Posts Tagged With: Holy Spirit

Wine or the Spirit: Part 2

Last week’s article shared the story of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel. In a state of desperation and discouragement, she prayed at the temple, but the priest assumed she was drunk. She was so consumed with her desire to receive God’s blessing, she did not seem to care how she appeared to people.

This should be our attitude. Hannah was not the last person of faith to be accused of drunk and disorderly conduct because of her zeal for God. The same accusation was leveled against the apostles on the first Pentecost.

“But others were mocking and saying, ‘They are full of sweet wine.’ But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: ‘Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day…’” (Acts 2:13-15; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Tongues of fire rest upon the apostles on Pentecost; then, things got a little wild. Image  from Science Museum Group, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The disciples were willing to look foolish and drunk as they proclaimed the Gospel. Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, the Holy Spirit came mightily upon them: a mighty rushing wind filled the room; tongues of fire rested upon the disciples, who proceeded to speak in diverse tongues; and Peter preached a bold sermon, after which 3000 people were baptized. However, the audience’s initial response was not a sense of conviction for sin or a desire to repent and be baptized. Their initial response was, “Look at those guys! They’re drunk!”

The earliest Christians were not considered wise by their peers. The Gospel seems like foolishness to the world. We believe a baby was born to a virgin and grew up to save the world by dying to conquer death. Just like His birth, His death defied the laws of science, since He rose from the grave. To many people, it sounds irrational:

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25).

The wisdom of God seems foolish to mankind. However, it is not foolish, irrational, or illogical. It is super-rational and hyper-logical. It is beyond human comprehension. It demands spiritual discernment:

“For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:10-13).

It is beyond standard human logic and demands a spiritual approach. Perhaps part of the reason why the church seems so impotent against the cultural chaos surrounding us is that many Christians, pastors, and churches are trying to be relevant: to fit in, to look respectable, trendy, and distinguished.

Photo by John Snyder, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Until we are willing to look foolish for God, we will not display His wisdom. We must return to the power of the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen our individual lives. We must return to the Word of God—not pop culture or pop psychology—to guide our pursuit and proclamation of truth. We must become less concerned about looking distinguished, respectable, and “normal” and return to the radical foolish zeal that guided the earliest Christians.

Many people are willing to surrender control of their life and senses to alcohol—all too often, for a lifetime. Are we willing to look drunk to the world because we have surrendered control of our lives and are allowing the Holy Spirit to control us? Are we prepared to become Holy Ghost addicts? Are we zealous for God to control our lives?

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father…” (Ephesians 5:15-20).

May the true wisdom of God override the world’s ideas of wisdom as we are filled with the Spirit and zealous to do His will.

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wine or the Spirit: Part 1

“Then Eli said to her, ‘How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you’” (1 Samuel 1:14; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Photo by form PxHere

I attend a church that celebrates communion every Sunday. We include actual wine, not grape juice, which might trouble people from more conservative Christian traditions. After one service, my then-teenaged son joked about ways this could create trouble; for example, what if a young child grabbed the chalice out of the deacon’s hands and drank it all? This led us to a more serious discussion about the parallels and differences between alcohol and the Holy Spirit.

I grew up in an alcoholic home. For most of my youth, my father drank heavily; he became sober while I was in high school, and his life dramatically changed. I saw the impact of alcohol. If you drink a large amount of alcohol, it changes your behavior. If you stick with it, it changes your character. Alcohol becomes an obsession. It takes control of the alcoholic’s passions, desires, and goals. (This is true of many forms of addiction.) In this case, it is not a good thing.

However, when God comes into your life, He also changes you. He changes your behavior and character. Instead of performing the deeds of the flesh, we bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice 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” (Galatians 5:19-23).

As this fruit grows, God can become an obsession that takes control of our passions, desires, and goals. Alcoholism is destructive, but the abundant life in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit are productive and life-giving.

However, such a passion for the Lord can look foolish to non-believers. Scripture tells several stories of people of faith whose zeal for God made them appear silly and drunk to observers.

First Samuel 1 introduces us to a woman named Hannah. In ancient Israel, polygamy was an accepted practice, and Hannah’s husband Elkanah had two wives. The other wife had borne him several children, but Hannah was childless. Such barrenness was embarrassing in those days, and the other wife abused her about it. Driven to desperation, Hannah prayed at the doorpost of the temple. In her shame and agony, she did not speak out loud but just moved her lips as she expressed her burden to the Lord.

The priest, Eli, saw her quivering lips, assumed she was drunk, and scolded her. When she explained herself, he relented and pronounced a blessing: “Go in peace; and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of Him” (1 Samuel 1:17). God did answer her prayer; she bore a son, named him Samuel, and dedicated him to the Lord’s service. As a child, he ministered at the temple in Shiloh (a prominent place of worship before the temple was built in Jerusalem) and became one of Israel’s greatest prophets, bridging the gap between the rule of the judges and the reigns of Israel’s kings. He is considered the last judge, and he coronated the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David.

Samuel’s birth came about because his mother was desperate enough to seek God’s blessing even if it made her look like a drunken fool to a leader of God’s people. Once a failure who looked like a fool, she became a role model for mothers everywhere.

