Saturday, 20 April 2013

A Statement of Christian Faith (6) – The Spirit guides us ...


The Spirit guides us in our understanding of the Bible (John 5:25-47).
We are brought to Jesus Christ – the Son of God – through the Word of God and the Spirit of God. We look now at the part which is played by the Scriptures and the Spirit in bringing us to faith in Christ.
The Scriptures (John 5:39-40).
There’s a Rabbinical saying which tells us that “he who has acquired the words of the law has acquired eternal life.” Jesus takes issue with this statement from the Jewish rabbis. He tells us that having the Scriptures does not mean that we have eternal life. We must go where the Scriptures leads us. We must go to Jesus.
You can have the Scriptures and never read them. You can read the Scriptures and grow in head-knowledge. You can be acquainted with the teaching of the Scriptures. You can be fully aware of the Bible's teaching concerning the way of salvation. Nevertheless, there is still a decision of faith in Christ, a decision which must be taken on the basis of what the Scriptures teach.
The Spirit
John 5:37 speaks of the divine witness, the witness of the Father to Jesus Christ. Scripture also speaks of the witness of the Holy Spirit to Jesus Christ. The Spirit takes the Word of God and uses it to speak to us of Jesus Christ, our need of Him and His power to meet that need. An important passage which speaks of this work of the Spirit is John 16:8-15. John 16:13 – He is the Spirit of truth who guides us into all truth. John 16:14 – He glorifies Jesus, taking the Gospel of Christ and declaring it to us.
In this work, He convicts us of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11).
* He shows us our sin, highlighting the sin of unbelief (John 16:9).
* He reveals Christ to us as “Christ our righteousness” (John 16:10; 1 Corinthians 1:30).
* He emphasizes to us that, without Christ as our righteousness, we remain in our sins and we remain under the judgment of God (John 16:11).
It is possible to be in the powerful presence of the Spirit and yet turn away without coming to Christ – “you refuse to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:40).Coming to ChristThis is what happens when we receive the testimony of the Scriptures and respond to the witness of the Spirit. Coming to Christ is believing in Christ (Acts 16:31). It is not ‘mere’ belief (James 2:19). It is trusting Christ. It is obeying the Word of the Gospel. It is possible to miss out because we hear without believing, we hear without obeying – “good news came … to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers … those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of obedience … Today, when you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 4:3, 6-7).
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The Spirit guides us in our understanding of the Bible (1 Corinthians 14:1-25).
When I was a student at Glasgow University, we were asked to study a book with the interesting title, “The Strange Silence of the Bible in the Church.” What does this mean? – the strange silence of the Bible in the Church. This title highlights for us a very real danger – the danger of paying lip-service to the Bible without really taking its message very seriously.
I heard the story of a woman who was most adamant in her belief, “The Bible is the Word of God.” She said, “Yes. I believe that the Bible is God’s Word.” This is what she said. She spoke these words with such emotion. It would have been difficult to question the sincerity of her belief. There was, however, one very serious question mark over her belief. there was one disturbing fact which raised the question, “How much difference does this strongly held belief really make to her life?” What was this strange contradiction at the heart of the woman’s life? On the one hand, she insisted, “I believe the Bible is God’s Word.” On the other hand, there was the strange fact that she did not even own a Bible. you could have searched her house from top to bottom. You would have found many things. Even after searching high and low, you would not have found a Bible. For all her professed belief, she had never even taken the trouble to purchase a Bible for herself. she said that she believed the Bible, yet she never read the Bible. It does not make sense to sat, “The Bible is God’s Word”, and then neglect to allow God to speak to you through His Word.
When I was a boy, in my first year at Secondary School, I was presented with a Gideon’s New Testament. at the presentation, the Headmaster said to us, “Don’t put this New Testament in a drawer and leave it there. Read it. It’s for reading.” Unfortunately, I did exactly what he told us not to do. I laid it to one side. I forgot about it.
The Bible is like a record. The message is on the record, but you will only hear it if you play the record. God’s message is in the Bible, but you will only hear it if you read your Bible. How do we hear the message on the record? We bring the needle and the record into contact with each other. How do we really hear God speaking to us? We bring the reader and the Author into contact with each other.
