’…And Yet We May Not Be Christians’

Something serious for all Christians to ponder…

The disciples had life before our Lord breathed on them, but then they attained more. They had life before Pentecost, but then they obtained more. … Thus a man may be very like a saint and yet not be one. A church or a congregation may be very like a Christian one, with a fair appearance and compact organization; all in excellent bustling order, numerous, liberal, united, earnest after a sort; and yet lack one thing which neutralizes and paralyzes all the rest—the breath of life.

“Our creed may be sound, and yet we may not be Christians.

“Our religion may be externally complete, and yet we may not be Christians. … Mechanical religion may do for the gods of Greece and Rome, but not for the living and true God. … Your sanctuary attendance may be regular and reverent; but what if there be no breath in it? Your prayers and praises may be punctual and unexceptionable, but what if there be no breath in them? Will God accept them? Will they satisfy you? Will they make you happy? Will they not be irksome and intolerable? And the more you multiply them, the more intolerable.

“Our good works may be numerous and praiseworthy, yet we may not be Christians. It is not the work that makes the Christian, but the Christian that makes the work.

Our life may be exemplary, and yet we may not be Christians.” —Horatius Bonar, in Light & Truth—The Old Testament

[see Ezekiel 37:8, and this post that talks about the difference between the Holy Spirit being on a Christian versus in a Christian]

Skilled In Scripture

Last week I shared how in a span of a month and a half Peter went from a man who crumbled before a little servant girl, to one who boldly stood up for Jesus before a huge crowd. Don’t you think that some of the other disciples that had spent the previous 3-plus years with Peter were thinking, “Who is this guy?! He’s preaching this amazing sermon that he didn’t even prepare for ahead of time!” 

That’s what the Holy Spirit does for us: He opens up God’s Word like we’ve never seen it before! It wasn’t just for Peter, or the original 12 disciples, or the first-century Church. This is still available to you and me today!  

Please note that it’s not just a relationship with Jesus that opens up the Scriptures to us. No one spent more time in the presence of Jesus than His disciples. And yet even after Jesus explicitly shared truth with them, we read, “His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into His glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about Him” (John 12:16). 

Notice those words “after…they remembered…and realized.” 

After what? After they were baptized in the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-16). In every setting after that we see their new understanding and correct application of the Scriptures (check out Acts 2:16, 25, 34; 2:42; 4:25-26; 8:35; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Peter 1:21).

This is still available to you and me today! Jesus told us that He had more to say to us, and that’s why the Holy Spirit would come. The same Holy Spirit that inspired the Word of God is available today to illuminate it to us! 

R.T. Kendall made this observation about the teachings of Jesus, “[His teachings] cannot be truly understood until you see that it is our Lord’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It means we must embrace His interpretation of the Law and how it is fulfilled in us.” 

This is what God foretold through Ezekiel—I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws… (Ezekiel 11:19-20). In other words, God is saying, “When the Holy Spirit is in you, you will know how to apply My laws to your every-day life. You will become skilled in the correct and timely biblical application.”  

ALL Scripture is for ALL servants of God. ALL Scripture is applicable to ALL the circumstances we will ever face in life. But we need the illumination of the Holy Spirit in order to make the connection from the written Word to the real-life application. 

So don’t stop at salvation—press on to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. 

If you have missed any of the other lessons in this series, you may access them by clicking here. 

Controlled By The Holy Spirit

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-21) 

Jesus wanted His followers to be His missionaries throughout the world, but not until they were empowered with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The new Testament writers elaborate on concepts that boil down to a Christian being controlled by the Spirit. What does that entail? I think these words from J. Oswald Sanders are well worth consideration—

“What does this apostolic injunction in Ephesians 5:18 mean? It is not an invitation to realize a privilege but a command to fulfill an obligation. … The clear teaching of Scripture is that we are filled with the Spirit when our human spirit is mastered and controlled by the Holy Spirit. The idea behind the command ‘be filled with the Spirit’ is not so much that of an empty vessel passively waiting for something to be poured into it, as water into a glass [here is a 3-minute video where I illustrate this idea]. It is rather the concept of a human personality voluntarily surrendered to the domination the Holy Spirit. … The Spirit’s control is not automatic but voluntarily and constantly conceded. 

