Discipleship Class Notes

Salvation costs me nothing. Discipleship costs me everything.

These are the results of a study on discipleship I put together for the Beatty Community Church, originally as a night class, then as part of the adult Sunday school. These notes are not in their final form and the degree of ‘finished-ness’ varies.

Some of the quotes used in these notes were obtained from http://www.christianglobe.com/Illustrationsand http://www.watchword.org, and others through my own reading. Please note that the various quotes by various Christian leaders, pastors, and teachers does not imply an endorsement of everything they taught or believed. For example, I quote Watchman Nee in some areas where he has very good insight, but he also has some very dangerous teachings. Always test what man has written (including what I’ve written here) by God’s word, the Bible. No human is infallible.

I have also included the following extended quotations:

“Methods Of Bible Study”, by R. A. Torrey

“Spiritual Gifts Inventory” based on K. C. Kinghorn’s Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts.

I plan on including “Finding God’s Will” from Viggo Olsen’s book Daktar, Diplomat In Bangladesh when/if I receive permission from the author.

All scripture quotations are from the New King James version.


Introduction Introduction to discipleship. What it means and how to follow Jesus Christ.
Bible Study How to study the Bible as God’s word.
Quiet Time Why and how to spend quality quiet time with God.
Prayer How to pray to your heavenly Father.
Fasting What fasting is and how to fast.
Faith What faith is and how to make your faith stronger.
Sin & Temptation How to deal with sin and temptation in your life.
Walking In The Spirit What it means to walk in the Spirit, and how this is the secret to living a victorious Christian life.
Living For God’s Glory The meaning of life and how to fulfill it. This is derived from my Giving Glory to God study.
Worship What it means and how to worship God.
Finding God’s Will How do find God’s will for your life. How to make the right decision in big and small matters.
Body Building Taking your place in the body of Christ. Finding and using your spiritual gifts.
Evangelism Fulfilling the great commission by telling others about Jesus and making disciples.
Summary A summary of what it means to follow Jesus practically.

The Work Of The Holy Spirit

Introduction

How can we identify the work of the Holy Spirit? What sets the Spirit's work apart from the work of man or a deceiving spirit? What makes the Holy Spirit's work unique? These are important questions for today's believer.

Much supernatural activity goes on in churches that is assumed to be of God, but is it? Here are a few examples. As you read them, ask yourself, "Do these describe the work of the Holy Spirit? How can I tell?"

News item: NEGLIGENCE – "Act of God" Defense, The Supreme Court of Louisiana has refused to allow application of the "Act of God" defense in a personal injury suit brought by one worshiper against another on allegations that defendant ran into plaintiff while plaintiff was in the aisle of a church praying. Defendant had contended that she was "trotting under the Spirit of the Lord" when the accident occurred. 1

Classified ad: DIVINE HEALING, lay on of the hands, by appointment only, Tuesday and Wednesday, 12-8PM. 2

An audio series called The Holy Spirit In You teaches you "how to put the awesome power of God's Holy Spirit to work as effectively as the disciples did in the First Century Church."

A popular video series called the Alpha Course presents the gospel and basic Christian lifestyle to non-believers. It has been endorsed by many well-known evangelists, pastors and church denominations. The course also promotes as from the Holy Spirit such manifestations as uncontrollable laughter, shaking, and animal noises.

If you came to a conclusion on any of these examples, can you give a good biblical reason for your conclusion? It should be easy for us believers to know what is of God because we have the Spirit living inside us. But sadly, many of us feel a work is of the Holy Spirit even when that work goes counter to how the Bible tells us the Holy Spirit works.

The point of this article is to show you how you can recognize the Spirit's work so that you can distinguish it from man's or Satan's work. While I am going to focus a lot on spiritual gifts in this article, what I have to say applies to all areas of the Spirit's work. 3

Spiritual Gifts – A Different Approach

The church today tends to approach the subject of spiritual gifts in one of two different ways. Charismatic churches teach that the Holy Spirit still gives miraculous sign gifts to believers just as in the early church. Non-charismatic churches teach that miraculous gifts ceased early on because they were only to help the church get started. Both sides have some pretty convincing arguments to prove their position. Both have scriptures to back up what they believe, but obviously both can't be right. If you bring them together to share their viewpoints, the discussion usually blows up into a verbal battle that doesn't change anyone's mind.

While I have my opinion on this subject, in this article I'm not going to take sides. I'm not going to say whether such-and-such a gift is for today or not, or say which supernatural manifestations are of God and which are not. That is not my purpose for writing this. Instead, I want to show you how you can know if any specific work is of God. Then you can apply what you have learned to see for yourself if a particular gift or manifestation is of God or not.

One of the reasons that dialog between charismatics and non-charismatics is so difficult is that each of us tend to focus on our own 'pet' doctrines. The problem is that we tend to study only the parts of the Bible that confirm what we already believe. This is a type of self-deception. When we study the Bible, we need to study all of it and not make excuses for the parts we don't agree with.

He who pleads his cause first seems right; until another comes and questions him. 4

This proverb is a picture of a legal court proceeding. The defendant and the prosecutor will each put forth only the evidence that supports their side of the case. If you listen to only one side, you may not find the truth of the matter. But, by listening to both sides, you can weigh the evidence and come to an understanding of the truth.

When I study the Bible, especially about something controversial, I try to set aside my own biases. This is hard to do because I'm not always aware of my biases. Listening to various viewpoints helps me become aware of them, but what I believe must not be determined by the best sounding argument, but by what the Bible says as a whole.

As far as miraculous spiritual gifts are concerned, I've come to the conclusion that the question of whether they are for today or not is irrelevant. Instead, we should be focusing on the character and nature of God, who is the Giver of the gifts, so we can tell on an instance by instance basis if any specific work is of God. Paul said:

Now there are various kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are various kinds of service, and the same Lord. There are various kinds of workings, but the same God, who works all things in all. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the profit of all. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; to another faith, by the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings, by the same Spirit; and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discerning of spirits; to another different kinds of languages; and to another the interpretation of languages. But the one and the same Spirit works all of these, distributing to each one separately as he desires. 5

The key words in this passage are the last three: "as He desires." The gifts we received when God saved us were given by God at His discretion. We had no say in the matter. When I first trusted in Christ, God did not ask me what gift I would like. And I did not say, "Well, Lord, I'm going to go to a Baptist church, and they don't believe the gift of tongues is for today, so please don't give me that gift." That would have been silly! If the gift isn't for today, what do I have to worry about? – God won't give it. But if it is for today, who am I to tell God what to do? Likewise, I did not say, "Since I'm going to go to a Pentecostal church, please give me the gift of healing." That would have been equally as silly for the same reason. No, God decided which gift He wanted me to have. He gave me the gift I needed for the area He wanted me to minister in. Any other gift would have limited God's work through me.

