Enduring Hardship

Led by the Spirit

December 17 – Led By the Spirit

God’s children are often referred to as sheep in Scripture. It is a comforting notion, but it also illustrates our helpless nature. Sheep are not carnivorous like wolves. They sacrificially give their wool while they are living, and their meat when they die. There is a lot of good to be said for sheep, but they are not the smartest animals on the farm, especially when it comes to eating. Leave them unattended in lush green pastures and they will eat themselves to death. That is probably why David wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures” (Ps. 23:1), so he wouldn’t eat himself to death!

In the west, we keep our sheep moving in green pastures by chasing them from the rear, much like Australian sheep dogs who bark at the heels of the sheep. But that is not the way they lead sheep is Israel. Even to this day, the Shepherd will stand up and say something as he walks away. The sheep look up and follow the shepherd. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (Jn. 10:27). “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14).

Being led by the Spirit implies that we are not being pushed. So if someone asks you to make a hasty decision without prayerful reflection, the answer should be no. God doesn’t lead that way. The guidance of God may come suddenly but never to the spiritually unprepared. Pentecost was sudden, but it was preceded by many days of prayer (Acts 1:14). Being led by the Spirit also implies that we are not being lured away in some clandestine manner. God does everything in the light.

The guidance of God is like flying an airplane at night. To land safely the pilot has to trust the man in the control tower whom he cannot see. The pilot is not flying the only plane in the air. Others are waiting for instructions to land and looking to the control tower for guidance. But the voice from the tower is not enough to fly the plane safely. Good pilots have spent hours reading the instruction manual learning how to fly, so they know how to fly instinctively. The voice over the radio slowly guides pilots around obstacles that they cannot see. Good pilots aren’t afraid, because they have done their homework and they have learned to trust the unseen person in the control tower. God’s children know His word and are led by His Spirit.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Walking with God

December 16 – Walking With God

How much can we accomplish in the kingdom of God when we function by ourselves? Nothing! How much will be accomplished in this present Church age if we do nothing and expect God to do everything? Nothing! God has committed himself to work through the Church. We have the privilege to water and plant in God’s kingdom, “but God makes it Grow” (1 Cor. 3:6). Nothing grows without God, but nothing grows if we don’t water and plant. God could have chosen to bypass the Church. He has chosen to work through us. It is His kind intention that we walk together and Jesus provided the perfect image for how that works in Matt. 11:28-30.

Jesus was a carpenter in His youth. Carpenters didn’t frame houses in those days. They fashioned doors and yokes out of wood, and His own handiwork became useful metaphors for His ministry. A yoke is a heavy wooden beam that fits over the shoulders of two oxen. The yoke can only work if there are two in it and they are pulling together. For the purpose of training, a young ox is yoked to an older ox, who has “learned obedience from what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). The young ox will be tempted to stray off to the left or to the right, but the old ox stays on the right path. The young ox may think the pace is a little slow and try running ahead, but all he would get is a sore neck. Hopefully the young ox begins to realize that the old ox knows how to walk. The pace is right and the course is true, so he decides to learn from him. Smart!

Being yoked with Jesus is not sitting around in some holy piety expecting God to do it all. Nor is it running around in endless activities trying to do it all by ourselves. It is a walk with the only One who knows the way, who is the truth and has the life to make it possible. In Him we find rest for our souls, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. If we walked with Jesus we would learn to take one day at a time, and trust God for tomorrow. We would learn the priority of relationships as taught to Mary and Martha. We would learn to love people and use things instead of love things and use people. We would learn what it means to be compassionate. This passage is the only place in the Bible where Jesus describes Himself, and He said, “I am gentle and humble in heart” (vs. 29). With all the harshness and vulgarity surrounding us in this fallen world, we have been invited to walk with the gentle Jesus. Imagine that!

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

The Christian’s Relationship to the Law

December 13 – The Christian’s Relationship To the Law

The Pharisees were strict in keeping the law, but they added many other rules and regulations that were intended to keep believers from breaking the law. It is like building a fence around the law, but in practice the fence soon becomes a law. For instance, we are not to be unequally yoked (2 Cor. 6:14). So to keep our Christian children from marrying a non-believer, we establish additional rules like, “You can’t date non-believers or associate with them.” That may be wise in some cases, but it is not a law. Jesus ignored man made rules, but He never violated the law. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). How then do we as believers relate to the law?

