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Scripture

Becoming Like The Holy Spirit -- By Pointing To Jesus

"It is to your advantage that I go away..."

Can you imagine the disciples’ thoughts as Jesus spoke these words? How could it be to their advantage for him to go away? For a couple of years now they’d seen a man do the impossible. Heal the sick, walk on water, even raise people from the dead. He spoke like no one else ever had. This man, Jesus, claimed to be divine—and he had the miracles to prove it. 

What could possibly be gained if Jesus was not with them? His followers needed him to establish a new kingdom, to overthrow Rome and restore Israel. They needed him to teach them about the law and the prophets, to continue unfolding the Torah in ways that revealed its true intent. They needed him to be with them; he was their teacher, their rabbi, their Messiah.

Jesus did what was best for his people.

So why did Jesus have to go away? Because it was to their advantage — and ours. Jesus did what was best for his people. Bodily remaining with some of his followers would have been great, we can be sure. But sending the Helper so his ministry could continue in all of his followers everywhere, was best.

By going away, the Son would send the Holy Spirit to declare the truth about the world. That without believing in Jesus, the guilt of sin remains. That Jesus was righteous because he ascended back to the Father. That the ruler of this world is judged, his reign temporary, and one day sin’s power will have no hold on us. The Holy Spirit came to be a guide for all believers, to lead God’s people into truth, and to glorify Jesus by declaring what belongs to him. (John 16:8-14)

Maybe it’s almost appropriate that the Holy Spirit is often overlooked as the third person of the Trinity. Even while being divine himself, the ministry of the Holy Spirit is unique because it’s not about him—it’s about Jesus! The Holy Spirit’s ministry is to help us keep the commands of Jesus (John 14:15-17), to bring to remembrance the things Jesus taught (John 14:26), and to convict the world about its relationship to Jesus (John 16:8-11).

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is unique because it’s not about him—it’s about Jesus!

So why is it to our advantage that Jesus went away? Because he sent us another in his place to help us, comfort us, and point us back to him. And now Jesus can be present with all believers everywhere through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who, in a sense, does what we all should do: glorify God by declaring the truth according to God’s word, and pointing to the work of Jesus

 

REFLECTION

Why is it important to note the Holy Spirit’s role of pointing away from himself, illuminating the word and work of Jesus instead? What happens if we begin to focus an unbalanced amount of attention on the work of the Spirit?

Are you seeking the help of the Helper to experience Jesus’ presence in your life? What could be different with more of the Spirit’s work of revealing Jesus to you?

 

For further reflection, read John 16:4-15.

The Bible May Be Deep -- But We Have To Get In The Water

The Bible is too hard to understand.

Sound familiar? Even if you’ve never said it, chances are, you’ve heard it. And the truth is, the Bible can be a hard book to understand. It’s really a compilation of sixty-six books, all telling different parts of the same story. Some of the books are history, telling us what happened in the past; some of the books are prophecy, telling us what will happen in the future. Some of the books are poetry, some are letters written to churches 2,000 years ago. No wonder people say it’s hard to understand!

Most importantly, though, the Bible is the word of God. It was inspired by God himself, and the Holy Spirit guided its writing, compilation, and preservation. The Bible is also sufficient to teach us everything we need to know about God, about our relationship to him, and what we can do about it (which is really what God did about it).

But along with the inspiration and sufficiency of the Bible, we have a lesser known belief in the perspicuity (understandability) of the Bible. Because we believe the Bible was inspired by God and tells us everything that’s essential to our spiritual condition, the Bible can be clearly understood by any person of average intelligence. In other words, you don't need any special training to grasp the essential truths of the Bible.

But since the Bible is inspired, sufficient, and understandable — we have to get in the water.

Think of the ocean. A child can play in the shallowest parts on the beach, while any adult can swim out and play and surf and swim and enjoy the waves. Still farther out, with the right equipment an experienced diver can descend to parts unseen by most people, while the deepest parts will likely never be reached. Just because we’re not trained or prepared for deep sea diving doesn’t mean we can’t play in the water.

Likewise, just because there are deep parts of the Bible doesn’t mean we can’t still read and understand and grow. We may have to ease into it. We may have to work hard. We may need the right equipment to go deeper. But since the Bible is inspired, sufficient, and understandable — we have to get in the water. 

If you’re not a good swimmer, you need practice and some training. If you’re not a good Bible reader, or the Bible is hard to understand, maybe you simply need some direction and the right equipment. Several years ago I stumbled onto a strategy for Bible reading that has helped me wring out passages like never before. Coined by Matt Rogers, these Seven Arrows for Bible Reading* could help you better understand your Bible.

seven arrows.jpg

Answer a few, or answer them all. Either way, you will get more out of your reading when you read with a purpose. In order, the arrows ask you to look for seven things when you read the Bible:

  • What does the passage say? Try to summarize the main idea of the passage in one sentence.
  • What does the passage mean to its original audience? Try to figure out the author’s intent based on context and culture. (This question will likely require the help of a study Bible or other tools.)
  • What does this passage teach me about God? Try to discern what the text reveals about the nature and character of God.
  • What does this passage teach me about man? Try to recognize what the passage teaches about humanity (and man’s need for the gospel).
  • What does this passage demand of me? This question begins to apply the reading. Try to observe the ways the text calls you to action.
  • How does the passage change the way I relate to other people? This question applies the reading to relationships. Try to determine how the text shapes your daily interactions with those around you.
  • How does the passage prompt me to pray? Try to pick out specific ways to pray based on what you’ve read.

