Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

The Power And Presence of God In Us

The life of Jesus is an astounding move by God to enter history and share the joys and sorrows of humanity in the most personal manner possible. Jesus forged a path to total and eternal victory and freedom through his life, death and resurrection.

God’s next move is also stunning. He sent his Spirit, his personal presence, to live in the ‘heart’ of every follower of Jesus. Whether leader or laborer, man or woman, young or old, God is with his people always through his indwelling Holy Spirit.

The work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians is comprehensive. God’s Spirit begins before people are saved by enabling each one to understand the deadly outcome of disobeying God (sin) and the amazing salvation available through God’s grace. Jesus told his followers about this work of the Holy Spirit. He said that the Counselor (God’s Spirit) will convict people of sin (John 16:8-9).

The Holy Spirit is intimately involved in salvation by faith in Jesus, the “new birth.” When a man named Nicodemus questioned Jesus, the Lord assured him that he could only enter God’s kingdom by being born again. When Nicodemus hesitated, Jesus assured him that the Spirit is like the wind, invisible yet working to bring new life in God’s people (John 3:1-16).

The moment a person exercises saving faith in Jesus Christ, that new believer is baptized by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). God’s Spirit takes up residence in the Christian’s life (1 Corinthians 6:19). The presence of God’s Spirit in a life is a seal of God’s ownership and a ‘down payment’ on the eternal inheritance that awaits all God’s sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:13-14).

The New Testament contains four commands related to the Holy Spirit. First, believers are charged to be filled by the Spirit, speaking to one another with songs, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks for all things in the name of the Lord Jesus to God the Father, and submitting to one another in the fear of the Lord (Ephesians 5:18-21).

Second, followers of Jesus are instructed to walk by the Spirit, so that we do not fulfill the desire of the ‘flesh’ (our broken human nature that urges us to rebel against God). If we are led by the Spirit then we are no longer trying to please God by following rules and regulations, which is futile. Since we live by the Spirit, we keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25).

Finally, Christians are given two warnings about the Holy Spirit. Believers are not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God. We must not ever use unwholesome, angry, and abusive speech. Instead, we are to use our words to build up one another according to the needs at hand, forgiving one another as God, in Christ, forgave each of us (Ephesians 4:29-32).

The other warning is not to quench the Spirit, or not to put out the Spirit’s fire. Joyful living, constant prayer, giving thanks in all circumstances, receiving God’s prophetic word, these things fuel the refining and empowering fire of God’s presence in our ‘hearts.’

May God’s Spirit fill us and empower us to live in victory,

Brother Richard

 

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Wind, Fire and Tongues: God’s Spirit In Us

God’s Holy Spirit is his invisible, personal, powerful presence in the world today. The Holy Spirit is not a mysterious impersonal energy force that binds the universe together. God’s Spirit is like Jesus, a co-equal and eternal part of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God’s Holy Spirit was active in the Old Testament as early as creation. Early in Genesis we read that God’s Spirit was hovering over the waters, then God spoke. Later, God’s Spirit empowered select individuals to prophesy and to lead his people. God promised that one day all his people, young and old, men and women, small and great, would be filled with his Spirit.

Jesus affirmed God’s Old Testament promise about the Holy Spirit. After his resurrection, he assured his followers that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit, then he departed.

At the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, Jesus’ followers were waiting in Jerusalem as the Lord had instructed. Suddenly there came a noise from heaven like a rushing violent wind. Something like tongues of fire appeared, separating and resting on each of them. They were all filled with the Spirit and began speaking in other tongues.

At Pentecost, God portrayed the powerful presence of his Spirit in three important ways: wind, fire, and tongues. Earlier, Jesus told Nicodemus that God’s Spirit is like the wind. We cannot see the wind, but we see its effects. God’s Holy Spirit is invisible, but we can see the lives changed by his presence.

Wind also reminds us that air is necessary for life. We must breathe the air or die. In the same way that our physical bodies must have air to live, our souls require the presence of God’s Spirit, the wind of God, to give us life. Without the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit, our spirits are dead.

In addition to wind, God’s Spirit was portrayed as fire. When God brought the Hebrews out of bondage in Egypt, his presence led them at night, appearing like a pillar of fire. When the glory of the Lord settled on Mt. Sinai, at the presentation of the 10 Commandments, God’s glory appeared to the people as a consuming fire.

Our God is a consuming fire. The fire of his holy presence burns away all that is corrupt and sinful. God’s Spirit refines us, making us pure and holy as he is holy.