To put it simply, if a gift is for today, then we will see God give it. If it is not for today, then we won't see God give it. This is a statement I think both charismatics and non-charismatics can agree on.

The Problem With Pragmatism

At this point there are some who will say, "So, miraculous gifts are for today because there are believers who practice them." But it's not that simple. Just because someone is doing something miraculous doesn't mean it is of God, even if it is a believer who is doing it. John warned us:

Beloved, don't believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 6

The reason he warned us is because we can be deceived.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were instructed to test prophets. Deuteronomy 13 details how they were to know if a prophet was truly sent from God:

If there arise in the midst of you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and he give you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, "Let us go after other gods" (which you have not known) "and let us serve them;" you shall not listen to the words of that prophet, or to that dreamer of dreams: for Yahweh your God proves you, to know whether you love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 7

Notice that the test had nothing to do with whether a miracle had really happened. Real or not, the people were not to listen to the prophet who led them away from God to serve other "gods." They were to obey God as He had already revealed Himself, and one of the ways He had done so was with the command, "You shall have no other gods before me." 8

God isn't the only one who works miracles in this world. God also permits Satan to do some pretty amazing things. When Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and it became a snake, Pharaoh's magicians did the same thing and their staffs also became snakes. 9 The same is true today. Satan can and still does work false signs and wonders for the purpose of leading us astray. 10

When we become believers, we don't suddenly know all that is of God and all that isn't. We are not given perfect understanding of all things spiritual. Just like the Israelites in the Old Testament, New Testament believers were also instructed to test the prophets. In the early church, when someone prophesied, those who listened were not to blindly accept what they heard, but were to listen with a discriminating ear to see if what was said was really of the Holy Spirit or of a deceiving spirit:

Let the prophets speak, two or three, and let the others discern. 11

A quick reading of this verse makes it appear that all Paul is doing is limiting the number of those who prophecy in church to three, and instructing those who listen to pay close attention because they might learn something. But Paul is actually giving the listeners a big responsibility. The Greek word translated "discern" is diakrino, which means to try, to learn by discrimination, to decide. The New King James Version of the Bible translates this same word as:

Discern (Matthew 16:3, 1 Corinthians 11:29)

Judge (1 Corinthians 6:5, 11:31, 14:29)

Make distinction (Acts 15:9, Jude 1:22)

Show partiality (James 2:4)

Waver (Romans 4:20)

Differ (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Doubt (Matthew 21:21, Mark 11:23, Acts 10:20, 11:12, Romans 14:23, James 1:6)

Contend (Acts 11:2, Jude 1:9)

What a responsibility! Paul is telling believers to test prophecies. We are to discern, judge, and even doubt the message if it shows signs of not being from God.

Testing is scriptural. The Ephesian church was commended for testing those who were called apostles, and they found they were not. 12 The Bereans were commended for testing the teachings of the apostle Paul, and they found his teachings were true. 13 Paul told us to "test all things." 14 Without testing, we can be led astray.

In 1994, Jill Barnes 15 heard about a church meeting where people were on the floor "laughing their heads off." Some shared about how God had revealed things in their lives that displeased Him. Others said they felt drunk.

After hearing a friend talk about a meeting where she had gone forward for prayer ,and then fell down and shook from head to toe, Jill became curious enough to go with her.

At the meeting, the pastor gave a message, after which there was an invitation to come forward for prayer. Jill went forward. Someone put a hand over her head and she felt a bit dizzy. She noticed others were falling to the floor around her. Wanting to be touched by God, Jill let herself fall back. She felt what she later described as a "horrible, uncomfortable, heavy, oppressive feeling" go over her head and down her body. Her hands were clenched together but she couldn't relax or unlock them from each other. Scary, yes. But Jill thought this was of God. Eventually the meeting came to an end and she went home.

A few days later, the heavy, uncomfortable feeling came back and Jill went to bed terrified. Soon after, she started hearing voices that said, "Now you're free! Now you don't have any problems!" Then the voices said, "Kill yourself! Jesus isn't real! The Old Testament is real, but Jesus wasn't the Savior! You've got to look again, and find out where and who the Savior really is!"

By this time Jill knew this was demonic oppression. She eventually came out of her oppression with God's help, and that of friends, through prayer, in-depth Bible reading, and obedience to what she found there. But what happened to her can happen to any one of us who fails to recognize how the Holy Spirit works.

Biblical Testing

The Bible tells us to test the spirits. This implies that there is a method of testing – a standard by which we can know if a message or sign is truly of God.

Many Christians feel uncomfortable with the idea of testing God, and well they should. The Bible says we are not to tempt God. 16 But I am not talking about tempting God. When you know God is telling you to do something, there is only one thing you must do: obey. But not every spiritual manifestation is of God, and we need to recognize that. We are not to blindly accept all supernatural events as from the Holy Spirit.

So how can we know? What is this measuring stick by which we can test spiritual manifestations? Does it really exist? Can we really know if a message or sign is truly of God? I believe we can.

First, while the Holy Spirit can manifest Himself through physically miraculous means, His work is not identified through a particular outward act or manifestation. Satan has power in this world to cause miracles that look on the surface very much like the work of the Holy Spirit. For example, what we know of today as the gift of tongues or glossolalia (speaking in an unknown language), also occurs in some eastern religions and cults. The Way International, which denies that Jesus is God, practices glossolalia. So did the Heaven's Gate cult whose mass suicide in 1997 made the headlines years ago. There is even some evidence that much of this practice is not even supernatural. An article in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology 17 told of an experiment where 20% of the participants spoke in tongues (unknown languages) immediately after listening to a tape recording of genuine glossolalia. With some further training, the number increased to 70%. Whether this is a valid gift of the Spirit or not, it cannot be relied on as evidence that God is at work. No outward physical manifestation can.

