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Set Your Heart Upon Your Ways (Haggai 1)

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After many long years in exile, a remnant of the Jewish people returned to Israel eager to resume life in the promised land. Their first order of business? To rebuild the Temple of the Lord. But after nearly twenty years, the Temple still lay in ruins and the people had entered a period of despair and decline. At that time, the prophet Haggai stepped onto the scene with a surprising message that re-centered the people's priorities. Nearly 2500 years later, Haggai's first sermon remains just as fresh in an age of misplaced priorities and endless busyness.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Discipleship, Spiritual Life

Lesson 8: The Study of the Holy Spirit

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You might as well try to hear without ears or breathe without lungs, as try to live a Christian life without the Spirit of God in your heart. ― D. L. Moody

Introduction

Someone once articulated that the average church member’s understanding of the Holy Spirit is so vague it is nearly non-existent. Imagine a conversation with a Jehovah witness (JW); it might go something like this. JW: The word Trinity never appears in the Bible and is a myth. Christian: While you are correct that the word Trinity itself never occurs in the Bible the Bible teaches that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separate persons but one God. JW: The Holy Spirit is merely God’s “active force”1 kind of like electricity but not a separate person. Christian: Really! I am not sure; that doesn’t sound right. I will have to get back to you on that.

Whether we know it or like it or not non-trininitarian groups are confronting Christians with such issues like this every day in person and in writings posted on the internet. A Unitarian website tries to convincingly offer thirty four “biblical” and historical reasons why the Holy Spirit is not a person.2

The study of the Holy Spirit in theological terminology is called pneumatology. The study of the Holy Spirit raises certain basic questions. Who is the Holy Spirit? What is the biblical evidence for the personhood of the Spirit? What did the Holy Spirit do in regard to creation and revelation? What is the Holy Spirit’s role in a person’s conversion and sanctification? What about spiritual gifts? These are some of the issues that this lesson is going to cover.

The Personhood and Deity of the Spirit

First things first. The Holy Spirit is a member of the Trinity and as such is a person. The Spirit has attributes that only a person could have. He has intelligence (1 Cor 2:10-13), feelings (Eph 4:30), and a will (1 Cor 12:11; Acts 16:6-12). He prays (Rom 8:26). He does miracles (Acts 8:39). He can be lied to (Acts 5:3). He can be insulted (Heb 10:29). He teaches and directs (John 14:26; Acts 8:29; Rom 8:14). Let’s look at two of these examples. In 1 Cor 12:11 Paul describes the Holy’s Spirit’s role in distributing spiritual gifts: “It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things” (1 Cor 12:11). Here the Holy Spirit is seen “deciding” what gifts to gift to each person. In other words, the Holy Spirit has a will, which is one characteristic of a person. In Acts 5:3 the Holy Spirit is directly equated with God. Here in the early formation of the church Peter is rebuking two individuals who state that they had given more than they actually had: “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back for yourself part of the proceeds from the sale of the land? Before it was sold, did it not belong to you? And when it was sold, was the money not at your disposal? How have you thought up this deed in your heart? You have not lied to people but to God!’” (Acts 5:3-4). Notice two aspects about these verses. The first is that the Holy Spirit is lied to. This means that the Holy Spirit is personal. You cannot lie to a table or to electricity because it is not a person. The second aspect is that lying to the Holy Spirit is equated with lying to God. This means that the Holy Spirit is God.

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament: Creation, Revelation and Filling

In the very first verses of the Bible the Holy Spirit is seen as involved in the creation of the universe. There we read: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water” (Gen 1:1-2). In another place Elihu says to Job: The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life (Job 33:4 cf. Gen 2:7). In fact the Hebrew word for “spirit” (ruach) can also be translated as breath or wind. The same is true in Greek (pneuma) in the Greek Old Testament and Greek New Testament. The significance of this is that breath is what gives life to a body.

In regard to the revelation of God’s word the Holy Spirit also has a role. In citing Psalm 2 Peter and John state “Master, who said by the Holy Spirit through your servant David our forefather, ‘Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot foolish things” (Acts 4:25). Here the Psalm is said to be by the Holy Spirit though David. The human author David is described as the intermediate source of the message while the Holy Spirit is the source that channeled it to him. In citing Psalm 95, similarly the author of Hebrews states, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks! (Heb 3:7). In this passage even though the Psalmist writes the message the Holy Spirit “says” it.

