Part A | Part B | Part C | Part D
GOD'S PROVISION FOR HIS CHURCH: THE HOLY SPIRITPart A
Throughout the history of the church one of the most basic doctrines has been the concept of the Trinity. The living God of the Bible is one God, yet He has revealed Himself to man as three distinct persons: God the Father; God the Son, whom we call Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit. This basic doctrine is one of the hardest to understand, and is one reason why Christianity must remain a religion of faith, not human reason. The thrilling fact is that many believers around the world who have never understood this doctrine, and some who have never even heard of it, have nonetheless experienced and know the Triune God. In a brief series of lessons like this we cannot attempt to teach in depth about a great spiritual mystery like the Trinity. Most believers recognize God the Father as the ruler of the universe, the eternal divine power on high. That will be sufficient at this point. It is also generally understood among Christian believers that the God of the universe chose to reveal Himself; first through the written Word [the Bible], and then more dramatically by entering the world in physical form as our Savior [Jesus Christ]. As far as the third person of the Trinity [the Holy Spirit], is concerned, there seems to be much less understanding. Yet according to the Bible, it is the Holy Spirit that is so vitally involved in our efforts to survive victoriously.
This lack of teaching and understanding about the person and work of the Holy Spirit can probably be traced to two primary misunderstandings. First, there are those who think that when Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, "He will glorify me," (John 16:14), He meant that all Spirit-guided teaching will be about Christ. Therefore these people do not teach about the Holy Spirit. This is a sincere desire to follow the Scripture, but it fails to notice that there are many references to the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Were these New Testament writers led of the Holy Spirit when they wrote these passages? Of course, they were. So it seems that the Holy Spirit wants us to know and understand His ministry to the church, which will bring glory Christ. In fact, when Christians realize what the Holy Spirit can do for them, their lives are much more likely to glorify Christ.
The second reason that the person and work of the Holy Spirit are often disregarded in Christian teaching is because the ministry of the Holy Spirit may seem too dynamic and unpredictable. The book of Acts reveals that the Holy Spirits work does not follow a consistent pattern. He responds to apparently similar situations in a variety of amazing ways. This dynamic inconsistency cannot be programmed or controlled and is often unwelcome in institutional churches.
Jesus Christ taught us that the Holy Spirit would be our Counselor (Jn. 14:25). He also called Him the Spirit of Truth (Jn. 14:17). The work of the Holy Spirit is so practical to us that it will be useful begin by listing His functions or attributes:
1. Assuring us (Eph. 1:14) 2. Comforting (Jn. 14:16)
3. Convicting (Jn. 16:8) 4. Teaching (Jn. 14:26)
5. Reminding (Jn. 14:26) 6. Testifying of Christ (Jn. 15:26)
7. Guiding (Jn. 16:13; Rom. 8:14) 8. Revealing (Jn. 16:14; Lk. 2:26))
9. Glorifying Christ (Jn. 16:14) 10. Supplying power (Acts 1:8)
11. Speaking through us (Mk. 13:1) 12. Speaking to us (Jn. 16:13)
13. Bearing witness in us (Rom. 8:16) 14. Helping (Rom. 8:26)
15. Interceding (Rom. 8:26) 16. Giving spiritual gifts (I Cor. 12:4,11)
17. Regenerating (I Cor. 12:3) 18. Confirming our salvation (Eph. 1:13)
19. Producing His fruit in us (Gal. 5:22)
It is evident from this list that the common errors of ignoring the Holy Spirit, on one hand, or looking to Him only for awesome miracles on the other, must both be avoided. The functions of the Holy Spirit are essential to the Christian whether or not he is in a hostile environment. Without the things listed above, we have nothing to offer a lost world. The goal of the Christian should be to live so completely under the control of the Holy Spirit that it can be said that he is walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). As Paul reminded the Galatian Christians, they began their Christian lives by a miracle work of God, new birth in Jesus, and they could only expect to continue it by God's power. This fact is even more evident in a hostile environment. Perhaps it would help to memorize this list of the functions of the Holy Spirit so that you know what you can expect of Him when you are in a pressure situation.
A courier to China was once put in a difficult position by a certain line of probing questions by a border guard. He didn't know what to say. He recalled the Scriptural promise that the Holy Spirit would tell him what to say and with only a seconds hesitation he mentioned a fact of Chinese history to the guard that changed the whole direction of the conversation. He later commented that he didn't remember ever having heard that detail of history before. The Holy Spirit had put it into his mouth. If you and your fellowship of believers would regularly review the functions of the Holy Spirit and share examples of His fulfilling these functions in your everyday lives you would be amazed, and your faith would be strengthened. Children can learn from such "experience sessions" that their faith in God is a practical everyday reality. The next time you would like to have a time of sharing spiritual blessings, begin by reading the list of the Holy Spirits functions to the group. Then ask how many have been aware of the Holy Spirit "assuring" them in the past few days. Read the second, third, and so on, asking for a "show of hands" on each point. After the functions have been reviewed in this way, see if anyone would like to share the specific experience they had in mind when they responded to the list. In this way, a real blessed time of sharing may be stimulated. Remember that the Bible teaches, "...he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil. 1:6). This means that the Holy Spirit is actively functioning in you, if you are a believer! Are you aware of what He has been doing? When you share like this in your fellowship everyone will be encouraged.
Suggested Discussion Questions:
1. The existence of a personal God who has revealed Himself as three persons is bitterly opposed by Satan. What particular resistance to this teaching is found in your home area?
2. What three or four functions of the Holy Spirit seem especially important to you?
3. Ask someone in your fellowship to share an experience in which they have been aware of the Holy Spirit functioning in their lives.