Two years after I received my Gideon’s New Testament, I came to faith in Jesus Christ. When I found Christ, my living Saviour, I also discovered the Bible as a new and living Book. Let’s return to the record and the needle. What makes the difference when the needle touches the record? It’s the electrical power. What makes the difference when the reader and the Author are brought into contact with each other? It is the power of the Holy Spirit. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, our eyes are opened. We read the Bible with new eyes. We do not only see the many pages and the many words. We also see Jesus, the Saviour, the living Word of God. Without the Holy Spirit, the Bible seems to us to be so many hundreds of pages and so many difficult words. With the Holy Spirit living in us, we learn to read the Bible as the true and living Word of God.
There are different ways in which we can approach the Bible.
First, there is “the quiet time.” We spend time each day, reading the Word of God. I encourage you to read the Word of God each day, Find some time, each day for a “quiet time” with the Lord.
Second, we can study the Bible in groups. Those who are involved in group Bible studies will testify to the value of gathering together with others to study God’s Word. I encourage you to become part of a group which meets regularly to study the Lord’s Word.
Third, we can hear God’s Word preached when we come to Church. Before I begin to speak about the preaching of God’s Word, I encourage you to pray for those who are called to preach the Word of the Lord. We do not preach God’s Word perfectly. You can always look around and find other preachers who will be “better” than your own preacher. When you start thinking like this, remind yourself, “The preacher we have is the one whom God has called to be our spiritual leader.” Pray for your preacher. Pray that the preaching will be filled with the power of God. Pray that it will be helpful to those who listen to the preaching.
In 1 Corinthians 14, there is a strong emphasis on the importance of clear teaching from God’s Word.1 Corinthians 14:3 – The Word of God is to be spoken so that people will be built up in the faith, encouraged to go on with the Lord, and comforted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.1 Corinthians 14:4, 6 – The Church is to be edified. we are to be taught God’s Word so that our minds are raised above earthly things, raised to a deeper love for the Saviour and a closer walk with Him.1 Corinthians 14:8 – If the Church is to rise to the challenge of living for Christ, there must be clear teaching from God’s Word: “If the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?”1 Corinthians 14:12, 19 – Building the Church up in the faith, giving instruction from the Word of God – these are to be the priorities in the Church’s life. Alongside this commitment to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, there is to be a commitment to prayer – “We will give ourselves continually to prayer , and to the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4).1 Corinthians 14:20 – We are called to be mature in our thinking. We grow towards Christian maturity as we fill our minds with the Word of God.
This teaching from God’s Word takes place within the context of worship. we do not gather to hear a lecture. We do not look around for the best theological lecturer we can find. We gather together to worship the Lord. the preaching of His Word is set within the context of praise and prayer. The spirit of praise grows in us as the Word of the Lord is brought to us in the power of the Holy Spirit. As we come to hear God’s Word, we are to come prayerfully. Like the Psalmist, we must pray, “Give me understanding that I may keep Thy law and observe it with my whole heart” (Psalm 119:34). This is the prayer God wants to hear. This is the prayer God wants to answer. Let it be your prayer and God will give His answer – a life controlled by His Word, a life filled with His Spirit.
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The Spirit renews us in the sacraments (John 6:1-59).
We begin with John 6:35 – “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the Bread of Life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”
A great deal is said, in John 6, about bread – the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-14), the reminder of this miracle – “boats from Tiberias came near to the place where they ate the bread after Jesus gave thanks” (John 6:23), Jesus’ message on the Bread of Life (John 6:26-40), the continuation of this theme (John 6:48-51, 58).
A lot is said about bread, yet the important thing is not bread itself. bread is simply a symbol, pointing beyond itself to Jesus. When we think of bread, we think also of the Lord’s Supper. When we think of the Lord’s Supper, we think not only of the bread and the wine. Our thoughts turn to the Saviour, of whom the bread and the wine speak.
In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus stands before us as the One who calls for our decision. There is no automatic guarantee that all who hear the preaching of God’s Word do, in fact, receive the blessing of which God’s Word speaks. There is no automatic guarantee that all who receive the blessing to which these symbols point. Jesus stands before us, saying to us, “What is your response to Me?” Some hear God’s Word with courtesy, but they do not come to Christ. Some partake of the sacrament with dignity, but they do not come to Christ. Jesus says, “Let’s get beyond outward appearances. How is your heart towards Me?”
