Quenching the Spirit

In 1 Thessalonians 5:19 the Lord gives us a command through his inspired apostle that I have often found fascinating. In most translations the verse reads, “Do not quench the Spirit.” In our NIV it reads more colorfully, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” I find this verse fascinating not simply because of what it commands but also because of what it implies.

We understand that this New Covenant age is the age of the Spirit’s abundant work. The Spirit of God has come to “indwell” God’s people in full measure, and he works in us in many different ways. He is “the Spirit of sonship” in that he ministers to us a confident sense of God’s fatherly love to us and an assurance that we belong to him as his children. He gifts us for service. He “leads” us into practical godliness and cultivates in us “the fruit of the Spirit” — those virtues of Christlikeness that God requires of us. And of course it was the Holy Spirit who brought us to faith at the very outset of our Christian experience. In all this the Spirit of God works sovereignly and powerfully. We would be nothing without him. We would not grow in grace, we would not serve God, we would have no assurance, and we would not even trust in Christ in the first place. What a blessed and vital role he serves in our salvation!

Yet God tells us that we should not “quench” him. We should not “put out his fire,” as it were. The plain implication is that by our sin we may stifle the Spirit’s effectiveness in us. We may by our sin hinder the work which he has come to do in us and for us.

In regeneration God acts sovereignly, and he acts alone. He works within us to bring us to life and to faith in Christ. We believe, but only in response to his initial and powerful work in us. We call this “irresistible grace,” simply because God’s calling proves irresistible in bringing about our willing conversion. In John 3, in his discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus spoke just this way — the Spirit is like the wind that blows effectually wherever he wants!

But in the process of growth in grace, a certain cooperation is required on our part. Everywhere in the New Testament we are called to “yield” ourselves to God, to submit to his leading and promptings to godliness. “Walk in the Spirit,” we are commanded. “Be filled with the Spirit.” We must work with Him in the cultivation of godliness, and only as we do will we know the fullness of his blessing. “Trust and obey,” we sing, “for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.” We must trust and obey. And if we do not, God’s Spirit may be quenched and his effectiveness stifled.

Still further, the apostle Paul in this passage (1 Thess. 5: 11ff) is speaking to the church corporately, and there is just the hint that his warning is not to be understood merely on an individual level. His caution to the church is that by their sin — in context: by their thanklessness, their prayerlessness, their lack of appreciation for those who lead them, their lack of concern for the public ministry of the Word of God, and so on — they may quench the Spirit’s work among them.  What otherwise might have been accomplished among them has been shut out by their sin.

This, then, is just one of those passages that warns us of the effects of our sin. Our sin carries with it consequences both for us and for those around us. Like Achan in the book of Joshua, whose sin halted the progress of Israel’s army and brought the death of many, our sin can drastically hinder the Spirit’s work among us and hold back the blessing we might otherwise realize.

For God’s sake, for our own sake’s, for the sake of one another, and for the sake of our corporate advance of the gospel, let us be careful to walk in the Spirit and see to it that His work among us will not be hindered.

Who is Jesus?

In Matthew chapter 16 Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But who do you say I am?” Jesus asked. And so Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”

I am sure that when people of Jesus’ day said that they thought he was John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah, they meant to be generous and complimentary. After all, it was an honorable thing to be numbered among the great prophets! Jesus Himself said that John the Baptist was the greatest of the prophets. To be identified with them would be an honor indeed.

Not surprisingly, then, when we ask people today the same question — “Who is Jesus?” — similar answers are often given. Some may say he was a prophet like the other prophets, with some differences perhaps. They may say he was a great teacher. Or they may place him in a respectable category of religious leaders such a Mohammed, Budah, Confucious. We often hear that he was a man like other men — a man with superior qualities in significant areas, of course, but in the final analysis, a man on the level of other men.

What is significant is that these answers, as respectful as they may have seemed, did not satisfy our Lord. Not until Peter acknowledged Jesus as the Divine Messiah was the question answered well enough. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

 In his comments on this passage Matthew Henry observes, simply, that it is entirely possible to have an honorable opinion of the Lord Jesus which is nonetheless wrong. An honorable opinion that is not honorable enough. Not until, like Peter, we acknowledge Jesus’ uniqueness and recognize Him as the Lord from Heaven do we give Him the honor and reverence that is due Him.

