“Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the Word that
by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2, NASB)
The purpose of “Condensed Milk” is to feed your mind and soul with God’s words and thoughts. The value of including these readings in your reading diet is that these readings will often reflect what God is doing among us as a church family. They will be tailored to us. The reflections are based on the Bible, and because God’s Word is referred to as milk and we are offering simplified observations from it, we are calling these reflections “Condensed Milk.”
The Insidious Question
GENESIS IS KNOWN AS the book of beginnings. Not only does the world begin in Genesis, but many of the designs of God and the problems of the world have their beginning there as well. This is why, for example, Jesus answered a question about divorce by referring to “the beginning” (Matthew 19:4). He believed the beginnings revealed truisms we ought to understand and live by.
This no doubt applies to the story of the first sin and how it came about. In that account, we have something of the DNA of sin. The third chapter of Genesis tells us of the temptation of Eve and the consequence of defying God. God had made the fruit of one tree off-limits, but Eve, then Adam ate from it anyway. Why did they do so? And what does that say to us?
We read, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Gen. 3:6). What is striking is that Eve chose to defy God’s command because it simply did not make sense to her. The fruit of the tree was “good… pleasing… desirable.” What harm could it cause? What was so wrong about eating it if it made her happy?
Lying behind her temptation was the insidious question of Satan. “Did God really say, `You must not eat from any tree in the garden’” (3:1)? The question was designed to encourage Eve to second guess God and to cast doubt on him and his command. Satan subtly degraded God’s authority by implying it could be questioned. Instead of simply obeying God, she entertained doubts about the rightness or goodness of his command. Why would God withhold something from her that might make her happy? That was the bottom line. So, she took the fruit and inherited misery in every part of her life.
Ever since that day, Satan’s question lives in our minds with the same powerful influence on us. We don’t even realize that we constantly, like Eve, second guess God and choose against him. That is our terrible loss. Has God really said we must be an active part of a church family? Has God really said that I should love his kingdom by giving away part of my income? Has God really said I should read my Bible daily? Has God really said I should participate in corporate prayer? Has God really said I should be kind to those who are unkind to me? Has God really said I must love my enemies? Has God really said he will meet all my needs?
Sometimes the question becomes part of the cultural values struggle as well. Has God really said he made us male and female? Has God really said that he designed marriage to be between a man and a woman? Has God really said that marriage is meant to be for life? Has God really given rules for our sexual practices? Has God really said we should not be materialistic?
The account of Adam and Eve’s sin reminds us that the cost of disobeying God’s commands is so huge, the loss so certain, we should take to heart very deeply whatever God has said.
What the Holy Spirit Does in Us Part 5: He Seals Us
I am not a farmer but living in a farming community; you tend to pick up bits of the farming experience. Some time ago, I talked with someone about a big “branding party” they were planning. Fifty or so people get together, and everyone has a job. Some herd the cattle, some tackle them and hold them down, others heat the irons, and still, others brand the cattle. A brand marks a cow as belonging to a particular rancher or farmer. It is a mark of ownership. It is placed on something of value that the farmer wants to keep as his own.
In the Bible, an emblem similar in function to a brand was a seal. A seal was made when a ring or other device was pressed into warm wax or soft clay. It left a recognizable mark and meant something about the thing on which it was left. That is what the seal of the Holy Spirit is about. Let’s look at these things.
A seal signifies our identification. Dynasties and powerful families in biblical times used a seal in the likeness of a family crest much as we use logos for corporations today. If I showed you the image of yellow arches, forty feet tall and in the shape of an “m,” what would you think of? McDonald's, of course. If I showed you a black swish-type mark on a set of runners, you would think of Nike. In the same way, the indwelling Spirit shows that our identity is with God. “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13). There are times when you will meet a stranger, and within minutes you know they belong to God. Their words, attitudes, and desires unmistakeably mark them that way.
In a similar vein, a seal signified ownership. We belong to God. He owns us. “He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:21-22).
A seal also created security. In 1975 the most popular purebred dog in the United States was the poodle, with almost 140,000 registered. In the same year, only 952 Rottweilers were registered. By 1995, however, the poodle population was cut in half while the Rottweiler population multiplied 100 times. Americans had become interested in protecting their stuff, and so they even changed their pets. The Bible tells us that a believer is sealed by the Holy Spirit to keep them secure. “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession…” (Eph. 1:13-14). There can be no greater security than God himself. Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).
Again, a seal represented irreversibility. King Xerxes once instructed Queen Esther to “write another decree in the king’s name in behalf of the Jews as seems best to you, and seal it with the king’s signet ring – for no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked.
Finally, a seal signifies value. We place seals on the things we don’t want to lose. One year my daughter gave me a stamp that read, “From the library of David Wiebe.” I put that seal on my books because they are valuable to me, and I don’t want to lose them. God has sealed you with the Holy Spirit because he owns you and wants to keep you. You may feel small and unimportant, but every day he sees you as very valuable.