“The fullness of the Spirit does not obliterate personality, as does hypnotism. In fact, the person who is filled with the Spirit only then realizes and discovers his true personality. It is not obliterated but released. We will never know the possibility of our redeemed personality until we definitely yield ourselves in full and undeserved surrender to His control. … 

“Paul’s personality was not obliterated by [Christ’s] indwelling. ‘I live,’ he said, ‘yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ He did not become any the less Paul because he was indwelt by Christ. Indeed, he became more and more the Paul God intended him to be; the ideal Paul who was a chosen vessel to the Lord. We need not fear the fullest surrender to Christ, for He enhances and ennobles personality. He imports qualities which are absent and brings into activity powers and possibility which were latent. He became a different Paul, but a greater and better Paul. Apart from the indwelling and mastery of Christ, the world would probably have heard little of him. Instead his influence has been one of the dominating features of the last two millennia.” —J. Oswald Sanders, in Cultivation of Christian Character (emphasis mine) 

If you would like to review some of the thoughts I have already shared in this current series, please click here and scroll down to the list of posts listed on that page.

The Holy Spirit On And In

I’m in a series right now at Calvary Assembly of God called We Are: Pentecostal. This is the second time we have rejoined this series because, quite honestly, there is just way too much for me to cover effectively! 

I have pointed out how most people in the Old Testament had the Spirit of God come ON them, but in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit comes IN Christians. And I’ve made the case that IN > ON (read more about that by clicking here). 

The Infographic Bible has a wonderful graphic depicting the On/In nature of the Spirit in the two Testaments—

 

And if you would like to see a short video where I try to illustrate the difference between on and in, please check this out. 

We Are: Pentecostal

Pentecost for over 1500 years was a celebration in Jerusalem that brought in Jews from all over the world. But on the Day of Pentecost that came just ten days after Jesus ascended back into heaven, the meaning of Pentecost was forever changed! 

Followers of Jesus—now empowered by an infilling of the Holy Spirit—began to take the good news of Jesus all over the world. These Spirit-filled Christians preached the Gospel and won converts to Christ even among hostile crowds, performed miracles and wonders, stood up to pagan priests and persecuting governmental leaders, and established a whole new way of living as Christ-followers. 

We, too, can be Pentecostal followers of Jesus Christ today. We can experience an anointing and an empowering in our lives that turns ordinary Christianity into extraordinary Christianity! 

Please join me this Sunday as we continue a series of messages we started last year called We Are: Pentecostal. You can check out what I taught in this series in 2019 by clicking here. And our current messages include:

Year-End Review (2019 edition)

Ten years ago God called me to pastor at Calvary Assembly of God, and we have so thoroughly enjoyed our time in Cedar Springs! One of the really cool things I get to do is teach an amazing group of people every Sunday. Here’s a recap of the series and messages from 2019.

Boldly Praying—As a general rule, God would like us to pray much more boldly than we typically do. Jesus told us that we could pray mountain-moving prayers, but C.S. Lewis rightly observed, “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.” 

Christ’s Passionate Journey—In action movies, the crucial moment usually is filmed in slow motion. The Gospels do the same as Jesus approaches the Cross. For example, Mark doesn’t mention anything about the birth of Jesus and only gives us one verse to tell about satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. But he uses nearly 40% of his writing to describe the last week of Christ’s life. 

We Are: Pentecostal—Pentecost for over 1000 years was a celebration in Jerusalem that brought in Jews from all over the world. But on the Day of Pentecost that came just ten days after Jesus ascended back into heaven, the meaning of Pentecost was forever changed! 

Is That In The Bible?—Sometimes things that sound “biblical” aren’t actually in the Bible at all, and sometimes they are there but are misquoted. 

Selah—When you see this word in the Bible it can mean either a pause from the noise to reflect on something, a preparation for an exciting accent, or a reflective time of consideration. We are working our way through the Selahs in the Psalms.

Major Lessons From Minor Prophets—The five major prophets consist of 182 chapters, whereas the 12 minor prophets only have 67 chapters. The volume of these prophets writing may be minor, but their content carries major messages of meteoric power!  

Fading Gratitude—Looking back at the history of God’s people in the Bible, there is a distinct up-and-down cycle. I believe their slipping away from God can be directly linked to their forgetfulness. If there is a peril in our forgetfulness, there is also a power in our thankfulness!

The Carols Of Christmas—How many “old familiar carols” have you heard Christmas after Christmas until the words have almost lost their meaning? If we’re not careful, any song repeated too often can lose the richness of its original intent. 

We will be returning to a couple of these series in 2020, and we’ll be launching some brand new ones as well. In either case, if you don’t have a home church in the northern Kent County area, I would love to have you join us! 

3 Lessons From A Devoted Dad

If you were to pick a man that would have been desperately devoted to Jesus as his Savior, Cornelius wouldn’t make anyone’s “top 10” list! 

Just take a look at all the strikes against this man. He was a… 

  • Gentile—to Jews, Gentiles were just the fuel to stoke the fires of hell. 
  • resident of the city of Caesarea—since this was the headquarters of the Roman government for Palestine, not many Jews would venture there. 
  • Roman—historians say only 10% of Romans in this era were monotheistic. 
  • centurion—not just any centurion, but an extremely powerful centurion from the Italian Regiment (not just a local mercenary who was in it for the money). And he took his name from Cornelius Sulla, a Roman general known both for his mercy and his ruthlessness.

