One thing that should mark the lives of followers of Christ is an ability to live beyond mere knowledge about Jesus, or Christianity, or church for that matter. The new birth in Christ is more than a proposed set of guidelines that if applied correctly, will provide a “better life” than what we had before. Yet this seems to be the major selling point of modern day evangelicals. They seem to be increasingly forgetting what it means to “be a Christian” and increasingly fall back on living “like a Christian.” We have gotten brilliant at packaging the right things in order to explain our faith. But do we know what it means to experience it? Eternal life, in the words of Jesus was more than knowing the truth, it was the capacity to live it out as well. We need something more than knowledge to apply to life as we all know painfully, life can be very difficult. One definition of life is “the experience of discovering how to live beyond the adversity of just being human!”
When I came to Christ at 16 some 40 years ago I thought finally I had an answer that made sense of the jumble of questions, challenges and emotions called “life.” It’s earlier in life than we care to admit that the individual human being understands, it injustices, it’s disappointments and it’s unpredictable nature of fouling itself up just when we think we might of made some progress! When I heard and understood that God loved me and had remedied the problems of this fouled up world through his Son Jesus on the cross you could say I was “all in.” That was decades before “all in” became a trend word in modern evangelicalism. “All in” has now become the beat to death buzz word of “intentionality.”
But like most of us, and I suspect I’m not alone in this, after I crossed by grace, into the Kingdom of God “life” crept back in again and over time the same problems seem to overwhelm the center of who I was. If Christ Jesus was supernatural and was raised from the dead how come I couldn’t seem to withstand the pressure of life any better than before? Much to my disappointment, life, within a period of months returned back to my pre-Christian experience, powerless.
Thus, began my initiation into the great evangelical rollercoaster called “Christian living.” A life marked by sporadic spiritual highs usually centering around retreats and special events. But after the emotional highs passed and the spark was gone life returned to the normalness of what felt like a dead faith. I questioned my salvation, particularly due to my inability to move beyond the simplest of behavioral sins I couldn’t seem to overcome. I read the Bible, sometimes vigorously and there were moments when is seemed to penetrate the fog of faith but again I was unable to hold onto anything that sustained me or felt like the “new birth” that Jesus promised Nicodemus in John chapter 3. In a search for answers, I even turned to secular psychology thinking perhaps there was some sort of combination between the humanly practical and spiritual I was missing. That also failed to provide any explanation for why I couldn’t seem to grasp the supernatural life promised to those who follow Christ, and yes, the years ticked by…
So like many, over time the spiritual highs became fewer and farther between and practicing the Christian disciplines of Bible reading, prayer and fellowship turned into a dull ritual. Some of us I’m afraid grow discouraged well before that. I resolved myself that “this was simply as good as it gets.” I leaned on the seventh chapter of Romans as my consolation that the Christian life would be a continual struggle with myself in an endless cycle of repeated failure and if I kept pressing ahead, hopefully over time a little bit better quality of life was supposed to emerge. That’s what a lot of us settle for right? A Jesus who provides a little bit better moral quality of life? Somewhere in all of this, I was reassured by others, (as empty as me) I had a relationship with Jesus and the Father and mixed up in all of this was God’s Spirit that was supposed to be Jesus living in me.
I’m afraid like many Christians I had an altogether two-sided problem. One was a messaging problem, and one was a source problem. Let’s put the messaging issue aside for now and focus on the source.
I think many of you are relating already to what is being said. I realized eventually that there was something missing in my faith that “missing something” had to be supernatural. I knew I was not experiencing the type of freedom I was meant to enjoy but the harder I pursued it, the more it alluded me. Eventually if you look hard enough or pay attention the superstar church personalities eventually reveal themselves too frequently as having few real answers to supernatural issues. That’s because they don’t have any and are often searching as hard as us.
Jesus doesn’t save us so we remain the same old person with a few less problems and a set of how to live guidelines. Yet if we were asked to share our faith experience many of us would regurgitate that exactly but probably not in those words. Jesus saves so we can be transformed, experience freedom and impact the world, with joy inexpressible. Underline the word joy. Scripture tells us “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom 2nd Cor 3:17, and “It was for freedom Christ set us free.” Gal 5:1 I had understood the reasons why I needed Christ as my savoir long ago but what I didn’t understand was how the post transformation process took place and more importantly what was its source for doing the job of living. Its amazing. The gospel is actually perfectly clear on this issue yet many of us miss this.
When we are told something four times in the Gospels, we can assume it’s a pretty important spiritual principle. I would like to introduce you to a principle we evangelicals readily miss which causes more havoc, division and confusion in the church than any other subject. It’s this ministry of Jesus which belongs to Jesus, which Jesus owned, validated and said He would accomplish, called the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
In all four Gospels it is recorded that when John, Jesus forerunner was baptizing, the religious rulers recognized the significance of the event and sent delegations to ask him what was taking place. They realized a move of God was happening and they wanted answers, so they asked John who he was and why he was doing what he was doing. John in response, and of course God who inspired the writers of the Gospels makes it crystal clear what this move of God involved. Here’s John’s response to the question “What are you doing?”
