In our society today, there are three topics that you should never raise with people.
We all know what those topics are
- sex, religion and politics.
If we do raise these issues with anyone, chances are that we'll end up in an argument.
Being the nice Australians we are,
rather than trying to work through these issues in a mature way,
we simply ignore them.
In our society today, keeping our opinions to ourselves is a virtue.
Unfortunately the same problem assails the
Divisions abound between denominations, churches and individual Christians.
Some of these issues are frivolous,
but some are very important.
There are at least three areas of Biblical teaching that Christians today try to ignore
- The first of these areas is the issue of Predestination
- did we choose God or did God choose us?
The second of these areas is the issue of the return of Jesus
- will Jesus return before the so called millennium starts?
or will he return after it?
or is the whole issue a mistranslation of scripture?
The third area of Biblical teaching concerns the person and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Such are the passions aroused by both sides of the argument that it is easily the most divisive issue in the Christian church today.
And, being the typical Australians we are, we have managed to settle the issue in two unhelpful ways.
The first unhelpful way is that people with one view of the Holy Spirit go to certain churches
while people who disagree with them go to other churches,
which simply means that the issue is not dealt with because both parties are ignoring each other.
This is a rather ironic situation
- to be divided over the Holy Spirit,
whose role it is to unify and bind Christians together.
The second unhelpful way we Australians deal with this issue is by assuming that God's Spirit works in many different and varied ways
- he speaks through the Bible in one Church,
he speaks through a prophet in other,
he speaks through the process of worship in other church,
and he speaks through a specially anointed priest or pastor in another church.
The unhelpful thing about this is that this sort of attitude is more related to the modern theory of relativism
- which basically states that something is true if a person believes in it.
A time may come in the future when a so called Christian leader will proclaim that the Holy Spirit can also work through Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism.
Now let me stop waffling and speak plainly.
The church that we belong to is an evangelical church,
and we have one view of the Holy Spirit.
Charismatic and Pentecostal churches have another view of the Holy Spirit.
The two views do not match
- there is a great deal of disagreement between Evangelical Christians and Charismatic Christians.
Yet can God's Spirit work through both?
Of course he can
- but that doesn't mean both are equally right.
In this passage from 1 John, I will be examining three very important things that the Holy Spirit does in the lives of all believers.
It is a teaching that all Christians should take note of
because if we are to understand the power and the presence of God's Holy Spirit then we are to listen to what he actually says on the subject.
After all, the Bible is written by the Holy Spirit,
so anything he says here has to be correct.
Naturally I will be criticizing the practice of various churches, a
nd naturally the Charismatic and Pentecostal churches will be in my sights because I am an evangelical.
But I will also be criticizing Evangelical churches as well for their failure to understand and apply the Bible's teaching of the Holy Spirit.
So I will try to be fair.
1. The Spirit of Truth (4.13-16a)
Let me read to you again verses 13-16 of 1 John 4:
We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
The first point I want to make is titled the "Spirit of Truth".
The first thing that John wants us to know is that we can know we are Christians,
we can know if we are united with the Father,
because we have the Holy Spirit.
Now this is not a complete answer.
After all, how can we know if we have the Holy Spirit?
John gives us the answer in these verses
- we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.
What John is saying here is that a person's spiritual state can be determined by the content of their belief.
If you acknowledge that Jesus is the saviour of the world and that he is the Son of God,
then, according to John, you must therefore have the Holy Spirit.
And if you have the Holy Spirit, then you must be a Christian.
What do we learn about the work of the Holy Spirit here?
We learn that it is the Spirit's job to inform the Christian about the truth of Christ,
and the truth of salvation.
As John says here "God is in him"
- that refers to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
There are a number of important things we need to look at regarding the Spirit's work in the believer.
One of my favourite verses is Ephesians 6.17 which says that "the Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God".
Another favourite is 2 Timothy 3.16 which says that "all scripture is God breathed",
breathe and breath are the same Greek words used for Spirit.
The Apostles were able to remember Jesus' teaching and record them in writing because the Holy Spirit worked through them.
Much of the New Testament was written by the Apostles,
and thus by the Holy Spirit.
In the Bible we find the information about who Jesus was
and what he came to do on the cross.
But this is not merely information,
it is life giving knowledge.
By itself the words in the Bible can do nothing b
ecause the hearts of men and women are set against God and are steeped in sin.
Yet the Spirit uses these words
and works in the hearts of those who hear them.
Now let me say something controversial.
The Holy Spirit cannot work without the Bible.
God's Spirit can only act in conjunction with God's Word.
How do we know this?
The teaching we find in the Bible backs this up
- Again Ephesians 6.17 says that the Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.
