The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Baptism with the Holy Spirit – Described, Definite, Distinct, and Dynamic Gift of God

The disciples of Jesus had been taught by the greatest Teacher of all time for three years. They witnessed firsthand His many miracles. They watched the fulfillment of prophecy in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. Jesus laid out His Great Commission to them. Finally they saw Jesus ascend into heaven. But despite all of this knowledge and experience, Jesus said there was one thing more they needed. They needed to be empowered by receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

 How much more do we need this empowerment?  The Book of Acts is all about what happens when the Spirit comes in His baptizing fire. The birth of the church and the acts of the apostles are all incidental to the coming of the Spirit. Education and experience are not enough to prepare one for ministry and service to the Lord. According to Jesus His disciples needed to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things . . . . but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:47-49).

 The baptism with the Holy Spirit is described in scripture in various ways. It is referred to as,   “the Promise of My Father” (Luke 24:49), as being, “endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49), “the Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4-5), “baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mat. 3:11; Luke 3:16), “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5; 11:16), “filled with the Holy Spirit” Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9, 52), “the Holy Spirit will come upon you” (Acts 1:8),  “the Holy Spirit fell on them” (Acts 10:44; 11:15, 16), and “all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19).

In R.A. Torrey’s book, The Baptism with the Holy Spirit[1]  he emphatically states that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is always connected with either testimony or service (e.g. Acts 1:4-5, 8; 2:4; 4:31, 33). He states the power of the Holy Spirit manifests  itself through spiritual gifting determined by the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit and for the benefit of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:4, 8-11).

Peter described the baptism with the Holy Spirit as, “purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9). Peter associated the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with heart purification. What keeps us from living and ministering in the power of the Spirit? More often than not the obstacles to being empowered by the Spirit involve faith sapping fears and inhibitions, or a general dullness in spirit. When the Spirit comes in fullness, He comes in response a prayerful call of  one fully surrendered to Him. The Spirit then cleanses the heart of impurities, of sinful selfish, self-reliant and self-promoting desires or lusts. He purifies us so He can reign supreme and be in full control. 

The baptism with the Holy Spirit is a definite and knowable experience. Jesus told the disciples to “tarry” or wait in Jerusalem until they received the Baptism with the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). This command would have been nonsensical unless it was possible for those waiting to know when they had received what Jesus told them to wait for. If the apostles and disciples could be baptized with the Holy Spirit and not know it, then they wouldn’t know how long to wait. There would have been no distinctive sign or indication when they had received what Jesus wanted them to have.
The baptism with the Holy Spirit is separate and distinct from regeneration. In the Book of Acts the baptism with the Holy Spirit is either concurrent (e.g. Acts 10) or subsequent (e.g. Acts 8 and 19) to regeneration or being born again of the Spirit. The Baptism is subsequent to regeneration and being born of the Spirit because a person cannot receive this Promise of the Father unless they have first been born again and indwelled by the Holy Spirit.

 Paul asked the Ephesian disciples “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”(Acts 19:2). The KJV translation of this verse states, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit since you believed” (emphasis added). This better conveys the subsequent nature of this empowering work. They had “believed.” The Greek Aorist tense of “believed” conveys the idea of a completed or punctiliar action. Jesus had taught the regenerative work of the Spirit in which a believer experiences the new birth of the Spirit or being born again (John 3). He had breathed on His disciples and told them to “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). Therefore, they had believed. They had been indwelled by the Spirit. Paul’s awareness of their believing was not merely  referring to their regeneration. It was referring to the Spirit’s empowering. Paul is speaking about something after their initial conversion. Why would Paul ask this unless receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit was a recognizable experience?
The baptism with the Holy Spirit is dynamic gift. As children of our loving heavenly Father anything He promises is worth having. God loves us and wants what is best for us. That should settle it for us. And God offers the promise of the Spirit as a gift to be received by faith (Acts 15:9). Simply ask. Simply receive. (Luke 11:9-13).   