If you don't read the Bible regularly—or even if you do!—see if these questions don’t help you understand more of what you’re reading. The word of God is meant to be understood; God wants you to know him. So try it out! Wade out into the ocean. Start playing in the waves. Before you know it, you’ll be deeper than you ever expected!

For further reflection, try out the arrows on 2 Timothy 3:12-17.

 

*For more information, check out Seven Arrows, by Matt Rogers, available on Amazon.

Thankfulness Is Not Natural -- But Christians Are Supernatural

Put on a new self.

The idea of universal truth has come under attack in our culture. It’s a serious debate, whether something can be 100% true all the time. But we know universal truth exists, and it can be proved by this one simple experiment: serve a slice of chocolate cake to two siblings, giving one a (possibly even unnoticeably) bigger slice than the other, then sit back and watch what happens.

“That’s not fair. His piece is bigger than mine!”

This is who we are in our natural selves. Sin makes us selfish. Sin makes us ungrateful.

Every time. Without fail. Universally true for every piece of cake ever distributed to a child under the age of ten. If you're a parent, you can recall this scene happening a thousand different ways with your own children. If you don't have kids, just know that your parents could recall this scene happening a thousand different ways with you. And no parent’s “You should be thankful for what you got” response has ever sunk in and caused a child to not feel slighted by the smaller piece of cake.

This is who we are in our natural selves. Sin makes us selfish. Sin makes us ungrateful. But Christians are called to the super-natural. Gratefulness is not natural to the sinful heart; it can’t simply be conjured up because someone tells us to be thankful. But Someone does tell us—commands us—to be thankful, and now every Christian has a duty to live a life of gratitude.

In Colossians 3, the apostle Paul exhorts believers in Christ to put on a new self, a self that is not natural, not like the world, and not like the old self we were before coming to Jesus (3:5-14). His encouragement is grounded in our union with Christ. (3:1-3)

Since we’ve been empowered to live not according to our own nature, but Christ’s, Paul exhorts us to thankfulness as a mark of the new self.

Union with Christ not only gives us the what to be thankful for — it also gives us the power to live that way. Being united to Christ actually empowers us to be thankful, to live a life that reflects Jesus’ own nature and attitudes. And since we’ve been empowered to live not according to our own nature, but Christ’s, Paul exhorts us to thankfulness as a mark of the new self. In verses 15-17, there are three references to thankfulness.

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 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. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)

Like love, thankfulness is both something we feel and something we do. With the power of the Holy Spirit, it is something that can (and should!) become a distinguishing characteristic of God’s people. Gratefulness is not natural, therefore it doesn't come easy—but it is commanded. And it’s what sets Christians apart from the world. Believer, you are different because you have put on a new self, a self united with Christ, and you are not bound by the natural; no matter the circumstances, you have been empowered to live a supernatural life of thankfulness!

 

REFLECTION

Is a life of thankfulness realistic, especially with all of life’s trials and adversities?

Paul’s exhortation to the life of gratitude is grounded in our union with Christ. Why is it important to understand thankfulness springs from our position in Christ, not life’s circumstances?

Is your life marked by thankfulness? Does your new self look more like Christ or your old self?

For further reflection, read Colossians 3:1-17.

What The Bible's Shortest Verse Can Teach Us About Grief

Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

The Bible is full of comfort for the hurt and grieving, and it speaks to our grief in a hundred different ways. For some, their comfort is in the nature of God as a loving father. For others, comfort is found in a familiar passage like Psalm 23, a chapter on the Lord as a shepherd tenderly caring for and protecting his sheep. For their comfort, some lean on a sturdy confidence in God’s providence, while others in God’s promises such as Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good for those who Love God and are called according to his purpose.

While there is certainly much comfort found in all those places and more, when it comes to offering hope to the hurting, there are two powerful words in the Bible that are often overlooked. Tucked away in the miraculous story of Lazarus’s resurrection, John 11:35—the Bible’s shortest verse, but perhaps one of the longest on implication—stands ready to flood our souls with truth about the Lord’s sympathy and compassion: “Jesus wept.”

Lazarus had been dead for four days. His sisters, Mary and Martha, both greeted Jesus with the same mixture of emotions, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They believed Jesus could have healed him, but they despaired that he was too late. Many of the Jews had come to console them, and they mourned with Mary and Martha. And as Jesus looked on their sadness, as he watched them grieve the most intense loss we feel in this life—the death of a loved one—he was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” As they went to the tomb where Lazarus was laid, Jesus wept. (John 11:17-35)

Sometimes Jesus has an odd way of giving us what he knows we need. But in the meantime, Jesus simply wept with this friends.

