerity of your commitment or allegiance to Christ. If you do not have the Spirit, you do not belong to Christ; it is the seal of the Spirit which marks you out as His special possession.

Recently I was talking to a small group of people concerning televangelists. I know that some televangelists are being faithful to the gospel, endeavouring to clearly set forth the glory of Christ and to invite people to a saving knowledge of Him; and yet I suspect that there are televangelists who should be identified as false prophets. They are out to milk God's people for everything they are worth. The book of Jude indicates to us that these false prophets, and false teachers, who apparently profess some kind of faith in Christ, do not have of the Spirit. We read, "For certain persons have crept in [to the Church] unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ... These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly minded, devoid of the Spirit" (vv. 4,19). It is possible to be part of the body of Christ and to be identified with the people of God, and yet to be devoid of the Spirit. But if you have the Spirit, you are sealed in Christ.

The seal of the Spirit entails the assurance of salvation

If you are a true believer, you are sealed in Him. Be encouraged! The sealing of the Spirit provides you with a spiritual authenticity; again, there is the guarantee that you belong to Christ and that Christ belongs to you. You have the assurance of salvation. This truth of spiritual assurance certainly relates to the truth of eternal security. The true child of God is truly saved and thus he or she will never fall away from the faith. That is what the seal implies, and that should give us confidence and hope. So, we read, "And do not grieve the Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30). Though we have difficulty and hardship in this world, though the onslaught of Satan comes, though the storms of life threaten to undo us, the seal of the Spirit guarantees us that we are destined for glory and that we can never lose our salvation; that is the hope of the Gospel.

C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) is quoted as having been so sure of his salvation that he said that he could grasp onto a cornstalk, swing over the fires of hell, and look Satan in the face and say, "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine." That ought to be the testimony of every true believer. We are saved, and saved for all eternity, because we are kept unto the day of redemption through the seal of the Spirit. 'No one, no thing, can snatch us out of the Father's hand' (Jn. 10:29). Absolutely nothing 'can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus' (Rm. 8:39).

Now, those who believe and do fall away, reveal that they did not have the Spirit in the first place. What the Scriptures would have us to believe is this: there are many professing believers in the Church, but there are fewer true believers. Remember, you can believe and not have the Spirit. Is that not what the apostle John alludes to? He writes, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us [if they had been of the same spiritual root and stock as we are], they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us. But you [in contrast to them] have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know [the truth]" (1 Jn. 2:19f.). What is John saying here? There are those who had left the fellowship of believers, those who had returned to the world; and they went out because they really did not have the same spiritual origin as John and his company. The difference between the apostates and those who remained, who continued to be faithful, was that they had an anointing, that is, they had the Holy Spirit; and that makes all the difference in the world! These ones who left the Church fellowship demonstrated that they did not have the Spirit.

Now, I am not suggesting that you, as a true believer, will always feel saved; you probably won't. But I am stating that even though you don't feel saved, you should know that you are saved; that is not a contradiction in terms. Maybe this past week, you fell into some sin. Maybe you realized that you were being unfaithful; that you were not being obedient to the Word; that you were not evidencing a good testimony in the work place or at school. You simply let the Lord down. Even though that was the case (and I am not excusing sin), when you turn to the Word of God or when you hear the Word of God preached and the truth presented (as a true child of God), your faith should answer to that truth, and through that faith you should know that you are saved. When faith is confronted with the Word, it should confirm the truth of that Word. So, we read, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hb. 11:1). And so, by faith you should know that you are saved, even though you do not feel it. The knowledge of the assurance of salvation is entailed in the sealing of the Spirit.

The seal of the Spirit has evidences

Maybe you are asking yourself the question, "How do I know if I have the Spirit, especially if one can believe, and yet not have the Spirit. How can I be sure?" Romans 8 provides us with an answer. This chapter provides us with at least three evidences of the Spirit's sealing (and indwelling). First, you know that you are sealed with the Spirit when you have a desire towards, and are engaged in the practice of, progressive sanctification. We read, "So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh [we are not bound to give in to our passions and our desires, our worldly thoughts and ambitions because we have been delivered from the flesh – the principle of sin has been cancelled. We are brought into that freedom and grace that are in Christ] – for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die [it is either/or; you are either in the realm of the Spirit or you are in the realm of the flesh; and as a Christian you have been delivered from the realm of the flesh and have been brought into the realm of the Spirit]." (Rm. 8:12f.). To have the Spirit means that there ought to be a change in your life; it ought to be demonstrable that you are a new creation in Christ. So, we read, "But if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God" (Rm. 8:13bf.). You know you have the Spirit if you are waging war against the flesh; if you are engaging in progressive sanctification (i.e., you are concerned about, and advancing in, holiness and righteousness). As a true believer, you must steadily assume the image of Christ. You must deliberately and self-consciously seek to eradicate from your life (by the Spirit's help) every transgression and every form of evil. You cannot have the Spirit and be morally indifferent to sin.

Second, you know that you are sealed with the Spirit when you are sustaining a filial relationship with God the Father. Romans 8:15 reads, "For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit [i.e., the Spirit] of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba, Father.'" The Spirit who is given to believers is the Spirit of adoption, making them children of God. The true believer recognizes and acknowledges God as his or her Father. Do you simply see God as some higher, impersonal power that governs the universe? Do you simply see God as some absolute force or principle through which the world came to be? Or, do you know that this Creator God is your Father; and, accordingly, are you approaching Him as your Father? The Spirit of adoption reveals himself by crying out through us, 'Abba, Father.' The point is this: If you see God as your Father, you will constantly seek Him and call upon Him. Because He is your Father, you are wholly dependent upon Him; and you will display a disposition of dependency, which means that you will be engaged consistently and constantly in prayer. The language of 'Abba, Father' is the language of prayer. Hence, if you are not praying, and you have no compulsion to pray, you may not have the Spirit.

Third, you know that you are sealed with the Spirit through the inner testimony of the Spirit. We further read, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God" (Rm. 8:16). If you have the Spirit, there will be an inner testimony provided by the Spirit, confirming in your own heart that you belong to God. To be sure, there is a subjective dimension to our salvation experience. The Spirit actually testifies spiritually that we are the children of God. He convinces us of our spiritual status. That is why I said earlier that the seal of the Spirit entails the assurance of salvation. As the Spirit bears testimony, as He witnesses to our spirits, we know that we are saved. If you do not possess this inner testimony, could it be that you do not have the Spirit?

There is a cute story told of a little boy who was flying a kite one day, and the kite went higher and higher and became lost in the clouds. A stranger came by and asked, "Young man, why are you holding that string?" And the little boy answered, "There is a kite on the other end." The man looked up and said, "I don't see any kite." The little boy responded, "Oh, yes, I know there is a kite there; I know from the tug." So it is with the witness of the Spirit. There are times when you may not see the evidence of the Spirit's presence, but there should be that constant tug in the heart, whereby you know that you are in constant touch with God.

The seal of the Spirit entails the pledge of the Spirit

Now, because we are the children of God, we are entitled to an inheritance. Again, Ephesians 1:13b,14a reads, "Having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance." The pledge of the Spirit goes hand in hand with the seal of the Spirit. With the seal of the Spirit, there is the certainty that we are the children of God. With the pledge of the Spirit, there is the certainty that, as the children of God, we will receive an inheritance. The seal naturally and logically leads to the pledge. Yet, we receive the seal and the pledge simultaneously at conversion. The Spirit not only gives the pledge, the Spirit Himself is the pledge.

What is a pledge? It is a down payment or a first installment. For example, every September my wife and I receive an insurance bill for our cars, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1,300.00 or $1,400.00. Of course, we cannot afford that amount in one lump sum; and so we have typically arranged with the insurance company to pay in installments. We divide the sum over a period of three months. Now, with the first installment, there is the guarantee that more will follow (it is assumed by way of contractual agreement). But further, with the first installment of a certain amount, it is expected that the subsequent installments will be of the same amount. These two ideas are involved in the Biblical concept of a 'pledge.' It is a first installment guaranteeing that more will come; but also, it guarantees that future installments will be similar in kind to that of the first.

So, when we think of the pledge of the Spirit, we are looking at the 'first installment' of the Spirit's presence and grace, guaranteeing to the believer the future and complete blessings of His presence and grace; as well as guaranteeing that the future and complete blessings will be similar in kind to that of the first (i.e., spiritual). We read that the Spirit "is given as a [first installment] of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession [with a view to that final and eternal glory when we will enter into the fullness of salvation, when we will enter into the liberty of the sons of God], to the praise of His glory" (Eph. 1:14). In other words, we now have the first fruits of the Spirit; but having received those first fruits, we have the guarantee that there will be second fruits, third fruits, etc; if you like, the full harvest.

We now have the pledge of full redemption, particularly that which pertains to the glorification of the body and entrance into the eternal kingdom. We read, "For indeed while we are in this tent [i.e., the physical body], we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now He that prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge" (2 Cor. 5:4f.). Again, the language of pledge must be understood in relationship to the coming glory, the full redemption, particularly involving that of the glorification of our bodies.

So, to have the seal of the Spirit is to have the pledge; and again, there is the note of certainty. We are assured that we are going to be glorified; we are assured that if we die we will rise again from the dead; we are guaranteed that the full spiritual harvest will come. If the Lord tarries, you and I will die one day, and we will be buried; and worms will consume our flesh. Yet we have this assurance as true believers in Christ: one day we shall rise and be changed, and enter into the full inheritance of the Spirit, who now gives us the assurance that this awaits the children of God. So, we live in hope. Are you living in hope? Do you have the seal of the Spirit? Do you have the pledge of the Spirit? If you were to die today, die tonight, die this week, could you now say with all confidence, "I know where I am going and I can view death squarely in the eyes and not be afraid, nervous, or upset 'because I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed unto Him against that day' (2 Tm. 1:12). That is the hope of the Christian and the good news of the Gospel.

My non-Christian friend, you have no hope in your natural condition. You have nothing to look forward to. You are afraid of death and though you may not fully realize it, there is something bearing witness in your soul that one day you will stand before the judgement seat of Christ. You will stand before God and you will have to answer to Him – "It is appointed for men [and women] to die and after this comes judgement" (Hb. 9:27). Although you may not realize it, that is why you are afraid of death. Deep down inside at the core of your being, you are afraid of meeting God and receiving His judgement; and you will have no rest or peace until you rest in Him. I want to offer you the Gospel freely. Come, believe in Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour and Lord; and in your belief in that truth, you will be sealed by the Spirit unto the day of full and eternal redemption.


~ 4 ~

Baptized into the Church by the Spirit

We have often witnessed the act of Christian baptism. Christian baptism is not an act which is meaningful or significant unto itself. When we think of the act of baptism, we ought to keep in mind that it carries spiritual significance. The act points to a spiritual reality beyond itself. It is similar to the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper points to a reality beyond itself; it points to the fact that believers collectively are partaking of the benefits of the death of Christ. It points to the fact that believers have entered into a Covenant community and commune together with God. Accordingly, as we partake of the cup and of the bread, we demonstrate our spiritual oneness in Christ.

With the act of baptism, one simultaneously identifies himself with a local church. It indicates membership into a visible body of believers; but more than that (as alluded to), the act of baptism presupposes a spiritual transaction. The physical act implies that there has been a preceding experience of spiritual baptism, that is, a spiritual regeneration, through which one has been brought into an experiential, spiritual union with Jesus Christ. Now, in being spiritually united with Jesus Christ, one is simultaneously spiritually united with other Christian believers who themselves are spiritually united with Jesus Christ. This truth is similar to the situation in which one is born into a family. He who is born into a family sustains a twofold relationship – there is a special relationship sustained with the parents who gave birth to him, but there is also a special relationship sustained with the other children who have been born from that same set of parents. Accordingly, on the one hand the believer is baptized with the Spirit, that is, he or she is spiritually regenerated and spiritually united to Jesus Christ; and, on the other hand (which is part of the same spiritual transaction), the believer is baptized by the Spirit into the universal Church, the body of Christ. It is this latter work of the Holy Spirit that we will consider in this chapter.

There is one spiritual universal church

We read in 1 Corinthians 12:13, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." Let us first consider the fact that there is one spiritual universal Church – "we were all baptized into one body." There are many denominations and, certainly, many local churches; but this Scripture teaches that ultimately there is only one Church – one spiritual body consisting of all true believers. These believers are identified as the elect of God. Throughout the ages, different ones have been added to the one body – those who have truly repented of their sins and have truly put their faith in the Lord Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Ethnic, racial, and cultural distinctions are inconsequential to entrance into this one body. Social, economic, and educational distinctions make absolutely no difference with respect to participating in this one body – "whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free."

