SermonsDiscover the Joy of Leaving Laodicea Behind
Quite honestly, this question is what separates those who live their Christian life on the bottom rung from those who experience the Higher Christian Life. And it is all based on faith. Your faith. Do you believe the promises of God? Not just specific doctrines about God. Not what God has done for others. But do you, emphasis on you, believe the promises of God? Do you believe what He says He will do? Do you believe what He says about you? Do you believe the consequences of disobeying Him? And do you believe in the blessings promised by being “in Christ”? In short, do you believe?
Now your answer will be either yes or no. Or maybe, “Sometimes. It all depends on the promise.” But that view of God impugns His character. After all, He is either trustworthy or not. He either tells the truth or He spins it to fit His own narrative. He is either perfect and pure or shady like the rest of our friends. There is no middle ground. We either believe, or we don’t. And the consequences of our choice are profound.
Consider Abraham. He was given a promise from God that defied understanding, not to mention biology. When it was physically impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have children due to their advanced age, God promised Abraham he would have a son and his descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky (Gen. 15:5). Pretty steep order. Yet this was a promise from God. Initially, Sarah laughed in unbelief when she heard God’s words (Gen. 18:10-13). And Abraham tried to find a loophole to work around his unbelief using Eliezar his servant (Gen. 15:4), and later Hagar, Sarah’s handmaiden (Gen. 16:1-3).
Nevertheless, the promise was clear and precise. It was a promise to be believed, or not believed. And the choice was Abraham’s. So what did he do? Consider the following:
He (Abraham) did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, (1) giving glory to God, and (2) being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore “it (Abraham’s faith) was accounted (imputed, reckoned) to him (Abraham) for righteousness.” Now it (Genesis 15) was not written for his sake alone that it (righteousness) was imputed to him (Abraham), but also for us. It (righteousness) shall be (future) imputed (reckoned, accounted) to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, (crucifixion) who was delivered up (why) because of our offenses, and was (resurrection) raised (why) because of our justification – Romans 4:20-25.
Note, Jesus died because of our offenses or sins. And He was raised up or resurrected because of our justification (when we are declared righteous). We are not declared righteous based on our own merit, but the righteousness of Christ is now imputed (reckoned, accounted) to us by faith in the Lord Jesus. Just like it was with Abraham.
But there is so much more.
In Acts 19 we have a controversial encounter between Paul, the Holy Spirit, and some believers in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7). One side claims it proves the Holy Spirit can, and will, come upon believers after salvation thus justifying much of the fringe charismatic movement. The other side, just as dogmatic, claims this encounter proves nothing more than the fact these “disciples” (Acts 19:1) were lost until Paul preached Christ to them even though the Scriptures state they “believed” (Acts 19:2). The question at the heart of this controversy is this: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2).
And your answer, or on what side of this great theological chasm you choose to land, will have a critical effect on whether you experience the Higher Christian Life. Let me explain.
The account in Acts shows Paul coming to a group of “disciples” (a key word) in Ephesus and obviously noticing something different, something missing in their Christian life. We are not told what he saw or what prompted his question, but nevertheless, the first words recorded out of Paul’s mouth were “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Strange. Why would he begin this conversation with them this way?
Note, the book of Acts calls them “disciples” and Paul asked about something they did, or didn’t, receive after they “believed.” Paul never shared the Gospel with them or made any indication they were less than fellow believers. So the inference is they were believers, Christians, but were obviously missing something, some power or intimacy, something expected and assumed for believers back then. Not so much expected today, but then we sadly live in different, more apathetic, lukewarm times.
So let’s answer the question, Do believers receive the Holy Spirit when they believe? And do they receive the Spirit Immediately? Instantaneously?
