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Grace, Faith and the Ministry of the Holy Spirit
In Hebrews 10:19-39 there is a passage Iíve quoted before (at the very end of the paper entitled "The Blood of Christ") that illustrates the connection between the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God. In verse 19 the passage starts with a statement about our freedom to enter into the presence of the Father. Then at the end of this verse and into verse 20 it tells us that this freedom was opened to us through what Christ did on the cross. And in verse 26 it begins to talk about whatís in store for those who fail to take advantage of this great freedom and opportunity. By the time you get to verse 29 thereís a stern warning. This is what it says.
"How much more terrible then, should the punishment be for those who have trampled on the Son of God and have considered His Blood (His spiritual death) of the New Covenant to be unimportant, or worse yet, unholy? And because of this outrageous behavior, these same ones have both insulted and angered the Holy Spirit, Who came to administer this undeserved favor of God to us!"
The paraphrase uses "undeserved favor" for the word "grace" in the original text. And I open the paper with this verse for that very reason. It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to administer Godís grace or undeserved favor to us. And itís an insult and an outrage to a holy and righteous God when men treat the grace of God with contempt. And letís not forget what grace is. Contrary to religious thought, weíre not saved by grace alone; weíre saved by means of grace through the operation of our faith. Grace is the opportunity given to us because of the Fatherís plan and the Sonís willingness to carry out that plan in regards to our redemption. But our faith is the essential means by which we must access Godís grace to experience His deliverance. The purpose of this paper is to show that we cannot access Godís plan of grace outside of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
So, what is the ministry of the Holy Spirit? What does the Holy Spirit actually do in the administration of Godís grace? Letís start where I usually like to start when I can, in the red letters. The first significant passage is found in John 14:15-18, 26. Iíll quote it for you.
"If you really love Me, then youíll obey the things Iíve been telling you. And Iíll ask the Father, and Heíll send another to help you Ė One Who will remain with you. He is the Spirit of Truth, Whom the world cannot receive, because He is invisible and they cannot see Him. But you know and understand Him (because you have experienced Him) and He lives in you. I will not leave you alone and helpless in the world; and I will come back for you."
"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send to represent all that I Am, will teach you everything you need to know. And He will enable you to remember everything I have told you."
In the KJV verse 16 has the words "another Comforter". This is allos used with parakletos, and describes both Who the Holy Spirit is, and what the Holy Spirit does. Jesus uses the word allos to describe someone who is the same as or equal to Himself. The Holy Spirit is God, just like Jesus is God. Then Jesus says the Holy Spirit is parakletos, a verbal adjective that literally means, "he who has been called to help". Then in verse 26 Jesus says the Holy Spirit will be sent by the Father "in My name", which, as weíve discussed before, is an idiom or word picture that means "as a representation of all that I Am." (See also John 14:13, 14, 15:16 and compare I John 5:13-15) Then when we consider everything that Iíve just described, we conclude that the Holy Spirit is God and was sent by the Father at Jesusí request to be His substitute and our helper on the earth until Jesus comes back.
He further explains in verse 26 that the Holy Spirit will teach them and cause them to remember "all things", in this context, literally, "everything necessary for the understanding". And what understanding do we need? We need to understand the invisible Father and His Son, Who is the visible representation of all that the Father is (Colossians 1:15); but Who is also absent from this earth and, therefore, unseen as well.
In John 15:26 Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth and says "ÖHe will testify regarding Me." The word "testify" is martureo and means, "to give information based on personal knowledge." This is a reference to the accuracy of what the Holy Spirit reveals to believers regarding the Son. He cannot be mistaken. He will not distort the truth. He has no agenda of His own. Just like Jesus is committed to the will and purpose of the Father (John 6:38, 7:16, 8:28), the Holy Spirit is committed to the same will and purpose. This unity of God is illustrated in John 16:15, which tells us that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all cooperate in the effort to reveal themselves to mankind, a fact that should humble us all. Let me quote it for you here.
"Everything that belongs to the Father belongs to Me too. Thatís why I told you that the Holy Spirit will take what is Mine and will reveal it to you."
Do you see what I mean? Everything the Father has Heís given to the Son. The Holy Spirit has access to everything the Son has (which He received from the Father). And everything the Holy Spirit has (which He received from the Son, Who received it from the Father) is then revealed to us! Godís grace mixed with our faith allows us to be part of the mix. And if you donít understand what an unspeakable privilege that is, itís probably because you donít know God the way He wants you to know Him!
Actually, this is the last verse in a passage found in John 16:7-15 that tells us more about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Letís just look at the whole thing.
Now, if youíre at all familiar with the Book of John, then you know that Jesus has been talking to His disciples for several chapters now about the fact that He was going to go away (John 12:8, 35, 13:33, 36, 14:1-2, 18-19, 28, 16:5, 7). When you read chapter 15, you should recognize that everything Jesus says about abiding in the Vine and the persecution of believers is in the context of what He says earlier about going away. The disciples are sad, confused and worried. In fact, everything Jesus says about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in John 14, 15 and 16 is spoken in the context of Him going away. He was trying to encourage the disciples with the fact that the Holy Spirit would come to take His place on the earth.