Following the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, we see an interesting response to Jesus (John 6:14-15). The people make what appears to be a positive response to Jesus (John 6:14). It is, nevertheless, based on a misunderstanding of who Jesus really is and what Jesus has come to do (John 6:15).
There are many people who respond to Jesus in precisely this way. they feel good about Jesus. They come along to Church. They sit under the ministry of God’s Word. They come to the Lord’s Table. They eat the bread. They drink the wine. Somehow, they miss the point of it all. They never really get beyond the symbols. They come to the Lord’s House. They hear the Lord’s Word. They receive the Lord’s Supper. The symbols have become more important than the Saviour. When we come to the Lord’s House, hearing His Word and celebrating the Lord’s Supper, let us make sure that we come to the Saviour – receiving Him as well as the symbols which point to Him.
Later on, after Jesus’ message on the Bread of Life, we see another reaction to Jesus (John 6:41-42). Here, we have the Jews murmuring at Jesus, saying that He is a mere man, who has no right to say, “I have come down from heaven.” we cannot assume that all who hear the Good News of Christ will come, in faith, to Him. There will always be those who, like the Jews, refuse to come to Christ and receive eternal life. When we read of this reaction among the religious people of Jesus’ day, we cannot expect that things will be any different in our day. There was religious unbelief in Jesus’ time, There is religious unbelief in our time. We must not hide behind our religion. We must be honest before God; “Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12).
We dare not remain content with the outward ceremonies of the Church. We must look beyond the ritual. We must look on to the Reality – our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
In His message on the Bread of Life, Jesus says, “Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life” (John 6:27).
What is “the food which endures to eternal life”? Jesus makes it perfectly clear that He is speaking about Himself: “For the Bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). Following this statement, there comes a request: “Lord, give us this bread always” (John 6:34). Jesus’ reply is emphatic: “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35).
If, when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we are content with the outward observance without coming in faith to the Saviour, we receive nothing other than the food which perishes. If, on the other hand, we come, in faith, to Christ, we enjoy the promised blessing: “”he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
When we gather at the Lord’s Table, we remember, with thanksgiving, the dying love of our Saviour. through faith, we look beyond the symbols of bread and wine. we draw near to the Saviour whom they signify. we hear Jesus saying, “the Bread which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:51). We say to Jesus, “Thank You, Lord Jesus, for dying on the Cross for my sins.” We hear Jesus saying, “For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in Him” (John 6:55-56). We know, in our hearts, that this is much more than the outward ceremony. This is the inward reality of Christ, living in our hearts. We look to Him in faith. He comes to live in our hearts.
As we approach the Lord’s Supper, we may find that the story of the feeding of the five thousand has some important lessons for us. In John 6:12, Jesus tells His disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.” There are two lessons here.
* First, Jesus was concerned that nothing should be lost. In John 6:39, we read, “and this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given Me, but raise it up at the last day.” Those who have come, in faith, to Jesus will never be lost (John 6:37). It is only those who have refused to come to Christ who will be lost. They will be lost because they have refused to be saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. For those who have come to the Lord Jesus, there is here a precious and treasured lesson concerning the assurance of salvation.
* Second, we notice that the fragments were to be gathered up. This gathering up of the fragments points us forward to our heavenly and glorious, eternal destiny as the redeemed people of God. John 11:52 tells us that Jesus died not for the Jewish nation only. He died “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”
As we consider our sure and certain hope of eternal life, received through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, we might well end with a verse we could so easily overlook. It is John 6:23: “boats from Tiberias came near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks.” Notice how the place is described – “the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks.” The Lord gave thanks for the bread. We also must give thanks – not only for bread but for Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life. Thanksgiving – this must be the keynote of our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Thanksgiving – this must be the keynote of our whole life: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18); “always and for everything giving thanks in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father” (Ephesians 5:20); “And whatever you do, in word or dead, do everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).
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The Spirit renews us in the sacraments (1 Corinthians 10:1-22; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34).
The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper – What place do they have within the total context of the Christian life? What part do they play within the total purpose of God for our lives?
The sacraments are signposts. They point us to the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour. When you see a signpost marked, “Edinburgh”, you are pointed in the direction of Edinburgh. The sign says, “This is the way to Edinburgh.” When you see a sign that says, “Come alive with Pepsi”, your attention is directed to Pepsi-Cola. The sacraments point us to Jesus. The sacraments direct our attention to Jesus. The signpost says, “This is the way to Edinburgh.” The sacraments point to Jesus. They say, “He is the Way to heaven.” The Pepsi-Cola advert says, “Come alive with Pepsi.” The sacraments invite us to “Come alive with Jesus.”
