Friday, February 24, 2017

Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual Gifts 

 The word rendered as gift in the Greek is charisma

1) a favor with which one receives without any merit of his own
2) the gift of divine grace
3) the gift of faith, knowledge, holiness, virtue
4) the economy of divine grace, by which the pardon of sin and eternal salvation is appointed to sinners in consideration of the merits of Christ laid hold of by faith
5) grace or gifts denoting extraordinary powers, distinguishing certain Christians and enabling them to serve the church of Christ, the reception of which is due to the power of divine grace operating on their souls by the Holy Spirit

 This word charisma, like many other words, has evolved into an entirely different meaning: a personal quality of leadership arousing popular loyalty or enthusiasm.  So, when we talk about a charismatic movement which definition are we using?  I believe it should be the biblical meaning.  Of course, it is a misuse of the word, since those that use the term charismatic use it to refer to the use of glossolalia (speaking in tongues) and a more enthusiastic type of worship service.  In their mind, this style of worship style is from the Holy Spirit.  However, as we can see charisma is more than just external displays of the presence of the Holy Spirit; it refers to the quality of the plan of salvation, which is a gift from God to man.  Jesus is a gift to man (John 3:16); so is the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).  The word is also used to refer to grace, faith, knowledge, virtue, pardon, etc.  All of these are gifts given to man.  It is a favor with which one receives without any merit of his own.  Somehow when we refer to 1 Peter 4:10, we tend to focus on the definition number 5.  

 For the context of our study, the word gift means something given; this has implications. One is that a gift by definition is something from someone has to someone that does not have;  this applies to the Spiritual context.  Before experiencing Christ in us, we had nothing of what God gives to us.  Just read Romans 5 to get an idea.  Death is our reward.  After Christ comes into our lives eternal life is the outcome if we receive Him.  

 Now the one giving the gift gives because He wants to, the one receiving most choose to accept it.  Whether they accept it or not they were given a gift.  If they did not receive the gift; it is still a gift.  Lastly, the gift is given not because the recipient deserves it or not.  Again, the gift is given because the giver wants to give it.

Our lesson's emphasis is what we call spiritual gifts.  What they are referring to is these special endowments or skills that the Holy Sprit gives to those in whom He dwells; in other words to those who are converted.  (The disciples did not receive their gift until after their actual conversion in the Upper Chamber.)  These endowments are listed in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4.   The purpose for them is given in Ephesians 4: 12 – 13, 

Ephesians 4:12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Ephesians 4:13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

 These gifts are not just for witnessing and evangelism.  They are to help us become more like Christ and help others become more like Christ.  They are to be used to serve others.  How do we know we have them?  Well, if you are converted it will be revealed to you.  It is the Holy Spirit who brings about conversion in us, it is He who gives us a ministry, and it is He who gives us the gifts.  They are called spiritual for a reason.  Only those who are spiritual and not carnal have them.  

 Can you choose your gift? No, the Holy Spirit gives as He wills (1 Corinthians 12: 11).  How can you use them?  That is God's prerogative also.  Paul says in Ephesians 2:10,

 Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.  

 It is His work.  He is the boss.  So, whatever the church does, it must do under the authority and direction of the Holy Spirit. It is our privilege to seek the will of God and to work in harmony with that which the Spirit reveals. We must not fall into the trap of making plans and then seeking divine approval. Often we ask, "What can our church do for God?" We would do better to pray and let the Holy Spirit reveal to us what we shall do. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Bearing Fruit, Growing Like Vegetables

Bearing Fruit, Growing Like Vegetables

Why did Jesus tell us to bear fruit and not vegetables? (See John 15:8; Gal 5:22, 23). He could just as easily have told us to bear vegetables, after all, they are just as nutritious as fruit, and every bit as delicious. So why did He say that we should bear fruit? Is it, perhaps, that fruits are sweeter than vegetables? No, that can't be, because although many fruits are sweet, citrus fruits such as grapefruits, oranges, and lemons aren't sweet. (Compare them to apples or mangoes if you don't believe me). And besides, sweet potatoes are vegetables, and they are, well, sweet. So whatever the reason, it can't be that fruits are sweeter than vegetables. It must be something else. What else could the reason be? Let's see if we can find out together. First, the facts, vegetables do not have seeds, are annual plants, grow low to the ground, have shallow roots, and need replanting yearly. In contrast, fruits grow on vines or trees which characteristically have deep roots and do not require annual replanting, as they are perennials. 