And in verse 7 of the passage quoted above, Jesus tells them it is to their advantage to see Him go away so the Holy Spirit could come. This is, no doubt, due to the fact that Jesus was somewhat restricted in His physical form to being in only one place at a time. The Holy Spirit has no such restriction. Jesus speaks of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in terms of the Spirit being able to act as helper to do different tasks or facets of His ministry to any or all simultaneously, with no regard to time or space.
Paul speaks in Romans 8:9, 11 (and in many other places, as well) of the ability of the Holy Spirit to "dwell" (the Greek oikeo, meaning, "to inhabit") in the life of believers to direct and guide them. You need only to go down to Romans 8:14 to see this illustrated when he says "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God." The Holy Spirit can lead us all at the same time.
And while Iím on the subject, let me quickly show you another verse that reinforces this and what we were saying earlier about the Holy Spirit coming to take Jesusí place on the earth. Ephesians 3:17 says "May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith." This doesnít say Christ dwells in our hearts in the same way the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Look at it. It says that Christ dwells in our hearts through our faith. You need only go up to Ephesians 3:16 to see how Christ dwells in our hearts by faith. "May He grant you out of the riches of His glory to be strengthened in the innermost part of your being through the ministry of the Holy Spirit." Itís the ministry of the Holy Spirit that reveals Jesus to us and makes Him a reality in our lives!
But for now, we need to get back to this passage in John 16. In verse 8, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. Then, in verses 9, 10 and 11 He explains each point. In verse 9 Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin "because they have not believed in Me." The most basic, foundational sin of mankind that leads to his eventual destruction, and all the chaos that precedes it, is unbelief.
When you read the red letters, one of the recurring themes is Jesusí frustration over the fact that men would not believe in Him. He marveled at their unbelief (Mark 6:6) and most of the confrontations you see between Jesus and the religious establishment were because of their unbelief and the opposition that came out of it (John 5:30-47). The next paper in this series will be entitled "Grace, Faith and the Rest of God". In it you will see an explanation of the life that God intends for His children to have. Itís a life in which we voluntarily place ourselves completely in His care and keeping Ė a life that illustrates the relationship between the Father and His children, a people and their God. And unbelief is what makes it impossible. Read Hebrews 3:7-19 and see what I mean.
Then in verse 10 Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit convicting the world of righteousness. The word "righteousness" in this verse is translated from the Greek dikaiosune and describes the result of a man recognizing the authority of God over his life and the acceptance of God that comes when one is submissive and obedient to that authority. It is the right standing with God that can only come by faith. And again, you have to apply the right definition of faith or youíre going to get messed up. Faith is not what you believe in your head. Faith is the result of your submission and obedience to God. Itís never defined by what you know about God; itís defined by your real experiences with Him.
In verse 9 the Holy Spirit exposes the sin of unbelief, which is the root cause of manís failure to take God up on His gracious offer of relationship and deliverance. In verse 10 the Holy Spirit reproves man for his failure to submit to God's authority, conform to His character and nature and gain His approval. The key to understanding this is what He says at the end of the verse "because Iím going to My Father, and you wonít see Me." It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to reveal the character and nature of God to man in the absence of the Son of God Who has gone back to the Father.
And finally, in verse 11 Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict the world of judgment "because the ruler of this world (Satan) has been judged already and his punishment is set." In other words, it is part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit to let the world know that God will not tolerate lawlessness. He demonstrated that when He judged Satan for his rebellion and reminds us that all who rebel against His authority and reject His grace will suffer the same consequences. The world may choose to believe God is a benevolent God and will not punish those who refuse Him (or accept Him only on their own false, religious terms, which is the same thing). But theyíre wrong. Thatís what Galatians 6:7-8 is all about (if you want to read a more detailed version of the principle of sowing and reaping, look at what David says in Proverbs 1:20-33).
In verses 13 and 14 Jesus reveals 4 aspects of the ministry of the Spirit. The first is that He will guide us into "all" truth. Pantos, when used without a negative describes something that is whole or complete. Here, Jesus is describing the ability of the Holy Spirit to guide believers into all the truth they need to fulfill the Fatherís plan and purpose. Next, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit doesnít have His own message, but will speak only what He hears from the Father. In other words, like Jesus (John 5:30), the Holy Spirit is submitted to the will of the Father. So, the second aspect of the ministry of the Holy Spirit described in these two verses is that He will reveal the heart and mind of the Father.
Then in the last part of verse 13 Jesus says the Holy Spirit will announce or declare things that are to "come". The word used here in the original text is erchomai, a term used primarily to describe motion from one place to another, or, in this context, from one event to another. In the paraphrase above, this is taken into consideration where the translation reads "and will tell you what you need to know in the Fatherís timing." This is a description of the part of the ministry of the Spirit that helps us understand the circumstances and situations in our lives and what God may be trying to accomplish in them. The emphasis is on the present.
Iíve got to stop here and meddle a little bit. This does not say that part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to continually give insight into or warn about events that will happen in the future. There is a large segment of traditional religion today that is enamored with this false concept of prophecy. They love to chase after these self-proclaimed prophets who are continually coming up with new "words for the church" specifically devised to tickle the ears of the deceived and impress the uninitiated.