The term “law” in Scripture is often associated with specific commands, especially the Old Testament Mosaic Law. But the concept of law is much broader. The Hebrew word torah, which is the basic word for law in the Old Testament, is related to the Hebrew word hora, meaning to teach or instruct. The fundamental meaning is not “command,” but “instruct.” The word came to be used for the entire word of God. The Jews use the word torah to describe the first five books of the Old Testament. Christians have used law to describe sections of Scripture and Scripture as a whole including commandments as well as promises. The latter is what Jesus meant when He said, “I came to fulfill the law.” He kept all the commandments and fulfilled all the promises. Just as there are physical laws by which the physical world is structured, so also there are personal and moral spheres of God’s creation which are governed by His moral and spiritual laws, which are the expression of His moral nature.

Following God’s laws led to life, and disobeying them led to misery and destruction were the overarching principles in the Old Testament. The New Testament believer is not related to the law in the same way. The former stands before the law in himself as a sinner, and consequently a lawbreaker. He lives under the condemnation of the law. But the believer “in Christ” has the same relationship to the law that Christ has. God’s righteous principles for life are all fulfilled in Christ. We are free from the legal bondage of the law. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

The law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24,25). Now that we are alive in Christ, the law is no longer our tutor. What we could not fulfill in the flesh, Christ fulfilled for us. The means by which we live a righteous life has changed. We now relate to God by faith, and live by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Living Under Grace

December 12 – Living Under Grace

The Apostle Paul’s argument that we are alive in Christ and dead to sin in Romans chapter six is based on our spiritual union with Christ. If Christ has triumphed over sin and death, then so have we, because we are alive “in Christ.” Notice the verb tenses. “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer” (Rom. 6:2)? How can we as believers die to sin? We can’t, because we already have. “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” (vs. 3)? We have also been buried (vs. 3) and raised with Christ (vs. 5). We cannot be united with Christ in His death and not be united with Him in His resurrected life. Jesus didn’t just die for our sins, He came to give us life (see Rom. 5:8-11). “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him” (vs. 8).

“For we know that our old self was crucified with him” (vs. 6). The defeated Christian tries to put the old self to death and can’t do it. Why? Because, he is already dead! It is false reasoning to ask, “What experience must we have in order for this to be true?” The only experience that had to happen, happened 2000 years ago and the only way we can enter into the experience is by faith. We cannot do for ourselves what Christ has already done for us. We don’t make anything true by our experience and any effort to do so will prove fruitless. We believe what God has done and said on our behalf is true. When we choose to believe God and live accordingly by faith it works out in our experience.

We don’t do the things we do with the hope that God may someday love us. God loves us. That is why we do the good things we do. We don’t labor in the vineyard with the hope that God may someday accept us. God has accepted us and that is why we labor in the vineyard. What we do does not determine who we are. God has determined who we are and being a new creation in Christ should determine what we do. When we as believers choose to sin, that does not make us sinners any more than sneezing makes us sneezers. We are still children of God who have chosen to sin even though we don’t have to.

Christ defeated death when He was resurrected and He defeated sin when He died once for all our sins (vss. 8-10). “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (vs. 11). Counting yourselves dead to sin does not make you dead to sin. You are dead to sin because of your new life in Christ, therefore continue to believe it and it will work out in your experience. When you are tempted to sin, just respond by faith and say, “I am alive in Christ and sin is no longer my master.”

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Releasing the Holy Spirit

December 11 – Releasing the Holy Spirit

Yielding ourselves to God is a question of trust. We are questioning God’s integrity when we ask, “If I asked, and He filled me with His Holy Spirit, what would He do with my life and how would He manifest His presence in me?” We can trust God, because we know that He has our best interest at heart. Nothing but good can come from seeking God with all our heart. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him (Jn. 7:37,38). Jesus was referring to the internal presence of the Holy Spirit who is waiting to be released. The Spirit-filled Christian is always joyful, prays continuously and is forever grateful (1 Thess. 5:16).