What the Holy Spirit Does in Us Part 4: He Indwells Us
As I prepare to write about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, I feel suddenly that I am on holy ground. How dare I presume I can write about this with any competency? Attempting to declare it is to immediately cheapen it. And as we read about this truth, we degrade it immediately by our lack of comprehension and appreciation. God dwells in us! It is staggering. Mortals tremble under his gaze. Seeing him stops the heart’s beating. Yet, he tells the follower of Jesus that he dwells in them. May the Lord be merciful to us for the truth we are about to cheapen.
A definition: The indwelling of the Spirit is the gift of God, whereby the Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence within those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Saviour-Lord.
In Old Testament history, God declared that he would dwell in the tabernacle/temple. In this way, the children of Israel knew that God was with them and among them. To teach them a sense of his holiness (and their unholiness), God allowed only priests to enter the temple and then only after ritual washings, atonement for their sins, and the donning of priestly garments. Only the High Priest was permitted into the heart of the temple and the presence of God in the Holy of Holies, and that only once a year. He had to come with the life-blood of an animal sacrificed. Any deviance from these guidelines was under the promise of death. Bear this in mind, then, when Paul warns the Corinthian believers against sexual sin and says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:18-19).
God’s word says to believers, “You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Rom. 8:9). By definition, then, every believer is indwelt by the Spirit, and every non-believer is not. The gift is not reserved for a special class of Christian. It is not only for those who have been especially prayerful, yielded, searching or in some way worthy. Every believer is indwelt the moment they believe.
Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17). This causes a fundamental and unavoidable difference between the Christian and non-Christian. They cannot be, think, or want the same things. “Those who live according to the flesh (sinful nature) have their minds set on what the flesh desires. But those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Rom. 8:5-6). The reason we feel uncomfortable with the attitudes, actions, and words of the world, and they with us, is this governing presence of the Spirit in one and not the other.
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit, seen by his effects on us, is God’s guarantee of heaven’s riches. “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession…” (Ephesians 1:13b-14a). This deposit, which imparts even now something of the life of the age to come, is a deposit that guarantees that the rest is coming. We live God-empowered lives now and will live glorified lives soon. We stand in awe with gratitude.
What the Holy Spirit Does in Us Part 3: He Baptizes Us
Some background: The baptism of the Spirit has been a very debated topic, particularly with the launching of the Pentecostal movement in 1906. In its original teaching the baptism of the Spirit was generally associated with speaking in tongues and sanctification. That is, the Spirit’s first work of grace is conversion but that subsequently a person might receive a second work of grace, equally dramatic, instantaneous and complete, and referred to as a second blessing. In this view the baptism of the Spirit sanctifies (makes holy) a person (making sinless perfection possible) and was accompanied with speaking in tongues. One sudden event could catapult a Christian to a higher experience of God. This understanding is suspect, however, when you consider that Paul assures a very unspiritual church that they were all baptized in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13).
As the focus on the baptism of the Spirit crossed into every branch of Christianity it stirred up a lot of debate, leading to a new understanding and giving the movement a new name, “neo-Pentecostalism.” Spirit baptism was no longer seen as a work of grace for sanctification but a second work of grace to gift or empower for ministry. What remained the same, however, was the idea that the second work was subsequent to salvation. You could be a Christian and not baptized by the Holy Spirit.
So, what does the Bible say? Baptism in the Spirit is mentioned seven times in the New Testament (Matt. 3:11-12; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:16-17; John 1:33; Acts 1:4-5; Acts 11:15-18; 1 Cor. 12:13). Six of these quote John’s statement, “I baptize you in/with/by (the Greek en can be translated these ways) water for repentance … he will baptize you in/with/by the Holy Spirit and fire.” In John’s water baptism he was the baptizer, sinners were the baptized, water was the element, and repentance was the result. In the seventh reference Paul states, “For we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body… and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Cor. 12:3). In Spirit baptism Jesus is the baptizer, all believers are the baptized, the Spirit is the element, and incorporation into Christ’s body is the result.
So, now we have a definition: The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the work of Christ whereby he brings the believer into spiritual union with himself and with all other believers in the body of Christ. Christians have a union with Christ and with each other because his life is in us by the Holy Spirit.
This brings us to some conclusions. No one is a Christian without being in Christ, or baptized in the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8:9). Spirit baptism takes place at the moment of our conversion (Acts 2:38). Spirit baptism does not require confirmation by miraculous signs. While the experience was attended by signs four times in Acts, these were to demonstrate God’s acceptance of new people groups as they were added to the church – the Jews (2:1-13), the Samaritans (8:14-17), God-fearing Gentiles (10:44-48), and a fourth transitional group of John’s disciples (Acts 19:1-7). Spirit baptism indicates the security of our salvation. Those who believe that unchanged people are Christians or that Christians can lose their salvation must understand our union with Christ to be weak and ineffective. It isn’t.
