Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: November, 2019



Throughout His discourse Jesus kept coming back to the role that the Holy Spirit would play after Jesus’ departure.  Having just described the role that the Spirit would play in the conviction of sinners (John 16:7-11), He now goes on to describe the Holy Spirit’s work of revealing truth to the apostles.  “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will tell you things to come” (vv. 12,13; NKJV).

One might begin by asking why the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit is necessary at all.  What could possibly be added to what Jesus had already said?  And yet Jesus Himself said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  What remained to be taught were the far-reaching implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But it would have been difficult to explain those implications before the events had actually taken place, and then Jesus would have been here on earth only a short while afterwards.  Some other means, then, had to be found to convey that information to the apostles, and that is where the Holy Spirit enters the picture.

“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak . . .” (the word “authority” has been supplied by the translators).  Here there are several things that are noteworthy.  First of all, the Holy Spirit is a Person – the pronoun “He,” in the Greek, is masculine, even though the Greek word translated “Spirit” is neuter.  The Holy Spirit is not a vague, impersonal life force, but a living, conscious Being.

And then the text says that “whatever He hears He will speak”; and then goes on to say, no less than twice in the next two verses, “He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”  What Jesus is saying here is that His own teaching ministry will continue, but through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

But how did this work in actual practice?  “. . .whatever He hears He will speak . . .” The word translated “whatever” is neuter plural in form, suggesting that what is being transferred here through the process of inspiration are pieces of information – facts, concepts and ideas.  And the Spirit is said to “hear” these things and to “speak” them to the apostles, implying that these revelations can be communicated in verbal propositions.

The apostle Paul would eventually describe the process of inspiration this way: “Now we have received, not the Spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.  These things we also speak, not in words which men’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” [or, as it might better be translated, “combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words’ – NASV].  The “words” which the Holy Spirit teaches are logois – words as embodying conceptions or ideas (Abbott-Smith).  Jesus had also said that the Holy Spirit would “bring to you remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26) and “will tell you things to come” (16:13).  The apostles and evangelists, then, would take all of this information that they had received from the Holy Spirit and write it down, making the writings of the New Testament, from the gospel records of the life of Christ to the prophecies of the Book of Revelation, the inspired Word of God.

The fact of divine revelation is of critical importance.  Apart from it we have no certain knowledge about God’s dealings with the human race in the past, our standing with Christ in the present, or what lies in store for us in the future.  And yet, tragically, the mainline Protestant denominations have largely abandoned faith in the Bible as the definitive Word of God.

The problem arose through the advent of the “Higher Criticism” of the Bible.  The Higher Critics professed to be studying the origins of the Bible from an inductive, scientific standpoint, and claimed to have discovered a variety of underlying sources and later redactions.  But they were highly selective in their use of evidence, usually discounting any explicit references contained within the Bible itself about its own origins.

Since the late 20th Century liberal scholarship has moved on to a wide variety of hermeneutical approaches, but practically none of them treats the Bible as a direct revelation from God Himself, and in some cases have even questioned whether objective truth is knowable at all.  Jesus, however, took a far different view of things, and as the eternal Son of God He was in a unique position to tell us what the true state of things is, certainly more so than the modern critics.

Apart from divine revelation we are in utter darkness.  We have no clear sense of the meaning and purpose of life, or of right and wrong, let alone the promise of forgiveness or the possibility of life after death.  We would be trapped by our temporal circumstances; we could never rise above the here and now, and the Christian life would be unlivable.  That the major Protestant have lost their faith in Scripture is one of the greatest tragedies of modern history.  And yet the promise that Jesus gave to His disciples still holds true.  The teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit continued beyond Christ’s ascension into heaven, and we have the final product of that divine inspiration in the New Testament.  Let us rededicate ourselves to studying it, to applying it to our lives.



Descent of the Holy Spirit

Jesus has just described the hostility that believers can expect to receive from the world.  But is it a lost cause?  If lost sinners, by their very nature, are hostile to the gospel, how would any of them come to faith in Christ?  If the world crucified Christ, why would it believe in Him as the promised Messiah?

Once again Jesus comes back to the work of the Holy Spirit.  “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth.  It is to you advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7; NKJV).  It cannot be overemphasized how central the Holy Spirit’s work should be in the church.  When Jesus walked here on earth, the lives of the disciples revolved around Him.  He was their Master, their Lord, their Teacher.  But now He was about to depart, leaving a void.  The Holy Spirit is meant to fill that void.