In His book The Way to Pentecost Samuel Chadwick states there are a number of powerful benefits of God’s promised baptism with the Holy Spirit. He gleans seven benefits from Romans 8. What are they?
First, Chadwick states when the Spirit comes in power he liberates and delivers the Christian from sins that entangle (Heb. 12:1). Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty (2 Cor. 3:17-18). The Holy Spirit comes to free us from entangling sinful habits that hinder our usefulness to God. We receive a newfound power over our flesh.

Secondly, the baptism with the Holy Spirit provides a new vitality. The Holy Spirit strengthens us inwardly and gives us a new vitality (2 Cor. 4:16). When the burden of the flesh is lifted there can be an even physical energizing of the person.

Thirdly, the baptism with the Holy Spirit provides a heightened spiritual acuity;  a deeper  illumination and understanding of God’s word. This is what we see in Peter on the day of Pentecost. All the pieces of the puzzle came together for Peter as he proclaimed Jesus. The Holy Spirit brings to mind the teachings of Christ (John 14:26). He leads us into God’s truth (John 16:13; 17:17; cf. also 1 Cor. 2:9-14).
Fourth, the Spirit brings a newfound desire to pray. We are spiritually weak and prone to neglect prayer. When the Holy Spirit comes He helps us in that weakness and helps us pray (Rom. 8:26-27). Chadwick states, “That is the secret to prevailing prayer.” [2]

Fifth, the Spirit’s empowering baptism brings power. Jesus said when the Spirit comes we will receive power (Acts 1:8). When the Spirit comes we are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37-39). When the Spirit comes we have power to witness.

Sixth, the baptism with the Spirit brings the fire of God (Matthew 3:11). “Fire is the chosen symbol of heaven for moral passion. It is emotion aflame. God is love; God is fire. The two are one. The Holy Spirit baptizes in fire. Spirit-filled souls are ablaze for God. They love with a love that glows. They believe with a faith that kindles. They serve with a devotion that consumes. They hate sin with a fierceness that burns. They rejoice with a joy that radiates. Love id perfected in the Fire of God. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” [3]

 Lastly, the baptism with the Holy Spirit brings a passion for souls. Romans 8 is followed by Romans 9 and 10. Paul expresses a deep burden and sorrow for the lostness of Israel. Paul testified, “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart” for lost Israel. He even went so far as to say he would give up his own salvation for the sake of lost Israel! That said by someone who knew the deep consequences of such a thing (Rom. 9:1-3). Paul said,” my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” Romans 10:1).

This is what we need. We need the holy life of the Holy Spirit. We need energy, spiritual insight, passionate and powerful prayers of fire. We need the fire of God and His passion for the lost. We need the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Do you have it?  Do you want it? Just ask the Father and receive it.

[1] R.A. Torrey, The Baptism with the Holy Spirit (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Pub. 1972).

[2] Samuel Chadwick, The Way to Pentecost, (Fort Washington, PA: CLC Pub., 2000. First published in 1932). P. 57
[3] Samuel Chadwick, The Way to Pentecost, (Fort Washington, PA: CLC Pub., 2000. First published in 1932). P. 57

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What’s Missing in the Church Today?

Why isn’t the church making sufficient impact in the world today? There are churches with large numbers of people, but these large numbers of people frequently do not equate with a proportionally changed world. There are studies that show little difference between those in and outside the church. Studies don’t always reflect reality. But still, we look at our own nation and see it trending toward an acceptance and toleration of what scripture would define as gross sin. Where is our holy effect? Much of “the church” is changing to fit the mold of society instead of changing society. The early church turned the world upside down. Today the church is being turned upside down by the world. Why is this? What’s missing in the church today?

At the end of the gospels Jesus gave the Great Commission. He then instructed the disciples to “tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). To “tarry” means literally to sit down and wait. In the Book of Acts we begin with Jesus also instructing His disciples to stay in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them to give them power (Acts 1:4-5). The disciples needed power to fulfill the Great Commission and that power would come at Pentecost (Luke 24:48-49; Acts 1:8; 2:1ff.). There is something very important for us to recognize here.

What can be said about the disciples prior to Pentecost? In the Gospels we see Jesus with the power to forgive sins. He pronounced the sins of the paralytic “forgiven,” (Mat. 9:2, 6; Mark 2:5-12), He forgave the sins of the woman who anointed His feet with oil (Luke 7:47-50).  He said salvation had come to Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). If Jesus forgave the sins of these, why not His own disciples?  