Acts 19 begins with Paul stumbling upon a group of disciples in Ephesus that seemed different from those he had encountered elsewhere. So different he asked them point-blank, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2). This, on the surface, seems like a strange question. After all, how could they be “disciples” and not have the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9)? Didn’t Paul write to the church at Ephesus that all believers are “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (Eph. 1:13-14)? And if so, is there a difference between “knowing” the Holy Spirit and “receiving” the Holy Spirit?
Plus, when Jesus introduced the Holy Spirit to His disciples in John 14, He made this statement:
“And I will pray (ask) the Father, and He will give you another (állos – of the same kind, an exact replica) Helper (paráklētos – to comfort, encourage or exhort), that He may abide (live, rest, dwell, make His home) with you forever— (described as) the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows (ginōskō) Him; but you know (ginōskō) Him, (how) for He dwells with you (present) and will be in you (future). I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you (future)” – John 14:16-18.
In this statement about the Holy Spirit, Jesus makes a distinction between the lost world and those whom He will redeem, the chosen (Eph. 1:4), the children of God (Rom. 8:16-17). And this distinction is the ability to “see” and “know” (ginōskō) the Holy Spirit. The word translated know (ginōskō), does not mean to know in a cognitive sense, such as, “I know that George Washington was the first president of the United States.” It is not mental, factual, academic knowledge only. To know (ginōskō), as Jesus said we would “know” the Holy Spirit, is an intimate knowledge (as Adam “knew” his wife Eve and as Joseph did not “know” his wife Mary “until she had brought forth her firstborn Son”). The word ginōskō also means to know by experience, to know completely, to know and place one’s favor and acceptance upon. It is a powerful word that reveals more about parents knowing their child than a student knowing the answers to Friday’s pop quiz.
And this is how Jesus said we are to know (ginōskō) and do know (ginōskō), the Holy Spirit (John 14:17).
Do you know the Holy Spirit that way?
One of the great longings of those the Lord used mightily in the last church age is the fullness, or baptism, of the Holy Spirit. No, we’re not talking about loopy believers today who claim something their life doesn’t exhibit. We are talking about the heroes of old, those like D.L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, Andrew Murray, Oswald Chambers, Charles Finney, Amy Charmichael, and so many others. Each of these great servants of God testifies to their deep longing and ultimate baptism of the Holy Spirit that they claim was the source and power for all that God did through them and led to what they called the Higher Christian Life.
But what about us? And what about the church? How does our view and participation in church impact the Higher Christian Life? Does it help? Or does it hurt?
Take a moment and think about how we “do” church today. See if any of these ring true to you.
• The “church” is primarily defined as a building, institution, or tax-exempt entity.
• The members of a church meet in a neutral building.
• Almost all ministry and fellowship takes place in the neutral building.
• Almost all relationships are forged by shared activities in the neutral building.
• There is usually a corporate model of top-down leadership within the church.
• The Sunday morning worship service is primarily designed as a time of musical performance (concert), corporate singing, and teaching and is designed to make the congregation feel comfortable.
• The structure of the facility seating models an educational institution and not a family.
• Primarily, the pace of the teaching is on a “C” level.
• Participation is the goal, not measurable growth.
• Much of the focus is not on the individual believer but on the entity of the “church” (lesser serves the greater).
• Paid professionals perform those required tasks often neglected by the fathers in their own families.
• Self-promotion and marketing are usually designed to point people to the church and not to Christ.
• Most preaching is about personal “felt” needs.
• Church usually meets once a week on Sunday for less than two hours.
• Sometimes, a mid-week Bible study or small group meets with an attendance of less than 5% of those who come on Sunday.
• Women are far more likely to attend and participate in church functions than men.
And if you compare this picture of the church today to what we see in the New Testament, especially in the Book of Acts, you may come to the troubling conclusion that the modern, Western, contemporary idea of the church may be the greatest hindrance to experiencing the Higher Christian Life.
But first, let’s address the elephant in the room by answering the most pressing question. What is the Higher Christian Life?