Did Jesus Die because of Joy or Indifference? Part 3

Since neither the context of Hebrews 12:2, nor the rest of the NT portrays ideal love as dispassionate duty, as Kenneth Wuest supposes, the question begs to be asked, where did we get this idea? Significant theological and philosophical objections also can be raised against this view.

In response to Wuest’s second point, that there is a necessary connection between selflessness and a refusal to benefit in any way from a loving act, we must reject this as the case. First, as mentioned above, ekenosen in Philippians 2:7 by no means entails that Christ emptied himself of anything, much less of self. Christ’s “self” is not in conflict with his love and supremacy, such that it needs to be laid aside. However, granting Wuest’s understanding of Christ emptying himself of self, there is still no logical entailment between selflessness and refusing to benefit in any way from the cross. It is entirely possible to act selflessly and still receive joy from one’s act (1 Thess. 3:9). More on this later.

Wuest seems to adopt the idea of duty that was articulated most clearly by Immanuel Kant, an 18th century German philosopher. Kant believed that for an act to be truly virtuous, it should be done with no consideration for the benefit the individual may receive by performing the act. The purest act would be that in which no benefit could accrue to the performer of the act. If the individual received any benefit whatsoever, said Kant, the act would be of no moral value and meaningless.

Kant’s morals were consistent with his philosophy, which divided knowledge between the phenomenal (that which can be empirically observed), and the noumenal (that which is known apart from the senses, such as God, the soul, and the thing in itself). We can believe the noumenal, said Kant, but we can only know the phenomenal. Therefore, in judging an individual’s act, the motive is inaccessible to the senses, and therefore all that counts is the act itself. The nobility of an act of love or duty is intrinsic in the act itself, with no consideration for the motives of the individual performing the act. According to Kant, then, it wouldn’t matter why Jesus went to the cross, just that he went to the cross. And even more, if Jesus received no benefit from his crucifixion, his death would be morally superior and purer. And since it’s Jesus, we must assign to him only the purest motives.

This distorted view of love and selflessness has unfortunately infected many definitions of love in Christian writing and teaching. And it is simply not biblical. God does not act dispassionately. While God is essentially impassible, in his creation of the world and covenanting together with us through Christ, he condescended and bound himself to us in Christ. His relationship is one of genuine emotion, including love, joy, wrath, and jealousy. This distinction between the essential attributes of God and the creational (or covenantal) attributes understands God to be immutable, yet genuinely respond to his creation with real emotion. As a result, there is no need to deprive Jesus of a motivation of joy in his death.

In addition, the preceding context of Hebrews 11 makes it clear that the heroes of the faith did not live from a sense of “pure” duty and Kantian indifference. Rather, they were motivated by the reward that “lay before them.” Hebrews 11:13-16 presents the paradigm, which is followed by several examples of heroes who lived for (the joy of) future reward:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

For he [Abraham] was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (11:10)

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (11:24-26)

Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. (11:35)

As these verses demonstrate, these heroes of the faith had a motivation of reward, or we could say, the joy of reward for what they did. This joy for what they would receive did not conflict in any way with their God-pleasing faith. In fact the opposite is true. We have already shown that there is no necessary connection between selflessness and a refusal to benefit in any way from a loving act. But it goes one step further. There is a necessary connection between an act of faith or obedience and the motivation for that act. Here is the principle: if an act of obedience or faith is not done out of a cheerful heart (seeking joy), it is not acceptable to God (2 Cor. 9:7).

Now we have turned Wuest’s essay on Greek prepositions on its head. While the Greek text certainly allows the sense of substitution or exchange in the use of anti, it is most certainly not a valid argument to say, as he does, that the rest of Scripture conflicts with our conclusion. Rather, the rest of Scripture stands in testimony against a Jesus who would die out of Kantian indifference.

Hebrews 12:2 depicts Jesus as seeking maximum joy for his own glory. He thought little of the shame of the cross because of the magnitude of the joy that would be his after securing redemption for his people. By securing redemption, he guaranteed that there would be for all eternity a people who would magnify his glory (Heb. 12:28-29). His motivation, then, was ultimately for his glory.