The names of the disciples were “written in heaven” (Luke 10:20; compare with Rev. 20:15; 21:27). They were apparently drawn by the Father to Jesus (John 6:44). They had forsaken all to follow Him (Mark 10:28-30). Jesus sent them out with power to heal, cast out demons, and do mighty signs (Mat. 10:5-8; Mark 6:8-13; Luke 9:2-6; 12:2-10). They were pronounced “clean” by Jesus (Jn. 13:10; 15:3; compare with James 1:18 and 1 Peter 1:23). They were the branches of Jesus the Vine (John 15:5). They were “given” to Jesus by the Father “out of the world” (Jn. 17:6). They kept Jesus’ word (Jn. 17:6). Jesus said “they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You” (Jn. 17:7). They had experienced change and come close to Jesus.

 The disciples received heaven sent illumination. Peter received Divine revelation (Mat. 16:16-18). Jesus said, “they have received” His words (Jn. 17:8). They believed Jesus had the words of eternal life (John 6:68). Jesus said, “they have known surely that I came forth from You” (Jn. 17:8). Earlier Jesus said He is “known by My own” (John 10:14). Jesus said, “they have believed” (Jn. 17:8). Jesus said “these have known that You sent Me” i.e. known the Father (Jn. 17:25). Jesus said those who believe in Him have everlasting life (John 6:47).

 The disciples believed Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69). Jesus said, “they are Yours” i.e. the Father’s and “Mine” i.e. Jesus’ (Jn. 17:9-10). They were given by the Father to Jesus (Jn. 17:11).  Jesus “kept them” and “none of them is lost” (except Judas) (Jn. 17:12). Jesus said, “they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (Jn. 17:14, and 16). Jesus called, they followed (Mat. 4:19-20). They were commissioned by Jesus to fulfill His Great Commission (Mat. 28:18-20).

 These disciples had come under the influence of Jesus and opened to the Spirit. Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). They had “great joy” and praised the Lord in the Temple before Pentecost (Luke 24:51-53). They prayed with one accord together while waiting for the Promise of the Father (Acts 1:14).  

 In light of all of this, there can be little doubt that these disciples were saved, born again, and regenerated by the Spirit of God before Pentecost. Why is it important that we see that the disciples were born again and saved prior to Pentecost? These disciples, (some of whom became Jesus’ apostles) received the best possible seminary education. They spent three years with the greatest Teacher of all time and eternity. They witnessed Jesus teaching, His miracles of healing (the blind made to see; the lame made to walk; lepers healed); they saw Jesus walk on water and still the storm; they participated in Jesus feeding 4,000 and 5,000 with a few morsels of food. They saw Jesus give His life in the atoning death on the cross. They saw Him rise from the dead, just as He said He would. Then finally they saw Him ascend into heaven. They heard and saw all of this and still they were not prepared or suited to go out into the mission field to fulfill the Great Commission. They retreated to an upper room.

 Jesus said they needed something more before they went out on His Great Commission. Who of us or anyone since these pre-Day-of-Pentecost times could claim a better preparation for ministry and life than the disciples of Jesus? What did they need? They needed the baptism with the Holy Spirit. How much more do we need this empowerment? 

 The Book of Acts is all about what happens when Jesus sends the Spirit upon His people. The birth of the church and the acts of the apostles are all incidental to the coming of the Spirit. Education and even experience alone are not enough to prepare one for ministry and service to the Lord. According to Jesus His apostles and disciples needed to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. The testimony of the Book of Acts confirms this. The means of empowerment referred to by Jesus is the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

The baptism with the Holy Spirit is definite and knowable experience. Jesus told the apostles and disciples to “tarry” or wait in Jerusalem until they received the Baptism with the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). This command would have been nonsensical unless it was possible for those waiting to know when they had received what Jesus told them to wait for. If the apostles and disciples could be baptized with the Holy Spirit and not know it, then they wouldn’t know how long to wait.
Later in Acts Paul asks the Ephesian disciples, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”(Acts 19:2, 6; cf. also Acts 8:14-17). Paul is speaking of something after their initial conversion. Paul’s inquiry shows us receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a necessary, important and a recognizable subsequent experience. The Baptism is subsequent to regeneration and being born of the Spirit. A person cannot receive this Promise of the Father unless they have first been born again and indwelled by the Holy Spirit.