It is not a matter of qualifying for, or earning access to, this one body. Rather, it is a matter of knowing God's grace and expressing genuine faith. No one is more privileged or advantaged because of his or her status, pedigree, or personal history. Accordingly, in Christ, we all have the same spiritual footing, although we do assume different roles and functions, ministerially speaking. Again, we have the analogy of the family. The siblings of the family have the same status; they receive the same privileges (or at least they should, all things being equal). One family member is not treated any better than another, and so it is in the Church of Christ. There is spiritual equality. For instance, we read, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise" (Ga. 3:26-29).

Do you see what this truth is implying? You can be identified or associated with a denomination or with a local church, and not be identified with the spiritual universal Church, the one body of Christ. Ideally, those who have become identified with a visible or local church are those who also participate in the one universal Church. But that is not always the case, nor should we necessarily expect it. Now, one may be identified with a local body of believers through different ways. For instance, one may become identified with a local church through family or parental association. Maybe your mother or father brought you to church when you were very young, and now you are conditioned to attend church. Thus, church has become a significant part of your life. But that in itself does not make you a member of the one universal Church. Or, one may become identified with a local church through association with, and becoming involved in, church programs. For instance, various churches sponsor 'The Twelve Step' program for alcoholics, as a community service. Or, one may become identified with a local church because he or she has some deep and peculiar needs. For instance, through destitution, one may seek physical aid from a church which manages a food bank.

The Spirit brings one into the universal church

A person becomes identified with the one spiritual universal Church by the Holy Spirit of God – "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (12:13a). It is the Spirit, and only the Spirit, that brings one into the spiritual universal body of Christ. Again, when one is spiritually regenerated, he becomes spiritually united with Christ, and therein he is spiritually united with other believers. This momentous transaction is a spiritual one, as opposed to a sacramental, ritual, or formal one. Thus Charles Hodge (1797-1878) writes in his 1 Corinthians Commentary, "This passage, therefore, not only teaches us the nature of the Church, but also the principle of unity. It is one...in virtue of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in all its members" (p. 255). When you have been born again of the Spirit, incorporated into the body of Christ, you receive the indwelling Spirit; and it is that Spirit that constitutes the objective and experiential unity between you and Christ, and between you and fellow believers. Unless you have been immersed into the body of Christ by the power and the work of the Spirit, you are not a bona fide member of the body, regardless of your affiliation or association with a particular local assembly of believers.

Practically speaking, the Church is essentially a spiritual entity. Sad to say, at various times throughout history, the Church has portrayed itself as a political entity, rather than a spiritual one. A case in point is the different churches which aligned themselves with the Nazi regime in Germany during World War II. Also, at various times, the Church has portrayed itself to be primarily a social welfare entity. We think of the contemporary Liberation Theology trend, and the emphasis on meeting the political and economic needs of the masses in the developing countries. Now, to be sure, the Church should be involved in meeting the social needs of people, but the Church ought never to forfeit its spiritual mandate in its attempt to prosecute social improvement and reconstruction. Further, at times the Church has portrayed itself as a small business (even as a big business) entity, at the expense of being primarily a spiritual one. Various megachurches have mall-like complexes in which are such conveniences as physical fitness centres (which provide aerobics classes), personal grooming salons, etc.

The Church was never called to mimic the commercialism of the world and to conform to a consumerism mentality. There is too much compromise in the Church today. Many are too concerned about presenting the Church as 'consumer friendly', succumbing to a 'needs oriented' philosophy, and thereby removing the offense of the cross. Many are giving in to expediency and pragmatism, and subsequently have lost the focus, purpose, and calling of the Church. The Church, as a spiritual entity, is called to declare the truth of Jesus Christ and to call people to repentance and faith in Him. The Church, as a spiritual entity, is to instruct its followers in the way of holiness, calling those followers to obedience and spiritual transformation. The Church is not primarily to be a political arm; or some kind of economic mechanism; or some kind of social welfare outlet. The Church has its primary task of prosecuting and facilitating reconciliation between God and the world, presenting the truth of God and calling people into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The whole universal church partakes of the Spirit

Those who have been brought into that one, spiritual universal Church by the Holy Spirit have personally partaken of the one Spirit – "And we were all made to drink of one Spirit" (12:13b). As bona fide members of the body of Christ, we all share in that one life of the Spirit. We do not simply sustain an objective relationship to the Spirit, but we are in the Spirit and thus share the life of that Spirit. To drink of the Spirit is to experience the Spirit's ministry through which we receive God's grace. Moreover, to drink of the Spirit is to experience the Spirit's manifestation by which we exercise spiritual gifts. This one Spirit makes Himself known in us and through us, in virtue of His indwelling.

The life of the Church, the life of the individual members of the Church, are rooted in, and sustained by, the Spirit. The practical, simple conclusion is this: if there is no Spirit, then there is no true Church. The Church is not simply a gathering of people who hold to some creed or who adhere to some tradition or who acknowledge some ecclesiastical structure of authority. No, the Church consists of those who have been spiritually summoned out of the moral decay and depravity of this world, vouchsafed new 'hearts,' and thus assemble for fellowship with God. The work and activity of the Spirit has birthed, and now sustains, the Church. Accordingly, you may have a proficient organization, you may have a grand infrastructure, you may have great managerial efficiency, and yet not have the Church. The Church is not so much a well-oiled administrative machine, as it is a vibrant, living organism; and that is why the Scriptures use the language of the 'body of Christ' for the Church. The body of Christ consists of living members, possessing the very life of Christ, through the life-giving Spirit. We read, "But to each one [belonging to the spiritual universal Church] is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good [of the body]" (1 Cor. 12:7). Of course, this manifestation is realized through mutual ministry by the members in the local churches. Further, we read, "But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills" (1 Cor. 12:11). Every true believer has received a spiritual gift in order to minister to fellow believers. These gifts are given according to the Spirit's decision, and not according to human decision. If you are a part of the one spiritual universal Church, you have the Spirit; He indwells you and you are drinking – personally partaking – of that one Spirit. You should know His grace in your heart. You should know the reality of spiritual giftedness in your life. You should know the glory of living in the Spirit.

Further, every member of the universal body of Christ is a vital part of that body. As every member contributes and does his or her part, the Church functions well, with the goal being the edification of the body. We are to minister to one another the grace of God, exercising the gifts of the Spirit. Accordingly, as a true member of the Church of Christ, participating in a local assembly, you have an obligation and responsibility to minister in that local assembly. God did not save you and give you His Spirit in order for you to be independent and for you 'to do your own thing.' No, God gave you His Spirit, in response to your repentance and faith, in order to be vitally connected with His Son, Jesus Christ, and to be vitally connected with His people, for their spiritual good. He gave you His Spirit, not exclusively for your own profit, but for you to minister to His body. Unless you have this outward focus, unless you have this ministry focus, unless you are exercising your spiritual gifts in the body of Christ, you must question whether you even have the Spirit. He indwells you for personal growth and maturity, as well as for the growth and maturity of other believers. He fills you with Himself for the sake of the body, to the end that the body of Christ might spiritually grow up into the likeness of its Head, even Christ, as a mature body.


~ 5 ~

The Indwelling of the Spirit

The world is full of lonely people. The Church is full of lonely Christians. Christ Himself experienced times of loneliness (Mk. 14:32f.), and He typically addressed His loneliness in stealing away and communing with His God. And so W. E. Sangster writes, "Jesus lived in the full enjoyment of His Father's presence through all the days of His flesh. When we speak of Christ's loneliness, we are thinking strictly of human fellowship. When Jesus slipped away from the crowds and the inconsequential chatter of the disciples, for what we are pleased to call 'the lonely nights in the hills,' He was seeking uninterrupted communion with His Father. They were His feast times. In freedom from human companionship, He entered more deeply into the divine" (He is Able, p. 41). Now communion with God – knowing and enjoying the presence and the fellowship of God – is only possible through the presence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

We read the words of Jesus in John 14:17b,18, "But you know Him [the Holy Spirit] because He abides with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." Recently I was working in my study and I received an emergency phone call from a friend who was in another city. This brother was having a panic attack. He was in a new place and in a new set of circumstances, dealing with new issues; and he found it very overwhelming. I suppose he called in order to receive some encouragement. I shared this particular verse with him. I told this brother that the Spirit of God is with him, that though he feels lonely, he ought never to fear that he is alone. He was comforted.

The Spirit is the believer's eternal companion

The Holy Spirit accompanies the believer – "Because He abides with you" (14:17b). The Spirit is stationed along side the Christian; He remains with him. In John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, the main character is a man named Christian. It is an account of this man's spiritual journey from this world to the heavenly City. Now, after Christian and his fellow, Faith, appear on trial before Lord Hategood, the judge, another character comes on the scene, whose name is Hope. This fellow Hope becomes Christian's constant companion as he travels to the heavenly City; he never leaves Christian alone. He supports him throughout his adventure. He arrives with Christian at the desired destination. And so it is with the Holy Spirit. He is our close and faithful companion throughout the whole of life.

The Spirit's peculiar responsibility as our companion is to help us, that is, to strengthen and comfort us – and that forever. Thus, Jesus said to His disciples, "And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you [as a companion] forever" (Jn. 14:16). My wife and I have been married for almost 20 years. But one day our relationship will end, maybe in 30 years, or in 35 years, or in 40 years. One day we will no longer enjoy companionship. One day either my wife or I will be left alone. Yet, our companionship with the Holy Spirit will never end. Accordingly, the Christian need never fear being alone. The promise of Jesus Christ is: "I will never leave you as orphans." That is, Jesus will never leave the true believer destitute, uncared for, or without support. The Spirit, as the Paraclete (that is, the Comforter), does spiritually and personally in the life of the believer what Jesus Himself would have done personally by His physical presence.

Now, your friends may ostracize or reject you, but the Spirit is pleased to come alongside and prop up your spirit, and remind you that you are loved of God and that He will never leave you nor forsake you. Or, suppose you find yourself grieving at the loss of a colleague, the Comforter is able to give a sense of inner calm and peace, as well as the assurance that God is in control. Maybe you are being threatened with dismissal from, or termination of, employment. Well, the Spirit can give you quiet resignation and fill your heart with hope and confidence, knowing that God is going to provide. Regardless of the circumstances or the problems with which we are faced, we have this confidence. There is no situation in which we will find ourselves alone; lonely, perhaps, but never alone. Are you feeling ostracized? misunderstood? rejected? Do you feel like your friends have turned on you? Is there an impending crisis on the horizon? Are you wondering how you are going to work through it? Have you heard bad news from overseas? Are you beginning to feel the weight of the stress and burden of a particular personal situation? Remember, as a Christian, you have an eternal companion, and one of His primary ministries in your life is to strengthen and comfort you, and to give you the needed help that your heart requires. God is with you.

When the apostle Paul was imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel, he communicated to his spiritual son in the faith, Timothy, saying, "At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me, in order that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the lion's mouth" (2 Tm. 4:16,17). The Lord came to Paul in that cold, gloomy, drafty cell, and graced him with His presence. The Lord strengthened him when he was forsaken by everyone; but he was not alone.

The Spirit is the believer's permanent guest

The Spirit is not only the believer's eternal companion, He is also the believer's permanent guest – "And [He] will be in you" (14:17b). The Spirit is the eternal companion only because He is the eternal residential guest; because He is in us, He is with us. Our hearts are the dwelling place, the home, of the Spirit of God. He really – experientially – occupies our spirits. Believers should have a personal, intimate relationship with the Spirit. For the Spirit to be in the heart means that this heart should be in fellowship with the Spirit. The Spirit is not some force; He is not some thing; He is not some energy. He is not an 'it'! He is a person.

We interact with people, we relate to people. Accordingly, we read, "[Jesus said] That He may be with you forever; that is, the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not [that is, is not even able to] behold Him or know Him" (Jn. 14:16b,17a). The world is of a completely different order than the Spirit; there is no moral or spiritual connection between the world and Him. The world is not able to receive the Spirit, for the Spirit can have no association with that which is intrinsically evil and anti-God. Nothing in the world (that is, the fallen, rebellious, unethical system) commends itself to the Spirit.

On the other hand, Jesus says, "But you [behold Him and] know Him" (14:17b). What does it mean that believers behold the Spirit? It means that we spiritually perceive, spiritually discern, the Spirit. We spiritually realize that He is within us. For instance, recently I had the opportunity to be a moderator at an ordination service. When I was getting ready in the morning and when I was driving there, I thought to myself, "You don't seem to be very nervous or anxious about this. There are going to be various delegates assembled from different Baptist Churches." There was a sense of peace and calm. Further, while I was there, overseeing the proceedings, it seemed that the proper words came to my mouth when speaking. There was a steadiness. There was a peace. I realized that the Spirit was present with me. I discerned His ministry. There was something greater than me at work; something I could not explain in human terms. So, with the Spirit dwelling in you, you 'behold' Him.