I will share more about this subject from the New Testament next week. Stay tuned….

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Faith and the Trinity

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-21; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise indicated).

A 16th century attempt to depict the Trinity by Guillaume Le Rouge. Image from the Cleveland Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons license.

The Sunday following Pentecost is Trinity Sunday in Roman Catholic, Episcopal/Anglican, and many other Western liturgical churches.

The Trinity is a mystery. In a sense, it is also a paradox. The Father is God; the Son also is God; and the Holy Spirit is God. They are distinct, separate entities, so they are three Persons. Yet, there is only one God. Attempts to explain how one God can be three Persons are usually unsatisfactory. Most people who think they can explain the Trinity usually end up describing either modalistic monarchianism (the belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the same person who merely manifests Himself in different ways at different times) or full-blown polytheism. Both are false teachings.

Illustrations and examples usually seem flawed. One illustration is the egg (shell, white, and yolk are all different parts, but they make one egg). My seminary systematic theology professor tried to use coffee as an example (water, sugar, and the juice of the coffee beans). Every such example falls a little short. Another professor, Stanley Horton, explained it best: God is the only real Trinity in existence; we will not understand it fully until we see Him in the fullness of His glory.

That is all we need to know. We are saved by faith, not by knowledge. Even when our understanding falls short, we merely have to trust God.

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (John 17:20-23).

All three Persons in the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are intimately involved in our salvation and spiritual growth. 1 John 2:23-24 tells us that “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.” A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is identical to a relationship with God the Father; they are intertwined. The person who has a relationship with Jesus has the Holy Spirit dwelling within.

If we do not understand it, we merely have to trust Jesus, and He will guide us—with the help of the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer).

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ascension and Pentecost IV: The Ascended Christ Sends the Indwelling Spirit

Happy birthday to the church, the body of Christ! The following article is the conclusion of a four-part series I published three years ago between the Feast of the Ascension and Pentecost in 2018. I share it again as we celebrate the birth of the church and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus.

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7–8).

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).

(This is Part 4 of a series. Part 3 appears here.)

stp-elp19
Stained glass depiction of the Great Commission, at the Cathedral Parish of Saint Patrick in El Paso. By Lyricmac at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we saw in an earlier message, Jesus breathed on His disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit on the night following His resurrection (John 20:22). This reception of the Holy Spirit was essential to their work of proclaiming the Gospel. He told them to receive the Holy Spirit; then they could go forth and preach. In Acts 1:4–8, Jesus told them to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them before going out to preach.

We often speak of Pentecost as “the birthday of the church” because it is the day when the disciples received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and began to fulfill the Great Commission (see Acts 2, especially verses 1–4 and 37–41).

Entire books have been written about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church and the believer, so this will be a very brief synopsis (if the Lord allows, I will write a more thorough series about the Holy Spirit one of these days). This conclusion to this series will show how the indwelling Holy Spirit provides our connection with the ascended Lord Jesus Christ and enables us to observe all that He has commanded us (Matthew 28:19–20).

As I have written several times in this series, several key themes tie the Feast of the Ascension and Pentecost together. Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit tie Jesus’ transcendent power and glory closely together with His immanent and permanent presence in the believer’s life.

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

In the upper room discourse, Jesus said that He would ask the Father to send the Spirit (John 14:16). After His ascension, they would send the Holy Spirit to fill believers and empower them.

What does the Holy Spirit do in the life of a believer? Jesus lists these roles:

  • He dwells with believers forever, thereby providing a permanent direct link between the Christian and the real presence of God in his life (John 14:16–20).
  • He teaches us and helps us to remember what Jesus has said (John 14:26; 16:13–15).
  • He enables us to experience the peace of God (John 14:27).
  • He bears witness about Jesus to believers so that we are able to bear witness about Him to others (John 15:26–27).
  • Convicts the world regarding sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8–11).

In Galatians 5:22–23, we read that the Holy Spirit also produces fruit in the lives of believers: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

At the end of Mark’s Gospel, we read that several signs will follow the disciples while they proclaim the Gospel. According to several passages in the Acts, these signs are gifts from the Holy Spirit:

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:15–18).

As mentioned earlier, this is just a brief summary. However, we can summarize the Holy Spirit’s work in a Christian’s life as follows:

  • He equips us to preach the Gospel to others.
  • He empowers us to serve Christ.
  • He brings the life of God into our lives so that we can live like beloved children of God, bearing God’s presence in our lives (the fruit of the Spirit).

Before He ascended to heaven, Jesus promised that He would be with us, even to the end of the age. The Holy Spirit brings the presence of Jesus into our lives. When Jesus ascended into heaven, He took a human body with Him. When the Holy Spirit enters our lives, we become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and God’s seed abides in us (1 John 3:9). While our bodies continue to preserve their human nature and the DNA we inherited from our earthly parents, we receive a sort of “spiritual DNA” from the heavenly Father Himself.

Ascension reminds us that Jesus is more than we can imagine. Pentecost reminds us that God’s plan is to make us more than we can envision. We are His children. Let us live like it. Let us rejoice in that special relationship we have with Him. Let us “be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1), living a life of holiness, forgiveness, and grace that draws others into our spiritual family.