And Iím amazed at the ability of the traditional church to disregard these prophecies when they turn out to be false, but then immediately embrace the next one that comes along (usually from the same guy who has proven his unreliability over and over again). And with each new prophecy, more newsletters have to be sent out, a new round of meetings has to be booked, new tapes have to be produced and new books have to be written, all to satisfy the demand for some new thing, line the pockets of the prophets and keep the wheels of religious commerce turning.
Anyone who has the courage to pursue God outside the confines of religion will find out that He insists on having a relationship with us in which our submission and dependency on Him is constantly reinforced. It is not His purpose to tell us the future; He wants to prepare us for the present. Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow, just learn how to deal with today (Matthew 6:24). Those who have a real relationship with God and understand His plan and purpose regarding deliverance know that God is not One to dwell in the past or race towards the future; He ever lives in the present. Only those whose supposed relationship with God is based on pretense are content to live in the future. But reality is always found in the now, never in the imagination and deceit of false prophets. False prophecy is a narcotic of religion. It dulls the senses and produces spiritual procrastinators, drunk with deception and addicted to smoke and mirrors. People who chase after self-proclaimed prophets in the traditional church today donít have the spiritual discernment of a gnat. I donít need a concept of God for the future; I need the reality of God today.
Scripture does not present prophecy as something reserved for the religious elite. Itís not an exclusive ministry meant only for a select few. Paul makes it clear that all should prophesy (I Corinthians 14:5). And there are those who like to draw a clear distinction between the gift of prophecy and the office of a prophet; but, again, itís those who consider themselves to be the religious elite that make this distinction, not God. Besides, if God can use Balaamís ass to prophesy, He canít be all that particular.
And probably the most condemning thing about all this supposed prophetic activity is that it denies the true meaning and intent of prophecy. Let me try to explain. The words prophecy (propheteia), prophesy (propheteuo) and prophet (prophetes) all have their roots in Greek mythology and idolatry. Soothsayers announced the will of the gods, sometimes for the present, usually for the future. But this was all false. The men, the words they spoke and the gods they represented were false and all had their foundation in the demonic spirit realm. The mistake is that you canít apply the Greek definitions based on what is false to the New Testament usages based on what is real and true.
In religion today most everything connected to the prophetic must involve future events or itís not considered prophetic. But in scripture everything prophetic involves revealing the true will and purpose of God in the present. Real prophecy is speaking forth the today message of God under the direction of the Holy Spirit. This isnít demonic deception; itís spiritual reality. And the emphasis is almost never on the future; the emphasis is on the heart and mind of God. The religious concept of the prophetic today may be based largely on a misunderstanding of Old Testament usages, due to the predictive content of some of those prophetic passages.
But if you look at those passages, in most of them the predictive content is not the emphasis. The emphasis was a warning that applied to the day it was spoken (repent now, or God will judge you severely in the days to come). The prophetic utterances recorded in scripture illustrate the grace of God, not His desire to tickle our ears with predictions of future events. A study of the Hebrew words (nevuah, nava and navi) that correspond with the Greek words above, all illustrate the same emphasis, the revelation of the will and purpose of God.
One more thing, then weíll move on. Iíve mentioned before that out of all the translations available today, the Amplified Version is probably the least misleading. Let me give you an example of what I mean. This is I Corinthians 14:1 in the Amplified Bible. Pay particular attention to the last part underlined.
"Eagerly pursue and seek to acquire [this] love [make it your aim, your great quest]; and earnestly desire and cultivate the spiritual endowments (gifts), especially that you may prophesy (interpret the divine will and purpose in inspired preaching and teaching)." (See also, verses 3,4,5,22,24,31,37 and 39 in the same chapter)
Therefore, the main purpose of prophecy is not to predict future events. It is to demonstrate the grace of God in revealing the divine will and purpose for the present. Remember that next time your religious friends get excited over the latest supposed prophecy that comes out of the traditional church.
In case you donít remember, we were looking at the 4 aspects of the ministry of the Holy Spirit given by Jesus in John 16:13, 14. And weíre ready to look at the last one mentioned in verse 14. Here, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will honor Him "because He will take what is Mine and will reveal it to you." In this context Jesus is talking about His message. Itís the same message that Jesus received from the Father (John 17:16, 8:28). Which brings us full circle, back to verse 15 mentioned above that tells us that regardless of Who is involved (Father, Son or Holy Spirit) the message is consistent and all three members of the Trinity are unified in Their efforts to reveal themselves to man.
Now, as we move out of the red letters and into Paulís letters, more aspects of the ministry of the Holy Spirit are revealed. Iím not going to take these in any particular order. And some of them will be fairly short explanations due to the fact that Iíve already touched on them in previous papers or I plan to cover them in detail in future ones and mention them now only to call them to your attention while weíre on this subject.
As previously mentioned under Point 5 in the paper "Grace, Faith and the Plan of God", we find in Romans 8:14-27 a passage in which Paul explains that part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to intercede for those who are frustrated and discouraged by the suffering involved in their walk with God. Iím showing you this now because it illustrates the unity of purpose in the Trinity that we just talked about above. Iíll quote verses 26 and 27 for you here and remind you that verse 26 is not talking about praying in tongues.