So why did Jesus say what He said? Why did He say that we should bear fruit? Well, it seems as if Jesus was using fruit as analogous to His character in this way. Fruit trees don't try to grow, and from what He says, neither should we. Just as fruit trees are fed through their roots from the nutrients deep in the soil, so we should be deeply rooted and grounded, receiving nourishment from the Word. The fruit trees receive chlorophyll from the sunlight, which, converted into energy, helps them grow to maturity. We human beings love the sunshine too, but shouldn't we also desire the power from dwelling in the Sonlight? It too is essential for our maturation just like the fruit plants. There is also the rain.  We need the rain to cool off.  The rain sweetens the fruit and quenches our thirst. Fruit trees depend on all of these elements to grow, and so do we. Without total dependence on Christ, we will stagnate (or as you'll see later, grow vegetables believing they're fruit). Let's look at John 15 and see what it says regarding fruit:

John 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me you can do nothing.
John 15:8 Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall you be My disciples.

In these texts, Christ is telling us that without reciprocity, we won't bear fruit, even though Christ compares us to fruit trees. Furthermore, He is telling us that He wants to bring forth large amounts of fruit in us.  Ellen White says that Christ, "... is waiting with longing desire for the perfect reproduction of Himself (character) in His people (church) then will the end come." (parenthetical comments are the authors). For this to happen, He must dwell in us, and we must dwell in Him. Then the fruit will grow, and be delicious too! It is that simple. A list of the character fruit Christ wants to grow in the soil of our minds is found in  Galatians 3: 22 - 23,

Galatians 3:22 For the fruit of the Spirit is Agape love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
Galatians 3:23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 

To which Spirit is this scripture referring? The Holy Spirit of course. So, is it possible to bear vegetables to the Spirit? Not to the Holy Spirit, no, but to some spirit, sure it is. Trying to bear fruit by ourselves, we are likely to bear the vegetables of liking, happiness, calm, tolerance, niceness, pleasantness, shallow belief, false pride, moderation, and against such is the law. What law is this against, and why? It is against the law of love-- to love God supremely, and love our fellowmen as Jesus loved us-- that law. Why, because that law is the fulfilling of Agape, whose only source is God and we can only receive it from Him.  Whatever we generate, we'll have to keep regenerating because it doesn't last.  Why? Because we have no life in ourselves, that's why.

So far, Christ has specified the type of character He wants us to grow, through the analogy of fruit. But in describing how he wants us to grow, and what it'll look like, He uses the analogy of vegetables.  He says that we grow "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear" (Mark 4:28). Very simple. How is it that so many of us try to grow up overnight? It is a process that takes time.  Many try (in the beginning), and then some of us fake it. Then, worst than that, having failed, we somehow expect others to try and grow up by themselves too.  The only way to grow into Christlikeness is to abide in Christ and He in us through the Holy Spirit.  

In John 15, where Jesus talks about bearing fruit, He mentions abiding in Himself ten times within five verses. There is an emphasis on repetition.  It must be important, because He never repeats Himself needlessly. To me, it conjures up the idea that to be fruitful we must totally depend on Him.  But, are we?  "By the fruit, you will know."

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What is required to be Holy?

