Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Holy Spirit (page 2 of 2)

A Few Thoughts on Christian Freedom

I must confess: when Paul first asked me if I’d be willing to preach on one of GFC’s core values, I got excited. But when I found out the value he had in mind was freedom, my excitement was dampened. The notion of freedom isn’t something that has historically ‘fired me up.’ 

When I thought of freedom, the first thought in my mind is Christians taking liberty in moral issues and then when confonted, just chalking it up to ‘freedom.’ Knowing that it could be abused in this way, I wasn’t all that happy about preaching it as something we should pursue.

But that was before I studied it… and my mind was changed completely. By the time Sunday rolled around, I was super-excited to preach it!

I began the message by attempting to begin to answer the question, ‘What is Christian Freedom?’ Answering that question alone could be at least 3 sermons. Knowing that my answer would have to be somewhat incomplete because of time constraints, I gave this opening definition of Christian freedom:

Christian freedom is the ability to participate in the life of God so that our desires are conformed to his, our will becomes his, enabling us to always do what we want without necessity or coercion.

In other words, it is the ability to always act for our joy and for his glory—and have those two as one.

By ‘participate in the life of God,’ I meant

  1. Freedom of Access to God as Father
  2. Freedom from the Law in God the Son
  3. Freedom to Live in God the Spirit

Where once we had no freedom to approach God in prayer, now our prayers are acceptable and pleasing to him. Where once we had no freedom from the Law, but were at once both commanded to work and condemned to die, now we have freedom from works and freedom to rest in justification. Where once we had no freedom to please God or to do as we desired, now the Spirit of God indwells us, conforming our desires to his.

The more we participate in the life of Holy Trinity, the more we’re conformed to him from the inside-out. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, we gain true freedom of will so that we may choose and desire whatever we want, and since what we want is in line with the character of God, what brings us joy will be the same things that bring him glory. And he gives us the power to do it.

That’s a great thing to think about!

The Primacy of Praise to the Father

Sunday’s post reminded me of something that Dr Ware taught us in a contemporary theology course not too long ago. He challenged us to develop our Trinitarian categories, and to work hard for clarity in the distinctions between the persons of the Godhead.

One challenging example he gave was that of Ephesians 1. How many times have we read Ephesians 1 and gloried in the amazing grace of God which called us, sought us, won us, and keeps us? Too many to count! And yet, how many times have we thought seriously about the pronoun ‘he’ / ‘him’ / ‘his’ in that passage? To whom does that refer in which instance?

It is important to understand whose grace we are revelling in, and whose praise all of this is for. After all, getting the praise of ‘his’ glorious grace right is the very point of the passage!

Admittedly, the pronouns in the passage can seem a tad difficult to identify. Here is Dr Ware’s interpretation (based on the ESV translation):

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places [i.e. Praise the Father who gives blessings through the work of Christ, mediated to us by the Holy Spirit], even as [the Father] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be blameless before [the Father]. In love [the Father] predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ [to the Father] according to the purpose of [the Father’s] will, to the praise of [the Father’s] glorious grace, with which [the Father] has blessed us in [his beloved Son]. In [the Son] we have redemption through [the Son’s] blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of [the Father’s] grace, which [the Father] lavished upon us in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of [the Father’s] will, according to [the Father’s] purpose, which [the Father] set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth.

In [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of [the Father] who works all things after the counsel of [the Father’s] will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of [the Father’s] glory. In [Christ] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in [Christ], were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of [the Father’s] glory.

If we were to praise God for his work in salvation, based on this text, the praise would necessarily be Trinitarian. All the members of the Godhead have their roles, and the glory of all three is extolled. But whose glorious grace should be the centre of our attention and praise, based on these verses?

Is this reflected in your prayer life? How about your private worship? Why are we so quick to abandon the primacy of praise to the Father for his work in salvation?

Thoughts on Reading the Psalms

Here are just a few things that I find helpful on a very basic level with regard to reading the Psalms as a Christan.