"And when we get tired of the suffering and waiting, the Holy Spirit comes to help us. If we donít know what to pray or how to pray, He does it for us, using our silent sighs and meaningless groans. And He Who searches the hearts of men understands what the Spirit is saying, because the Spirit can intercede for us only according to the will of God."
If you look at the verse without any preconceived religious ideas, you can easily see that itís not talking about men praying, but about the Holy Spirit praying on our behalf. The idea that this verse is talking about us praying in tongues is only an assumption, and a wrong one at that. And since I just brought up the word "tongues", I know I just got your attention. Youíre thinking, "Well, is he going to say anything about tongues?" Not now, but I will when I write the paper on "Grace, Faith and Spiritual Gifts". Want a hint? Tongues may be valid in the beginning experience of some believers, but theyíre certainly not the panacea some segments of traditional religion make them out to be. And, they're not necessarily a tool of the Devil as others suppose. In our relationship with God, present reality and clear understanding are always Godís preference.
One of the biggest frauds perpetrated by the traditional church today has to do with spiritual gifts. Itís clear from scripture and clear to anyone who is truly submitted to the leadership of the Holy Spirit that the function of spiritual gifts lies squarely within the confines of the ministry of the Holy Spirit and can only be the result of His direction and timing and our submission and obedience. Men do not teach true spiritual gifts; and the function of spiritual gifts is not controlled by the whim and imagination of men. The real manifestation of spiritual gifts can only be the result of our submission and obedience to the leadership of the Spirit as we learn to walk with Him. They are not planned, learned in class, practiced at home or manipulated. Theyíre not produced by an evaluation or test, they donít line up with your natural abilities, and you canít choose them out of a fleshly desire to exhibit your supposed spiritual superiority over those with less ambition. But, as Iíve said before in several places, the obvious difference between traditional religion and the true church is this: who is in charge? Men are in charge of religion; but the true church is submitted to the Holy Spirit.
Regardless of where you look (I Corinthians 12, Romans 12 or Ephesians 4), spiritual gifts are attributed to the Holy Spirit. This is I Corinthians 12:4-7.
"Now there are different kinds of (spiritual) gifts, but they all come from the same Spirit. There are different ways of serving, but it is the same Lord Who is served. And Godís power is revealed in different ways, but the power all belongs to the same God, regardless of who reveals it. Just remember that each manifestation of the Spirit is given for the good of all."
In Galatians 5 Paul talks about being controlled or led by the Holy Spirit in order to control the desires of the flesh (verse 16) and produce the manifestations (fruits) of the Spirit (verses 22 and 23). Then he encourages us to take advantage of the ministry of the Holy Spirit by learning to walk in the Spirit. This is verse 25.
"Since our lives with God are only made possible through the ministry of the Holy Spirit to us, letís take full advantage of this fact and learn to walk continually in step with Him."
When I read this verse I canít help but go back and remember how Jesus described the coming of the Holy Spirit in John 14:26. He called the Spirit parakletos, "the one who is called to help". The logic of Paul in the verse above is simple: since the Holy Spirit is here to help, let Him help!
OK, letís back up a little and review what weíve looked at so far. The Holy Spirit is our Helper, He teaches, causes us to remember, reveals truth, exposes sin, shows us what righteousness looks like, helps us understand our circumstances and what God is doing in them, makes Godís judgment a reality, shows us Who Jesus is, intercedes for us to the Father, is responsible for the function of spiritual gifts through us and will lead or guide us if we submit to Him. And, no doubt, if you tried you could find a lot of other things He does. But when you put them all together, they become part of this one thing: He is the agent of spiritual birth. And in case you donít make the connection, spiritual birth is your deliverance (salvation). Itís the purpose of God, you remember, to change us, to conform us to the image of Christ, to transform us, or, as weíre getting ready to see, to renew us.
When you look at John 3:1-13, the whole focus of the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus was spiritual birth. Jesus makes it clear that we must be born from above (verse 3), that this birth is different from our physical birth (verse 5), that this birth is spiritual in nature (verse 6), and that itís only possible through the Holy Spirit (verses 6, 8). At the time, though, it wasnít totally clear to Nicodemus, he obviously had some religious issues to work through.
Paul describes this spiritual birth that comes from above a little differently in Titus 3:3-5, but its clear heís talking about the same thing Jesus was talking about. This is what he says.
"For we also were once thoughtless, disobedient, deceived, continually giving in to all sorts of cravings and fleshly pursuits, wasting away in our own wickedness and envy, hated by others and hating them back. But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, He delivered us. And this was not because of anything good we had done on our own, but because of His mercy and by the cleansing of the new birth through the renewing power of the Holy Spirit."
Here, Paul describes his own evil, sinful life that was cleansed or changed by a new birth that came as a result of a renewal carried out by the Holy Spirit. The word "new birth" ("regeneration" in the KJV) is the Greek paliggenesia, from two words, palin (again) and ginomai (to become). "Renewing" is anakainosis, and describes a spiritual transformation, "a renewal". Paul uses these two words to describe his deliverance (salvation, for those who prefer that word), a kind of spiritual remodel with the Holy Spirit as the general contractor.