But the very idea of the Spirit of God indwelling a human being is extraordinary, and it would only be possible after Christ had died on the cross and made an atonement for our sin.  Having risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, He was then able to appear before God the Father as our intercessor, and ask that the Holy Spirit be given.  Pentecost was the proof that Christ’s sacrifice had been accepted and that He was now in heaven making intercession on our behalf.  The Holy Spirit now occupies a role in our lives analogous to the role that Jesus occupied in the lives of His disciples when He was here on earth.  The Holy Spirit is to play a central role in our lives as individual believers and in our life together as a church.

In this passage Jesus specifically turns His attention to the role that the Holy Spirit will play in the world at large.  “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (v. 8).  The word translated “convict” (elegcho) “implies rebuke which brings conviction” (Abbott-Smith).  The Holy Spirit will overcome the natural resistance of the human heart to convince them of certain basic facts a person must know and believe in order to come to faith in Christ.

The first of these is sin.  “. . . of sin, because they do not believe in Me” (v. 9).  There is a great deal of discussion among the commentators about exactly how this and the next two verses should be translated and interpreted.  We will take the position that the word “because” introduces a clause which states the reason why the Holy Spirit is convicting of these things.  And the first thing of which the Holy Spirit convicts us is the terrible fact of sin.  God is perfectly just, holy and loving.  He created us to live our lives in accordance with His will.  But instead we rebelled against Him and gave ourselves to a wide variety of sinful passions and desires – anger, pride, greed and lust.  We have a general sense that these are wrong, but since everyone else is guilty of the same sins we tend not to take them seriously.  And so the Holy Spirit must show us how serious a problem sin really is.  And He does this ”because they do not believe in Me.”  He came into the world to save people from their sins, and yet they do not believer.  Why?  Because they do not believe that sin is the serious problem that it is.

And the Holy Spirit will convict the world “of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more” (v. 10).  While Jesus was here on earth His life was a perfect example of what true righteousness is, and His teaching reflected the will of God on this more fully and completely than had ever been done before.  As human beings we cannot see how lost we really are until we understand how perfect a righteousness God really requires.  We compare ourselves with each other, and conclude that we are not so bad after all – after all, I am not as bad as the guy in the next cell – he got charged with first degree murder!  But to see what God Himself is really like is to experience is to experience the reaction that Isaiah had when he saw God – “Woe is me, for I am undone! / Because I am a man of unclean lips. . . .” (Isa. 6:5).  And so with Jesus physically departed the Holy Spirit must give the sinner a sense of what real righteousness is.

And then Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (v. 11).  It is tempting for us, as human beings, to think that no serious consequences will come from our sin, as long as we obey the laws of the civil authorities.  We live, we pursue our dreams and ambitions, we have successes or failures, but hopefully most of us will avoid imprisonment.  What we fail to recognize, however, is that there is coming a day of judgment in which each one of us individually must give an account to God for our actions here on earth. And what a terrifying prospect that is!  To stand before an absolutely holy God who knows every impure thought and hidden fault that we ever had, and try to explain to Him, our Creator, why we did what He did not want us to do – who could possibly escape condemnation?  And the fact of the matter is that “the ruler of this world is judged.”  We think that we are fine if we are in conformity with the standards of human society around us.  But human civilization in its entirety is in a state of rebellion against God, and its ruler is no one less than Satan himself.  But Satan has already been judged, and while his influence may prevail now his cause is ultimately lost.  This is why it makes no sense to keep conforming to this twisted and perverted standards of human conduct.

Most people have at least a vague sense of guilt.  We have consciences – we have at least a sense that there is a difference between right and wrong.  The apostle Paul calls it “the work of the law written on our hearts” (Rom. 2:15).  Most people have a sense of moral standards imposed by society and feel guilty when caught.  But the conviction brought on by the Holy Spirit is different.  The apostle Paul, in his former life as a devout Jew, could say that “concerning the righteousness which is in the law” he was “blameless” (Phil. 3:4-6).  But once he understood what God really required, once he understood how deeply engrained sin really was in his personality, he was led to exclaim, “O wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from the body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).  And the lost sinner, no matter how outwardly respectable he may be, can scarcely have any sense at all of the righteousness of God or the reality of the Last Judgment.  Thus true conviction must be produced by the Holy Spirit.

The passage is also a sober reminder to the church of how dependent we are upon the work of the Holy Spirit in evangelism.  Evangelism is not just a matter of marketing and intellectual persuasion.  The lost sinner is spiritually blind.  He “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18).  They “walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness [“hardness” – NASV, ESV] of their heart . . .” (Eph. 4:17,18).  Thus “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14).Thus what has to happen in true evangelism is, as Paul described his own ministry, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (I Cor. 2:4,5).  “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance . . .” (I Thess. 1:5), and thus the Thessalonians, “when you received the word of God which you heard from me, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believer” (I Thess. 2:13).