In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit filled individuals for various kinds of service and in some cases this filling is explicitly seen as temporary. A good example of the temporary nature of the filling of the Spirit in the Old Testament occurred in the life of Israel’s first king, Saul. The record of it starts in the book of First Samuel: “Then the spirit of God rushed upon Saul and he prophesied among them” (1 Sam10:9). But later after Saul’s disobedience to God the Spirit of God departed from him: “Now the Spirit of the Lord had turned away from [departed] Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him” (1 Sam 16:14). Apparently, the next King of Israel, David, learned from Saul’s example. After David’s sin of adultery (and murder) with Bathsheba he recorded a prayer found in Psalm 51, “Do not reject me! Do not take your Holy Spirit away from me” (Ps 51:11). David did not want what happened to Saul happen to him. However, a temporary filling of the Spirit seen in the Old Testament era should not be confused with the baptism of the Spirit in the church age (Acts 2). This baptism is a permanent act of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. So Christians can be assured that the Holy Spirit will not be taken from them (cf. Eph 1:13-14).

The Work of the Holy Spirit in regard to Man’s Salvation

The Bible also describes the Holy Spirit as very active in man’s salvation. In fact, the Spirit is indispensable for anyone to be saved. His work can be divided into three general categories of activity: his pre-conversion work, conversion work and post-conversion work.

The Pre-Conversion Work of the Holy Spirit

Prior to anyone placing his or her faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is involved in setting the conditions that allow for someone’s faith response to the gospel. One of these roles is the convicting of sin and truth. John states, “And He (The Helper = Holy Spirit), when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16:8-10; NASB). One could supplement this idea with the concept that the Holy Spirit speaks to individuals though the preaching of the gospel. Paul writes to the Thessalonians “our gospel did not come to you merely in words, but in power and in the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 1:5).3

The Conversion Work of the Holy Spirit

Regeneration may be defined as “the impartation of new life” or “the washing of the new birth.” This washing and new life is accomplished by the Holy Spirit. The primary verse that supports this is from Paul’s letter to Titus. He states, “He [God] saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). While some theologians place regeneration prior to faith which results in conversion, it’s probably better to see regeneration as equated to conversion itself. In Acts Peter states, "Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Here, the gift of the Holy Spirit is conditioned upon repentance in relation to the gospel preaching of Peter.

Upon conversion the believer in Jesus Christ is said to be baptized into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. This baptism is a one time event in which metaphorically speaking Christ becomes our head and we are joined with believers as fellow members of the body. Paul states, “For in [or by] one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13). This baptism forms our union with Christ and with fellow believers. Related to the baptism of the Spirit is the indwelling of the Spirit. Upon and after conversion, the Holy Spirit indwells the life of the believer. Paul reminds the Corinthian church, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16). In the book of Romans Paul adds, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him” (Rom 8:9). One could say that the indwelling Spirit is the definition of a Christian.

Believers, who are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, are also sealed with the Holy Spirit. Paul writes, “And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation) – when you believed in Christ – you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:13-14). Sealing communicates God’s mark of permanent ownership on us. The Holy Spirit is also described in these verses as a pledge or down payment that insures that God will complete his salvific work in us.

Spiritual Gifts

Lastly, every person who has been born again receives a spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit. Paul writes: “Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. . . . To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all” (1 Cor 12:4, 7). This leads us to the very large topic of spiritual gifts and their use in the life of a believer. In some cases unfortunately this is a topic comes with a lot of questions and even controversy. Lists of spiritual gifts occur in Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. The gifts are listed in the order in which they are given.

Romans 12

1 Corinthians

Ephesians 4

Prophecy

apostle

 

apostle

Service

prophet

 

prophet

Teaching

teacher

evangelist

Exhortation

miracles

pastor

Contributing

gifts of healing

teacher4

Leadership

helps

 

Mercy

gifts of leadership

 

 

different kinds of tongues

 

 

message of wisdom

 

 

message of knowledge

 

 

faith

 

 

interpretation of tongues

 

 

discernment of spirits

 

We can begin the process of studying spiritual gifts by describing points of clarity and agreement from 1 Corinthians 12-14. The first point is that each Christian has at least one spiritual gift (1 Cor 12:7). It’s not that some Christians have gifts and some don’t. Second, it’s the Holy Spirit who decides what gift(s) he gives to each person. We may want to have one gift or another but it’s the Holy Spirit who decides on the distribution (1 Cor 12:7-9). It’s not what we want but rather what he wants. Thirdly, gifts are to be used for the “benefit of all” (1 Cor 12:7). Gifts are not given primarily for the benefit of the gift holder but rather as a ministry for others. Spiritual gifts are not to be self-focused but rather others focused. Fourthly, not all people have the same gift. This is Paul’s point at the end of 1 Cor 12 where he asks a series of questions where the expected answer is no.5 For example, “Not all speak in tongues do they?” The answer is that no not all have the gift of tongues. Lastly, gifts are to be exercised in love. As Paul states, exercising gifts without love is like an annoyance of banging gongs or symbols (1 Cor 13:1).