When you see the sign for Edinburgh, you are not already in Edinburgh. It is possible to see the sign and yet never arrive at the place. Similarly, it is possible to receive the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper with really coming, in faith, to Christ and receiving the gift of eternal life. When you hear the words, “Come alive with Pepsi”, you are not, in fact, drinking a glass of Pepsi-Cola. You can see the advert without ever tasting Pepsi-Cola. Similarly, you can partake of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper without receiving the new life which the Holy Spirit gives to all who put their trust in Jesus Christ.
The really important thing is not the outward sign. The most important thing is the inner reality. We come, in faith, to Jesus Christ. He comes to live in our hearts. It is so easy to miss the point of the sacraments. Instead of allowing them to point us to Jesus Christ and all that He has done for us, we get bogged down with self-centred thoughts: “I have been baptized”, “I never miss a Communion.” Whenever our thoughts focus on ourselves rather than Christ – “I have done this”, “I have done that”, we need to hear the warning of God’s Word: “Let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
In a challenging passage at the start of 1 Corinthians 10, the Apostle Paul speaks in this way of the Old Testament people of Israel: “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:2-4).
When we read these words about being “baptized into Moses” and eating the supernatural food and the supernatural drink, our minds move quite naturally to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. If we are tempted to congratulate ourselves, we should look on to the next verse – “Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:3).
We live in a spiritual wilderness, a moral wilderness. if we are looking for salvation from the things that we have done – “I have been baptized”, “I never miss a Communion”, we will be disappointed. We will be overthrown in the wilderness, swallowed up in the moral and spiritual wilderness which surrounds us. If we are to know the saving power of God in our lives, we must learn to look beyond the sacraments to the Saviour.
“It is only by forgetting yourself that you draw near to God.” This is how we must learn to think about the sacraments. The focus is not so much upon ourselves – “I have been baptized”, “I never miss a Communion.” The focus is upon Christ. Through Him, we draw near to God. This is how we must think of the whole Christian life. Christ is the centre.
In a life centred upon Christ, where do the sacraments fit in?
Baptism is a once-for-all event. The Lord’s Supper is a repeated occurrence. More frequent than the Lord’s Supper is our weekly public worship. Sunday by Sunday, we gather together to worship the Lord. Week by week, there are opportunities for praying together and studying God’s Word together. Day by day, we can speak to the Lord and we can read His Word. In all of this, Christ is to be the centre. We do all these things, not to prove how religious we really are but to let Christ have His way in our lives. In all that we do, we confess our own unworthiness. Without Christ, we are nothing. We do not attempt to make ourselves worthy in God’s sight. It cannot be done. Aware of our own unworthiness and our need of the Saviour, we come to Christ from whom we receive the forgiveness of all our sins, the new life of the Spirit and the gift of eternal life.
If, in your thinking about the sacraments, self has intruded where Christ should be, I appeal to you, on the basis of God’s Word: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30), “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Do not boast about the sacraments as things which you have done. Let the Holy Spirit lead you beyond the sacraments to the Saviour. Do not take it for granted that you belong to Christ because you have received the outward signs.
Remember God’s Word – “The Lord knows those who are His” and “Let every one who names the Name of the Lord depart from iniquity (or wrongdoing)” (2 Timothy 2:19).
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The Spirit calls us to serve God in the world (John 8:31-59 - especially John 8:31-32 and John 8:36)
When Jesus began His teaching ministry, He quoted from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has sent Me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives … to set at liberty those who are oppressed … ” (Luke 4:18). The Gospel, which Jesus proclaimed, is a Gospel which brings freedom. The Gospel brings freedom when it comes to its hearers in the power of the Spirit of the Lord.
What is freedom? What is this freedom which the Gospel brings? To understand what it means to be set free by the power of God’s Spirit, set free by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we must first understand what freedom in Christ is not.