Second, the Holy Spirit's work is not identified through a particular feeling or emotion. Satan can produce in us convincing feelings of closeness with God. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit doesn't always supply us with good feelings. One of the things the Holy Spirit does is make people uncomfortable with respect to sin in their lives.

However, the Holy Spirit's work can be identified through the character and the results of His work. It is these two areas that show the uniqueness of the Spirit's work and set it apart from man's or Satan's work.

Character

The character of the Holy Spirit's work is what reveals His character and divine nature, and it is always in agreement with God's character as revealed in the Bible. This is because the Holy Spirit is God, who is unchanging, the same yesterday, today, and forever. 18 Therefore, we can use the Bible to tell us about the Holy Spirit's character and how He works today.

The Holy Spirit is the least understood Person of the Trinity, but this doesn't have to be. Because the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are One and share the same nature, we can learn what each Person is like by studying the Others. When Jesus walked this earth, He showed us what the Father is like so that when one of His disciples asked Him to show them the Father, He replied:

"Have I been with you such a long time, and do you not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father. How do you say, 'Show us the Father?' 19

Jesus also showed us what the Holy Spirit is like because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. 20 Just as Jesus revealed God's character and nature through how He lived, when the Holy Spirit dwells in us and works through us, God's character and nature should also be evident through our lives. Those who claim their actions are directed by God's Holy Spirit, while their actions contradict how God has already revealed Himself, are not being led by the Holy Spirit but by a deceiving spirit. For example, the Holy Spirit…

will not lead someone to glorify himself or a ministry at the expense of His own glory (Isaiah 42:8).

will not cause someone to prophecy falsely. (Anything less than 100% accuracy is not of Him – Deuteronomy 18:22.)

will not tell someone to lie or act deceptively (Zechariah 8:17)

will not tell someone to steal (Hosea 4:1-3)

will not tell someone to seek a divorce (Malachi 2:16)

These things displease God, and what displeases God the Father also displeases the Son and the Holy Spirit. Angel Maturino Resendiz 21 murdered 9 people in 1997 and 1998 because he believed he was on a mission from God to eliminate evil. His actions showed his mission was not from God. His actions contradicted God's character.

We grieve the Holy Spirit when we sin 22, and when that happens, God's work is hindered in us. (This is not the primary way to determine what sin is because it is after the fact. We need to determine what sin is by God's word. But it is a way we need to become sensitive to.) If we are living a life of sin, then we are not being led by the Holy Spirit but by the flesh. When we are living in the flesh, we cannot please God. 23 However, when we are led by the Spirit, we cannot sin:

Whoever remains {i.e. abides} in him doesn't sin. … 24

When you sin, you can be sure you didn't do it under the control of the Holy Spirit!

God's character and nature were most evident through the life of Jesus on earth. We can learn a lot about God's character by studying Jesus' life and teachings, and by putting those teachings into practice. When we let the Holy Spirit have His way in our lives, we will become more Christ-like. 25 For example:

We will be careful not to cause even the least person to stumble in his walk with God (Matthew 18:6).

We will make sure our relationships with others are in order so that our relationship with God will not be hindered (Matthew 5:23-24).

We will forgive those who continually sin against us (Matthew 18:21-22, Ephesians 4:32).

We will love and seek to benefit those who are our enemies (Luke 6:35).

We will humbly serve others (John 13:13-15).

Nobody is saying that these are easy things to do. But the Holy Spirit living inside us enables us to do them because God's work inside us reveals God's character and nature through us. If we are not living this way, then what's being revealed is not of God but of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

God's character is evident through the work of the Holy Spirit in both the Old and New Testaments. God's Holy Spirit was with David through much of his life, and it showed. David was called a man after God's own heart. 26 David was sensitive to the Spirit's leading. His life revealed much of what God was like, seen in such areas as his mercy to Saul and in the psalms he wrote. How much of God's character is revealed through your life?

Results

Just as with the character of the Holy Spirit's work, the results will also always be in agreement with the results of His work in the Bible. One of the most popular passages on the work of the Holy Spirit is Acts chapter 2. Sometimes, when we read this chapter, we focus on only one aspect: the miraculous signs. But to gain a more complete understanding, we need to look at the ends, not the means, of the Spirit's work.

Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place. 27

Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, was a Jewish holiday that celebrated the bringing in of the first fruits. It occurred 50 days after Passover and was one of the three holidays when all Jewish men were required to be in Jerusalem. So at this time, not only were all of the disciples still in Jerusalem (per Jesus' instructions in Acts 1:4), so were many other Jews from other regions. This chapter details the birth of the church, which was quite fitting considering the holiday. This was the day that the disciples first began "harvesting" new believers into the church.

We also read in this verse that the disciples were all together in one place when the Holy Spirit came. This group included the eleven remaining disciples (vs. 14), but it also included some women (including Jesus' mother) as well as His brothers and others who were previously meeting together for prayer. 28 We don't know exactly what they were doing at the time, but devoting themselves to prayer is a strong possibility.

Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. Tongues like fire appeared and were distributed to them, and one sat on each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak. 29

When the Holy Spirit came, it was suddenly and without warning. Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit, and they were expecting Him to come, but the disciples did nothing to cause Him to come. As Jesus had told them, all they had to do was wait in Jerusalem, and He would send the Spirit to them unconditionally as He had promised.

We don't decide how or when the Holy Spirit works; God does. 30 Some churches teach or encourage spiritual manifestations such as speaking in tongues, "holy laughter," even barking like a dog or making other animal noises. The Holy Spirit does not work in this way. Look at the apostles. They were never taught their spiritual gifts. Jesus gave no instructions to His disciples about them. The most He did was mention a few gifts in Mark 16, but He never laid hands on them to impart to His disciples some spiritual power. The event in verse 4 happened completely in the Holy Spirit's own time and way.

