What trusting God looks like

26 Mar

What does it mean to trust in God?

If you haven’t yet trusted in God, it is actually going to be difficult to understand fully what it means. There’s a peace and confidence that comes as a result of trusting God that is bigger than words can explain, and yet, with how valuable trusting God is, it is worth it to at least try.

In his sermon, Christian Safety, Jonathan Edwards highlights the following seven characteristics of a person who is really trusting God:

1.)  He knows he needs God’s help.

“If we see not our great and perishing need of help and relief, we shall never come to God for relief, because we shall think we can do it without him; and except we see that nothing else is sufficient to afford us help but God alone, we neglect to come to God, and seek something else in which to put our confidence.”

2.)  He believes God can help Him.

“After we have seen our own insufficiency, and the insufficiency of everything else but God; after we have seen that there is nothing else to take hold of, but we must take hold on God or perish, then we must see God’s all-sufficiency, and that there is enough in him for us. We must believe his almighty power, that he is able to do everything for us that we need to have done.”

3.)  He is sure God wants to help Him.

“Many are kept from trusting in God because they think they have committed so much sin that there is not mercy in God enough for them. He therefore must be sensible, that there is mercy enough, as well as power enough, to save the most vile returning sinner.”

4.)  He puts his confidence in the promises God’s made to help him.

“There is no trusting in God without a firm belief of the Word of God, and the revelation he has made concerning himself, especially his gracious promises.”

5.)  He loves God and seeks refuge in Him.

“As soon as we come into this world, and look behind us upon him that has just made us, we fly from him as we would from a mortal enemy, and instead of trusting in him continue to run with all our might from him, till he discovers his excellency and loveliness to us, and powerfully changes us and causes us to love him, then we shall venture quietly to rely upon him, and rest in him.”

6.) He looks forward confidently to the way in which God will rescue him.

“How can we trust in God for that we don’t believe, nor hope that he will ever bestow upon us what we trust him for.”

7.) He finds rest and satisfaction in God even in the middle of great difficulties.

“The sight of his great necessity and danger makes him restless and uneasy, when he sees danger all around him, and destruction every minute ready to take hold of him, and sees nothing that he can trust to, he must needs be very restless and in an uneasy state. But, when he sees a God that can save him, and stands ready, and is very willing to do it, and besides that has given his word and oath that he will do it, if he will depend on Him; when he sees that God is excellent and lovely, and worthy to be trusted and depended on: he then hopes in God, and places his dependence there, and so no more fears those evils that he was in danger of.”

Accepted for Christ’s sake or not accepted at all…

25 Mar

If someone asks exactly how to grow in Christ, one important way to answer that question is to talk about how not to grow in Christ.

Take Colossians 2:16-23.

In this passage Paul’s giving us a crash course in how not to grow. He begins by describing a legalistic attitude towards our spiritual lives. Or to put it another way, he makes it clear that if you are going to grow in your Christian life you’ve got to recognize and reject legalism.

“…let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon, or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

When Paul talks about passing judgment, he’s talking about condemning someone as guilty, judging someone as unacceptable in God’s sight. These false teachers were saying that the Colossian believers were guilty before God, meaning they were not right with God, because they weren’t doing certain things. They reduced the Christian life down to a list of rules that the Colossians had to keep instead of a deep, vital relationship with Jesus Christ. Specifically, the Colossian false teachers were telling these believers that it wasn’t enough to have Christ, they also had all these other stringent regulations they had to satisfy if they were going to be saved and experience the fullness of the Christian life.

We see that Paul identifies some of the key issues they harped on. He talks about food and drink, festivals, new moons and the Sabbath. It’s hard to tell for sure exactly what food or drink they were so passionate about, and what exactly they were saying about festivals and new moons and Sabbaths. Some people think they were talking about the Old Testament ceremonial laws, saying that even though you are a Christian you have to go back and live your life in strict observance to that. The Old Testament obviously has a lot to say about foods, festivals and the Sabbath. Though it doesn’t say so much about drink. But still, I think Paul’s probably referring to these Old Testament ceremonial laws in light of what he says verse 17 about these things being a shadow of things to come. Most likely it was some sort of perverted understanding of these Old Testament ceremonial laws in light of what Paul says in verse 8 about their false teaching being tied to the elemental spirits and then in verse 21 about human precepts and human teachings.

While we can’t be too dogmatic about all the ins and outs of what these false teachers were teaching, we do know for certain that whatever the specifics were:

One – they were making all these regulations, that’s what Paul talks about down in verse 20 and 21, they were going around saying, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch…” And two – they were making these rules the basis for one’s acceptance with Christ. If you don’t do this you are guilty and you are disqualified.

Now we’re not talking about having standards. We’re talking about thinking and acting like adherence to those standards is the way you earn your approval with God. That’s the problem here. Did Paul think it was wrong for someone to not eat certain foods and eat other foods? Not necessarily. Did Paul think it was wrong for someone to treat one day as particularly special? Not necessarily.