Sometimes, people think of freedom in terms of being as free as a bird – free to do as we like, free to do whatever we please, whenever we please. This idea of freedom – freedom without responsibility – is far removed from the true meaning of freedom in Christ. We have not been set free to do whatever we like. We have been set free for God, to do God’s will. Christ has set us free so that we might live for Him and not for ourselves. we have been set free so that we might live as disciples, men and women who are living in the power of the Spirit of the Lord. Sometimes, people think of freedom like this – we are free to choose good and we are free to choose evil. This is not the way in which the Scriptures speak of our true freedom in Christ. Jesus tells us that choosing evil is not an act of freedom. It is an act of bondage. Whenever we choose the wrong way rather than the right way, we do not act in freedom. we are not free. We are in bondage. We need to be set free. We need Christ, the only One who can set us free to be what God wants us to be.
Freedom has nothing at all to do with choosing to live in ways which are not pleasing to the Lord. True freedom in Christ has everything to do with being filled with the Spirit of the Lord. The way of freedom is the way of the Spirit. The nearest the New Testament comes to defining freedom is in 2 Corinthians 3:17 – “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Freedom has nothing at all to do with being free to do as we please. Freedom has everything to do with living for the Lord.
It may be helpful to compare our true freedom in Christ to the freedom gained by a prisoner of war who escapes from his captors. While he is in the concentration camp, the prisoner of war cannot fight for his country. He cannot fight for the cause. When he gains his freedom, he is not free to do whatever he pleases. He is free to take part in the war. he is free to fight for the cause. Christian freedom is a bit like that. Before we come, in faith, to Jesus Christ, we are held captive by the enemy. We are unable to fight against the enemy. He has us in His evil control. When Christ sets us free, He empowers us to wage war against the enemy, to stand up for Jesus, to fight for Christ as soldiers of the Cross. We are set free so that we might live as true disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In John 8, there are three very important verses, which teach us a great deal about the life of discipleship. These verses are John 8:36 – “If the Son makes you free, you are free indeed”; John 8:32 – “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”; John 8:31 - “If you continue in My Word, you are truly My disciples.” There are three lessons here – (i) The life of discipleship is a life of freedom; (ii) The life of discipleship begins when you are set free by the Lord Jesus Christ; (iii) We grow in the life of discipleship as we learn to live in the light of God’s Word.
(i) What does it mean to say, “The life of discipleship is a life of freedom”? The hymnwriter. George Matheson, shows a deep understanding of true freedom in Christ, when he writes, “Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.” He describes true freedom in terms of being the Lord’s captive. In Christ, we are no longer “slaves of sin”: “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18). George Matheson’s hymn contains these fine words: “Imprison me within Thine arms, and strong shall be my hand.” We do not find true strength by asserting our own will over against God’s will. we are truly strong when we are committed to the Lord, obedient to His will. By ourselves, we are weak. In Christ, we are strong.
(ii) We can only live as disciples when we when the Lord Himself is our strength. Without His power, we are nothing. We cannot even begin to live as His disciples. George Matheson expresses this so well: “My heart is weak and poor until it master find. My power is faint and low till I have learned to serve; My will is not my own till Thou hast made it Thine.” We draw our strength from Christ. Jesus said, “I am the Vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
(iii) We grow as disciples as we build our lives on the truth of God. Jesus emphasizes this point very strongly in John 15:7 – “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.” If we are to grow in prayer, we must build our faith and our lives upon God’s Word – “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10).
If we are to grow in love, we must build a living faith on the teaching of God’s Word -”These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). If we are to grow in joy, we muse feed upon the Word of the Lord, letting His teaching form the rock-solid foundation for our lives.
When we build on the truth of God, going on with the Lord day-by-day, we will be true disciples. In the presence of the Lord, each of us must answer honestly the searching question: What kind of disciple am I? – A disciple in name only? Or a real disciple, a true follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, living in the power of the Spirit of the Lord? God waits for your answer.
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The Spirit … calls us to serve God in the world (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and 1 Corinthians 9:16-27).
Paul was no silent disciple, no half-hearted follower of Jesus. He was not ashamed of his Lord. He was glad to say, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (Romans 1:16).
Why was Paul bold to say, “God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14)? Why was Paul so emphatic in saying, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2)?
The answer is very simple and straightforward. He was a man who had been grasped by the power of the Gospel. Through the power of Christ, Paul was no longer his own. He belonged to Christ. This was why he was able to write to the Corinthian Christians, “You are not your own; you have been bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). He was a man filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. This was why he was able to challenge the Corinthian Christians: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? … So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). He was a man grasped by the power of the Gospel, a man filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. What kind of men and women are we? This is the challenge of Paul’s life for us.