In R.A. Torrey’s book, The Baptism with the Holy Spirit[1]  he emphatically states that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is always connected with service (Acts 1:4-5, 8; 2:4; 4:31, 33). The power of the Holy Spirit manifests  itself through His spiritual gifting determined by His sovereign will for the benefit of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:4, 8-11).

In Acts 15:8-9 Peter describes the baptism with the Holy Spirit saying, “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.” Peter associated the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with empowering heart purification received by faith.

The baptism with the Holy Spirit is received by faith. Therefore, like in Acts, humbly pray and repent of sin. Then ask the Lord for it. God wants to bless us with the Spirit (Luke 11:13). This promise is for us just as much as it was for the early disciples (Acts 2:39). If we know it is God’s will, then ask and receive by faith (1 John 5:14-15). Just believe and receive (Mark 11:24).  

 What keeps the church from turning the world upside down? What are we missing? We are missing the power and purity of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Like the early church we need to get serious in prayer. We need to sit down and wait for the baptism with the Holy Spirit. We have impulsively gone out ahead of the Spirit. We have chased worldly tactics. We have been distracted from what is most important and necessary to represent God effectively. Like a soldier running to battle naked instead of arrayed in their full battle dress, we are trying to fight metal with flesh. We need the full armor, the full provision of God. Search the scriptures. We need to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. God revive us. Baptize us with Your Holy Spirit and fire. Glorify Yourself in and through us.

[1] R.A. Torrey, The Baptism with the Holy Spirit (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Pub. 1972).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

God Always Meets our Needs

Philippians 4:19 - And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

God always meets our needs. This is the promise of God in Philippians 4:19. God has promised to supply, sufficiently, by His grace, for all our needs (2 Cor. 9:8-10). We may not get what we want. But we will always have our needs met in Christ. God’s promise is that the righteous will not have to beg for bread (Ps. 37:25). If we are lacking “bread” we need to do an inventory and prayerfully come before the Lord to search us to see if there is any outstanding issue in our lives or reason for such a condition. Many times our definition of a “need” is God’s definition of a “want.” God is rich and He is generous. But God is not frivolous. God owns everything. “The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). If you are missing something make sure it is a “need” and make sure you haven’t overlooked God’s way of providing for you. God also says we need to work and He provides work for us to meet our needs (2 Thess. 3:10). Examine yourself and your situation and be content with God’s supply.

Jesus watched a widow make a less than two cents donation and said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” (Luke 21:3-4). God’s way of figuring finances is different from ours. This widow expressed her faith with her money. She gave not on the basis of what she had, but on the basis of what she knew God had. The rich gave larger offerings. But their giving required no faith. Their giving cost them nothing. Their giving was safe. Her giving cost her everything. Her giving was risky. The widow gave her meager best and trusted the Lord for the rest. She gave in faith trusting God to support her. How we deal with finances tell us a lot about our faith.

The economies of the world are in shambles and on life support. An age of sought after ease is bringing us to our economic knees. Citizens regardless of economic status have been caught up in an evil spirit of entitlement. We are in a national debate over stimulation packages filled with pork and false promises of renewed prosperity. At the root of this dilemma is a love of money; greed. America is amongst the richest nations on earth.  Money is our true god. Money is what we live for. Money makes our world go round. We feel safe or scared based on our savings or pension plans. Our attitude is determined by how our investments are doing. Our moods swing with the mortgage rates. Our heart beats to the rise and fall of the dollar. We are running after riches.  And what really exposes our human bankruptcy is that these things are too often found in the Church.

When we run after riches we run away from God (1 John 2:15-17). Money and the things of this world pose a great temptation.  The Christian is called to trust God and invest in heavenly wealth (Matthew 6).  Money is a means to an end. But it often becomes the end. Money is a powerful tool in ministry but not the aim of ministry. The great danger is being compromised by currency.