All of this makes Cornelius a fully self-sufficient and a well-to-do man who was not likely to look for help from God. Nor was he the type of person that a Christian missionary might seek out. 

But clearly, something was missing in Cornelius’ life because he was completely countercultural in his pursuit after God. Not just his pursuit of God, but his quick understanding of exactly who Jesus was. 

Luke the historian describes Cornelius as:

  • devout and God-fearing. The Greek word for devout literally means “a right worshipper.” It’s a word Luke only uses three times in Acts, and two of those times are describing Cornelius. 
  • prayerful. The word Luke uses for him means someone who makes prayer personal and ongoing. 
  • generous. Cornelius took care of people who couldn’t take care of themselves. 

All of this got God’s attention (see Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Proverbs 19:17), and He sent an angel to direct Cornelius to Peter. 

When Peter came to Cornelius’ house, twice he said “as you know” (vv. 36, 37), showing us that Cornelius was aware that there was not only one true God, but that a relationship with Jesus was the only way to be in right relationship with God. As Peter spoke with Cornelius, his family, his relatives, his close friends, and even his fellow soldiers, the Holy Spirit baptized them just as He had done with the disciples of Jesus on the day of Pentecost. 

So here are 3 vital lessons for all men to learn from the life of Cornelius the centurion—

  1. Your devotion to God is influential. People around you do notice your devoted pursuit of God.
  2. Your openness to all that God has puts your family, friends, and coworkers in a place to receive God’s blessings too.
  3. God’s blessings flowing through you have lasting and far-reaching results. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius may have opened the door for Christian evangelism to Gentiles unlike anything that had happened before.

Dads, be devoted to God. Desire all He has for you, and all He has for those around you. Pursue Him no matter how many “strikes” there may be against you. 

If you missed any of the messages in this series, you can access the full list of messages by clicking here.

4 Holy Spirit-Enhanced Habits

According to Paul, there are only two ways people can live: in the flesh or in the Spirit. That is—(1) operating separate from God, or (2) with a soul/body that is operating with God’s full involvement. 

The trouble is: we’re always—as long as we’re alive—still in the flesh because we need these bodies to carry around our soul and spirit. But changes begin to occur first at salvation (when the connection of our spirit to God’s Spirit is reestablished), and even more so after being baptized in the Holy Spirit (when we are not trying to work out things on our own). 

As a result, we have the same brain, but a mind that is being renewed; the same eyes, but insight that is being expanded; the same ears, but learning new ways to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying. 

Remember that Jesus promised that the baptism in the Holy Spirit would empower us TO BE His witnesses (Acts 1:8). Not just to do things differently, but to have our spirit so enlivened by the Holy Spirit that we are living, breathing, walking, talking witnesses of a life transformed.

Have you noticed that there wasn’t a steep “learning curve” for the disciples of Jesus following Pentecost? Part of that is due to four key habits that the Holy Spirit helped form in their lives. 

  1. Correct biblical application—We immediately see people going from “They didn’t understand from the Scriptures” to quickly applying biblical texts to their current situations. This is exactly what Jesus promised would happen (John 20:6-9; Acts 2:16, 25, 34; John 14:26). 
  1. Intercessory prayer—To intercede is to take someone else’s needs to God on their behalf. The Holy Spirit can help us apply Scripture to our prayers, and can even help us without words at all (Acts 4:24-26; Romans 8:26-27). 
  1. Creative thinking—Christians should be the most creative thinkers in the world (Psalm 119:99; Jeremiah 33:3; 1 Corinthians 2:10). 
  1. Healthy conflict resolution—We’re all different, so not seeing eye-to-eye is bound to happen, but Spirit-empowered Christians will be able to resolve conflicts faster and with better results (Acts 6:1-8; Acts 15:1-31). 

“Your life as a Christian should make unbelievers question their disbelief in God.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Amen! Your life as a Christian that is living out daily habits that have been empowered by the Spirit should make everyone around you want to go deeper and deeper into all that the Holy Spirit has in store for them too. 

If you missed any of the messages in this series, you can access the full list of messages by clicking here

Everyday Evidence

Last week we learned that speaking in tongues was one of the most noticeable and consistent characteristics of those who were baptized in the Holy Spirit. 

Speaking in tongues as the Spirit enables you is the unmistakable, objective, outward, initial physical evidence. The Bible makes clear that continuing to pray in tongues has huge benefits for both our personal prayer lives and for the corporate church body. But don’t stop there! 

