A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Monday, February 28, 2011

Should I Go to Bible Study?

According to the most recent statistics I could find, about 44% of Americans (U.S.) say they go to church regularly. That’s probably an inflated number, but it ought to be 100%! If that number is accurate, 22% or less attend Bible study, Sunday School, or whatever a local church calls it. With those who don’t attend church at all, we have more fundamental things to discuss, but those of you who do; I hope you come to Bible class. I think you ought to, and need to, and I want to tell you why.

You haven’t done everything the Bible shows ought to be done in Christian assembly if you just come to “services” and skip class! Read 1Corinthians 14 and take note of the kind or joint-participation (fellowship) and interaction that needed to take place in the assemblies. Some of the instructions there (notably regarding miraculous powers that do not presently manifest themselves in this age) don’t directly apply today, but they do apply in principle. To the point, you don’t do all those things by just attending worship services.

The environment of a good Bible study in a local church (or for that matter, in a living room), offers you something you can’t get just by attending a worship service. Worshiping God together with fellow believers isn’t optional for Christians, and the things we do in worship at Highland Heights are Biblical and profitable for sure. We need opportunities to hear preaching uninterrupted by comments and questions. We all benefit from the pointed, organized communication of thoughts that format allows. We need time to sing together, observe communion, pray together, and so on. However, in a world that bombards you with evil nearly 24/7, only having 26 hours a year of godly instruction (the amount you’ll get by hearing sermons on Sunday mornings only over the course of a year) just doesn’t cut it! You’ll never mature in faith with so little encouragement. So, coming to Bible Study really is to your benefit, and if you’ll do it and stick to it long enough to find a class in which you feel comfortable, you’ll soon see the benefit. Test me in this and see for yourself!
---JLP

Saturday, February 26, 2011

How do I Walk by the Spirit?

The Bible says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16 ESV). “Walk” refers to how we live our lives and I’ll get to what “by the Spirit” means in a minute. As for the “desires of the flesh,” the context reveals these are the fleshly desires that pit us against what’s right and good. Remember, it was by following these natural desires that Adam and Eve rejected faith and fell into sin. Following them yourself will ruin you. “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life”(Galatians 6:7-8 ESV). Uncontrolled, the desires of the flesh have the capability to drain us of our humanity leaving us as slaves.

Walking by the Spirit means living life according to the Spirit’s direction. It starts with submitting to his will as revealed in the Scriptures which begins the process of transformation by renewal of the mind (Romans 12:2; Colossians 3:9-10). With enlightened minds the Spirit becomes our motivation, gives us an accurate perspective on life, and sets our agenda. Walking by the Spirit is the same thing as being spiritual. Spirituality is association with the Holy Spirit in true religion (James 1:27). Whoever says he’s spiritual, but not religious doesn’t understand what true spirituality is!

So, how do we walk this walk? I’ll just come right out and say there’s no such thing as “three steps to walking by the Spirit.” There aren’t any tricks to it, and there are no secrets or shortcuts. There are a few things you need to know about taking the first step, and I’ll try to briefly offer some advice for those who are presently striving to walk the walk.

You need the Scriptures! Note what the apostle said to those who considered themselves prophets: “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord” (1Corinthians 14:37 ESV). The completed Bible is the entire word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit (2Peter 1:20-21). We can’t know how he wants us to “walk” unless we know what he says.

You’ve got to follow the teaching of the Scriptures that show us how to be born again. Living in the flesh carries the death sentence and all of one’s fleshly life is spent in the shadow of it (Hebrews 2:14-15). Fear of death paralyzes. All of us who live long enough eventually fall into sin and we’ve no one to blame but ourselves (Romans 3:23). However, the Spirit offers the opportunity to get the death part over with by dying with and through Jesus, and entering into newness of life. John 3:5, Titus 3:5 and Romans 6:1-4 explain all this and point us to believer’s baptism as the point of new birth. There is a sense in which the spiritually reborn (even though their bodies are likely to die) cannot be actually and lastingly killed (John 11:26). We receive the gift of the indwelling, life-giving Spirit at the point of water baptism (Acts 2:38-39).

You’ll have to walk with the Spirit freely. God wants fellowship with us, not blind, robotic, servitude! “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2Corinthians 3:17 ESV). Spiritual freedom isn’t license to do anything you ever have the whim to do (Galatians 5:1, 13; 1Peter 2:16; 2Peter 2:19). It’s release from bondage to sin which follows lies, into the state of peace with God and man (John 8:32). It’s freedom from guilt—a clean conscience and pure motives. There are many well-meaning people who think the Spirit’s leading is an irresistible force. That’s just not true. We can all grieve the Holy Spirit with our decisions (Ephesians 4:30), because he won’t force anyone to do anything.