  1. Read the Psalms regularly. One of the reasons the Psalms can be so little help to some Christians in their time of need is simply this: We’re not familiar with them. They’re a different type of literature than we’re used to reading or hearing preached (usually a gospel or an epistle). When times of hardship and suffering, or feelings of guilt and depression, or seasons of joy and exuberance come, we don’t know how to use the Psalms because we don’t know where to look in the Psalms to find a suitable song for our emotions. Familiarizing ourself with the basic contents of the book and the different types of songs in the book will help us be quicker to flee to the Psalms in whatever season.
  2. Think hard through the Psalms. There are some tough passages and some tough expressions of anger, some strong words of love, some passionate promises to God… how much of this can we agree with? Can we apply it all? How much of what David writes is simply poetic expression (i.e. hyperbole, simile, metaphor, merism, etc.) and how much of it is ‘literal’? Is it appropriate to pray these particular things as a member of the New Covenant? These are good questions to ask regularly–they are tough issues that each Christian will need to work through. Unfortunately, since there are some tough questions attendant with reading the Psalms, this often scares some Christians away. But it shouldn’t!
  3. Develop a plan for reading the Psalms. Here’s mine, that I’ve used several times. To read through the whole book of Psalms (a seemingly daunting task) really isn’t that hard. You can do it no problem in a month. On the first day of the month (i.e. July 1), I read Psalms 1, 31, 61, 91, 121. On the second, I read Psalms 2, 32, 62, 92, 122. Today I read Psalms 3, 33, 63, 93, 123. There are 150 Psalms, so 30 days at this pace will get you through quite easily. Reading this intensely will help with both 1. and 2. above as well.
  4. Get help. Pick up a commentary if you need to. Ask one of your elders or a mature Christian you know well to help you through some of the tough questions that will come up.
  5. Pray. It’s the word of the Lord, and therefore, it is the job of the Holy Spirit to illuminate and to apply. Ask him in faith, with no doubting, and he will.
  6. Ask to identify, not just understand. Sometimes we can become accustomed to just trying to ‘understand’ the words of the Bible. The Psalms will have nothing of that. If you’re not affected in your heart by the truths of God and his work in revelation and redemption, then the Psalms won’t make sense to you. Pray that the Spirit of God would give not just insight, but a heart that is genuinely affected by what it sees. Hearts affected by God’s truth, for God’s glory is the goal of the Psalms.

Hopefully I’ll be able to post more on the interpretation of Psalms and how to ‘get to Christ’ from the Psalms shortly.

Tertullian and Contemporary Biblical Ethics

Tertullian lived ca.150-ca.225 AD. He was born in Carthage, which is in North Africa (so he was probably a little darker than the picture would suggest). He was a man brilliantly gifted by God for writing. He wrote extensively on things like apologetics and ethics and often wrote polemically against the heretics of his day (eg. Marcion and Praxeas). He ably defended both Scriptures and the Trinity. In his writings–which are easily dated from the end of the second and early third centuries–Tertullian quotes from the New Testament, plainly citing it as being on par with Old Testament Scriptures, thus indicating an already accepted Canon, long before Nicaea.

All that said, Tertullian was not perfect (as no saint has ever been). Tertullian was associated with a movement in his day known as Montanism. Based on the teachings of a ‘Prophet’ named Montanus, this group believed that the age in which they lived was the dispensation of the Holy Spirit (the Old Testament was the dispensation of the Father, the Gospels were the dispensation of the Son). Since this was the age of the Holy Spirit, they relied heavily on prophecies and other miraculous revelatory gifts for their doctrine and ecclesiastical practice.

Citing John 16.12-13, Tertullian and the Montanists claimed that the ethics Jesus declared were not finally absolute, nor fully developed, but that they were all that the disciples were able to handle at that point in redemptive history. The Holy Spirit, who was to come, would then have the ministry of revealing a heightened ethic to Jesus’ followers in the days and years to come.

It is absolutely essential to notice, however, to what end Tertullian and friends used this position. They argued for the insufficiency of Scriptural ethics in several areas: namely, marriage / remarriage, and flight from persecution. Whereas Jesus had made allowances for both of these, the Holy Spirit was now teaching them to advance beyond what Scripture had revealed to a higher ethic.

Why in the world would they choose these areas? Because that’s what their culture demanded. Asceticism was the philosophical milk Tertullian had been raised on, and persecution had become the norm for Christians of their day. For Christianity to be consistent, relevant, and morally / ethically contemporary with the philosophical ideals of the day it needed to be advanced from what Scripture had revealed.

The irony, of course, is that looking back from about 1800 years later it seems absurd to us (in a completely removed culture) to suppose the Holy Spirit would counsel against marriage (or even remarriage after one’s spouse dies) or that he would specifically command that Christians not flee, but rather, seek persecution.

Since we don’t breathe that air, it smells real funny to us.

But here’s the thing: People today insist on making the same mistake as Tertullian and the Montanists. No, not with the marriage / remarriage thing or the persecution thing (in fact, we’re tempted to loosen the biblical commands here rather than tighten them), but rather, with the ordination of women to the position of elder, or to accept some forms of homosexuality as legitimate lifestyle alternatives.

