Gospel shoes

Gospel shoes resizedSeries: PPE for the Christian life, by Rosie Moore.

“Stand firm then…with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15).

Warren Wiersbe reminds Christians, “We have only one gospel and we must be extremely careful to preach it exactly as God gave it to us, for we will be judged for what we preach” (Stand, p63).

In the war that Satan is waging against us, there is nothing as dangerous to our Enemy as the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So, it makes perfect sense that he would go to any length to obfuscate, confuse and pervert the Gospel. After all, it’s the only message that can save human beings from the wrath of God. Only the Gospel can make God’s enemies into his friends. And only the Gospel can bring us peace with God, leading us to love Him and love people. So, Paul warns, it is on this unchanging Gospel of peace that a Christian must firmly stand against the devil’s evil schemes and spiritual onslaughts (Eph 6:11-12).

The “shoes” of spiritual warfare are a visceral image of our firm standing in the true Gospel.

A firm footing

In the first century, Roman soldiers wore sandals with hobnails on the soles to give them a firm grip on all sorts of slippery and uneven surfaces. The Greek word ‘readiness’ means a firm footing, or a strong foundation (Eph 6:15). Without a firm footing in the Gospel of Christ, a Christian soldier will not be prepared to stand, let alone fight against our great Enemy, the devil.

But what exactly is this Gospel? In 1 Corinthians 15:1-7, Paul describes the Gospel as “a message of first importance”, passed on by the apostles, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures, and appeared alive to Peter, and then to the twelve, and hundreds of other eye witnesses. Paul evidently believed that the Gospel announced by Jesus needed no improvement or tweaking. And the God-breathed Scriptures are all we need to fully understand and embrace this Gospel by faith.

A shaky footing

So, when a person says, “It doesn’t really matter whether or not Jesus’s body came back to life, only that the spirit of Christ lives on today”, this is a false gospel. Likewise, statements like these that I’ve heard lately do not reflect the Biblical Gospel: “Man’s fundamental problem is not sin, but power dynamics or whiteness.” “It’s not our job to talk about sin or our need for Jesus— it’s our job to just love people.” “Jesus and the Bible have been misunderstood for 2000 years of church history. We need a new, culturally relevant reading of Scripture.” “Surely God wouldn’t actually require a sacrifice to atone for sin! After all, weren’t we created good?” “You can’t just believe in Christ’s forgiveness! There’s work you must do to be acceptable.” These are just some of the ways that the Gospel of grace can be twisted, truncated, or added to.

Satan hates the Gospel message, because it spells his nemesis. Thus, he will cook up any scheme to distract people from the Gospel that brings freedom and joy in Christ. He will lure them to accept a different Gospel, which is in fact no gospel at all (Gal 1:7). That is why Paul uses strong words to warn the Galatian believers against any works-based gospel: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the Gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:6-8).

Gospel feet

No doubt, Paul was thinking of Isaiah’s Servant songs (Isa.52 & 53) as he wrote Ephesians 6:15:

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns”(Isa 52:7-8 ESV).

Isaiah goes on to describe this herald of good news—a future Messiah with a “marred appearance”, with “no beauty that we should desire him…acquainted with grief…despised and not esteemed” (Isa 53:2-3). Yet, this is the Servant-King who wrapped himself in flesh, to “sprinkle many nations” and to “comfort his people” (Isa 52:915). He is the beautiful Saviour who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, smitten by God and afflicted…pierced for our transgressions and crushed for all our iniquities. Upon him was the punishment that brought us peace… All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way, yet the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:5-6).

Two millennia ago, Jesus Christ died on a cross “to make an offering for our guilt…to bear the sin of many…to make many to be accounted as righteous” (Isa 53:1-12). This is how Christ brought peace to rebels like you and me the moment we placed our trust in Him. And this is the Gospel of peace on which every Christian must take our stand for the rest of our lives.

In recent weeks, I saw a demonstration of the power of this beautiful Gospel in the life of a friend called Jenny. For several months now, our women’s Bible study has been praying for Jen’s brother, who had terminal cancer. One Wednesday, I’d prepared a Bible study on Luke 12:4-7, based on Martin Morrison’s devotion, “Do not fear those who kill only the body.” Moved by Christ’s clear message, that afternoon Jenny scheduled a Zoom call with her brother, asking us to pray at 4pm as she shared the Gospel with him. We all held our breath, knowing that he was an atheist and that Jen was desperate not to ruin their relationship or cause him distress. But by evening, God’s grace and peace had prevailed over hostility, as Jen’s brother and sister-in-law were both won over by the beauty of Christ’s Gospel and a sister’s love in making it known. We rejoiced with the angels, not just over one, but two sinners who repented and joined the family of God! (Luke 15:10) The Lord graciously gave Jen two more weeks with her brother before He took his newly adopted son home to heaven. “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation” (Isa 52:7-8).

A beautiful Gospel

It’s stunning that Christ has entrusted us to proclaim this clear and wonderful Gospel! It is a true message that rings out with beauty, hope and peace for a world at war. Even the angels sang when Christ was born “to bring peace to those on whom his favour rests” (Luke 2:14). And that is why, as Christ’s ambassadors, we need to wear his Gospel shoes at all times. They give us stability, so that we’re not carried away by all kinds of strange teachings (Heb 13:9). They give us balance, so that we don’t focus on one doctrine of Scripture at the expense of other teachings and commands. They give us mobility, so that, like Jenny, we can adapt our ways of sharing the gospel and respond to Satan’s schemes. But, whoever we are and wherever we find ourselves, we must always be ready to boldly and humbly witness for Christ (1 Peter 3:15). It is an immense privilege to be a servant of this precious message of peace (2 Cor 5:18-20). Like the Apostle Paul, may we honestly affirm: “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:24).

Prayer

Lord Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for our many sins and for forgiving us once-for-all. Keep your Gospel flame burning in our hearts, so that we never grow lukewarm or lose our first love. Help us to love you and your Gospel so deeply that we will speak your truth boldly and gently every time you open a door for us, just as the saints before us did. May our manner always be worthy of the Gospel of Christ and may we not be frightened by our opponents (Phil 1:27-28). In Jesus’ precious name and for his Gospel sake, Amen.

Listen to this great song, which reminds us that we are just nobodies, trying to tell everybody, about Somebody who saved our souls.

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The Breastplate of Righteousness

BReastplateSeries: PPE for the Christian life

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness (Eph 6:14).

God’s breastplate of righteousness is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that cannot be simulated or manufactured. It cannot be claimed through being a ‘good’ person, showing Christian graces, or doing virtuous deeds. In the old-fashioned words of William Goudge, we must “learn what is true Righteousness, that we trust not to a counterfeit breastplate, and be pierced through, while we think ourselves safe.”

A counterfeit breastplate

Satan has always peddled counterfeit breastplates. He loves to divert sinful people from Jesus, who is our only hope of right standing before God. Instead of the real deal, Satan offers us counterfeit righteousness, like human approval, self- promotion, status and pleasure. He goes to great lengths to make us seem righteous in our own eyes, because then we’ll never come to our true Saviour, nor see any need to repent. We’ll be too busy congratulating ourselves or wagging our fingers at others to notice our own crooked hearts.

A neglected breastplate

Then again, for those who belong to Christ, Satan remains a roaring lion, ready to devour unarmed prey (1 Peter 5:8). He relishes the moment when we leave our breastplate of righteousness lying dormant in the cupboard, instead of actively wearing it by faith.

It’s like the time in mid-July, when, as a dizzy sixteen-year old, I caught an overnight bus from Pietermaritzburg to Grahamstown… dressed in a t-shirt, shorts and slops! Believing my destination was somewhere near Durban, I left my warm coat in my suitcase, packed at the bottom of the luggage hold! (In my defence, I was a boarder and it was pre-google days). Needless to say, I spent the whole night rolling myself into a little ball, wondering if I would die of frostbite or hyperthermia! Zipped up in my suitcase, the coat offered no protection against the ravages of that frozen bus. Likewise, in the Christian life, it’s not enough just to know about Christ’s righteousness. We need to actively believe and appropriate his righteousness in our daily lives, or we will be vulnerable to Satan’s attacks.

A lethal weapon

One of Satan’s most lethal weapons is accusation (Rev 12:10). Without Christ’s breastplate of righteousness to protect our hearts, Satan will denounce and accuse God’s people, making us believe that our past mistakes and sins make us unworthy to serve the Lord. Without Christ’s breastplate to protect us, we will be tormented by our own memories and anxious thoughts. We may be falsely accused by our difficult circumstances, thinking that perhaps God doesn’t care for us, or that we’ve done something to displease him. And we may be falsely accused by other people too, just as Job, David, Paul, and countless other believers have been. Without Christ’s breastplate of righteousness, these accusations are sure to lead us away from God and down a dangerous path of discouragement and defeat.

So, if this metaphorical breastplate is so vital, it begs two questions:

  1. What exactly does Paul mean by ‘righteousness’?
  2. What must I do to put the breastplate on, and keep it on?

The Puritans coined two words, which I found helpful in thinking this through for myself: imputed and imparted righteousness. The breastplate of righteousness merges the two, as one cannot exist without the other.