Experiencing the Spirit is not essentially a feeling or an emotion; it is a spiritual perception (though the effects of the Spirit's presence may result in certain feelings; for example, the feeling of peace or joy). An example of this kind of spiritual perception is found in 1 Corinthians 7 in which the apostle Paul deals with the matter of marriage relationships and virgins. He concludes, "But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is [i.e., unmarried]; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God" (v. 40). The apostle did not have a feeling of the Spirit; there was not some kind of warm rush that he felt moving up his spine. But as he was giving these instructions, he sensed that the Spirit was present and involved in his communication. We observe the same idea in 1 Corinthians 2:13 – "Which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom [not words that arise out of one's own intellect, knowledge and experience], but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words." The Spirit instructs the human heart, and one may recognize that the Spirit is at work and that he is being borne along by Him.

Now, true believers not only behold the Spirit, but they know Him. The Spirit is a person and thus we may recognize who He is; we may be aware of His presence. Think, for instance, of your times of prayer. In prayer before the Lord, a believer may be confronted with the sense of His presence and recognize through the Spirit's illumination, as well as by His strengthening of faith, that he is indeed being taught by the Spirit of God, that is, one may spiritually understand the movings of God in his own soul. One may have the spiritual realization that the Spirit is impressing the reality of God and fellowship upon his soul. Again, at these times, the believer realizes that he is involved in something that is beyond him, something that cannot be explained. Further, we read in Ephesians 3:16f, "That He [God] would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." The Spirit Himself makes Jesus Christ real to the heart. You really know Christ, and you know that you know Him, beyond a shadow of a doubt. The true believer knows that the Spirit is accomplishing that good work. And in this sense, the true believer knows the Spirit; he understands the Spirit's presence and work. Of course, to know and 'to behold' the Spirit are very similar activities (generally speaking, to know is 'to behold,' and vice versa).

Because the true believer may personally know the Spirit, the Spirit may become jealous. Only people become jealous. Again, with the indwelling of the Spirit, there is a real, personal relationship between the Spirit and the believer; and that is why He may become jealous. We read, "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: The Spirit [Whom] He has made to dwell in us jealously desires us [marginal reading]" (Jas. 4:4,5). Does not this fact truly underscore the intimacy and the wonder of this personal relationship which we sustain with the Spirit? The Spirit wants your full allegiance. He does not want a divided allegiance. He does not want you to become involved in the world, giving your allegiance to the world. The Spirit wants all of you because He is in a personal relationship with you.

The Spirit's presence is Christ's presence

The Spirit's indwelling is Christ's own indwelling. Jesus teaches that with the Spirit's coming to abide with you, and to indwell you, that it will be He Himself who comes to abide with you and indwell you – "I will not leave you as orphans" (14:18). So, in beholding the Spirit and in knowing the Spirit, we simultaneously behold and know Christ. Jesus teaches His disciples, "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him [by the Spirit]. If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him" (Jn. 14:21,23).

The Spirit's indwelling demands a temple

Because the Spirit indwells us, and because the Spirit is holy, we are to be the temple of the Spirit. We are not simply some house or some container. We are temples in virtue of the nature of the Spirit who is holy. We are His sanctuary. Thus, we read in 1 Corinthians 6:19, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." My mother recently stayed with us for a number of days. Prior to her coming, my wife made sure that the room in which she was to stay was very neat, tidy, and clean. Why? We were having a guest, and we wanted to make her stay pleasant. Now, if we go out of our way to make a room, tidy, neat, and clean for a human guest (out of concern, as well as out of a sense of duty or appropriateness), how much more should we take pains to make sure our bodies are 'neat, tidy, and clean' (spiritually speaking) for the heavenly Guest? We are to tidy up the temple by being godly; we are to make neat the temple by being holy; we are to clean up the temple by being righteous. The Holy Spirit resides in our hearts, and so we are not to desecrate, abuse, or damage the body. We are not to use it in an unwholesome way, or to commit immoral acts against it.

So, my Christian brothers and sisters, you have an eternal companion, the Comforter; you also have a permanent guest, the Spirit of Truth. How is your fellowship with Him? How is your personal relationship with Him? Do you see Him as a force? as an 'it'? Do you see Him as remote and distant, or is this the One you are communing with each day? If you are an unbeliever, I know that you do not know Him, but you can. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, repent of your sins, and God will give you His Holy Spirit Who will abide with you forever; Who will indwell you and make the glories of the eternal God known to you.

.

~ 6 ~

The Intercession of the Spirit

Last Sunday night I sat alone in my living room, reflecting on the will of the Lord; and I became very burdened. I felt compelled to pray. After kneeling down to pray, I was speechless. I could not pray; I did not know what to pray. I only knew that I was very burdened. I was emotionally tied up. Kneeling there, I was concerned that I would not pray selfishly (because there is always that tendency), and I was concerned that I would not pray in a way that might be fake (simply going through the religious motions, trying to put on a pious front). I also thought that if I prayed in a certain way, it probably would be pointless (which, no doubt, was a reflection on my faith at the time). Yet, I was concerned about praying God's will and not my will; I was concerned that I would not be rebellious in prayer. So, I was in somewhat of a quandary. I was literally torn within. I did not know what to pray or how to pray. I was spiritually groaning. Finally, some words came. Those words were the expression of my groaning; and in hindsight, I believe that at that time the Spirit was interceding for me. What a marvelous and comforting truth!

The Spirit's interceding is a part of His helping ministry

Romans 8: 26,27 reads, "And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." Notice, first, that the Spirit's intercession is a specific expression of His helping ministry – "In the same way the Spirit also helps...for we do not know how to pray as we should" (8:26a). The term 'help,' in the original language, implies a personal presence and involvement in the actual giving of assistance. So, the point is not that the Spirit helps merely by providing aid in a detached or distant way; but rather that the Spirit Himself is personally involved and, by His very presence, He provides aid. For instance, you may be driving down the road and see some people pushing a car which has broken down. Endeavouring to help, you may keep driving and stop at a gas station and request that a tow truck be dispatched. Or, you may help by pulling over and getting out of your car and actually assist in pushing the car. This second kind of helping entails your personal presence and involvement; and that is the sense of the term used here. When Martha was anxious and exasperated, demanding of Jesus that He tell Mary, her sister, to help (the same Greek word) her, she was demanding Mary's personal involvement and assistance (Lu. 10:40). So, the Spirit's helping us is not simply that He gives us resources to overcome our struggles and difficulties; but rather that He Himself is actually involved in our struggles and difficulties.

As mentioned, according to the text, the particular expression of the Spirit's help is that of interceding for us. The Spirit not only gives us grace and strength to pray, but He Himself is involved in the praying (we shall return to this thought); He is praying on our behalf. Amazing! Think about it for a moment. We are not talking about some impersonal force; we are not talking about some mere higher energy; we are talking about God Himself. This God intercedes for us. Now, to intercede means to represent one's case to another. It means to plead or petition on behalf of another. The intercessor is an advocate. The Spirit is not so much assuming the role of a lawyer, as He is that of a supporter. Indeed, He is the blessed Comforter – the Paraclete.

The Spirit's interceding answers to human ignorance

This helping ministry of the Spirit, of course, presupposes that we are in need, that we require help (as already alluded to) – "The Spirit also helps our weakness" (8:26a). The term 'weakness' suggests a physical or bodily frailty, limitation, deficiency, or liability. For instance, we read, "And [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who for eighteen years had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. And when Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, 'Woman, you are freed from your sickness [same word as 'weakness' in the original language]'" (Lu. 13:10f.). Again, Galatians 4:12 reads, "I beg you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong; but you know that it was because of a bodily illness [i.e., 'weakness of the flesh' in the original] that I preached the gospel to you the first time." This 'weakness' is rooted in, and associated with, mortal humanness. So, for instance, debilitating arthritis can be identified as a weakness; a chronic digestive problem can be identified as a weakness; deteriorating or faulty memory can be identified as a weakness.

The Spirit is personally involved in helping us overcome, and deal with, our weakness, especially our weakness in connection with prayer – "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should" (8:26a). The specific weakness in view is that of ignorance. We experience ignorance concerning what is the proper or right thing for which we are to pray because we are still in these 'tabernacles of clay,' beset with sin, and affected by selfish desires and passions. We are often ignorant of God's will; but as the Spirit affords us assistance in our weakness, He "intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (8:27b). And, of course, though we may be ignorant of God's will, the Spirit is not. The Spirit helps us in order that we may discern that will, and thus pray according to that will (we shall return to this truth in a moment).

The Spirit's interceding is in and through our hearts

I want to emphasize that the Spirit does not intercede independent of us. Again, He is personally involved in our praying, overcoming and compensating for our weaknesses, particularly for our ignorance. The Spirit Himself provides light, guidance, and direction; He teaches and reveals to us what is right and necessary to pray by praying in and through us, however mysterious this sounds. So, the Spirit's praying is our praying. For instance, we read, "For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!'" (Rm. 8:15). The Spirit causes believers to cry out in filial prayer. Yet, in Galatians 4:6, we read, "And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son [the Spirit of adoption] into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" So, the Spirit Himself cries out while we are crying out; and that is the mystery of spiritual union. As the Spirit indwells us, the mind of the Spirit is united with the mind of the believer. Hence, what the Spirit is doing, we are doing; and what the Spirit is praying, we are praying. Though we are not always able to discern what is of the flesh and what is of the Spirit, in actual experience, His praying and interceding, is indistinguishable from our act of praying and interceding. He does not have His own words, over and against or independent of our words.

The experience of weakness results, or expresses itself, in groaning. Awhile ago, I started to exercise again. The first number of weeks of running made me feel like a cripple. I hobbled. My joints were sore; my body was exhausted. I groaned. Accordingly, our weakness expresses itself in 'spiritual' groaning. This groaning implies the experience of a burden. Now, the Spirit (who is personally involved in our struggle) actually identifies with, and carries, our burden. The Spirit Himself groans, but His groaning is not strictly His own. When it says that "the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words," the point is this: His groaning is our groaning. Robert Haldane (1764-1842) writes, "Thus it is our hearts that groan, but the operation and emotion are from the Holy Spirit" (Romans, p. 388). So, Romans 8:23 reads, "And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit [having received the Spirit and knowing the indwelling of the Spirit], even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." The Spirit's very presence anticipates that much more blessing is forthcoming, and thus we groan in that anticipation. Again, the groaning is because of the burden of this fallen world and our weakness, realizing that eternal glory awaits us. The Spirit gives us help in actually expressing our groaning in words, while He groans inexpressibly in our hearts. Charles Hodge (1797-1878) states, "We are not to suppose that the Spirit [Himself] prays or utters the inarticulate groans of which the apostle here speaks...He is said to do what He causes us to do...In our consciousness there is no difference between our own acting and those of the Spirit" (Romans, p. 279). The Spirit's intercession is not physically perceived, but is nonetheless spiritually real. It is like wind, you see the effects of it, you see the power of it, but you cannot actually see it. The Spirit groans with us; and in our groaning, He Himself is interceding in and through us so that we indeed pray according to the will of God.

The Spirit's interceding is according to God's will

While still living in the flesh, we often pray according to our selfish desires. The best of us are deceived at best. We want God to respond to our hurt and discomfort; and often our prayers are self-motivated and self-centred. For instance, a loved one may be dying, and because you do not want to lose him, you may pray, "Lord save this loved one from death." What is motivating you? Perhaps you do not want to be alone; you may not want to go through life on your own. Now, it is a good thing to pray that one may be healed, but the question is: What is your motivation? Even in a good thing (such as requesting healing), you may have a selfish motivation; and in that case, such praying may not be according to the will of God. In fact, it may be God's will to take that loved one, even though it may be your deep desire to keep him.

So, the Spirit helps us in our weakness so that we may know and pray according to the will of God, and not according our own will (i.e., selfish desires). God does not usually answer selfish prayers. We read, "You lust and you do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so you may spend it on your pleasures" (Jas. 4:2,3). This, no doubt, is a commentary on the praying of most of us. As mentioned, we often have wrong or selfish motives. Thus, we pray, for instance: "Lord, I do not want to hurt now; please take away the pain;" "Lord, take away the distress; I want happiness and prosperity." And God often says, in effect, "No. It is not My will. My will is for you to be on the sick bed;" or, "My will is for you to scramble to try to meet that next payment;" or, "My will is for your children to be sick." Now, I am sure that there are some who wrestle with the fact that such tragedies and misfortunes can be according to God's will; but if you pray for God to heal your spouse from cancer, and He doesn't; or for God to provide that certain job, and He doesn't; or for God to feed all the starving children of the world, and He doesn't; etc., then clearly it was not His will to do it, or else He would have done it. Right? He always ordains and acts according to His will. But we know this one thing: if the Spirit is interceding for us, His intercession is answered. Why? Because He intercedes according to the will of God, and God must answer it. God always answers when we pray according to His will (1 Jn. 5:14). That is your confidence and peace.