So, here’s a word of advice for all my brothers and sisters trying to follow the Spirit’s lead. The side you feed wins! You have a fleshly nature, and a spiritual—feed your spirit and you’ll be spiritual. Feed only your flesh, or even mostly your flesh, and you’ll be fleshly, and eventually die spiritually. Pray without ceasing (1Thessalonians 5:17). Study the Bible diligently (2Timothy 2:15). Attend church services regularly (Hebrews 10:25). Do not let your faith be mere belief—put it to practice (James 2:17ff). Finally, develop an unselfish outward focus and servant’s spirit (Philippians 2:4; Matthew 23:11-12). Do these things and God will guide you!
---JLP

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What the Holy Spirit Doesn't Do

Well, of course there are the obvious things—those that are outside the scope of God’s will and nature, but when I ask the title question today, I’m really meaning, “What things often attributed to the Spirit is he actually not doing?”

We all know he isn’t behind everything blamed on him! Who doesn’t know there are so-called prophets who tell us God told them something that turns out to be untrue? There has to be more to accepting someone as a prophet than they just saying it’s so! There have always been false prophets and Jesus warned us there would be some among us (Matthew 7:15-20)! Let me tell you what I don’t understand the Spirit to be doing today, and then I’ll tell you why I believe the way I do.

The Holy Spirit isn’t giving human beings the power to heal diseases. James 5:15 says the power to heal the sick isn’t in the hands of church elders, but in the prayer of faith. Does God heal people in answer to prayers? In general, yes, absolutely! Can that faith healer on TV actually heal diseases? No, he can’t! God isn’t giving inspired messages to prophets. He isn’t enabling anyone to speak in tongues, and he isn’t entering folks’ minds with a still small voice, or guiding impulse. I believe he once did signs and wonders through people, signs that were far greater than any of the false ones we see today, and I’m convinced in the heavenly age to come all of us will have awesome supernatural powers (Hebrews 6:5; 1Corinthians 15:43), but not now. Now, we’re living in the last days of this “present evil age” (Galatians 1:4) and are called to follow the Scriptures (2Timothy 2:15-16), not thirst after power.

In an upcoming Bible class I’ll go into this in more detail. I’ll probably talk about what the book of Zechariah has to say. I know I’ll mention that 1Corinthians 13 proves God didn’t intend for people to continue manifesting miraculous power throughout the duration of time between then and the end of the world. But, for now, I’ll wrap this up by pointing us all to Acts 8. Verses 18 and forward show us that miraculous manifestations of the Spirit only followed the laying on of the apostles’ hands. One of the prerequisites of being an apostle was being an eye-witness of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). According to the Bible, Paul was the last witness (1Corinthians 15:8-9). All of the genuine apostles have gone on to be with the Lord. There is no living apostle to pass on a miraculous ability to me. I’m content to receive my power in my resurrected, glorified body. In the mean time, I’ll just keep trying to help good people realize the truth.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Does the Holy Spirit Do for Me?

When we start talking about what God does (and since he is One God whom we know in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—this applies to the Holy Spirit) things quickly turn to miracles. God works wonders! God answers prayers! God does whatever he wants to do! “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6 ESV). It’s foolish to limit God!

I hope I never limit God beyond the bounds he’s set for himself (and it wouldn’t stop God from doing anything he wanted to do if I tried). For example, God can’t lie (Titus 1:2). God cannot be tempted with evil and cannot sin (James 1:13). So on. However, I don’t believe God’s presently in the business of giving miraculous powers to people. I have to reject all faith healers and present day apostles, prophets and so on as frauds, but more on that tomorrow, Lord willing. On to what the Holy Spirit does in and through Christians…

In his book, God’s Indwelling Spirit, bro. F. Furman Kearley quotes bro. J.W. McGarvey about the internal (within us) and external (in the world) work of the Holy Spirit: “Externally, the Spirit supplies the gospel truth as set forth in the New Testament, and the rules and precepts therein found are for the instruction and guidance of God’s children. Internally, the Spirit aids by ministering strength and comfort to the disciple in his effort to conform to the revealed truth and will of God” (pp. 65-66). He goes on to quote bro. H. Leo Boles from the Gospel Advocate Bible Commentaries: “Christians are taught to ask for guidance for all their needs; and as certain as God through the Spirit answers their prayers, just that certain are they being led by the Spirit (Philippians 4:6-7; Hebrews 13:5-6, 4:14-16; Romans 8:26-27). The leading of the Spirit, therefore, consists of all the influences of every kind which he brings to bear upon our spirits….”