Imputed righteousness

In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul explains what Christ’s imputed righteousness means:

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:21-24).

You’ll remember that the Lord Jesus said that he came to earth, not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32Mark 2:17Matt 9:13). And so, when we stop trusting in ourselves, and instead start trusting in the righteousness and death of the only perfect man that ever lived, God puts all our sin on Jesus and he transfers Christ’s righteousness to our account.

The amazing Old Testament picture behind the breastplate of righteousness is the warrior-Judge of Isaiah 59, who puts on “righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head.” Unbelievably, in this stunning prophecy, it is God himself who intercedes for sinners. He stretches out his hand to save us, by giving us his own righteousness. To those who repent of their sins, God gives the breastplate of righteousness, even though “our offenses are many in (his) sight and our sins testify against us”. He gives us his breastplate to wear, even though we have turned our backs on God and our sins have separated us from him. Even though we justly deserve his judgement, which will come on the world “like a pent-up flood.”

Warren Wiersbe explains the stunning everyday implications of that imputed righteousness:

“He (God) not only goes to the record book and erases your old record completely, but he also makes sure that nothing else is written on that page by filling it with His righteousness. Once the entry has been made, the matter is settled once and for all. Thus, when you turn to your page in the book and find your name written there, you will also find underneath it the words, ‘Righteous in Jesus Christ.’’”

What a wonderful relief to be able to rest in Christ’s imputed righteousness! No matter how we feel, no matter what true or false accusations are brought against us, no matter our circumstances, we are declared righteous. Imputed righteousness is an undeserved, objective reality that cannot be lost or changed.

Imparted righteousness

On the other side of the coin is imparted righteousness, which is how the Holy Spirit changes our natural desires to make us “imitators of God” (Eph 5:1-2). It is practical, everyday godliness in our words, our walk, our motives, and in all that we do, in response to what Christ has done for us. It is impossible to have imputed righteousness without imparted righteousness, because the Holy Spirit imparts in every believer a new nature that gradually produces the fruits of righteousness.

Imparted righteousness is like the warmth that naturally emanates from a fire.

That’s why Paul urges us to put off our “old self, which belongs to our former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of our minds…to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24). One cannot receive Christ’s righteousness without it showing itself in growing holiness in the way we live—“for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true” (Eph 5:9).

Together, both imputed and imparted righteousness make up the ‘breastplate of righteousness’ that Paul refers to in Ephesians 6. We daren’t leave home without putting it on!

In closing, here are 3 practical tips for dressing for battle:

  1. Know the difference between accusation and conviction.
  2. Pursue the good life.
  3. Call righteousness to mind.

1. Know the difference between accusation and conviction

The Holy Spirit mercifully convicts us of the truth of who God is and who we are. Godly conviction leads us to turn to Jesus and to change. It was the Spirit’s conviction that cut Peter’s hearers to the heart in Acts 2:36-38, and the same conviction that led David to repent when Nathan the prophet confronted him in 2 Samuel 12. David rightly responded to this conviction, “Have mercy on me, O God…Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 51). This is godly conviction for real sin that has not been dealt with.

But Satan apes the Holy Spirit’s conviction. He accuses Christians “day and night before our God,” even when we’ve repented of our sins (Rev 12:10). And unlike conviction, accusation leads to a false sense of condemnation. Satan reminds us of our many past sins, making us forget that we have already been forgiven. He uses other people to bring false charges and lies against us. And if you’re prone to perpetual introspection, as I am, the devil will use false guilt to condemn you, even for sins that you haven’t committed in thought, word or deed.

A few years ago, a good friend was so relentlessly tormented over a past sin (for which she had already been forgiven), that she eventually took her own life. I’ve seen firsthand how subtle and dangerous it is to entertain Satan’s accusations.

Today’s society encourages people to think of themselves as God, able to know another’s motives and thoughts. Consequently, the world of 2020 is like a giant nursery school, with many overgrown toddlers tale-telling, name-calling, blaming and accusing other people of gross sin, while blissfully ignorant of their own. A Christian needs to discern between godly conviction and Satanically-inspired accusation. The former, we must welcome and meet with genuine repentance. But the latter, we must firmly resist by wearing the breastplate of Christ’s righteousness, not giving an inch to the vicious liar, murderer and accuser of our souls.* (see Christian’s meeting with Apollyon below).

2. Pursue the good life

Meditate on the ‘good life’ David describes in Psalm 34. Ask yourself what it looks like to “love life and see many good days”; to “keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies”; to “turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it” (Ps 34:13-14). Be assured that personal godliness, not good fortune or privilege, epitomizes the good life, because we have been hardwired to imitate God’s holy character. Living a life of ease and indulgence are not the good life. But a life lived in faithfulness to God is the good life, no matter how difficult our circumstances of life may be.

3. Call righteousness to mind.

Every day, we need to reaffirm our position in Christ Jesus. That is how we ‘put on’ the breastplate of righteousness. Just as Jeremiah said,

“Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness” (Lam 3:21-23).

Every day, we must remind ourselves that only His righteousness makes us accepted in the One God loves (Eph 1:6). Every day, we must trust that all God’s promises to the righteous are ours in Christ.

Christ’s breastplate is of no use lying in the suitcase of our intellects, unless it’s worn on the battlefield of daily life. And this same breastplate is the only effective PPE on the day of God’s judgement, when Jesus will welcome his family to his heavenly home. A home “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

Let’s pray: (based on Psalm 34)

Father, thank you for saving me from your own righteous anger against sin. Thank you that I am righteous through faith in your Son. I will boast only in what you have done! When I seek you, you always answer me, and deliver me from all my fears. Your eyes are always on the righteous and you are attentive to our cries. Although the righteous may have many troubles, you deliver us from them all. You are close to the brokenhearted and save those who are crushed in spirit. Help me to believe that those who fear you lack no good thing. Help me to live the good life, in Jesus’ name, and for his sake. Amen.

Further reading:

  • Stand, by Warren Wiersbe.
  • The whole armour of God: or A Christian’s spiritual furniture, to keep him safe from all the assaults of Satan, William Goudge (1578-1653).
  • Isaiah 59.
  • Rediscovering Holiness: Know the fullness of life with God, J.I Packer.
  • *The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan: chapter on Christian’s meeting with Apollyon, excerpt below:

APOLLYON: “You have already been unfaithful in your service to Him—so why do you think that you will receive His wages?”

CHRISTIAN: “In what, O Apollyon, have I been unfaithful to Him?”

APOLLYON: “You were discouraged at first setting out, when you were almost choked in the Swamp of Despond! You attempted wrong ways to be rid of your burden—whereas you should have waited until your King had taken it off! You sinfully slept and lost your scroll! At the sight of the lions, you were almost persuaded to go back! And when you talked of your journey, and of what you have heard and seen, you were secretly proud of all that you said and did!”

CHRISTIAN: “All this is true, and much more which you have left out! But the King whom I serve and honor, is merciful, and ready to forgive. Besides, I acquired these infirmities in your country—and I have groaned under them, been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon from my King.”

Then Apollyon broke out into a furious rage, saying, “I am an enemy to this King! I hate His person, His laws, and His people! I have come out on purpose to destroy you!”

CHRISTIAN: “Apollyon, beware what you do! I am on the King’s highway, the way of holiness—therefore take heed!”

Then Apollyon straddled over the whole road, and said, “I am not afraid. Prepare yourself to die! I swear by my infernal den, that you shall go no further. Here I will spill your blood!”

The belt of truth

Belt of truthSeries: PPE for Spiritual Warfare, by Rosie Moore

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist… (Eph 6:14a)

If you were a healthcare worker today, would you dare to step into the war zone of a COVID-19 hospital ward without wearing “Personal Protective Equipment” (PPE)? That’s because we know the mortal dangers of the enemy virus, and so we take every measure not to expose ourselves to its attack. But somehow, as a Christian soldier engaged in a fierce spiritual war we cannot see, we are sometimes so casual.

How often do we step into our day unprepared and unprotected, without the personal protective equipment that Christ himself has provided through his death and resurrection? Paul lists the PPE in his letter to the Ephesian Christians: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace; the shield of faith; the helmet of salvation; the sword of the Spirit, and a posture of alert, continuous prayer (Eph 6:13-18).

Unlike PPE for medics, this spiritual equipment is not in short supply and is potent enough to demolish the enemy’s strongholds (2 Cor 10:4-5). It is ample and sufficient armoury, freely available to every Christian who is connected and abiding in Christ himself. Today we will look at how to buckle the belt of truth securely around our waists. But first, let’s remind ourselves of who our enemy is, in order to understand why this belt of truth matters so much.

Know your enemy!

As Christians, it’s easy to brush off Satan and hell, choosing instead to give all our attention to struggles that we can see. But God’s Word is no conspiracy theory, and Paul is clear that the real war is “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities and powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12). If we ignore or minimise demonic forces standing behind flesh-and-blood people, conflicts and ideas, we will be easily diverted and ill-equipped for the real battle. But when we understand Satan’s character in the Bible, we can spot his attempts to rule in world affairs; in relationships; in churches and our personal lives:

Let’s remember that our enemy was unsatisfied serving God, so he rebelled and tried to take over and rule God’s creation for himself. He is always the accuser of Christ’s people, a liar and the father of lies. The effects of his work directly oppose Christ’s: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). So, when Satan tempted Jesus, he offered to give Christ everything in this world, to divert him from the real battlefield of the cross.