The final representation of God’s Spirit at Pentecost was tongues. In the Old Testament it was common for people to prophesy when God’s Spirit came on them, to speak the word of God boldly, giving the people supernatural revelations from heaven.

At Pentecost, Jesus’ followers miraculously spoke in languages from throughout the world, languages they never knew before. This amazed Jews who were in Jerusalem from various countries. They all heard Galilean followers of Jesus speaking in their various native languages.

Jesus’ followers at Pentecost spoke the mighty deeds of God boldly and openly. The tongue is an appropriate symbol for God’s Spirit because he enables God’s people to speak the wonderful things of God in a powerful manner.

God’s Holy Spirit is our wind, fire, and tongue. He gives us new life (eternal life), he refines us (makes us holy), and he enables us to speak boldly for the Lord (witnessing). What a blessing it is to have God’s Spirit in our lives!

May God’s Spirit always inspire and empower us,

Brother Richard

 

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Why Are We Baptists?

Why do we baptize? First, Jesus was baptized and we want to be like Jesus. In addition, Jesus commands his followers to baptize, and we want to obey Jesus. But what is the meaning of baptism?

After his resurrection, Jesus instructed his followers to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He commanded not merely any type of baptism, but a certain kind of baptism, a baptism that recognizes the Bible’s revelation of God as three in one. In other words, Christian baptism.

Baptism in the New Testament starts with John the Baptist. John’s listeners were familiar with the Old Testament laws about using water in certain rituals for spiritual cleansing, but John’s baptism went further.

John’s was a baptism of repentance. He called on people to turn away from disobedience against God. He baptized those who responded by immersing them in the Jordan River, signifying a comprehensive spiritual cleansing, a radical life change.

John insisted that his baptism was merely preparation for a greater baptism, one which would come through a greater messenger. “I baptize you with water for repentance,” John said, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

When Jesus appeared, John recognized him as the one sent by God, the one John was preparing the people to receive. Like John, Jesus also preached repentance, calling on people to turn away from a lifestyle of disobeying God.

But Jesus went beyond John. Jesus provided forgiveness for disobedience by sacrificing himself on the cross as a sin offering. And Jesus was resurrected and ascended to heaven, sending God’s Holy Spirit to empower his followers with a new life that is pleasing to God and fruitful for his kingdom.

John’s words were fulfilled in the Early Church. Baptism in Jesus’ name is a sign of receiving God’s Holy Spirit, the invisible, personal, powerful presence of God. God’s Spirit is a fire that purifies the life of the believer, a lifelong process of being changed into the image of Christ.

The symbolic meaning of Christian baptism is elegantly and powerfully communicated in Romans 6: Believers are buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life. This demonstrates that Christian baptism is by immersion. It is a picture of death and resurrection, the old life of sin is buried and dead, the believer is raised to walk in a new life.

Finally, John, Jesus, and the Early Church all baptized only those who responded by faith to their message. Baptism is for believers. Baptizing those whom we hope will believe in the future creates a group mixed with believers and unbelievers. The Church consists of believers.

So Christian baptism is a symbolic act done by immersion to everyone who has exercised saving faith in God’s Son Jesus, which begins with repentance. It is a public act affirming that the person is a new creation, forgiven and reconciled to God the Father, sealed and empowered by the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit.

“Baptist” is a name that was given generations ago to those who dared to practice Christian baptism even though it was out of step with the institutional churches of the day. Baptists have endured and thrived because our faith and practice is built firmly on the immovable rock of God’s eternal truth.

May the fire of God’s Holy Spirit purify us for God’s service and God’s glory,

Brother Richard

 

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Digging Deeper Into God’s Word: Lazarus and the Rich Man

Jesus pulls back the curtain and gives us a glimpse of eternity. He does so by speaking about a certain rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). These two men experience a great reversal after death. The rich man, ostentatious in life, finds himself tormented in hell. Lazarus, pitiful in life, finds himself comforted after dying. More than the images Jesus paints, the words he reports unveil a vital truth.

The ensuing dialogue in this pericope is between the rich man and Abraham, the great patriarch of faith who is alive in eternity. In v. 29, Abraham is responding to the rich man’s request that someone be sent to warn his brothers, who have not yet died. In his eternal anguish, the rich man realizes that his brothers are in jeopardy and he has
compassion on them.

