Archive for the ‘Spirit’ Category

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Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it by the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2 Tim. 1:14)

We go through 2 Timothy with each new group of apprentices but it is always fresh and cutting. One of the things that’s really jumped out for me this time is the emphasis on both human work and the Spirit’s work. There is fanning of the flame to do but the fire is God’s gift (1:6). We are to suffer… by the power of God (1:8). We need to guard the gospel… with the help of the Holy Spirit (1:14). We are to be strong… in the grace in Christ (2:1). We are to think hard… and the Lord will give the understanding (2:7). We are to instruct opponents… hoping that God will grant repentance (2:25). We are to preach the Word… strengthened by the Lord (4:17).

Some of us may be tempted to speak only of the Spirit and to downplay human effort. In that case the challenge of 2 Timothy is that guarding the gospel will involve a lot of hard work, hard thinking, intentional effort and careful following of the apostolic leadership training strategy (2:2). Others of us (perhaps more of us) are tempted to focus on human activity and practically ignore (or only play lip service to) the work of the Spirit. For us, we need to remember that the gospel cannot be guarded simply through structures and programmes and curricula. As Ken Irungu pointed out, gospel ministry cannot be professionalised. We wholeheartedly believe in 2 Timothy 2:2 – it is one of the iServe Africa straplines – but transmitting good gospel truth to the next generation of Bible teachers for them to proclaim and teach it faithfully to others will not serve to guard and advance the gospel unless there is also a powerful work of the Spirit.


  1. Only the Spirit can change hearts. Only the Spirit can move the affections from love of the world (4:10) to love Christ and his people (1:7). Only the Spirit can move us from being ashamed of the gospel to unashamed (1:8). Only the Spirit can produce faithful, hardworking, persevering-through-suffering servants who are concerned to please their commanding officer (2:4-6) rather than the crowd.
  2. Only the Spirit can open minds to understand the truths of the gospel (2:7). J.C. Ryle: “The very same person who is quick and clever in worldly things, will often utterly fail to comprehend the simplest truths of Christianity. He will often be unable to take in the plainest reasonings of the Gospel… They will sound to him either foolish or mysterious.”

So please pray for us! Pray for iServe Africa and the young people starting off their ministry apprenticeship year that the Spirit would go out with His Word and change hearts and minds.

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As Pentecost Sunday approaches I was reading through Acts in our church community group and was struck by this verse:

And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:2)

For a disciple not to have heard about the Holy Spirit seems to be Not A Good Thing.

For those of us who are concerned to emphasise (I think rightly) the priority of preaching Christ and him crucified and who see the Spirit’s role mainly as (to use J.I. Packer’s expression) a ‘spotlight ministry’, drawing the attention to Christ not himself, this stress on the Spirit in Acts is an important thing to reckon with. Is there a danger that those of us who would think of ourselves as ‘conservative evangelicals’ might be so keen to distance ourselves from the excesses of hyper-Pentecostalism and unhelpful (or downright non-Christian) pneumatologies, that we might leave people with no doctrine of the Spirit at all? “If it’s not all about tongues, how do I know whether I have the Spirit?” I was asked recently. Where does the Holy Spirit fit into our proclamation and church and the Christian life?

Acts 19:2 makes me think:

  • Presumably preaching the gospel usually included mention of the Holy Spirit and his work. Acts 2 is a great example. The focus from beginning to end is on Christ but all the persons of the Trinity are mentioned: the exalted Christ has received his Father the Spirit to pour out (v33). (A gospel outline like 3-2-1 can be helpful in making sure we talk about the Trinity early on and don’t leave it till later as an embarrassing bolt-on.)
  • Presumably the invitation to receive Christ and to be baptised usually mentioned the Holy Spirit. Again, that’s what happens in Acts 2: baptism-forgiveness-Holy Spirit. Baptism is into the name (singular) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). When Paul reminds the Galatians of their conversion he appeals to them as ones who clearly knew that they had received the Spirit at that point (Gal. 3:2) – that was not debate – that was obviously what had happened – he wants to remind them how they received the Spirit – i.e. by hearing and believing the gospel of Christ crucified not by Law keeping. It also seems the Galatians knew their Christian life had begun by the power of God’s Spirit (Gal. 3:3), the question is whether they will go on that way.
  • Presumably the early discipleship of believers would have been full of reminders of the gospel including explanation of the Spirit’s role in their salvation. You certainly see this throughout the apostles’ letters to the young churches. They are constantly reminding believers of what has happened to them so they grasp the enormity of it and live in accordance with it. Their focus is always on Christ and him crucified but wherever they talk about justification by faith and salvation through the blood of Christ, the Spirit is never far away. Ephesians 1: The Father chose you before Creation, the Son died for you on the Cross, the Spirit sealed you as you believed (cf. similarly 1 Peter 1:2). Titus 3:4-7: Father, Son and Spirit; justification and regeneration. Romans 8: stellar chapter interweaving the glorious gospel of Christ and the true work and marks of the Spirit.