We see here that the Holy Spirit comes at God's own leading, not at our own. We cannot cause ourselves to be filled with the Spirit. He is sovereign God who moves when He wants to move. But we can prepare ourselves to be used. We can willingly submit ourselves to His will, obeying the commands that He has already given us. When we do this, the Holy Spirit will fill us. 31

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under the sky. When this sound was heard, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because everyone heard them speaking in his own language. They were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, "Behold, aren't all these who speak Galileans? How do we hear, everyone in our own native language? … we hear them speaking in our languages the mighty works of God!" They were all amazed, and were perplexed, saying one to another, "What does this mean?" Others, mocking, said, "They are filled with new wine." 32

When the Jews heard the apostles speak, they were amazed. Here were uneducated, everyday people, who they recognized as Galileans, speaking in their own native languages. It was obvious to them that the apostles had never learned these languages. This miracle was in itself enough to attract their attention. However, not only did they recognize their own languages, they understood what the apostles were saying. They paid attention to the words. They heard them "speaking in our own languages the mighty works of God." This was something that would have been impossible had the disciples been speaking in an unknown language.

One of the results of the work of the Holy Spirit is that glory is brought to God the Father and Jesus Christ – not only by believers, but also by non-believers in their praises to God. 33 By the end of this chapter, many of these Jews would become believers in Jesus Christ, but at this point they were only "devout men" who believed in Yahweh God, but not His Son. They were outsiders. 34

The Holy Spirit's work glorifies God the Father and Jesus Christ. In other words, His work makes His character and nature known to believers and non-believers alike. Men come away with a better understanding of who God is and what He is like. This is one of the primary works of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit's purpose is not to glorify anyone or anything else – not a ministry, a leader, a spiritual gift, or surprisingly, even Himself.

When Jesus walked this earth, even though He was equal with God, He did not glorify Himself. Instead He humbled Himself and glorified His Father, showing us what the Father is like. 35 Now it's the Holy Spirit's turn on earth in us. He also did not come to glorify Himself, but to glorify the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. 36

Beware of those who lift up a man or a ministry. When this is done, it is at the expense of God's glory. We need to focus less on ourselves and our accomplishments, and focus more on God and what He has done.

But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spoke out to them, "You men of Judea, and all you who dwell at Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to my words. For these aren't drunken, as you suppose, seeing it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what has been spoken through the prophet Joel: 'It will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. …' 37

Peter's first public message was given under the power of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus had promised, he was given the words he needed to say in that very hour. 38 So what he had to say was important.

First, Peter addressed what had attracted the people's attention. No, he was not drunk as some had thought. This event was of God because it was a fulfillment of a prophecy written hundreds of years earlier. The prophecy said that in the last days God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh. It would not be limited to the occasional king, priest, or prophet. Instead, God would work through common people such as Peter the fisherman, Matthew the tax-collector, and even the Gentiles. 39

What the Jews had seen was not only a fulfillment of prophecy, it also verified the authority and message of the apostles. Because this miracle was obviously of God, the people had to listen to Peter because God was working through him. They must listen to him or ignore him at their own peril.

Miraculous sign gifts, such as the gift of tongues, were given to validate the gospel message to non-believers. Paul taught this when he said tongues are a sign for unbelievers, those outside of the church, not believers. 40 We are not to seek after signs to increase faith, because we already "walk by faith, not by sight." 41

"… It will be, that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.' Men of Israel, hear these words! Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God to you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as you yourselves know, him, being delivered up by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by the hand of lawless men, crucified and killed; whom God raised up, having freed him from the agony of death, because it was not possible that he should be held by it. … 42

After Peter shows his authority to speak is from God, he draws the people's attention away from the miracle, and to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He uses Joel's prophecy as a lead-in to the heart of his message.

Peter pulled no punches when he spoke; he just spoke the truth. He didn't worry about what the people would say or do. If they rejected him, then they would really be rejecting Jesus. This was a big turn-around from the way Peter had acted previously. Just seven weeks earlier he didn't want people to know he was associated with Jesus. Now, he boldly proclaims the gospel message. This was entirely due to the Holy Spirit's power in his life.

Jesus was clearly a "man approved by God." His miracles testified to His being sent by God. But even with this evidence, He was crucified unlawfully by the very people Peter was speaking to. God, however, raised Him from the dead. As a direct witness of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, the disciples' testimony carried a lot of weight.

The Holy Spirit works in us to spread the gospel message. The gospel focuses on the death of Jesus Christ on the cross as the final payment for our sins to reconcile us to God. It is the message of God's grace shown through the death of Christ. It is not a message of morality, healing, prosperity, Christian lifestyle, social change, religion, or anything else. These other things do not have the power to reconcile man to God.

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are far off, even as many as the Lord our God will call to himself." With many other words he testified, and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation!" Then those who gladly received his word were baptized. There were added that day about three thousand souls. 43

Through Peter's message, the people were "cut to the heart." They were suddenly aware of the status of their relationship with God, and almost in panic, they asked, "What shall we do?" This was a valid question since their guilt was real: they had crucified God's Holy One.

The Holy Spirit convicts men of sin and grants true repentance. 44 In fact, it is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that we can come to a realization of our sin against God, confess it to Him, and on receiving His forgiveness, live a life that is a 180 degree turn-around from the way we were living before. All believers are saved through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is through His work that believers are added to the church.

A note on baptism: Peter says that everyone must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins. The baptism he is referring to is the regenerating indwelling of the Holy Spirit that begins the moment we are saved. 45 It is the gift Peter refers to in verse 38. The best illustration of the meaning of the word "baptized" that I've found is given by James Montgomery Boice in the Bible Study Magazine of May 1989, where he says the Greek word for baptized (baptizo) was previously used in a recipe for making pickles.

A cucumber becomes a pickle by taking on the nature of the vinegar solution it is immersed in. The longer it is in the solution, the more the cucumber nature is replaced with the vinegar nature. This change is permament; a pickle can never become a cucumber again.

Likewise, when we're saved, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, changing us from the inside out. This is the process of sanctification, and it results in a permanent change. But it takes time. Just as the cucumber must remain in the solution to become a pickle, we must continue to walk in the Spirit to become more like Christ. The process is not instantaneous.

They continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer. Fear came on every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together, and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved. 46

A change came over the people once they were saved. They had a new relationship with Jesus Christ and a new relationship with each other. Not only did they spend time under the apostle's teaching and in prayer and communion, they also started developing spiritual fruit. They sold their possessions, and with the money gave assistance to those in need. They did this joyfully with a great peace in their hearts. It was obvious the Spirit of God was working in them.