Biblical accounts help us avoid the pitfalls and sins of our predecessors (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:6). Abraham and Lot give us a good example of the dangers of running after riches. In Genesis it states, “And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere . . . . And he [Abram] gave him a tithe of all” (Genesis 13:10; 14:20). The context here is that Abraham, (the uncle of Lot) and Lot had to part ways because of the growth of their flocks. These two verses contrast how Lot and Abraham determined to move. Lot lusted after wealth. Abraham walked in faith.

Lot moved according to the wealth he saw before him.  Lot walked by sight not by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). He made decisions without consulting God (Genesis 13:11). He pitched his tent near Sodom (Genesis 13:12-13). Then he actually dwelt in Sodom, an exceedingly wicked place of sin (Genesis 13:13:14:12). He was willing to put his family at risk for the sake of wealth. His race for riches resulted in being caught in a war and captivity (Genesis 14:11-16). Even after this dangerous encounter Lot never took sin seriously. His preoccupation with wealth led him to a prominent part in the sinful city of Sodom. When Sodom was judged by God Lot barely escaped with his family. His children had lost respect for him. His wife was turned to a pillar of salt because of her lust for luxury in Sodom. After his escape Lot got drunk, committed incest and impregnated his two daughters (Genesis 19). He had run after riches and run down his faith. This is an ugly story. Lot shows us the ragged end of running after riches. What are you running after?

Abraham ran God’s course. He acted in faith and based his life decisions on his relationship with God (Genesis 14:17-24). He wasn’t perfect (Genesis 16). But Abraham was a man of faith. He trusted the Lord to provide as He guided him (Genesis 15; 17; Romans 4). Abraham knew all that he had was from the Lord. Evidence of this is seen by his tithing to the Lord after victory (Genesis 14:20). Notice this act of tithing (“tithe” means giving a tenth or 10% of gross income) was before the Law was given. Those who excuse themselves from giving a tenth of their income to God based on a supposed imposition of the Law are mistaken according to Abraham’s example. Jesus encouraged tithing (Matthew 23:23). Abram demonstrated his faith by living the motto where God guides God provides.  He tithed by faith. Do we?

We can guard against running after riches by keeping a few things in mind.  Running after riches will make you forget God (Deuteronomy 8:13-14; 1 John 2:15-17). Running after riches hinders your spiritual growth and journey to heaven (Matthew 19:23; Mark 4:19; 2 Timothy 2:4). Running after riches leads to many temptations (1 Timothy 6:9). Running after riches leads to disappointment (Matthew 6:19; Mark 10:17-27; James 5:3). Realize everything is from God (Deuteronomy 8:18; 1 Chronicles 29:12; Ecclesiastes 5:19; Hosea 2:8; James 1:17). Realize what we have belongs to God;  we are merely stewards of it (Genesis 14:20-24; Psalm 50:10-12; Malachi 3:7-12; Luke 16:1-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; Revelation 3:17-18).Rely on God to provide for your needs (Psalm 34:10; 37:25; 84:11; 105:40-41; 145:16; Matthew 6:19-34; Philippians 4:10-19). Stewardship is the management of material, human, and spiritual resources. God speaks a lot about it in His word. For those who doubt God cares about material things, or worse, doesn’t care about how we buy, sell, earn and spend, read the sample of scriptures on this topic laced throughout this study.

God will always provide for our needs. But when we confuse wants with needs Satan our enemy and our fleshly sinful nature will use this confusion in priorities to skew our view of God and His loving care for us. When we think our wants are our needs and find that God does not support our indulgences, the enemy and our flesh will whisper in our ear, “See, God isn’t true to His promise. See, He really doesn’t provide for you. See, He can’t be trusted. He doesn’t love you as much as He states in His word. You can’t trust His word!”