In fact, you might remember in Romans 14 he deals with this issue very differently than he does here in Colossae. He says one person eats, one person doesn’t eat, and that’s o.k. just don’t despise or pass judgment one each other. He doesn’t say look if you think it is wrong to eat, then you better change and start eating. No, he says it is o.k. for you, just don’t start judging others about it. And then he goes on to say that one person observes a day as special, another person doesn’t observe a day as special, no big deal, just be convinced in your own mind and do what you do for the honor of the Lord.

But here in Colossae, he obviously see this as a very big deal.

You’ve got to reject someone who comes and passes judgment on you for eating and drinking and not following their little list of rules. If someone comes and says don’t eat then you need to stand up to them and you need to refuse to allow them to condemn you.

What’s the difference?

The difference is in the attitude. It’s not about the food, it’s about the attitude. Or I guess you could say it’s about the motivation.

In Colossae, these false teachers were acting as if a person’s status with God was based on that person’s adherence to certain man-made rules and regulations. They were acting as if Christ’s work alone was not enough to satisfy God.

And that’s a serious issue.

If it’s just about eating and drinking, no big deal. That’s not the issue. The issue is motive and our understanding of what it means to be saved by grace. If you actually think that you can earn merit for yourself by not eating and drinking, that is a big deal, a very big deal.

And it’s one that we find Paul getting very passionate about.

You remember how Paul lays into the Galatians over in Galatians 4. “Formerly when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.”

This is a serious, serious issue.

Paul says in Galatians 5, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” There’s no both and here. If you listen to these men who are telling you that your relationship with God is based on what you do and you let them pass judgment on you, you reject Christ.

Paul even goes on and I’m just going to say this to indicate how passionate he is about this, he says that he wishes that those who were preaching this legalistic false gospel which says you had to do certain things like get circumcised in order to be saved would, Galatians 5:12, “emasculate themselves…”

Obviously, when we read something like that, we’re kind of like whoa, Paul settle down but that only indicates we need to come back and think about why legalism is such a problem.

Paul gets so passionate about legalism because he realizes it is anti-gospel.

You see the little word that begins verse 16? It says therefore. That means to understand what Paul is about to say, you have to understand what he just said. “In light of what I just said, this is why you’ve got to stand up against anyone who acts and behaves like we can earn favor with God by keeping a list of rules and regulations.” Well, what did Paul just say? He spent the previous seven verses explaining that “we are saved by Christ and Christ alone.” That was the whole point. It’s all about Christ.

It was “In Him” that you were “circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ…” You “were dead in your trespasses and sin and the uncircumcision of your flesh” but “God made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

The Gospel is about God doing what you couldn’t do and that’s why the gospel and legalism are so incompatible. That’s why Paul gets so worked up. They are two different religions. You can’t be a legalist and be a Christian at the same time. The legalist believes that you somehow earn approval by what you do and that is the exact opposite of the gospel message that we find in the New Testament.

The gospel comes to us and says that there’s nothing that we can do that can somehow make us acceptable with God. The gospel comes to us and says that no matter how hard we try we can’t clean ourselves up, that we can’t work hard enough, that we can’t do enough rituals, that we can’t keep enough regulations. As B.B. Warfield once put it, the gospel reveals to us that if we are going to be accepted by God “we must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all.”

Now get this and this is important.

For as someone has explained, that’s “not true of us only when we believe. It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest.”

You can’t trust in your own works and in Christ at the same time. Trusting in your own works is not trusting in Christ. It’s absolutely impossible to do both. It’s one or the other. It’s either trust in what you do or trust in what Christ has done.

Do you understand that?

A lot of people don’t. A lot of people basically think that a person is a Christian because he’s a nice guy, a religious person, a moral man. When that’s not the point at all. A person is a Christian because God has caused him to understand that he is much more sinful and much more flawed and much more wicked than he could ever possibly begin to imagine. He is a Christian because God has brought him to his knees and caused him to realize the depth and heinousness of his own absolute rebellion against God. He is a Christian, in fact, because God has opened his eyes to his complete inability to clean himself up. He is a Christian because God has enabled him to make a deliberate choice to stop trusting in his own works for salvation but instead has decided to completely and entirely rely on Christ and His works for forgiveness from his sins and the salvation of his soul.

Look at how Paul explains it over in Philippians 3.

Paul says in verse 4, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”

In other words, Paul is saying my credentials were impressive. If you wanted to put it modern language, Paul was the type of person most of us would like to have in our church.

He would be the guy who grew up in the church, whose father and grandfather and great grandfather were all believers, who was at every service, Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night, who seemed like a very moral, good guy. He would be the person the world would look at and say this man is right with God.

Yet Paul says verse 7, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I gain Christ.” That little phrase, counted as loss is picturesque, it was a nautical term, literally meaning to throw overboard. Here Paul saying that I deliberately chose to take all those religious and moral achievements and “throw it all overboard.”

Now when Paul talks about throwing those things overboard what’s he talking about? He’s not saying that all the sudden he stopped being concerned about the law, that all the sudden he stopped being a Jew. No that’s not what he’s talking about at all. He’s saying that he decided to stop trusting in them. To stop looking to them to gain him approval with God. He’s saying that he had to make a choice. He had to decide whether to hang on to those religious achievements or gain Christ. He couldn’t have both.

I hope you are hearing this.