Hebrews 4.12 says that the Word of God is living and active.
God's Spirit cannot work outside of God's word.
The two go together
- they are not the same, but they are permanently and powerfully linked.
All this goes back to these verses we read here in 1 John.
We can know that God lives in us because we have his Spirit.
And we can know that we have his Spirit because we understand the Apostle's message about Christ
- that he is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world.
And we can know that we have the Apostle's message about Christ because the Spirit has preserved it in the scriptures.
One way to find out if a church or an individual has the Holy Spirit is to test the content of their belief.
Now this may seem harsh and judgemental,
but if the Holy Spirit is working in a church or an individual then we have to assume that the content of their belief is biblical.
You may have heard of a man named Benny Hinn.
Benny Hinn is one of the most well known preachers in the charismatic and pentecostal world today.
His ministry pulls in millions of dollars of donations from all over the world,
and you can see him early on Sunday mornings on Prime, I think.
About ten years ago, Hinn wrote a best-selling book called "Good morning Holy Spirit",
this book established Hinn as a powerful voice within the Christian world.
Unfortunately, research into his ministry has produced quite a number of question marks as to his truthfulness.
Despite his amazing claims, no independent research has found evidence of divine healings.
During public meetings he would often "throw" the Holy Spirit like a baseball at people who would then fall over in response.
Perhaps the most serious issue that I have discovered is that Hinn does not believe in the Trinity as the Bible teaches it
- he believes that there are nine persons in the divine Godhead, not three.
The only conclusion we can come to is that the spirit that works in and through Benny Hinn is not the Holy Spirit
- it is the spirit of the Antichrist.
If Benny Hinn truly had the Holy Spirit his teaching would reflect the Bible's testimony, not contradict it.
But Benny Hinn is just the tip of the iceberg.
I've been to a number of meetings at Charismatic and Pentecostal churches,
as well as mingling with them in other places like conferences and Christian schools.
The only thing I can say about their standard of Bible teaching is that it is generally abysmal.
Preachers rarely expound texts from the Bible,
and when they do they mutilate them so badly that they come up with meanings and applications that are not found in scripture.
1 Thessalonians 5.19 says that we should not put out the Spirit's fire.
Older translations tell us not to quench the Spirit.
How do we quench the Spirit?
How do we prevent the Spirit's work in our lives and in our churches?
How do we miss out on the power of the Holy Spirit?
We can do so by keeping the Bible closed,
or by mutilating its meaning and thus robbing it of its power.
But while the standard of Bible teaching may be pretty bad in charismatic and pentecostal churches, you can probably argue successfully that its pretty bad generally.
Evangelical churches are not immune to bad preaching,
and I have experienced this in a few churches.
The same principle applies
- when the Bible remains unopened or when its meaning is mutilated, the Spirit's power is quenched.
This rule applies to all churches.
So let me just summarise what the Holy Spirit does regarding the content of our faith:
If we believe that God has sent his Son to be the saviour of the world and acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God
then it is because we have the Holy Spirit in us.
We know these things because we have the Spirit-inspired word of God to teach us.
2. The Spirit of Confidence (4.16b-18)
So the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Truth.
But he is also the Spirit of confidence.
Let me read to you verses 16-18:
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
By themselves, these verses can be quite confusing.
In fact it is quite possible that preachers who mutilate bible texts would misunderstand and misapply these verses.
Allow me to mutilate these verses for you,
and please understand that what I am about to teach you is wrong:
There is no fear in love.
That's what the Bible says.
Do you fear anything?
Do you fear for your family, for your finances?
Well, you shouldn't.
Fear has no place in the Christian life.
John says that the one who fears is not made perfect in love.
If you're here this morning and you have fear in your life then you are a pathetic Christian.
"But Neil", you cry "How can we not fear? Teach us how to live a life without fear!"
Jesus says that if we have faith as small as a mustard seed we can move mountains.
Whenever Satan puts fear into my heart, I turn to him and laugh and say "God has given me the power to overcome these obstacles. By the blood of Jesus I say to you Satan begone!"
And you know what happens?
The fear goes.
"But Neil" I hear you say "surely it is okay to be afraid of some things in life isn't it?"
If you say that then get behind me Satan!
John says that fear has to do with punishment, he says this here in verse 18!
If you fear then you suffer the consequences of not trusting God fully.
The punishment for fear is living a pathetic Christian life,
and not being what God wants you to be.
Okay, false teaching over.
What I've just done is show you how a text of the Bible can be mutilated and turned against its meaning.
The preacher who preaches that sort of message from this text is not being led by the Spirit of Christ.