In Part 4 of this essay, we will look at the richness of joy-motivated love in the writings of men such as Blaise Pascal, C. S. Lewis, and John Piper. These men help reshape our faulty ideas about Christ’s love and ours.

Did Jesus Die because of Joy or Indifference? Part 2

In the last post we raised the question of whether Hebrews 12:2 teaches that Jesus endured the cross because of the joy that would be his if he went to the cross and secured the salvation of his people by his atoning death, or whether Jesus endured the cross instead of retaining the joy that was already his. In Part 2 we challenge Kenneth Wuest’s argument for the latter interpretation.

First, while anti certainly carries the meaning “instead of” (substitution) or “in the place of” (exchange) in some passages, the only argument Wuest marshals against “because of” (cause), is that the sense of substitution or exchange is the predominant one in the NT. He treats this predominance as a slam-dunk argument, but actually this argument is unconvincing for at least one reason. The predominance of a particular usage of a Greek preposition should not be considered inarguably decisive unless the exceptions to that usage are exceedingly rare. In this case, however, there are several other occasions of anti being used causally, including Luke 1:20; 19:44; Acts 12:23, and 2 Thessalonians 2:10. All of these uses of anti clearly express cause. A solution to this dilemma, then, cannot be found purely on a syntactical basis.

Second, Wuest is so focused on the preposition anti, that he ignores the immediate context of both passages he cites, both Hebrews 12:1-2 and Philippians 2:1-11. Hebrews 12:1 uses the same phrase as in 12:2, “set before” (“the race set before us” and “the joy set before him”) to refer to the “race of faith” that lies before the Christian. Following Wuest’s reasoning, the race of faith for the Christian would be something already finished, which the Christian already possesses, not something lying ahead of him. And yet, that is clearly not the case. The race of faith lies before the Christian, just as the joy for which Christ endured the cross lay ahead of him. The race that Jesus ran is the race that believers run in union with him (Rom. 6:3-5). Believers run the race of faith motivated by joy (1 Thess. 2:19) because Jesus did the same.

Third, only the causal sense of anti properly parallels the phrase “despising the shame” later in 12:2. Jesus did not “disregard” or “count as nothing” (kataphronesas) the disgrace of the cross in a vacuum. He did not do so in a noble and tragic sense of destiny. Rather, he considered the indignity of the cross as little or nothing in light of the magnitude of joy he would experience by atoning for the sin of mankind, and bringing his children into eternal glory with him (1 Pet. 2:9). His attitude toward the shame of the cross was the result of his appreciation of the joy available to him.

Fourth, in the immediate preceding context of Philippians 2:5-8 (verses 1-4), Paul explicitly exhorts the Philippian believers to be like-minded so that they might make Paul’s joy full! In other words, the motivation for the believers in Philippi to become unselfish and of one mind was to make Paul’s joy complete. Additionally, the Apostle John is motivated to proclaim and write about Christ for the fullness of joy that would result (1 John 1:4; 2 John 2:12). This does not sound like a dispassionate appeal to indifferent selflessness.

The Scriptural basis for Wuest’s idea of a dispassionate Jesus, then, seems rather thin. A question worth asking is, “Where did this idea of duty-based love arise? In Part 3, we will look at the influence of Immanuel Kant on the Christian conception of love.

Did Jesus Die because of Joy or Indifference? Part 1

I came across a book this week that I’ve had in my library since my days in Bible college, Kenneth Wuest’s The Practical Use of the Greek New Testament (Moody, 1982). In a chapter on the practical use of prepositions, Wuest seeks to dispel the notion that Hebrews 12:2 teaches that Jesus went to the cross “because of the joy set before him.” The problem with this interpretation, says Wuest, is that we misread the preposition translated “for” (anti). Wuest says that the idea that Jesus endured the cross because of the joy that was his to claim if he did so, does not fit with Philippians 2:5-8. There we are told that Christ “emptied himself.” Wuest explains:

If Philippians 2:5-8 means anything, it means that the considerations that led our Lord to the cross were utterly devoid of any thought of self. The Greek has it, “He emptied Himself.” The word “Himself” is, in the Greek text, a pronoun in the accusative case. The action of the verb terminates upon the person or thing designated by the word in the accusative. The emptying terminated upon Himself. That is, our Lord emptied himself of self. He set self aside. That means that His going to the cross was an absolutely selfless action. (p. 57)

If Wuest is correct, then Jesus went to the cross not because of any joy he would receive, for he already had maximum joy in his exalted Preincarnate state. Rather, he chose the cross instead of the uninterrupted joy he had experienced for eternity past. He exchanged the joy he already had for the shame of the cross. He did this by emptying himself of what he wanted to do. Once he emptied himself of his will, he was able to die for sinners.