What the Holy Spirit Does in Us Part 2: He Regenerates Us
As far as our personal experience of salvation goes, the first thing the Holy Spirit does in us is a work of regeneration. To regenerate means to bring something to life that has died. It refers to a brand new life, not just an improved life. It means that we were spiritually dead, and now we are alive.
The apostle Paul wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgression and sins…” (Ephesians 2:1). We were not ill, but dead; not damaged but dead; not in a coma but dead; not on life support but dead. We had no more capacity to respond to spiritual stimuli than a corpse has capacity to respond to physical stimuli. But Paul goes on to write, “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5). Faith is God’s gift to us, not ours to him (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Regeneration is an act of God. As Jesus called Lazarus from the grave without help from Lazarus so he must also call the spiritually dead to life. The apostle John says that we are “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13). Jesus once said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish….” (John 10:28). We contribute no more to our regeneration than Lazarus did to his resurrection. It is all mercy, or in biblical language, grace.
Regeneration is a powerful act of God. Paul writes, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know… his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead… (Ephesians 1:18-20). The regeneration of a dead soul takes incomparably great power. No power you have seen or can imagine can be compared to the power exerted on us in regeneration. A nuclear bomb pales by comparison. If you love God and his law, if you hate sin and depend on Christ for God’s forgiveness, you are a miracle stemming from the same incomparable power that raised Jesus from the dead. And without regeneration, none of those qualities will be in you.
What this means for us is that we have an edge in life. By a power incomparable, we have been made the children of God. It is decisive in that we have become what we were not before. This is why John can write, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God” (1 John 3:9). It means that living the Christian life is not merely a possibility for certain special people.
Finally, the security of our salvation is directly related to who authors our regeneration, who makes us alive, and with what kind of power that has been done. If we think we can lose what God has determined to give, we have a seriously deficient view of the power of the new birth.
What the Holy Spirit Does in Us Part 1: Introduction
In the next nine or so reflections, we are going to think about the Holy Spirit. The doctrine (teaching) of the Holy Spirit can be studied under two broad categories, namely, his person and his work. Who (or what) is the Holy Spirit, and what does he do? Our focus will be on the latter theme, and particularly on what the Holy Spirit does in our lives.
The Christian experience begins and ends with the work of the Holy Spirit. Apart from his initiative and activity, there is no Christian experience. The Christian life is not simply a religious choice to follow certain convictions and values or to associate with a particular group or church. Christian experience is the invasion of God into the soul of a person. It is the life of God in a human soul. A person is not a Christian until he is indwelt by the Spirit of God, and no one begins life that way. We must be made alive through the good news of Jesus.
What does the Holy Spirit do in a person? We will look at nine things, specifically. He regenerates, baptizes, indwells, seals, convicts, gifts, influences and guides, sanctifies, and fills us. No wonder, then, that a true Christian is a transformed person.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:
The old has gone; the new is here.”
(2 Corinthians 5:17)!
Defying Doubt, Feeding Faith
In my Bible reading this morning, I noticed that part of a healthy Christian’s journey is a holy defiance, a determination to push back against all thoughts and moods that are contrary to faith in God. For example, in the Psalms, as David deals with the opposition and threats of others, he seems to push back his fears and feelings of gloom with confessions that God is with him and will ultimately rescue and vindicate him. As he does so, his faith seems to grow.
In the first chapter of 2 Timothy, I noticed that Paul seems to defy the temptation to feel shame and, perhaps, despair. To Timothy, he writes, “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner” (1:8). A few verses later, he alludes to his “suffering” and says, “Yet this is no cause for shame….” (1:12). Finally, he expresses gratitude that Onesiphorus was not ashamed of his “chains” but searched hard for Paul and refreshed him. One gets the impression that Paul was tempted to feel shame, but why?
We should remember that 2 Timothy is the last letter we have from Paul before his execution. He must have known death could be just around the corner. What a contrast to what might have been. In his younger years, he had been a Pharisee, a prominent, influential, wealthy (most Pharisees were, at least) and admired person. That could have been his life. But when writing to Timothy, he likely had very little by way of wealth. He had exhausted himself in very difficult ministry. And the result of his efforts? Many of the churches he founded were floundering in division and false teaching. Elsewhere he states, “I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). He had many detractors within the Christian camp who opposed and bad-mouthed him and took pleasure in his imprisonment (Phlp. 1:15-17). Here he was, nearing the end of his life, and so much was wrong. Yet Paul says, defiantly, “this is no cause for shame because I know whom I have believed and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).
The Christian, then, is called to refuse to give way to gloom and doubt. Like David and Paul, we push those thoughts and feeling back with confessions of truth and confidence in God. And in this exercise of our faith, we will overcome these gloomy voices that bring us down.