Paul makes reference to this renewal in several of his other letters. Iíll quote them here for you.
"Donít allow yourselves to be conformed to the worldís concept of morality, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (the understanding of Godís character and nature), so you can demonstrate in your own life what the good and acceptable and perfect will of God is." (Romans 12:2)
"ÖFor you have stripped away the old unregenerate self with its evil ways, and have put on the new spiritual self, which is continually being renewed into a fuller, more complete image of the One Who created it." (Colossians 3:9b, 10)
And, at my age this is one of my personal favorites.
"Therefore we do not get discouraged or fearful. Though our outer man is decaying and wasting away, at the same time our inner self is getting stronger, being progressively renewed day after day." (II Corinthians 4:16)
For variety, let me throw this one in. It doesnít use the word renewal, but describes the same process.
"And anytime a person turns to the Lord in repentance, their spiritual darkness is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and when the Spirit of the Lord comes, He brings freedom (from religious deception and interference). And we can see clearly, just like looking into a mirror, a revelation of Who the Lord is. And in this way we are continually being changed into His image, from one revelation to the next. And the Lord, Who is the Spirit, is the One Who makes this all possible." (II Corinthians 3:16-18)
In this particular reference the words used are a little different, but the meaning is basically the same, so Iíll include it as well.
"So strip yourselves of your old unrenewed self, that worldly way of living that is corrupted by your deceitful flesh. And be continually renewed in your mind with fresh spiritual understanding. And in this way put on a new nature, created in Godís image, displaying true righteousness that leads to holiness." (Ephesians 4:22-24)
I have to stop here and take a few jabs at my evangelical, religious friends who want to base their salvation on a so-called profession of faith. They view salvation as though it were a packet of instant oatmeal, just add water, a little heat and itís done! The salvation thatís described in scripture is more like plowing the ground, planting the seed, watering, weeding, waiting, watching, harvesting the crop, preparing the oats, rolling them flat, then cooking them, s-l-o-w-l-y.
Itís clear to me that salvation is a process that takes time. And if you donít think Iím correctly translating the verb tenses in the verses above, check them out in the New International Version and the Amplified Bible. They say basically the same thing (that's why I picked those particular verses). Again, an honest look at scripture will show without contradiction that salvation is a process that involves a lifetime of persistence and effort and is usually described in the present tense. Now is still the accepted time, now is still the day of salvation (II Corinthians 6:2, Hebrews 3:13-15).
Now, this paper wouldnít be complete if it didnít include a section on the different ways we can hinder the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Our actions can delay the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we obstruct the Spirit. At times we stop Him dead in His tracks. We can even drive Him away so that He never comes back. So, letís look at this.
In Acts 5:3, 9 and 10 Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, lied to the Holy Spirit with disastrous results. You probably know the story, they both died. When you read the passage, itís clear that the conversations took place between Ananias and Peter, then Sapphira and Peter. So how did the Holy Spirit get involved? If you read Acts 1:14, 2:1, 46, 4:24, 32-37 youíll see that at this point in time the church was not in disarray. There was complete unity and therefore an atmosphere of complete freedom for the ministry of the Holy Spirit, a condition that was short-lived and that probably hasnít been duplicated since. In fact, you need only go to the next chapter to see this unity beginning to erode (Acts 6:1).
When Ananias, and later on Sapphira, lied to Peter; they lied to the whole body and to the Holy Spirit, resident in all of them. In this pure spiritual atmosphere you see Peter demonstrate at least two spiritual gifts at the direction and timing of the Holy Spirit. The first was the gift of timely and partial knowledge (identified as a word of knowledge in I Corinthians 12:8). The Holy Spirit told Peter that Ananias was lying about the selling price of the land. The second was the discerning of spirits (I Corinthians 12:10), which is a temporary ability given by the Holy Spirit to see into the spirit realm and understand the activities and plans of the enemies of God. I suspect the severity of their punishment corresponds with the purity of the church at that time; but make no mistake about it, lying to the Holy Spirit or to those who are submitted to Him is not a good plan.
A couple of pages over in Acts 7:51 we find a reference to the stubborn and stiff-necked always actively resisting the Holy Spirit. This is towards the end of Stephenís sermon, right before the indignant religious crowd dragged him outside the city and stoned him to death. Resisting the Holy Spirit is probably the most prevalent sin against the Holy Spirit in the world today. I say that because man-made religion is so pervasive and so widely accepted. And in this context, resisting the Holy Spirit is choosing religion over spiritual reality, which is exactly what most people do. Thatís why Jesus explains in Luke 13:23-30 that only a few will be saved. Those who embrace religious deception and close their hearts and minds to the truth make it impossible for the Holy Spirit to work and this leaves them open to the influence of the god of this world.
In I Thessalonians 5:19 we find a warning against quenching the Holy Spirit. This is an illustrative use where quenching is a picture of hindering the ministry of the Holy Spirit by failing to recognize true revelation and inspired instruction. When believers allow their flesh to rise up in jealousy, envy, competitiveness, a sense of false spiritual superiority and some others that donít come to mind at the moment, we tend to treat true gifts of the Spirit with doubt or even criticism because theyíre being manifested through others and we want to be the one in the spotlight. When that happens, the Holy Spirit will withdraw and leave us to our own devices until we repent and straighten up.