And let’s not forget that our enemy is crafty, the master of deception and delusion, ever since he first twisted God’s Word in the Garden:

Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden? You will not surely die! For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (John 8:44Gen 3:1-24).

Satan’s ploy is always to make humans think that we can define good and evil for ourselves– that we can be like God. He loves to make us believe that God is withholding something lovely from us and can’t be trusted to know what’s good for us. And Satan is masterful at replacing God’s truth with a beautifully-wrapped lie. As C.S Lewis puts it, our enemy is the ‘ape of God.’ Like a slight of hand, it’s not always easy to see the truth behind the illusion.

Satan knows where he’s going and he wants to take as many people with him, or in the case of Christians, to cripple us for life. He focuses on this world and leads people to worship themselves. Satan always offers shiny, attractive ‘gifts’ which look pleasing to the senses, but he never reveals the death and destruction inside the package. As Ed Welch puts it, he invites us to a “banquet in the grave.” This is the modus operandi of the enemy who “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14).

Like a mob boss, Satan often uses people to get the job done; he infiltrates the unsuspecting church and his lies hold sway in much of culture today.

So, as we seek to wear the armour Christ has given us, we need to know that we face a powerful demonic army whose goal is to defeat Christ’s church and turn Christians away from the Jesus of history. He will use whatever means to divert us from the real Jesus of the Bible, who holds out the only hope to dying, enslaved, blind and deceived people. That’s why the belt of truth matters so much.

The truth that matters

And that’s why the father of lies hates to see Christians with the belt of truth firmly buckled around our waists. He fears the kind of ministry Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 4:1-7, where we proclaim, not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord. The enemy would prefer Christians to be tripping over ourselves; living double lives; speaking with forked tongues; using underhanded methods; tampering with the Bible, and more eager to make people feel better about themselves than “setting forth the truth plainly” (2 Cor 4:2).

More than anything else, the devil fears Christians speaking the truth by the power of God’s Spirit. All his delusions are useless the moment a previously blind person is able to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus. It is only the gospel’s light that can evaporate the smokescreen of Satan’s deceptions, leaving the god of this world impotent and defeated (2 Cor 4:46). And it is wonderful to think that ordinary Christians like you and me have been given this precious, unique truth to wear around our waist every day! What an extraordinary privilege to be a steward of this life-giving truth!

The truth that holds it all together

But the belt of truth also gives our lives integrity. The opposite of integrity is hypocrisy. Listen to what Os Guiness says:

“Hypocrisy is a lie in deeds rather than in words. And evil always uses lies to cover its oppressions. Only with truth can we stand up to deception and manipulation”.

The belt that Paul had in mind was worn by a Roman soldier, like a leather apron that protected the whole lower part of his body. It was also used as a sheath for the soldier’s sword. When people wanted to move quickly, they would gather up their robes and tuck the ends into their belts, so that their legs could run unhindered. It’s the idea Peter had in mind when he wrote,

“Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).

The Roman belt held everything together. It is the picture of a Christian, whose life and words and methods are tied together by truth, as revealed in God’s Word. Of course, no Christian can do this perfectly all the time, but this integrity should mark our lives. It is the picture of a Christian who doesn’t care for optics, but stands firmly on the side of God’s truth, even when no one is looking. She lives to please only one Master, rather than dividing her loyalties (Matt 6:24Matt 6:22-23).

In Paul’s words, a Christian who wears the belt of truth has “renounced disgraceful underhanded ways, refuses to practice cunning, or to tamper with God’s word” (2 Cor 4:2). We do not use the tactics of Satan, like shame, ridicule or manipulation, as the ends never justify the means. Instead, we seek to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30).

God’s truth is the only antidote to what James describes as a divided and unstable mind (James 1:8). Truth keeps us from being “tossed about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14-1521). And that’s precisely why Satan hates us to wear the belt of truth. He loathes integrity.

Instead, our enemy loves to divide, deceive and pull our lives apart, just as he did with Lot. Unlike his uncle Abraham, Lot had his eyes on the well-watered plains of the Jordan, instead of on the Lord. And so, without a belt of truth, Lot and his family drifted off into wicked Sodom. Lot’s problem was a divided heart. For, as Jesus warns us, “a household divided against itself will not stand” (Matt 12:25).

The war on truth

In my lifetime, I’ve never seen such a ferocious culture war as I see today in society. War has been declared on God’s order in almost every sphere and relationship. I see many people drowning in a sea of confusion, absurdity and despair because of false beliefs. Ten years ago, in speaking on why truth matters, Os Guinness said:

“Christians have the grounds as well as the duty to confront false ideas with the assurance that they are neither true in the end nor are they in the best interests of those who believe them. And we must never forget today that our stand for truth must start in the church itself. We must resist the powerful seductions of those who downplay truth for methodology, or truth in the name of activism, or truth for entertainment, or truth for seeker sensitivity, and above all those who put modern and revisionist views of truth in the place of the biblical view. Whatever the motive of these people, all such seductions lead to a weak and compromised faith and they end in sorrow and a betrayal of our Lord…If our faith is not true, it would be false even if the whole world believed it. If our faith is true, it would be true even if the whole world were against it. We worship and serve the God of truth and humbly and resolutely, we seek to live as people of truth. Here we still stand, so help us God. As evangelicals we are people of the good news, but may we also always be people of truth, worthy of the God of truth. God is true. God can be trusted in all situations. Have faith in God. Have no fear. Hold fast to truth. And may God be with us all.

For myself, I’m grateful that an older Christian woman took time to disciple me when I was a young woman in my early 20’s, successfully brainwashed by feminism and clueless about God’s beautiful design for motherhood and marriage. It took her patient efforts to bring the truth, as set out in God’s Word, to bear on the twisted ideas I’d believed for years. Let’s offer to do the same for a younger person, so that everyone in the household of God is dressed and prepared for battle, standing firm with the belt of truth buckled around our waists.

Useful resources:

Pete and I have found the resources below useful in helping our family apply Biblical truth to many cultural issues:

  1. Series, The War on Truth, by The Fuel Project #7 The Left Pit; #8 The Right Pit; #13 The Truth about Feminism; #10 The Postmodern Era.
  2. Os Guiness, Why Truth Matters (RZIM).
  3. Voddie Baucham—Racial ReconciliationCultural Marxism. 
  4.  Centre for Biblical unity, Monique Duson.
  5. Neil Shenvi Apologetics
  6. Christ Church Midrand sermon series: Controversial issues
  7. Greg Morse, The Globdrop Letters: A senior demon (Wormwood) corresponds with a junior demon to advise him in the evil art of subtle deception. The series of articles follows in the large footsteps of C.S. Lewis in his classic work, The Screwtape Letters. They’re brilliantly written.
  8. The Alisa Childers Podcast: What is Progressive Christianity? 

Going to war!

Series: Spirit-filled, by Rosie Moore

Like it or not, spiritual warfare is the daily reality of every Christian. You and I are called to be soldiers, prepared to fight the good fight of the Lord Jesus who has enlisted us to serve in his army (1 Tim 6:12). Paul told Timothy to face suffering “as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3-4). Jesus also used wartime imagery to describe the onward march of the Church, promising that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18).

In his book titled Stand: Putting on the full armour of God, Warren Wiersbe writes: “Some people reject the military side of the Christian life. I appreciate those who want to see peace on earth; however, as long as sin exists in this world, the battle between Satan’s forces and God’s people will rage on. Anyone who chooses to be on the side of the Lord Jesus Christ will face severe opposition from Satan and his followers. And those who refuse to fight will fall in the heat of the battle.”

Ephesians 6 takes us into the war room to show us our real enemies, as well as our God-given equipment and energy to fight effectively. Paul urges us to be prepared for spiritual warfare. In the next few weeks, we will be getting to know our Enemy’s strategies and unpacking the Spirit’s armoury:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm (Eph 6:10-13).

The posture of warfare

My dad often told me about his oldest memory as a 3-year old. It was at the beginning of the Second World War, on the day his father left their hometown of Benoni to fight in North Africa. As the soldiers marched off, my dad followed them, armed with a stick over his shoulder instead of a rifle, dressed in his own home-made military uniform. He followed the soldiers for so long that eventually my gran lost sight of her little boy, who ended up being taken to the Benoni police station for safekeeping! At 3, my dad was naïve and clueless about the terrible realities of war. He had no idea who the enemy was, nor that 11 023 South Africans would be killed in action. He just enjoyed the marching, the band and the men in uniform. But in God’s providence, five years later my grandfather returned home safely.