Accordingly, we can be assured that the will of God will be worked out in our lives (for that is what the Spirit prays, which God must answer); and should we want anything else but the will of God, regardless how painful it may be? I submit to you that if you are a child of God, in love with God; if you have experienced the grace of God, there is nothing you should want more than the will of God, even if it hurts. Do you agree? Sometimes the will of God is to say, "No." Sometimes the will of God is for you to have failure (God allowing Satan to attack you); sometimes the will of God is for your child to be ill (God allowing the fallenness of nature to manifest itself). Sometimes the will of God is for you to suffer financially for years (God allowing your foolish decisions to haunt you). But if we realize that it is His will, that can make all the difference in the world. We can live with that, or we should be able to live with that, knowing that He is sovereign, and that everything is subject to His will. It should be our joy and delight, and the supreme act of our obedience, to submit to that will.

Further, though our hearts be full of different kinds of thoughts and motives – a mixture of good and evil; God – honouring thoughts and motives, as well as self-exalting thoughts and motives – the Spirit nevertheless successfully intercedes. Thus, we read, "And He who searches the hearts [of believers who are praying] knows what the mind of the Spirit is" (8:27a). The Spirit's mind is revealed in and through our hearts; and the Spirit reveals our needs to us, and interprets our groaning for us, so that we may intelligibly present them to God the Father. The point is this: God, who knows, sees, and searches believers' hearts, knows the Spirit's mind within those hearts (which is His mind); and He distinguishes the good thoughts and motives (of the Spirit) from the bad thoughts and motives (of the self), responding only to the Spirit's mind.

Accordingly, we can pray God's will and our own will simultaneously; but (again) only the will of God will be answered. Our confidence is that the will of God will be both be prayed by us, and realized in our lives, even though our selfish wills 'get in the way,' because (again) the Spirit, praying in and through us, only prays according to God's will. A number of years ago my wife and I were at a crossroads. I had resigned from one ministry, and we were waiting upon the Lord for direction. It seemed that the Lord wanted us to go Africa through AEF. My wife was initially reluctant, but we eventually prayed, "Lord, open the doors. We are willing to go." We were prepared to go to Africa through AEF; we thought that was what the Lord wanted. Apparently, God's will was to simply bring us to the point where we would be willing to go. It was not His will to take us to Africa, even though we prayed for that. We were praying our thoughts and motives mixed with His thoughts and motives; and the only part of that prayer that was answered was that which was in accordance with His will.

What a personal comfort! In my groaning, as I try to put words together, endeavouring to release the burden of my soul, the Spirit is groaning inexpressibly; and that He helps me in my weakness, overcoming the liabilities of this body, particularly a mind which is still affected by sin. Though I am a combination of good and evil, God sees the mind of the Spirit in me, which is revealed through me, praying according to His will; and when I pray there shall be a fulfilment of that which originates in the Spirit. That is your comfort and assurance, my Christian brothers and sisters. You can pray aright through the Spirit. Is your chiefest desire to know God's will, and only His will, and to submit to it? That is the only thing that the Spirit prays. Be encouraged!

~ 7 ~

The Liberty of the Spirit

Are you free in Christ? The language that I hear quite often from Christians (and it seems more so recently) is the language of bondage. Some Christians are in bondage to some vice; others are in bondage to some fear; others are in bondage to some past memory; and still others are in bondage to some particular situation. Are you free in Christ? The Christian in bondage feels disheartened and often in despair. For example, I received a communiqué from a pastor a little while ago; he shared with me that he was going through some pretty dark days (and I have the freedom to share the contents of this communiqué). He writes, "I still feel in bondage to the problem of anger, though I feel I have grown somewhat spiritually. I am usually an optimist, but this struggle has been a challenge to that outlook. I am hoping I will soon find some answers to the many questions I have so I can begin to climb out of the hole I feel I'm in." Now, that is a pastor writing! He went on to say in that communiqué that he was even wondering if he could fulfil his pastoral duties and responsibilities as he considered the depth of the darkness of the days through which he was presently passing. Does this pastor's experience resonate with your own? Are you in bondage? Jesus says, "If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed" (Jn. 8:36).

Jesus Christ is present as Spirit

2 Corinthians 3:17 reads, "Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." According to John 14:16-24, to have the Spirit with us and in us is to have Christ Himself with us and in us. That is, the Spirit's presence is simultaneous with Christ's presence. To be sure there is a distinction of persons in the Godhead: the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father. Yet, there is an intrinsic, inextricable unity amongst the persons of the Godhead, which means, of course, that there is an intrinsic, inextricable unity between Christ and the Holy Spirit; and that is how we are to understand the phrase: "Now the Lord is the Spirit." This phrase, in effect, could be translated: "Now the Lord is intrinsically identified (not identical) with the Spirit;" or, "Now the Lord is the Spirit in presence, though not in person."

Similarly, recall, for instance, the farewell words of Christ to His disciples in the Upper Room. He said, "'If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.' Philip [scratching his head?] said to Him, 'Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.' Jesus said to him [and it is a mild rebuke], 'Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, 'Show us the Father'?" (Jn. 14:7-9). Now, Jesus was not saying that His own person is identical with the person of the Father. His point was that an essential unity exists between the Father and Him; and thus to see Christ is to see the Father. Accordingly, the Lord continued, "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works" (Jn. 14:10).

Again, when our text says, "Now the Lord is the Spirit," it means that the presence of the Lord and the presence of the Spirit are indistinguishable. Now, the question is this: why is the Lord even mentioned in this verse? As you consider the flow of the passage it seems to be out of place. Why make the statement? How does it fit in with the argument of the passage? Well, as you follow the passage, commencing at the beginning of this chapter, it is clear that a contrast is drawn between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, that is, between the Law and the Spirit. So, we read, "Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a New Covenant, not of the letter [i.e., not of the Law, the Mosaic dispensation], but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:5,6).

Now, Moses is the human leader and mediator of the Old Covenant, and Christ is the human leader (though He is God) and mediator of the New Covenant. Moses is contrasted with Christ. Accordingly, we further read, "But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones [i.e., the ten commandments], came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory" (2 Cor. 3:7,8). Now, having referred to the glory of Moses, notice that an implied comparison, and contrast, with Christ's glory follows – "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord [as opposed to the glory of Moses], are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). So, in this connection, we read, "For the Law was given through Moses; but grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (Jn. 1:17).

Practically speaking, this is the 'good news': the New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant; no longer is the Law in place, no longer is there a need to pursue good works in order to be saved. With truth and grace coming through Jesus Christ, we now personally know God; we now enter into intimate fellowship with Him; we are accepted apart from personal merit. We do not need to earn our salvation. We are freely received in Christ, and His salvation is a gift. All that is required of us now is that we believe in Christ. Thus the Lord invites, "HO! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost" (Is. 55:1). That is the Gospel! No longer are we burdened by the stipulations, commandments, and statutes of that Old Covenant, a Covenant that no one could keep. "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons [and daughters]" (Ga. 4:4,5). So, we have come to the age of the Spirit, to the new Jerusalem. We are in a New Covenant, having access to God, freely accepted in Christ, and thus we know Him and we know that we know Him. God is pleased to dwell amongst His people. He brings us into His presence and He grants us His fellowship.

Now, Christ is present – actually and directly involved – in bringing different ones into that New Covenant – "Now the Lord is the Spirit" (3:17a). Christ is actively at work bringing salvation to believers through the Spirit. The Spirit reveals Christ and brings Him to the heart of the believer. Christ is seated at the right hand of the majesty on high; the heavens have received Him for a season. His physical body is in the glorious realm of the concentrated presence of God; and yet He is with us and in us here on the earth. Yet, there are some Christians who talk like this: "If only I had an opportunity to talk with Christ face to face. If only I had the opportunity to walk with Christ on those dusty roads of Palestine. Wouldn't it have been wonderful to hear Him teach, to see what He looked like?" Accordingly, I want to suggest to you that this kind of language is spoken by the uninformed. What we need to remember is that Christ is really with us. He is really present. The 'Lord is the Spirit,' and so the promise that Jesus gave to His disciples prior to His ascension is also for us. "And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Mt. 28:20b). My Christian brothers and sisters, you do not have to see His physical face; you do not have to see His body; you do not have to hear His audible voice. He is here – really here – just as much as he could be physically. Do you believe that? I know that you acknowledge that; I know that you confess that, but do you believe that? I know a Christian brother who (and you may think this sounds rather strange) has a chair in his apartment that he reserves only for Jesus. He is very conscious that the chair is Jesus' chair. That reminds him of the continual, and real, presence of Christ with him.

The Spirit of the Lord effects salvation

Though the Lord is the Spirit, it is the Spirit Himself who has the role of actually applying the salvation accomplished by Christ – "And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (3:17b). So, the Lord is the Spirit in presence, but, strictly speaking, the Spirit of the Lord ministers Christ's grace. What the text is saying is this: there is no experience of salvation apart from the presence and work of the Spirit of the Lord. You are not saved by your personal brand of religion. You are not saved by your good works or deeds. You are not even saved by the sincerity of your profession. You are only saved by the Spirit. Thus, we read, "You are our letter [i.e., the clear communication or reality of our ministry], written in our hearts [a note of affection and love], known and read by all men [the work of grace is clearly demonstrable]; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ [He Himself has spiritually effected change, and you belong to Him], cared for by us, as His servants, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of the human heart" (2 Cor. 3:2,3). This vivid imagery is referring to regeneration. The point is that those who are believers have been born anew, not because of anything they have done, but because of the regenerative work of the Spirit. You are only saved by the Spirit; and if He does not work, there can be no salvation.

I think of my own conversion. Prior to my conversion, I tried to earn my salvation. Prior to becoming a Christian, I prayed, I fasted, I ceremonially washed feet. I attended Church religiously. I even became a vegetarian, believing that this was what the Bible taught. But I was not saved, and I remember one evening going, in my self-righteousness, to talk to a pastor. From the time he opened his mouth to the time he closed it, I did not say one word. I couldn't; the Spirit had a hold of my heart and He was squeezing it; and I remember the spiritual disarming and conviction I experienced as I sat there listening to the truth of the Gospel, a truth that whittled away all my pride, self-confidence, and arrogance. I walked out of that office a broken and a humbled man. I knew that the Spirit of God had breathed new life into me. What about you? Do you know assuredly that it is the Spirit who has changed your heart? Are you sure that you are not endeavouring to parade your religiosity, work for your salvation, earn your own salvation, trying to be a good Christian woman or man, trying to 'keep your nose clean,' going merely through the religious motions? My friend, you cannot save yourself, you simply cannot do it. The Spirit must save and He alone. And you know that there has been a work of the Spirit when there is that sense of freedom or release, and ensuing joy.

The Spirit brings about freedom

The saving work of the Spirit is one of bringing about spiritual freedom – "And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (3:17b). The saving work of the Spirit is His freeing work. Now the question is this: what does He free us from? Well, specifically speaking (confining our initial thoughts to the immediate context), He frees us from the demands, the stipulations, the statutes, etc. of the Old Covenant. He frees us from the need to conform to the external law as a way of life with God. So, we read, "But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the Old Covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read [i.e., whenever the Law is read], a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man [or woman] turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away" (2 Cor. 3:14-16). In turning to the Lord Christ by faith, through hearing the Gospel, there is spiritual freedom.

Generally speaking, the Spirit frees from Satan; from sin; and from death. If the Spirit is not present, one remains in a state of bondage. So, we read, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death [i.e., that principle that keeps you imprisoned to your own passions, desires, aspirations, thoughts, and agenda]" (Rm. 8:1,2). My stepfather claims to be a Christian. He is a reformed alcoholic; it was pretty tough growing up in a home involving that. Even today, he has a foul mouth and shows unkind actions. Some of his personal practices are reprehensible. Now, I say unhesitatingly that he is not a Christian, regardless of his profession of faith. The Spirit's presence frees us from sin, frees us from the clutches of Satan, frees us from the principle of death; again, if the Spirit is not present, you remain in spiritual bondage.