Then in Ephesians 4:30 thereís another warning, only this time itís a warning against grieving the Holy Spirit. This is found towards the end of a passage that runs from verse 25 to verse 32. Here, Paul talks about doing away with dishonesty, anger, manipulation, senseless or destructive language, indignation, resentment, quarreling, slander or any other manifestation of the flesh. The point is that all these things show that we are indeed giving in to our flesh in extremely destructive ways and it grieves the Holy Spirit because weíre not submitted to Him; so He canít do what He wants to do and our spiritual progress is slowed.
I started this paper with a quote of Hebrews 10:29, which is a clear reference to treating the Holy Spirit with contempt (the Amplified Bible correctly calls this an insult and outrage). In the context of the whole passage that runs from verse 19 to verse 39, this is an act of total distain in which the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (His physical and spiritual death) is considered to be worthless or unimportant. This is a full rejection of the grace of God and places those guilty of such action outside of the redemptive plan of God with nothing in their future except Godís vengeance, indignation and judgment (verses 30,31). This is an insult to the Holy Spirit because, as I mentioned earlier, it is the Holy Spirit Who came to administer this grace. This is one of the things we can do that will cause the Holy Spirit to withdraw from us and not return. A possibility that some religious types wonít accept because it doesnít fit into their concept of Who God is. This is prevalent in most religions. They emphasize Godís love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion and any other positive trait they can think of, but ignore His righteousness, holiness and justice.
The last point I want to make here is closely related to the one above. I also believe itís what is often called the unpardonable sin, the "sin unto death" of I John 5:16. Iím talking about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus says in Matthew 12:31-32.
"And hereís something else you should know: any evil that you do or hurtful thing you say can be forgiven, except this one thing Ė speaking against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven. You cannot deny the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. If you speak against the Son of Man, it can be forgiven. But when you speak against the Holy Spirit, youíre severing the only connection you have with the One Who forgives, and you will not be forgiven in this time or in the time to come. This kind of spiritual blindness is fatal."
In the context of Matthew 12 blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not being able or willing to discern the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. When you read the account that runs from verse 22 to verse 45, you see the Pharisees accusing Jesus of casting out demons with the help of Beelzebub, the prince of demons (verse 24). But Jesus tells them that Heís driving them out with the help of the Holy Spirit (verse 28). The Pharisees were so intent on protecting their religion and the social standing it afforded them that they were unable to recognize true spirituality. Jesus was moving in the power of the Holy Spirit, but they couldnít see it. Not only did they fail to recognize it, they spoke openly against it.
Now, I know there are those who want to believe God is willing to forgive anything, anytime, regardless of the circumstance. Thatís what religion does to people. They ignore what God says and deceive themselves into believing God will do anything they want Him to do. They never seem to understand that theyíre not in charge and they donít make the rules: God is in charge and what He says, goes. In religion, the statement "thereís nothing God wonít forgive" is right up there with "once saved, always saved". And I donít intend to spend a lot of time on this, but we should look at a couple of passages here. This is Hebrew 6:4-6.
"It is impossible for those who have been enlightened to spiritual realities, and have experienced heavenly things, and have shared in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and have felt how good it is when God speaks and when He shows what is certain to come, if they fall away from this grace, to be brought back to a place of repentance and restored. Because theyíre crucifying the Son of God all over again, and this only shows their open contempt for what Heís already done.
I think this passage is fairly clear, but let me point out a couple of interesting facts. When you compare it to Matthew 12:31-32, there are some striking dissimilarities. In Matthew, Jesus is dealing with a bunch of Pharisees (real ones). These guys had the best religious education available at the time, which means they had no clue when it came to recognizing spiritual realities. Everything they knew was based on tradition, ritual and fleshly motivations (only goes to show, some things never change). You can at least understand why they opposed Jesus and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. They were trying to protect their religion and the influence it gave them. But, the Hebrews 6:4-6 passage is talking about a true believer who has experienced spiritual reality in his life. I only point this out because I want you to realize that the outcome for both is the same. Theyíre cut off.
And, by the way, if you happen to be one of those "God doesnít speak to us any more, except through His written word" types, then, for your information, the translation of verse 5 above is correct. "Word" is the Greek rema, and means, "a word spoken".
Thereís another difference. In the Hebrews passage, the word translated "fall away" in verse 6 is parapipto, and means, "to fall away inadvertently or unintentionally". Here, parapipto is used to illustrate a believer falling away from the faith because he was deceived or led astray! Again, can you see the contrast? In Matthew the Pharisees were very intentional, even calculating. In Hebrews, the believerís intentions are not questioned at all; he didnít intend to do it. But he was careless and it happened! Again, the result is the same. And here, I have to say to those who want to believe God winks at ignorance or will excuse it because people are "sincere": youíd better rethink that. God will not take ignorance into consideration, neither will he place any value on sincerity; His only concern will be whether or not we have submitted to His will and purpose.
Letís look at another one. This is Hebrews 12:14-17.