Paul’s life was not easy. His life story was not always a glowing success story. He suffered persecution because of his faithfulness to Christ and the Gospel. He spent time in prison because he refused to compromise his commitment to Christ. How was he able to remain faithful to Christ in such difficult circumstances? The answer is quite simple: the Holy Spirit. How did the Holy Spirit work in Paul’s life? How does the Holy Spirit work in our lives? The Holy Spirit empowered Paul to be a disciple of Jesus. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be followers of the Lord.
The word, “disciple”, is very similar to the word, “discipline.” This is no accident. The life of discipleship is a life of discipline. This is the point which Jesus made, when He said, “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).
This is the lesson which Paul had learned when he said, “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). The discipline of discipleship – this is the challenge which Paul’s life sets before us. Are you a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ?
When Paul said, “Necessity is laid upon me”, he was not speaking of a shallow or superficial emotion. The Holy Spirit works within us so that we might learn the discipline of discipleship.
When your pathway is covered with snow, what do you do? Do you clear the path because you feel like doing this? Do you clear away the snow because it has to be done? Discipline – this is what we need if the pathway is to be kept clear.
When your living room is in a mess, do you take out the vacuum cleaner because you feel like doing this? The discipline of the ‘housewife’ has much to teach us if we are to learn the discipline of discipleship, which is called for by Paul’s words: “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit … So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
The discipline of discipleship highlights for us the “I have to do this” dimension of the Christian life. Let me tell you a story about a woman in her sixties, a slim woman about five feet tall. One evening, she sat in her living room, waiting for her husband to return from his work in the fields. Suddenly, she noticed, at the window, the face of a burly stranger. She controlled herself, laid aside her needlework, crossed the room and pushed the piano against the door. When her husband returned, he called in a neighbour and, together, they pushed the piano back into its place. To this day, every once in a while, the man will look up from his newspaper and ask, “Who helped you move that piano?” The point is that she had to move the piano. He didn’t have to move it back.
When Paul spoke of the discipline of discipleship, he compared it to the discipline of the athlete: “Do you not know that, in a race, all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).
For the athlete and the disciple, the prize is different. Both require the same commitment – “self-control in all things.” Paul committed himself to the discipline of discipleship - ” I pummel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified (laid aside as of no further use)” (1 Corinthians 9:27). How much do you and I know about the discipline of discipleship?
If we are to be true disciples of Christ, it will only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit: “God did not give us the spirit of fear, but the Spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). When we are controlled by the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be both blessed by God and used by God.
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The Spirit … calls us to serve God in the world (John 9:1-41).
At the heart of the ninth chapter of John’s Gospel, there is a testimony. It is a very short testimony. It is contained in a single verse – John 9:25. “One thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.” This is an extremely powerful testimony. These few words strike a chord in the heart of the believer. “I once was blind, but now I see.” This is the testimony of all those whose lives have been touched by the love of Christ. When our lives are touched by the loving hand of the Lord Jesus Christ, our hearts rise to Him in worship: “When I feel the touch of Your hand upon my life, it causes me to sing a song that I love You, Lord.” When the “amazing grace” of the Lord Jesus Christ takes hold of our lives, we begin a new life that is filled with love for Jesus.
When the man spoke these words – “I once was blind, but now I see”, this was not the end of the story for him. This was the beginning of his new life. The new life would grow and develop. When we give our testimony, it is not simply a description of the way in which we began the Christian life. It is a testimony concerning all that the Lord has done for us since that day when we trusted Christ as our Saviour. We have been saved by the grace of God. We are being kept by the power of God. When we give our testimony, we praise God for bringing us to faith in Jesus Christ, and we praise Him for keeping us in the faith of Jesus Christ.
What is the new life that the Lord Jesus Christ has given to us? – (i) It is a life of love; (ii) It is a life centred on Jesus: (iii) It is a life of wholeness; (iv) It is a life of mission.
(i) A life of love
There’s a Gospel song , which contains these fine words: “Love lifted me. When no-one but Christ could help, love lifted me.” This is the believer’s testimony – “Love lifted me.” What no-one else could do, Christ has done for us. He alone is able to lift us out of our sin, because He alone is our Saviour. Only Christ can give us new life, since He alone is the risen and living Lord.
