No Spirit? No Spirituality.

So, does the Bible give us any instruction on what it takes to become a growing, maturing, useful follower of Christ? Absolutely!

In fact, the Bible is very clear about what it takes to see measurable growth take place in our life.

A great starting point is knowing that we must continually filled with the Holy Spirit.

Please note: there is no real spiritual growth apart from the working of God’s Spirit in our lives.

We can try to fake spirituality.

But God’s Spirit produces in us the real stuff of spirituality.

And yet, the Holy Spirit is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied aspects of the Christian life.

So here are a few of the  basics to help develop our theology of the Holy Spirit.

Here’s the first thing: The Holy Spirit is God.

In Christian theology, the description of God we derive from the Bible has God being one being made up of three persons:

Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three in one.

Each member of this Trinity has unique characteristics and responsibilities, and yet they are all still God and work in utter and complete harmony.

So, what does the Holy Spirit do?

For starters, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit lives within every Christian.

At the moment we are saved, the Holy Spirit takes up residence with the primary purpose of helping us grow as a believer.

When the Corinthian Christians started acting in ways that DID NOT indicate that a lot of spiritual growth was taking place, Paul asked this question of them:

1 Corinthians 3:16 (ESV)

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

See, before Jesus died, rose again and then ascended back into heaven, He gathered His disciples together and started preparing them for His departure.

Which, if you think about it, probably sounded pretty scary.

One day Jesus is with them, teaching them, performing miracles…and then boom…He would be gone.

So, to settle their hearts and calm their minds and let them know  that they would be okay,  Jesus tells His guys these words recorded in John 14:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” John 14:15-17 (ESV)

At verse 18, Jesus makes this encouraging statement:

“I will not leave you as ORPHANS!”

Later in verse,s 25 and 26 Jesus returns to offer a bit more insight into one of the roles the Holy Spirit would play in their lives:

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

So, the Spirit’s job is not just to well inside of us, but to actually help us in various ways.

And in verse 26 we see that one way the Spirit helps us is by teaching us!

Another word theologians use to describe this ministry of the Spirit is by describing it as the ministry of ILLUMINATION.

Meaning the Spirit “turns on the lights” to certain things we couldn’t see or understand prior to meeting Jesus.

And the primary tool that the Holy Spirit uses to accomplish this illumination is our Bibles.

Perhaps you remember that Paul talked about this early in His letter to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 2:9-12

Paul was trying to explain to the Corinthians how it was that men without the Spirit couldn’t comprehend spiritual things, but those with the Spirit could actually understand very deep things about God’s ways and God’s workings:

1 Corinthians 2:9-12 (ESV)

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

And as I stated earlier, the illuminating ministry of the Spirit is meant to help us both understand and apply Scripture!

Put another way, the Holy Spirit and the Word of God work hand in hand to help us grow as followers of Jesus.

So, the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and we are to avail ourselves, or as the Bible describes it, be continually filled with the Spirit.

I like to think of it like this: The Holy Spirit that dwells in me is meant to be fully activated 24 hours a day for the purpose of illuminating and impressing God’s will and ways upon me, and influencing me to act upon those things.

So, one role of the Spirit is to teach us what God wants us to know.

Let’s consider one more way the Holy Spirit impacts us:

The Holy Spirit is intent on producing in us Christ-like character.

In Galatians 5 the Apostle Paul wrote:

Galatians 5:16-24 (ESV)

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Bottom line, to be affected by the Spirit, we must YIELD to the Spirit

This might be likened to the attitude we should have when we drive up to a roundabout. If there are other cars moving through the circle, we should (hopefully!) wait our turn. When we do this we are yeilding to the other vehicles.

In contrast to the ideas of yielding to the Spirit, or keeping in step with the Spirit, or being filled with the Spirit…

Finally, the Bible offers us to 2 directives about what NOT to do with the Holy Spirit:

1 Thessalonians 5:19 (ESV)

Do not QUENCH the Spirit.

The dictionary defines the word quench like so:

  • to put out or extinguish (fire, flames, etc.).
  • to cool, causing something to lose warmth
  • to subdue or destroy; overcome; quell:

Sometimes the imagery used to describe the Holy Spirit is that of a flame.

And the issue is, sometimes we may be guilty of pouring water on the Spirit’s flame as He is trying to fire us to godly thoughts or actions!

One more negative response to the Holy Spirit:

Ephesians 4:30 (ESV)

And do not GRIEVE the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Quenching the Spirit means we refuse to listen or respond to His promptings.

Grieving the Spirit happens when we do the very things the Spirit is trying to move us away from.

Here’s my parting shot:

The Christian’s availability and subsequent positive response to the Holy Spirit is essential to spiritual development.

To try and grow without the influence of Spirit is simply a waste of time.

Yet so many Christians try to pull it off.

If that’s us, may we become sick and tired of trying to produce spirituality on our own.

 

 

 

Why Grow?

For some people, the motivation to move forward often depends on knowing the why.

If they understand the reason for something, they will find themselves more willing to moved into motion.

So, here are four quick thoughts about why God would want us to grow as followers of Jesus:

  1. So we can worship and honor God more truly and deeply

As we grow, we learn more about the character, nature and activities of God. And the more we know, the more fully we can give God the worship he is due.

  1. So we might be more equipped to live life as God designed it

It’s amazing how much we struggle with the basics, isn’t it? But God, the one who made us and knows us, has a better way in mind for us. When we grow, we learn His ways and can develop skills to do life better/

  1. So we can better love and serve others

Loving others is hard! But we are called to practice love as a show of our relationship with Jesus. There are so many ways in which to grow when it comes to love and service.

  1. So we can demonstrate and share the Gospel more effectively

For many, sharing their faith is a huge challenge. But, we can grow to become better communicators, as well as better examples, of the Gospel.

But perhaps knowing why we should grow as a believer isn’t enough for you.

It could be you have a different set of fears.

Maybe you feel that growing as a Christian sounds too scary…or too constricting…or too boring.

If so, realize this: Jesus didn’t come to earth to die and rise again from the dead to make us afraid…or to cramp our style…or to tedious or redundant.

He came, as the Gospel writer John wrote, to give us life and life more abundant.

And Paul added onto that sentiment by writing in Galatians that Jesus came to set us free!

When a person comes to Jesus for the first time, or a Christian doesn’t get to the business of growing up right away, they are what some refer to as a babe in Christ.

There always has to be a starting point for growth, and it’s the same for everyone.

We all start in spiritual diapers before we can move on to deeper things.

Consider what Paul wrote to the stagnating Corinthian Christians:

1 Corinthians 3:2 (ESV)

I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready.

The way the Bible describes it, we start with what would be called spiritual milk, and the more we take in and practice, the sooner we come to the place of being able to handle spiritual meat.

Here are a couple of questions meant to get you thinking about your level of spiritual growth.

  1. Are you truly leaning in with a heart to mature and develop as a believer?

  2. And if not, what is it that is holding you back?

  • Is it your pride?
  • Are you afraid God can’t be trusted?
  • Are you embarrassed about Jesus?
  • Are you intimidated by the cost that comes with being a growing Christian?
  • Do you wonder if God can really change you?
  • Are you afraid that if you decide to follow Jesus you’ll miss out on some things?

These are real obstacles that keep many people from moving forward in growth that need to be removed.

Gaining Spiritual Traction

The next few week’s posts will be excerpts from a recent message series I shared called “Gaining Spiritual Traction.”

One thing I believe the Bible makes clear is that spiritual growth is not an option.

Yet, for many, growing a believer can feel like such a struggle.

Sometimes we can feel like a failure/

So, my heart is to share some thoughts about what it takes to see measurable, impactful spiritual growth happen in our lives.

Here’s my first thought: The journey of growing as a Christian begins with a desire and a decision.

We have to want to start growing. We have to be at least somewhat anxious see change occur in our life.

AW Tozer said:

“The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people.”

On top of desire, we must be willing to take some initial action steps.

I like the tone and determination that Joshua communicated when a lot of people around him were wavering about which way they wanted to go spiritually:

“But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (from Joshua 24:15)

The reality is there are some people who are completely content to know Jesus as Savior, but aren’t nearly interested in Him being the Lord of their life.

And, as a result, these people stay in a sort of spiritual suspended animation.

Which, I say, is not at all God’s Will for the Christian. Growth is normal; Stagnation is not.