Most evangelical Christians are at least somewhat aware that there are questions and points of difference and disagreement regarding spiritual gifts. For example, is God giving all gifts today, such as the gift of apostleship, prophecy, tongues, or healing? The gifts of apostleship and prophecy are foundational to the church and on which the church is built. Paul writes regarding the church “you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.” (Eph 2:20; cf. Heb 2:3-4). One criteria of apostle in the early church is that the person saw the resurrected Jesus (Acts 1:22; 1 Cor 9:1). Unless Christ made a special appearance as he did to Paul on the road to Damascus this criteria would not be replicable today. There is no explicitly clear statement that some gifts have ceased but one must also compare the claim of possessing a certain gift with Scripture. What is the nature of the gift in the Bible? What is its purpose? How did or does it function? Comparing claims of how the various gifts operate with the Scripture itself is the best way to determine a claim’s validity or lack thereof. God can give any gift anywhere at anytime but the question to consider now is, “Is he giving all gifts today?” To answer this question, we need to compare the claim closely with the Scripture. Lastly, for most evangelicals even if one does not hold to all the gifts functioning today this does not rule out God doing miracles directly such as healing in response to prayer (James 5:13-18). My own view though is to be very cautious about accepting claims of apostleship or prophet or other “sign” or “revelatory” gifts. These were gifts of authority, infallible prediction, miracles/signs, and revelation that God used in the founding of the church.

The Post-Conversion Work of the Holy Spirit

What is the role of the Holy Spirit following conversion? The filling, empowering and guiding of the believer is included in this part of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. While the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs once at conversion, the filling of the Spirit can happen multiple times after conversion and also is commanded. In Acts after Paul’s conversion we read, “But Saul (also known as Paul), filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at him” (Acts 13:9). Here the filling of the Spirit is at the forefront propelling Paul’s ministry and happens well after his conversion recorded in Acts 9. To the church at Ephesus Paul writes, “And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). Here the filling of the Spirit is given as a command to be followed. In this analogy the Spirit is compared negatively to wine. The point is don’t let wine control you but rather have the Holy Spirit do so. Closely related to being filled with the Spirit is being empowered with the Holy Spirit. Paul writes, “But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh . . . But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:16, 22-23). It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that enables Christians to live lives obedient to God. Lastly, not only does the Holy Spirit fill and empower but he also leads or guides the believer in Jesus Christ. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God” (Rom 8:14).

Symbols of the Holy Spirit

A final area of discussion is that of some instances where the Holy Spirit is referred to in the Bible with a symbol. Four prominent symbols that refer to the Holy Spirit are the dove, fire, wind and water.6 Each one communicates something different about the Holy Spirit. When looking at a symbol, one must be careful to make sure the context is identifying the symbol with the referent you are considering in this case the Holy Spirit. For example, even though the Holy Spirit is identified with a dove in Matt 3:16 it would be an interpretive mistake to see the Holy Spirit in every place a dove is referred to in the Bible. In Genesis 8:8 Noah sends out a dove to see if the flood waters had receded, but one should not interpret this as Noah sending out the Holy Spirit.

Dove

Probably the most recognizable symbol of the Holy Spirit is the dove that appeared at the baptism of Jesus. It is recorded in all four gospels (Matt 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32). Matthew writes, “After Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on him” (Matt 3:16). The dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit communicates beauty, gentleness, and peace. The dove also comes from above, perhaps suggesting coming from heaven.7

Fire

Another symbol of the Holy Spirit is fire. In the Bible, fire can communicate the Lord’s presence (Exod 3:2), purification (1 Pet 1:7) or judgment (Lev 10:2; Heb 12:29) depending on the context. The most explicit passage that refers to the Holy Spirit as fire is in Acts 2. “Now when the day of Pentecost had come, . . tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:1-4). In a similar analogy, Paul commands the Thessalonians, “Do not quench the Spirit” (NASB; I Thess 5:19). Disobedience to the Spirit is like throwing water on a fire.              