"The Holy Spirit and Living a Holy Life"
February 11, 2017


What is required to be Holy?
As a college student was perusing the course catalog for his school, he noticed that beside the description for certain classes the word prerequisite was written. Curious, he looked more closely and noted that beside a particular class, a list of lower level classes was marked with an asterisk. Puzzled, the student figured perhaps it meant that he should take the required classes (the classes marked with asterisks) before he took that particular class. His conclusion, however, wasn't quite correct as that is not the definition of the word prerequisite. Of course, the prefix "pre" means before, and "requisite" does mean requirement. Thus, a requirement is something which is needed in regards to a condition or quality. What the catalog was saying was this: a student taking this class would need the knowledge and or skill set taught in the pre-required classes. Yet, requirements are not always about something that can be personally achieved or acquired.
Typically we speak of requirements in terms of fulfilling, not doing. To fulfill means to satisfy; to satisfy is to meet the requirements. Twenty pilots were selected to fly Vostok 1 (the first spaceship to orbit the earth). The final choices for the first launch were made based on the pilots' performance in training, as well as their physical characteristics. Since space was at a premium in the small Vostok cockpit, the pilots chosen needed to be of small stature. Advantageous to the Soviets was Yuri Gagarin because he was 1.57 meters (5 ft 2 in). So, they chose him, as he met the size requirement, and would fit the small cockpit. While Gagarin's height was his advantage, it was not something he could acquire or achieve, it was his by genetic inheritance.
The Lord has told us to be holy, but it is not something we can acquire or achieve on our own, nor is it ours by genetic inheritance. We read from the Apostle Peter in I Peter 1:14-16,
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.
What is holy or holiness, and how do we meet this requirement? According to Romans 7:12, the law is holy. Therefore we could make the case that holiness has something to do with the law. And of course we can note throughout scripture that various writers have emphasized keeping the law as a requirement. But, what does keeping the law mean? Is it something we do? Or is it a requirement that can be fulfilled, and then we move on to something else? Contrary to our focus on doing, both Paul, and Christ speak time and again of the commandments as something to be fulfilled. Here are some examples from the books of Romans, Galatians, and lastly from Matthew.
"That the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:4).
"Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:10). (The love referred to is Agape-- the self-denying, putting others first, gift from God found in I Cor. 13. So here's a thought, if the Law is Holy, and love is the fulfilling of it, then conversely, Love is the fulfilling of holiness.)
Continuing on, we are to, "Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8). "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Galatians 5:14).
And lastly, Jesus Christ Himself has said, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17).
According to Paul, whom Christ Himself taught through His Spirit, there is a difference between the doing of the law and the fulfilling of the law. Paul intentionally used each phrase to make an important distinction between two different ways of defining Christian behavior in relation to the law. So, when Paul refers positively to Christian observance of the law he never describes it as "doing the law." He reserves that phrase to refer solely to the misguided behavior of those who are living under the law and are trying to earn God's approval by "doing" what the law commands.
Paul is not implying that those who have received salvation in Christ do not obey. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul is saying they "fulfill" the law. He means that true Christian behavior is much more than the outward obedience of just "doing" the law; it is the fulfillment of the law of Love. Paul uses the word fulfill because it goes far beyond just "doing." This type of obedience is rooted in Jesus' positive fulfillment of His Father's requirements (see Matt. 5:17) through the power of the Spirit (John 5:19, 30). This is not an abandonment of the law, nor is it a reduction of the law to sentimental human love based on feelings. Instead, Agape-love is 'the way' through which the believer experiences the real intent and meaning of the whole law!
Ellen White also sees the Law as a requirement. And, she is clear on how we can fulfill that requirement. She says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Romans 4:3-5). Righteousness is obedience to the law. The law demands righteousness, and this the sinner owes to the law; but he is incapable of rendering it. The only way in which he can attain to righteousness is through faith. By faith he can bring to God the merits of Christ, and the Lord places the obedience of His Son to the sinner's account. Christ's righteousness is accepted in place of man's failure, and God receives, pardons, justifies, the repentant, believing soul, treats him as though he were righteous, and loves him as He loves His Son. This is how faith is accounted righteousness; and the pardoned soul goes on from grace to grace, from light to a greater light. He can say with rejoicing, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:5-7). {1SM 367.1}
Only those who live by faith, attain the righteousness required to be holy as God is Holy. This holiness is not something the believer can achieve or acquire. It is not something genetic inheritance gives us. It can however be blocked by seeking after our own way/things (I Corinthians 13:5, Philippians 2:21, Isaiah 53:6). Holiness is the result of the grace (power) of God working in the believer's heart through the Lord's indwelling Holy Spirit. It is of grace, that it might be through faith, being activated by agape-love which purifies the soul. And thus filled with God's Spirit, we fulfill God's will toward others from the heart.