The son of God. The second person of the Trinity. “The radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3), in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). This Jesus, who knew how it all would turn out, still wept with his friends. Jesus knew Lazarus would be resurrected. He knew that sheer joy and celebration were just around the corner. In fact, he stayed away an extra two days when he heard Lazarus was ill, so that the disciples, Mary and Martha, and the onlooking Jews would see the glory of God and believe (John 11:5-6, 14-15, 40). Jesus loved this family and knew that witnessing Lazarus’s resurrection would deepen their faith more than seeing him healed. Sometimes Jesus has an odd way of giving us what he knows we need. But in the meantime, Jesus simply wept with this friends.

It’s an incredible comfort to know Jesus sympathizes with our pain, that he’s compassionate and meets us in our grief. It’s no small thing to read that Jesus wept with these people he loved. He knows death is not eternal. He knows resurrection is coming. He knows life and glory are just around the corner, but in the moment, suffering and death and tremendous grief were real — and Jesus mourned their effect. 

In Jesus’ tears we see how he loved Lazarus (John 11:36). His example teaches us there’s a way to mourn while staying confident in God. In Jesus we see what it looks like to not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). And as Jesus mourns the sadness of death before he resurrects Lazarus, so we mourn the reality of suffering and death before the final Resurrection, when Jesus will “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

 

REFLECTION

Have you ever heard it said that intense grief indicates a lack of faith? How does Jesus’ reaction to Lazarus’s death indicate otherwise?

Jesus didn't go to Lazarus immediately when he heard he was sick, which led to Mary and Martha’s suffering when he died. What comfort can be gained by observing Jesus’ reason for this (that they would see the glory of God and believe)?

When you’ve experienced grief (maybe that’s right now), what comforts you? Is there any hope in knowing Jesus sympathizes, cares, and mourns with you even though he knows how he’ll use this to deepen your faith?

For further reflection, read 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.

"Everything Happens For A Reason" May Not Be Helpful -- But Don't Stop Believing It

I recently read an article encouraging Christians to stop saying “everything happens for a reason.” The argument? Everything doesn’t actually happen for a reason.

According to the author, some of life’s occurrences are random — but they “can ultimately be redeemed and used by God for a purpose (Romans 8:28).” There’s a distinction between some of life’s events happening with purpose, and some happening randomly but with qualities God can redeem after for his purposes. “These two things are quite different if you begin to unpack their meaning and understanding.”

But there are a few problems with this. First and foremost, the Bible doesn’t support it. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers (Genesis 37). Job lost everything he owned, his children, and his health (Job 1-2). Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, was sick and died—causing confusion and pain for friends and family—since Jesus wouldn't go to heal him (John 11). Paul was given a thorn in the flesh, “a messenger of Satan to harass him” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Jesus, an innocent man, was murdered publicly and with the approval of all the involved religious and political leaders (Acts 4:27-28).

God doesn’t spin the world, take his hands off, and wait for opportunities to step in and clean up a mess.

Can we all agree these are horrible events? Of course we can. And while not a single one of us would like to find ourselves in a similar situation, often times we do (except for being crucified for the sin of the world). We lose jobs. We lose loved ones to cancer and car wrecks and house fires. We go through divorce and abuse. These are all situations of intense pain and suffering.

And yet the Bible is clear. God is not random. He doesn’t spin the world, take his hands off, and wait for opportunities to step in and clean up a mess. He is sovereign. He is wise. And his ways—though they may include hard times and pain—are higher than our ways and always work together for our good (Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 8:28).

Joseph was used to save Israel and preserve God’s people during a great famine (Genesis 50:20). Job experienced God’s faithfulness and blessing on the other side of heavy suffering (Job 42). Jesus let Lazarus die on purpose so that the power of God would be displayed in his resurrection and people would believe (John 11:14-15). Paul’s thorn kept him humble and taught him about the sufficiency of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). The death of Jesus was the most heinous act of evil ever committed — but it brought salvation to the world (Romans 5:6-11).

While it may sound like a help to believe suffering does not intentionally come to us from God, the biblical truth is that it does — and the real comfort is in knowing God has a plan for your pain, to grow you, to make you more like Jesus, to use you as his ambassador.

It’s a mystery why and how God allows pain and suffering, and how he intends to use it for good. Yes, God is love. Yes, he is good. But yes, he is still sovereign over his creation, absolutely sovereign over all of it (Isaiah 46:8-11). While it may sound like a help to believe suffering does not intentionally come to us from God, the biblical truth is that it does — and the real comfort is in knowing God has a plan for your pain, to grow you, to make you more like Jesus, to use you as his ambassador. The only real comfort is in knowing God is not out of control and in every situation there is a definite purpose.

At the same time we can all agree it typically doesn’t comfort hurting people to hear aphorisms like "everything happens for a reason.” Most of the time it can be insensitive, and therefore I agree it shouldn't be used lightly on people in the midst of their pain. So get rid of the bathwater, sure, but let’s get the baby out first.

Don’t fall for a fake comfort. Everything does happen for a reason. Jesus said not even a bird falls from the sky apart from God (Matthew 10:29-31). Your circumstances are not random and meaningless. It’s precisely because everything happens for a reason that you can trust God to fulfill his purpose and bring you safely through it. It may just take a little faith.