What strikes me about our Ephesians text is how many words Paul uses to describe the active, watchful, prepared posture of a Spirit-filled Christian. Unlike my 3-year old dad, there is nothing wide-eyed or docile about a Christian who is walking in the kind of lifestyle Paul sets out for us in chapters 4-6. Without a doubt, if we are living as faithful Christians at home, at school, at work and in our churches, we will be attacked by the enemy of our soul, who is also the enemy of God’s people. Since the day that Jesus first became our Saviour and Commander-in-chief, we have been enlisted in the war.

Enlisted for active service

So firstly, it is impossible for a Spirit-filled Christian to be a spectator, to come along for the ride, or just join the celebrations at the end of the war. If you speak up for Christ in your context, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll get Satan’s attention. It’s impossible to keep your head down in the trenches forever. Just think for a moment: If you are trying to live by God’s laws in a culture “full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless”(Rom 1:29-32), surely you will stand out and attract Satan’s anger? You are engaged in serious spiritual warfare and a battle for your mind. The battle lines were drawn the moment you decided to “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-17).

To put this differently, we cannot expect to sit with Jesus in heaven (Eph 2:6), and walk with him in our daily lives (Eph 5:15), unless we also stand for him in the war. While the fate of the universe is not our responsibility, it is our responsibility to depend on Christ and hold onto the victory he has already won for us through his death and resurrection (Eph 4:7). We do not fight for victory, but from a position of victory. That’s our motivation to “stand firm in the evil day” (Eph 6:13).

Taking a stand

Secondly, note that Paul tells us to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might:

Stand is the operative word. We are to “stand firm” (Eph 6:14); to be fully clothed in God’s armour so that we can “take a stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph 6:11), so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground. Having done all this, to stand (Eph 6:13). The word ‘stand’ means to be resolute, determined, uncompromising and steadfast. But Paul is equally emphatic that we can’t stand in our own strength, only in the mighty power of Jesus who lives in us by his Spirit (Eph 6:10). Elsewhere, Paul prays for the Ephesian believers to be “strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph 3:14-16). So, the Holy Spirit is our energy source, and there’s no other way to be spiritually strong.

But what exactly does it look like to stand strong as a soldier of Christ?

Spiritual strength for believers is essentially an attitude of courage to trust what you know to be the truth, to boldly live it out and to share your faith in the world.

The Old Testament fleshes out what this looks like in many wonderful stories, which I love reading over and over again (1 Kings 2:2-3Deut 31:232 Sam 10:9-13Ps 27:14). But I think it’s best captured in God’s command to Joshua just before he conquered the Promised Land:

“No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Josh 1:5-9).

A believer who stands, doesn’t seek out the easiest path or the safe places, but chooses instead to live out her convictions, found in God’s revealed Word. It is a man who does not live by whim or opinion, like the character William Shofield in the recent film, 1917. But, taking a stand is never an excuse for just being quarrelsome or contentious.

In taking a stand, I have not yet experienced real persecution, but I’ve often known the sneering rejection of unbelievers and the pressure to conform to the world’s way of thinking. Many times, even as a young girl, I knew the precise moment when a line had been drawn in the sand, and come what may, I could no longer be silent and keep my head down. We should not quench those convictions, and it is helpful to know that ultimately our battle is not with people who oppose us, but with unseen spiritual forces that oppose God and everything he stands for.

The danger of complacency

Finally, even when our lives seem peaceful and free of conflict, we dare not be lulled into a false sense of security in the Christian life.

I can’t help thinking of the new generation of Israelites born in Canaan, after Joshua conquered the land. Perhaps the parents failed to teach their children about the Lord, his laws and what he had done for his people. Perhaps the kids just didn’t want to hear stories about the old days (Judges 2:10). But, for whatever reason, this new generation believed that they were safe in the land and no longer needed God. Instead, they bowed down and served the idols of the cultures around them (Judges 2:17). They blended and intermarried with those who didn’t know or love Yahweh. And it wasn’t long before they were defeated by their enemies and in great distress (Judges 2:14-15; Judges 3,4,6). As Wiersbe warns, “those who refuse to fight will fall in the heat of the battle” anyway.

Like the Ephesians, we too have a rich inheritance in Christ, but we have three spiritual enemies – the world, the flesh and Satan. Before we can take a stand, we need to first worship and trust the Lord, putting on the whole armour he has given us. Complacency is the most subtle and deadly of Satan’s schemes: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12).

In what aspects of your life are you standing on the frontline?

The Spirit’s gift of persistence

Persist in the Spirit

Series: Spirit-filled, by Rosie Moore.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Gal 2:20-21)

It’s easy to spot an outright lie, but a twisted truth is more difficult to see.

The Galatian Christians had begun their Christian life well, in the power of the Holy Spirit. But now, many were losing sight of the gospel they’d first heard, forgetting that they must grow and persist in the same power of the Holy Spirit. They were struggling to trust completely in what Christ had secured on the cross and in his Spirit’s power to change them.

Just sixteen years after Christ’s death (49AD), many of these Christians were mesmerised by a false gospel that perverted the good news of Christ crucified. This hollow deception was infiltrating the church, leading sincere believers away from their freedom in Christ. In fact, it was driving them back into slavery to ‘works of the law’.

See if you can spot the six straight-shooting questions Paul asks the Galatian Christians to bring them back to the true gospel:

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? (Gal 3:1-6)

The way they begun

It is good to think back to when our spiritual life begun (Gal 3:3).

For the Galatians, many were probably converted in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, others through Paul’s message. The Galatian believers had begun their Christian life when the Holy Spirit convicted them of the truth of the gospel, leading them to repent and turn in faith to Jesus as Saviour and Lord. They immediately received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-39). As a sign of their cleansing of sin and new life in Christ, they were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Baptism was, and remains, a mark of belonging wholly to Christ.

So for us too, saving faith is the only entrance gate of the Christian life (Gal 3:2). It is not simply faith that believes in God or even tries hard to obey God’s commands. It is putting all our hopes in the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son, the Saviour. We begin our Christian life when we respond to the gospel with faith. There is no other way.

A twisted truth

But, ever so quickly and imperceptibly, the church in Galatia was absorbed in a new brand of Christianity touted by Jewish Christians called Judaizers. The fledgling church was lurching on dangerous ground. Even Peter and Barnabas compromised their beliefs to blend with these insistent Jews and keep the peace (Gal 2:11-14). They stopped eating with Gentile believers.

These radicals wanted to turn Gentile Christians into Jews, adamant that they should follow Jewish laws and customs, especially circumcision. But, what made this cultural ideology so beguiling was its ring of truth and reason: After all, weren’t God’s Old Testament laws good, custom-made for his people to flourish? Wouldn’t it be safer for the gospel if Christians could blend in as Jews and not stand out? (Gal 6:12)

It may not be easy to spot, but the deceiving power behind false teaching is its mask of half-truth.

Notice how Paul pulls back the mask and exposes the weak, miserable, enslaving principles that undergird them (Gal 4:9).

Nancy Guthrie explains why Paul was so intolerant: “The circumcision Abraham was commanded to carry out pointed to a cleansing to come that would not only mark the body but also change the heart. This ritual purification became an experienced reality when Christ provided the cleansing that circumcision pointed to…Christ also experienced in our place the judgmental aspect of this sign. He was cut off from God for us, fulfilling the penalty of the covenant, putting an end to circumcision as the mark of one belonging to God. Rather than being marked as belonging to God by circumcision, we are marked as belonging to God in a new way—through baptism” (Matt 28:19; Gal 3:27-29).

“Through baptism God marks us as belonging to him.” (Nancy Guthrie, The Promised One).

By running the false ideology through the grid of the true gospel, Paul shows that they are taking a step backward, not forward in their faith. It is a simple test that every Christian must apply if we are not to be taken “captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world, rather than on Christ” (Col 2:8). We cannot afford to be gullible.

A Gospel grid

Paul’s urgent plea is to persist in what we have originally heard. The alternative is to be sidetracked by cultural pressure and man-sourced wisdom. The false dogma didn’t match the simple truth of the gospel, and Paul gives four reasons why:

  1. The deceptive philosophy demanded human effort and rituals, rather than relying on what Christ had done perfectly, taking the curse of sin on our behalf (Gal 3:13; 4:8-11). It reduced Christianity to a set of rules, not grace. And it transformed the Good news of the gospel into burdensome, bad news (Gal 2:20).
  2. It perverted the unity that Christ purchased on the cross for all believers, when he permanently destroyed all human barriers, so there’s “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus…Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:27-29). It undermined God’s plan to bring together a people from every nation, tribe, people and language to share equally in Abraham’s blessing (Gal 3:7-9).
  3. The relational fruits of this philosophy were rotten, breeding alienation, division, pride, envy and confusion—one believer devouring another (Gal 1:7; 4:17-20; Gal 5:15).
  4. The rot of hypocrisy was spreading quickly to well-meaning believers (Gal 2:13).

And so, Paul is adamant that nothing should distort the clear and true gospel in the Galatian church.

Likewise, for believers today, perhaps this is a useful grid to use whenever we need to “weigh carefully what is being said”, “to test and hold onto the good” (1 Cor 14:29; 1 Thess 5:21; 1 Tim 4:1). In a culture saturated with beguiling beliefs and false teaching, we must be discerning, as the consequences of being deceived are dire.