“After me is coming One who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals.” “I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Of course, any sixth-grade student would realize John was referring to Jesus.
Four times God saw fit through the writers of the Gospels to say the same thing, Mark: 1:8, Matt 3:11, Luke 3:16 and the longer version in John 1:24-33, four times. Even more remarkable Jesus himself took credit and acknowledged that was what he would do in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:5-8.
Now before you start to squirm about a message on the baptism or filling of the Holy Spirit, there’s no way in one message we could serve the Scripture well as to describe what this filling is or the opinions of what it entails. Today where just going to acknowledge the authority of Scripture as to what it says, clearly, and undeniable. And to refute or contradict such a direct point the Scripture is making is to hold an opinion that is shall I say this with the strongest emphasis against scripture.
Here it is….A major ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ is to Baptize his followers in the Holy Spirit.
Jesus also makes this clear this was part of His post resurrection ministry (or relationship with us). When this ministry occurs in the life of an individual, for our purpose today is irrelevant. What it looks like also for today is irrelevant. What you and I need to come to terms with today is simply acknowledging Jesus does it because Scripture says he does it and Jesus himself said he does it in the first chapter of Acts and in Luke chapter 24. Scripture is our authority here, not someone’s opinion of what Scripture says. We are not pealing apart a verse or paragraph to ascertain meaning. We are acknowledging a fairly simple statement made in the Bible numerous times that this issue of filling us or baptizing us with the Spirit is a ministry performed by Jesus Christ.
I can think or perhaps no more recurrent issue which causes division in the church! Why? There are more debates, more arguments more splits over the courses of history more finger pointing and more accusations over this one issue. The tragedy is this, not that the scholars of the church and the well-schooled disagree over it but the rank and file Christians who make up the church get caught in the middle of the religious debates and simply choose to ignore the subject all together for fear of ruffling someone feathers.
As I said earlier, I like many Christians know all too well what its like to live the Christian life in our own power. It doesn’t work. Already the Spirit I believe is tugging at some of your hearts and the light of the candle is beginning to glow. You are understanding now what has been missing. It wasn’t your beliefs per say. it was this supernatural ministry of Jesus which he promised to those who followed Him; is the power meant to help us live. A transformed life is what overcomes the repeated failures and guilt-ridden conscience for people who love God and want a truly deep relationship with Him. Too many of us over time faded into a Christian obscurity and settled for the knowledge of Jesus and salvation, but when we honestly look at ourselves, our lives have no power, no transformation. Why is this?
No. I’m going to count on the fact you are seeking God and smart enough to hold His Scripture as authority as opposed to your local bible critic, radio expositor, or even your pastor on this matter. The Bible says Jesus will Baptize, or immerse, literally “pour His Spirit” into His followers. That’s what the word Baptize means. Four Gospels make the point perfectly clear and Jesus Himself validates it.
I want you to assume something for a minute which might take the heat off the church and the temptation to point fingers at this point and argue who’s got the message right. Suppose this. Let’s suppose you were in the camp of the enemy; satan himself. Now the Bible calls our relationship with the enemy a war, not a disagreement, not a debate, not a journey on the many paths to God, a war. In warfare you can have the best equipped army in the world, but if you don’t have fuel for the aircraft, vehicles and equipment of warfare you have an ill-equipped army. It may look like an army, it may be equipped like an army but without fuel it can’t function as an army. Fuel and mobility to an army are the source of its power, its lifeblood.
Our enemy, who none of us is up to the task of taking on, is a lot smarter than us. He can’t overcome what Jesus has already done. So what’s the next best strategy? Separate us from our power, that’s right. Cut us off from the source of the power that is actually meant to help us live which enables us to supernaturally do the work of the Kingdom with God’s power, not our own. Imagine for a moment what you might do as the great enemy of God. You might help the church form ideas and beliefs about God’s Spirit and what Jesus intends to do in your life that Jesus himself never taught nor did his immediate followers. Then you make these beliefs doctrine. You would have people believe there was no source of this type of power or it was only available to the emerging church long ago, and today it was knowledge that provided our power, and you might go so far as to make large groups of Christians to be so indoctrinated with your beliefs on the matter they never even questioned your beliefs on the matter!
And thus believing a lie, they remained powerless. Sound like a pretty good strategy to win a war doesn’t it?
You tell me, is your life marked by power to live? Jesus said it was supposed to be. Or are you “just a little bit different” from the person you were before Christ?
Jesus said, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” Acts 1:4-8.
If you have never even considered that something Jesus was going to do for you might be this Baptism or infilling of the Holy Spirit, and your life has not been marked by power, but instead more like a disappointing Christian folk tale, let me pose this challenge. Ask God to reveal His truth on the matter and ask Him to confirm it. If what’s been missing has to do with the Holy Spirits presence in your life I think God who works with His sons and daughters lovingly and faithfully is up to the task and eagerly pleased to answer such questions.
M.S. Counseling M.C.M. Pastoral Counseling
JP Grier is the founder and writer at SentinelforChrist.com – A network of Christians helping each other to press deeper in Christ.