Copyright © 2018, 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Righteousness and Justice. VI: Righteous Men—Cornelius the Centurion

“They said, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you’” (Acts 10:22, New American Standard Bible).

St. Cornelius Window, Chapel of St. Cornelius, Governors Island, New York. From Wikipedia, under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Some recent posts on this blog have considered the righteousness and justice of God. Here, we meet a Gentile who is described by his servants as “a righteous and God-fearing man.” Acts 10 is devoted to his conversion.

The New Testament teaches that one can only be righteous by having faith in Jesus Christ and being clothed in His righteousness. So, the above verse raises a question: How could Cornelius be righteous if he was not yet a Christian?

Can a person be clothed in the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus before placing their faith in Him? Is it possible to be saved before one comes to know Jesus? Some preachers and theologians believe that God might count someone as having faith in Jesus even if they did not know who He was because their life and attitude suggest they would gladly receive Christ if they knew who He was. This concept of “inclusivism” is illustrated in C. S. Lewis’ book, The Last Battle, the finale of The Chronicles of Narnia. The Christ-like lion king Aslan welcomes Emeth, a soldier in the enemy army who recognizes Aslan as the rightful ruler, into his kingdom, stating that any righteous acts Emeth had done in the name of his false god would be accepted as having been done for Aslan.

This teaching appeals to many Christians who think about the billions who have lived and died without hearing the Gospel. It is painful to imagine that billions of people could be in hell simply because they were born in an area where no Christians brought the Gospel. I would find it comforting to think that there could be nice people from pagan societies in heaven even though they never knew Jesus’ name. However, Christians must take our guidance from God’s Word:

“… ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:13–14).

Paul began his letter to the Romans by arguing that nobody is righteous and that all people deserve God’s wrath (culminating in a litany of bold Old Testament statements in Romans 3:9–18). It might be comforting to believe people can be saved without hearing about Jesus, but let us not leap to that assumption. Jesus told us to be His witnesses and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18–20). It is our responsibility to preach His Word, and it is God’s responsibility to decide how He will exercise His mercy.

Can God call somebody “righteous” before they accept Christ? Perhaps Cornelius was one of the elect, predestined to become a Christian, and that is why he is called righteous. I am not aware of any passages of Scripture that would guarantee such a possibility. However, since we know that God predestined those whom He foreknew to be conformed to Christ’s image (Romans 8:29), we can safely say that Cornelius ended up being righteous by His standards.

Perhaps Cornelius’ messengers were misguided, thinking in merely human terms. It is human nature to think of some people as “good people” or “righteous individuals.” We all know people whom we think of as good people. They try to do the right thing and treat other people well, so despite the litany about human depravity in Romans 3:9–18, we think of them as “good people,” even if they do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. When Paul says, “There is no righteous person, not even one” (Romans 3:10), we assume our unsaved-but-really-nice friend is an exception to that rule. Perhaps Cornelius’ messengers thought like that: He tried to treat people well; he used his influence as a centurion to help people instead of taking advantage of them; he gave to those in need. By human standards, he seemed righteous.

A “god-fearer” in the New Testament was a Gentile who had come to believe in One True God. Often, they saw a lot of truth in the Jewish religion and tried to follow many of its laws. They might try to live by Old Testament standards of justice, righteousness, and morality. However, they did not take the leap to fully convert to Judaism by being circumcised and may not have followed all of the ceremonial laws and traditions.

However, God had begun a work in Cornelius’ life before the angel appeared to him. Jesus taught His disciples that the Holy Spirit would convict the world regarding sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8–11). Cornelius had been convicted. He wanted to follow the one true God. God honored that desire by directing him to one who could help him find the right path by faith in Jesus Christ.

God was working in Cornelius’ life before he knew about Christ. Looking back at my own life, I can see how He was drawing me before I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I had been raised in the Roman Catholic Church, but by the time I was a teenager I wandered from that faith. Nevertheless, I could never bring myself to thinking about “God” without associating Him with “Jesus.” So, in my late teens, when I entered a phase of spiritual searching (including dabbling in the occult and studying a few non-Christian ideologies), that foundation stayed with me. One night, I found myself reading the Sermon on the Mount and was impressed that Jesus’ teachings were very practical but also seemed humanly impossible. It occurred to me that Jesus did not come to form a new religion but to create a new kind of person. A few months later, some people shared the Gospel with me, and my heart and mind were ready to receive the truth.

Could I be called righteous before I ended my spiritual search by accepting Christ? I would not have used that phrase then, and I still do not think of my pre-Christian self as a righteous person. (I have enough trouble thinking of myself as righteous after 37 years of following Jesus!) Perhaps one cannot think of Cornelius as completely righteous before he met Peter. Nevertheless, the seeker and the God-fearer are both drawn and inspired by the righteousness of God. This is what draws us to Him, and it should be what inspires us to continue walking with Christ every day.

What do you think? How can one be “righteous” before salvation? Share your thoughts about this or anything else related to Cornelius’ story by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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