Wind

The Greek word for Spirit (pneuma) can also be translated as breath or wind. Perhaps then it is not surprising that the Holy Spirit is seen and compared to as wind. Two verses in the New Testament communicate this.8 In Acts 2:4 Luke writes, “Suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting.” And in John 3:8, John describes, “The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." The image of wind communicates that the Holy Spirit is powerful, invisible, immaterial and sovereignly blows where he intends.9

Water

Lastly, water is also an image of the Holy Spirit. Jesus makes this explicit connection on one of the feast days of Israel. “On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, `From within him will flow rivers of living water.' (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified)” (John 7:37-39). As physical fresh water is needed for physical life, the living water of the Holy Spirit is needed for spiritual life.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Christians should not be afraid of the Holy Spirit but rather look to the Spirit for guidance and spiritual strength. The Holy Spirit is alive and active today in the lives of both believers and unbelievers.10 As Christians, we are to be eternally grateful that the Holy Spirit is our permanent indwelling companion, gifting us to serve others and empowering us to live the Christian life. He is to be respected, followed and cherished.

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you respond scripturally to someone that said that the Holy Spirit is just an impersonal force like lightening?
  2. In Psalm 51 David prayed to God to not take the Holy Spirit from him. Why did he pray this? Could God take his Holy Spirit from us today?
  3. Does God communicate to us through his Holy Spirit apart from the Bible? If so, how and how can we be sure what the message is?
  4. How should the indwelling Holy Spirit affect our daily lives?
  5. Can people perform miracles today the same way that the apostles did in the first century?
  6. How would you decide if a spiritual gift is being used in an authentic manner or not? Has some gift ever been claimed where you thought something was not biblical about it?

1 http://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/wp20091101/myth-god-is-a-trinity (Accessed December 27, 2012).

2http://www.biblicalunitarian.com/articles/holy-spirit/34-reasons-why-the-holy-spirit-is-not-a-person-separate-from-the-only-true-god-the-father (Accessed December 27, 2012).

 

3 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 639.

4 While some people see one gift of “pastor-teacher” here based on one Greek article in the original language it is probably better to see two separate gifts due to the fact that the words are plural and teaching is seen as a separate gift in Romans 12. See Dan Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 284.

5 And God has placed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, gifts of healing, helps, gifts of leadership, different kinds of tongues.  Not all are apostles, are they? Not all are prophets, are they? Not all are teachers, are they? Not all perform miracles, do they? Not all have gifts of healing, do they? Not all speak in tongues, do they? Not all interpret, do they? (1 Cor 12:28-30).

6 Walvoord lists several others including “clothed with power”, oil, the earnest or pledge, the seal, and the servant Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, 18-25.

7 Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, 19.

8 One could also add though 2 Peter 1:20-21, “Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Here the Holy Spirit “carries along” men and the imagery may suggest a ship being powered by wind. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, 24.

9 Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, 24.

10 For more information on the Holy Spirit today one could see Daniel B. Wallace and M. James Sawyer, eds. Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit? An Investigation into the Ministry of the Spirit of God Today. Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2005.

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Christian Life, Discipleship, Pneumatology (The Holy Spirit), Spiritual Gifts, Spiritual Life

Judges: A Drifting People, A Delivering God

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This sermon series on the book of Judges was preached by Jeff Miller at Trinity Bible Church in 2013-2014. Click on an individual sermon for an abstract of the message and to access both audio and video of the message.

Related Topics: Character of God, Discipline, Failure

1. God Conquers Unfinished Obedience (Judges 1-2)

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Judges: A Drifting People, A Delivering God (part one)

The Book of Judges is primarily a story about God, not human leaders. It warns of the danger in forming alliances with our unbelieving culture or worshiping their gods. The book records God sovereignly permitting His people's enslavement, and then graciously empowering flawed people as His chosen instruments of rescue. God's long-term patience repeatedly witnesses His people's cycle of rebellion and repentance, while He faithfully delivers them from their oppressors. That His mercies are new every morning should not be regarded as an excuse for us to do what is right in our own eyes. Instead, it should increase our awe and allegiance for God.

Related Topics: Character of God, Discipline, Spiritual Life, Worship

Lesson 34: The Certain Success of Jesus’ Mission (John 6:35-40)

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November 10, 2013

Although it sounds heretical to ask, have you ever wondered whether Jesus failed in His mission? His mission was to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). And yet, Jesus left this planet with only a small band of followers compared to the vast numbers, both in Israel and around the world, who remained lost. After 2,000 years of church history, there are still thousands of people groups that have not heard the gospel, and even among those who have heard, the majority of the world’s population remains unbelieving. So did Jesus fail? Has God’s purpose failed?

I would hesitate to raise the question at all, except that the apostle Paul raised it in Romans 9. In light of the Jews’ widespread rejection of Jesus as their Messiah and Savior, Paul deals with whether God’s promises to Israel have failed. He answers that God’s promises have not failed, because God never determined to save all Israel, but only an elect remnant. Also, the salvation of that chosen group does not depend on the fallen will of man, but on the sovereign working of God. As Paul says (Rom. 9:16), “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” And, God does not have mercy on all (Rom. 9:18), “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” Paul shows that God’s purpose to glorify Himself by saving His elect and judging the wicked cannot fail.