True revival will come only when we acknowledge our dependence on the Holy Spirit for results, and ask for His anointing on the preaching of the word.  Secular marketing techniques and methods will not bring lost sinners to Christ. Only the Holy Spirit can accomplish that.  Even so come, heavenly Dove!



The stoning of Stephen

As Jesus and His disciples make their way through the streets of Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is conscious that He is literally on His way to His arrest and execution.  How did He arrive at this point?  And what does it mean for His disciples, and, by implication, for the church?

At this point Jesus give His disciples a foreboding notice: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18; NKJV).  “The world” is the generality of the human race in its lost condition.  We sometimes hear well-meaning Christians say that America is a Christian nation founded on biblical principles.  But that is not the way Christ sees it.  The United States, like every other nation on the face of the earth, is made up mostly of lost sinners who are in a state of sin and rebellion against God, and are on their way to hell.  America is a part of “the world.”

And the world, Jesus says, “hated Me.”  The great irony of the situation is that here was Jesus, the very Son of God, come into the world to save us from our sins, and He is rejected by the great majority of mankind.  He was the promised Messiah, and yet He was rejected by the Jews.  And if we are faithful followers of Jesus Christ we may face the same rejection as well.

Jesus goes on to elaborate on the position of the Christian in the world: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own.  Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (v.19).  Christ’s immediate disciples were a select group of men specifically chosen by Him to be His disciples.  But in a broader sense this is true of every Christian believer.  Why do some believe and not others?  We were all lost sinners, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).  But God chose some (those of us who were to be saved) to make monuments of His mercy and grace.

But in the process of choosing us He effectively separated us from the world of which we once were a part.  He chose us “out of the world.”   We are no longer a part of the human society around us.  We no longer share its values.  We have seen the light, and can no longer live the way we used to; and that puts us at variance with the world around us.  They are motivated by self-interest.  They routinely ignore God.  And when confronted with the claims of Christ they react in loathing and disgust.  And so they rejected Christ; and they rejected the apostles, and they will likely reject us if we try to bear faithful witness to the truth.  The world “hates” us, because it hates what we represent: the claims of God over their sinful, rebellious lives.

The underlying cause of persecution, Jesus says, is that “they do not know Him who sent Me” (v. 21).  Again we need to appreciate the irony of the situation.  Jesus’ immediate opponents were Jewish religious leaders.  They certainly thought of themselves as religious.  And yet in reality they did not know God, for it they did they would have embraced the One whom the Father had sent.  They had actually seen the Son of God.  They had heard Him speak.  Moreover, Jesus had “done among them the works which no one else did” (v. 24).  And yet in spite of that they rejected Christ anyway.  And the servant, Jesus says, is not greater that his master.  “If they persecuted Me, the will also persecute you” (v. 20).

One might think at this point that the situation is hopeless.  And yet we have a most valuable resource available to us – the Holy Spirit.  “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (v. 26).  The world cannot be won to Christ through natural, human means.   To overcome the intense opposition that the world has toward Christ, the Holy Spirit must transform people inwardly, opening their eyes, convicting them of sin, and drawing them to Christ.  Revival is the Holy Spirit’s work – we are merely instruments in His hands.  The disciples themselves, in their role as apostles, “also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning” (v. 27).  They were witnesses of the events surrounding Jesus.  They had heard His teaching; they had seen His miracles.  We have their testimony in the pages of the New Testament.  It leaves mankind without excuse.

Jesus then goes on to tell His disciples that He was telling them all of this in advance “that you should not be made to stumble” (16:1).  Had Jesus been like one of our modern “Prosperity Gospel” preachers, and had His disciples responded to Him thinking that the Christian life would be one of ease and comfort, when persecutions came their way they most likely would have experienced a profound sense of disillusionment and would have dismissed Jesus as a fraud.  But Jesus was honest and transparent with them, and forewarned them of what lay ahead.  He points out that “the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service” (v. 2).

“And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me” (v. 3).  Here is the irony of the situation: there will be religious leaders (and here the initial reference appears to be the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem) who will persecute Christian believers in the name of religion.  Why?  “. . . because they have not known the Father nor Me.”  Unfortunately it is possible to have an outward form of religion based purely on sociology and not on an actual relationship with God.  Thus what the leader thinks is right is not always what God wants.  This is why the genuine children of God sometimes wind up being persecuted.

Most of this is utterly alien to us American Christians.  We have never experienced anything even remotely like this before.  And yet indications are already there that we are now living in a “Post-Christian” society and the signs of persecution are already on the horizon.  Will we, as followers of Jesus Christ, be prepared to suffer for Him?