The Holy Spirit produces good spiritual fruit in our lives. This fruit is listed in Galatians 5:22-23, Ephesians 5:9, and 2 Peter 1:5-7: Unconditional love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control, Righteousness, Truth, Faith, Virtue, Knowledge, and Godliness.

When we let the Spirit have His way, this fruit will grow and mature in our lives, and the church will become more unified in Christ. Not only will individual believers grow, the church will grow as a whole. The Holy Spirit doesn't cause us to lose control, but frees us from the other things that control us so that we can do God's will.

The Bible says the fruit (results) of a work will tell you about the source of the work. 47 Paul said that the results of his work among the Corinthian believers showed that it was of God. 48 He had no need to commend himself to them because the results spoke for themselves. They were clearly an "epistle of Christ," written by the Spirit of the living God on their hearts.

Jesus said every tree is known by its fruit. 49 A good tree produces good fruit and a bad tree produces bad fruit. Jesus makes fruit the test by which we can tell if a work is of God or not. When the fruit of the Spirit abounds in our lives, we can tell that the Holy Spirit is at work. But if we exhibit the same corrupt fruit that is in the world, then our flesh and Satan are at work. Paul lists some of this corrupt fruit in his letter to the Galatians:

Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. 50

Corrupt fruit is a result of living a life that pleases the flesh. Living to please yourself will produce corrupt fruit which is not edifying, but destructive. 51 Try as you may, you cannot produce unconditional love, joy, peace, etc. through selfish living. The only way you can produce good spiritual fruit is by giving control of your life over to God, by remaining in Christ, and by walking in the Spirit. 52

Summary

These same characteristics of the Holy Spirit's work can be seen elsewhere in the Bible. For example, in the next two chapters of Acts we see Peter heal a lame man. This gave him another opportunity to present the gospel to the Jews and to glorify God.

I encourage you to study the nature, purpose, and work of the Holy Spirit. When you become familiar with how the Spirit worked in the early church and thoughout the Bible, you can better recognize His work today, and discriminate His work from the work of deceiving spirits. (Some general passages on the Holy Spirit are Numbers 11:24-29, John 14-16, Romans 8, and 1 Corinthians 12-14.) As you read, try to set aside your biases and read these passages as if they are new to you. You may find some aspects of the Holy Spirit's work that you have previously overlooked.

Testing is very important. You don't want to get sucked into every whim of doctrine, and neither do you want to be deceived into thinking you are being led by the Spirit if you're not. These qualities that I've listed can also be used to see if the Holy Spirit is working in your own life. Just ask yourself:

Are my actions affirming or contradicting God's character or nature as revealed in the Bible? Am I obeying or disobeying God's commands? Am I living a more Christ-like life, or am I living like the world?

Is God (the Father and the Son) being glorified in my life? Are people able to see and understand God better through me? Is His character and nature being revealed?

Is it obvious to outsiders that God is at work in my life? Or is it only me, a ministry, or a spiritual gift they see?

Is my spiritual gift being used to build up the church, either by providing opportunities to spread the gospel, or by helping the church grow more Christ-like? Or am I using my spiritual gift only for my own benefit, and for my own self-interests?

Am I being used to spread the gospel message of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection? Are non-believers being convicted of sin, repenting, and coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ?

Are all the fruits of the Spirit becoming more evident in my life? Am I showing love even to my enemies? Do I have joy when external circumstances seem contrary? Am I living a more sober, self-controlled life? Am I more patient?

Am I seeking the Holy Spirit's leading, or am I trying to lead the Holy Spirit? Am I seeking God's will, or am I looking for God's approval of my will?

If one or more of these areas are lacking, I suggest looking for things in your life that are grieving the Spirit. Examine yourself to see what is hindering the Spirit's work in and through you.

The key to recognizing the Holy Spirit's work is to become personally and intimately familiar with God Himself. Spend time reading, studying and meditating on God's word. Get to know God through obedience to His commands. Get to know His nature, His character, and His purpose. Get to know Him. Then you won't be fooled by imitations.

Notes:

  1. Photocopy in The Wittenburg Door's Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction calendar, published by Harvest House Publishers
  2. Photocopy in The Wittenburg Door's Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction, published by Harvest House Publishers
  3. While I haven't made any significant changes to this since I wrote it over 15 years ago, my understanding of spiritual gifts (manifestations) has grown. Now I think the Spirit can work in various ways and at various times through an individual believer. We don't necessarily have one or two fixed gifts assigned to us for the rest of our lives.
  4. Proverbs 18:17
  5. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11
  6. 1 John 4:1
  7. Deuteronomy 13:1-3
  8. Deuteronomy 5:7
  9. Exodus 7:11-12
  10. Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22
  11. 1 Corinthians 14:29
  12. Revelation 2:2
  13. Acts 17:11
  14. 1 Thessalonians 5:21
  15. http://www.fulfilledprophecy.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=3400&p=37208
  16. 1 Corinthians 10:9
  17. http://www.science-frontiers.com/sf051/sf051p15.htm
  18. Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8
  19. John 14:9
  20. Romans 8:9-11, Galatians 4:6
  21. http://lubbockonline.com/stories/051100/sta_051100113.shtml
  22. Ephesians 4:30, Isaiah 63:10
  23. Romans 8:8
  24. 1 John 3:6
  25. 1 John 2:6
  26. Acts 13:22, 1 Samuel 13:14
  27. Acts 2:1
  28. Acts 1:13-14
  29. Acts 2:2-4
  30. Numbers 11:24-29
  31. A note on spiritual gifts: All believers are given at least one spiritual gift. The gift you were given was not given for your own benefit but for the benefit of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:7). Spiritual gifts are relational. They are meant to be used for others, either to help bring new believers into the church, or to make those who are already believers stronger in Christ. Don't use your gift on yourself—use it for others.
  32. Acts 2:5-13
  33. 1 Corinthians 14:23-25
  34. One important point in this chapter is that even those who believe in God need to hear about Jesus Christ and what He has done. Just believing in God, or being a religious or spiritual person, is not enough.
  35. Philippians 2:6-8, John 8:50, 14:7-9, Hebrews 5:5
  36. John 16:14
  37. Acts 2:14-20
  38. Luke 12:12
  39. Acts 10:45
  40. 1 Corinthians 14:22. This was especially significant since the Jews were 'sign-seekers' (John 4:48, 6:30, 20:25, 1 Corinthians 1:22).
  41. 2 Corinthians 5:7, John 20:29, Matthew 12:39, John 12:37
  42. Acts 2:21-36
  43. Acts 2:37-41
  44. John 16:8, Acts 11:15-18
  45. John 3:5, Titus 3:5
  46. Acts 2:42-47
  47. Matthew 7:15-24
  48. 2 Corinthians 3:1-4
  49. Luke 6:44
  50. Galatians 5:19-21
  51. Galatians 6:7-8
  52. John 15:4, Philippians 1:11