When Moses saw the burning bush, he was startled because the fire was not consuming the bush (Ex. 3:3). If the bush was burning because of the natural substance it was made of, it would have flamed out in seconds. It continued to burn because God was in the bush. The same is true for us. If we try to serve God by our own natural resources we will burn out. We don’t live our natural lives for God; He lives His eternal life through us. We serve God by His strength, not by our strength. Therefore, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire, do not treat prophecies with contempt” (1 Thess.5:19). God can choose to work supernaturally through anybody. He even spoke through Balaam’s donkey (Nu. 22:28).

When God works through us, He does not bypass our humanity nor trample on our personality. The Spirit-filled Christian is fully human and God works through the uniqueness of our personalities. We are fully alive and fully free to fulfill our potential, which can only be accomplished in Christ. Scripture admonishes us not to quench the Spirit or grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30). It seems paradoxical, but letting God reign in our lives is the only way we can have self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit.

On the other hand, “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21,22), because there are many spiritual counterfeits in this world. Scripture admonishes us to avoid two extremes. First, have nothing to do with those who hold to a form of godliness but deny its power (2 Tim. 3:5). Second, avoid those who appear to be zealous for God but their zeal is not based on knowledge (Rom. 10:2). To be spiritually safe, we need to be knowledgeable of the truth and be spiritually discerning. If our motives are pure, we can yield ourselves to God and trust Him to work through us anyway He chooses. In so doing we release the Holy Spirit and manifest the presence of God within us.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Filled with the Spirit

December 10 – Filled With the Spirit

Paul wrote, “For we were all baptized by the Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Cor. 12:13). The Spirit’s indwelling (Jn. 14:17; Rom. 8:9), sealing (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13), and baptism (Gal. 3:27) all occur at the time of regeneration and therefore are never commanded. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life is what sets them apart from the rest of humanity. A Christian is simply one in whom Christ dwells. The Church age began with the promised coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. However, the early church soon learned that there would be an ongoing need to be filled with Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit has taken up residence in every true believer, but not every believer is fully yielded to Him. The Spirit-filled believer is yielded to God and their life is characterized by His presence. Being filled is very similar in meaning to being controlled. Therefore being filled with the Holy Spirit is to be under His control. The fruit of the Spirit becomes evident in the life of the believer who is yielded to Him (Gal. 5:22,23). Other manifestations of the Spirit-filled life can occur such as was evidenced in this early Church prayer meeting, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).

In the Eph. 5:18, the responsibility falls upon the believer to be filled with the Spirit. “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). The evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit is revealed in the ways we communicate with each other and God with a thankful heart (Eph. 5:19,20). The idea of being filled with the Spirit is not like a glass that is empty and needs to be filled. We already have the Holy Spirit. The idea is more like a balloon full of air that can become much bigger and sail much higher if fully opened to the divine breath of God.

Our potential to bear fruit increases as we grow in Christ. As new believers, we are like small lawn mower engines. As we grow, we become more like tractor engines, but neither can bear fruit without gas. We never outgrow our need for God. We cannot fulfill our purpose without the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit and we can be if we will confess our sin and yield to Him. Make that a daily experience and watch what happens.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Overcoming Licentiousness

December 9 – Overcoming Licentiousness

Living by the Spirit is not a license to do whatever we want. The licentious person has no regard for rules and regulations. The apostle Paul asks, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer” (Rom. 6:1,2)? God delivered us from the bondage of sin, why would we want to go back under that bondage again? We are not under the law, but we are not lawless. We have an eternal standard, but neither legalism nor license are the means by which we live a righteous life. Living by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit is not a license to sin; it is a gracious means not to sin.

We are free in Christ to live a moral life, but there are times when we should restrict our freedom. The first is mentioned in 1 Cor. 6:12, “’Everything is permissible for me’ – but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’ – but I will not be mastered by anything.” We have the freedom to eat whatever we choose, but food can become our master if we find ourselves living to eat instead of eating to live. Our freedom becomes license when we abuse our rights and indulge ourselves. One slice of pie can be good, but eating the whole pie is not beneficial. We have to master our appetites or they will master us. Remember, the fruit of the Spirit is self-control (Gal. 5:23).