Jerry Bridges puts it like this, “Paul had come to the conclusion that his religious background was not only dangerous to his spiritual safety but in a sense it was no more than garbage – something to be deliberately dumped down the chute? Why? Because he had discovered something far more valuable. He had discovered the righteousness that comes from Christ. Paul had previously counted on his religious attainments as the basis of his acceptance with God. Like his fellow Jews, he had sought to establish his own righteousness through keeping the law. But there came a time…when he realized that his efforts to become righteous through law-keeping were going nowhere. They kept him from the only means of salvation that God has provided. As he realized more clearly the perfect righteousness that God has provided through His Son, Jesus Christ, he saw his own efforts to be righteous as no more than garbage to be dumped overboard. So Paul made what I call his great exchange. He exchanged his own righteousness for the perfect righteousness of Christ. He not only threw his own righteousness overboard, he regarded it as mere garbage compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as his Savior, and being credited with His righteousness. He exchanged the garbage of his own goodness for the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

The point being – and this is how it connects with Colossians 2 – if the Colossians chose to go back and start acting like their acceptance with God is based on what they had done, if they accepted the false teachers judgment of them – that they were guilty because they didn’t keep the ceremonial law perfectly – they were choosing to reject Christ and God’s way of salvation – because the religion of morality and the gospel don’t mix.

Isn’t that what he is saying in verse 19 of Colossians 2?

Paul says these false teachers are “not holding fast to the Head…” Who is the head? Jesus Christ. Because they are clinging to their own achievements they are not connected to Christ, “from whom the whole body is nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”

He wants to take this legalistic attitude seriously because it is an arrogant attack on the work of Christ on the cross. The legalist is saying I can do what Christ has already done and what the Bible tells us only Christ could do.

Although we may not many people going around judging us about food and drink, festivals, new moons and Sabbaths like these Colossian heretics did, we do have many whose attitude is the same. We do have a lot of people who make man-made rules the basis for one’s acceptance with God.   We are confronted every day with people who behave as if as someone has said, “they can earn God’s approval and forgiveness through personal performance.”

When we think about dangers to our Christian lives we often think of out and out gross sins like pornography or adultery or some other form of blatant wickedness. But just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, is a self-righteous attitude that sneaks in and changes the way we view the things we do for Christ.

When we talk about a legalistic attitude we’re not talking about having standards. We’re not somehow saying that we shouldn’t be serious and earnest about reading our Bibles and going to church.

We’re talking about an attitude. An attitude that begins to look on our religious activities as the basis for our acceptance with God. To start relying on self instead of Christ. To think that somehow our activities can earn blessings from God. To slip into thinking that it’s by all our Bible reading, all our church going, all our praying that we become acceptable with God.

As Sinclair Ferguson explains, “Our greatest temptation and mistake is to try to smuggle character into God’s work  of grace.”  We so easily become preoccupied and proud about what we do and drift away from the grand and glorious truth of the gospel which tells us very plainly that every single blessing you and I have has been purchased for us by Jesus Christ.

Therefore if we are going to grow we’ve got to watch out for any legalistic attitudes in our own hearts, for any tendency to rely on our own works instead of Christ. It’s obviously so easy to slip back into this. That’s why Paul has to deal with this particular problem in so many of his letters. He talks about it in Galatians, he talks about it in Philippians, he talks about it in Romans, he talks about it in Colossians because we even as believers have such a strong temptation to fall into the legalistic trap.

Are we praying, are we reading our Bibles, are we engaging in all sorts of different good spiritual activities because we think we can somehow atone for ourselves? Because we can’t. We can’t justify ourselves. Or are we praying, reading our Bibles and engaging in all sorts of different good spiritual activities because we are rejoicing and glorying in the fact that Christ has completely made the atonement for us?

If we are going to grow, we must commit ourselves to continually rejecting a legalistic spirit.

As Charles Swindoll explains, “A theology that rests its salvation on one ounce of human performance is not good news, it is bad information. It is heresy. It is antithetical to the true message that lit the spark to the Reformation – Sola Fide – faith alone. A salvation that begins with God’s love reaching down to lost humanity and is carried out by Christ’s death and resurrection results in all the praise going to God. But a salvation that includes human achievement, hard work, personal effort, even religious deeds distorts the good news because man gets the glory, not God…”

To Grow You Have to Reject Wrong Ideas How to Grow

23 Mar

“How does a person grow in the Christian life?”

I don’t need to work hard to prove that is an important question.

If you are a true Christian you are by definition concerned about how to grow in your Christian life.

The very terms we use to describe what it mean to be a Christian indicate that. Think about the word disciple. Before Christians were called Christians they were called disciples. A Christian is a disciple and a disciple is at the minimum, a learner. That’s what the word disciple means.

When we say we are Christians we are saying we are disciples. When we say we are disciples we are saying we are learners. And when we say we are learners we are saying we are concerned about how to grow in the Christian life.

You can’t read very much of the New Testament without being struck by the writers concern for the believer’s spiritual growth.

Jesus says, “Therefore you are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Paul explains, “And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28)

And James writes, “Consider it all joy my brothers when you encounter various trials, knowing that testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

Biblically speaking, spiritual growth is not an option. There is something drastically wrong with anyone who says they are a believer and yet is not interested in changing and becoming more like Christ.