Thoughts On Our Future

How far back can you remember? Try to remember the time you were 3 months old. Hard, eh? I can’t remember when I was 3 years old, but that doesn’t mean I never was 3 years old. The fact that I am alive now proves that I was 3 at one time. I just can’t remember it. I can’t remember things that happened to me back then, and I can’t remember my overall attitude or “world-view”. But, it’s not important. Even if I could remember it all, I wouldn’t be spending my time dwelling on the past.

I can remember falling outside in the snow and knocking a tooth out when I was young. This was painful at the time, but because it is in the distant past, I don’t even think about it now. (Especially since it was a baby tooth that was going to fall out anyway!)

Our life right now is alot like our younger years. There’s alot of things that happen to us (and because of us) that we view as very important because it is happening right now. But when we get to heaven, almost all of the events that we thought so important are going to seem so trivial that they won’t even come to mind. Isaiah 65:17 says that the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. (See also 1 Corinthians 13:11-12)

Not that events now are unimportant. Much of what happened to me when I was 3 determined what I would be like today. If my parents did not feed me, clothe me, and take care of me, I probably wouldn’t be here. The past is important, because our future depends on our past. But we shouldn’t dwell on it because our past is just preparation for our future.

Revelation 21:4 says:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

– Revelation 21:4 (KJV)

God will wipe away the tears from our eyes because the past will be behind us (in an entirely new way). If this is how we, who have a future eternity in heaven, shall view this life when we get there, it should help us to view it better now – to not worry about the bad and painful things that happen to us. This can be hard, because just as we have a difficult time remembering what our past was like, when we were young we had no idea what today would be like. When I was young, I felt at times adulthood was so far in the future it would never come and so I didn’t think about it. But it came anyway.

(In contrast, those whose will spend eternity in hell, who did not think about their future but thought only about the present, will spend their time dwelling on the past. What else will there be for them? To forever remember that they had a chance for salvation, but they ignored it. Whether you give it any thought or not, your eternal future is steadily approaching. Are you prepared for it?)

What Determines Worth?

I had often wondered what made one painting worth more than another. Is it the name of the artist who painted it? Is it the quality or complexity of the work? Perhaps how old it is?

Recently a painting sold for $55 million dollars at Christie’s auction house. Picasso painted it in 1902. It portrays a plain-dressed woman sitting with her arms crossed, perhaps lost in thought. In my opinion, there’s nothing especially fantastic about this painting. I wouldn’t pay $20 for it. However, I am not an art expert. Obviously the new owner saw something in it that I didn’t.

When this painting was auctioned, the bidding was very intense. More than one person was willing to spend tens of millions of dollars for it. I don’t know what made them think this painting was worth that price, but I do know that the old adage is true: a painting is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it.

When someone wants to sell a painting, he doesn’t look up the Kelly Blue Book value and sell it to the first person who comes forth with the list price. No, instead he tries to sell it to the highest bidder. And once it is sold, the painting’s worth becomes the final selling price (assuming the buyer got what he paid for, and not a forgery). it’s a simple concept that governs the buying and selling of many things.

What determines your worth? Is it what you look like? What family you were born into? Your achievements? Your stock porfolio? Actually, it’s none of these things. Your worth is based on the same principle as that of a work of art. It is based on how much God paid for you:

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot…

– 1 Peter 1:18-19 (KJV)

God the Father thought enough of you to send His Son to die for you. As God in human flesh, Jesus’ life is of infinite value. When you accept Jesus’ death as the payment for your sin, your worth also becomes just as precious. Your value becomes bound with His. It has nothing to do with who you are. It has everything to do with who God is.

When Jesus Christ died for you, He redeemed (bought back) your life from an eternity in hell. We were God’s enemies, objects of His wrath. But even in this condition, Christ still died for us (Romans 5:8). We may unwittingly spend our money on forgeries, but you can be sure God knew what He paid for, …and yet He still thought us worth saving.

This is how you can know that God will never leave you or forsake you. The next time you have doubts as to your worth in God’s eyes, the next time you think He doesn’t care what happens to you, think of how much it cost Him to save you. Think of His investment. If you spent a million dollars on a painting, would you throw it away? Would you use it as a throw rug or a dart board? No, you would take care of it, otherwise it would be just as if you threw the million dollars away. Because we have been bought at so much greater a price, God will not mistreat us or abandon us. It may seem so at times when we go through great trials, but that’s just God’s way of improving us.

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;

– 2 Corinthians 4:17 (KJV)

There is great peace in knowing God is for us, that He considers valuable. If you are having a hard time accepting this, I suggested reading and meditating on the following passages:

Psalm 138:8, Philippians 1:6, Romans 8:28-39, Ephesians 2:4-10, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14

Remember, your worth does not depend on what you or others think of yourself. It depends on what God thinks of you.

Hearing His Voice

it’s amazing how God designed the human brain to be able to pick out individual voices in a crowd. There could be any number of people talking all at once in a crowded room and you could mentally focus on one conversation and then another without having to move around in the room or tilt your head to hear better. The brain uses the different characteristics of each voice to give it something to focus on. This makes for an interesting experiment (and powerful sermon illustration).

Suppose several people were in a room all speaking at once. The room is totally dark so you can’t see them. To make things worse, you don’t know any of these people. If I told you one of the voices was “John’s” voice and I asked you to tell me what he was saying, you would not be able to. He could be speaking just as clearly as the others but because you don’t know what his voice sounds like, you could not know for sure which voice is his. Your mind would focus on one voice, and then another, and maybe even John’s voice for a time. You could make a guess, but most probably it would be wrong.

