Category: Holy Spirit (page 1 of 10)

Baptism and Faith

Peter and the apostles are announcing, they’re proclaiming in Acts 2, that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus has inaugurated the eternal Kingdom of God. Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah! This holy one you killed but God has now raised to eternal life, this Jesus, is the bringer of God’s salvation for all people and he is now both Lord and Christ!

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, into the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit!” ~Acts 2:37-38

Forgiveness happens at baptism. So does God’s Holy Spirit taking up residence in your soul. Peter says “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins” just like John the Baptist said “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” In both cases, people are being cleansed on the inside and being made holy. People are being prepared for the coming presence of God.

That’s how people are saved: baptism. It’s a critical part of the Christian conversion process. The conversion stories in the New Testament are soaked with baptism. Men and women, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor — they hear the Good News, they believe it, and they’re baptized.

That’s what we believe and practice regarding baptism. We believe that is the biblical view: baptism is the time and place one is united with the crucified and risen Lord and receives eternal forgiveness of all sin and the gift of God’s indwelling Spirit.

But there’s something else we believe about baptism that we don’t talk about as much or as well. We believe it, we just don’t make it clear. So, let me be very, very clear: Baptism only works by faith in what God through Jesus has done and is doing for the sake of the world.

“You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” ~Colossians 2:10-13

God made us alive with Christ and forgave our sins when we were buried with him in baptism and raised with him through faith in the power of God. Baptism is faith — faith is baptism. Baptism is not effectual for salvation because we believe in baptism or because of what we believe about baptism or because of how we believe baptism ought to be practiced. It’s got nothing to do with that. Baptism works through our faith in the work of God in Christ. It’s effectual only by faith. Otherwise, it’s just a quick bath; you’re just getting wet.

Baptism is God’s work, not ours, not yours. God is the One doing everything. It’s got nothing to do with my goodness or correctness or the right words being said or the right amount of water being used or how much or how little I know about what’s going on. Baptism is a divine act of pure grace. And anything that undermines that or adds to it is legalism and denies the Gospel of Christ.

Wait. But isn’t baptism itself legalistic? If we’re saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, why is baptism necessary? That’s a human work, right? Surely we’re not saved by human works.

Boy, those are all great questions. Thank you for asking them in that way.

Martin Luther, during the Reformation in the 1500s, gave us the language of saved by grace only through faith in Christ only. He taught and preached that human works have nothing to do with our salvation — it’s 100% faith and 0% works. He was so hard-core about that, he wanted to have the book of James struck from the New Testament. But Luther put baptism in the category of faith, not works. He called faith “the beggar’s hand.” It’s how we receive God’s gifts. And baptism is where we do the receiving. Luther put it in his church catechism in 1529:

“As our would-be wise new spirits assert that faith alone saves, and that works and external things avail nothing, we answer: It is true, indeed, that nothing in any of us is of any avail but faith. But faith must have something it believes, that is, of which it takes hold and upon which it stands and rests. Thus, faith clings to the water and believes that it is baptism in where there is pure salvation and life.”

Baptism is an expression of faith. It’s only effective through faith. In baptism we die and are raised with Christ, through faith. In baptism, we can’t do anything, we don’t accomplish anything or effect anything. In baptism, we receive everything.



God at Work: Sacrament

Sacrament: A physical symbol that acts as a means of God’s grace by which we participate in a spiritual reality.

This Sunday at Central we’re beginning a 13-weeks Bible class series on the sacraments of baptism, communion, and the Christian assembly. Our intent is to move more toward viewing these special moments together as places and times when our God is redemptively present and seriously at work. We want to learn how to focus more on what God is doing and less on what we are doing in these practices. And the word “sacrament” is significant for our understanding and growth.

The definition above is my own version of how the Church has understood the term for centuries. Let’s explain it using each of the divine ordinances.