Putting this altogether it seems that for the apostles to speak about Christ was inevitably to speak about the Spirit-anointed Christ. To speak about his death and resurrection would have inevitably led to talking about the Spirit who unites us with Christ to make the benefits of his death and resurrection ours. They would have left no one in any doubt that without the Spirit of Christ they are dead and that from their first breath of faith to their final good work, all would be the Spirit’s work in them. They would have talked about how God sent his Son to redeem us and the Spirit of Sonship into our hearts that we might be swept up into the Son and cry out to the Father as our Father. They would talked of our natural blindness and desperate need every day for the Spirit to open our eyes wider and wider to Christ.

Is that my message and life?


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What is vital?

the sower

I love it when I lead an inductive Bible study and I ask a fairly open question and people come out with answers that are far better than what I was hoping for – they’ve seen things clearer than I did in my preparation. It’s really exciting. God is speaking to me there and then.

We were having our induction workshop for the new apprentices earlier this month, having a session on The Priority of Preaching and particularly looking together at Matthew 13:1-23. As you might have picked up if you follow this blog closely I’ve been a big fan of that passage for several months and preached it or used it in various ways on several occasions. This time it was group Bible study. We looked at the sower, and the seed, and why not everyone receives the seed well, and what the effect the seed has when it does go in. Then we got to this question:

So what does this all tell us about how the kingdom is going to be established? What is vital in mission? What is necessary for true growth and fruit?

I’m expecting to hear – preaching the Word. And we got that answer – mission and gospel ministry must involve actually sowing the Word of God – but there were two other answers that were given first that I’d not thought of but are absolutely brilliant:

  1. Jesus. Brilliant answer! The group had seen that it’s the parable of THE SOWER (v18). It’s all about Him. If he doesn’t turn up there’s no sowing, no life, nothing. The Son needs to come from heaven to earth and die for us and be united to us and be our life. If there’s no Jesus we might as well all go home and give up. Our salvation is Jesus. This was a wonderful reminder to me of what/who is absolutely everything. When I say ‘the Word does the work’ I’ve got to be careful that I know and those I’m talking to know that it’s the Word of Christ. The Word is all about him; the Word leads us beyond itself to life in him; he is the one who does the work, through his Word.
  2. The Spirit. Brilliant again! The group had got the point that the hinge of the passage – verses 10-16 – is all about revelation. Some people have their eyes and ears opened, some don’t. To some the secrets of the kingdom are given, but some are hardened in their hardness. The natural man cannot receive these things, only the one who by sovereign grace is made a new man. The hearts of rock needs to be reborn as good soil. I was reminded of the Spurgeon quote:

We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were mysterious power going with it – the Holy Ghost changing the will of man. O Sirs! We might as well preach to stone walls as preach to humanity unless the Holy Ghost be with the word, to give it power to convert the soul.” (quoted in Stott, I Believe in Preaching, 335)



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We’ve argued before that preaching that is led by the Spirit will be Bible-driven preaching. Now to add another thought that should flow naturally from that but is worth stating on its own: Spirit-led preaching is all about Jesus.

At least things point in this direction:

1. The content of the Spirit’s Word

Taking it that the whole Bible was written by the Spirit it’s interesting to look at the balance of mentions of the different persons of the Trinity. In the Old Testament there are about 14 references stating or implying the fatherhood of God and roughly 90 mentions of God’s Spirit. When it comes to the Son, there are around 25 theophanies (which I take to be the pre-incarnate Son), 52 references to ‘the Angel of the Lord’ (again I would take to be the Son) and somewhere over 300 explicit messianic prophecies. This is without beginning to try to enumerate the thousands of references related to typological offices (e.g high priest), characters (e.g. David), events (e.g. Passover) and objects (e.g. tabernacle). Jesus was not twisting things when he said (John 5; Luke 24) that the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms are all about him.

Then coming to the New Testament, there are 128 references to ‘the Spirit’, 243 explicit references to ‘the Father’ (beside hundreds of references to ‘God’ where God the Father is implied), and 950 mentions of ‘Jesus’ (not to mention hundreds of separate references to ‘the Son’, ‘Christ’, ‘Lord’, ‘Son of Man’ etc.).

Now admittedly statistics are a very crude indicator but this should immediately give us some sense of who the Spirit is most keen to talk about. He talks relatively sparingly about himself. Some have called him a “shy and retiring spirit” or “the elusive person of the Trinity” (this may be one reason why there is so much controversy about the doctrine of the Spirit – there is simply not a huge amount of biblical data). The person the Spirit seems most keen to write about is Jesus. If we imagine the Spirit as an artist, we might say that he doesn’t go in for self-portraits in a big way, his great work is a massive mural of Christ.