The remarks between the rich man and Abraham are always introduced by an aorist tense verb in the Greek text (εἶπεν in vv. 24, 25, 27, 30, 31) with the one exception of Abraham’s statement in v. 29. Here, Luke chooses to employ a so-called historical present tense (λέγει), which marks Abraham’s response to the rich man as emphatic and therefore critical for understanding the Author’s purpose in this text. Abraham’s grammatically marked statement is the key for properly interpreting Jesus’ teaching in this account.

A literal rendering of v. 29 is as follows: “Now Abraham says (vs. “said”), ‘They have Moses and the Prophets, they must listen to them.’” Moses and the Prophets, of course, is a first-century reference to Scripture. Abraham tells the rich man that nobody need go to his living brothers from the dead in order to warn them about hell because they have the Bible and they should read it and obey it.

The present-tense introduction, “Abraham says,” elevates the status of the patriarch’s statement from a simple response which is bound to the immediate context of the rich man’s request and instead places it on the level of an unchangeable truth (gnomic). They have God’s written word and they must listen and obey. So the idea of obeying God’s written word emerges as the crux of the matter for the rich man and for Jesus’ listeners (and Luke’s readers), and for us.

Abraham is affirming that God’s primary method of revealing himself is his written word. This is not to deny the work of his Spirit (see Joel 2 and Acts 2) or the revelation of his Person through his handiwork in creation (Psalm 19:1-6), or through the testimony of his people (Psalm 9:11). Nevertheless, the revelation of God through creation, sometimes called general revelation, is incomplete without special revelation: God’s written word (see Psalm 19:7-11). In addition, God’s Spirit works through his written word by illuminating the Bible to the human heart (Luke 24:45). Moreover, the spoken word of the prophet/apostle (and the witness of every believer) is empowered by God’s Spirit to reflect the apostolic message with precision, that is, to express accurately in a given historical context the universal truth revealed by Scripture (Matthew 10:19; see also Romans 10:17).

The rich man in Jesus’ teaching erred when he discounted the critical importance of hearing and acting on God’s written word. His hard-hearted response toward the poor man (Lazarus) who was left begging at his gate every day was the visible manifestation of his rejection of God’s word (which repeatedly enjoins God’s people to be gracious toward the poor; see Exodus 23:11 and many more OT examples). The rich man ignored the poor man because he ignored God’s word. The rich man’s indifference toward the poor man was a symptom of his indifference toward Scripture, which reveals an indifference toward God himself. This understanding of the rich man’s error keeps us from missing Jesus’ real point in Luke 16.

Jesus’ presentation strongly implies that the rich man’s cavalier attitude toward the poor man at his gate contributed to his disappointing eternal destination. As a result, some readers of this text might conclude that one’s merciful attention to the poor is the desired end result, therefore, any who care for the poor have no real need for the Bible. After all, they are obeying God’s word on their own impetus. In fact, they might decide that they are morally superior to those who study the Bible because they have no such need for God and the Bible to inspire them to do the right thing, no need to be frightened into acting right by an eternal fiery hell. But this would be a grave mistake as surely as the rich man’s error.

In another place (Matthew 5:14-16), Jesus tells his disciples that they are the light of world, so they should let their light shine before people so that people will see their good deeds and glorify their Father in the heavens. Helping the poor is good. Glorifying God is the goal. Helping others without bringing glory to God will ultimately bring glory to the helper instead of the Maker. The Maker of the heavens and the earth who is the Giver of life is also the one who provides us with the resources to help the poor. To take his resources and help others without giving him credit is robbing God of the honor that he rightfully deserves. In other words, helping people without worshiping God is an eternal mistake.

The rich man emphatically denies the necessity of God’s word in his rejoinder to Abraham by beginning with a strengthened form of a Greek negative particle (οὐχί vs. οὐ): “No! Father Abraham, but if . . .” (see Luke 16:30). His personal conviction is that God must do more than merely provide his written word (at least for important people like the rich man; he and his five brothers deserve more from God!). He insists that someone return from the dead and convince his brothers to change their ways. And this is the rich man’s eternal miscalculation, insisting that a miracle is necessary to inspire belief and obedience, insisting that he can demand of God how God must do his business, and dismissing the power of God’s written word (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Hebrews 4:12).

How many people today respond to the Bible by saying “No! God, but if . . .”? They reject the idea that God’s word is sufficient. They imply that their unbelief and disobedience is God’s fault for not doing more, for not giving them the obligatory miraculous sign. If only God would do right, then they would act right, so they imply.