People argue now, like Tertullian argued then, that the Bible’s ethics are unfinished; they merely establish a trajectory that we must follow, and by the guidance of the Spirit (and by finding the ‘spirit of the text’) we can ultimately determine a better ethic than the one laid out in Scripture.

But it’s all hoogly! I would be willing to bet–if any of us could be around–that 1800 years from now people will look back on our times and wonder why in the world we would think the Scriptures were insufficient in these areas.

Just like we look back on Tertullian and see him reading Scriptures and conforming Christianity to his culture, so we must see that we ourselves are always being tempted to do the same. The simple fact is that we live in a profoundly feminist, pro-gay culture. The pressure we face is always to accept these things. We have been raised and educated, indoctrinated from our youth to accept these things. The ‘highest’ of ethics in our culture is an accepting one that does not place boundaries on other people, especially when it comes to gender or ‘sexual preference.’

Those are our ‘hot-button issues’, just like Tertullian’s were asceticism and persecution. We must not be like him. We must stand firm and stick to the Scriptures. It is them alone which are able to make us wise for salvation, and them alone which equip us for every good work.

The real questions we must ask are not about whether women should be ordained as elders or homosexuality should be accepted; we already have the answers to those questions!

The real question that needs to be asked is this: Am I willing to stand on the authority of the word of God alone? Do I have enough faith in God to base my ethics on it, even when it makes me appear ‘morally backward’ in a culture of acceptance? Is God’s word enough?

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For a fuller treatment of ‘Trajectory ethics’, see here.
For another post on the influence of asceticism on Christianity, see here.

Gleanings on the Spirit from Acts

I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but if you are, then you probably wonder from time to time why you have to learn something so many times before it finally sinks in. This morning, as I was reading through Acts, I couldn’t help but be struck with the reality of my need to regularly read big chunks of Scripture at a single sitting.

This is true for lots of reasons. For one thing, it’s the way Scripture was meant to be learned. Luke didn’t write Acts in handy little chapters and verses so that we could read a little bit each day. He wrote it as one story to be read aloud or to oneself in one sitting. If we want to understand a book of the Bible, we need to read it like it was meant to be read.

Following on that reason, it brings out a lot of the bigger themes that you’re so prone to miss in a book if you don’t see them repeated over several chapters. Call me an idiot, but it blew my mind to see this time through the book just how big a role the Holy Spirit plays in this book. It’s plain to see, I know, but our need of the Spirit, the necessity of the Spirit going where the gospel goes, the sovereignty of the Spirit in determining where the gospel goes, the role of the Spirit in guiding and protecting believers, the role of the Spirit in redemptive-history, the necessity of the filling of the Spirit for any effective ministry… over and over and over again the Holy Spirit (or ‘the Spirit’ or ‘the Spirit of Jesus’) is emphatically spoken of as essential to the gospel-cause.

That’s something that I need to hear more of. In the cessationist circles I’ve always moved in the Spirit is viewed with a funny kind of suspicion–as if he really actually did have something to do with those whacko tv-preachers. Obviously that’s not who he is. But the temptation, of course, is to swing the pendulum so far in the other direction that we leave the Spirit no room in our lives or churches.

In fact, I dare confess that there have been times in my life when in my own theology I have made the Spirit out to be a sort of demi-God, under the Father and Jesus who are truly God. I mean, I would never have said this, but it seems to be the way I viewed the world. I looked at God working in this world as if the Father could or would do anything without doing it through his Holy Spirit.

The Chicken or the Egg?

After my last post (with regard to the miraculous gifts) evanmay made the comment, ‘We should be open to and seek the miraculous, but we should not neglect to thank the Spirit for the ways he gifts his church that seem ordinary.’ The first part of the sentence is what caught my attention, because it touches on another issue that’s been floating around in my mind: the giving and receiving of the gifts.

Please bear with me if my questions here seem simplistic and practical, but I simply haven’t moved in charismatic circles enough to know anything about this. We know that we are to eagerly desire the gifts… but what does that mean, really? If the giving of the gifts is truly the work of a sovereign God (which no one here would deny), then how does one ‘desire’ them in an ‘effective’ way (or is there an effective way)?

I have prayed to God many times, asking him for more of the Spirit. I have acknowledged to God that my position on this issue is underdeveloped–I am totally open to the possibility of the sign gifts continuing on even now, but I remain unconvinced. I know I want to prophesy… I know that if it means I experience more of the Spirit, then I want to speak in tongues, too. Is that fulfilling the command to ‘desire’ the gifts, or is there something more?