2. The Spirit’s stated work

The night before he died Jesus gave the most detailed explanation of the Spirit and his work that we have (John 14-16). J.I. Packer gives a great summary:

The Spirit… would be sent, said Jesus, “in my name” (14:26), that is as Jesus’s courier, spokesman, and representative… the Spirit would be self-effacing, directing all attention away from himself to Christ and drawing folk into the faith, hope, love, obedience, adoration, and dedication, which constitute communion with Christ… the Spirit would make the presence of Christ and fellowship with him and his Father realities of experience for those who, by obeying his words, showed that they loved him (14:21-23)… Again, the Spirit would teach… and the Spirit’s way of teaching would be to make disciples recall and comprehend what Jesus himself had said (14:26)… the Spirit would attest Christ in the manner of a witness… (15:26; 16:8-11)… Thus the Spirit would glorify the glorified Savior (16:14)… a floodlight ministry… It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over our shoulder, on Jesus, who stands facing us. The Spirit’s message to us is never, “Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,” but always, “Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.”

3. The apostles’ Spirit-led preaching

The Spirit was given that the apostles would bear witness to… Jesus (Acts 1:8).

On the day of Pentecost there is a spectacular outpouring of the Spirit, Peter is filled with the Spirit, his hair is on fire, he stands to preach an expository sermon on a text from Joel, a text which is one of the clearest Old Testament passages about the Spirit… surely we’re going to get a sermon on the Spirit – if ever there was a time for an exposition on the doctrine of the Spirit this is it… but no… “Men of Israel, hear this: JESUS” (Acts 2:22). And this most Spirit-filled of sermons continues with a relentless focus on this Jesus – his life, death, resurrection, exaltation. The Holy Spirit is only mentioned once (v33) as a confirming sign of Jesus’ exaltation and his identity as the Lord of David and the LORD of Joel.

You get the same pattern again and again in Acts – Peter is “filled with the Spirit” and preaches about salvation in Jesus (Acts 4:8-12), Stephen, a man full of the Spirit, gives a Bible overview focussed on Jesus (Acts 6-7), Philip is led by the Spirit to preach from Isaiah “the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8). We find the same pattern in the ministry and letters of Paul.

So a couple of questions:

  • When did you last hear a sermon series on the Spirit?
  • When did you last hear a sermon series on Jesus?

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I’ve prayerfully worked on a passage and now I’m standing in the pulpit preaching, going through my notes, when suddenly I feel that I should be saying something quite different. I sense that the congregation gathered in front of me need to hear something different – perhaps an encouragement that God will definitely come through for them this week. I feel the growing weight of this new burden and eventually I ditch my notes, shut my Bible and give the congregation this new direct, living, rhema message.

Is that Spirit-led preaching?


Do we believe these three truths?

  1. The Spirit wrote the Bible (2 Peter 1:19-21; John 14:26) – it is his sword (Eph. 6:17).
  2. The Spirit speaks – present tense – when the Bible is opened (Mark 7:6; Heb:3:7-4:12; 12:5; Rev. 2:7 etc.). What he said then he says now. The ancient text is ‘living and active’ and razor sharp (Heb. 4:12).
  3. Preparation is a spiritual activity. It is the Spirit who gives us understanding, who moulds us with his word, who gives us a message, a fire in the bones… as we think over the text (2 Tim. 2:7).

If we really believe that then surely Spirit-led preaching is going to be:

  1. Sequential. Working through books of the Bible, following their flow. The Spirit wrote the Bible and he wrote it in books and letters with particular orders and structures. He didn’t give us a random jumble of unconnected sentences and unconnected incidents. He gave us arguments like Romans 8 that make sense as you go through them and as you see how they work in bigger arguments (the whole book). He gave us stories – often stretching over several chapters. He wanted to teach us Acts 1 before chapter 2 and then he wanted to teach us chapter 3 and 4… Are we wiser teachers than him? Surely to work through a passage from beginning to end and then start next week with the following passage is Spirit-led preaching! Far from binding and restricting him it’s sitting at his feet and letting him teach us.
  2. Awesome. As the Bible is opened we are hearing the living God speak. We are experiencing something far more terrifying and wonderful than the Israelites at Sinai (Heb. 12:18-25).
  3. Prepared. We must reject the unbiblical idea that ‘if I work then God doesn’t work’ or ‘if I think and prepare then the Spirit can’t speak’. We also mustn’t think that everything spontaneous is ‘the Spirit’ and everything prepared is human. If the Bible is the Spirit’s definitive Word and if he has promised to open my eyes to his beautiful portrait of Christ (2 Cor. 3:14-18) then I’ll want to spend as long with the text as possible, praying over it, drinking it in, listening to his message as carefully as I can. Then, as I stand in the pulpit I can be confident that it is God who will speak to wound and save.

The evil one will do everything he can to get the Bible in the pulpit shut. He’ll want us to put the focus squarely on ourselves. Because he knows that when we open God’s Word and listen to the Spirit we will see Christ and be free indeed.

Are we letting the Spirit lead our preaching?

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