However, if I introduced you to John and you had a short conversation with him, then you would be able to pick out his voice in a crowd because you would know what his voice sounds like. I could ask you what he is saying and with a little concentration, you would be able to tell me. Sure, it wouldn’t be as easy as hearing his voice alone, but you could do it. You wouldn’t mistake someone else’s voice for his.

The world is alot like that crowded dark room. There are alot of “conversations” going on at once: ideas, philosophies, and other distractions that make it hard to concentrate on God’s voice. What makes it harder is that many of those other voices are impersonating God. We see this in the news when someone says they committed some crime because God told them to.

Jesus said in John 10:

When he has put forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. But they will not follow a stranger, but will flee from him, because they know not the voice of strangers.

– John 10:4-5 (JND)

As Christians, we need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading, but we also need to be aware that the enemy is out there trying to lead us astray.

How do you know when God is speaking to you? You can’t unless you’re familiar with His voice. Now I’m not talking about some audiable quality. He doesn’t usually speak to people that way. I’m talking about the things He says. God is not going to tell you to do something that is contrary to what He has already spoken in the Bible. There is safety in knowing God, recognizing His voice, and following Him. We can’t do that unless we become familiar with His voice. To do that, spend time meditating on God’s word. Then you won’t be fooled by imposters.

For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

– 1 Corinthians 2:16 (KJV)

A Lesson From Trees

Trees amaze me. You can take two different kinds of trees, plant them in the same soil, give them the same water, fertilizer, and sunshine, and they’ll grow differently. Each has it’s own style of growth, bark, and leaves. And each produce different kinds of fruit. I don’t know how it works, but I do know God designed it that way.

For all the things that make trees amazing, each can naturally produce only one kind of fruit. That’s the trouble – you can’t rely on apple trees to produce bananas, or banana trees to produce watermelons.

However, the Bible talks about some trees that are unique. In Revelation, it mentions trees in heaven that produce 12 different kinds of fruit:

And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

– Revelation 22:1-2 (NAS)

Thinking about those trees, it occurred to me that they are similar to you and me. When we lived as the world, we were like earthly trees: we produced only one kind of fruit, and that was the corrupted kind that led to death. But now as believers, we can produce multiple kinds of good fruit, just like those heavenly trees. I counted at least twelve kinds in Galatians 5:22-23, Ephesians 5:9, and 2 Peter 1:6-7: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness, Self-control, Righteousness, Truth, and Godliness. These are the results of a healthy spiritual life.

I think it’s great that we can now bear spiritual fruit, the kind that lasts (John 15:16), but personally I tend to get satisfied with bearing just the easy ones. I know I need to work on the harder fruits, and produce them continually, too. We were saved to produce fruit for God (Romans 7:4), but how is this to be done?

The trees in Revelation hold the key to how we can produce them all. They were planted by a stream that ran down New Jerusalem’s “main street” from the throne of God. This recalls the psalm where it says:

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season,
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.

– Psalm 1:1-3 (NAS)

The heavenly trees flourish because they are constantly fed by the stream of living water that comes down from God’s throne. We are fed the same way. The stream of living water is God’s word.

How’s your fruit? Are you producing all you should? Are you producing any at all? If not, something is hindering growth and it needs to be corrected.

Producing fruit is not something you can work at yourself, on your own. The Holy Spirit produces the fruit. But you can improve the conditions for developing fruit by not walking in the way of the world, and by delighting in and meditating on God’s word continually (“day and night”). Maybe you can’t read and study the Bible at any hour of the day, but you can meditate on what you’ve read at work, on the road, and lying in bed. You can share what you’ve learned with other believers. You can practice what you’ve learned, which leads to deeper understanding. This is making the ground good, which Jesus said will produce fruit many times more than that sown (Matthew 13:23). So if you want to produce more fruit, work on improving the soil, and don’t leave the stream!

Modern Christian Folklore

Many well-meaning believers, in an attempt to “prove” the truth of Christianity, will make use of what I call “Christian folklore”. This is second-hand evidence that usually either disproves evolution, or proves creation. The problem is that upon investigation, the evidence evaporates – it is found to be non-existant. While bad evidence doesn’t disprove the truth, it sure does seem that way to the sceptic. False evidence usually does more harm than good.

An example: Many Christians (and even some non-Christians) believe men have one less rib than women, because God took a rib from Adam to make Eve. But this is not true. Men have the same number of ribs as women. Just because God took a rib from Adam doesn’t mean all of his male offspring had one less rib. The physical characteristics of children are determined by genetics, not physical differences of the parents. The children of a one-armed man will still will have two arms.

Another example of false evidence has to do with the lost day of Joshua (Joshua 10:12-13). This is an account of when the sun stood still for about a day. Many of us have heard that space program scientists somehow proved the lost day occurred through their calculations. The problem with using this as an argument for the reliability of the Bible is that these calculations don’t exist. In fact, there is no known way to calculate if a day was lost. There is other evidence that the lost day occurred, but by using false evidence (i.e. rumor) to attempt to prove what is true, we run the risk of making the truth seem like a lie when the evidence is discovered to be untrue.

We need to be very careful with what evidence we use to defend what we believe. Scientific evidence must be personally thoroughly investigated and proved reliable before it is used. It is better not to use scientific evidence if we cannot prove the reliability of the evidence ourselves.

We are called to be witnesses. In order to be a witness, one must be personally acquaint with the facts. This is one of the reasons that the apostles’ message was so convincing: they were witnesses of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (John 15:27, Acts 2:32, 5:32, 2 Peter 1:16).

The most important evidence we can give for the truth of Christianity is our testimony of what God has done in our lives. This should be evident not only through our words, but our actions and our very lives. This is the best evidence we can present because we are personally acquainted with it. We know what we were like before we were saved, we know what God did to save us and we can see the results in our lives.

Scientific evidence for the reliability of the Bible abounds, and there’s nothing wrong with using it when witnessing to an unbeliever, as long as we know it’s accurate. But the most important evidence is our testimony. Let’s tell the world what we do know!