Persistence in the Holy Spirit

In a nutshell, we need the Holy Spirit to persist in the Christian life (Gal 3:3-5). Persistence is always more difficult than being sidetracked. I must admit that persistence often seems too simple or too ordinary to me.

But let’s remember that we became Christians through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit brings us new life, and even our faith to believe is a gift from him. Often the Spirit’s greatest work in Christians is to teach us to persist, to keep doing what is right, to keep believing that God is who he says he is, and will do what he promises to do. Persistence in believing the simple gospel message we first heard.

The reality is that life in a broken creation is hard. We get tired of fighting daily battles and who doesn’t wish for a magic formula to launch us into a better place? But let’s never move beyond the gospel of grace. We have been saved by God’s grace in Christ, and that’s how Christ’s Spirit will continue to mature us and make us more like our Saviour. The Holy Spirit will continue to teach and lead us, to create in us new desires for love, joy, peace and many other good fruit. Only the Holy Spirit can end our bondage to our sinful desires.

So let’s persist in the Holy Spirit, “that the gospel of truth may remain with us” (Gal 2:5)

Prayer

Lord, fill us with your Spirit and stir us up to see that every day offers up new opportunities to live for you, wherever we are. Save us from hollow and deceptive philosophies that give us many things to do, but draw us away from the true gospel. May we persist in faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that Christ’s character is formed in us, day by day. Amen.

Let’s not grow weary!

van gogh Red_vineyards-1024x798

Series: Spirit-filled, by Rosie Moore

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal 6:9-10).

I don’t know about you, but I need patience in the Christian life. Sometimes we feel weary, especially when things appear to be getting worse, not better. But Paul’s letter to the Galatian church reminds us that the Spirit-filled life is a long distance race and it’s easy to stray from the road of truth (Gal 5:7). It’s easy to fall into a works-based religion where we abandon Christ (Gal 1:6-7; 2:16). And it’s easy to use our Christian freedom as a license for sin (Gal 5:13; 2:4-5). Personally, I’m glad Paul loved the Galatians enough to write them this honest letter, as these warnings are for us too (Gal 4:16).

In the last two weeks, we looked at the marks of a Spirit-filled Christian, both in the exercise of fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit. We saw how these spiritual gifts and fruit can only be genuine if produced by the Spirit of God in us. We also saw that they are given to build up the church as a community. Today we focus on Paul’s plea in Gal 6:9-10. What an amazing reminder to all God’s people who are discouraged and weary today!

But we ask, “Paul, how can I not grow weary? How can I keep doing good, keep enduring, keep sowing even when I experience only discouragement?

Christ alone

Firstly, the Bible tells us that only Jesus can motivate and keep us enduring with the gospel to the end. No human goals or pursuits, however worthy, can keep us true to the gospel over the long haul. The writer to the Hebrew Christians nudges us to run with endurance the race set before us,

“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb 12:1-3).

As the household of faith, the race we are running is God’s race, the race to take the gospel baton throughout the world. We dare not act independently of Christ’s person, his works, his teaching, his mission and his sufficiency.

Christ alone is the creed of the household of faith!

The perfecter of faith

Jesus never leaves us to fend for ourselves. He remains in the arena with us, and fights for us when we suffer for doing good. He stays in our corner. He will mould and mature our faith to the very end, to make us fit for heaven. So let’s not grow weary and give up!

Jesus is not only our example, but he has also given us his Spirit to strengthen us for the good he has called us to do, summarised succinctly for us in Galatians 5:22-23. But, so often, we are impetuous and impatient. We put the work before the Spirit, and act or speak without first praying and depending on him. The result is that we don’t display the Spirit’s fruit at all.

We will never have the power to endure if we trust in our own wisdom and strength. We will never produce his good character if we are looking to our flesh or to the world for guidance (Gal 5:18). But if we look to Christ– to his example of goodness and humility, to his words and teachings, he will guide us and refresh us by his Word of truth. He will give us rest instead of restless wandering. He will produce life and peace in us, rather than the discordant acts of our sinful natures (Gal 5:19-21). He will give us a good harvest in its proper season. For, “our Lord does not grow faint or weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength” (Isa 40:28-31).

Do good to everyone

The second helpful thing I noticed in this text is that God calls us to take opportunities. He has given us these opportunities to do good, to show kindness and love to everyone, especially to fellow believers (Gal 6:10). It is often the small things that make a big difference. Perhaps the email or text to encourage a weary believer; the invitation to join a Zoom Bible study; the meal you drop off at an isolated neighbour. Doing good always involves drawing people closer to Christ.

These small things reflect what Jesus did all the time, as he went about doing good to all. Jesus did not treat people according to rank, status or importance. No one was a distraction on his way to the cross. No, Jesus affirmed the dignity of a foreign woman at a well; a rich religious ruler; tax collectors, zealots and children; the sick, bereaved and prostitutes, even a Roman guard and a dying thief. His impartial encounters were part and parcel of his salvation work. He was not a respecter of persons. And Jesus is our example of how to “use every opportunity to do good to everyone”.

Jesus has done the work!

But let’s always remember that the good we do can never earn us God’s favour, for Jesus has done the work! (Rom 8:1). God’s favour is a free gift for all who come to Jesus in faith and repentance, because of his finished work on the cross. Once for all, for every sin — past, present and future, he has done it (John 19:30; Ps 22:31; Rev 21:16; Dan 9:24)

That is wonderful news, because the household of faith is now free to live the abundant, beautiful, gospel-shaped life God wants us to live (John 10:10). We are no longer under shame or guilt. We do not have to do good works to prove our worth. No, we do good to all, with complete assurance that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6-7). It is as good as done!

Be sure of this. No one in God’s household of faith will ever be abused, cancelled, marginalised, silenced, accused, shamed or cast out by Jesus. We will always enjoy his loving presence. The good we do is just the natural fruit of the gracious life we have been given in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:8-10). Praise God that we are free to do good to all, as Jesus did.

That’s why those in the household of faith can keep doing good, keep sowing, keep enduring even when we see only thorns. We can be wholehearted in our service no matter how we feel (Col 3:23-24). And we can do good from a position of victory. As long as we are running Christ’s race and not our own, our effort will never be in vain (1 Cor 15:58). He will enable us to turn away from evil and do good; to seek peace and pursue it (1 Peter 3:11). As the people of God, Jesus will enable us to endure hostility as he did when he died for us (Heb 12:2-3). And he will give us everything we need to abound in every good work right to the very end (2 Cor 9:8).

Prayer:

Lord, fill us with your Spirit. You know that many are feeling discouraged and weary, but thank you that you never slumber or sleep. Draw your people into your fold. Bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. Help us to remember that we have been saved by grace, through faith in your finished work on the cross, not through anything we do. Thank you that we bear no shame or condemnation, and that we are in fact a delight to you, our loving Father. Help us to remember that together as a church family, we are the household of faith– your workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for the good works you have prepared beforehand for us to walk in. Father, help us to run with endurance the race that you have set before us, not looking to the left or right, but looking straight ahead, always to Jesus. Amen.

Gifted

spiritual GiftsSeries: Spirit-filled (By Peter and Rosie Moore)

“What is this?”

“What am I going to do with this?”

These are probably some of the questions you ask yourself each time you have a birthday and someone gives you a gift (particularly if it’s your young child!)

But when we consider spiritual gifts, I think we should similarly ask two questions: “What are my spiritual gifts?” And, “What shall I do with my gifts?”

Natural and spiritual gifts

When the Bible talks about a gift, it is talking about any natural ability that God has given you. What then makes that gift spiritual? A natural gift becomes spiritual when that gift is used for a spiritual end, namely when the person using their gift is empowered by, and acts in accordance with, the will of the Holy Spirit. We often refer to this as bearing spiritual fruit. We can use our natural gifts to do and accomplish a lot of good things, even as a non-believer. However, we will only bear spiritual fruit when we are in communion with Jesus through faith and repentance. As Jesus told his disciples, “Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (Jn 15:4). If we want to bear good spiritual fruit, we must remain in Christ.

And so, whatever our particular gifts and callings, we must speak and act in ways that honour the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph 4:2-6). We must always speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15; 25). And we must remain reliant on the Holy Spirit to take our words and deeds, and use them for God-honouring consequences. For, “apart from (me) Jesus, you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

Are gifts miraculous or non-miraculous?

Contemporary Christianity often exalts the miraculous, but the exercise of our gifts can be spectacular and public, or ordinary and seemingly mundane. The results vary too: Some are miraculous, seeming to bypass normal laws and principles, and some may appear inconsequential. However, the Scriptures do not make this distinction between the spectacular and the mundane.

Hence, the gift of prophecy and miracles is listed alongside serving, helping, teaching, languages, communication, wisdom and discernment, shepherding, giving, leading, public speaking, encouraging, administration and being merciful (I Cor 12:28, 1 Cor 12:8-10, Eph 4:11, Rom 12:6-8, 1 Cor 7:7, 1 Pet 4:11). I do hope that, in reading this list (which is by no means exhaustive), you will see some of your own spiritual gifts. One thing is certain: Christ has gifted each and every Christian (Eph 4:7-8).