Experiencing the Spirit's freedom by faith

Now, if you are a true believer, you are free, but the reality is that you may not always feel free. Isn't that right? Objectively, you are Christ's freeperson; subjectively, you may still feel enslaved. Accordingly, we need to distinguish between what is actually the case and what are our feelings lest we become unduly confused and discouraged. As a Christian believer you are free – "Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin [bound by our passions and desires]; for he who has died [in Christ] is freed from sin" (Rm. 6:6,7). Similarly, John 8:34ff. reads, "Jesus answered [the Jews], 'Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. If therefore, the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.'" If you are a Christian, the chains of sin have been snapped; sin no longer has dominion over you, you are no longer the lackey of sin.

So, you may be asking yourself, "Why don't I feel free? Why does it seem like I am always struggling to keep spiritually afloat or to move ahead? Now, the following is a simple, but crucial point. The issue is not whether you are free or not free; that, as we have said, is an established fact. The issue is acknowledging and accepting this freedom. Do not be offended by the simplicity of this principle. It will make all the difference in the world in your life if you can really grasp and assimilate it. You need to confess that you are free in Christ and you need to live in the light of that confession. What I am saying is this: by faith, you must enter into your freedom in Christ. In fact, the whole of our Christian life is one of faith. You need to personally appropriate the truth. All the spiritual blessings in Christ are ours only through faith. They come by grace, but they are realized in our experience only through faith. And if there is no faith, there is no realization. As the Scriptures teach, "And without faith it is impossible to please [God] for he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder [a blesser, a giver] of those who seek Him" (Hb. 11:6).

There is a difference between knowing about Christ and actually experiencing Christ. You personally know Him by faith, but you must also experience Him by faith. You can know the truth, but unless you personally appropriate the truth (that is, acknowledge and accept it), you are not going to feel the truth. As a result, there will be little power in your life. Is it any wonder there are so many defeated Christians? They know what the Bible says; they just have not accepted it by faith. They say, for instance, "That may be for others, but not for me. I will never overcome." That is negative thinking. That is nothing less than doubt, and doubt is the opposite of faith. Such negative thinking counters and undermines faith. Faith entails right thinking (which is Biblical thinking). Of course, Christians who persist in negatively thinking this way are not going to experience victory. They will never have victory until they begin to change their thinking. Their thinking must be informed by the teaching (and promises) of the Scriptures. What I am suggesting is this: how you began the Christian life is how you need to continue in it. That is, every step of the way is a step of faith. Christ has purchased freedom for you, as well as joy, peace, wisdom, self control, patience, longsuffering, etc. It is a done deal. Now, you must continue to enter into them, and faith is your passageway. Are you ready to acknowledge and accept what you already have in Christ? All things are yours if you believe.

You may be reading this chapter and know that you are not a Christian. Did you know that you are still in a state of bondage? You are still in the grips of the evil one. You are still plagued with fear, guilt, and doubts, though you try to deny it. Yet, Jesus says, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed." My non Christian friend, that is the good news for you. There is an answer to your deep problems. There is a solution to your bewildering questions. There is help for your need, if you will only believe. Won't you believe in Him this day? "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." Jesus offers you this gift freely. Will you take it?


~ 8 ~

The Sanctifying Work of the Spirit

The Spirit powerfully frees the believer from the bondage and dominion of sin. Now, the freeing power of the Spirit particularly results in, and leads to, the sanctifying work of the Spirit. In being freed from the bondage and dominion of sin, Christians are simultaneously freed to a life of holiness. Thus, the Scriptures read, "Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:17,18). Our concentration in this chapter will be on this matter of sanctification, which is simply the demonstration of the Spirit's liberating ministry. There are two aspects involved in the Spirit's sanctifying work: 1) the Spirit enlightens; 2) the Spirit transforms.

The Spirit enlightens

We read, "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord" (3:18a). Spiritual blindness is pictured as being 'veiled'. Thus, we read, "But their minds [i.e., the Jews' minds] were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the Old Covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ" (2 Cor. 4:14). In their natural state, people are blind to the truth of the Gospel. They do not understand and appreciate the contents of the Gospel. For example, a number of years ago, I was witnessing to an unbelieving couple (who subsequently became very good friends of my wife and mine) on Yonge Street in front of the coffee shop at Evergreen. For a lengthy period of time, I tried to witness to them about Jesus Christ. They told me sometime afterwards that even though I talked for so long, they apparently did not understand anything that I said. They said that the only reason they listened was because I was so passionate. Subsequent to that meeting, another Christian led them to a saving knowledge of Christ. Yet, at the time that I was witnessing to them, they were blinded spiritually; they could not understand nor appreciate the content of the Gospel.

Spiritual blindness is not merely the result of human deficiency or inaptitude; and it is not merely because of the "sin factor;" but spiritual blindness is a result of the deceiving, blinding power of Satan. So, we read, "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:3,4). The devil has cast a deceptive cloak over the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot understand the Gospel. Why is it that your unbelieving son, your unbelieving daughter, your unbelieving husband, your unbelieving wife, etc. have not responded to the presentation of the Gospel? Why is it that they have not embraced the simple message of salvation? Yes, because of their sin indeed, but also because of the deceiving, blinding power of Satan. They may not realize it, but Satan has them in his bony grasp. The Scriptures read, "If perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will" (2 Tm. 2:25f.). Ephesians 2:1,2 reads, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience." Unbelievers are being motivated by the evil one. He blinds their minds to the truth.

A number of years ago, I was witnessing to a young man. He was rather uncouth. I invited him out to Church to hear a well-known preacher. That evening this preacher brought an evangelistic message, and he 'bore down' upon the consciences. Afterwards I asked the young man, "Well, what did you think?" He said, "Oh, I think that guy could make it in the theatre. He would be a great actor." He failed to really perceive the spiritual dynamics and feel the spiritual impact of the preaching. His mind was spiritually blinded. No one can understand the Gospel until God enlightens him.

So, spiritual blindness is being veiled; and obviously to be unveiled is to know spiritual enlightenment or illumination – "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord" (3:18a). To be spiritually enlightened is to receive and understand the truth of the Gospel (and, of course, when we talk about the Gospel, we are ultimately talking about the whole of the New Testament). It is to appreciate the teaching of the knowledge of God and Christ. It is to grasp and embrace the preached message of salvation – "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing" (2 Cor. 4:3). When the Gospel is unveiled (that is, the contents are truly grasped), one has eternal life.

Practically speaking, to be spiritually enlightened means that the Bible has become an open, living book. It means that the Bible 'speaks' to you, and 'speaks' into your experience. It means that you 'hear' God through the pages of the Scriptures. I have a student who has been converted for about 4 years. Before he became a Christian, he used to read the Bible, but he could not understand it. It was a dry, boring book to him; but when he became a Christian, the Scriptures began to 'live.' He, in effect said, "That which I did not understand at one time became patently clear. It seems that the Bible just opened up to me and I understood its truth and its content." Luke 24:45 confirms this experience, "Then He [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures." Is that true for you? Do you find the Bible a dry, boring, and, at times, tedious book? Do you close the Bible and say, "Well, I didn't get anything out of that." That does not happen when the veil has been lifted; you begin to understand and appreciate the content of the Scriptures. 1 John 2:27 reads, "And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him." Through the Spirit, Who is the anointing, the Christian understands God's truth. Similarly, we read in 1 John 5:20, "And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son, Jesus Christ."

Spiritual enlightenment, according to this particular passage, involves a number of things. First, spiritual enlightenment only comes through the prescribed means of preaching, teaching and reading of the Gospel. The Gospel is the ordained instrument through which spiritual light comes. Again, we read, "Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.... For we do not preach ourselves [in presenting the Gospel] but Christ Jesus and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Cor. 4:3,5). What we are saying is: only through the Gospel is there saving knowledge.

Secondly, the fruit of spiritual enlightenment – personally receiving the truth – is the act of repentance. So, we read, "But whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away [i.e., he is spiritually enlightened]" (3:16). Now, the second part of this statement is not a consequential phrase, that is, one first turns to the Lord, and then he is enlightened. No, some light (the truth) must first come, before any turning is possible (for one must first understand why he must turn and what he is turning to). The second part of this statement is an explanation of what is involved in the actual turning, that is, if one turns, that indicates that one has been enlightened. Acts 26:17,18 provides us with the logical order. Jesus addressed the apostle Paul, "Delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes [i.e., to enlighten them] so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God [i.e., to repent], in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me." So, 2 Corinthians 3:16, could be read thus, "But whenever a man turns to the Lord, it means that the veil is taken away."

Third, spiritual enlightenment has a deeply subjective side. When we talk about spiritual enlightenment, we are not simply talking about understanding and appreciating the Gospel objectively, although that is true; but spiritual enlightenment also entails a spiritual 'seeing' of Christ. Spiritual enlightenment is an internal enlightenment, as well as an intellectual one, which is equally achieved through the medium of truth – "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord." We spiritually see Christ through the truth of the Gospel. Again, we read, "In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.... For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:4,6). The glory of Christ and God actually constitute the spiritual light. The knowledge received is intensely experiential. The shining of God into the heart [i.e., His illuminating work] brings a spiritual vision of Christ. Spiritual enlightenment is an inner realization of the beauty, glory, and majesty of Christ (and I am not talking about having some picture or image of Christ in our minds). I am talking about something that is deeply experiential and subjective on the background of, and based on, the objective Word of God. When we are spiritually enlightened, we do not simply acknowledge that the Gospel reveals the beauty and wonder of Christ, but we personally perceive and witness that beauty and wonder. Through the Word of God, the Spirit impresses on the heart the glorious reality of Jesus Christ.

That kind of an experience does not leave one indifferent or complacent. When Isaiah beheld the glory of the Lord in the temple, he was overwhelmed. When Daniel beheld the Apocalyptic vision of Christ, he became enfeebled and his countenance changed to a deathly pallor. The vision of Christ can shatter you. When the Apostle John beheld the Apocalyptic vision of Christ on the Isle of Patmos, he collapsed. When you behold His glory, you cannot be indifferent, you cannot be unmoved. It humbles you, and strips you of all carnal confidence and pride; and you fall down and worship the One who is the fairest of ten thousands to the soul; the altogether lovely One. Do you know what I am talking about?

Recently I was speaking to a good pastor friend of mine. During our conversation, we talked about revival and renewal. He said, "For about 15 years I have heard about revival and renewal, but I did not really know what that was really all about until about three months ago. Then I understood. The Lord came in and removed the scales from my eyes; and I saw the glory of Christ, and I was changed." Even as Christians we can have scales upon our eyes; we know Him, but we do not clearly see Him. We hear about Him, but we do not truly behold Him. When you behold the Lord Jesus Christ, you are transformed.

The Spirit transforms

Not only does the sanctifying work of the Spirit entail spiritual enlightenment, it also entails spiritual transformation. In having this vision of Christ, informed and sustained through the truth of the Gospel, one is spiritually transformed by the Spirit – "But we all, with unveiled face [that is, now spiritually seeing clearly] beholding as in the mirror [through Gospel in the heart] the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image [of Jesus Christ] from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (3:18). We talk about glorification being the end of the application of salvation; that when Christ comes again, we shall be perfected; and yet this text indicates that we are now in the process of being glorified. We are presently going 'from glory to glory'; and one day we shall enter into the fullness of glory.

Now do you see how this transformation is taking place? The Spirit transforms us through the means of beholding the Son in His glory. By looking into the 'mirror', we do not behold ourselves; but, paradoxically, we behold Christ; and thus we assume His image – He "who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:4). In other words, you are only transformed while you are living in His presence. The face of Moses changed 'in glory' because he was in the very presence of God; and being in the presence of God you too will assume His glory. If you are not in His personal presence, you will not be spiritually changed. You may become a better person, but you will not be changed.

You may ask yourself the questions: How can I be more spiritual? How can I be more holy? How can I become spiritually alive? You will not become more spiritual, you will not become more holy, you will not become more spiritually alive through your sheer determination and effort to do so, saying, for instance, "Just a bit more reading, just a bit more praying, just a bit more serving, and then I will be changed spiritually." These means are helpful and necessary, but they are not the source of actual spiritual change. There is a grave danger when you emphasize and confuse the means as being the source for becoming more spiritual. Do you see what that leads to? It leads to a 'works religion.' It is a very subtle thing. The problem is that you become dependent on the religious exercises and (if I may put it this way) 'Christian ritualism' as a way for you to become more spiritual. It does not work! You may become more moral, you may even become more religious, but you will not necessarily become more spiritual. Is it any wonder that so many believers become frustrated and disappointed in their Christian walk? They are confusing the means as being the source, and thus they have a 'works religion.'

You will become more spiritual, more holy, more spiritually alive only by 'seeing' Christ; only by 'gazing upon' Jesus; and in that vision, you will desire to be more like Him; and the Spirit will use that vision to actually transform you. We cannot transform ourselves. The Spirit alone is the Agent of spiritual change – "We are changed from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." It is God who does it; He brings about the change, and unless you understand that, you will set yourself up for constant failure and frustration.

