Category Archives: Spirit

Spirit-Empowered Holiness and the Contemporary World

The great contemporary challenge of embracing the biblical perspective about the holiness of the Triune God, in general, and the Spirit’s sanctifying work, in particular, is that the ideas of human depravity coram Deo and therefore of the desperate need for the Spirit’s sanctifying grace do not chime well with modern sensibilities. Men and women today do not view themselves as sinners who fall short of the holiness demanded by a thrice-holy God. Dominique Clift, writing in the late 1980s from the vantage point of twenty-five years of commenting on Canadian society and politics, well describes this modern situation when he writes:

The most significant break with earlier religious attitudes, the one with the most far-reaching psychological consequences because of its effect on the way people see themselves, is the elimination of feelings of guilt and of unworthiness as the foundations of religious life. This development coincides with the appearance of more permissive social standards, particularly in sexual matters. …Somehow religion has moved beyond ethics: what has become uppermost today is the religious experience itself.

J.I. Packer, in his own inimitable way, describes the same phenomenon as a day of “unwarrantably great thoughts of humanity and scandalously small thoughts of God.” Our day, he predicts, will be remembered as “the age of the God-shrinkers.” The result, he says, is that:

belief in God’s sovereignty and omniscience, the majesty of his moral law and the terror of his judgments, the retributive consequences of the life we live here and the endlessness of eternity in which we will experience them, along with the intrinsic triunity of God and the divinity and personal return of Jesus Christ, is nowadays so eroded as to be hardly discernible. For many in our day, God is no more than a smudge.

 Part of the solution is to immerse ourselves afresh in the biblical perspectives about God and his holiness, and radically re-orient our mindset to what constitutes reality. Another part is to recognize that the Holy Spirit is still sovereign and has ways of overriding the barriers erected by erroneous thinking.

Consider the case of Mary Stewart, who, came to know Christ in that turbulent era of the late 1960s and early 1970s and found that she had some radical choices to make in her life. In her own words, she was:

a very liberated young woman at the time. I had had a rich sexual fantasy life almost since I could remember. …I had almost lost count of the number of men I had slept with in a serially monogamous fashion. I had taken advantage of the spirit of the Women’s Movement (in which I was quite active) to begin exploring my own bisexuality. And I had no intention of giving any of that up. When I accepted Christ, I figured that it was the spirit of the law, not the letter, that mattered, that “love” was the overriding principle, and that I could witness in bed as easily as anywhere else.

But to my progressive astonishment, I found all that changing. Not quickly. Not all at once. Not by anyone’s prying into my personal life or trying to send me on a guilt-trip (although I am sure I had lots of people praying for me). It was totally a process of God’s working on me, one item of behaviour at a time, over many months, like patiently peeling one layer after another off an onion.

As God’s Spirit began to enable her to “walk in his statutes,” as promised in Ezekiel 36:27, she came to find herself “progressively liberated, gentled and strengthened” and that, in her own words, “I wanted God’s Spirit more than I wanted transient physical titillation.”

Modern sensibilities be what they may, God’s Spirit and his sweet grace are ultimately, thankfully, and blessedly irresistible. And this gives us great hope and encouragement. Well did John Ryland, Jr., the close friend of Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) and William Carey (1761–1834), express this truth, albeit with reference to a much broader context, in a 1792 circular letter that he drew up for the Calvinistic Baptist churches of the Northamptonshire Association:

Surely the state both of the world, and of church, calls loudly upon us all to persist in wrestling instantly with God, for greater effusions of his Holy Spirit… Let us not cease crying mightily unto the Lord, “until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high” [Isaiah 32:15]; then the wilderness shall become as a fruitful field, and the desert like the garden of God. Yes, beloved, the Scriptures cannot be broken. Jesus must reign universally. All nations shall own him. All people shall serve him. His kingdom shall be extended, not by human might, or power, but by the effusion of His Holy Spirit [cf. Zechariah 4:6].

The Spirit’s work will ultimately be victorious—both personally in those whom he indwells and globally.

Michael Haykin, The Empire of the Holy Spirit, 47-50.

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Filed under Applied Theology, Christian Thinking, God, Holiness, Pneumatology, Regeneration, Sanctification, Sin, Soteriology, Sovereign Grace, Sovereignty, Spirit, Theology

How to Mortify Sin (Repost)

Determine that you will, everyday and in every duty abolish and destroy this ruling principle of sin.  it will not die unless it is gradually and constantly weakened.  Spare it, and it heals its wounds and recovers its strength.  Negligence allows sin to regain such power that we may never recover our former state as long as we live.