There is uncertainty all around. And we, as the church, are in the beginning of a life of persecution that was promised by our Lord. Often uncertainty leads to fear, and fear crushes faith. But we are instructed in Psalm 56 to not fear but turn our fear into faith. David says, “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You” (Psalm 56:3). And then twice, in the same Psalm, he affirms, “What can flesh do to me” (Psalm 56:4) and “What can man do to me?” (Psalm 56:11).
Great questions. And the answer is, “Not much, other than kill us.” But if we have a proper view of eternity, even death becomes an anticipation and not something to fear. Think about it.
Life is more than what we see and feel, much more than what we can experience with our senses. There is, on the one hand, the true reality that lasts forever with God, when this temporal, transitory, substitute reality ceases to be. And there is, on the other hand, the pre-game reality we exist in today. Jesus said we are living in this kingdom, this reality, but are actually citizens of His kingdom, of His reality, that has not yet physically manifested itself in this world. And the true, “abundant life” Jesus promised is reserved for those who physically exist in this temporal reality that is passing away, yet live and abide in the reality that lasts forever.
This is called living by faith. And it takes concrete action on our part to do.
When fear is brought into (or subject to) the presence of God, it dissolves right before our eyes, just like it did with David in Psalm 56 and elsewhere. And when for some reason it doesn’t vanish yet remains like a lingering cough after a bad cold, it is not because our fear is so large, or intimidating, or frightening.
It is simply because our God is too small.
Let me share some uncomfortable truths deliberately forgotten today in our land of apathy and opulence. And this truth may be hard to swallow for some, yet it is true nonetheless. In a simple statement: Persecution is an integral part of Christianity. So much so that it is to be expected, even desired. Why? Because persecution, like spiritual fruit, is an outward sign of living and abiding in Christ in obedience. And if so, we must, as a church and as believers living in the West, prepare for persecution.
The Scriptures teach that persecution is an inevitable result of one wanting to live in the image of Jesus. Consider the promise and the conditions of this verse:
Yes, and all (each, every, entire, with the idea of oneness, without exception) who desire (to will, wish, intend, implying active volition and purpose) to live (to spend one’s existence, to pass one’s life) godly (righteously, attributing to God the things which rightfully pertain to God) in (who) Christ Jesus will (promise) suffer persecution (to press, distress, trouble, crush, to prosecute, to pursue with repeated acts of enmity) – 2 Timothy 3:12.
I suggest you read this passage in context. You will clearly see the focus of this chapter is that persecution is to be expected and not feared. Ever. After all, when Jesus was speaking about the relationship between a master and His servants, He was speaking in the context of suffering and persecution. This is a classic if/then statement from our Lord
“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, (then) they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, (then) they will keep yours” – John 15:20.
In fact, when you look at the ministry of Jesus from the perspective of Him preparing His disciples, and the church, for the inevitability of persecution, you can see it on almost every page.
There are three major judgments in the prophetic timeline of God: the Sheep and Goats Judgment, the Bema Seat Judgment, and the Great White Throne Judgment. Some of these judgments take place on earth and some in heaven. But there is only one that you should be worried about. And that is the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ.
So what is the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ and why is it such a big deal?
The Bema Seat Judgment of Christ takes place after the Rapture of the church and before the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in heaven. This judgment does not determine salvation. At this time, believers are rewarded for how faithfully they served their Lord. Some will receive rewards (and be invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, etc.), and others will obviously not receive rewards (or suffer loss). It will be a time of great rejoicing for some. And for others, a time of immense sadness, regret, and shame.
Therefore we make (labor) it our aim (to make our ambition, to aspire to), whether present or absent, to be well pleasing (acceptable, that which one wills, recognizes, and approves) to (who) Him. For (why) we must all appear (to show openly) before the judgment seat of Christ, (for what reason) that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad – 2 Corinthians 5:9-10.
Some will receive a reward. But others will “suffer loss” or not receive a reward and the benefits that come with it. Consider the following.