Baptism – The physical symbol is the water. The water is real, it’s tangible. You can see it, you can feel it, you can experience it. It’ll ruin your phone, it’ll go up your nose — it’s real. But the water also represents a reality beyond itself. It points to something bigger. The water symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. What makes baptism a sacrament is that, by God’s Spirit, we actually participate in the reality it symbolizes. In baptism, we are buried and raised with Christ Jesus. Baptism connects us to Christ’s death and resurrection.

“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” ~Romans 6:3-5

Lord’s Supper – The physical symbol is the bread and the cup, the cracker and the juice. Those are concrete, real things, physical things. You can smell the juice, you can crunch the cracker; it gets stuck in your teeth, it can stain your slacks — it’s real. But the meal represents Jesus eating and drinking with his disciples. What makes the communion meal a sacrament is that, by God’s Holy Spirit, we actually are participating in the thing it represents. We are literally eating with the Lord. Somehow, mysteriously, yes, he meets us at the table and eats with us.

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” ~1 Corinthians 10:16

Christian Assembly – The physical symbol is the people in the room. It’s us. Real men, women, and children, wearing clothes, laughing, singing, whispering, chewing gum, praying; babies crying and people sneezing — it’s real. And it symbolizes something bigger. It represents the heavenly assembly around the throne of God. By God’s Spirit, we join that heavenly chorus — we are actually participating in what we can’t see yet. We are singing and praying with all the saints of all time in heaven, in the eternal presence of God. That’s what makes the Sunday morning worship gathering a sacrament.

“You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the Church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all people, to the spirits of righteous men and women made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…” ~Hebrews 12:22-24

God is present with us, saving us, nourishing us, changing us. When we view these three ordinances as merely commands to obey, we’ll focus on what we are doing. When we understand them as sacraments, we’re better able to focus on what God is doing.



Holy Spirit

Allow me to pick up where we left off yesterday and conclude this short conversation on holiness.

When you put on Christ in baptism, when you accept God’s will for your life to be holy and sanctified, everything becomes brand new. It’s panoramic. It’s all-inclusive. It’s rich and deep and it gets into every crack and crevice of your existence. It all belongs to God and he’s claiming it. You’ve got new desires, new interests, new instincts, new motivations. There’s no room for other gods, no place for selfish behavior, no time to waste in worldly pursuits. There’s only holiness. Holiness has to be pushed into the room and dominate what I do and say and think. “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”

But, I can’t.

I find myself on a holiness roller coaster, some days great, some days awful, some weeks in tune with God and his will, some weeks or months living for my goals instead of his. I want to be holy, I want to live a pure life all the time. But, I can’t.

I know. Neither can I.

Which makes 1 Thessalonians 4:8 sound scary: “He who rejects this instruction does not reject man, but God.”

But, I can’t.

I know. Neither can I.

Which makes the rest of the verse a word of divine grace: “…God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.”

Being holy is powered by God’s Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit living inside each one of us that works in us to make us holy. The Spirit is given to us to root out the sin in our lives and lead us in this process of sanctification. Yes, we’re called to be holy; but, praise God, we’re also equipped to be holy! It IS possible, only by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live in holiness. God is the one who makes it happen — not you, not me. God does it through his Son and by the power of his Spirit living in us.

God doesn’t merely provide the holy standard we’re to live by based on his character and holiness. He also provides us with the power and the resources to live that way.

I am the LORD who makes you holy! ~Exodus 31
I am the LORD who makes you holy! ~Leviticus 20
God in Christ makes us holy – Hebrews 2
Christ Jesus is our holiness – 1 Corinthians 1
We’re made holy through Jesus – Hebrews 10

The Christian life is not about working to become something you’re not; it’s about being what you already are. God’s Spirit is in us, working to sanctify us, working to make us holy — if we’ll just stop fighting it.

Paul doesn’t tell the Thessalonians to start loving each other and acting right. They already are. He acknowledges how well they’re doing in their walk with Christ. He just encourages them to do more. Take it further. Be so completely wrapped up in God’s claim on your life. Be so totally dependent on Jesus Christ for your salvation. Be so thoroughly led by the Spirit inside you to holiness and sanctification. Ride it, don’t fight it. It’s God’s will, let him do it.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified. It’s what he wants to do. Let him do it.