Uncertain Situations

Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. ..

– Acts 16:16-40 (NIV)

Paul and Silas were in Philippi, and a girl with a demonic spirit (a spirit of ‘Python’) followed them around town saying that they were of God and were proclaiming a way to be saved. That they let her do this for days makes me wonder if they were weighing the advantages and disadvantages of this free advertising. The girl was proclaiming that Paul and Silas were teaching a way of salvation. Maybe someone who wouldn’t pay attention to a couple of Jews would listen to her. But Paul didn’t feel right about this. Even though she was saying this, she was still lost herself. Finally after many days he became so troubled that he cast the demon from her. For this, both he and Silas were beaten and thrown in jail.

If I were in Paul’s situation, I wonder what I would have done. Let the girl do her prophecying? it’s free advertising and everybody’s happy. Paul and Silas could declare the gospel message unhindered as long as they left the girl as she was. Or maybe, cast the demon out, but before getting beaten, declare my Roman citizenship so I can save my hide. (Paul did elsewhere in Acts 22:25-29.)

There’s alot of things that happened in this situation that could cause alot of mental uncertainty, but I’m sure Paul and Silas were convinced they did the right thing – even when they allowed themselves to be beaten. Their worship in the prison shows no hint of doubt that this was part of God’s plan. In fact, when you compare the situation before and after, you see some unlikely contrasts.

Before Paul rescued the girl, things on the surface appeared to be going smoothly, but Paul’s spirit was troubled. Afterwards, it looked like Paul and Silas’s situation suddenly took a turn for the worse. They were stripped, beaten severely and thrown in prison with their feet in stocks. But Paul’s troubled spirit was gone. He was at peace and, with Silas, starting singing praises to God. How many of us would have thought this an ideal place for a pity party? How many of us would have questioned the wisdom of doing the right thing?

Because Paul and Silas did what was right when they had plenty of reasons not to, God gave them peace and used the situation for good. Eventually, even the jailer, his household, and quite possibly many or most of the prisoners came to believe in Jesus.

How many of us are distressed because we put off doing what is right? We settle for something that looks right in men’s eyes instead of what is right in God’s eyes. There is no peace in that. Do the right thing, regardless of what you think or know the outcome will be. We get God’s help when we do right. And God is glorified.

Removing Barriers

For this reason he {Jesus} had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

– Hebrews 2:17-18 (NIV)

As the supreme example of becoming approachable, Jesus came to earth in human form and experienced life on the same level as the rest of us. Our Lord and God become one of us. Although this is hard enough to believe, the way in which Jesus chose to live among us is even more amazing. We would expect God to come with all the pomp of a king. This is what the Jews were expecting of their messiah. But he didn’t. Jesus didn’t come as a king, a priest, or in the form of any other “important” person.

Instead, Jesus came as a commoner. He laid aside his riches and became poor (2 Corinthians 8:9), like the majority of the world. He who was equal with God came as a servant obedient to the point of death (Philippians 2:7-8). Jesus took on the nature of a commoner because that was how he could minister most effectively to commoners.

Read through the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus and one thing will catch your attention. Where ever Jesus went, people followed. They would freely come to him with their problems, knowing he would hear them and help them. He did not look down on them as unworthy of his attention. Would this kind of life have been possible if Jesus came as a king or priest?

This should be an example for us, in how we are to relate to others. Just as Jesus bridged the gap between God and man by becoming like us, we need to try to eliminate, as much as possible, the differences between us and the ones we come in contact with, so we can witness and minister effectively to them. After all, the difference between the most righteous and the most evil among men is miniscule compared to the difference between God and man.

Paul put this to practice in his ministry. He made himself a servant of all so he could win as many as possible to Christ. With the Jews, he acted jewish. With gentiles, he acted “gentile-ish”. With the weak, he became weak (refering, I believe, to refraining from exercising his freedom in Christ if it would hurt someone whose faith was weak). Paul did not build walls around himself. He left the elite Pharisees, those whose attitude separated them from many of even their own countrymen, and went to minister and fellowship with gentiles, the “unclean”. He did this because spreading the gospel message was more important than maintaining a good reputation with the folks back home.

We Christians are not to keep our influence locked away behind church doors. Follow Jesus’ example. He was a friend of sinners, even though He did not act like them. He was righteous, yet his ministry was not to the “righteous” but to sinners. Jesus came into the world and was very much “in the world”, but he was not of it. Let us follow his example.

Small Towns

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are.

– 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 (NAS)

God is no respecter of persons. We know this as it relates to God’s judgement and His love, but it also applies to who He uses to do His will.

God choose David to be king of Israel. David did not come from a royal line of descendants. He was a shepherd and the youngest of eight sons. He came from a small town, one of many small towns. But David had a heart for God and God used him to accomplish His will.

Don’t think that because you do not have any formal theological training, or you don’t come from a line of great preachers that God can’t use you in a great way. All that is required is a heart for God and a willingness to do His will. It doesn’t even matter where you’re from.

I live in a small town out in the middle of nowhere, but I don’t think this is a dead-end location. Many of the great men and women of God have come from small towns. Amy Carmichael, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Charles Spurgeon, and Billy Graham all came from small towns and villages. Jesus even grew up in the small town of Nazareth (John 1:26). Considering the number of people who live in the cities, it seems God uses a disproportionate number of people from small towns to reach large numbers of people.

Why does God use “nobodies”? I think it is because they were willing to be used, and they prepared themselves beforehand with the expectation they would be used. They did not necessarily know what God had planned for them. (In some cases their ideas about how God would use them were completely different than how they were eventually used.) But they prepared themselves anyway. They did not study the scripture and pray just for the benefit of themselves but so that God could use them to help others. They also did what they knew God wanted them to do right where they were at the time. This is what you and I need to do.

Do you ever wonder what God has planned for your life? You may not know, but that does not matter if you are preparing yourself to be led by God. How do you do that? The answer is in Romans:

I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

– Romans 12:1-2 (NAS)

We must become devoted to God’s service now. By living for God in the present and by the renewing of our minds now through meditation on the scripture and communion with God through prayer, God will prepare us for whatever He has planned in our future. Don’t expect to know God’s will or to be be used by Him in the future unless you prepare yourself to be used and do His will in the present.