Later on, in this Gospel song, we find the words: “Jesus completely saves. He will lift you by His love.” This is the believer’s message. When we have been lifted by the love of Christ, we have more than a personal testimony. We have a message to share with others. We give our testimony, “Love lifted me”, and we say to others, “He will lift you by His love.”
This is precisely what the healed man did . In John 9:25, he gave his personal testimony. In John 9:27, he invited his critics to follow Jesus – “Do you too want to become His disciples?” Here is a model for us to follow. We have become disciples. We must now seek to make disciples. In love, Christ has drawn us to Himself. In love, He uses us to reach out to others.
(ii) A life centred on Jesus
When the blind man was asked, “How were your eyes opened?” (John 9:10), he began his answer with the words, “The Man called Jesus” (John 9:11). Jesus was at the centre of the man’s life. The Christian life is a life of looking to Jesus, a life of seeing Jesus. When we say, “I once was blind, but now I see”, what we are really saying is this: “Now, I’m looking to Jesus. Now, my eyes are fixed on Him.” Once our eyes have been opened to see Jesus, we must keep on praying, “Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see Jesus.”
The more we see Jesus, the more He will rise in our estimation, the more He will be exalted in our eyes. We see this in the case of the healed man. In John 9:11, he speaks of “the Man called Jesus.” In John 9:17, he says, “He is a prophet.” In John 9:35-38, he confesses his faith in Jesus Christ as “the Son of God” (Authorized Version) or “the Son of man” (Revised Standard Version). The expression, “the Son of man”, should not be seen as a weakening of our faith in Christ as the Son of God. Notice what Jesus says, in other places, about “the Son of man”- “The Son of man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15); “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He is killed, after three days, He will rise” (Mark 9:31); “They will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).
Is Jesus becoming more and more precious to you? Is He coming to mean more and more to you? True Christian growth is marked by a growing love for Jesus.
(iii) A Life of Wholeness
When the blind man received his sight, he received wholeness. Until that day, his life was incomplete. He could not see. When Jesus touches our lives, He makes us whole. Closely connected with the word, “wholeness”, is the word, “holiness.” There is no wholeness without holiness. Our lives are incomplete if we are not walking in the way of holiness. There’s a children’s chorus which says, “I’m walking on the King’s Highway.” What does this mean? – The King’s Highway is the Highway of holiness. In Isaiah 35:8, we read about the Highway of Holiness: “And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way (Revised Standard Version) or the way of holiness (Authorized Version).” We are walking on the King’s Highway when we are walking on the Highway of Holiness.
Whenever we think of the love of Jesus, we must also think of His holiness. Jesus, our loving Saviour, is also Jesus, the holy Son of God. Jesus’ love is a holy love. It is not a gushy, sentimentalized thing. His love is holy. It is filled with moral strength, strength of character. If we are to show the love of Christ to the world, we must also show His holiness. living as men and women who are different, men and women who have been changed by the holy love of Christ.
(iv) A Life of Mission
You’ve heard the phrase, “on fire for the Lord.” There was a real difference between the healed man and his critics. He had just received his sight, and, with it, he received a mission. straightaway, he was seeking to win his critics for Christ: “Do you too want to become His disciples?” (John 9:27). the healed man was on fire for the Lord. His critics were also on fire, but they burned with a very different fire. They were burning with the desire to have Jesus killed. They did not know who Jesus was (John 9:29), because they did not want to know Him. they refused to recognize what the Lord had done for the blind man. In the face of such unbelief, we, who must continue to give our testimony: “He opened my eyes” (John 9:30). We must pray for our critics – “Open their eyes, Lord, and let them see Jesus.”
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The Spirit calls us to serve God in the world (1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13).
In 1979, I visited a church in the USA, where the members of the congregation greeted each other with these words: “God loves you, and I love you.” A year later, after my return to Scotland, I heard a song with the words: “God loves you, and I love you, and that’s the way it should be.” The love of God is not merely words which we speak. The love of God is to be seen in the lives which we lead.