“God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”



Holy Spirit Peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” ~John 14:26-27

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” ~John 16:33


The peace of the Holy Spirit of Christ Jesus is different from the peace of the world. The main reason for that is that the world’s peace is not based on reality. The world can’t keep its promise of peace. It’s impossible.

See this ship? It’s unsinkable. Don’t worry about a thing on your cross-Atlantic adventure. Nothing bad can happen. This ship can never sink.

This school is super safe. Put your children in this school and nothing bad will ever happen to them. They’ll be safe, they’ll be protected. They’ll turn out exactly the way you want.

Vote for this candidate. If this candidate wins the presidency, ISIS will be destroyed and terrorist attacks will become a thing of the past.

Invest in this stock and your retirement fortune will be guaranteed.

Have this surgery and you’ll never get sick again.

The world promises peace, but the world can’t deliver it. The world tells you, “You can do this. You’ve got this. Think smarter. Plan better. Work harder on your marriage. Be more efficient with your job. Be more disciplined with your habits. Pay more attention to your kids.” And we’re all neurotic and anxious and fearful, thinking any success we might have is all on us. And Jesus says, “That’s not how I’m going to do it.”

Remember, you are not God. Neither is Trump or Clinton or Blue Cross – Blue Shield or Dow Jones or Ford or Southwest Airlines or your parents. You are not good enough to make happen everything you want to happen. And our Lord steps into that space where we’re not capable and where the world cannot deliver. The Holy Spirit of Jesus comes to us and we melt into this knowing that we’re not able, but he is. And that results in peace, perfect all-surpassing peace.

Jesus gives us all a heads-up. Bad things are going to happen to you, he says. You’re going to have trouble. The world’s going to do bad things to you and sometimes you’re going to do bad things to yourself. Some of this trouble you might can avoid, but won’t; and some of this trouble is completely unavoidable and totally out of your control. Don’t be shocked when it happens. It’s going to happen. In this world you will have trouble. But in me, he says, you’ll have peace.

That is so real. That’s so grimy and dirty and real. God’s Holy Spirit adopts us as his sons and daughters and gives us new life and teaches us how to love and obey in a community of faith. He comes to us and makes his home with us and is the eternal source of everlasting peace.


The Texas Rangers’ magic number is eight for clinching their seventh division championship. Last night’s 3-2 win in Houston was the team’s 44th come-from-behind win this year, the most in MLB. It was their 18th win in their last at bat this season, also the most in the big leagues. The Rangers are 33-10 in one-run games, the best record in that category in MLB history. And they are 15-3 this season against the Astros. The shaky bullpen is a big reason, I think, for the high number of come-from-behind wins and one-run victories. So, too, though, is the never-ever-quit attitude of this team. They’re never out of it. They never give in until that 27th out has been recorded. This team is fun to watch.



Holy Spirit Identity

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you… Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” ~John 14:18-20

holyspiritbreathThe adopting work of the Holy Spirit pulls us out of the cosmic orphanage into an intimate and eternal relationship with God. The Holy Spirit gives us new life in Christ — Christ in us. By the work of the Spirit, God lives in us and we live in God. And the overflow of joy and grace and peace and love of the Trinity belongs to us. It’s ours. We’re in! This is our brand new life in Christ! This is my new and primary identity. This is who I am. And nobody or nothing can take it away from me.

I am Carrie-Anne’s husband. One of my identity markers is that I am Carrie-Anne’s husband. That’s who I am. For 27 years now, I am Carrie-Anne’s husband. And I dig it. It gives me love and stability and joy and support and, sometimes, sopapilla cheesecake. But my identity as Carrie-Anne’s husband can be taken away from me. We’re both getting older. God forbid — something could happen and I would not be Carrie-Anne’s husband anymore.

Another of my identity markers is that I am the father of three awesome daughters. That’s who I am. But could be taken away from me. Again, God forbid — something could happen and I wouldn’t be a father anymore. There aren’t any guarantees.