Are you spiritually discouraged? Do you really have a desire to be spiritual, but in light of this teaching, you are drawing the conclusion that you cannot do anything about it? In one sense, you are right – it is the Spirit who enlightens; it is the Spirit who transforms. You may then say, "Well, I can't do anything about my spiritual condition." And as a result, you are disappointed, frustrated, and discouraged. But is it true that you cannot do anything? First, though it is the Spirit's work, you have a responsibility to strive, to seek, and to be obedient to the Lord. But more crucially, with respect to 'entering in', you can facilitate the process, by yielding; or, as Lewis Sperry Chafer has put it, there must be a new adjustment to the Spirit.

When we talk about yielding to Jesus Christ, when we talk about a new adjustment to the Spirit, we are talking about submission or surrender to God's will. I want to suggest a very practical exercise for you in order to guide you in this process of yielding. Now, this exercise is not a key, but I think you may find it helpful. When you come to the point of really being sure that you want to 'enter in', when you come to the point where you are sure that you desperately want to change spiritually, I suggest that you do this: get away by yourself and pray a prayer of consecration. And in that prayer of consecration, say something like this to the Lord (and you need to be very careful before you do this because God will take note of every word that comes out of your mouth): "Lord, I will do anything You want me to do, I will go anywhere You want me to go, and I will be anything You want me to be." There is power in the verbalization; there is power in the confession. In making this kind of prayer, you are not simply saying, "I want God's will in some particular area of my life;" but rather, you are saying, "I want God's will in every area of my life; and I only want God's will, and it does not matter what it is. He is sovereign, and He can do anything with me that He wants to do; and I am giving my wholehearted consent to that."

When you get to that point where it does not matter what He does with you, and you can say as Job, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" (Jb. 13:15a); when you get to the point where the only thing that delights you is the will of God; and you can say affirmatively, "Lord, I will do anything You want me to do, go anywhere You want me to go and be anything You want me to be;" and continue to accept, acknowledge, and live in the light of that confession, then the Spirit will make Himself known to you and He will show you Christ's glory, and you shall be changed spiritually.

God wants conquered wills from us so that we will only live for His will, and we will only will His will. This prayer of consecration is just a practical exercise, but I think it could be very helpful to some. But I know that you may struggle with uttering the actual words during this particular kind of prayer. It is a major step which will involve the total offering of yourself to God without reversal. You most likely will wrestle in your soul; you will be anxious, and even fearful, realizing what is at stake here. But once you 'get through', you will be on your way to freedom and fullness. In your surrender, you will behold God. God wants your heart now. Why do you delay?

~ 9 ~

The Desires of the Spirit

Imagine the following beautiful scene. There is a plush, green meadow; and small rolling hills as far as the eye can see. Meandering through the meadow is a clear brook, and this brook is rippling over the small rocks that rest on the brook bed. Sparsely sprinkled over the meadow and the rolling hills are wild morning glory flowers, with the odd double aster. Above is an azure – glorious blue – sky, dotted with white, billowy clouds; with the odd colourful bird gliding high overhead. High in the sky, the radiant sun is brightly shining. Moving quietly over the meadow is a soft, cool breeze that gently bows the flowers. What a lovely and tranquil scene! This is an apt picture to capture the beauty of one who is walking by the Spirit. This is a lovely, poetic portrayal of one who is led by the Spirit. One who is really living in the Spirit (i.e., walking and being led by the Spirit) radiates a beauty that is almost indescribable. Maybe you have seen someone like that; the glory and grace of Christ simply emanating from his or her person, and you know that this one has been with the Lord, and intimately knows the Lord. There is something deeply attractive about one who is living in the Spirit.

The Spirit is absolutely contrary to the flesh

In Galatians 5:16,17, we read, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please." The first point that we may make from this text is that living in the Spirit is drastically contrasted with living in the flesh. 'In the Spirit' and 'in the flesh' are two mutually exclusive states of existence. It is like night and day. You cannot have day while at the same time having night. Not only are we looking at two mutually exclusive states of existence; we are also looking at two diametrically opposed moral-spiritual realities. Day and night are not only two mutually exclusive states, but they are also totally opposite and different states, and so it is with the Spirit and the flesh. Life in the Spirit pertains to such things as purity of thinking, integrity of conduct, propriety of behaviour; whereas life in the flesh pertains to such things as selfish, self-centred thinking, sinful conduct, unethical behaviour, and the like. Now, every human being is either living 'in the Spirit' or 'in the flesh.'

Now, it is self-evident that as a Christian, you ought to be living in the Spirit; but it is very possible to be a professing Christian, and still to be living in the flesh. This certainly is the implication of Galatians 5:25a, "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." If it is true that we are found in the sphere of the Spirit, then we ought to be conducting ourselves according to the life of that Spirit. Christians should live according to the new principle and power of life; yet, it is possible to still be carnal and unloving. Thus, this previous Scripture immediately continues to exhort, "Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another" (Ga. 5:25b).

Recently I was speaking to a Christian brother who, in my estimation was evidencing reprehensible behaviour. Now, what I said to him was true; but how I said it was wrong. At that point, I was walking in the flesh. You can be a professing Christian, and purportedly living in the Spirit, and still slip into the flesh. You have a choice; you have a decision to make. Everyday you must decide whether you will walk according to the flesh or according to the Spirit. H. Schilder states, in Christ in His Sufferings, that everyday we need to seek and know God's justification and sanctification. What Schilder means is that everyday we need to live by faith, receiving God's grace and knowing the power and grace of His Spirit. Everyday is a day of faith; everyday is a day of decision in which we decide for Christ or against Christ. Everyday we make a choice to follow Him or not to follow Him. So, it is possible to live in the Spirit and still fall prey to the ravages of the flesh.

The Spirit's desires oppose those of the flesh

We read again, "But I say, walk by the Spirit" (5:16a). To walk by the Spirit means that one is to behave and act as one who is influenced and guided by the Spirit; as one who is governed by the Spirit's authority, mind, and impulses; and this is to simply say that one is to be led by the Spirit. So, we read, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law" (Ga. 5:18). This verse teaches that there are two opposing religious systems – the Law administration or Judaism and the Spirit administration or the Gospel; and these two systems are contrary to one another. If we are led by the Spirit, then we are not under that Law administration; we do not stand alone before God seeking justification through our own works and deeds. We are delivered from the Law, being justified by grace through faith in Christ. But the point I want to make is this: walking by the Spirit and being led by the Spirit are similar concepts, viewed from different perspectives. It is a matter of emphasis. With 'walking,' the emphasis is on the believer's response and initiative; with 'being led,' the emphasis is on the Spirit's guidance and direction. It is like an orchestra playing and conforming to the conductor's arrangement, by whom the orchestra is directed.

Now, 'walking by the Spirit' or 'being led by the Spirit' may still sound a bit abstract. What does it specifically and concretely mean to walk by, or to be led by, the Spirit? Simply, it is a matter of desires, and more particularly, it is a matter of the nature and the direction of desires. To walk by, or to be led by, the Spirit means to entertain and express the Spirit's desires, which, as we have read, are in conflict with the flesh's desires – "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition one to another" (Ga. 5:2). Now, you may ask, how is focusing on, and considering desires, the answer to the question of what it specifically and concretely means to walk by, or to be led by, the Spirit? Well, the reason is simply this: desires are typically the root and the power behind action, behaviour, and conduct. Desires underlie, and give rise to, what we actually do. This truth is implied in our passage. For instance, the desires of the flesh lead to the deeds of the flesh (cf. Ga. 5:17,19). For instance, I recently had a general medical check up. It was discovered, to my chagrin, that I was about 25 lbs. overweight. It was suggested that I lose weight. So, I decided to change my eating habits, my lifestyle. Now, I did that because I had a real desire to lose weight. Desire gave rise to my action. So, walking by, or being led by, the Spirit entails the fact of knowing and embracing the desires of the Spirit.

The desires of the Spirit

Now, the question is this: What are the desires of the Spirit? What does the Spirit want? Simply, nothing other than carrying out the revealed will of God. The desires of the Spirit are related to the directives, the commands, and the instructions that we find in the New Testament. Consider, for instance, the teaching of Romans 8 in which we read, "For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law [God's righteous standard, the compilation of His commandments] might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (vv. 3,4). As Christians conduct and behave themselves in keeping with the Spirit, they will fulfil the Law's demands; but notice what is further said, "For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh [our actions flow out of our minds, and desire is essential to our minds], but those who are according to the Spirit, [set their minds on] the things of the Spirit...because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so [but the mind of the Spirit can]" (vv. 5,7). If you have the mind of the Spirit, which entails having the desires of the Spirit, then you will want to fulfil God's Law – His righteous requirements. This is why we say that the desires of the Spirit are related to the directives, the commands, and the instruction that we find in the New Testament. To walk by, or to be led by, the Spirit means that you must know God's ethical will as revealed through His Word, and that you will carry out that ethical will through the pangs and proddings of a redeemed conscience.

Overcoming the desires of the flesh by the desires of the Spirit

So, when the Scriptures exhort you to "walk by the Spirit," it means that you are to be controlled and motivated by the Spirit's desires so that you may act and behave in such a way that you evidence that you are influenced and guided by the Spirit. The result of walking by the Spirit will be that you will then counter the power of the flesh – "and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh" (5:16b). You will not conquer the desire (and desires) of the flesh unless you walk by the Spirit. Again, you are either in one realm or the other; and every time you do carry out the desire of the flesh, you are not walking by the Spirit. Now, you will not overcome the desire of the flesh through mere willpower. You do not have within you that natural moral fortitude and tenacity which can effectively contend with the flesh; you will not succeed through sheer resolve. How many times have you made up your mind not to give in to that sin or that habit? – "I will no longer get irritated with my husband;" "I will no longer be impatient with my co-worker;" "I will no longer watch that silly program;" "I am no longer going to pig-out;" "I have made up my mind; I am going to follow the Lord." You cannot do it, but if you "walk by the Spirit...you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." The only way that you will overcome the power of the desire of the flesh is to live according to the principles and power of the Spirit, not by the exertion of your willpower, no matter how disciplined you think you are.

The desires of the flesh are a constant reality, an ever-present plague, waging an eternal war against the desires of the Spirit. Did you notice that the text does not say that we won't have the desires of the flesh if we walk by the Spirit? What it does say is that we will not carry out the desires of the flesh if we walk by the Spirit. The desires will always be there. You must realize this fact. The desires of the flesh will never be totally eradicated in this life. Some of you will always have the (selfish) desire for romance (though romance per se is not wrong); some of you will always have the (selfish) desire for position and status; some of you will always have the (selfish) desire for popularity; some of you will always have the (selfish) desire for wealth and security; some of you will always have the (selfish) desire for beauty and youth. Thus, we read the ever timely exhortation, "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from the fleshly lusts, which wage war against your soul" (1 Pe. 2:11). These desires are ever prowling and stalking – the desire for illicit sex, the desire for physical stimulation, the desire for a self-centred relationship with someone, the desire for approval and affirmation, etc; those desires are not going away. You need to understand that fact, and accept it, lest you get frustrated and become defeated. But if you walk by the Spirit, you will not carry them out. It does not say that you will not feel them; it says you will not carry them out.

So, we are to have the desires of the Spirit, and we can have the desires of the Spirit because the Spirit indwells us. Through His indwelling, His desires can be revealed in our spirit, and thus they can become our desires. These desires, of course, result in the fruit of the Spirit, that is, godly characteristics. This is what living in the Spirit (that is, walking by, or being led by, the Spirit) practically looks like. This is the picture of loveliness – "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law" (Ga. 5:22,23). The Law does not command this package. The Law cannot produce or instill these virtues, only the Spirit can. As you consider these virtues, are they a mirror of your life; do you see yourself reflected in them? Are you bearing the fruit of the Spirit?

The Spirit's desires and crucifixion with Christ

How do we really begin to live in the Spirit – to be led by the Spirit and so to walk by the Spirit? We further read, "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh, with its passions and desires" (Ga. 5:24). What is this text teaching? Those who are vitally joined to Christ, those who are in fellowship with Christ, have killed the sinful nature, along with its passions and desires which actually give this nature its life. Accordingly, life in the Spirit is synonymous with death to self; you cannot have one without the other. In order to really know the Spirit's desires, you need to kill and bury your selfish desires. Those self-centred, self-promoting, and self-preoccupied wants must be aborted. Before you can know true life, you have to experience a definite death. Thus, the apostle Paul affirmed, "I have been [not, I will be] crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live [according to my desires, passions, and aspirations], but Christ lives in me [and that by His Spirit]; and the life which I now live in the flesh [this physical body] I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me" (Ga. 2:20). Only by being emptied of self, can one then be filled with the Spirit.

