I recently attempted preaching on the Holy Spirit and did a terrible job of it. I fumbled my way through what seemed like an eternity. I however managed to dribble to a conclusion of sorts in utter helplessness. I felt so weak and powerless. I frankly don’t remember all that I said really – which is dreadful in itself. I was all over the map. But I do remember that towards the end of the sermon, I read the words of a well-known hymn written by Robert Jackson (1888), on the Holy Spirit – and that is the prayer of my heart even as I write this. Here it is: Continue reading
“Come from the four winds, O breath!”
If the Holy Spirit does not come, and give spiritual life, we may preach until we have not another breath left, but we shall not raise from the tomb of sin even the soul of a little child, or bring a single sinner to the feet of Christ.
Look sir, you may study your sermon; you may examine the original of your text; you may critically follow it out in all its bearings; you may go and preach it with great correctness of expression; but you cannot quicken a soul by that sermon. Continue reading
I really like this description of both the pain and pleasure of preaching. I have to remind myself of this every day but especially on Saturday nights and after church on Sunday. It keeps me not on my toes but mostly on my knees where I cry, “Lord, do it again for Your own Name’s sake!”
Preaching is the most public of ministries and therefore, the most conspicuous in its failure and the most subjective to the temptation of hypocrisy. It is imperative only that those who undertake it are appropriately gifted by the Holy Spirit. Such ‘gifting’ includes prophecy, evangelism, the consciousness of an unavoidable call, providential endowments, and outward confirmation as evidenced by the Holy Spirit’s making the preaching effort into a new Bethlehem.
There is no special honor in being so gifted–there is only special pain. The pulpit calls them to it as the sea calls its sailors, and, like the sea, it batters and bruises and does not rest, but always there is the lure of its ‘better and incomparable’ society.
To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time, and to know each time you do it that you must do it again. Only one certainty sustains the preacher: That God never denies a man peace except to give him glory.”
Source: Bruce Thielemann, and appeared in the Wittenburg Door in April of 1977.
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:5-11).
Yesterday, the Apostle Paul exhorted us to set our minds on things above and to remember our identity in Christ if we want to become like Christ. Today, he exhorts us to “put to death…what is earthly…” In the verses above, he goes on to give us a general (not exhaustive) list of what he is referring to as “earthly.” Paul gives the strongest warning to the Colossians (and to us) against these sins, namely, “On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” In other words, an unchecked life of sin, a habitual life of sin invites the wrath of God upon itself. As one theologian has rightly said, habitual sinning is tantamount to “spiritual suicide.”
“Be killing or it will be killing you,” John Owen writes in his book, The Mortification of Sin inspired by Romans 8:13 which reads, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Even though we have died with Christ and have been raised with Him unto newness of life, the old man still remains in us and seeks to regain control of our lives. We must constantly be on our guard and fighting against remaining sin. We are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) and “be all the more eager to make our calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10) by putting to death the old man so that the life of Christ might be more clearly manifested in us. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for He has not left us to pursue Christlikeness on our own and in our strength. While verse 12 of Philippians 2 (and other passages like it) rightly urge us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” verse 13 of the same chapter reminds and encourages us that “it is God who is at work in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
The call to pursue a Christlike life demands that we exercise utmost care and utter dependence on the Lord who alone is able to supply us the spiritual resources that we need to battle against sin in our lives. Praise be to His Holy Name that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). We have the Holy Spirit living within us and He will fight for us even as we fight with Him against the flesh. As Paul writes in Galatians 5:16-17, we are to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
While the battle against sin still rages, we have the confidence that in Christ our victory is sure for He has conquered the power of sin through His sacrificial death on the cross for us. Therefore, when we find ourselves to have fallen into sin, we can run back to the Lord pleading for forgiveness with a repentant heart with confidence not in ourselves, but in the Lord Jesus Christ who is our “Advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1). We can say with Micah in confidence:
“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the LORD because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication” (Micah 7:8-9)
“Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q & A 86).
I thank the Lord for yet another opportunity to consider with you the important truths taught us in His Word on the gospel. Today (as promised yesterday), I plan to discuss the question: “What is saving faith?” While I will not be able to discuss this subject exhaustively, I do hope however that I will be able to do so sufficiently with the Lord’s help.
Common Faith vs Saving Faith: Before going any further, I would like to point out an important distinction which is implied in the question that I seek to discuss – namely, the distinction between common faith and saving faith. The very fact that we can ask this question suggests to us that there is a kind of faith which is not saving otherwise the question would be redundant and senseless. If all faith is saving, then there is no need to talk about “saving faith.” But the fact of the matter is that not all faith is saving. Therefore, it is very important that we delineate and distill the distinction between common and saving faith, as best as we can, under the faithful guidance of the Holy Scriptures.
Common faith is natural and dead. It does nothing for sinners and offers nothing to them. Saving faith however is supernatural and alive. It saves sinners by graciously offering them Jesus Christ through the gospel. Each one of us needs to stop and examine ourselves to see whether we have common or saving faith. Any cursory reading of the Scriptures warns us of the danger and deception of common faith. We read of many who “believed” but had no saving faith. Consider King Agrippa in Acts 26; or the hearers whom Christ compares to the rock in the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:6; or the multitudes who believed in the Name of Jesus when they saw the miracles which he performed in John 2:23, etc. Although it could be rightly said that these “believed,” the Bible says that “Jesus on His part did not entrust Himself to them, because He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He Himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24).
Saving faith is different from common faith both in its nature and essence. According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel” (Q & A 86). What a helpful definition and summary of what the Scriptures teach on saving faith! A close examination of the teaching of Scripture suggests to at least the following five things about saving faith:
Firstly, saving faith is intended for God’s elect. The LORD God has ordained from all eternity those who will be saved “to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:1-14). These are the true subjects of saving faith. All of God’s elect have been chosen by God in Christ from the foundation of the world. Therefore, these will come to Him and find life in Jesus’ Name (Acts 13:48; John 6:37).
Secondly, saving faith is invoked by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works this faith in the hearts of God’s elect. The Bible tells us that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Saving faith is “the gift of God” given to those who were once spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1-10). Paul calls the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of faith” in 2 Corinthians 4:13.
Thirdly, saving faith is inspired by the Word of God. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The Word read or preached is by God’s appointment, the chief means by the Holy Spirit works faith in the hearts of His elect. He uses the Word to draw sinners to Himself for their salvation. A classic example of how this happens is recorded for us in Acts 16:14 concerning Lydia, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” This was most definitely the work of the Holy Spirit.
Fourthly, saving faith inclines one’s heart toward Christ. Saving faith is Christ-centered. It supernaturally bends one’s heart Christ-ward. By His Spirit, through the Word, the Lord God is pleased to open the eyes of His elect to His glory in Jesus Christ and He becomes their singular delight and passion. “…The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).
Fifthly, saving faith initiates a lasting spiritual transformation in the life of the believer. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” Also in Hebrews 12:14 we read, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Saving faith will necessarily and gradually produce holiness in the life of the believer. “You shall be holy for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; Matthew 5:44; 1 Peter 1:16). Ephesians 1:4 tells us that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him…” I like what William Gurnall says on this:
Mark, not because He foresaw that they would be of themselves holy, but that they should be holy; this was that God resolved He would make them to be. Consider it is not necessary that thou shouldst be rich; but it is necessary thou shouldst be holy, if thou meanest to be happy. You may travel to heaven with never a penny in your purse, but not without holiness in your heart and life also.
Please look out for Part 2 of “What Constitutes Saving Faith?” tomorrow, Lord willing! Resting in Christ!