We as believers are to continually press on to maturity.

We are by definition interested in spiritual growth.

Unfortunately while this is a subject that every true believer is interested in, it is also a subject that many believers are terribly confused about.

Even worse, there are many people who have no idea what it means to be spiritually mature. Actually, maybe “no idea” is not the right way to put it. Perhaps it would be better to say they have the wrong idea about what it means to be spiritually mature.

They have an idea of the Christian life and of spiritual growth that is just twisted and warped.ThIs is a great hindrances to their really growing in Christ. You are going to have a hard time maturing in Christ if you don’t know what it means to be mature in Christ and if you are using the wrong means to pursue it.

Reading through the book of Colossians, you’ll see that Paul is concerned about just that. In fact, in verses 16-23 of chapter 2, he has to deal with a real perverted understanding of the Christian life.

Before he shows us the path towards spiritual maturity, he shows us paths we absolutely must not take. He does so because there are certain ideas about the Christian life and about spiritual growth that are just flat out deadly. We’re talking,soul-destroying.

Paul makes that pretty obvious.

Listen to this text.

He is calling on the Colossians to reject something. He says in verse 16, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you…” That’s a command, not an option and I think this command is so fascinating. Because notice, he doesn’t say you need to stop passing judgment on other people. He says you need to stop letting people pass judgment on you.

When it comes to how to live the Christian life not everyone is correct.

There are certain attitudes, certain teachings that Paul wants believers to reject. In fact, take it a step further, there are certain attitudes and certain teachings that Paul says believers must reject. That we absolutely cannot accept. That we’ve got to stand up against.

To get an idea of how important rejecting these wrong ideas really is, listen to what Paul says in verse 18.

“Let no one disqualify you…”

Now, that’s a strong statement. He’s moving past someone just passing judgment or looking down on you, towards someone robbing you of your prize. If you follow these men you are placing yourself in a dangerous position, because verse 19, they are not connected to Christ.

They are not “holding fast to the head…”

This means any view of life that is like “I’m just going to sit back and take it all in – I’m going to be like a sponge and just accept it all” is flat out unbiblical and thus completely wrong.

Paul is saying that you have a responsibility to identify false teaching and you have a responsibility to reject it.

Now the problem is that it’s not always easy to spot false teaching about the Christian life.

Take the Colossians.

They were in some senses, pretty strong Christians. In chapter 1 and verse 3, Paul says, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for you…” And he was doing that because he had heard, “of their faith in Christ Jesus and of the love they had for all the saints…”

And yet, Paul recognized chapter 2:4 that even they needed to watch out that they weren’t in Paul’s words, deluded or you could say deceived – that they didn’t fall for false teaching.

One reason it is sometimes hard to identify false teaching about the Christian life is because it so often sounds so good.

You’ll notice as you study Colossians that Paul’s very up front about what they were hearing there in Colossae. He says in 2:44 that these false teachers have plausible arguments. You listen to them and it sounds like it could work. The people presenting these ideas weren’t just anyone, they were persuasive intelligent men (2:4) who were promoting a philosophy (2:8) which means in other words that they were teaching this whole long worked out system. This wasn’t some fly by night deal and then they were claiming that philosophy was based on ancient traditions. If you rejected their philosophy you weren’t just rejecting them you were rejecting the “wisdom of the ages…” And to make matters worse, it seems that they were going around saying that their philosophy was the path towards greater insight into spiritual things and a fuller knowledge of God which are things every true Christian should want. Plus, these teachers, were religious men. Deeply religious men. They were very disciplined in the way they treated their body. They did a lot of things that from a worldly point of view looked real spiritual. Additionally, what they were teaching was somewhat appealing in that it was mysterious. Somehow what the core of what they were teaching was tied to elemental spirits of the world, verse 8 and verse 18, the worship of angels, and verse 10, cosmic powers and authorities; which are all things as we can even see in our world that people are naturally interested in knowing more about.   All that to say, verse 23, that what they were promoting had the appearance of wisdom.

It’s important to note that because sometimes people are like, “Hey this guy seems religious and what he is saying sounds wise so it must be true.”

But that’s just flat out false.

As Martin Luther once put it, “The more holy the heretics seem in outward show, the more mischief they do.” It was because these teachers in Colossae had persuasive arguments, they seemed really wise, they were super religious, that they were so dangerous because in spite of all their great arguments they were flat out wrong. They were wrong about God and they were wrong about Jesus Christ, that’s chapters one and two so far; and they were wrong about how to live the Christian life, that’s the rest of chapter 2. What they were teaching had the appearance of wisdom, but look again at verse 23, Paul sums up this whole section by saying, it had no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. To put it real simply: what they were sounded good but it wasn’t.

They had a completely warped understanding of how to grow in the Christian life and what exactly it meant to be spiritually mature. In the next several posts, we’ll identify their three wrong approaches to spiritual growth.

No Degrees of Imputed Righteousness!