So, how do you die? Many Christians have not yet died. First, there must be repentance – "Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?" (Rm. 6:1-3). You need to feel sorry for your sins. You need to feel the burden and the weight of your transgressions, wickedness, and evil. You need to confess these to God; and you need to turn away from them. The crucified life begins with repentance, and repentance must be ongoing in the life of the Christian. You need to repent of gluttony; you need to repent of self-indulgence; you need to repent of laziness; you need to repent of indifference and complacency; you need to repent of pride; you need to repent of your fantasies; etc. You need to repent, if you are going to know the crucified life.

Second, you need to reckon yourself to be dead – "Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Rm. 6:11). You need to have a particular attitude, a particular disposition, towards sin. You need to come to a point in your thinking where you recognize the 'sinfulness of sin,' and accept the fact that Christ has delivered you from sin's dominance and power, and that you no longer need to yield to it. Third, you need to resolve to have nothing to do with sin; and that takes commitment – "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts" (Rm. 6:11). You will have to self-consciously reject and resist sin. You must assume personal responsibility; you are not to let sin rule so that you fulfil its desires. You must make a commitment to do what is right.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, you need to offer or surrender yourself to God – "And do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God" (Rm. 6:13). Each day must be a day of consecration to God. We belong to Him. He purchased us by the precious blood of Christ. We do not belong to ourselves. We are His special possession for Him to do with us as He pleases. So, that is it; you are to repent of sin; you are to reckon yourself dead to sin, you are to resolve to reject and resist sin (trusting in God to help you), and you are to surrender yourself to God. This is how you will live the crucified life.

Recently it was reported that Mother Theresa had a heart-attack. What a warrior of the faith! Do you know what I find appealing about Mother Theresa? She knows what it is to live a beautiful life. Her life emanates, radiates, with the beauty of Christ. Does yours? Does mine? One who lives in the Spirit, that is, is walking by, and being led by, the Spirit, is living a beautiful life. If you are going to have that kind of a life, you need to die, acknowledging that your life is His life. I invite you to die. Will you respond?


~ 10 ~

The Infilling of the Spirit

When you think of being filled with the Holy Spirit, what comes to your mind? What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? Do you think it means being swept away with holy laughter and dancing frantically around? Or do you think about being 'slain in the spirit' and gyrating around on the floor? Or do you envisage a mystical surge of energy whereby you speak in an ecstatic language. Acts 4:31 gives us the succinct teaching of the fundamental elements of that which is entailed in being filled with the Spirit. We read, "And when they [the gathered disciples] had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness."

Spirit-infilling is solely a work of God

This verse teaches at least three things about being filled with the Spirit. First, to be filled with the Spirit requires a divine act and initiative. It says that these disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. They were recipients, they assumed a passive role; and God was the actor, He assumed an active role. The infilling of the Spirit is something that God does. We, as Christians, cannot determine whether we are going to be spiritually filled or not. We cannot orchestrate it; we cannot produce this kind of work. Now, we do have a responsibility to seek to be filled with the Spirit, and to prepare for the coming of the Spirit; but God must act, and He must take the initiative, if we are going to be filled. So, these disciples were acted upon; or, in other words, the Spirit was willing to manifest Himself. The Spirit himself decides when He will release His power. There is no place for human say; it is not a matter of individual or personal control. One of the clearest examples of this fact pertains to the person of John the Baptist. While Zacharias, the father of John, was fulfilling his priestly ministry in the temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him announcing the birth of John. Gabriel announced to him, "And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother's womb" (Lu. 1:14,15). Of course, an infant cannot self-consciously direct his or her behaviour. Clearly, Spirit-infilling has nothing to do with human will or effort. It is something that happens to us; God is pleased to move. Thus, we read the fulfilment of that which was promised to Zacharias in the temple, "Now at this time Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb [being filled]; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit" (Lu. 1:39-41).

Accordingly, if you are to be filled with the Spirit, you must be wholly dependent upon God. You do not decide whether you will be filled. You do not 'push the buttons.' God does not cater to your whim, nor beckon to your call. Now, some have the misunderstanding that Spirit-infilling is some kind of mechanical programmed response in which one, for instance, simply has to repeat a formula, or practice a certain ritual, or simply parrot certain words, and the result will be that he or she will be filled with the Spirit. It does not work that way; that approach is all wrong. This past week I was listening to a well-known America preacher. He was sharing one of his early Christian experiences as a recent convert. Apparently, he was instructed and coached on how to receive the second blessing, the second baptism of the Spirit, by which he would 'speak in tongues.' This preacher said, "I had enough common sense to realize that according to the Scriptures, this was not something I should be coached on; something humanly orchestrated. I said to this person who was coaching me on how to receive the second blessing, 'I want to receive the Spirit the same way the early Christians did – immediate and complete.'" Again, it is wholly of God; He takes the initiative. He alone decides when one will be filled with His Spirit.

Spirit-infilling comes through prayer

Second, to be filled with the Spirit typically entails human responsibility. Although being filled with the Spirit is a divine act, we can seek for this infilling; we can prepare for it. We can move God to fill us with His Spirit – "And when they had prayed...they were filled with the Holy Spirit" (4:31a). Prayer is typically, not exclusively, the prelude to being filled with the Spirit. In response to our dependent petitioning, with a view to His glory, God is pleased to fill us. This fact is clearly seen in the life of our Lord. In the account of His baptism, we read, "Now it came about when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also was baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, 'Thou art my beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased'" (Lu. 3:21f.). This baptism of the Spirit entailed the infilling of the Spirit so that our Lord was full of the Spirit. So, we read further, "And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness" (Lu. 4:1). It was when our Lord prayed that the Spirit came; not only was He baptized with the Spirit, He was also filled with Him.

As an aside, what is the relationship between the baptism of the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit? The baptism of the Spirit is receiving the gift of the Spirit. God gives His Spirit as a gift to us at the time of our coming into His kingdom; that is, believers are spiritually baptized at conversion. Now, on the basis of this baptism of the Spirit (i.e., having received the Spirit as a gift) believers may then receive the infilling of the Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit is the ground for the infilling of the Spirit. Logically speaking, the baptism of the Spirit presupposes and actually precedes the infilling of the Spirit, though the two spiritual events may occur simultaneously (as we see in the life of our Lord Jesus). Now, one can be baptized with the Spirit without enjoying the infilling of the Spirit. Baptism does not automatically result in infilling. Further, there is only one baptism of the Spirit. A believer receives the gift of the Spirit once and for all at conversion, but the believer may enjoy many infillings of the Spirit. Thus, we have the exhortation in Ephesians 5:18, "Be filled with the Spirit." This is a word directed to all Christians; and what is implied is that there are times when Christians may not be filled with the Spirit, even though they have the Spirit. Incidentally, this exhortation is better translated, "Continue to be filled with the Spirit." This infilling ought to be a way of life.

So, again, as mentioned, Christians have the responsibility to be filled with the Spirit, even though God must act and take the initiative. Further, as mentioned, apart from being immersed in the Word of God, the means by which we become filled with the Spirit is prayer. Now, prayer does not automatically result in infilling, but it is the prescribed prelude to the infilling. We read, "They lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, '...And now, Lord, take note of their threats and grant that Thy bondservants might speak Thy Word with all confidence'" (Acts 4:24,29). The result of that unified, dependent petitioning was that the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were filled with the Spirit and spoke boldly. We are to seek the Spirit's infilling; and we are thus to prepare ourselves for such an infilling by treasuring up the Word of God in our hearts and by giving ourselves to prayer, only wanting to see His glory. Are you praying for the infilling?

Spirit-infilling is being under the Spirit's control

You may ask, "What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?" Third, to be filled with the Spirit is to be under the total direction, sway, and control of the Spirit. Again, Ephesians 5:18 reads, "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation [it results in immoral waste, corruption, degradation], but be filled with the Spirit [i.e., continue to be filled with the Spirit]." There is a contrast between being filled with wine, on the one hand, and being filled with the Spirit, on the other. To be filled with wine, of course, is to be drunk. It is to be under the control and influence of alcohol; and to be under the control and influence of alcohol is to be out of self-control. So, Christians are not to be under the control of wine, but rather they are to be under the control of the Spirit. That does not mean that our faculties are in any sense suspended so that there is no exercise of our personal will. It does not mean that we are mindlessly carried along in some kind of mystical trance. If you are filled with the Spirit, then you will be in complete control of all your faculties, while being under the Spirit's control (though such an interrelationship is ultimately a mystery; we simply cannot analyze and understand how the Spirit works in and through our spirits). To be filled with the Spirit is to be surrendered to Him so that you do not give in to your passions, your desires, and your personal aspirations and ambitions. You are no longer in the 'driver's seat,' wanting the Lord to respond to your whims, and to confirm your decisions. No, you are under His control, and He directs and guides you, and you are simply to respond.

In being filled with the Spirit, one experiences the infusion of grace (i.e., power). Our thinking, our behaviour, our actions take on a true spiritual character. Accordingly, we read that the result of being filled with the Spirit should be "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father" (Eph. 5:19,20). The Spirit's infilling brings about a spiritual transformation of one's personality and disposition. There will be something spiritual about how you live, how you act, and how you behave. I remember listening to a well-known speaker a while ago and he spoke with crudity and crassness. I cringed while listening to him. There was a irreverence to what he had to say, and the impression that I received was that he probably was not filled with the Spirit. There are many people preaching who are not filled with the Spirit. What they say is true, but they make no impact. Conversely, I think of another preacher whom I had the privilege of hearing at the Peoples Church. When he stood to speak, there was a spiritual sheen about him (Remember, Moses had a spiritual sheen after being in the presence of the Lord). There was a real spiritual glow about him, and he made a spiritual impact upon us who listened to him. There was a witness in my spirit that this man was filled with the Spirit.

Spirit-infilling entails enhancement, boldness, and joy

So, to be filled with the Spirit entails this inner spiritual manifestation which has visible effects or results. Now, at least three specific elements are involved in being filled with the Spirit. First, if you are filled with the Spirit, there will be an enhancement of your spiritual disposition and of your gift(s). To be filled with the Spirit entails the release of spiritual energy. For example, when the gospel came to the Greeks who were at Antioch, the Church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to minister. We read, "Then when he had come and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord" (Acts 11:23). In seeing the mighty saving work of God in the hearts of these people, Barnabas, as a fellow-believer, was greatly affected. He was glad, and immediately sought to strengthen them in their faith; and he did so with determination. There was seemingly a spiritual intensity about his behaviour. He was committed to loving Christian service. Now, the reason for this kind of devotion and ministry was that "he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith" (Acts 11:24a). There was something spiritually peculiar about this man; with rejoicing, he dedicated himself to ministry, having seen the grace of God operative in the lives of these believers, though they were of a different racial background. Barnabas evidenced an enhancement of spiritual disposition and spiritual gift, and the result was that "considerable numbers were brought to the Lord" (Acts 4:24b).

In keeping with this enhancement of one's spiritual disposition, when one is filled with the Spirit, there is an accompanying confidence or boldness of character. Again, Acts 4:31 reads that when the disciples were filled with the Spirit "they began to speak the word of God with boldness." One who is filled with the Spirit of God does not care about the judgements of people; he does not care about people's criticisms and objections; he does not conform to the expectations of people, nor does he cater to their whims and pleasures. He is controlled by truth; and his only concern is to glorify God. One is no longer in a state of fear and emotional bondage. He or she enters into the fullness of freedom in Christ. Are you concerned about what people think about you, about how you worship and how you live, so that you cater to their expectations, and conform to their wishes and desires; or is there a confidence, a boldness, about you? We read of the apostle Peter, "Then Peter filled with the Spirit said to them..." (Acts 4:8a). What marked Peter's speaking? We read, "Now as they observed the confidence of Peter..." (Acts 4:13a). So, to be filled with the Spirit entails a confidence, or a spiritual assurance, which sustains the soul. Are you bold at work?...in a mixed company?...in your family?

Third, if you are filled with the Spirit, you will have the experience of joy. Joy accompanies Spirit-infilling. We read, "And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52). Earlier, we made reference to John the Baptist being filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb. This spiritual act was confirmed by the fact of the presence of joy. We read that his mother Elizabeth said, "For behold, when the sound of your [Mary] greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy" (Lu. 1:44).

In connection with this joy, the result of being filled with the Spirit, more generally, is that one will experience free and God-honouring worship. Joy is at the heart of true worship. Again, referring to Ephesians 5:18ff., we read that when one is filled with the Spirit, there is "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." If you are filled with the Spirit, you will praise God with gladness and speak of His glorious works with rejoicing (recall that Barnabas rejoiced when he saw the grace of God at work). I remember a number of years ago ministering to a Chinese young peoples' group in a very drab setting in downtown Toronto; but regardless of the appearance of that setting, the worship was marvelously uplifting. The Spirit was present. Have you ever been in a meeting like that? It does not matter what the setting is, you know that there is a spiritual transaction taking place because you are in the presence of God.