Here’s the big question I’m getting at: Do I need to be entirely convinced of the reality of the ongoing nature of the gifts in order to receive them? Why would God wait till someone is totally convinced before giving them the experience of prophecy? Why wouldn’t he give me a prophecy first so that I would know for certain that is the Lord speaking? I know that I would be convinced by a genuine experience of such a miracle…

If I am open to the Lord’s working in my life in this way, and desirous of experiencing him in every appropriate way, is that enough? Or do I need to be fully convinced that tongues continue before I speak in tongues? I don’t know of a biblical text to which I can directly refer, since obviously everyone at that point believed in the presence of the miraculous gifts at that point.

Is it wrong to desire something I’m not convinced is biblical? Is it wrong to seek an experience in order to validate theology?

Anyone got any practical suggestions?

Random Thoughts on the Sign Gifts

Attending WorshipGod06 (run by Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace Ministries) with Tim has given me lots to think about. Ever since Tim and I got back I’ve been mulling over the issues with regards to the ‘sign’ or ‘miraculous’ gifts. Here are some random thoughts I’ve been chewing on…

1. 1 Corinthians 13.8-13. This is not profound, but merely an acknowledgement of what the majority of evangelicalism has already said: these verses are not referring to the closing of the canon. Without this text, the intratextual evidence for any strong cessationist position is incredibly weak. To my knowledge this is the only text cessationists use to argue their position that Paul knew of the gifts coming to an end. Further, even if we could allow that this text is speaking of these gifts (tongues, prophecies, and knowledge), then why do we include things like the gift of healing in the list of gifts which have ceased?

2. Where do we draw the line? It seems to me that the categories of ‘miraculous’ or ‘sign’ gifts are somewhat artificially imposed on the New Testament text (like imposing the ‘moral / civil / ceremonial’ categories on the OT Law). Nowhere does it seem evident that such a distinction is made. Quite the contrary, in places like Romans 12.4-8 Paul lumps prophecy in with faith, service, teaching, exhortation, contributing, leading, acts of mercy, etc. What justification is there for picking and choosing which cease and which continue?

3. We need to know. The going line in our circles is that these are matters of secondary or tertiary importance to the gospel, and so we are united in our differences and able to fellowship with each other since we agree on the central issues. I agree with this. But I can’t help but wonder how consistent it is. If there are people prophesying by the Spirit and we are saying that they’re not, aren’t we closing our ears to God’s words to us? Aren’t we guilty of denying a genuine work of God? Or if the opposite is the case and they’re not really prophesying, but are saying they are, are they not false prophets? If they are putting false words in God’s mouth is that something we can afford to call ‘secondary’? I don’t see how. I’ve been reading through Jeremiah lately and finding that God has some very harsh declarations against those who prophesy falsely in his name…

4. ‘But they’re not the New Testament gifts…’. This was one of Tim’s (and mine as well) biggest complaints against the practising of the gifts that we saw at WorshipGod06. Simply put, what we saw did not line up with what we read in the New Testament. Now, as one who believes strongly in Sola Scriptura, I want to phrase very carefully what I say next, because I realize that variations of this thinking can be used to all kinds of nefarious ends. But as I think about the practising of the gifts described in Acts and then think about the gifts that I see today at Bible-centred places like Covenant Life Church, I have to ask, ‘so what if they’re different?’ Again, I don’t want to dismiss any biblical command or restrictions which are ongoing, but don’t we often argue that the book of Acts is more ‘descriptive’ rather than ‘prescriptive’? And if we’re honest with ourselves, how much of what takes place on a Sunday morning in our church buildings actually resembles what the first believers did as they met ‘day by day’ anyway? So why is it such a big deal with the gifts? It seems that the more important (if one can speak in such terms) place to look for guidance on the practice of the gifts would be the epistles written to post-Acts churches. These epistles contain many instructions on how to practice the gifts in an ongoing sense and nowhere seem to indicate that they will cease. Places like Covenant Life Church, leaders like Bob Kauflin, and organizations like Sovereign Grace Ministries do seem to follow those instructions quite well. Everything is done decently and in order (more ordered, in fact, than many cessationist churches I’ve been in where no one even has an order of service written up).

Again, these are all just random thoughts not leading to any conclusions. They’re just things I’m contemplating in the spare moments my brain manages to come across.

Any thoughts are more than welcome!

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