A Spiritual Church

June 2, 2018

The church began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) with the outpouring of the Spirit and the preaching of the gospel. The miraculous manifestations of the Spirit were to confirm the new revelation given by the Apostles (Hebrews 2:4). Although I do not think we should expect to see in our lifetime the things that were marks of the Apostles (2 Corinthians 12:12), I believe we are to be a spiritual church.

We are to be a spiritual church because our faith is based on the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Jesus told the Apostles: “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into al the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:12-13, NASB). Scripture comes to us because of “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21).
We are to be a spiritual church because Christians have received the indwelling Spirit when they were baptized (Acts 2:38-39, Acts 5:32). The Spirit is a motive for holiness (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit aids us in our struggle with sin (Romans 8:13). The Spirit is said to produce in us the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

We are to be a spiritual church because of prayer. One of the hallmarks of the church in Acts is prayer (Acts 2:42, 3:1, 4:24, 6:4, 12:12, 13:3, 14:23, 20:36, 21:5).

What we should be and could be is not always what we are. Paul in addressing the problems in Corinth says that he ought to be speaking to spiritual people, but in reality, they were carnal (fleshly), still babes in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1). May the word of Christ dwell in us richly, may we not grieve the Spirit but mature producing the fruit of the Spirit, and may we learn to pray without ceasing. These are the things that characterize a spiritual church.


The Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

July 8, 2016

Someone recently asked me what is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Years ago, I even counseled with someone who thought she had committed this sin. It is a perennial question for Bible readers. The relevant passages are Matthew 12:24-32, Mark 3:22-30, and Luke 11:15-23, 12:10.

Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul (other manuscripts spell it Beelzebub). It is clear from the context that Beelzebul is another name for Satan. Beelzebul is “the prince of demons” (Matthew 12:24). The parallel of “if Satan casts out Satan” with “by Beelzebul … this man casts out demons” also makes this clear. Beelzebul is another name for Satan.

What is blasphemy? It is “speech that denigrates or defames, reviling, denigration, disrespect, slander.”1 In these passages, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is attributing the work of the Spirit to Satan. So the conditions for this sin to occur are: (1) Jesus performs a miracle by the power of the Holy Spirit, and (2) someone ascribes the work of the Holy Spirit in this miracle to the work of Satan. It would seem from context that you would have needed to have been present at Jesus’ ministry and witnessed a miracle to commit this particular sin.

Why is this an unforgivable sin? The miracle is a pointer to Christ’s identity. The person who has become so hardened that he believes Christ is in league with Satan will not come to Christ for salvation. Since salvation is found only in Jesus (Acts 4:12), there can be no forgiveness for such a person. F.F. Bruce notes one other factor: “The answer seems to be that the nature of this sin is such that one does not repent of it, because those who commit it and persist in it do not know that they are sinning.”2

Jesus reasons with his accusers. Every kingdom divided against itself will be left desolate, so it doesn’t make sense that Satan would cast out Satan. By what do your sons cast out demons, therefore they will be your judges. The casting out of demons is evidence of the Kingdom of God. The plundering of Satan’s possessions is evidence that someone stronger than Satan has arrived on the scene. This reasoning with his accusers suggests to me that maybe even they have not yet reached the unforgivable stage, but they are in danger of it. A settled opposition to Christ would leave them without hope of forgiveness.

The bottom line is this: if you have some sensitive soul who is fearful of having committed this sin, but also desires to repent, then they definitely have not committed this sin. But this passages warns us to guard our hearts. It is possible to harden our hearts so much that we are no longer responsive to the call to repentance.

1“βλασφημία,” BDAG, 178.

2F.F. Bruce, Hard Sayings of Jesus, p. 90


The God Who Works in You

May 4, 2012

We need all the parts of Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:12-13.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13, ESV)

Certainly, Paul is encouraging us to a life of obedience, individual responsibility, and perseverance. But we need to notice more than the phrase: work out your own salvation.

Paul wants us to live a life of reverence. Interestingly enough, Paul emphasizes “with fear and trembling” by his word order. Literally in Greek, the phrase would be: with fear and trembling your own salvation work out. That provides a context for our obedience. We are in a relationship with a mighty God.

Certainly a terror that would cause us to freeze or flee would be counter-productive. But the fear or reverence that Paul wants us to have should cause us to be humble and receptive. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7, ESV). “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2b, ESV).

Paul wants us to live a life of power. That is why reverence is so important. We are living in a relationship with God — a life of dependence. Paul explains that in this working out of our own salvation that God is involved: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13, ESV). My experience in Christian living would suggest that God’s power doesn’t help us without our effort and cooperation. I think that is why there is the balance that exists in this passage. But neither should we think that the walk of faith is unaided and dependent only on our own resources.

Paul is clear that he has a source of strength that is beyond himself: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, ESV). I suspect we discover God’s power in our lives when we admit our own weaknesses in prayer. I suspect we find God’s help when we step out in faith despite our own reservations.

Paul clearly wants us to understand our part and God’s part in daily Christian living. Work out your own salvation. But remember we do this in fear and trembling, and that God is at work in us to will and to work for his good pleasure.


Regeneration

November 14, 2011

Regeneration means to be born again. In the context of the New Testament, it is the spiritual rebirth associated with receiving the Holy Spirit. Some argue that regeneration occurs first and then is followed by faith. Others argue that regeneration differs from person to person. Some argue that a person becomes a Christian and then one must seek the Spirit to receive Him. By definition, regeneration must be God’s act, but we still ask when does regeneration take place? What is the evidence of the New Testament?

  • John 7:37-39 “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” ESV Evidence: belief * regeneration
  • Galatians 3:2 “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” ESV Evidence: hear * faith * regeneration
  • Acts 2:38 “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” ESV Several things suggest that “gift of the Holy Spirit” refers to the gift which is the Holy Spirit. It is certainly one of the grammatical possibilities. This grammatical possibility seems to make the best sense in the light of the New Testament’s teaching that Christians receive the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8:9 and 1 Corinthians 6:19). Evidence: repentance * baptism * regeneration
  • Acts 5:32 “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” ESV Evidence: obedience * regeneration
  • John 3:5 “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” ESV Grammatically, the passage is talking of one birth with two aspects: water and the Spirit. Given the context of the New Testament, the water in this passage most likely refers to baptism. Evidence: water and regeneration
  • 1 Corinthians 12:13 “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free- and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” ESV Evidence: baptism and regeneration
  • Titus 3:5 “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” ESV Clearly baptism and regeneration are linked together in other passages. This makes the reference to washing most likely a reference to baptism. Evidence: washing and regeneration

When taken with all the New Testament evidence, becoming a Christian involves faith, repentance, confession, baptism, and regeneration. Regeneration before faith does not fit the evidence. Neither does the idea that the reception of the Spirit is long after becoming a Christian. And although there is a variety of ways of expressing things, as the above list demonstrates, the variety is not inconsistent. A pattern emerges from the evidence when taken as a whole. Have you been born again?