That is Jesus’ point in our text. These verses occur in the context of those who ate the miraculous meal of the loaves and fish asking Jesus to do a greater sign so that they may believe in Him (6:30). They want Him to go one up on Moses, who gave them the manna (6:31). Jesus corrects their impudent demand by pointing out that it was the Father, not Moses, who gave them the manna. Also, the bread that God is giving now is not just temporary food to satisfy their stomachs, but the true bread out of heaven to satisfy their souls (6:32). And, unlike the manna that God gave Israel in the wilderness to sustain life for a few years, the true bread out of heaven gives eternal life to the whole world (6:33).

But these Jews were still focused on the temporal when they asked Jesus to give them this bread (6:34). They wanted a lifetime supply of food. Jesus replies by offering Himself as the bread of life who satisfies everyone who comes to Him and believes in Him (6:35). But even though they had seen Jesus, they still did not believe in Him (6:36). That’s the context for Jesus’ words in 6:37-40, where He takes comfort in God’s sovereignty over the salvation of sinners (cf. Luke 10:21-22). The point is, those who reject Jesus do not thwart God’s sovereign plan.

Also, note that after Jesus gives this extended discourse on being the bread of life, some who had professed to be His disciples stumble over what He says and stop following Him (6:60, 61, 66). If Jesus had been trying to build a large following, He could have become discouraged over this. But His focus was on the Father’s will and the fact that He had come to do that will (6:38). There is nothing more certain than that God will accomplish His purpose (Isa. 46:10; Job 42:2). That purpose centers on the fact that He has given a large number from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation to His Son. Jesus will see the result of the anguish of His soul because He poured out Himself to death and bore the sin of many (Rev. 5:9; Isa. 53:10-12). So when people rejected Jesus, even those who had professed to be His disciples, He rested in God’s sovereign plan for the ages.

As a teacher of God’s Word, I must do the same. I hope not, but it’s possible that some of you will hear this message and say, “I’m out of here!” I’d appreciate it if you’d talk to me about what Scripture teaches on this, but usually people just leave. Many who profess to believe in Christ do not like the biblical truth that God sovereignly chose some, but not all, for salvation. They say, “That’s not fair!” They believe that God wills to save everyone, but people by their free will cast the deciding vote. God’s hands are tied to actually save anyone, because He can’t override man’s free will. So according to them, the success of God’s eternal purpose rides on whether sinners choose to respond to Jesus.

But Jesus soundly refutes that error in our text. God’s sovereign plan to glorify His Son does not rest on the sinful will of man, but on God’s mighty power to save all whom He chooses to save. If sinners have a part in their salvation, then they can share the glory with Christ. But as Paul argues in Ephesians 1:3-12, God chose to save us so that we would be “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (1:6). God predestined us “according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory” (1:11-12). By the way, if God cannot override the fallen human will, you should give up praying for the salvation of the lost. Why pray if God can’t do anything about it?

So while it may be hard to get our finite minds around it, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty over our salvation runs through all Scripture, alongside the doctrine of human responsibility. God determined before the foundation of the world to put Christ on the cross, and yet the evil men who did it were responsible for their sin (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28). God determined before the foundation of the world to give a chosen bride to His Son, and yet all people are invited and commanded to believe in Jesus. Remember, this doctrine is a part of God’s inspired Word, which is for your spiritual benefit (2 Tim. 3:16-17). If you resist it or dodge it or try to explain it away, you’ll be spiritually impaired. Even if you don’t understand it, you need to submit to it (Rom. 9:19-20). While all Scripture is equally inspired by God, our text reports the very words of the Lord Jesus. His point here is:

Jesus’ mission to save and keep all whom the Father has given to Him will certainly succeed.

Christ offers eternal life to all (6:35), but not all believe (6:36). All those whom God has given to Jesus will come to Him (6:37a). He will save them and keep them for all eternity (6:37b-40).

1. Christ offers Himself as the living bread that gives eternal life to all who believe in Him (6:35).

John 6:35: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” As Leon Morris points out (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 366), Jesus’ words are not an abstract statement, but rather an appeal for people to come to Him and believe in Him. As I mentioned last week, this is an astounding claim that no mere man could make. Jesus says that if we will come to Him and believe in Him, He will eternally satisfy and sustain us spiritually.