“God loves you, and I love you.” “God loves you, and I love you, and that’s the way it should be.” these words have stuck with me over the course of the years. When I conduct a wedding, I read the words of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and 1 Corinthians 13:13. I give the couple a motto to carry with them into their married life: “God loves you, and I love you.” I emphasize that human love is founded on divine love. Our love for each other is based on God’s love for each of us. I stress to them that there are times, in every marriage, when you become painfully of your partner’s weaknesses, times when you are very disappointed in your partner. At such times, it is difficult to share your love with your partner. These are the times when we must remember the love of God. When you find it difficult to love your partner, remember God’s love for you. God sees your weaknesses as well as your strengths. He sees your bad points as well as your good points. He knows all about your faults and failings, yet He continues to love you. When you think of such love, you will find it so much easier to share your love with your partner. The words, “I love you”, will come to mean so much more when both husband and wife are seeking to build upon the love of God. This is the advice that I give to newly married couples; Build your human love on divine love. Build your love for each other on the love of God for both of you.
Our theme is not marriage. It is discipleship. In the Church, we are to live as disciples of Jesus Christ. In the world, we are to live as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. When we consider the life of discipleship, we must learn to think of it as a life of love. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Sharing our love within the context of marriage is, for some of us, a part of life. Sharing our love as disciples of Jesus – this is something we are all called to do. Living as disciples of Jesus means more than just saying the right words. It means living the right way. It means letting the love of Christ fill our lives. His love is to shape our attitudes. His love is to inspire our actions.
The importance of having love in all that we do is emphasized in a modern song, entitled, “Witness”: “I witnessed to a man today. I witnessed to his wife. I told them ’bout the way and I told them ’bout the life. I told them that they needed to surrender to the Lord. I told them ’bout the power of His double-edged sword. I witnessed to a drunkard outside a tenement. I told him he was shameful and he needed to repent. I witnessed to a blind men beggin’ money on the street. I put a tract into his cup and did not miss a beat. I passed out all the tracts with all the Scripture underlined. I handed one to each and every one that I could find. I’d shove one in their hands and I’d walk on to the next. I must have reached a hundred souls with my salvation text. I gave out little Bibles, with the Gospel of St. John, into a hundred hands before my Bibles were all gone. I told each one I met the words of John 3 verse 16, and sandwiched in a little bit of Matthew in between. I finished out the day and yet I was not satisfied. And, on my way back home, it hit me, and I almost cried. I’d given them the message and I’d given them a little shove, but I’d missed the most important thing. I had not given love.” (from Chuck Girard’s album, “The Stand).
All that we do may sound very impressive, but, without love, it is nothing – nothing at all. Living as a disciple of Jesus does not mean being a “Bible thumper.” It means loving Jesus and loving other with the love of Jesus. We are not called to hit people with a book. We are to love them with the love of Jesus. We are not to bombard them with words. We are to show them the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. Words have their place, but we must practise what we preach. In our everyday life, we must live out the love of Christ. Love – this is what really makes the difference. Love – this is what really draws men and women to Jesus Christ.
A well-known atheist, Nietzsche, once said, “His disciples will have to look more saved if I am to believe in their Saviour.” This is very challenging. The only “Bible” many people ever read is the “Bible” of our lives. They never read the Bible we carry with us to Church, but they watch how we live our lives. They watch like a hawk, and they make up their minds about Christianity on the basis of what they see in Christians. A Marxist writer, Machovec, has pointed out that “critics practically never reproach Christians for being followers of Christ, but … for not being such” (A Marxist Looks At Jesus, cited in H. Kung, On Being a Christian, p. 558).
1 Corinthians 13 is the most well-known Bible passage on the theme of Christian love. When we read 1 Corinthians 13, it is most important that we understand that true Christian love is not something which comes naturally to us. True Christian love is nothing less than the love of God: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). True Christian love is not something which arises from deep within our own hearts. It is the love of God which has been poured into our hearts by God Himself. True Christian love grows in us as we allow our lives to be brought under the control of Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:14, the Apostle Paul wrote, “The love of Christ controls us. The love of Christ constrains us.”
The life, filled with Christian love, is the life which is controlled by the love of Jesus Christ. The life which is controlled by the love of Christ will be a life of service, a life constrained by the love of Christ – constrained to reach out to others with His love.
When our lives are controlled by the love of Christ, there will be both love for God and love for our neighbour – not one without the other, but both together. We will offer praise and worship to God. We will give ourselves in the service of needy mean and women. Through our words and actions, we are to show the love of Christ. We cannot be content with words only, for words without actions are dead.
Let us live for Christ. Let us speak for Christ. Let us pray that the love of Christ will shine brightly in our lives, as a light which draws men and women to the Saviour.