What’s the purpose of gifts?

It’s all very well to identify our gifts, but what exactly am I meant to do with my gifts? 1 Pet 4:11 is most helpful in showing us that gifts are given to enable us to speak and do God’s will, “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ”. And so, when spiritual gifts are discussed in the New Testament, the types of gifts described are wide and varied, because the ways we speak and act for Christ are wide and varied too. Just as the parts of the body are diverse, enabling the person to perform a varied number of functions, so too are gifts. So the gifts listed in the New Testament do not appear to be an exhaustive list, but just a sample of the infinite possibilities.

What then is God’s will for how we should use our gifts? Well, ultimately it is to bring glory to God, the very reason we were created. Although that sounds very “spiritual” and otherworldly, it is actually very practical. We bring glory to God by utilising our gifts in order to be a blessing to those around us, both inside and outside the church.

An example of how we use our gifts properly in the church would be “.. to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12, 29). Despite our diverse gifts, races and cultures, we are urged to use our gifts to keep spiritual unity through the bond of peace (Eph 4:3-4). We are always to exercise our gifts humbly, gently, patiently, graciously, “bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2; 32). We are always to use our gifts in a way that pleases and doesn’t grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30). Abiding in Christ is the only way to bear spiritual fruit.

Outside the church, it might be that we use the gift of tongues in order that people from other tribes, tongues, peoples and nations can hear the gospel in their own language, just as they did on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:8). It may be to expose evil or show mercy (Eph 5:9,11). But either way, the proper use of spiritual gifts is always outward focused, not to draw attention to ourselves or win the approval of people. Our service must be undergirded by the gospel and the glory of God. In contrast, using gifts “unspiritually” would be doing so with a selfish motive, often manifesting in boasting, vanity, slander and rage (Eph 4:31).

So, if you can dream up a way to bring glory to God and reach people with the gospel, then go ahead. Unwrap the gifts God has given you for his kingdom, and keep using them until the day he takes you home. Just have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness while you go about your business (Eph 5:11).

Should I desire spiritual gifts?

The reality is that as a Christian, you already have spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:7, 11 & 1 Pet 4:10) because everyone is gifted by God and every Christian has the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9; Eph 4:7-8). As a result, no-one in God’s kingdom can claim to be “ungifted”. Everyone has a unique purpose and a part to play. If you want to extend your giftedness, perhaps you should ask yourself the questions, “Why do I want a gift? Do I want this gift in order to be more useful in God’s kingdom, or do I want it to extend my own kingdom?” If the answer is “yes” to God’s kingdom, then “eagerly desire” and pray to be equipped with spiritual gifts (1 Cor 14:1). You are never too young or too old to be using your gifts for the kingdom.

How do I identify my gifts?

You can do this by reflecting honestly (Rom 12:3) about your interests, desires and abilities. Also, honestly reflect on your effectiveness when you have taken opportunities to minister. Be brave enough to lose your defences and insecurities. Try new areas of service. Ask people around you (who know you well) to give you an honest assessment of where they perceive your gifts to be. Ask yourself whether you enjoy using certain gifts more than others. And ask God, who knows and loves you, to answer your prayers and give you wisdom in this regard (James 1:5-6).

More blessed to give than to receive

Jesus and Paul remind us to work hard and help the weak, for “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Our gifts are not ours to keep or store for a future day. With that in mind, let’s prayerfully consider the spiritual gifts God has uniquely given to each one of us, and use them for the benefit of others and for His glory.

You can’t pin lemons to a lemon tree

Lemon tree resizedSeries: Spirit-filled, By Rosie Moore

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23).

It’s easy to look at this list of Christian graces, known as the fruit of the Spirit, and feel despair. If this is the yardstick of virtue, who can claim to be good? If I’m completely honest, my fruit is often fragile, apathetic, conditional and fickle. At times, it’s absent.

But, like the ten commandments, the fruit of the Spirit only convinces me of what John Newton, the slave trader, said about himself, “I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Saviour”.

Our deep depravity and Jesus’s great goodness meet on the cross, for only Jesus has embodied these fruit perfectly, at all times.

Fortunately, there’s the little preposition, of. It reminds us that the fruit listed in this passage is not our own fruit, but the fruit of Christ’s living and active Spirit, working in and through God’s redeemed people. It’s not virtue pinned on the outside, but virtue produced and ripened from the inside-out.

The sad tale of a barren tree

This week I noticed that our lemon tree in the garden is completely bare. It used to produce lovely bunches of bright yellow lemons throughout the year. Of course I was disappointed, but I’ve only myself to blame for its barrenness. After a few seasons, my zeal to irrigate, fertilize, spray and prune have waned. My tree is sadly neglected.

Slowly, the nearby trees have grown wild, robbing my little lemon tree of sunlight and nutrients. So, the simple fact of the matter is this–there are no lemons for tea, because I stopped tending the lemon tree! It illustrates the Biblical proverb, “Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7).

Now, it won’t help to buy a bag of lemons and pin them to the tree, because soon they will rot and fall off. You see, the problem with my tree is not superficial, it’s systemic. Left to nature, my tree cannot produce good fruit, as the conditions in which it grows are dry, dark and nutrient-deficient.

My little lemon tree reminded me that, left to ourselves, it’s impossible for any human being to live by the Spirit and produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:16). It’s why we need a supernatural intervention to cure our sin problem and rescue us in this present evil age (Gal 1:4). We need to be actively led and controlled by the Spirit of Christ, who re-orders our desires.

The sad tale of a twisted nature

Left to our natural desires and instincts, the works of the flesh will rule us. As God warned Cain, sin is crouching at the door of each of our hearts, eager to control us. But we must subdue it and be its master (Gen 4:7).

Against this reality of our sinful nature, Paul warns the Galatian Christians, and us, to wake up and smell the lemons, so to speak! Unless we are steadily being filled with the Holy Spirit; unless we actively and repeatedly crucify the sinful nature with its passions and desires, we too, will naturally default to the works of the flesh. Paul lists some of them for us:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. (Gal 5:19-21).

The Spirit’s fruit versus the works of the flesh

As I read through Galatians 5 and 6, I wondered to myself:

Isn’t it more natural to bite and devour each other, than to love our neighbour as ourselves? (Gal 5:14-15) Isn’t jealousy, hatred, hostility and rage our native human language? (Gal 5:20)

Isn’t it more instinctive to slander someone, than to watch our own tongue and restore people gently (Gal 6:1)? Aren’t rivalries and factions the hallmarks of our fractured society?

Isn’t it easier to signal our own virtue on social media, to think we are something when we’re nothing, than to love our own spouse, or carry each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2-3)?

Isn’t it easier to compare ourselves to others; to feed our own pride and ego; to make a good impression, rather than to actually do good (Gal 6:4,9,10,12)?

Of course, doing virtue is harder than hearing or speaking about virtue (James 1:22). Likewise, discord and envy come much more naturally to us than being led by the Spirit into love, joy and peace (Gal 5:20-21).

But, Paul says that to sow to the flesh, is to reap corruption—a potent Greek word for decay, death and rotting corpses (Gal 6:8). It is the fruit of our lives that proves whether we are of God’s kingdom or not. Our fruit has eternal consequences, I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:21).

We need supernatural help to change our natural desires. Pinning a lemon on our tree won’t do.

John Stott expresses it well:

“To live in harmony with God and others, and in firm control of ourselves, this is a supernatural work of God’s grace. It is the ‘fruit’ of the Spirit… The real proof of a deep work of the Spirit of God in any human being is neither subjective, emotional experiences, nor spectacular signs, but moral, Christlike qualities. For we see in him a token of God’s grace and a temple of the Holy Spirit.”

Pinning lemons versus systemic cure

The events of recent weeks, and indeed world history, provide living proof that humanity is desperately sick and in need of a Saviour outside of ourselves. The Bible tells us that the real destroyer, the real scourge, the real barrenness in our world is rooted deep in the human heart (Jer 17:9).

Perhaps the hidden blessing of 2020 is that many may finally see that we are not good after all. For sin is the systemic gangrene of human nature that only Jesus can cure.

Left to nature, we are utterly incapable of loving our neighbour, and our feeble outward displays of virtue don’t fool the God who knows our hearts (1 Sam 16:7). Our only hope is the One who loved his neighbour perfectly, even to death on a cross.

As Abdu Murray says, “We cannot re-educate ourselves into a better world.” The only pathway to holiness begins with self-despair and repentance (Matt 9:13).

So holiness, an expression of Christ’s Spirit, begins with the death of ourselves, so that it is no longer I that lives, but Christ who lives and reigns in me (Gal 2:20).

Sowing and reaping

As the body of Christ, let’s remember that we are not our own, we are the Lord’s! And, as the Lord’s people and his ambassadors, we are responsible to create the right conditions to bear good fruit in our lives. We do this when we sow godly thoughts and godly habits (Gal 6:7-8).

If we take care of the seeds we sow, the Holy Spirit will take care of the fruit.