It’s important to affirm that the doctrine of election does not in any way restrict offering the gospel freely to all. Whoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life (John 3:16). The Bible ends with this open invitation (Rev. 22:17), “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” The Bible never says, “If you’re one of the elect, come.” It invites every sinner to come to Jesus just as you are and know that He will welcome you. But …

2. People are so hopelessly lost in sin that they will reject even the best reasons to believe (6:36).

I might add, “Even religious, morally upright people are so hopelessly lost in sin that they will reject even the best reasons to believe.” Jesus was speaking to religious, moral Jews. They were zealous about keeping the Sabbath and the many Jewish rituals. Yet here they’ve seen Jesus miraculously provide bread and fish for a huge multitude and they’ve watched Him heal many of their sick, but Jesus’ tragic assessment is (6:36), “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.”

People do not reject Christ because they lack solid evidence for believing in Him. Sometimes skeptics will say, “Show me a real miracle and I’ll believe.” No, they wouldn’t. People reject Jesus because they love darkness rather than light (3:19-21). People apart from Christ are spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3). They cannot understand spiritual truth (1 Cor. 2:14) because Satan has blinded their eyes (2 Cor. 4:4).

In John 8:43, Jesus asks the unbelieving Jews, “Why do you not understand what I am saying?” He answers His own question, “It is because you cannot hear My word.” He did not say “because you will not hear My word,” but “because you cannot hear My word.” That’s why He says (John 6:44), “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (also, 6:65). Because of sin, it’s impossible for anyone to believe in Jesus apart from God’s opening their blind eyes (Rom. 3:10-18). In the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn, before Christ sends His “quickening ray,” we are “fast bound in sin and nature’s night.” Leon Morris writes (ibid., p. 367), “People do not come to Christ because it seems to them a good idea. It never does seem a good idea to natural man. Apart from a divine work in their souls (cf. 16:8) men remain contentedly in their sins.” Yet at the same time, we are responsible for our unbelief. So, then, how can anyone be saved?

3. All whom the Father has given to Jesus will certainly be saved (6:37a).

John 6:37a: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me ….” This refers to the elect, whom the Father chose before the foundation of the world to give to His Son. Jesus refers to those the Father has given Him in 6:39 and in 10:29 (see, 18:9). He repeats it five times in His prayer in John 17:

John 17:2: “… even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.”

John 17:6 [2x]: “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.”

John 17:9: “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours ….” (Note that the Father has not given everyone in the world to Jesus, but only some.)

John 17:24: “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”

Many argue that the elect, whom the Father gives to the Son, are those whom God foreknew would believe in Christ by their own free will. But as we’ve seen, left to their own fallen will, none would choose to believe in Christ. Furthermore, the foreknowledge ruse robs God of His sovereignty and makes man sovereign. But the Bible is clear that God did not make up His plan for the ages after He saw what sinful people would do!

John Bunyan wrote a wonderful book on John 6:37, “Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ” (in The Works of John Bunyan [Baker], 1:240-299). He makes the point (pp. 256-257) that Jesus’ statement here is unconditional. It will happen without exception because it rests on God’s will, which He is able to accomplish. It’s sometimes called “irresistible grace.” This does not mean that God drags people to Christ kicking and screaming against their will. No one comes to Christ unwillingly. Rather, it means that God makes sinners willing to come to Christ (Ps. 110:3). When Paul preached the gospel to Lydia, we read (Acts 16:14), “And the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” If God had not opened her heart, she would not have responded favorably.

If you have believed in Christ, it’s because the Lord opened your heart to believe. You believed because the Holy Spirit imparted new life to you, apart from anything in you. You believed because in His sovereign grace, before the foundation of the world the Father chose you in love to give to His Son. All whom the Father has given to Jesus will certainly be saved. No sinner can thwart God’s mighty will to accomplish His purpose (Ps. 115:3).

4. Salvation is absolutely and finally secure for all whom the Father has given to Jesus (6:37b-40).

These verses are a wonderful foundation for assurance of salvation for all who have come to Jesus and believed in Him. Note four things:

A. Jesus will keep all whom the Father has given Him (6:37b).

John 6:37b: “… and the one who comes to Me, I will certainly not cast out.” That phrase is often understood, even by the greats like John Bunyan and Charles Spurgeon (who has at least seven sermons on this verse), to mean that Christ will welcome all who come to Him. That is certainly true, whether it’s the thief on the cross or Paul, the persecutor of the church. But I agree with D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 290) that that is not the meaning of this phrase in its context. Rather, what Jesus is saying is that all that the Father gives to Him (who will surely come to Him) He will certainly keep or preserve unto eternity. In modern terms, He won’t “kick out” any whom the Father has given to Him.