~Raul Diaz

Raul Diaz

Friday, February 3, 2017

Growth and Change

When the Holy Spirit fills us the change in us will be positive.  We will reflect increasingly the character of Christ.  

Growth and Change

Typically we look at the word growth as positive.  But, there are is a time when growth is negative.  Consider our current economic status.  Many people say that the national debt is growing and also the deficit.  That is typically not good news.  Regarding health, cancer tumors grow in the body.  That is not healthy growth.  So, when we apply this to the church setting, does it correspond?  Church growth is not always good, especially if the new members are not willing to abide by the doctrinal views of the organization.  That could have adverse consequences. 
Another word that is many people see as positive is change.  But, change can be harmful, too. 

Our lesson says that a church that resists change will not grow and therefore die.  Anything that grows changes, but so does anything that dies.  Consider a plant that is dying.  It may be resisting growth, regarding expanding the space it occupies and increasing its strength.  The moment this happens changes occur that will reveal that it is dying. The color of the leaves changes, they shrivel up and fall.  The stem will most likely bend.  The plant grows when it has water, nutrients, and sunlight; when one of these is missing the plant dies.  All three of these ingredients have a spiritual equivalent in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Without them, we die.  Hence, it is important to connect to where we can receive the resources continually. 

The question is can a church seem to be alive- it is expanding in numbers and strength - but still dying?  Many churches are like gangrenes and cancers.  They grow, but it is nothing more than death taking over the body.  Surgeons often extirpate tumors and cut away gangrened body parts.  The same will happen with those churches. 

In Matthew 7: 21 Jesus said that "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven…"  They will beg to get in the Kingdom.  Let us read verses 22 and 23,

Matthew 7:22-23
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

They will say to Christ, but we did many things in your name.  Christ will probably answer, "You used my name in vain.  Your works were not mine."  The people may reply, "But, we went to church together, we sat in the same pews, we sang from the same hymnals, and read from the same Bible."  So, Christ will probably say, "Are you sure it was me?"  They will answer, "Yes, it was."  Then they will claim the fact that they gave tithes and offerings, served in the Church in different capacities.  Christ will answer, "That money never came to me. And, I do not recall you ever serving.  As I said, I do not know you."  The Lord will sever them from the body.

So, whatever these people did was not pleasing to Christ.  Since without faith it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6), these church members had no faith, so all they did was Sin; since, whatever is not of faith is Sin (Romans 14: 23). There will be church administrators, pastors, evangelists, and laity that were hard working and successful in this group.  You can imagine how it will feel to these people to find out that all they did amounted to nothing.  What they thought was a sign of God's favor, was a sign of their rebellion. 

So, those who resist change and those who embrace it can be wrong.  Resisting the right change and embracing the wrong one will have the same dire consequences: eternal death.  I can just imagine the complaints.  "I can see why this one is out.  He was a sinner/legalist.  But, why me? This is not fair!" 

So, who will enter the kingdom?  Jesus said in Matthew 7:21, "… he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."  We could say that those that did His will pleased Him; this means they lived by faith (Hebrews 11: 6).  They are just (righteous); since the just shall live by faith (Romans 1: 17).  A righteous person is one that performs the law (Romans 2: 13).  But, notice that Abraham believed and he was accounted righteous (Genesis 15: 6).  So, this kind of righteousness – performing the law - comes through believing the word of God.  To believe we must first hear what is said.  And, faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of God (Romans 10: 17). 

This is more than giving assent to God's existence.  This kind of faith is dependence on God's word.  "Man shall live out of every word that comes out God's mouth" (Matthew 4: 4).  Paul says in Galatians 5: 6 that in Jesus, works avail nothing, but faith which works by love does.  Works of love – self-sacrificing other-centered love – show true faith.  This is what God wants to produce in us.  This is what would please Him.  Will we allow Him to do this in us?
Raul Diaz