We sow by the company we keep; the use of our time; our interactions on the internet; the movies we watch; our private devotions and prayer; our preoccupations; everything that absorbs and dominates our minds. We sow, either to the Spirit or to the flesh, day after day. This determines the fruit we will produce, over a lifetime. Either the wholesome fruit of the Spirit, or the decaying works of the flesh. But tokens of virtue, like pinning lemons on a tree, do not fool God. They are religious rituals that cannot save us (Matt 9:13).

Abstract nouns and concrete verbs

These nine fruits of the Spirit may be abstract nouns, but their meaning is far from abstract or culturally determined. Whereas our world’s new definition of ‘love’ and ‘kindness’ is unconditional and unceasing affirmation of people, this is not the Bible’s definition of loving our neighbour.

On almost every page, the Bible adds flesh and bone to these nine marks of a Spirit-filled Christian. It’s why we must read the Bible for ourselves. God has shown us in his Word, and through Christ’s life and teachings, what these fruits look like in a real human being, living in real tribulations, under real enemy fire.

God has shown us, in weighty passages like Romans 12:9-18, how to love in actions, rather than abstractions. In verbs, rather than nouns. Paul begins with “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good…He ends with, Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

There’s plenty of detail to digest in between those pithy instructions of Paul, and we would all do well to meditate on this passage and allow God’s Spirit to teach us what the Lord requires of us at a time like this. We need Him to show us what it means to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

Prayer

Lord, we ask for your Holy Spirit to show us what you mean when you say, I desire mercy and not sacrificeFor I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Please save us from empty gestures that only feed our pride and ego. Help us to act justly, to show mercy and to be dependable in all our dealings. Lord, may our love be heartfelt and genuine, not just for the approval of others. May we sow good thoughts and habits, so we may develop minds that are controlled by your Spirit, not by our nature. May the fruits of life and peace ripen and mature in our lives. Let our lives demonstrate the saving power of Christ in us, as we show his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to our neighbour and our fractured society. Amen.

Further reading:

Abdu Murray, Saving Truth– Finding meaning and clarity in a post-truth world.

John Stott, Baptism and Fullness

Why we keep singing

50 nationsSeries: Spirit-filled, by Rosie Moore.

More than anything else in recent months, I have missed singing together in church.

Maybe it’s because music is a God-designed pathway to pray, to proclaim Christ to each other, and to praise the Lord. There is nothing quite like music to bridge the gap between our thoughts and our emotions. I am speaking here about Biblically-faithful, theologically rich, Gospel-centred music.

I’ll never again take for granted this simple joy. But I’ve also been amazed by the ingenious online efforts to bring music into our homes and hearts through playlists, videos and live-streamed services. Old hymns and Psalms are making a comeback too, even a little Bach and Handel’s Messiah!

So, why do believers have a compulsive need to sing the song of our Saviour? (Or, at least, to listen and appreciate it, if you’ve got a voice like mine!) Here are some thoughts:

Singing is Spirit-led

Ephesians 5 demonstrates a clear kinship between the Holy Spirit and music:

Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 5:18-20).

Paul doesn’t say that heartfelt praise always comes easily to Spirit-filled believers. Or that we must sing only when the style, language and choice of song appeals to us. In some situations, it may be downright incongruous or uncomfortable to sing. But it is always a fitting way to worship God, and it is good for us too (Ps 147:1,7Ps 149:1,5).

Think of Paul and Silas in a Philippian prison cell. They sang hymns to God while semi-naked, immobile, in pain and pitch darkness, bound in stocks, before an audience of hardened prisoners and a jailer (Acts 16:22-25).

One can hardly think of a more unsuitable place to sing! Yet, they sang to express their deepest longings and needs to God. They sang to remind each other of their hope in Christ. And, as they sang, the truth in those hymns tutored and changed their own thoughts and feelings. Amazingly, their incongruous singing even led to the jailer’s conversion!

Singing is God-centred

And so, singing is not chiefly about us: Our feelings, our preferences, our comfort, our platform, our audience. It is a response to the Holy Spirit calling us to worship and thank God for everything, even our struggles (Eph 5:19-20). When we sing, we are addressing and encouraging each other. We’re building fellowship with other believers (Eph 5:19; Ps 95). And the byproduct is nothing like the mindless, self-absorbed disorder and depression that are the by-product of drunkenness.

The by-product of singing

I’ve discovered that worship music has lifted many of us through the lockdown. It has helped us to pray and proclaim the truth to each other; to process our turmoil and see our problems through the lens of God’s covenant commitment to us. It has even helped some of us to fight sin and temptation. For many, it has switched our despondency and doubt, to hope and joy in the living God (Ps 59:16).

The Psalms, which express a thousand years of human emotion, show how music is a God-given pathway to love God and enjoy him forever, regardless of our circumstances:

How good it is to sing praises to our God,
    how pleasant and fitting to praise him!

Sing to the Lord with grateful praise;
    make music to our God on the harp (Ps 147:1,7).

Singing embeds God’s word.

Singing evokes powerful responses that go beyond understanding facts. The reality of the gospel nestles into our mind and emotions through music. And so, music doesn’t just teach us theology, but also affects the way we think and live and feel. It’s why Paul tells the Colossian Christians:  

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).

But there’s an implicit warning here: if Gospel truth nestles into our mind and emotions through music, so too can narcissism and false gospels. It’s why we need to take care to listen to worship music that is God-centred and faithful to the Bible.

At the risk of giving away my age, just meditate for a moment on the rich theology in these titles, and listen to them later on Youtube :

“In Christ alone”, “Yet Not I But through Christ in me”, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, “All Creatures of our God and King”, “Be Thou my Vision”, “Crown Him”, “His Mercy is More”, “Is He Worthy?” Christ our Hope in life and Death”, “It is well with my Soul”, “Jesus strong and Kind”, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”, “My Worth is Not in What I own”, “There is a Day”, “The Power of the Cross”, “The Lord is my Shepherd”, “We will Feast in the house of Zion”, “Bless the Lord O My Soul”, “Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah.”

Don’t you marvel at how the whole redemption story merges into two or three soulful stanzas? How the gospel is carved into catchy poetry that’s easy to memorise? If we pay attention to lyrics as we sing, the ‘word of Christ’ will flow out of us when we are under great pressure and can hardly think or pray. It’s what I saw in my gran when she was 100 years old, and only wanted to hear us sing “The Old Rugged Cross.”

Singing builds up the church

We may not yet be gathering to sing in church buildings, but God’s people are still using music to minister to one another. Last week, in a Zoom Bible study, one of our ladies sang all the stanzas of “Turn your eyes upon Jesus!” Admittedly, she has an unusually lovely voice, but instantly our hearts were turned heavenward and the mood of our meeting changed.

In recent months, hundreds of voices have risen from Christ’s worldwide church, singing beautiful confessions of faith across the globe. One of my favourites, “The Blessing,” is resounding like a lockdown anthem from every continent. In “Amazing Grace from 50 countries”, Christians from fifty nations of the world announce the gospel, each in its own language and style. We cried as we watched our brothers and sisters in Christ, some of whom were singing with their faces covered due to persecution.

But they sung with full hearts and one Spirit—the Holy Spirit! They sung with eyes and voices lifted in praise to Christ! And they reminded us that we are part of a kingdom much bigger than any of our nations or even the world. And they called unbelievers to the Lord Jesus, just as God’s people in the Old Testament were called to be a light to the nations (Ps 105:1-2), “to sing praises to Him and tell of all his wondrous works.”

Singing is a preview of the ‘new song’.

Watching these videos of our brothers and sisters around the world reminds me of the three ‘new songs’ (an Old Testament reference to God’s victory), being sung in heaven (Rev 5:9-13Rev 14:2-3Rev 15:2-4).

Unlike the hymnbook of the Psalms, Revelation’s hymnbook is not about Israel’s deliverance from Egypt or a longing for the coming Messiah. No! The songs of Revelation celebrate the victory of Jesus, the Lamb of God, over sin, death and Satan. The new song is about Christ’s rightful claim to rule the world.

The ‘new song’ is sung by all the people Christ has purchased, from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, to reign with him on earth for all eternity (Rev 5:9-10). Everything and everyone will sing out, giving the triune God the praise and glory he deserves. It is the song of the Lord’s redeemed!

CS Lewis says, “We have joy whenever this world reminds us of the next.”

And so, every time we hear music that stirs joy or longing, we get a foretaste of the mighty chorus of redeemed people, joined by the voices of thousands upon thousands of angels, singing around the throne in heaven (Rev 5:11-12)! Every forgiven sinner will be there in person, singing their heart out to Christ, who is worthy of all blessing, honour and glory forever and ever. No audition required for this choir, as Christ alone makes us eligible.

On that day, our hearts will finally be full. Our longings will finally be satisfied. Our glimpses will finally give way to full sight. We will not be able to stay silent! As Randy Alcorn writes in his book, Heaven, “The things we love are not merely the best this life has to offer—they are previews of the greater life to come”.

Before I get too excited, I will end with a short clip of the ‘new song’ to ignite your own prayer:

“They held harps given them by God and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb:

“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
    Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
    King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
    and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
    and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:3-4)

No wonder music gladdens a believer’s heart more than wine! Please make sure you are included in that heavenly choir singing the ‘new song’. You needn’t audition, but it’s only logical that you must love Jesus as your Saviour and King.