"Make every effort necessary to live at peace with all. And pursue holiness, without which, no one will ever see the Lord. Then continually watch out for each other to make sure no one falls away from Godís grace. The self-centeredness that is sure to come could spread to others. Thatís how itís possible for true believers to get involved in sexual impurity or even become spiritually irresponsible like Esau did. He despised his birthright and gave it away for something to eat. And you understand that afterwards, when he wanted to regain this blessing, he was rejected and never found a way to repair through repentance what he had done, though he sought for it diligently with bitter tears."
The key to understanding this passage is found in the meaning of the word bebelos, translated "profane" in the KJV and "spiritually irresponsible" above. Esau was Isaac's first-born. As such, it was Esauís place to take over the duties and responsibilities of the family priest when Isaac died. In this passage, bebelos illustrates Esauís unwillingness to take this responsibility seriously, a fact that made it possible for him to treat it with contempt simply because he was hungry and wanted something to eat.
Esau was more interested in his own selfish pursuits than in making sure he and his family knew God and followed Him. Esauís rejection of his birthright was not a simple matter of giving away his rightful double-portion inheritance (something he secretly plotted to regain anyway); it was his total repudiation of God. He reduced God and his familyís spiritual future to something less important than a chunk of bread and a bowl of lentils. And when he realized the enormity of what he had done, he tried to fix it. But he couldnít. And donít think for a moment that he wasnít sincere in the attempt.
How could I ever tell you how important the Holy Spirit is to us? This is inadequate, but Heís everything. Without Him, we canít know God. Without Him, we canít be delivered. Without Him, weíll never see God. We can resist the Holy Spirit. We can hinder Him. We can disappoint Him or slow Him down. And from those things, we can recover. We can insult Him, refuse to recognize Him, speak out against Him or we can hold Him in contempt. And regardless of any human viewpoint we may have, He can reject us for it.
Since the ministry of the Holy Spirit is so vital to us, we need to look at a couple of passages that can encourage us and give us some insight into how we can keep on track and not hinder the work of the Spirit in our lives. Iím going to mention two things. The first is has to do with keeping your focus on Godís plan and purpose and on continually being submitted to the Holy Spirit. The second has to do with repentance and the necessity of being honest with God. This is Ephesians 5:8-20.
8. For you were once in spiritual darkness, but now you are in the light of the Lord; so live like those who have been born into the Light.
9. Showing forth the fruit of the Spirit, the expression of every form of graciousness, righteousness and truth.
10. And keep trying to learn what is acceptable to the Lord.
11. Have nothing at all to do with darkness. Instead, make sure your lives are in such contrast to it that they expose the things of darkness.
12. Itís a disgrace to even talk about what people do under the cover of darkness.
13. And everything that is exposed to the Light is clearly seen for what it really is, and nothing is hidden from the Light.
14. This is why Isaiah said, Snap out of this spiritual indifference! Get away from this dead religion! Let Christ shine in your life!
15. Be careful how you live. Use some wisdom. Always keep Godís plan and purpose in mind.
16. And take advantage of every opportunity to get stronger in Him, because thereís always going to be plenty of opposition to slow you down.
17. So donít be foolish, itís important to understand what the will of the Lord is.
18. Never allow your life to be controlled by anything fleshly or external, but be continually submitted to the Holy Spirit and under His control.
19. And learn to express to the Lord what is in your heart, with psalms and praises and songs that celebrate Him.
20. And always be thankful and grateful to God the Father for everything the Lord Jesus Christ has meant to your life.
In this passage Paul uses illustrative terms to describe the believerís responsibility to avoid fleshly pursuits (darkness), and live in fellowship with Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (light). In context, the "darkness" to which he refers was probably the Eleusinian or Bacchanalian cults, prevalent in Ephesus at the time this was written and well known for their sexual immorality, drunkenness and perverse ceremonies carried out only in the darkness of night. But the instruction has the same value for us today as it did for the believers at Ephesus in Paulís time. In verse 15 he tells them to be wise and live their lives with Godís plan and purpose always in mind. Thatís great advice. When weíre continually aware of Godís purpose, weíre better prepared to recognize it and cooperate with it. But when weíre not thinking about it, we tend to miss it or give in to our flesh without even thinking.
Paul goes on to say that we should take full advantage of every opportunity the Lord gives us to grow spiritually and increase in our understanding of the Lordís will for our lives. This brings us to verse 18 in which he admonishes us to not allow anything to control our lives except the Holy Spirit. I donít think this is a warning against drunkenness only. In context, Paul is warning the Ephesians against the things of darkness. And anyone who is serious about knowing God and experiencing His plan and purpose for their lives should probably copy verse 18 on some "Post It" notes and stick them all over the house, in their cars and at their work place to serve as constant reminders of the absolute important of submitting continually to the Holy Spirit!
Then, thereís the issue of repentance and being honest with God. This is I John 1:8-10.
"If we say we have no sin in our lives, weíre only deceiving ourselves; and weíre rejecting the truth of Godís message that says there is. But if we openly admit to our sin and confess it, Heís always willing to keep His promise to forgive us and cleanse us from everything that isnít part of His will and purpose for us. Because when we say we have no sin, we contradict what He says. We might as well just call God a liar and tell everyone Heís mistaken."