We are continually to watch out for the rising up of this ruling principle of sin and immediately subdue it.  This is to be done in all that we are and do.  We are to be watchful in our behaviour to others, watchful when we are alone, watchful when in trouble or joy.  We are to be particularly watchful in the use of our pleasure times and in temptations.

Determine that you will no longer serve sin  (Rom. 6:6).  See it as the worst service of which a rational creature is capable.  If you serve sin it will bring you to a dreadful end.  Determine that though sin remains in you, yet you will not serve it.  Remember, if the ‘old ma’ is not crucified with Christ, you are still a servant of sin, whatever you might think of yourself.

Realise that it is no easy task to mortify sin.  Sin is a powerful and dreadful enemy.  There is no living thing that will not do everything in its power to save its life.  So sin also will fight to save its life.  If sin is not diligently hunted down and dealt with by holy violence, it will escape all our attempts at killing it.  It is a great mistake to think that we can at any time rest from this duty.  The ruling principle of sin to be slain is in us, and so has hold of all our faculties.  Sin cannot be killed without a sense of pain and trouble.  So Christ compared it to ‘cutting of the right hand’ and ‘plucking out the right eye’.  The battle is not against any particular lust but against all sinful lusts which war against the soul.

Mortification arising from convictions of the law leads only to dealing with particular sins, and always proves fruitless.  True mortifying of sin deals with the entire body of sin.  It goes tot the heart of the matter and lays the axe to the root of the tree.  This is the mortification which the Holy Spirit drives the believer to do.

Mortification of particular sins arises from a guilty conscience.  But mortification arising from gospel principles deals with the whole body of sin in its opposition to the renewing of the image of God in us.

John Owen (1616-83), The Holy Spirit, 167-69.

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Beware the Gospel-Eclipsing Power of ‘Jesus-in-my-heart-ism’

Many evangelicals use the evangelistic appeal to ‘ask Jesus into your heart’.  The positive aspect of this is that the New Testament speaks of ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col. 1:27); of Christ dwelling ‘in your hearts through faith’ (Eph. 3:17); and the like.  It speaks of the Christian as having ‘received Christ Jesus the Lord’ (Col. 2:6).  But it also makes clear that Christ dwells in or among his people by his Spirit, for the bodily risen Jesus is in heaven.  Furthermore, there are no examples of principles of evangelism or conversion in the New Testament involving the asking of Jesus into one’s heart.  In many cases this practice represents a loss of confidence in faith alone, for it needs to resort to a Catholic style of infused grace to assure us that something has happened.

Now, when people are genuinely converted by asking Jesus into their hearts, and I have no doubt that there are many, it can only be because they have understood the gospel sufficiently well for this prayer to be a decision to believe that this Jesus is the one who lived and died for their salvation.  Why, then, have I called this section ‘evangelical Catholicism’?  An aspect of Catholicism that Protestants have rejected is the reversal of the relationship of objective justification to its subjective outworking or sanctification.  Another way of putting this is that the focus on the grace of God at work in the historic gospel event of Jesus Christ is muted compared to the emphasis on the grace of God as a kind of spiritual infusion into the life of the Christian.  The gospel is seen more as what God is doing in me now, rather than what God did for me then.  The focus is on Jesus living his life in and through me now, rather than the past historic event of Jesus of Nazareth living his life for me and dying for me.  When the legitimate subjective dimension of our salvation begins to eclipse the historically and spiritually prior objective dimension, we are in trouble.  The New Testament calls on the repenting sinner to believe in Christ, to trust him for salvation.  To ask Jesus into one’s heart is simply not a New Testament way of speaking.  It is superflous to call on Christ to dwell in us, for to be a believer is to have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us.  In the same way, it is not the New Testament perspective that we should call on God to give us the gift of new birth.

Once again, we see that it is not always an outright error that we are dealing with.  Rather, it is allowing something that is good and necessary (Christ present by his Spirit) to eclipse something that is of prior importance (faith in the doing and dying of Christ) and upon which the good thing we emphasize actually depends.  The result can be disastrous.  I believe that many people have made their decision for Jesus and asked him into their heart without really understanding the gospel and its demands for repentance and faith.  These are spurious conversions, and the last state is worse than the first if the ‘convert’ becomes disillusioned and hardened against the real gospel.

A tendency that is encouraged by this evangelical aberration is a kind of Christomonism.  This is a theological deviation from the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  If the centre of my concern becomes Jesus living in my heart (‘heart’ usually being undefined), then Jesus has taken the place of the Holy Spirit and is likely to replace the Father also.  It undermines the bodily resurrection and ascension o Christ.  It affects prayer, among other things, so that the New Testament perspective on prayer to the Father is lost.  Its tendency is t oa docetic hermeneutic.

Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics176-77.