Further reading and listening:

Randy Alcorn, Heaven.

Nancy Guthrie, Seeing Jesus in the Psalms.

Click here to listen to 25 Christ-honouring worship songs on YouTube.

 

Know your thirst!

Know your thirst resizedBy Rosie Moore.

(New Series: Spirit-filled)

It’s like clockwork.

Every evening around 6pm, I have the same blank when I look at the raw food I took out the freezer for dinner. It’s not just that my four kids hover around the kitchen, sniffing nervously at the empty pots. Nor is it a lack of ingredients or equipment. And it’s not that I want to starve my family! No, my problem is lack of inspiration. I don’t have a clue what to do with the pieces of raw chicken staring at me from the chopping board!

But I know that the solution to this daily vacuum is to put on my apron, turn on the oven and take out a colourful cookbook. Within minutes, my mind is ticking with a plan and chewing on delicious ideas. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been cooking every evening for the last 28 years! My mind must still be rebooted and reminded of how much I love good food. My senses must be re-calibrated to see, taste and smell the rich potential in that ordinary chicken carcass…if I just add a little onion, garlic, olive oil to the pan. It’s just as Nigella Lawson says, “I don’t believe you can ever really cook unless you love eating.”

I don’t believe you can really be filled with the Spirit unless you love Jesus!

That’s because, being Spirit-filled is never a mystical experience divorced from the person, work and word of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s nothing like the self-absorbed, mind-body flow of ‘new age’ meditation. The Holy Spirit is an unpretentious member of the trinity who doesn’t seek centre stage. He is more like a spotlight that magnifies Christ as the star actor. Like a director who coaches Christ’s understudies. Or like an optician who sharpens our vision to see Jesus more clearly (John 15:2616:14). Sinclair Ferguson says we should think of the Holy spirit as the “closest companion of the Lord Jesus.”

And so, the more we meditate on what Jesus has done for us, the more his Spirit fills us. And the more we are filled with his Spirit, the more we treasure God and love our neighbour. The fruit results from the filling.

Not a once-off wonder

If the truth be told, who of us can naturally produce the Spirit’s harvest table of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Especially in the everyday kitchen of life, where people drive us crazy; where the media fills us with fear; where people die, lose their jobs and go hungry? Unless we are filled by the Holy Spirit, we cannot produce his fruit.

John Stott describes our ongoing need to be filled by the Spirit as an “invigorating, refreshing, thirst-quenching fullness.” Being Spirit-filled is a continuous, repeated, persistent filling up and flowing out.

To be clear, everyone who belongs to Jesus has been baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39Rom 8:9). The Holy Spirit leads us to see our sin and to repent. He gives life, re-orders our desires, liberates, shepherds and transforms forgiven sinners into the image of Christ. He is a gift to all God’s children (Rom 8:15-16). But he is also not a once-off wonder.

The Corinthian Christians show us this. Even spine-tingling experiences and spectacular gifts are no evidence of being Spirit-filled. In fact, these gifted Christians, with a form of ‘spirituality’, were actually sin-tolerant, loveless and proud. Since they had no fruit, Paul calls them unspiritual babies in Christ (1 Cor 3:1-3). To borrow my husband’s description of some cyclists, it is possible for us to have all the gear, but no idea!

Jesus himself illustrates how the Holy Spirit fills believers.

The Living Water

In John 7, Jesus invites anyone who is thirsty to come to himself and trust in him as their Saviour and Lord. It is not a polite suggestion, nor an invitation to walk along the peaceful riverbank of religion. It is an urgent plea to sinners to recognise their dire need, to bend down and ‘drink’ his water of salvation. Then Christ describes how the Holy Spirit will fill believers, like ‘rivers of living water’:

Rivers of living water

“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:37-39).

So, what’s the water metaphor about?

Jesus’s announcement happened on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:237). Every morning, a priest carrying a golden jar would fetch water from the pool of Siloam and pour it out on the west side of the altar. The jar reminded the Jews that God had faithfully provided water for them in the wilderness. It also pointed to God’s promise that he would one day pour out his Spirit on his people, giving them new hearts and cleansing them of their sins, once and for all (Joel 2:28-29Ezekiel 36:25-27). Water was a powerful symbol of this outpouring of forgiveness and the Spirit.

The promised outpouring

Now, we know that this was spectacularly fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The long-awaited Holy Spirit was released like a flood on his disciples. Like a river, that broke its banks and spawned many tributaries, the gospel flowed to Israel, Asia, Europe, and the ends of the earth. Salvation was carried by the riptide of the Holy Spirit.

Keep drinking

But, just as God did not provide once-off water to his people in the wilderness, Jesus doesn’t give Christians a once-off outpouring of His Spirit. A drink of water cannot quench our thirst for long. And so, we keep drinking because we keep thirsting.

‘Thirst’, ‘come’, ‘drink’ and ‘believe’ are all present tense verbs. So, being filled with the Spirit is a present continuous process that is never finished. We have never arrived! We can’t live off yesterday’s wonder. We will remain spiritually needy until we finally stand in Christ’s presence, and have no hunger or thirst again. Only then will the sun cease to beat down and scorch us (Rev 7:16).

Know our thirst!

For ordinary Christians, Christ’s picture is quite down-to-earth and practical:

First, we need to know that we are hot, thirsty travellers walking through a desert. We are dehydrated, in urgent need of water that only Christ can give. We need to get up each morning awake to the fact that we will be separated from Jesus, unless we sip continuously from his water supply.

Second, we need to see that our world, with all its internet, TV, pleasures and experts, is an arid desert with no irrigation system. No real solutions can sprout from its hard, hot sand. Our world is thirsty, barren and dead without Christ. If we spend hours under the world’s shower spouts, we needn’t wonder why we soon feel dry and despondent.

But in contrast, Jesus’s ongoing ministry in our lives fulfils God’s wonderful promise to “pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring” (Isa 44:3).

Only Christ can slake our soul’s thirst for communion with God! He is our hydration pack on the ultra marathon of life. And we need his water to fill every cell of our body, every day we spend on this earth.

The Holy Spirit is not a JoJo tank!

But, Christ’s Spirit is also not a JoJo tank that stores stagnant water! He is a vibrant river that keeps filling and spawning smaller rivers. When the Spirit fills us, we cannot only quench our own thirst, as it is impossible to store Christ’s living Spirit. He must spontaneously flow out of us to refresh others. That is how we respond to his filling.

An unremarkable Spirit-filled life

Jesus’s invitation is for the average Christian. What a relief that we don’t have to chase esoteric experiences, or find an anointed man to release the supernatural! Or cajole God into unleashing his Spirit. Indeed, God’s powerful Spirit has been unleashed and is currently moving in thirsty believers in quiet and mysterious ways. We just need to keep coming, drinking and trusting in Jesus.

Today, let’s remember the vital experience of the Holy Spirit we had from the beginning of our Christian life. It all began with an invisible, miraculous new birth of the Spirit, of which we were totally oblivious (John 3:3-8). That miracle should still amaze us.

Let’s also remember that “the Holy Spirit is God the Lord. He is the divine Spirit, the mighty Spirit, the free and sovereign Spirit” (Stott). We cannot limit or control him. And our experiences of him are as diverse as the people he fills. The Holy Spirit cannot be manufactured or contained.

And so, as you go about your day, the Spirit refreshes your sense of God as your ‘Abba’ Father. While listening to a sermon or reading a book, the words grip you so personally, that you look around for a hidden camera in your room! Quite unexpectedly, the Spirit digs up a buried sin that you’ve never owned, flooding you with such sorrow that you instantly get on your knees and turn to Christ for forgiveness.

Or, as you open your Bible, the Spirit spotlights Christ’s kindness in a way you’d never seen before. You find yourself sighing with relief that his love doesn’t hinge on your loveliness. Suddenly, a detail of creation or a song sparks praise for your Creator.

The Holy Spirit may give us words that aren’t our own to share the gospel. He may nudge us to urgently pray, give, or initiate a conversation. Silently, he may enfold us in peace in a terrible situation. Or give us a longing for a country where there is only good news. Or maybe, he is strengthening you right now to press on through another day of a great struggle.

These are not spectacular experiences that can be posted on YouTube or shared in a group chat. Nevertheless, God’s living Spirit is filling and flowing through thirsty, responsive Christians. Tomorrow, these Christians will not be quite the same as today.

In reality, most of us are not spiritual giants, just ordinary Christians living unremarkable lives. But, we can all come to Jesus by faith; open up our Bibles and respond to his Spirit. We can all allow the Holy Spirit to carry us in the currents of Christ’s grace and truth. Like living rivers welling up within us.

Now, please excuse me, it’s time to attend to that chicken!

Prayer

Lord, most days I don’t even know how thirsty my soul is. I long for the day when the sun will stop beating down on us and our thirst will be permanently satisfied. Please forgive the many ways I quench your Spirit when I don’t respond and don’t trust you. Lord, cleanse me from all my sins and idols. Move in me, like a strong current, to follow your ways. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh of me. Melt me, mould me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Further reading:

John RW Stott, Baptism And Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today.