Good stewardship and rightly separating essential needs from things we merely want will free us from the bondage of things as well as clear our spiritual ear to hear from the Lord. God always meets our needs. He sometimes will grant a want. But more often than not He will save us from our wants. Like a child who thinks a diet of candy and ice cream is best, God sets the sweet temptations aside and puts the solid food of His word on our plate (1 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12, 14). Where God guides, God provides. If you lack provision, maybe you have faulty stewardship vision. Learn to live simply in relation to the things of this world. Jesus said, “Life does not consist in the abundance of things” (Luke 12:15). Be “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). God always meets our needs. “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Prov. 10:22). Remember that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Don’t give up – PRAY!

Acts 12:5 – “Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”

The early disciples of Acts were people of prayer. Their prayers were often spurred on by persecution and imprisonment. In Acts 12 their leader James had been executed. When Herod saw that the execution of James pleased the people he arrested Peter too.  Peter was now in prison with a similar fate hanging over his head. It was scary to see the leaders of the church being picked off one by one. These early Christians really had little alternative but to pray.  

Prayer is a declaration of dependence upon God. The way the early disciples got through trying times was by prayer. They reached outside of themselves and called out to God in their predicament of persecution. That is always the best response in trying times, call out to God.

Today we similarly see the enemy coming in like a flood. God’s promise is that the Spirit would lift up a standard against him (cf. Isaiah 59:19). But too often the church has turned to politics, the legal system, advertising, demonstrating, leveraging, and the modern social networking to battle. While these options have their place, they are all impotent without prayer and the empowerment of the Spirit.

John Wesley was a man of prayer and he was mightily used by God to turn the nation of England around in times not dissimilar to the ones we are seeing in our nation. In trying times of opposition Wesley stated, “You need not utterly despair even of those who for the present ‘turn again and rend you.’ For if all your arguments and persuasives fail, there is yet another remedy left, and one that is frequently found effectual, when no other method avails. This is prayer. Therefore, whatsoever you desire or want, either for others or for your own soul, ‘Ask, and it shall be given you.’” [i] My brothers and sisters, we need to pray.

John Chrysostom, the 4th century archbishop of Constantinople known as “the golden tongued orator,” spoke out fervently against the abuse of authority in and outside of church. He eloquently spoke of the power of prayer stating, “The potency of prayer hath subdued the strength of fire; it had bridled the rage of lions, hushed anarchy to rest, extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, assuaged diseases, repelled frauds, rescued cities from destruction, stayed the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt. Prayer is an all-efficient panoply, a treasure undiminished, a mine which is never exhausted, a sky unobscured by clouds, a heaven unruffled by the storm. It is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings.” [ii] My brothers and sisters, we need to pray.

 Prayer should be our first and most fervent response in situations such as the one we see in Acts 12. We should always be praying (1 Thessalonians 5:17). The prayer described in verse 5 is “constant.” What is “constant” prayer? The word “constant” is translated from the Greek term ektenes which means, “intense, intent, without ceasing, fervent.” This word can be further traced to the root word ekteino which is formed by adding the prefix ek which means out of, or from within to the word teino which means “to stretch; to extend . . .  cast, put forth, stretch forth (out).”  The prayer offered by the church for Peter in this predicament was prayer that was intense and fervent. It stretched them to the limits.

Sometimes people can see prayer as a manipulative work which leverages God to answer them in a favorable way. This fails to grasp the heart of God who desires to answer our prayers and does so in a way that is best and in line with His perfect will (e.g. Luke 11:13). At other times people go to the other extreme and allow their prayers to be half-hearted, casual, emotionless wrongly thinking that emotional prayer is somehow spiritually superficial or a lack of faith in God’s grace. That is just as faulty a view of prayer. When we pray, we should always put our heart in it. When we pray, we should never allow our words to be casual, neglectful or presumptive. When we pray, we should pray with all our heart. That is the kind of prayer we see in Acts 12:5.

What kind of prayer is constant prayer? In Gethsemane Jesus prayed “more earnestly” (en agonia ektenesteron). Jesus prayed constantly.  “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44). Similarly, in Hebrews it describes Jesus’ praying as, “vehement cries and tears” to God as he approached the cross (Heb. 5:7). Jesus prayed with all His heart. So should we.

E.M. Bounds described constant prayer as, “to pray till hell feels the ponderous stroke, to pray till the iron gates of difficulty are opened, till the mountains of obstacles are removed, till the mists are exhaled and the clouds are lifted, and the sunshine of cloudless day brightens – this is hard work, but it is God’s work and man’s best labor.” [iii] God does the work, but in His sovereign plan He requires we participate in His work through prayer requests that are fervent, intense, sincere, from our heart.

 A biblical word related to constancy in prayer is “fervency.” In The Necessity of Prayer Bounds writes about fervency in prayer saying: “Prayers must be red hot. It is the fervent prayer that is effectual and availeth. Coldness of spirit hinders praying; prayer cannot live in a wintry atmosphere. Chilly surroundings freeze out petitioning; and dry up the springs of supplication. It takes fire to make prayers go. Warmth of soul creates an atmosphere favorable to prayer, because it is favorable to fervency. By flame, prayer ascends to heaven. Yet fire is not fuss, nor heat, noise. Heat is intensity – something that glows and burns. Heaven is a mighty poor market for ice.  . . . The Holy Spirit comes as a fire, to dwell in us; . . . Our Lord warns us against feeble praying. ‘Men ought always to pray,’ He declares, ‘and not to faint.’ That means that we are to possess sufficient fervency to carry us through the severe and long periods of pleading prayer. Fire makes one alert and vigilant, and bring shim off more than a conqueror. . . . Fervency has its seat in the heart, not in the brain, nor in the intellectual faculties of the mind . . . It is not in our power, perhaps, to create fervency of spirit at will, but we can pray God to implant it. ”  [iv]

Epaphras is an example of one who was known for “laboring fervently . . . in prayers” (Col. 4:12). The word “fervently” comes from the Greek term agonidzomai  and has the meaning of, “to struggle, . . . to compete for a prize . . . to contend with an adversary, . . . to endeavor to accomplish something . . . fight, labor fervently, strive.” Prayer can involve a great struggle; an agony in our hearts battling against satanic enemies and stretching our hand out to God for answers and help.

We need to call out to God and ask Him to fire up our prayers. The fellowship of believers in prayer can help us find the fire of the Spirit in prayer. Paul wrote: “Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me,”  (Rom. 15:30). The word “strive” here is a derivative of agonidzomai and is sunagonidzomai which means, “to struggle in company with, . . . strive together with.”  God helps us acquire the fire of fervency in prayer by coming together with other believers. In Acts 12 we see the Church coming together to pray intensely and fervently for the situation with Peter. And it is in such fiery fervent prayer that the Spirit acts.

If ever there was a time in the church, our nation and in this world when constant prayer was needed, this is it. If we ever want the church of today to be a New Testament Book of Acts type of church where the Holy Spirit is acting, we need to come together and get serious in constant prayer. I pray you will join me in constant prayer for revival. We need a fresh baptism with the Holy Spirit on the church to the glory of God. When God’s people pray, captives are set free and God’s word grows and multiplies (Acts 12:24). Don’t give up. PRAY!

[i] E.M. Bounds, The Possibilities of Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI:Baker Book House) 1979 edition of 1923 issue of book. Page 16.
[ii] E.M. Bounds, Purpose in Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House) 1978 edition of book originally published in 1920, Page 32
[iii] E.M. Bounds, Purpose in Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House) 1978 edition of book originally published in 1920, Page 95
[iv] E.M. Bounds, The Necessity of Prayer  (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House) 1981. Page56, 58,59

Friday, June 1, 2012

Perfecting Holiness? - Part 2

2 Corinthians 7:1 - Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

We have considered how there are a lot of perverse selfish things in this world and when we entertain them they sinfully stain us deeply. But those stains can be cleansed from our system. How might this happen? The answer is, “perfecting holiness.”

The word “perfecting” comes from a Greek Present Tense of the verb epiteleo which conveys an ongoing process. It’s going to take a lifetime to complete the holy work God has planned for us. Epiteleo means, “to fulfill further or completely.” It means to execute a task. It means to finish something. It means to work until something is terminated. And it means performing until the end.  In other words, we are to press on and persevere in the process set before us.. And what is that endeavor we are to press on to complete? We are to press on to the end of holiness.