Another of my identity markers is that I’m the preacher at Central Church of Christ. And I love being the preacher at Central. It’s who I am. But the elders could get together and take one vote tonight and it could be taken away from me. (I’ve got dirt on every one of those guys; so, it’s not going to happen!) But you understand what I’m saying.

All of my identity markers can be taken away from me. I’m not all powerful. I’m not all seeing and all knowing. I’m not God. I live in a broken world where there are no guarantees.

But the Scriptures say the Holy Spirit guarantees that we belong to Christ. I have been adopted into a new life in Christ. So I have this one thing you can’t touch. I am a son of God. I am loved and protected and provided for and saved by my new Holy Spirit life in Jesus. I can get sick and it’s still true. I can lose my job, I can lose my family, everybody can hate me, and it’s still true. I can die and my identity as a saved child of the King does not change one bit. The Holy Spirit gives us new everlasting life and a permanent identity in him.



Where is Jesus? Part Three

BandAidRedPlease keep my darling wife Carrie-Anne in your thoughts and prayers for the next few days. She’s having surgery this afternoon to repair a fairly significant hole in a sinus passage. The surgery is only supposed to take about an hour and a half, but everybody’s telling us the eight days after are going to be horrible. As you’re probably aware, Carrie-Anne has the best looking nose in our family, and we don’t want anything to happen to it.



“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” ~Colossians 3:1

“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms.” ~Ephesians 2:6

It’s a well known and well rehearsed spiritual reality that by our baptisms we all participate in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We are united with Christ, we are one with him and share in his death and resurrection. But the Scriptures are clear that we also share in his ascension. We reign over the world with Christ both now and, ultimately, when he returns, in the future forever. We’re co-regents, co-rulers with Jesus.

Now, let’s be clear about what this means and what it doesn’t mean. Reigning with Christ does not mean that Christians are supposed to take over the world and start passing laws and trying to push the way we live on others by power or threat or force. Reigning with Christ does not mean telling everybody what to do. Christians have tried that. Christians are still trying that. And it’s always led to disaster.

Reigning and ruling with Christ means the Church — empowered by the presence of Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit — enters the world vulnerable and suffering, praising and praying, sacrificing and serving. The Church lives in the world as misunderstood and misjudged by humanity, saved and vindicated and raised by God. Like Jesus. Why would we ever believe we can reign with Christ if we’re not going to reign like Christ?

Man, that’s a good sentence right there. I’m going to write it again. Maybe you should tweet it right now: Why would we ever believe we can reign with Christ if we’re not going to reign like Christ?

RightHandWeReignWe like the idea of Jesus being with us everywhere, even inside us. Jesus is present with us because of his Holy Spirit. He dwells in and with his Church. But the One who is present with us and living inside us by his Spirit is also the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who rules with all power and authority from a position over us, directing us, rebuking us, encouraging us, teaching us. So, yes, in a very real sense we do reign with Christ today in the heavenly realms, but only in the ways he directs — with Jesus, in the name and manner of Jesus.

We are a kingdom of priests, or kings and priests, it depends on how it’s translated. Either way, it means we participate in the reign of God like Jesus. We have important roles to play, we have Christ-ordained jobs to perform with our Lord as he brings his Kingdom rule to earth just as it is in heaven. But we don’t fight what’s wrong in the world with the power of the sword, we use the power of love. We don’t threaten or condemn anyone; like our Lord, we suffer and we serve everyone. We’re priests, so we intercede, we pray, we bring the world to God, we lift up people to God. We cannot bring in the Kingdom of God, but we can witness to it. We can’t create the Kingdom of God, but we can set up signs and tell stories. We can’t build the Kingdom of God, but we can live it with humility and faith — turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, forgiving others, giving up our freedoms and rights, loving our enemies, and praying for the people who want to do us harm.

Jesus is bringing his eternal rule to this world in ways this world does not understand. 1 Timothy 6 says it’ll happen in God’s own time. He is with us, yes. We reign with him, oh yeah. But he is our Lord. And for us to use methods that are contrary to Jesus’ methods is to reject him as Lord and to try to establish a rival kingdom.



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