22 Mar

“I would premise, negatively, that there are no degrees of imputed righteousness, but that all the saints are alike justified in the sight of God by the righteousness of Christ. As there are no degrees in the same person with respect to this, but he is as much justified the first moment of his conversion as ever he is, how much soever he may increase in holiness afterwards; so neither is there any difference in this respect in different persons. The weakest saint is as much justified in the sight of God as the strongest. He that has but a spark of grace in his heart, the lowest degree of the sanctifying spirit, has his sins as much pardoned and Christ’s satisfaction and righteousness as much imputed to him, as Moses or Elijah or the apostle Paul had, yea, as much as the saints of heaven have. ‘Tis very evident because all the sins of every believer, as soon as he ever believes, are pardoned; and if they are all pardoned and blotted out, cast into the depths of the sea, so that they shall be remembered no more, then there can be no degrees of pardon. If sins are so pardoned that God’s anger is all ceased, they can’t be more pardoned. Christ’s death has fully satisfied for the sins of all believers, is of as much virtue to satisfy for the sins of one as of another. ‘Tis the same perfect righteousness is imputed to everyone, and if it is really imputed to all, there is as much as it can be; there can be no degrees of imputation of the same thing. If it be one covenant by which they have their righteousness, then their righteousness must be the same.”

Jonathan Edwards

Is the Spirit of God at Work in Your Church? part four

19 Mar

What does it mean for a church to be filled with the Spirit?

In previous posts, we have looked at the comparison Paul makes and the command he gives, and now third, to understand filled with the Spirit, we want to look at the characteristics he describes.

In verses 19-21 back in Ephesians 5, Paul gives several manifestations of the Spirit of God’s work.

First, Paul says when the Spirit fills us, verse 19, we’re going to “address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” In other words, we are going to encourage one another with biblical truth. When people are controlled by earthly pleasures, it changes their conversations, doesn’t it? And so what happens is they spend a great deal of time talking about that kind of stuff. Have you ever hung out with a group of unbelievers? What are the kinds of things that they love talking about? It’s usually stuff that has to do with now. But the point is here, when the church is drinking deeply of Christ and are filled with the Spirit, things become different when you’re around these believers. The Spirit will transform the kind of things that we speak about to one another and sing about to one another. Specifically Paul says we’re going to address one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs which are all three terms that pretty much have to do with praising God for who he is and what he’s done.

I suppose you could try to identify the difference between a psalm and a hymn and a spiritual song but really, these are all just ways of praising God for who he is and what he’s done. Paul is saying this is something you can look for if we’re interested in whether the Spirit is filling us. Are we a group of people who are constantly encouraging one another to look at God and to be amazed by his character?

The word for “addressing one another,” it’s a Greek word that means basically almost like humming to yourself, humming to someone else. It’s almost like there’s a buzz if you listen to a church that is filled, if you come into a community that’s filled with the Spirit and they fellowship with one another, there’s almost like a humming, a buzz and you know what that humming sound is? It’s praises and hymns and spiritual songs. You come into a community that’s filled with the Spirit, these are people as they interact with one another that are constantly trying to help each other see how great God is and there’s a movement of the Spirit of God in that place because the people are centered not on themselves but on God.

Secondly Paul says, we’re going to sing and make melody to the Lord with our hearts. This means we are going to find deep down delight in God. I think one of the things I like most if you look down at that phrase “singing and making melody to the Lord,” is that he says “with our hearts.” In our hearts. He’s not saying that when we get together as Christians we all stand here and the way we sing as Christians is with our mouths closed, we only sing in our hearts. That would be a strange worship time, wouldn’t it? But that’s not what he means when he says we sing in our hearts. Instead, he’s talking about singing that comes from the bottom of your heart. We all know how easy it is to just come and mouth the words of a song and you get excited after a while just because it’s the song. That’s not what Paul is talking about here. What he’s talking about is when your heart is so filled up with joy in God that it’s like you’re singing on the inside and it’s just bubbling out on the outside. For me, that’s the best place to sing, in the heart, because when I sing with my mouth people usually hope I’m quiet but you can sing as loud as you want in your heart. Really, I think what Paul us getting at is that when the Spirit of God is filling us, we’re not just jumping up and down on the outside but there’s a deep profound delight in God that resides on the inside.

Third, when the Spirit of God is at work we address one another, we encourage one another with biblical truth, we have a deep down delight in God, third, Paul says, we’re going to give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, we’re going to overflow with gratitude to God. You can underline in that verse “always” and “for everything.” There is hardly anything that characterizes a person who’s about himself more than complaining. A person who is about himself, he can complain always and in everything. Selfish, proud people can make a meadow into a manure pile. A meadow of flowers and they can find the manure in a meadow. Selfish people can complain and be discontent about whatever situation you put them in, that’s why, listen, the answer to your discontentment if you’re discontent is not a better circumstance. I guarantee you. People are amazing at being discontent with the best of circumstances. We need to be as filled with the Spirit so that we learn to give thanks always and in everything.

The crazy thing I’ve found about people who are controlled by a desire for their own pleasure is that they’re still unhappy all the time. You meet a person who is controlled by a desire for his own pleasure and you usually are meeting a person who is profoundly discontent and that’s because when you’re proud, you think you deserve everything and so you complain and when you’re selfish, you want everything exactly your way so you complain. Well, when the Spirit of God is at work, you see yourself for who you are and you see what you really deserve and you begin to understand that everything you receive is amazing and so you’re constantly thankful and you become thankful about everything because you know God is for you in that moment and his hand is at work in everything for your good and for his glory. It’s interesting too that Paul says the Spirit enables us as believers to give thanks in a very specific way. The Trinity is at work in this verse: it’s the Spirit who causes us to give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a lot of theology and doctrine in that statement; that’s Trinitarian thanksgiving.