There are two reasons that this is what Jesus means here. First, the Greek verb translated “cast out” in almost all of its parallel occurrences refers to casting out something that is already “in.” For example, John uses it (9:34) to refer to the Pharisees expelling the man born blind from the temple (cf. 3 John 10). Second, the next three verses show that this is Jesus’ meaning. He repeatedly emphasizes that He will eternally keep all whom the Father has given Him.

At Christmas, you may receive a gift that you have absolutely no use for (except for a white elephant gift to unload on some poor victim at next year’s Christmas party). Jesus doesn’t do that with the gifts that the Father gives Him. He uses a strong double negative (in the Greek text) to underscore that He will keep every gift from the Father. If you have believed in Jesus, you’re one of God’s gifts to His Son. (Don’t let that go to your head!) As a member of Christ’s body, He will tenderly nourish and cherish you (Eph. 5:29).

B. Jesus will keep all whom the Father has given Him because He came down from heaven to do the Father’s will (6:38).

John 6:38: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Jesus bases the success of His mission not on whether or not people respond to Him, but rather on the fact that He came down from heaven (John 6:33, 38, 41, 42, 50, 51, 58), where He shared the glory of the Father (17:5), to do the Father’s will, which is absolutely certain. If any whom the Father gave to the Son do not make it to heaven, it would mean either that Jesus was incapable of performing what the Father commanded Him to do or that He was flagrantly disobedient, both of which are unthinkable (Carson, p. 291). But what is the Father’s will?

C. The will of the Father who sent Jesus is that of all that He has given Him, He lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day (6:39).

John 6:39: “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” “The last day” is a phrase that occurs only in John (5:28, 29; 11:24; 12:48). It means that Jesus will keep us until we’re in heaven. Morris states (ibid., p. 368), “This thought is of the greatest comfort to believers. Their assurance is based not on their feeble hold on Christ, but on His sure grip of them.”

You may wonder, “What about Judas or what about the disciples in John 6:66 who turned away from Jesus?” The answer is, they never truly believed in Jesus. In John 17:12, Jesus prays with reference to the twelve, “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” There are many like the seed sown on the stony ground or the thorny ground, who spring up and at first look genuine, but when trials and temptations hit, they wither and die (Matt. 13:20-21). They never truly believed in Christ. But those to whom Jesus gives eternal life will never perish (John 10:28).

D. To sum up, the will of the Father is that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life and Jesus will raise him up on the last day (6:40).

John 6:40 sums up what Jesus has been saying: “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” Again, this is a staggering claim that Jesus has already made (5:28-29), that He will raise us from the dead on the last day so that we will be with Him forever.

Note that rather than referring to those whom He will raise up as those whom the Father has given to Him, here Jesus goes back to the invitation mode of 6:35. There it was “he who comes to Me” and “he who believes in Me.” Here, it is “everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him.” “To behold” implies knowledge of who Jesus is. You can’t believe in one you know nothing about. John wrote this gospel to show us who Jesus is—the Christ, the Son of God—so that we may believe in His name and have eternal life (20:31). It’s interesting that none other than John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 254) here calls “madmen” those who seek salvation in what he calls “the whirlpool of predestination,” rather than by faith in Christ. He’s saying, to be saved, don’t probe into whether or not you’re one of the elect. Rather, focus on answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” and on the basis of the apostolic witness, put your trust in Him.

Conclusion

Some preachers do not teach on God’s sovereignty over our salvation because they say that it’s too controversial or divisive. Some argue that these doctrines are just theoretical theology that have no relevance for how we live. I’ve heard seminary professors say that you should never talk about the doctrine of election with unbelievers, because it will drive them away from Christ.

Yet here Jesus speaks plainly about election as He confronts these unbelievers (He will do it again in 10:26). The thought that you may not be one of God’s elect should drive you in panic to believe in Jesus! Also, God’s sovereign election is a comforting doctrine for us who truly believe in Jesus because it’s the foundation for our eternal security. Jesus will keep all whom the Father has given Him. His mission will not fail.

God’s sovereign election the only doctrine that produces true humility in us as we give all glory to God, who graciously saves unworthy sinners (1 Cor. 1:18-31). The doctrine of election encourages us to share the gospel even with immoral, idolatrous “Corinthians” (Acts 18:9-10), because God will save all whom He has purposed to save. And, Jesus’ words here give comfort to preachers who preach on God’s sovereignty, only to have people leave the church, which I hope that none of you will do!