So what do these verses mean?
Notice that John says in verse 16 that God lives in those who love him
- again this is a reference to the Holy Spirit.
Then in verse 17 he says that God's love is made complete in us so that we will have confidence.
Confidence on the day of Judgement.
Why do we have this confidence?
Because, as it says in verse 17, in this world we are like him.
In other words, what John is saying is that those who have the Holy Spirit
- those who have acknowledged that Jesus is the Son of God and was sent by the Father as the saviour of the world
- those who now live in love for God
- those who have the Holy Spirit no longer fear the day of Judgement.
Rather, we have confidence.
When John says in verse 18 that "There is no fear in love", and "Perfect love drives out fear" he is not talking about our love for God, but God's love for us.
When we become a Christian,
when we are sealed with the Holy Spirit,
his love for us drives out the fear we have that God will somehow punish us on the day of judgement.
Christians therefore do not fear God's judgement and punishment because we will never be punished by him.
On the other hand, those who do not have the Holy Spirit
- those who are not Christians
- do fear the judgement and punishment of God.
John says in verse 18 that "The one who fears is not made perfect in love"
- in other words, if a person does not have the Holy Spirit then they are not a Christian.
And if they are not a Christian then they do not benefit from God's saving grace.
On the day of judgement these people have the greatest fear of all
- that God will punish them for their sins.
If a person is a Christian then they have complete and total assurance of their salvation.
They do not fear God's judgement.
They do not fear death and hell.
In a previous sermon I spoke about whether a person can truly be a Christian without assurance.
I'll quickly re-hash what I said then.
A Christian who loses assurance temporarily does not lose their salvation.
All sorts of things can affect a person's feelings and beliefs
- depression, mental illness, stress, suffering and so on.
Yet these things are temporary.
A temporary loss of assurance is not a problem.
But a person who claims to be a Christian but is permanently confused about their salvation cannot be a Christian.
Why? Because assurance is a normal part of Christian experience.
We can know for sure that we are saved.
If we continually doubt our standing before God then we cannot be a Christian.
As John says, "The one who fears is not made perfect in love"
- the one who fears God's judgement has not been made perfect by God's saving grace.
Churches which do not expound and teach the Spirit inspired word of God are prone to getting the gospel of salvation wrong in many parts.
If a church obscures the gospel of grace
- either intentionally or unintentionally
- then the church becomes weak and confused and sick.
I stated before that I believe that the standard of biblical teaching in Charismatic and Pentecostal churches is abysmal.
I have to qualify that statement because I don't wish to be seen to judge too harshly.
The statement was a generalisation
- it is true in a broad sense but there will always be exceptions to the rule.
So generally speaking I would have to say that the Bible is taught very badly within Charismatic and Pentecostal churches.
What will the result of this bad teaching be?
Apart from the failure to discern false teachers and false teaching,
like Benny Hinn, Marilyn Hickey, Kenneth Copeland and others,
what will inevitably happen is that the gospel of grace will lose its focus.
The result of this will be a faith based not on what God has done,
but upon what we do
- something which I think is already taking place through the influence of modern worship practice.
But the eventual result will be one in which people lose their assurance of salvation
- a process which obviously indicates a lack of saving faith.
But let's turn the spotlight of God's word back on ourselves.
I see this process happening amongst many pentecostal and charismatic churches,
but I also see it happening amongst so called evangelical churches as well.
Any church that ignores the gospel and clear biblical teaching will eventually collapse.
The Presbyterian church of Australia is still suffering today because of generations of poor teaching.
Far too many Baptist churches in Australia are not being fed from God's word by their pastors
- a situation that, unless checked, will eventually result in unbelief.
Evangelicals within the Uniting church are fighting a losing battle because of a loss of confidence in the Bible and the gospel that has infected the church and is killing it slowly.
Even the great Sydney Anglicans are guilty of placing more emphasis upon works than upon grace in some areas,
and alienate people because they do not fit in to their particular mould
- and as a former Sydney Anglican I can attest to this.
When the Holy Spirit works, he is able to give us confidence that we are saved
- that we are no longer under God's judgement,
but the recipients of God's love and grace.
God's perfect love for us covers over all our sins.
The Heidelberg Catechism, written in 1563, contains one of the most heart warming statements ever written in the Christian church.
Let me read to you this statement:
How are you right with God?
Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.
Even though my conscience accuse me
of having grievously sinned against all God's commandments
and of never having kept any of them,
and even though I am still inclined toward all evil,
without my deserving it at all,
out of sheer grace
God grants and credits to me
the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ,
as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner,
as if I had been perfectly obedient
as Christ was obedient for me.