Fourth, Paul tells us when the Spirit fills us as a church, we’re going to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. That’s verse 21 which we’re going to talk about a lot over the next several weeks because Paul goes into big time detail about this. Actually, from verse 21 down to chapter 6:9, he’s talking about this aspect of being filled with the Spirit which tells us it’s pretty important. But for now, just be sort of amazed by the way the Spirit of God works. When you’re controlled by earthly pleasures like alcohol, what usually happens in your relationships with other people? It’s usually people trying to outdo one another. Have you ever met materialistic people? Greedy people? “My BMW is bigger than your BMW. My Mercedes is bigger than your Mercedes. My suit is nicer than your suit.” People constantly trying to be on top of each other, be higher than one another. But what happens when the Spirit focuses our attention on Christ? We’re afraid of Christ so he said do this out of reverence for Christ. We see that he is the authority. We see that he is Lord. We are brought on our faces before Christ and suddenly we’re not nearly as concerned about our own glory or importance anymore. It’s Christ that matters and when it’s Christ that matters most to you, that changes the way you relate to other people. When the Spirit is controlling you, you’re going to happily go low in your relationships with others for the glory of God. That’s basically what it means to submit, it’s to put yourself under the authority of someone else and later in Ephesians, Paul is going to work out what that looks like in our family relationships.

There is a lot of talk about the Spirit these days and that’s good. Is the Spirit at work? Sometimes when people say, “Is the Spirit of God at work?” they mean these crazy, almost miraculous shocking works of power so they want to see it. I can sympathize with that. We all want to see the Spirit of God work powerfully in our midst but what I want you to hear now is that what Paul is describing here in these verses about the Spirit filling and controlling our community is powerful. It is powerful. I mean, again, imagine a group of people in a room with instruments making loud crazy chaotic noise and a conductor comes into that room and he goes to work with that community of people and as he works with that community of people, the noise becomes less and less chaotic and as you listen to these people play those instruments, suddenly the noise goes from chaos to beauty and what you’re hearing instead of that chaos is you’re hearing a beautiful symphony and that’s power. It’s a different kind of power but it’s power.

That’s what God wants for our lives and for this church and that’s what I want. I want us to be a church that is filled with the Spirit, where people begin looking at our lives, the way we live and it’s like they’re hearing beautiful music come from this church, where they see people who are making Christ the center and as a result, it’s changing their conversations with one another and they’re meeting people who are worshiping God and not just that fake, you know, talking with deep voices about God. But there’s a reality to their love for God and it’s not just like people who repeat “Jesus’ name, in the blood, in the blood, in the blood.” It’s almost like magic but it’s people who are really in awe of God. Then they see these people who are thankful always and for everything, they’re just bubbling over with thanks to God. There’s a deep, deep gratitude that they can’t understand and then they see these people who are happy to go low in their relationships with others, to serve others, to submit to them. They hear this beautiful music and Christ will be glorified and exalted.

Are we a church that is filled with the Spirit? Is the Spirit of God at work? Have we and are we turning from being controlled by our appetite for earthly pleasure? Are we a church that is dominated by a desire to see Christ glorified? Have our conversations been changed? Are we a church that sings deeply from the heart? Are we a church that is thankful? Are we a group of people who are humble and glad to go low because we fear Christ?

Is the Spirit of God at Work in Your Church? part three

18 Mar

If we want to know what it means to be filled with the Spirit, in previous posts, we have said the first place we might look is at the comparison Paul makes.

What is controlling you? What is it that controls you? The days are evil, where do you turn to for satisfaction? Are you stuffing your face with more and more earthly pleasure now, is that what controls you? Well, that’s the opposite of a life that is controlled by the Holy Spirit.

Now second, to understand what it means to be filled with the Spirit, think with me about the command Paul gives.

The comparison is between getting drunk with wine and what? The command that Paul gives. Now, in our text, Paul says what? He says “but be filled with the Spirit.” Really a better way to translate that would actually be “keep being continually filled with the Spirit.” Paul is not talking so much about a one time event. In fact, one way you could translate this would be “be being filled with the Spirit.” Don’t ever get drunk with wine but continually be filled with the Spirit.

Sometimes when people hear “filled with the Spirit” they think of just a one time zap, a one time event, a moment of ecstasy. But when Paul talks about being filled with the Spirit, it’s important, he’s not just talking about a one time event, he’s actually talking about a lifestyle.

As one of my former pastors has put it, he says, “When Paul commands us to be filled with the Spirit, we’re not talking about some kind of momentous experience; we’re not talking about some kind of euphoria; we’re not talking about something that zaps you out of nowhere; we’re not talking about ‘being anointed.” Rather, we’re talking about a constant way of life, a constant reality, be being kept continuously filled with the Spirit.”