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if

need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the

genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than

gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found

to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ . . .”

(I Peter 1:6,7)



Jesus goes on to reinforce the command to “love one another” by saying, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (John 15:16; NKJV).  This takes us into deep and difficult doctrine of election.  Jesus clearly states, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.”  Some have imagined that the doctrine of election would leave to a life of lawlessness and sin.  If God is the One who does the choosing, if it is not my free will that chooses to become a Christian, then why should I exercise my will to live a godly life?  But that line of reasoning misses the whole point of election.  God had a specific purpose in mind when he chose us, and that was to redeem us from sin, set us apart from the world, and consecrate us to live lives that are pleasing to Him.  Jesus chose us, “that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”  If we have been chosen by God, if we have experienced the work of grace in our hearts, we will be people different from what we were before we were saved.  We are new creatures in Christ Jesus (II Cor. 5:17), and so we live differently.  Our aim now is to please Him.  And it is significant that Jesus specifically says that He wants us to bear fruit, and that our fruit should remain.  He wants us to be successful in the Christian life; He does not want us to be defeated Christians.

And Jesus further reinforces the exhortation by reminding them of what He had told them earlier, “. . .that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give it to you” (cf. v. 7).  One of the benefits of having a vital connection to Christ is that He acts as our intercessor.  If we pray in His name, our request carries the weight of His authority behind it, and the Father will not deny a request from His Son!  This is all the more reason why it is vitally important that we remain in close fellowship with the Son.  And so Jesus comes back to His original point: “These things I command you, that you love one another” (v. 17).

The practical implications of all of this are hard for American Christians in particular to grasp.  We are used to a plethora of denominations dominated by a professional clergy.  We accept divisions within the Body of Christ as normal, and can scarcely conceive of the existence of a universal church.  Yet Jesus is beseeching His disciples – all of His disciples – both then and now, to love each other.  That means that there are several things about American church life that are highly problematic.

Perhaps the first thing that should be mentioned is overbearing pastors.  Most churches today have just a single pastor; or, if they are large enough to have more than one, one is designated as the “senior pastor.”  This pastor, or senior pastor, is then in charge of the ministry of the church.  Unfortunately in some cases he can be an overbearing tyrant, and some churches have been brought to ruin by poor decisions made by the impulsive and stubborn personality in charge.

But the model of church life that we see in the New Testament was quite different.  All of the believers within a given geographical area were considered members of a single church, and if the Christian community in Jerusalem is any indication, one of these community-wide churches could number up into the thousands.  Within this larger church there would be smaller groups that would meet in private homes where they would “break bread” (Acts. 2:46), evidently a combination of fellowship meal and Lord’s Supper.  The large, metropolitan church was led by a board of elders which at one point was called a “presbytery” (presbyterion) (I Tim. 4:14).

But the elders were all on an equal footing – there was no “senior” pastor.  It was not until the Second Century that “bishop” and “elder” were considered two separate offices, with a single bishop being in charge of an entire diocese – what is generally known as a “monarchical episcopate.”  This became a characteristic feature of early Catholicism, and eventually led to the papacy.  But in New Testament times the terms “elder” and “bishop” were used interchangeably, and , as noted, were all on an equal footing.  And the elders were told to “shepherd the flock of God among you . . .not as being lords (katakurieuontes – exercising dominion) over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:2,3).  “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will give them repentance, so that they may know the truth . . .” (II Tim. 2:24,25).  How very different from what we so often see today!

But the larger problem in American church life today is the sin of denominationalism.  The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians and rebuked them for dividing into factions and saying “I am of Paul,” and “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas” (I Cor. 1:12), and yet we say “I am Lutheran,” “I am Mennonite,” “I am Wesleyan.”  Granted, denominational differences cannot be easily papered over.  But each of us needs to engage in careful self-examination to see how many of our beliefs and practices are really found in the Bible; and we need to strive together to achieve as much visible unity within the evangelical community as possible.  What is especially pernicious in this regard is the practice of “Second Degree Separation” – the idea that not only must we separate from unbelievers (First Degree Separation, which is Biblical), but we must also separate from fellow believers with whom we might disagree over some secondary point of doctrine.  Granted, there are serious doctrinal errors that should not be allowed within the church.  But the question should always be asked, is the other brother acting in good faith?  Can he build a solid argument for Scripture?  If so, we should be working for peace and unity, not rancor and division.

The “bottom line” is Christ’s commandment that we love one another.  Love is the evidence of a life transformed by grace, and is the most eloquent testimony that we can offer the world.  May the love of Christ shine through us as we love one another!