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From Glory to Glory: Beholding a Better Vision & Becoming Like Christ, Part 2

In the previous post we looked at a summary theme of the word of God: from glory to glory.  Specifically, our concern was this theme as a summation of the Christian life.  In Christ we move from the beginning with the glory of regeneration to our final hope in the glory of our glorification.  And we left off answering the question of its relevance  to us here and now, in the already but not yet, concluding that we have been redeemed that we would be sanctified – that this sojourn from glory to glory is about our being transformed into the image of God’s Son.

So, how are we to pursue sanctification?  What has God provided that we might be sanctified?  Look back to 2 Corinthians 3:18:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This one verse contains so much truth concerning the Christian life.  Particularly, it reveals three aspects of our sanctification.

3 Aspects of Our Sanctification:

1. The Procedure of Sanctification – Beholding a Better Vision

How are we to pursue sanctification?  2 Corinthians 3:18 declares, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image.”  As mentioned earlier, at regeneration God does a gracious work of unveiling our eyes by His illuminating Spirit through the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-6).  Now that the veil has been lifted we may behold the glory of the Lord and by that vision we are transformed.  There is a direct connection between beholding the glory of God and being sanctified.  We mentioned the glory of God above but it is referring to something specific here.  2 Corinthians 4:6 tells us that “the glory of God” is “in the face of Jesus Christ.”  What this is saying is that we are to behold Christ that we may be transformed.

Thomas Chalmers, in his sermon The Expulsive Power of a New Affection, said that it is insufficient to say to someone or to yourself, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15), and think that is the end of sin.  Rather, that affectionate vision of the world must be replaced with a better vision.  He writes:

The love of the world cannot be expunged by a mere demonstration of the world’s worthlessness. But may it not be supplanted by the love of that which is more worthy than itself? The heart cannot be prevailed upon to part with the world, by a simple act of resignation. But may not the heart be prevailed upon to admit into its preference another, who shall subordinate the world, and bring it down from its wonted ascendancy?

Chalmers gives the solution to the problem – the gospel:

But the same revelation which dictates so mighty an obedience, places within our reach as mighty an instrument of obedience. It brings for admittance to the very door of our heart, an affection which once seated upon its throne, will either subordinate every previous inmate, or bid it away. Beside the world, it places before the eye of the mind Him who made the world and with this peculiarity, which is all its own – that in the Gospel do we so behold God, as that we may love God…. It is God apprehended by the believer as God in Christ, who alone can dispost it from this ascendancy.

How are we to pursue sanctification?  How do we put off sin and put on holiness?  How do we become more like Christ?  We must behold a better vision – Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.  We behold Christ in His works in the world (creation), in His work of redemption on behalf of sinners, in His work in the world through the church, and in His word as we read it, obey it, and share it with others.  Struggling with sin? Look to Jesus.  Desire the world?  Fix your eyes upon Christ, “the founder and perfecter of our faith.”  Want to change?  It is a battle but eternal worth the fight (2 Cor. 4:16-18).  Behold a better vision and become like Christ.

2. The Product of Sanctification – Becoming Like Christ

The result of beholding Christ in all His glory is that you will be “transformed into the same image.”  When you take your eyes off the world, sin and self and perpetually gaze at the Savior you will be transformed into His image.  Beholding is becoming.  John Owen, in The Glory of Christ, wrote:

It is by beholding the glory of Christ by faith that we are spiritually edified and built up in this world, for as we behold his glory, the life and power of faith grow stronger and stronger. It is by faith that we grow to love Christ. So if we desire strong faith and powerful love, which give us rest, peace and satisfaction, we must seek them diligently beholding the glory of Christ by faith. In this duty I desire to live and to die.

On Christ’s glory I would fix all my thoughts and desires, and the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes and I will be more and more crucified to this world. It will become to me like something dead and putrid, impossible for me to enjoy.

When we behold the glory of God in Christ we become like Him “from one degree of glory to another.”

3. The Producer of Sanctification – Bestowed by the Spirit

We must behold Christ to become like Him.  We must, as Paul wrote, “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.”  We must strive for holiness.  Yet at the end of the day we must proclaim with Scripture that whatever holiness or victory over indwelling sin exists it is “by the grace of God.”  Though we work, it is “God who is at work in us to will and to work for His good pleasure.”  2 Corinthians 3:18 says that our hearts and eyes being unveiled, our beholding of the glory of God in Christ, as well as our being transformed into that same image “comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  As we set our gaze upon Christ’s person and work, the Holy Spirit will transform us into the very image of the One we behold. All this is “to the praise of His glory” (Eh. 1:12,14).

Let us all, for the glory of God and for our good behold a better vision in the glory of God in the gospel and become more like Christ.