Others assert that they have discovered a way to experience the Living God which circumvents or minimizes Scripture. But anyone who suggests that there is an avenue to God and to his truth which trivializes or ignores the Bible should be corrected quickly and rejected completely if they persist in promoting such a dangerously incorrect notion.

For instance, those who seem to elevate God’s Spirit above God’s word are apparently unaware that the Spirit of God is committed to the word of God. The primary revelation of Christ is the New Testament. Our choice is not between Spirit and word. The choice is between Spirit-word and confusion-ignorance (which leads to eternal disaster).

No doubt the rich man had concluded before he died that his apparent success in life, which came without serious attention to Scripture, meant that God’s written word was of little or no consequence, at least for him and people of his privileged status (or his intellectual superiority). He was assuming an elite position, either not knowing or not considering seriously enough the truth revealed in God’s word that the Lord opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).

The rich man exemplifies the proud. Lazarus exemplifies the humble. The rich man, pampered in life, finds himself in hell after death. Lazarus, poor and pathetic in life, finds himself carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom in death (a place of honor at the heavenly feast). Jesus’ teaching in this text shatters the rich man’s deadly illusion that Scripture is somehow insufficient or optional. The Bible is more important than the most impressive miracle: even someone rising from the dead.

The statement about rising from the dead is ironic because Jesus would be resurrected and show himself to eyewitnesses with many proofs of his conquest over the grave. After a cruel and shameful execution on a cross at Calvary, in fulfillment of God’s written word, Jesus was raised alive by God from his tomb, also fulfilling God’s written promise. But despite the magnitude of Jesus’ greatest miracle, his resurrection, some would still refuse to believe (Matthew 28:17). So this teaching about the rich man and Lazarus is prophetic, predicting with accuracy that his own resurrection would be insufficient to inspire faith for some who were eyewitnesses.

Miracles cannot take the place of the Bible. We must accept the reality that God’s word is sufficient for saving faith. And the written words of the Prophet, in this case the Lord Jesus Christ himself, are worthy of our greatest and most careful attention. Eternity demands it.

Brother Richard Foster

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Tell Your Story!

You have story to tell! As a follower of the Lord Jesus, you have become a permanent part of Jesus’ story. And Jesus’ story will always be a vital part of your life story.

Your story includes the great change that Jesus has made in your life when you were saved. More than that, your story includes the changes that God’s Spirit is making in your life now as he grows you toward spiritual maturity.

In a sense, your story and mine each begins when Jesus willingly gave his life as a sacrifice so that we can be forgiven. Jesus’ sacrifice almost 2,000 years ago opened a door to God’s blessing that we walked through when we confessed Christ as Lord.

Jesus’ story did not end with his death. God raised him up from the grave, alive again and alive forever. More than that, Jesus ascended to heaven and poured out his Spirit on his followers, on us.

God’s Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, dwells in the hearts of all believers, empowering us to worship and serve the Maker of heaven and earth. God’s Spirit is changing us from glory to glory into the image of Christ.

So, Jesus died for your sin, rose up to be your Savior and Lord, and he is working in your life now to do wonderful things that will continue into eternity.

All believers have much in common. We have the same Savior and we were all saved by our faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. But we are still unique.

The circumstances of each person’s salvation experience vary and so each of us has a unique experience. In addition, the details of what God is doing on a daily basis in each believer’s life are unique.

So your story affirms the great truths of Christianity, truth about Jesus Christ and his work of salvation. But your story also reveals a very personal account of how Christ’s salvation is unfolding in history.

Somebody needs to hear your story. They need to hear the ancient and unchanging truth about Jesus and his offer of salvation. They also need to see and hear a living example of how Jesus saves now.

When we open our spiritual eyes, we begin to see the opportunities that God places in our path to testify about his goodness. Someone nearby is reaching a point in life where he is ready to listen.

We need to be ready to speak, to testify about Jesus and his work in our lives. Sharing Christ with others is a sign that God’s Spirit is active in our lives. It is one way that we grow stronger in our faith.

Telling others about Jesus is an important part of discipleship. Remember, discipleship is not merely learning God’s word. True discipleship is doing what God’s word says.

Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). We bear witness to the world of what the Lord has done and is doing in our lives. As we do this, others are saved. What a great honor!

May the Spirit of God inspire us to proclaim his goodness among the nations,

Brother Richard Foster

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A Pleasing Aroma

Jesus expressed his dissatisfaction with the goings-on in the Temple in a dramatic and eye-catching way. He fashioned a whip out of some cords and started driving out those who were buying and selling in the Temple courts. He also overturned the tables of the moneychangers – very aggressive!

