Monday, November 2, 2009

Delighting in God by the Holy Spirit

As I continue to write chapters for the Life at Sovereign Grace Members book, I am posting them here. Let me know what you think.

Spirit-dependent Delight

We believe the Spirit of God is the only effectual minister (1 Cor. 2:12-16), and that we are completely dependent upon him to bear any fruit in ministry (2 Cor. 4:3-7).

I still remember the beginning of my 2nd semester of my sophomore year of college like it was yesterday. I remember sitting in the financial aid office in tears because I could no longer afford to pay my tuition and fees. I sat there stunned that my college career seemed to be over. When I went away to college I had plenty of money to cover my tuition and fees. But, in the course of my first year and a half, I managed to blow most of those funds. I wanted to continue in college but I did not have what was required to stay. I lacked the funds.

As the director of financial aid explained to me that I did not have the required money necessary to enroll for the semester, I started to tear up and asked what I could do to come up with the money as classes were starting that day. He responded that I needed far too much money to come up with it at the last minute. Then he told me to wait just a minute while he checked on something. After a few minutes he returned to his desk and told me the college was going to pay the remaining cost so I could continue in school. I was grateful and thankful. I was never more aware of what it means to be dependent on someone else and never more thankful that someone else provided for my need.

In many ways, the Christian life is parallel to this. God commands us to delight in him. He commands us to rejoice, exult, and be satisfied in him above all else. He commands us to trust and to obey. He commands our external works, our attitudes and our emotions! God commands us to be holy as he is holy. He commands us to be joyful always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.

When we see the overwhelming and impossible nature of God’s commands we are reminded that we should be thankful Jesus was perfect in our place and penalized in our place, so that we can be forgiven and declared righteous (obedient). God has done everything so that there is only one command left to obey. All that is left for us to do is trust in Jesus. All that is left is for us to open our blind eyes and deaf ears and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. All that is left is for us to wake up from spiritual death and believe the gospel. All that is left is for us to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh and believe the gospel.

However, the one thing left for us to do is also an impossible task for us to accomplish. The one command left for us to obey is an impossible command for us to obey. God has still left us with a requirement that we can’t meet! Thus we are completely dependent on God because we have the fundamental need of God working in us to give us new desires and a new heart. We need God to give us new life from spiritual death. We need him to open our blinded eyes and deaf ears. The good news is that God has provided for this requirement in the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

Sovereign Grace is a Spirit-dependent church because we believe that apart from the work of the Holy Spirit we can’t trust God, repent of our sins, or obey God. We can’t give ourselves new life, or change our hearts, or open our blinded eyes. We can’t even really know the love of God. The Holy Spirit is the One who does this work in us. He gives us new spiritual life (Ephesians 2:1-4). He opens our blind eyes to see the truth of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:1-6). He changes our hearts (Ezekiel 36:25-27). He pours out the love of God into our hearts (Romans 5:5). He gives us the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29; Ephesians 2:8). He gives us the gift of repentance (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

In other words, God provides what he commands in the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot believe in all God is for us through Jesus apart from the work of the Holy Spirit! We may know God intellectually apart from the Holy Spirit, but we can never trust him and delight in him without the Holy Spirit.

Yet even as believers we are radically dependent upon the Holy Spirit! As those who are believers and who are born again, God has commanded us to delight in him, develop in holiness, and declare him to the nations. God has also provided his Spirit to indwell and empower us to keep these commands. While believers certainly must put forward effort to grow in our delight in God, we will not and cannot do it apart from the empowering work of the Holy Spirit. We should work out our salvation with fear and trembling while remembering that it is God who is at work in us both to will and to do his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

The Bible lists several ways the Spirit is active in our delight or worship of God:

  • The Spirit inspired the Word that tells us of God and his work through Jesus (2 Tim. 3:14-16).
  • The Spirit convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11)
  • The Spirit testifies of Jesus (John 15:26, John 16:13-14).
  • The Spirit illumines our minds so we understand the Word (Eph. 1:17-18 cf. 1 Cor. 2:14)
  • The Spirit pours out God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5).
  • The Spirit enables us to believe and delight in God (Romans 2:29. Titus 3:5,1 Cor. 12:13).
  • The Spirit testifies to us that we are children of God (Romans 8:16).
  • The Spirit causes us to cry out to God as our Father (Galatians 4:4-6).
  • The Spirit guarantees our inheritance (Eph. 1:13-14)
  • The Spirit empowers us to obey (Gal. 3:3), and grow in sanctification (Phil. 2:13, 2 Cor. 3:18),
  • The Spirit empowers us to serve in the body (1 Cor. 12:7).
  • The Spirit prays for us (Romans 8:26-27).
  • The Spirit empowers our witness (Acts 1:8).
  • The Spirit resurrects and glorifies us (1 Cor. 15:42-49).

Means of Grace

It is because of our dependence on the Holy Spirit that we rely on God’s gracious provision for effective ministry. God has provided means for his church to employ for her to delight, develop, and declare.[1] In a world in which evangelical churches are trying every means possible to win people to Christ and disciple them, we are convicted that focusing on the means provided in Scripture is both necessary and sufficient to these ends. What are the means God has given to his church?

We believe the following constitute the means God has provided:

1. Bible-saturated ministry:

We believe God’s Word is our only authority for faith and practice. We also believe it is sufficient for our all our ministry endeavors. This is why we preach the Bible book by book, practice counseling that is biblically defined, regulate our worship service by the dictates of Scripture, train and appoint leaders who can teach sound doctrine and refute those who contradict, exercise church discipline according to the principles of Scripture, and proclaim the gospel to unbelievers by relying on the Spirit to use the Word to change hearts.

2. Promise-dependent Prayer:

If we truly believe we are dependent totally on God, then we must also be a church who prays constantly. We believe God has given us prayer as a gift by which we can approach our Father and ask him to keep his Word. God is never more honored in prayer than when we trust his word and ask him to fulfill it. In prayer, we are not asking him to keep his promises because we distrust him, but because we acknowledge he never lies and never breaks promises. Thus, we ask him to provide for our needs because he says he will. We ask him to work through His Word to change men’s hearts because he says he will. We ask him to help us when we are tempted, sustain us when we are suffering, and keep us from falling away, because he says he will. We ask him to raise up people to take the gospel to the lost and to build his church because he says he will. We ask him to return soon because he says he will.

3. Regular participation in the ordinances:

We believe God has provided two biblical signs of his grace to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe both of these signs are required practiced in the church because both edify the church. Since they are both commanded we call them ordinances. The first ordinance is baptism. Sovereign Grace believes baptism in water is the initiation ordinance into the church.[2] When someone comes to faith in Christ we baptize them in water as a visible picture of God’s gracious work of giving them new life and including them in the church. The second ordinance is communion. We believe communion is the confirming ordinance of the church. Every Sunday we encourage believers to participate in communion together. This is the time when we eat bread and drink juice as a visible picture of Jesus body having been broken and blood having been poured out on the cross for our sins. We practice this regularly as a constant encouragement to our church of God’s gracious provision of the gospel.

Thus Sovereign Grace…

We are exceedingly thankful for God’s sovereign grace in the gospel. The name of our church is a constant reminder that we were once a people who did not and could not delight in God, but to whom God sovereignly determined to be gracious. We were once a people who delighted in idols of our own making. We were a people who were condemned to suffer the wrath of God for our sin of delighting in someone or something else. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. Our name reflects the biblical truth that the Father planned to save us and give us the gift of delight in God, the Son accomplished salvation for us so we could delight in God, and the Holy Spirit applied salvation to us so we would delight in God. However, we are responsible to receive this gracious gift of delight in God through Jesus by the Holy Spirit, which is the subject of our next chapter.

[1] As a “Reformed” church, we subscribe to what are historically called the “means of grace.”

[2] New Covenant community.

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