You see, the idea behind being filled with the Spirit is not like what happens at a petrol station. You know, when your car runs out of fuel? Sometimes people sort of think of it like this: we have some of the Spirit and we need to go to the spiritual petrol station on Sunday and get some more fuel so more of the Spirit can fill us back up so we can run throughout the week. That’s not what Paul is talking about. That’s not what he means.

It can’t be what he means because when you’re saved, you are given the Spirit of God. Paul told us that back in Ephesians 1. Remember, he said this is one of the blessings of being saved. You are sealed with the Spirit. In fact, when you’re saved, one of the images the Bible uses to describe what happens to you is you are baptized with the Spirit. You may have heard of the baptism of the Spirit. That word “baptism” means “immersed.” It doesn’t even mean “sprinkled” there’ it definitely means “immersed.” You are baptized by the Spirit.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that’s something that happens to all of us. We have all drunk of the same Spirit; we have all been baptized into one body by the Spirit. We are all indwelt by the Spirit of God and it’s not like that goes up and down, you have a little bit of the Spirit today, a little bit less tomorrow. That guy has ¾ of the Spirit, you only have ½ of the Spirit. No, no. No, we’re all indwelt by the Spirit and that’s a gift God’s given to you on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ. Grace. If you are a believer, you have the Spirit. When Paul talks about being filled with the Spirit, he’s talking about coming under the influence of the Spirit’s power, yielding to the Spirit’s control. In other words, when Paul talks he uses this word “being filled.”

You don’t want to think of being filled the way you might think of filling a glass of water. That’s not the greatest image for being filled with the Spirit because and this is a quote, “the word here ‘filling’ speaks not of filling up but filling through.” So the contrast would be the difference between filling up a glass with water and filling the sail of a sailboat with wind. That’s a very different kind of reality. One just sits there, the other doesn’t just sit there. Water in a glass is just static, it stays in its place. Sails though that are filled on a boat, they push, the wind pushes the boat along. We’re not talking about being filled up with the Holy Spirit as if that were some kind of momentary experience but rather we’re talking about living an entire life that is literally carried along, moved along by the Holy Spirit like wind fills a sail to move the ship along. This filling when Paul talks about being filled by the Spirit, this command, it’s talking about an influence that dominates your life. It’s talking about control. It’s kind of like what happens when a drunk is filled with wine. When you’re drunk with wine, you are controlled by that wine. That’s a picture of what it means for us to be filled by the Spirit; it means we’re dominated or controlled by the influence of the Spirit. As a church, we’re not controlled by some sort of earthly pleasure like alcohol, but instead we’re controlled by the Spirit of God.

Now, I think one of the problems when we talk about a continual lifestyle that is filled by the Spirit is that they are so focused on one kind of supernatural event, one kind of supernatural experience, that they can only picture being filled by the Spirit as speaking in tongues or walking around and pointing your finger at a chair and somehow being able to lift that up out of there. They can only think of these sort of shocking miraculous events and that’s the only image that can come into their minds when they think about what would it mean to be under the continual control of the Spirit. And what happens when you think of being filled with the Spirit that way is that you miss out on a whole other kind of supernatural experience. It’s not less supernatural than that and it’s just as profound as that, much more profound. It’s a supernatural experience that is more important than being able to lift a chair with your finger just looking at it. Certainly.

And it’s one that Paul is actually talking about here.

There were some unique times throughout the history of salvation where God just picked up a man and caused him to do miraculous things that he couldn’t do on his own. There definitely were times throughout the history of salvation when God did that but that’s not what Paul is talking about when he says we as a church need to be filled with the Spirit. You don’t need to go around feeling like, “Aw, maybe I’m not filled with the Spirit because I didn’t have this momentous experience.” Because that’s not what Paul is getting at with this image of being filled by the Spirit.

Instead, you know what is a characteristic of a person who is being filled with the Spirit? Do you want to know what it means? What Paul is describing? It’s a church that is focused on Jesus Christ, that has a delight in the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s supernatural, when there’s an individual and you’ve met these guys, some of you are these guys, I know you. You meet individuals and you talk to them and it’s like they’re bursting with love for Christ and you talk to this other guy and Jesus could not be more boring to him. But then you talk to this guy who’s just like this other guy, they’re both people, but this guy is bursting with a love for the gospel. This is what tastes good to him, tastes sweet to him.

That is a supernatural work of God and that is what Paul is meaning when he talks about being filled with the Spirit. I can say that with confidence to you because of what Paul has said. If you look back at Ephesians 3:14 and following, I think we find just a great description of what it means to be filled by the Spirit in Ephesians 3:14 and following. Paul’s command in Ephesians 5, I think, is based on his prayer request in Ephesians 3. Now, listen to this prayer request, look at it, look at what Paul wants for us as a church. Paul says,“14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

What is Paul getting at there? Look at it. He says he wants us to be supernaturally strengthened with power through the Spirit in our inner beings. Now, what is that? Being supernaturally strengthened with power by the work of the Spirit? Do you know what that is? That’s being filled with the Spirit. That’s being filled with the Spirit when you’re supernaturally strengthened by the Holy Spirit of God. Look at this, look down at the text again, Ephesians 3 there. What happens if you’re supernaturally strengthened with the power through the Spirit? This is so cool. What does Paul say will happen to us as a church? He says, “I want you to be supernaturally strengthened with power through the Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Now, what does that mean? He’s writing to believers so he’s not talking about salvation there, instead he’s talking about Christ impacting more and more of your thoughts, desires and actions. When you are supernaturally strengthened by the Holy Spirit in your inner being, when you’re filled with the Spirit, you begin living a Christ-centered lifestyle. Your life revolves around glorifying Christ and making Christ look great.