Now if anyone (what) builds on this foundation (Christ) with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s (what) work will become clear (to shine, to make manifest, become evident); for (when) the Day will declare it (to make known), (how) because it (one’s work) will be revealed (to remove a veil or covering to expose to open view) by fire; and the fire will test (approve as worthy or not) each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s (what) work which he has built on it endures (abide, to remain, dwell, live), he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire – 2 Corinthians 3:12-15.
But what are some things Christ will judge at the Bema Seat Judgment?
Often it is difficult for us to visualize Jesus as King, because we are pretty much clueless as to what life is like under a king? All we know about kings and kingdoms come from Netflix mini-series or old British movies. But the Scriptures clearly state that Jesus is King. And it also makes it abundantly clear that Jesus, our King, has a kingdom. But what does that mean? How do we begin to understand the King of Kings and His coming Kingdom?
What do we know about all kings and their kingdoms? Because if what we know about human kings is true, it would be reasonable to assume the same is also true about Jesus and His Kingdom.
Consider the following.
A king must have a kingdom.
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” – John 18:36-38.
And within his kingdom, a king sovereignly rules.
Which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, (to what extent) far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also (where) in that which is to come – Ephesians 1:20-21.
As sovereign king, he has absolute power over life and death, over justice and punishment, over blessings and rewards, over wealth and poverty, over sickness and health, over order or chaos, over everything in his kingdom.
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, (which means) so that you do not do the things that you wish – Galatians 5:16-17.
This means that any freedom the king grants to his subjects is granted to them by the merciful grace of the king.
But there is so much more. It gets even better.
One of the most sobering truths you can discover about your salvation is that it is not all about you. That’s right. Your salvation is actually about the Kingdom of God. We just happen to be the beneficiary of a great blessing from God in our salvation, but the overriding purpose of our salvation is not just about us, but about the Kingdom of God.
It seems, when we think of salvation today, it always begins with our justification and ends with us spending eternity in heaven. And it always seems to center on us.
Think about it.
Salvation begins when we ask the Lord to forgive us of our sins and ask Jesus to come into our lives as Lord and Savior. We usually follow this with the believer’s baptism. Then we try, to the best of our ability, to live according to the profession we made in Christ, but often fall short on a daily basis. And when we die, we go to heaven to be with the Lord and all those in Him who have died before us.
And what happens when we get to heaven?
We get a new, glorified body that doesn’t age or have any of the problems our old bodies had. We can fly like angels. There is something about a supper we are invited to. We get a really big house, a mansion, and we get to travel down streets that are paved with gold. All our needs and wants are taken care of. We are pretty much rich and live like kings.
Also, there is no sadness or sorrow or pain or suffering or tears or death or anything like that. So, I guess we’ll be happy all the time. And we’ll be surrounded by other believers who have also died and are happy all the time just like we are.
Does this view of heaven seem a bit narcissistic?
When you survey the subject of popular, contemporary preaching and compare it to the content of the message of Jesus and His disciples found in the New Testament, you will clearly see there is something missing. Jesus and His disciples and the early church almost exclusively preached about the Kingdom of God or the Gospel of the Kingdom. And today, we preach about getting our felt needs met by the Lord. How He is going to hold us, calm us, bless us, heal our boo-boo’s, and make our life in this world better. Really? What happened to the forgotten gospel of the kingdom?
If we look at the flow of the New Testament, some patterns quickly emerge. Consider the following:
Gospel – presents the Message (Gospel) of the Kingdom
Acts – from the Message (Gospel) of the Kingdom to the Church (the earthly manifestation of the Kingdom)
Revelation – from the Church to the Establishment of the Kingdom
And again, the message of both Jesus and John the Baptist were identical at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. There were both preaching about a coming kingdom as they revealed to the people the King standing before them.
John the Baptist – “Repent, (why) for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 3:2
Jesus – “Repent, (why) for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17
But this is only the beginning of the forgotten gospel of the Kingdom of God.