The initial, outward evidence is primarily for the individual Christian—it’s a way of knowing that you know that you have indeed been baptized in the Spirit. But there also needs to be some everyday evidence for others that testifies to them that something is different about your life. 

Consider the disciples of Jesus before and after being baptized in the Holy Spirit…

Their vocabulary

Before being baptized in the Spirit they said stupid things because they didn’t know what to say (Mark 9:5-6) But after being baptized in the Spirit there was no more foot-in-mouth disease. Just as the Holy Spirit enabled them to praise God in an unlearned tongue, He also empowered their natural dialect. The same Greek word is used in Acts 2:4 (enabled by the Holy Spirit), 2:14 (Peter addressed the crowd), and 26:25 (what I am saying is true and reasonable). 

Their spiritual power

Before it was limited, and often thwarted, but afterward, it was limitless and effortless (Mark 9:17-18; Acts 3:1-8; 5:15; 6:8).

Their understanding of servanthood

Before they argued about who was the greatest. Afterward, they gladly gave all that they had to others (Mark 9:33-34; Acts 2:44-45). 

Their boldness in the face of adversity

Before they abandoned Jesus, ran away, and hid in locked rooms. Afterward, there was no intimidating or silencing them (Acts 4:8, 13, 18-20). 

Their understanding of Scripture

Before they had virtually no understanding of Scripture’s application. Afterward, they understood how to apply God’s Word in almost every situation (Acts 2:16, 33-35; 4:24-26). 

Jesus promised that the baptism in the Holy Spirit would empower us TO BE His witnesses (Acts 1:8). Not just to do things for Him. There’s nothing wrong about doing Jesus-glorifying things, but in themselves, they are too short-sighted. Jesus doesn’t want us empowered to do things, but TO BE a living, breathing, walking, talking witness of a life transformed by His power. That’s the reason why I say to you again and again: Don’t stop at salvation. Press on and press in to be baptized in the Holy Spirit so that you can BE an empowered, transformed and transforming witness for Jesus!

If you missed any of the messages in this series, you can access the full list of messages by clicking here

The Unmistakable Evidence

That Pentecost Sunday immediately following Christ’s resurrection forever changed what Pentecost stood for. From this point forward, Christians who have encountered the Holy Spirit as those 120 followers of Jesus did now call themselves Pentecostal. (Check out Acts 2:1-12, 16, 22-24, 37-39.)

If you had been present on that day, there were three pieces of evidence you would have noticed:

  1. Wind—this is the Greek word pneuma, which is the same as the Hebrew word ruach. This is the impartation of the Spirit that brings a true life connection to the Trinity (Genesis 2:7). This power was foretold by Jesus when He promised, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…” (Acts 1:8a). 
  1. Fire—this was foretold by John (Luke 3:16). This fire was to light up our witness to a dark world (Matthew 5:14-16). Again Jesus promised, “you will receive power to be My witnesses…” (Acts 1:8b). 
  1. Tongues—this fulfilled the promise of Jesus, “to be My witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8c). 

Some have tried to call this speaking in tongues an “ecstatic utterance,” or just nonsensical gibberish. But notice the descriptions Luke gives: each one heard them speaking in his own language (v. 6), each of us hears them in his own native language (v. 8), and declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues (v. 11). Luke lists visitors from over 15 different places around the world that heard their native tongue being spoken by these native Galileans. Luke pointed out that these Spirit-baptized Christians spoke like this as the Spirit enabled them (v. 4b). 

Two types of vocabulary are happening here—language (vv. 6, 8), which is the Greek word dialektos, and tongues (vv. 4, 11), which is the Greek word glossa. 

Dialektos is a learned language. Glossa can also be learned, but it’s not something that one just casually picks up. The Greeks said glossa is “not a word of everyday speech but one belonging to dignified and elevated discourse.” The Greeks called glossa the language of prophets, wisemen, and philosophers.

“But,” you might say, “speaking in tongues sounds weird!” Yes, it does. As N.T. Wright said:

“God acts completely unexpectedly—as He always said He would.” 

Remember this—God is God. He is uncontainable, indefinable. If we can define Him, He is not God, but we are. He always does things “out of the box”—at least out of our box, not His! Like sending His Son born of a virgin, and empowering Jesus to restore sight to one born blind, and enabling Jesus to cure someone who contracted leprosy, and even reversing the laws of biology to bring Jesus back to life! 

So it’s not unexpected that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is accompanied by someone praising God in a dialect they have never learned. Speaking in tongues as the Spirit enables you is the unmistakable, objective, outward, initial physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus wants us to have rivers of living water flowing—bursting!—out of us. This living water can flow out of anyone who has the Spirit IN them! Don’t wait another day: be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

If you missed any of the messages in this series, you can access the full list of messages by clicking here.

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