That’s what it means to experience the supernatural power of the Spirit and you know what? I wonder if you’ve experienced that?

Have you ever been amazed by the great love of Christ? Has there ever been a time when Christ is everything to you? Not just, “I go to church and I’m nice to people,” but you are filled with the Spirit of God and you’ve been strengthened so that you love Christ, your life centers on him and you want every area of your life: your work, your politics, your music, you want it all to be about the glory of Christ. When you see a people who are supernaturally strengthened by the Spirit, who are filled with the Spirit, what you see are a people who are focused on Christ and not themselves. They’re bursting at the seams with love for others because they’re overwhelmed by God’s love for them. When you see a people who are filled with the Spirit, you see a people who are dazzled by the person and work of Jesus Christ and they’re growing in their likeness to him.

Sometimes I almost feel like as a pastor, I want to get on my knees and plead with you not to turn to empty earthly pleasures, not to look to earthly pleasures as the thing that will satisfy you because it will not. It will make you into a wild person. Instead, turn from trying to find your ultimate satisfaction in earthly pleasures to finding your satisfaction in the person of Christ because he actually can fill you up. When you turn to wine and you get drunk with wine what does it do? It empties you out. When you cram your face full of Christ, you can’t get enough. I cram my face full of earthly pleasures and what happens to me? I feel sick, it’s starts to ruin me. Earthly pleasures weren’t meant to be, you weren’t meant to overdoes on earthly pleasures but if you turn to Christ, you can overdose on Christ. You can fill your face with Christ and you’ll find that he only becomes more satisfying. You can try to stuff your face full of the gospel and you’ll only find there’s more there, there’s more room for delight there and joy and satisfaction.

We are filled with the Spirit as we drink deeply of Christ. That’s the point and I keep pounding this home because what a lot of people are looking for in life is a quick fix. Do you know what they turn to? They turn to something like alcohol because they think, “I need a quick fix. My life is bad right now.” They want an experience that will get their minds off their troubles. They’re thirsty and so they keep reaching for a glass that is empty because it’s closer and easier and when we look around us in our churches, sometimes what we see are people doing the same thing with religion. They want a quick fix and so that’s even how they think of being filled with the Spirit, as if they could just keep on going living these wicked lifestyles throughout the week and then come to church and zap, boom, filled. Where they get the spiritual tingles and they feel so much better immediately and they didn’t have to do anything but sit there. When what Paul means when he talks about being filled with the Spirit is something much better than that. He’s talking about being strengthened to come back time and time again to Jesus Christ and centering your life on him and focusing your thoughts on him and finding your joy in what he’s done for you.

Maybe the best description really of what it means to be filled with the Spirit is found over in Colossians 3 and if you’ll just turn a couple of books over, Colossians 3. This is a passage where Paul is writing pretty much the same thing, he just uses a different phrase but he’s making the same point to this church. I think as we look at this passage, it fills out for us what it means to be filled with the Spirit. Paul says, Colossians 3:15, “15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

That is Spirit-filled living right there. That’s what it looks like to be filled with the Spirit. It’s when the peace of Christ rules over you and transforms your relationships with one another. You’re not just controlled by, “Hey, I want what I want.” You are controlled by the peace of Christ, the peace that Christ has obtained for you through his work on the cross, it’s the thing that’s the umpire in your heart and you’re thinking not just in this relationship, “Hey, that guy messed me up,” you’re think, “How can I honor Christ and what he’s done for me?” It’s when the word of Christ dwells in you richly, you’re focused on his word and it’s where everything we do as a church, whether it’s an action that we do or a word that we say, we’re doing it in the name of Christ and for the glory of Christ, giving thanks to him. Are we filled with the Spirit? Have we turned from trying to fill ourselves up with emptiness? Are we living a lifestyle where we are continually looking to Christ in the gospel? Where Christ is at the center?

The Spirit fills us up to focus on Christ.

The Beautiful Sound of a Diverse Song

16 Mar

“God’s ultimate goal in creation and redemption is to uphold and display his glory for the enjoyment of his redeemed people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. This is the main thing. This is God’s ultimate goal, and it happens for the enjoyment of his redeemed people. And those people, in God’s design, happen to be of every people and tribe and tongue and nation. Oh, how I would love to make the case that this diversity, this cultural and ethnic and racial diversity here, is essential to this! God did not make us as different as we are culturally, ethnically, and racially for nothing. It’s not an accident. It’s not a punishment after the tower of Babel. This is because a diverse song sung to the Redeemer is more glorifying to the Redeemer than a simple song in unison. If we all sang one note, from one culture, from one ethnicity, from one race, it would have a loud and glorious sound, but oh, it would not look or sound like the song that will be sung to the Redeemer from such diversity as he is winning it from.”

John Piper

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