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In Lesson IV we talked about memorizing Scripture. The 14th, 15th and 16th chapters of the Gospel of John should be among those memorized so that this encouraging teaching about the Holy Spirit will not be forgotten. Notice how many of the functions of the Holy Spirit are vital for leadership in the church. This Spirit led leadership is most important when the church is facing a hostile situation. The type of church leadership which is widely accepted in the institutional churches in western society today, with one man the center of all activity, cannot continue in a repressive society. Besides the fact that this type of leadership is probably not biblical, it is easy for the authorities to remove the key man and stop that churchs impact. Whether a local church group chooses to co-exist, protest, or go underground in the face of repression, the pastor-teacher style of church leadership must change. While a co-existing church or even a protest church may have a pastor, his activities will be closely monitored. While he is the center of attention by the authorities, it is hoped that other believers will assume such key roles as visiting the sick and teaching the young. Without the pastor being able to move freely among the members to encourage, comfort, and exhort, will other members meet these needs? The Holy Spirit, if He can find willing vessels, can fill and use members who have never before attempted such leadership responsibilities.
When the Communists took over a country, they had already identified the key Christian leaders on the local as well as the national level. Anyone who was a "full time" Christian worker before the take over knew he was a "marked" man. In Vietnam, even Christian businessmen who were not "full time" Christian workers, but who had exercised lay leadership, were "marked." These people did not have the option of going underground. They had stand for the Lord openly and face the consequences, or suffer spiritual defeat. People in such positions deserve the prayerful support of Christians everywhere. Imagine the Christian movement in your country suddenly cut off from all those who are now its leaders! In the period of confusion that immediately follows a takeover, some small groups of Christians may be able to move to a different locality and become underground churches, but they must leave their "institutional forms" behind. But who would lead such groups? Who would provide leadership for "house" churches and "family" churches? God, through the Holy Spirit, would raise up and equip leaders for His church in such circumstances, as He always has in the past! The members of a home fellowship must be prepared to accept the leadership of the Spirit and of those He chooses to minister through. Look again at the examples of the New Testament churches in the book of Acts, and the pattern outlined by Paul in his Epistles. The leadership of the Holy Spirit in any small church fellowship will probably be the quiet interrelated leadership of several who can comfort, encourage, and exhort.
As each believer in a fellowship realizes that he is a priest before God (I Pet. 2:5), that he does not need any intercessor but Jesus (I Tim. 2:5), and that the Holy Spirit is functioning daily in him, he will begin to function in his proper relationship to Christ. The Bible teaches that Jesus is the head, and we are the members of His body (Eph. 1:22-23). Does your hand need someone to tell it what your mind wants it to do?
When the regular lay Christian actually begins to understand that he can pray directly to the Lord, that he can take a passage of Scripture, written or memorized, and understand it under the direction of the Holy Spirit, then he is on the road to surviving victoriously in whatever set of hostile circumstances he may face. One exciting discovery will lead to another. He will begin to let the Holy Spirit use him to touch the lives of others and minister to their needs. No authority on earth can destroy this kind of spiritual church!
Suggested Discussion Questions:
l. What do you think you can contribute to the leadership of your fellowship? Consider the particular spiritual strengths of those present.
2. What are some of the advantages of an interrelated group of leaders for a fellowship?
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Before we can enjoy the spiritual power available through the Holy Spirit, we must to be aware of the whole scope of the Bibles teaching about the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. Let us review some of the basic things we know about Him.
1. He is God (Gen. 1:2).
2. He is eternal (Heb. 9:14).
3. He lives inside the believer (I Cor. 3:16; Rom. 8:9).
4. He will never leave a believer (Jn. 14:16).
With these facts firmly in his mind, a believer is prepared to carry on as a Christian in any situation. The individual believer will understand what Peter meant when he said, "You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (I Peter 2:5). And later he added, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God," (I Peter 2:9). The implications of these teachings are tremendous to a Christian in a hostile environment. When he is cut off from the traditional forms of the institutional church, he can continue to fulfill all the functions of the church in his own family or small fellowship! This includes witnessing, leading an unbeliever to salvation in Christ, baptizing him, and sharing the Lord's Supper with him. But the Holy Spirit will not be able to use a believer who is not sure he has the "right" to be a spiritual leader. We must stand boldly on the teachings of the Bible. Jesus Christ is the head of the church and He has not relinquished that position to any person or organization. The kind of problem that can develop due to a misunderstanding of this point was graphically illustrated when traveler to China was told by a Christian there that he had not been able to worship God in over ten years. When the shocked visitor inquired how anyone could keep a believer from quietly worshipping his Lord for so long, the Chinese explained that he had not been able to worship since the authorities had arrested his priest! It is sad that this man did not understand that he has complete access to the throne of God through Jesus Christ.
As the head of His church, Jesus has continued to empower the church by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). The Holy Spirit can be trusted to meet the needs of each group of believers. He will give spiritual gifts to the members to strengthen the whole group (Rom. 12:3-8). It is highly unlikely that one person will possess all of the gifts needed in any fellowship. Usually, each member has a spiritual gift which can help the whole group when it is used properly. You should be familiar with the key passages teaching the gifts of the Holy Spirit and be prepared to have the Holy Spirit use them in your midst. Paul told the Ephesian church, "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it....he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare Gods people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...," (Eph. 4:7, 11 & 12). To the Corinthians he explained, "Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant...Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he give them to each one, just as He determines." (I Cor. 12:l, 7-11).
If we are unwilling to let the Holy Spirit work freely in our midst, He will not be able to provide the leadership we need. Peter urges very strongly, "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering Gods grace in its various forms." (I Peter 4:l0).
Suggested Discussion Questions:
Note that all believers are a holy priesthood. Why is this so important to the victorious survival of the church?
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