Consider these three passages that extol the idea that the Christian should always be growing:

2 Peter 3:18 (ESV)

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity.

1 Timothy 4:15 (NASB)

Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.

Hebrews 6:1-2 (ESV)

Therefore, let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.

And the thing is, I could just go on and on and on about how the Bible encourages us…and exhorts us…to find ourselves in journey of growth.

That’s a big part of the Christian life!

  • Being challenged and being stretched!
  • Stepping out in faith when we might prefer to stay back and stay comfortable!
  • Being willing to leave a negative behavior behind, in order to take hold of a new behavior that’s good for us and honors God.

Scottish Evangelist Henry Drummond said:

“If a man does not exercise his arm he develops no biceps muscle; and if a man does not exercise his soul, he acquires no muscle in his soul, no strength of character, no vigor of moral fiber, nor beauty of Spiritual growth.”

The questions for us are:

  • Do we have the desire to grow?
  • Have we made the decision to grow?

No Easter Without The Cross

(This is the text of the message I shared with the CDA Bible Church community on March 30, 2018 at our Good Friday communion service.)

It’s been said that we cannot truly experience the joy and relief that comes from Easter, without also understanding and embracing the message of the cross.

That’s because the cross is completely central to the story of Jesus.

There is simply no way we can remove the cross from the Christian narrative and still have a true Gospel message.

But many have tried. Through the centuries, people have tried to form a sort of benign Christianity that leaves out the meaning and the message of Christ’s suffering and death

I won’t say names, but while I was a youth pastor in Southern California, I heard directly from another pastor who served at an internationally known church, that the Senior Pastor, a few weeks prior to Easter week, had sent out a memo to all church pastors, teachers and leaders, urging them to try and keep references to Christ’s suffering, torture and crucifixion to a minimum, instead putting the focus on the more positive message of the empty tomb and resurrection.

Some theologians claim that they only reason Jesus died was to serve as an example of extreme sacrifice from which can apply to our own lives. No payment for sin, mind you; just some horrific sort of object lesson.

But let’s be honest.

The image of the cross, and all the events that surround it, are not the easiest thing to think about.

There was torture.

There was cruelty.

There was injustice.

There was execution.

There was spilled blood.

There was death.

Even while Jesus was alive, Peter tried to talk Jesus out on any thoughts of dying.

To which, interestingly enough, Jesus told Peter to “Get behind me Satan!”

But, as Peter learned after Jesus’ resurrection, the cross had a distinct and utterly important purpose.

Prior to Jesus’ arrest Peter tried to get Jesus to avoid the cross!

But in Acts 2 Peter what does do when he preaches his message on the day of Pentecost? He makes the cross central to his sermon:

Acts 2:22-34: “Men of Israel! Listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, signs and wonders, which God did among you and through Him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing Him to the cross. But, God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

And the very last line of his message went like this:

Acts 2:36: Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ!

Although early on he avoided it, Peter came to the place where he knew he couldn’t tell the story of Jesus without making the cross central.

As humbling as it can be for us, as Christians we must consider how amazing and powerful the cross is for us.

For example: The cross tells us how much God loves us!

The Bible tells us in Romans 5:8

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!

Have you ever wondered to yourself, “I wonder if God can really love someone like me?”

Well to answer that question, think about this:

While we were at our farthest from God:

  • sinning against Him
  • rebelling against Him
  • Not even caring about Him

God showed his love for us by sending Jesus to die in our place!

For those of us who strain to earn our salvation by way of earning it…trying to be good and religious and perfect…

God proved his love by sending Jesus to pay the steep price we could never afford.

It was at the cross where, once and for all, God took care of the business of sin.

And, the work accomplished there was so far-reaching and complete, the last words of Jesus were:

“It is finished!”

Here’s the good news that emanates from the cross:

Because of the cross we can find hope.

Because of the cross we can experience peace.

Because of the cross we can taste forgiveness.

And because of the cross, we can begin again.

Cleansed

Restored

Renewed

Redirected

Here’s a final thought.

Of the importance of the cross within the life of the church, British theologian John Stott said this:

“The Christian community is a community of the cross, for it has been brought into being by the cross, and the focus of its worship is the Lamb once slain, now glorified.”