Application Questions

  1. Some say that the doctrine of election discourages evangelism and missions. Why is this false? What Scriptures refute it?
  2. Some argue that if sinners can’t believe by their own free will, it is mockery to encourage them to believe. What Scriptures refute this error?
  3. Since some (like Judas or those in John 6:66) seem to be saved for a while and then fall away, how can we know that our faith in Christ is the real thing?
  4. Should we assure a professing Christian who is living in sin that he is eternally secure in Christ? Why/why not? Which Scriptures give guidance on this?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Assurance, Character of God, Christology, Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life

Lesson 46: Satisfying Bread (Luke 9:10-17)

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Jesus continually showed Himself to be a provider for those in need. He did so in some of the smallest ways through personal individual relationships, it happened miraculously such as in this passage where He fed a large crowd, and it took place in a complete way for people though His work on the cross. In all cases, He showed Himself to be the bread that everyone needed. Pastor Daniel shows in this message that we, on our own accord, are unable to satisfy the physical and spiritual needs of others and ourselves; Christ is the only solution as the all-satisfying bread of heaven. He points out that Luke, in both his gospel account and the book of Acts, narrates the story of Jesus and the early church in such a way that continually displayed how instructions were given to people, how they found that they could not accomplish what was required, and that they needed the continuous flow of the life-stream of Jesus Christ for their own satisfaction and the satisfaction of others.

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Christian Life, Discipleship, Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life

Lesson 47: Confessing the Crucified Christ (Luke 9:18-22)

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A shining moment by Peter was followed by difficult words from Jesus. The great truth that Jesus was the Messiah contained also the startling news that the same would suffer, die, and be raised. This was who Jesus was and this was what Jesus came to do. Pastor Daniel points out through this text the necessity of our coming to accept the fullness of who Jesus is and not who we are comfortable with Him being. First, it is not enough for us to confess that Jesus is a great teacher or prophet. Second, it is not enough for us to confess that Jesus is the Christ. And finally, we must confess the suffering, rejected, dying, and resurrected Christ. Daniel wraps up this message through delivering the encouragement for each and every person, on an individual basis, to recognize his/her need for a Savior. It simply is not enough to come close to the truth while never submitting fully to it.

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Christology, Discipleship, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 48: Death and Discipleship (Luke 9:23-27)

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Jesus was a master at grabbing his disciples’ attention through counter-intuitive statements and plays on words. Consider the passage at hand, “whoever would save his life will lose it…” In reality, some of the most challenging directives that He ever gave rose out of statements like this one. Being a disciple then and being one now meant and means that we are willing to have our minds bent and challenged in ways we would not have sought out on our own. Daniel shares in this message what Scripture brings out as the true meaning of discipleship, stating, “Becoming Christ’s disciple does not mean making some modifications to your current life but rather means your immediate and violent death.” In fleshing this out, he makes the following points: 1) Discipleship begins when your life ends. 2) You and your life cannot both be saved.

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Discipleship, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 49: Christ’s Glory Revealed (Luke 9:28-36)

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Spending time with Jesus was certainly not a run-of-the-mill experience for the disciples, but the day of the transfiguration had to be one of those moments that made the top-five list in the minds of Peter, James, and John. And while seeing Jesus, Moses, and Elijah speaking together would likely elicit a period of silence from any beholder, Simon, true to form, spoke his mind; after such, God, true to form, realigned the focus of everyone there. Pastor Daniel helps us to see from this passage how it is that we are to come to see Christ, fully God and fully man, who calls us to follow Him. God had made clear to the disciples that, while Peter (and probably any of them) would not have fitting words in the face of the glories of Christ, this Son, this Chosen One, deserved their full attention and devotion. Such is the call on anyone who would be a disciple.

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Christology, Discipleship

Lesson 50: The Glory Below (Luke 9:37-45)

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Jesus’s ministry was full of both beauty and mystery. The fact that He was Lord over all creation and could see into each and every soul, correctly assessing the motives of anyone He interacted with, and direct people in a certain way even though their understanding of His words were sometimes destined to be lost on them, lends to the mystery that sometimes surrounded His work. He is seen in this account healing a man while calling the people present part of a twisted generation and then calling for the attention of disciples that had His words concealed from them. What must be understood is that Jesus had an understanding of reality that nobody else had, and though he had shared the transfiguration experience with Peter, James, and John just a short time before, they and others were still struggling to really grasp this “new” reality and what it meant for ministry to the suffering while not on their “mountain-top” experience. Pastor Daniel emphasizes that the key point of this text is that “God’s majesty is not only revealed on the mountaintop; God’s glory is also revealed in the transformed lives of people who have been shattered and then restored.”

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Character of God, Christology, Glory

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