All I need to do
is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart.
3. The Spirit of Love (4.19-21)
The Spirit is the Spirit who brings us the truth and he is the Spirit that brings us confidence and assurance.
He is also the Spirit that produces love in our hearts
- and that is my third point today, the Spirit of love.
Let me read to you again verses 19-21:
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says "I love God", yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Love is one of John's main themes in this book,
and I've been up here so often talking about it I feel like a broken record.
What I haven't talked about yet is the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the love we have for others.
John starts off by saying "we love because he first loved us".
In the context of this passage, however, we need to remember that John links God's love for us with the fact that God lives in us
- which of course means the Holy Spirit.
In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit
- the natural result of the Holy Spirit living in people.
What is the first fruit he mentions?
I need to point out that there is a difference between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Now is not the time to delve into the controversial and time consuming area of Spiritual gifts,
but I will say that the gifts of the Spirit are apportioned differently amongst the church by the Holy Spirit,
and exist for the building up and benefit of the church.
But the gifts are not all available to everyone
- the gifts are only available to those whom the Holy Spirit chooses to give.
The fruit of the Spirit, however, is a universal application of the Spirit's work.
What we see in Galatians 5 about the fruit of the Spirit is something which applies to everyone in the church.
All Christians have the Holy Spirit,
therefore all Christians should manifest the fruit of the Spirit.
Love is one of the fruits of the Spirit,
If we were to apply scientific rules to this situation, then this is what we'd find.
A person claims to be Christian.
Do they display of love for others?
If they do not, then we can logically conclude that they are not a Christian.
What if they do love others?
All that indicates is that they may be Christians
- because, after all, love is not something unique to the Christian faith.
Further tests are required to determine a person's faith.
I have been told by friends that Christians in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches do display a genuine love for one another.
This may be their experience, but not mine.
On the contrary, I have experienced a total lack of love from people who are from these backgrounds.
But I also admit that many evangelicals also do show a lack of love.
So all we can do is assume that the problem is not limited to one or the other.
But we also should be wary of having love defined by not promoting disagreement.
I have made some very serious comments today about Pentecostal and Charismatic churches.
Why do I make these comments?
Is it because of my lack of love for them?
Of course not.
I love the universal church and I think the most loving thing to do is to teach what the Spirit-inspired word of God is saying.
If this means I have to rebuke or correct someone then so be it
- I expect the same rule to be applied to me,
and I command you in the name of God to correct and rebuke me if I diverge from God's truth and standard of behaviour.
It may not be pleasant, but it is necessary.
The most unloving thing we can do to others and to God is to ignore God's word.
Our relationship with God,
our Spiritual life,
is dependent upon the Spirit-inspired word - the Bible.
By ignoring the Bible and its teaching we fail in our love for God and for others.
Let me finish up.
All Christians have the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of God has been given to us as a seal of our salvation.
His presence in us convinces us that Jesus is the Son of God,
and was sent by the Father as the saviour of the world.
His presence in us proves that we are saved,
and gives us the confidence that we will not be punished by God.
His presence in us enables us to love God and each other.
The great tragedy of the charismatic and pentecostal movement is
that by focusing upon the work of the Holy Spirit and ignoring the Bible,
they quench the Spirit and allow the devil a foothold.
The great tragedy of the evangelical church is
that they too often place their trust in human works
rather than in the work of the Spirit.
If the church is to be unified then it will only be unified when Christians everywhere turn to the Bible,
and are cut to the heart by the double edged sword of the word of God,
the sword of God's Spirit.
If we are to grow stronger in our faith,
then we must be fully aware that Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to be the saviour of the world.
This is not the entry point for Christianity,
it is the every point of Christianity.
It is not the ticket to the grand final,
it is the grand final itself.
It is the foundation of our salvation,
it is the foundation of our assurance
and it is the foundation that is built upon when we love God and others.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your Holy Spirit. Thank you that you have sent him to us to guide us, to teach us, to comfort us and to rebuke us. Help us to read your word, and help us to understand it and apply it by the power of your Spirit. Thank you that his presence in us signifies our salvation and our assurance, and that our confidence is not misplaced. Thank you that the Spirit within us spurs us on towards love for you and for one another, and we ask that your Spirit constantly remind us of when we fail to love properly. We pray for the church throughout this world, that your Spirit may work through the proclamation of your word. We pray for churches that are ignoring the Bible or who are teaching wrong things from it - that you may rebuke them and lead them into truth. We pray that you will bring forth preachers and teachers throughout the church who are committed to expounding your word, and we pray that you work through them despite their shortcomings and sins, that your church may grow and prosper. Amen.
From the Kerygmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.