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A Respectable Acquaintance with Giants of the Past

In order to be able to expound the Scriptures, and as an aid to your pulpit studies, you will need to be familiar with the commentators: a glorious army, let me tell you, whose acquaintance will be your delight and profit. Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have laboured before you in the field of exposition. If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. My chat this afternoon is not for these great originals, but for you who are content to learn of holy men, taught of God, and mighty in the Scriptures. It has been the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries. If there were any fear that the expositions of Matthew Henry, Gill, Scott, and others, would be exalted into Christian Targums, we would join the chorus of objectors, but the existence or approach of such a danger we do not suspect. The temptations of our times lie rather in empty pretensions to novelty of sentiment, than in a slavish following of accepted guides. A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences. Usually, we have found the despisers of commentaries to be men who have no sort of acquaintance with them; in their case, it is the opposite of familiarity which has bred contempt. It is true there are a number of expositions of the whole Bible which are hardly worth shelf room; they aim at too much and fail altogether; the authors have spread a little learning over a vast surface, and have badly attempted for the entire Scriptures what they might have accomplished for one book with tolerable success…

Charles Spurgeon (1834-92), Commenting on Commentaries, Lecture 1: A Chat About Commentaries.

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The Spirit and Education

‘Come, Creator Spirit!” is a prayer for Christian education.  To trace the work of the Spirit in creation and history is a spiritual task.  To praise God with the labours of our hands from the field, the laboratory, the factory and the study is spiritual service.  We do all to the glory of God.  While not all that we do is worship in the special sense, and while not all is under the direction of the officers of the church, yet the whole life of the Christian grows in the service of Christ, and is a life of spiritual nurture.

The Spirit of life is also the Spirit of truth, and he brings together what secular education routinely separates.  The dilemma of contemporary education is the contradiction between science and freedom.  Science seeks to programme everything, but people would be free.  Our conquest of nature has reached out into space, but it has also turned in upon human nature.  Social engineering imagines controlling the minds of the living, shaping the genes of the unborn, and even freezing the dead for scientific resurrection.  Perfect liberty for science becomes perfect tyranny for humankind, for when humankind is free to determine everything, then humanity will be determined by those who control the crucial moment.  Today, the secular mind, recoiling from the possibility of a Nazified science, turns instead to an irrational mysticism that shrouds another tyranny: possession by dark spirits.

The wisdom of the Spirit does not offer a supplement to the human mind, but challenges its autonomy at the roots.  Knowledge that knows not God is folly, for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  We are not computers, not is wisdom only data-storage and problem-solving.  Fellowship with the living God, and with the Spirit who searches the deep things of God, frees us to seek and possess knowledge.  Such spiritual wisdom combines theory and practice, word and life.

Edmund Clowney (1917-2005), The Church, 142-43.

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How to Mortify Sin

Determine that you will, everyday and in every duty abolish and destroy this ruling principle of sin.  it will not die unless it is gradually and constantly weakened.  Spare it, and it heals its wounds and recovers its strength.  Negligence allows sin to regain such power that we may never recover our former state as long as we live.

We are continually to watch out for the rising up of this ruling principle of sin and immediately subdue it.  This is to be done in all that we are and do.  We are to be watchful in our behaviour to others, watchful when we are alone, watchful when in trouble or joy.  We are to be particularly watchful in the use of our pleasure times and in temptations.

Determine that you will no longer serve sin  (Rom. 6:6).  See it as the worst service of which a rational creature is capable.  If you serve sin it will bring you to a dreadful end.  Determine that though sin remains in you, yet you will not serve it.  Remember, if the ‘old ma’ is not crucified with Christ, you are still a servant of sin, whatever you might think of yourself.

Realise that it is no easy task to mortify sin.  Sin is a powerful and dreadful enemy.  There is no living thing that will not do everything in its power to save its life.  So sin also will fight to save its life.  If sin is not diligently hunted down and dealt with by holy violence, it will escape all our attempts at killing it.  It is a great mistake to think that we can at any time rest from this duty.  The ruling principle of sin to be slain is in us, and so has hold of all our faculties.  Sin cannot be killed without a sense of pain and trouble.  So Christ compared it to ‘cutting of the right hand’ and ‘plucking out the right eye’.  The battle is not against any particular lust but against all sinful lusts which war against the soul.

Mortification arising from convictions of the law leads only to dealing with particular sins, and always proves fruitless.  True mortifying of sin deals with the entire body of sin.  It goes tot the heart of the matter and lays the axe to the root of the tree.  This is the mortification which the Holy Spirit drives the believer to do.

Mortification of particular sins arises from a guilty conscience.  But mortification arising from gospel principles deals with the whole body of sin in its opposition to the renewing of the image of God in us.

John Owen (1616-83), The Holy Spirit, 167-69.

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