There is a sense in which God’s righteousness and holiness is imputed to a believer (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the standing of all believers (John 1:12-13; Romans 8:1). This is why all believers are referred to as “saints” or literally holy ones (2 Corinthians 1:1). But there is a sense in which holiness is imparted in a very practical way to believers. This is the state of believers (1 John 2:1-2; Hebrews 10:14). There is a process of sanctification or making one holy in life and conduct that God starts and continues in the person who is saved from their sin and born again spiritually. It is this later work of God in the believer that Paul is speaking about in these chapters.  Remember, when a person is born again, they are regenerated by the Holy Spirit who indwells them (John 3:5; Rom. 8:9-11). Once within the Holy Spirit starts and will bring to completion the holy work of God in us.

The word “holiness” comes from the Greek term hagiosune which means, “sacredness.” It refers to the property or quality of holiness. Something that is sacred is “dedicated or set apart for the service or worship . . . .” That which is sacred is “devoted exclusively to one service or use.” The road to God’s cleansing involves the process of becoming completely set apart for His use. The Spirit within enables us to fully surrender to God. The Spirit within helps us offer and present our lives to God as a holy sacrifice. Holiness in is essence is worship of God.

God calls all those who follow Him to live a holy life (1 Peter 1:15-16). It is God’s will that we live a holy life (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). Without holiness we will not see the Lord; we won’t experience Him the way we should (Hebrews 12:14-15). Holiness involves a choice on our part to present ourselves to God for holy purposes (Romans 6:19a). How about you? Are you even interested in living a holy life? God calls every believer to holiness. Will you commit your life to God for this purpose, now?

Holiness is God’s work in us. It involves being freed from sin (Romans 6:20-22; 8:26; Philippians 2:13). The Bible says God disciplines us so that we can partake of His holiness (Hebrews 10:14). Biblical holiness is something to be learned (Ephesians 4:20-21a). It is based on the truth of Jesus (Ephesians 4:21b).The scalpel which God uses to perform His holy surgery is the word of God (Heb. 4:12).

There is something about the word of God that cleanses. Jesus told His disciples, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). Jesus sanctifies and cleanses His bride the church with the “washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26). As we take in and heed the word of God and in the power of the Spirit apply it to our lives, the result in cleansing. The Spirit washes away the old and renews us (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Biblical holiness is God’s love overflowing us. Holiness is loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-31). This was an object of prayer by Paul on behalf of other believers (Romans 5:5; Eph. 3:14-21; 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13). Paul said in the last days people would be lovers of self and the things of this world. He said some would have a “form of godliness” but would deny its power” (2 Tim. 3:1-5). Isn’t that what a self-centered, self-loving, preoccupied Christian is? Who do you love supremely, yourself or God? Really, is there evidence for your claim in the way you live? “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23).

There is a holy perspective we are to have in this ongoing process of the holy life. That perspective is “in the fear of God.” The fear of God refers to a reverential awe toward God. The closer we draw to God the more clearly we will see our sin (e.g. Isaiah 6). The closer we draw to God, to Jesus, the more able to turn from sin we will be (John 15). We are to have a consciousness of God and who He is. God is holy and calls those who follow Him to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). He holds our eternal destinies in His hand. We are to work out our pursuit of holiness in reverence and awe of our Holy God (Philippians 2:12).

But there is another way of looking at the fear of the Lord. Let me illustrate. I love my wife very much. And because I love my wife so much, I would never intentionally do anything that would bring her sadness or pain. In fact, I am so in love with my wife and so serious about not doing anything that would bring her sorrow or pain that I fear doing so. In other words, I love my wife so much that I fear doing anything that would grieve her. In the same way we should love God so much that we fear doing anything that would bring Him pain over our actions. In this sense the fear of the Lord is closely connected to that holy love relationship with Him. Holiness is loving God so much that you fear doing anything that would pain Him.

 This is my prayer for myself and all of us. In light of God’s glorious promises let’s determine to avail ourselves of God’s provisions to cleanse ourselves from the filth of this world. Let’s shower off our fleshly ways in the water of God’s word. I pray we proceed in the Spirit to perfect holiness as a love gift to our awesome God. May God bring it to pass in us for His glory!