The Holy Spirit comforts believers who seek it (John 14:16), assists us in our prayer lives by ensuring God hears what we wish we could say, but cannot (Romans 8:26), and works through our study of the Scriptures and application of them to the challenges of life to answer our prayers for wisdom (James 1:5-6). He seals us as sanctified children of God, and testifies with our spirits in a way seen only by supernatural eyes that we belong to God (Ephesians 1:13, 4:30; Romans 8:16). The Bible clearly tells us he does these things, and we shouldn’t suppose he does more than the Scriptures say. However else he might accomplish anything is his business. We ought to rejoice that God loves us so much that he desires to live with us and within us!
---JLP

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Does the Holy Spirit Live in Me?

First, if you’re not a baptized believer, the answer is no. Now, for those who are genuine baptized followers of Jesus, the answer is yes. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11 ESV). Few Christian scholars deny the indwelling of the Spirit, and when they do, it’s as bro. Z.T. Sweeney wrote, “To deny the fact that the Spirit dwells in us is to deny the Bible” (The Spirit and the Word, p.117). Among the rest of us, the fact of his indwelling is accepted, but there are different ideas as to how.

In a few weeks, at Highland, in the Sunday auditorium Bible class I’ll go into these different views in a bit more detail. For now I’ll just say the main two views among us are that (a) the Holy Spirit directly and personally dwells in the Christian, and (b) he dwells in the believer representatively by means of the word of God in our hearts.

For instance, in support of view “b,” bro. Z.T. Sweeney, after asserting the Spirit dwells in Christians only through means of the word wrote, “What reason has any man for declaring that the Spirit dwells in us in any other way…? (The Spirit and the Word, p.119). On the other hand, after arguing for view “a,” bro. James D. Bales wrote, “If the Bible stated that the Holy Spirit dwells in us representatively in that his word dwells in us, we would accept this; but the Bible does not so state…” (The Holy Spirit and the Christian, p.41). Imminent scholars have written many books arguing for either position, and yet we’ve remained unified, and so it should continue. While I have an opinion as to which of these views is the right one, you’ll have to come to class to hear it. For now, as far as I know, the Bible never tells us in exact detail how the Spirit dwells in us, so we should be wise and avoid dogmatic assertions. “We do not have to know the how to know the fact of this indwelling” (The Holy Spirit and the Christian, p.40).

The more important question is “What does the Spirit do for us, in us, and through us who have put our trust in the Lord?” That’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Read! Comment! Interact!
---JLP

Monday, February 21, 2011

Who is this Holy Spirit?

This Sunday (2/27) is the last in our winter Bible school quarter at Highland Heights. I want to encourage all our members to check out the new catalog of classes either by picking up a brochure in the foyer, or checking out the resources page on the church website. On Sundays this “spring,” I’ll be teaching a class on the Holy Spirit. Let me say in advance I find him the most difficult of the three persons of God to understand and teach about. I’ve read everything the Holy Spirit has to say to us about himself, because every word of it is in the Bible! I’ve studied the passages, and will continue to do so carefully. Jesus said, “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29 ESV). While I don’t think many of the attempted interpretations of that passage you’ll find out there are correct, still, what Jesus said warns anyone against teaching about the Holy Spirit with a careless attitude.

Mystery surrounds the Holy Spirit. Space doesn’t allow the quote here, but I’ll mention the late bro. James Bales made a point in his book on the Holy Spirit, just because there is mystery about something doesn’t mean we don’t believe in it or can’t know a great deal about it. I very much agree. None of us quite know how the mind works, but we all know it does (better for some of us than others)! There are many things we may never know about the Holy Spirit, but remembering Deuteronomy 29:29, we need to focus on what has been revealed. I’ll just stress one thing about him here: He is a person. He’s not an “it” (John 14:17, 26, 15:26, etc.).

I invite anyone within reasonable distance from Smyrna, TN, who isn’t already part of a good church, and all our members to come to Bible class at Highland Heights at 9:15 on Sundays this March-May. I also encourage all our members to invite friends and family to Bible class! I’ll spend thirteen weeks exploring what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. Also, stay tuned for four more posts this week. Tues.: The Holy Spirit: Does He Live in Me? Wed.: What Does He Do? Thurs: What Doesn’t He Do? Fri: How to Walk by the Spirit. Read, comment, interact!
---JLP

I Took a Year Off!

Hello readers. A bit over a year ago I just got loaded with too many things to do and the writing well ran dry. So, I've taken a year off. I recently put together a new plan for blog writing I hope you'll enjoy. I plan to write five posts a week all centered around a weekly theme. Feel free to read, comment, discuss, and forward links to others who would be blessed by this blog. Each blog will be mirrored at www.highlandheights.net for the members of the church with which I work as a minister. Expect the first new post later today.
---JLP