Actually, in the case of repentance, honesty with God isnít all thatís involved. We have to be honest with ourselves first. Admitting your own sin to yourself is the first step in admitting it to God. Iíve talked about this before, but in Matthew 6:12 Jesus tells us that every time we talk to God, one of the things we should talk to Him about is our sin. If you remember, He says we should ask God to forgive our sin, but that we should remember that His forgiveness is always based on our own willingness to forgive those who have sinned against us. If anything is clear to me itís that we canít have a relationship with God unless we learn to talk to Him. And, He wonít reveal Himself and His purpose to us unless we honestly submit to Him.
When you start talking about a relationship with God thatís defined by the actual, real experiences you have with Him (and, by the way, that is the only true definition of relationship), those who have only the programs, rituals and head knowledge of religion start getting nervous. But for those of us who have experienced God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, there is a witness from the Spirit that reassures us that this relationship is real. This is what Paul says in Romans 8:12-16.
"And so, brothers, we are obligated to live in a certain way, but it has nothing to do with what our carnal nature wants. Those who live that way will certainly die without God. But those who live submitted to the ministry of the Holy Spirit will be continually subjecting their carnal nature to death, so they can live forever. And all who are led by the Holy Spirit are the sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery that keeps you in bondage to sin; no, you have received the Holy Spirit of adoption that brings you into Godís family, in the pure joy of which we shout out loud, Daddy! And the Holy Spirit Himself reassures us in our spirit that we really are Godís beloved children.
Itís the presence of the Holy Spirit and the reality of His ministry in our lives (the experiences we have with God as He works out His will and purpose, with our cooperation, of course) that reassures us that weíre one of His children. And believe me thereís a difference. I remember in the past (when I was serving religion) that I used to think about what might happen if I suddenly died. I remember thinking about what I had learned in school. I thought about what I had read in books, what the doctrine of my denomination was and what I was teaching others. Everything was based on what men said. It was all religious opinion, and wrong opinion at that. Now, Iím experiencing God in my life and thereís a confidence that comes with this spiritual reality that I never had before.
There is just one more passage Iíd like to share with you and this paper will be concluded. This is I Corinthians 2:6-16 and is as good an example of anything you might find in the Scripture to define the ministry of Godís Holy Spirit.
6. And when we speak to those who are more mature in their understanding of spiritual realities, we speak a message of divine wisdom concerning the plan and purpose of God that has nothing to do with the wisdom of the world or of the present rulers of this time who are doomed to pass away into oblivion.
7. This is a message of Godís wisdom, a wisdom that was once hidden from our understanding, but is now revealed to us by God Himself. This is a wisdom decreed by God before time began, designed to lift us into the glory of His very presence.
8. And none of the rulers of this present time understood this, because if they had, they never would have crucified the Lord of glory.
9. But then, as the Scripture says, No eye has seen, no ear has heard, neither has it entered into the imagination of man, all that God has prepared for those who reverence and obey Him.
10. Yet God has revealed them to us through the ministry of His Holy Spirit, for it is the Spirit Who is able to carefully examine these things, even the thoughts and plans of God - realities that exist far beyond manís ability to see or understand.
11. And who knows what a man is really thinking, except that manís own mind within him. In the same way, it is only the Holy Spirit of God Who knows what God is thinking.
12. And we have not received the worldly thoughts of men, but that which was given to us by the Holy Spirit Who is from God, so we could understand and appreciate all the gifts of Godís divine favor so freely and generously given to us by God.
13. And so this is the message we speak, not according to human, worldly wisdom, but by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, expressing spiritual realities with spiritual words.
14. But the carnal, non-spiritual man will not receive this message of the Spirit, it sounds like nonsense to him. In fact, he is incapable of understanding it, because it is spiritually discerned and, like a brute beast, he will not venture beyond what his instincts and physical senses tell him.
15. But the spiritual man opens his spirit and is willing to receive things his physical senses donít understand. Therefore, he is not subject to the base and meaningless thoughts of man, but to the gracious thoughts of a righteous God.
16. And what man has ever gone beyond what God knows and what He has purposed, so that he could teach God anything? Yet we are privileged to know the thoughts and intents of God towards us as He reveals to us the mind of Christ!"
Spiritual realities can only be understood through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (verse 10). Spiritual realities define a real relationship with God. If youíre looking for spiritual reality in books, in your pastorís sermons, the programs or rituals of your traditional religion, public worship, group prayers, healings, signs and wonders or anything else manís religion has to offer, then youíre making a big mistake.
Get alone with God. Submit your life to him. Open your spirit to things that go well beyond your natural senses. And when you donít recognize anything, then do it again, and again. And keep doing it until you begin to recognize a reality thatís not of this world, things that are right and good and true, but arenít achieved without effort, change, suffering or sacrifice. Then youíll see yourself being transformed. Youíll begin to look at the world from a completely different perspective. And then youíll begin to understand the plan of God and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. And youíll possess a joy and peace thatís not contrived, not on the surface that comes and goes depending on your circumstances, but is deep and abiding in your spirit from the Spirit that only comes from God (Romans 8:6, 14:17).
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