Once Jesus had everyone’s attention, he made an announcement about God’s house. He accused the people in the courtyard of turning God’s house into a den of thieves. Of all the sin and disobedience that Jesus observed, why did buying and selling in the Temple courts inspire so much fury from him? Because, he declared, God’s house is meant to be a house of prayer, not a marketplace.

Consider all the things that Jesus could have said about the house of the Lord. He could have said that it was intended to be a place of sacrificing to God, of singing God’s praises, of learning God’s word, of giving offerings to God, of giving alms to the poor, or of encouraging God’s people. Why did he single out prayer and mention it alone?

Prayer is at the heart of our relationship with God in this age. In the Book of Revelation we are promised that someday God’s people will see his face (22:4). For now, we enjoy God through his Holy Spirit, his invisible, powerful, personal presence dwelling among us and living in the hearts of all his people.

How do we commune with someone who is invisible? We pray. We speak to God as if he were sitting right in front of us. We speak confidently because God is in fact right in front of us. More than that, he is all around us. And he has poured out his Spirit into the hearts of all who belong to him. In fact, God’s Spirit is available to anyone who calls on him as Lord.

Prayer is not just a therapeutic exercise or an emotional experience intended only to make us feel better. We do not pray simply to relieve ourselves of the distress brought on by heavy burdens. Prayer is communing with God. We pray so that our words will rise up before the very throne of God as a pleasing aroma. Prayer is at the core and essence of all that we do in church. Church without prayer is an oxymoron, and an irritant to our Lord.

Jesus was angry because he knew the extent to which God was willing to go in order to open up an avenue for loving communication between himself and his people. Jesus was outraged because he would soon willingly sacrifice his own precious life so that God’s people could enjoy unhindered access to the Maker of heaven and earth.

When we gather in church in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ let’s sing his praises, teach his word, preach his gospel, encourage his people, and remember his sacrifice. Let’s also remember, however, that in God’s eyes prayer is not an afterthought or an add-on; prayer is the foundation for worship. Let’s pray more.

May Jesus Christ always be our ready access to the exalted throne of God’s unmatched grace,

Brother Richard

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The Spirit of Christmas

Folks talk about the spirit of Christmas. Different people have different ideas about what the spirit of Christmas is. Many would say that the spirit of Christmas is giving. In other words, a person who enjoys giving gifts at Christmastime is a person with the spirit of Christmas. By this way of thinking, the word spirit simply means attitude, or desire. So, the spirit of Christmas is a feeling. Is that all?

The Bible uses the word spirit in a different way. In Scripture we learn that God is Spirit. The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters on the dawn of creation. The Spirit of God came upon prophets in the Old Testament and enabled them to speak the Word of God. Those same prophets promised that a time would come when God would pour out his Spirit on all his people.

Jesus made promises about the Spirit of God, too. He told his followers that after his death and resurrection he would send God’s Spirit to be with them. He warned them that the world would not receive God’s Spirit because they could not see the Spirit. The Spirit of God is invisible.

Jesus’ promise about God’s Spirit was fulfilled at Pentecost, after his death and resurrection. The Spirit of God arrived suddenly like the sound of a violent wind that filled the house where Jesus’ followers had gathered. What looked like tongues of fire rested on each of them and they were enabled to speak in ways that amazed the people in Jerusalem. The Spirit of God is powerful.

When the time drew near for Jesus to leave his disciples and return to the Father in heaven, he promised not to leave them as orphans. He told them that he would send God’s Spirit to be their Guide, leading them into all the Truth. God’s Spirit would also remind them of all that Jesus said. Jesus had been God’s personal representative in the world, but now God’s Spirit would take over. The Spirit of God is his personal Presence.

When we put all this together it tells us that God’s Spirit is his invisible, powerful, personal Presence in the world today. Christmastime is a reminder that God sent his Son Jesus to be the Savior of the world. Jesus promised to send God’s Spirit so that all who are saved by Jesus can have God’s powerful Presence in their lives. Jesus promised that God’s Spirit would live in God’s people.

For all those in the world who cannot see or receive God’s Spirit, Christmas must be about something smaller, about an attitude, a feeling. For God’s people the spirit of Christmas is about far more than our thoughts or emotions. The Spirit of Christmas is God himself, his invisible, powerful, personal indwelling Presence. May the Spirit of Christmas fill you to overflowing this year.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men,

Brother Richard Foster
Grace Baptist Church, Camden AR

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