Spirit-infilling is with a view to witnessing

To be filled with the Spirit primarily has in view effective Christian witnessing. Personal growth or spiritual maturity is not primarily in view when we talk about being filled with the Spirit; though personal growth or spiritual maturity may be a by-product of such infilling. Spirit-infilling has more to do with serving God and fulfilling your calling than it does with living in an ethical way and doing what is right. That is, Spirit-infilling is not so much related to sanctification and godly living as it is to effectively testifying to the saving truth of God and to the glory of Christ. Thus, concerning the day of Pentecost, we read, "And they [the disciples] were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance" (Acts 2:4). With the infilling of the Spirit, these disciples were empowered to speak "the mighty deeds of God" (Acts 2:11b). Now, in this case, the disciples spoke in languages other than their native one, but this phenomenon was according to the Spirit's preference. It was the Spirit's decision. Tongue-speaking is not necessarily associated with being filled with the Spirit. Tongue-speaking was peculiar to the early church. It was simply a form chosen by the Spirit, at this point in redemptive history, through which the disciples bore powerful witness to God and Christ; and this is the main point concerning Spirit-infilling: one is empowered by the Spirit in order to bear witness concerning the saving work of the thrice holy God. Thus, prior to receiving the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, through which the disciples were filled with the Spirit, Jesus promised, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The Spirit's infilling is God's empowering; an empowering with a view to Christian witnessing.

All Christians are called to be witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot effectively fulfil this ministry without the Spirit's infilling. We are to bear witness through our lives and by our lips. We are to speak the truth and live the truth. We are to do this in the work place (when convenient), at the supermarket, on the public transit, etc. What has God called you to do in His kingdom? How does He want you to serve in His church? Regardless of your calling and ministry – whether a teacher, a helper, a giver, a leader, etc. – you will not be effective without the infilling of the Spirit. We need His power. The church of Christ needs His power. Let us pray God for such power.


~ 11 ~

The Power of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit sanctifies believers so that they may reflect the very image of Jesus Christ. He spiritually transforms the Christian's character. Now, God's power is the means by which the Spirit achieves this transforming work. Any spiritual accomplishment in the Christian's life, any progress in spiritual maturity, is only achieved by the display and exercise of God's personal power. Ephesians 3:14-21 reads, "For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened in power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen."

The Spirit is the Conveyor of God's power

The Spirit Himself conveys the divine power – "To be strengthened with power through [the mediation of] His Spirit" (3:16b). It is self-evident that the Spirit is the means and the Agent of power. For instance, when the angel Gabriel came to Mary to annunciate that she would conceive and bear the Son of the Living God, she inquired, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" (Lu. 1:34). Gabriel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, [which means] and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God" (Lu. 1:35). Again, Christ promised His apostles before His glorious ascension, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The Spirit's presence is synonymous with the power of God. Thus, to have the Spirit is to have God's power. A Christian should not seek the power of God in addition to the Spirit's presence, for in having the Spirit, he also has the power.

Power simply means 'energy which creates an effect' or, simply put, the 'ability to do or act.' Of course, when we think of divine power, we are thinking of limitless energy, boundless ability. Divine power, for instance, created the universe and raised the dead to life again. So, concerning the resurrection, we read the apostle Paul's prayer in Ephesians 1:18-20, "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us [or, 'in us' or 'unto us'] who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places."

What an incredible thought! Divine power resides in you, if you are a Christian. If you name the name of Christ as your personal Saviour, this power is available to you. Now, I am not saying that you should view yourself as a 'little god,' though some erroneously have professed such. What I am saying is this: Christians have an infinite, spiritual storehouse at their disposal. Do you believe that? The story is told of two Texan tourists who visited the Niagara Falls, and they were amazed at the grandeur of this great natural wonder of the world. One of them had been there before, and he said to his companion, "Come, I want you to see the bottom of the falls." When they arrived there, he said, "Do you see those falls, that is the greatest unused power in the world." And his companion retorted, "No, it is not. The Holy Spirit of the Living God is." That is true.

Ephesians 3:20 reads, "Now to Him who is able to do exceeding, abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us." We cannot even imagine, we cannot conceive, what God can do for us, and what He is doing for us, in keeping with the display of His potency. It does not naturally enter into our thinking the infinite proportions of spiritual reality which are open to our spiritual experience. Again, do you believe this? Because according to your faith, it shall be done unto you. Christians should not live defeated lives. That is a contradiction in terms. Christians should not be discouraged. They should not be emotionally debilitated. They should not be marked by deficiency (e.g. complaining that they do not have the courage to witness for Christ). No, Christians should be people marked by confidence. They ought to be doing exploits for God. God is the God of the impossible, having limitless power; and this God indwells your heart, if you are a Christian.

You may say, "Well, theoretically I believe that God is the God of the impossible. Theoretically I believe that this power is available; but, practically speaking, I have great difficulty accepting that." My friend, there ought not to be a gap between your theory and your practice. John 14:12,13 reads, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father [and send the Spirit]. And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." Do you believe this text? Do you notice that this passage teaches that you must meet two conditions before experiencing or releasing this power? First, there must be belief; and second, there must be prayer. My Christian friend, you must come to God and ask Him for faith to believe and grace to pray. We need a fresh visitation of God's Spirit. Is that a fool's dream? I don't think so. Either God's Word is true or it is not; and if it is true, let's act on that basis.

The Spirit strengthens through God's power

So, divine power is available to the Christian. Now, the Spirit employs this power to strengthen us – "To be strengthened with power through His Spirit" (3:16b). Logically speaking, power is the natural means of strengthening. Of course, we can be strengthened by other means: sleep, ginseng, exercise, etc. But, by far, the best source of strengthening is divine power. The natural design of this power (according to this text) is to overcome our infirmities, our liabilities, our limitations – all the weaknesses of the flesh. God's power made lame legs strong again. God's power caused blind eyes to see again. God's power made deaf ears hear again. God's power made faint hearts bold. God's power made the ignorant minds wise.

Because it's God's power, it is God's own strength we enjoy; and this is the wonder of it all. That is the mystery of spiritual union. Again, in Ephesians 1:19 the apostle Paul prays (do you notice again the emphasis on prayer) that believers might comprehend and experience the surpassing greatness of God's power. "These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might." God manifests His life in us. His own strength enables us. Thus, with His power and strength, nothing is impossible for those who believe. Similarly, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 reads, "And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me – to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." Do you notice the means by which one experiences strengthening with power? – the grace of God. From our side, we must show faith and we must pray; but from God's side, He must give grace. And so, the question is this: how do we secure this grace? How is this grace made possible for us? James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 read, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE."

The paradox is this: the humblest of saints is the strongest of servants. In your arrogance and pride, you will know nothing, absolutely nothing, of the power, strength, and supply of God. You can make a profession of faith, you can confess the orthodox doctrines of the faith, and still not have an 'ounce' of holy power in your life; and thus have no sense of victory or success. You show me a humble saint, and I will show you one on whom the power of Christ is resting; and he will do exploits for God. Do you need to humble yourself? Do you think too highly of yourself and your accomplishments? Do you think too much of your position and status? Has God been speaking to you about pride? If you do not humble yourself, God will humble you. If you are a child of God, you will either humble yourself or He will break you so that you will humble yourself. Either you will do it willingly, or He may do it painfully.

So, God gives grace to the humble; and in that grace, there is power for strengthening. God's strengthening counters despair and replaces it with hope. His strengthening counters hatred and replaces it with love. His strengthening counters foolishness and replaces it with wisdom. His strengthening counters harshness and cruelty and replaces them with compassion and kindness. His strengthening counters moral impurity and replaces it with holiness. His strengthening counters lack of self-control and replaces it with temperance, etc.

The Spirit's strengthening with God's power produces infinite, spiritual growth

The Spirit's strengthening by means of divine power has a particular end – spiritual transformation – "strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man [that is, in the heart, in the personality, with all its depths and aspects]; so that, Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (3:16b,17a). The power that is revealed in strengthening produces a spiritual experience of fellowship with the indwelling Christ. What this verse teaches is that if there is no power, then there is no spiritual life. It does not matter how well you 'talk the talk'; if there is no power, there is no spiritual life. Through divine power, faith is created and strengthened. Faith is the necessary instrument to receive and experience all of the spiritual blessings and graces of God. Brother Lawrence, in his book The Practice of the Presence of God, says, "All that I have heard men tell concerning God, that I have read myself, or perceived of Him in my mind, cannot content me. Infinite in His perfection, how can He be portrayed or how can man find words to picture Him? Faith alone can reveal Him or tell me what He is; by faith I learn more of God, and in a very little time, than I could do in the schools after many a long year. Oh! Faith, faith; oh! marvelous virtue, which illumines the spirit of man, and leads him on to the knowledge of his Creator. Oh! virtue altogether lovely, so little known, and still less practiced, yet which, once known, is so glorious, so full of unspeakable Blessing" (p. 109).

Only the instrument of faith can tap into and access the grace of God; and that is the design of the strengthening of God. He strengthens our faith so that we may appropriate and possess the living Christ; so that we may experience Christ in all His fullness in the depths of our being. A strengthened faith experiences and enjoys the glorious reality of the living Christ. Faith makes the indwelling Christ overwhelmingly real. Faith does not create that reality; it simply acknowledges it; and, of course, the deeper the faith, the deeper the spiritual communion. The point is this: we can experience more and more of the indwelling Christ; there are infinite depths still unknown. Oh, doesn't that move your heart?

Further, simultaneous to this strengthening of faith is the strengthening of love. You see, it is a 'package deal.' When God strengthens us in the inner man, not only are we strengthened in faith, but we are strengthened in love, we are strengthened in patience, we are strengthened in wisdom, etc. But here the emphasis is love – "being rooted and grounded in love" (Eph. 3:17b). Love can take deep root in our hearts and overflow through all our actions and behaviour through the strengthening of the Spirit. As with faith, love can grow endlessly. The strengthening of the Spirit opens up unlimited spiritual possibilities. Thus, we read further, "[So that we] may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth" (3:18). Four dimensions! We physically live in a three dimensional world; yet, spiritually, we can simultaneously experience and enjoy a four dimensional world – the life and fellowship of Jesus Christ. This text is teaching that our spiritual life and experience can be of infinite proportions. God's Spirit strengthens us by God's power in order to enlarge our hearts so that we may, in some sense, comprehend both the infinite, and (as we shall see) the incomprehensible. Only divine power can accomplish the impossible and unthinkable; a power which is limitless, and thus is unrestricted.

In being strengthened in faith and love (and hope), you acquire spiritual capacity and ability to grasp transcendent spiritual realities. What this text is teaching is that you exist on a different plain in walking and fellowshiping with God. By the Spirit's power, a believer enters more into the very life and heart of God. We cannot fully understand this, but it is true. Does this possibility make you thirsty to know the glorious depths of God; not simply to know about God, but to know the glorious depths of God, as well as that inexpressible communion? Is it any wonder that the apostle Paul ends this line of reasoning by stating, "And to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God" (3:19).

What?!? "To be filled up [not with some of God but] to all the fullness of God." How is that possible? I do not know, but it is true. God's power, as ministered by His Spirit, allows believers to experience the depths of God and to know His thoughts (1 Cor. 2:9ff.). Wonder of wonders, He enlarges our hearts to contain Himself; even though "the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain Him" (2 Chr. 2:6; 6:18). Do you believe that? Is it any wonder that the apostle Paul breaks into doxology. When you are confronted with the immensity, the awesomeness, and the greatness of God, all you can do is worship. So the apostle Paul concludes, "To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen" (3:20,21). As Christians, we stand amazed at the majestic reality of God. He deserves worship.

What do you think? Do you want this life and experience? Are you thirsty? I trust that you are; but we must do what the apostle Paul did, and what he recommends. Notice Ephesians 3:14ff.; he says, "For this reason [in understanding the glory of the Gospel and the wonders of God's grace in salvation; in having received the revelation of the mystery, that hidden wisdom], I bow my knees [I enter in to this posture of humble, dependent prayer] before the Father [and I pray] that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory [i.e., in keeping with the expression of His excellence], to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man." Paul recommends praying. So, in order to experience the depths of God's life and fellowship, one thing that a Christian must do is pray and wait upon the Lord. God will choose the time, He will choose the hour, of His visitation. He makes the appointment with your spirit; and when He commands, "Let these dry bones live," you will live.