The second is mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor. 10:23, “’Everything is permissible’ – but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’ – but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” Paul qualified our freedom with the principle of love (1 Cor. 8:1). “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (vs. 9). We have to learn to restrict our freedom for the sake of a weaker brother. If what we are doing is morally permissible, but offensive to others, then we shouldn’t do it. We never have the right to violate another person’s conscience. “When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (vss. 12,13).

License is a form of spiritual deception referred to as Gnosticism. People think they can indulge their flesh without violating their spirit. They falsely reason, “What I do in the flesh doesn’t matter, it is only what I do in the Spirit that matters.” The Corinthians had reasoned that food was both necessary and pleasurable. They also argued that sex was both necessary and pleasurable and therefore any sex drive had to be satisfied. But Paul answered their argument when he wrote, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13). We cannot separate our bodies from who we are.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Overcoming Legalism

December 6 – Overcoming Legalism

Paul said, “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Gal. 3:11). Since believers are no longer under the law, why does the church still struggle with legalism and why do some choose to live as though they are still under the law? Troubled by the problems of immorality we often seek the simple solution of laying down the law, but that is counter-productive for three reasons.

First, “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’” (Gal. 3:10). Trying to live by the law only produces guilt, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Legalists are driven people who never reach perfection. Second, “For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law” (Gal. 3:21). The law is powerless to give life. Telling people what they are doing is wrong, does not give them to power to stop doing it. “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6).

Third, the law actually has the capacity to stimulate the desire to do what it was intended to prohibit. “For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire” (Rom. 7:5,8; see also Rom. 7:8). If you don’t think that is true, then tell your children, “You can go here, but you can’t go there!” The moment you say that, where do they all want to go? A Christian school published a list of movies that the students could not see. Guess which ones they all wanted to see? Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9), but they did. The forbidden fruit seems to be the most desirable.

The commandments of God are not restrictive; they are protective. The Law reflects the nature of God and is therefore good. The glory of the Lord was revealed when He engraved the law in letters on stone (2 Cor. 3:7,8). But trying to live a righteous life by the law can only lead to discouragement, defeat, and death. “If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness” (vs. 9). Only by the Spirit of God can we live a righteous life and not carry out the desires of the flesh. Only by faith can we be justified. Only by the grace of God can we grow in Christ. “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from God, who is the Spirit” (vs. 18).

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Living by the Spirit

December 5 – Living by the Spirit

Under the Old Covenant the children of Israel had to learn to abide by the law in their own strength. But they could not do it, and neither can we. “The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law” (Gal. 3:24,25). As children of God we are under the New Covenant of grace. Now we live by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. The tension between living our way in our own strength and living God’s way in His strength is explained in Gal. 5:16-18. “For the sinful nature [flesh] desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature” (vs. 17). They are in opposition to each other, because the flesh operates independent of God and the Holy Spirit is always dependent upon God the Father.

How do we live by the Spirit? If I answered that question by giving three steps and a formula, I would be putting you back under the law. The Holy Spirit is a “He” not an “it.” Living by the Spirit is a relational concept not a legal concept. Actually this passage tells us more what living by the Spirit is not, but that is extremely helpful, because it gives us the parameters in which we freely live. First, living by the Spirit is not legalism. “But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law” (vs. 18). “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised [for religious purposes], Christ will be of no value to you at all” (vs. 1). In other words, “Don’t go back under the law.”

Second, living by the Spirit is not license. You live by the Spirit, “So that you do not do what you want” (vs. 17b). “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature” (vs. 13). In other words, living by the Spirit does not enable us to do whatever we want to do. It enables us to do God’s will. So if living by the Spirit is neither legalism nor license, then what is it? It is liberty. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).

Living by the Spirit is the only means by which we overcome the power of the flesh. “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (vs. 16). If we have a choice as to whether we live by the Spirit or by the sinful nature, then how can we know which we are choosing? The answer is simple, what does our life reveal? “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, orgies, and the like” (vss. 19-21). “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (vss. 22,23).

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog