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Spiritual Warfare

1 2 3 8
Paul asks, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit?"
Image Source: Sweet Publishing/Free Bible Images

In today’s Bible reading Paul asked some disciples in Ephesus if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. (Acts 19:1-4)

Like Apollos in yesterday’s reading, they had only heard of — and received — John’s Baptism; they knew nothing of the Holy Spirit. When Paul told them the rest of the story, they were baptized in water and received the Holy Spirit, manifesting Him through tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:6) This is the same manifestation we saw in Acts 2:4 when Jesus’ Disciples received the Holy Spirit and when the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit in Acts 10:46).

Although tongues and prophecy aren’t specifically mentioned when the Samaritans received the Spirit in Acts 8:17–18, Simon’s response seems to indicate something similar happened here as well.

Assuming that my inference is correct, there are only four places in the entire book of Acts where we’re told that the Holy Spirit manifested with tongues and prophecy. I find this significant in light of the over-emphasis seen in many churches and ministries in the past one hundred years. I say over-emphasis because so many insist that the Holy Spirit always manifests in these ways when people understand the whole Gospel.*

Application

* By the whole Gospel, I’m referring to 1) the proclamation that of Jesus’ resurrection and accepting of Jesus’ death on the cross to atone for the sins of those who repent, 2) water baptism to symbolize the Believer’s union with Jesus’ death and Resurrection, and 3) the proclamation that God’s Holy Spirit indwells believers to empower them to live a holy life. The book of Acts (and the Gospels) is unique in that it describes people believing in the progressive revelation of God as it was being revealed: John’s baptism of repentance, belief in Jesus’ resurrection and immediate water baptism, and the receiving/baptism of the Holy Spirit. Those who only receive John’s baptism of repentance aren’t told of the baptism of Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s enabling power. Later, when they hear of the Holy Spirit’s baptism, God manifests the Spirit in the same way (tongues and prophecy) to validate the person’s Holy Spirit baptism.

In other words, what Dr. Luke describes in Acts is not prescribed for the future church. In contrast to Acts, the Holy Spirit now takes up residence in the new Believer when they repent/believe/are saved and as he/she yields to His leading over time, the Spirit manifests in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) In fact, Paul says that the baptism of the Holy Spirit actually makes us Christians, uniting new Believers to the Body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:13) Further, Paul urges Believers to be continually filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)

In summary — and speaking generally, today, the operation of the Spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy (for evangelism and equipping) is different today than it was in the book of Acts (for revelation and validation).

The Holy Spirit sovereignly gives Believers various spiritual gifts for the purpose of evangelizing the lost and equipping Believers to grow in their faith. No one gift is more — or less — valuable than any other. All spiritual gifts should be used for the service and glory of God rather than the Believer who has been given the gift(s) by God.

I know that some of what I have said here is up for debate among believers. These issues are not primary issues of faith; they are areas where Christians should be able to agree to disagree. My hope is that this brief devotional helps to shed some Biblical light on some questionable, commonly-held theology.

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In today’s Bible reading, Paul and Silas come to Phillipi. On the Sabbath, they search out a place where people gathered to worship. Evidently, there wasn’t a synagogue there, but they found some women who had gathered to pray. One of the women was Lydia, a local businesswoman who sold purple goods. We know that she worshipped God.

Dr. Luke brings out something interesting that we cannot overlook. “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14) She believes and is baptized, along with her household.

We don’t know if Lydia is a Jew or a God-fearing Gentile. But Dr. Luke seems to indicate that she isn’t saved.

Application

Going to church will not save you. Only believing in Jesus and trusting His sacrificial death as the payment for your sin will save you.

As you talk with people whom you think may not be believers, ask God to open their hearts to pay attention to what He would say through you. Unless God opens their heart, they will not hear, believe, and trust in Christ. And they will not experience God’s transforming power.

When you talk with people about Jesus, remember that praying for God to move in their hearts and minds is more important than saying the right things. Absolutely share your faith with everyone you can. But don’t worry about getting the words right. Trust God to be sovereign over their salvation, just as He was sovereign over yours. And speak the truth in love.

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In today’s Bible reading, Paul and Barnabas flee persecution when they learn that both Jews and Gentiles in Iconium want to kill them. They come across a man who has been lame from birth and Paul tells him to stand up. When he does, the people of Lystra think that Paul and Barnabas are gods. The priest of Zeus tries to offer sacrifices to them and they quickly tell everyone that they are men just like everyone else there. (Acts 14:8-18)

The reason the people of Lystra think Paul and Barnabas are gods is because they don’t know any better. They have never heard the good news of the Gospel. Their polytheistic society didn’t know that there is only one true God and that these men were simply messengers. But they misunderstood the signs and wonders that God used to validate their message (Acts 14:3) and acted accordingly.

Shortly after this, the Jews of Iconia and Antioch come to Lystra and stone Paul, leaving him for dead. The Believers gather around him and he gets up and leaves for Derbe the next day with Barnabas. Later, they circled back and built up the churches and appointed local elders in the churches.

Application

Now, I’m painting with a very broad brush here, but miraculous signs and wonders like Dr. Luke describes here aren’t observed as much these days — at least in Western society. I believe that God still operates in the miraculous realm. But most of the “big stuff” happens on the mission field, on the cutting edge of the mission movement where God uses the signs and wonders to draw attention and validate His message as He did in the book of Acts.

It’s very important to note that Jesus warned against making too much of the miraculous. In fact, in one of the scariest passages of Scripture, Jesus says that knowing Him is more important than commanding demons (Luke 10:20) and “doing the deal” (Matthew 7:21-23).

So the question is, do you know Him? If not, I’d love to introduce you. Drop me a line and let’s talk!

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Stephen is martyred

Preachers are always concerned about how their sermons will be received. We agonize over the Biblical text, wanting so much to be true to what God says. We want our hearers to receive the Word as good soil. (Matthew 13:23)

In today’s Bible reading, Stephen (one of the Seven who were chosen to serve tables) recounts the history of the people of Israel, the physical children of Abraham. He begins with God’s call to Abraham to leave everything familiar to him to go to a land he didn’t know about. The trip would take a couple of months, traveling up to twenty miles a day with his family, his servants, and his livestock. Stephen continues through Moses’ call to lead the Hebrew people out of their slavery in Egypt. So far, so good. Finally, he quotes Isaiah 66:1-2 and then makes his application:

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51–53 ESV)

Now, if a preacher was trying to attract new convert with a “seeker-sensitive” sermon, he definitely wouldn’t have concluded his message with those three verses!

But Stephen was true to God’s Word. He applied it to his hearers in such a way that they stoned him to death. They understood his message. They rejected his message. So Stephen became the first Christian martyr.

Application

The Greek word for martyr means “witness”. Stephen was a witness and shared the Good News with these religious leaders. But before you can get to the Good News, must understand the implications of the Bad News. And that makes the Good News all the more attractive. Unfortunately, much of modern preaching and evangelism overlooks the Bad News and its implications. Instead, it offers an incomplete Good News message and cheap grace without the mention of sin and our need of repentance.

We (all of us, not just the ordained, but also the ordinary) need to follow Stephen’s example and be willing to be the witness/martyr that he was. Stephen was unfazed as his audience picked up stones to kill him. He continued to bear witness to the glories of heaven.

Being a witness for Jesus may cost your life. But isn’t that what we’re called to do? A call to salvation is a call to come and die. (Luke 9:23)

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Jesus is with His Garden Friends
Image source: LumoProject

In today’s Bible reading we read that after celebrating the Passover meal with His Disciples, He leads them to the Garden of Gethsemane singing a hymn. Jesus asked three of His Disciples, Peter, James, and John to pray with Him. He tells them that he is greatly distressed and troubled and asks them to remain there and watch. (Mark 14:34)

If you’ve read the story before, you know that the Disciples grow tired and sleepy. Three times Jesus finds his three “Garden Friends” asleep, despite His urging them to watch.

Unfortunately, Jesus’ Garden Friends choked when He needed them to pray for Him. But with their dozing off, it reminds me that I’m not the only one who sometimes lacks the ability to persevere.

Application

It’s important to have a few “Garden Friends”. Jesus only had three who went deep into the garden with Him. Garden friends aren’t like “Facebook friends”. Garden friends are just two or three people (of your gender) who can hold you and each other accountable in your walk with Christ.

It doesn’t have to be fancy. You don’t have to plan your time together. But you do need to meet together. Face-to-face. On a regular basis. When you aren’t able to meet together, touch base with each other with a text or phone call, letting them know you’re thinking about them and praying for them. Ask them how their time with God is going? Are they having any challenges in their quest to walk closer with the Master? Again, the time doesn’t have to be fancy. And you don’t have to have a list of questions for each other every time you meet. Remember, it’s a time to work together to grow closer to Jesus.

At one point, Jesus asks Peter if he could not pray for one hour. (Mark 14:37) When was the last time you spent one hour praying? Alone. By yourself. Just you and God?

If you’ve never done it before, it can seem like much more than one hour. But if you get in the habit of spending one hour in prayer, it becomes easier each time. But it’s important to remember to be well-rested when you’re developing the habit. Try it sometime. Find a comfortable place where you can sit uninterrupted. Turn off your phone’s ringer. Disable your phone’s notifications. Remember to bring your Bible and a notepad. Use the Bible as a pattern to pray, especially including some of the Psalms. Pray God’s Word back to Him. Write out your prayers. Keep a prayer list and link your requests with Bible verses, using these verses as the basis of your prayers.

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1 2 3 8

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