A problem emerges at this point in Wuest’s interpretation of ekenosen, the word he translates as “emptied himself” in Philippians 2:7. The interpretation of this word is not a given, for other possible meanings include, “made himself nothing,” “nullified himself,” or “made himself of no account”.  These meanings are supported by the following participial phrases in Philippians 2:7 that explain how Christ made himself nothing: by taking the very nature of a servant, and by being made in human likeness.

Nevertheless, one could still accept Wuest’s last two sentences above, as long as the selflessness of Christ did not preclude joy. But Wuest doesn’t stop there. He continues, “His attitude towards his work on the cross was not even associated with any thought of joy that might accrue to Him by reason of His sufferings.” (p. 57-8)

Wuest’s argument, that Jesus died “instead of” the joy he already possessed, rides on 1) the correct meaning of the preposition anti, and 2) the supposed necessary connection between unselfishness and disinterest in one’s own joy. One is a syntactical argument, and the other a philosophical/theological one. In Part 2 of this essay, we’ll look at these two issues separately, and see if Wuest’s argument can stand up to scrutiny. The implications of this text are important, for they weigh heavily on our idea, not only of Christ’s love for us, but also on the way in which we should love one another. Wuest’s view of a Savior who endures the cross, emptied of self, seems to promote a view similar to that of 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. But is this really the correct view of Christian love?

Not What I Used to Be

As Christians, the longer we are saved the greater the recognition of the desperate plight of our old nature and the utter futility of any attempt at holy living in our own strength. I was reminded of this recently in teaching a group of senior saints – many of whom have been saved for decades. In a discussion of Peter’s admonition in 1 Pet 2:12 to “to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul,” more than a few of these veteran believers lamented regarding their ongoing struggles and the all too familiar experience of needing to repent and seek forgiveness for recurring sins.

This same sentiment is conveyed in the puritan prayer “Confession and Petition” from The Valley of Vision.  The following excerpt is typical:

Holy LORD,

I have sinned times without number, and been guilty of pride and unbelief, of failure to find thy mind in thy Word, of neglect to seek thee in my daily life.

My transgressions and short-comings present me with a list of accusations.

Yet, for believers in Jesus Christ, this is not the final word. Rather, our daily struggles are to be lived in light of two important truths – the first of which is expressed in the next line of this same Puritan prayer:

But I bless thee that they [my transgressions and short-comings] will not stand against me, for all have been laid on Christ.

For those of us who know Christ as Savior, the glorious and amazing truth is that every sin we will ever commit has been laid on Him.  They have been nailed to His cross (Col 2:14; 1 Pet 2:24; 1 John 2:2) and paid for by His precious blood (1 Pet 1:18-19; Col 1:14, 22).  Moreover, this amazing transaction serves not as a license to sin (Rom 6:1, 2), but as a powerful motivation for holy living. The deeper one’s understanding of and embracing of the atonement—that is, the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross—the greater one’s appreciation and motivation to live a life that pleases Him. For the true child of God, the cross is not simply the starting point, as if it’s something we’re to grow beyond – it is the focus or culmination of the entire biblical storyline.  Even in the climatic final book of the New Testament, the cross takes center stage as it is only the slain Lamb who is worthy to take the scroll and begin to enact the horrific judgments of the Apocalypse (Rev 5:1-10).  As J. I. Packer rightly asserts, “The traveler through the Bible landscape misses his way as soon as he loses sight of the hill called Calvary,” or as declared by J. Knox Chamblin, “The Spirit does not take his pupils beyond the cross, but ever more deeply into it.”

It is a preoccupation, yea, an obsession with the cross and all that it signifies that will keep us from falling victim to the allurements of the world or to the desires of the flesh.  It is the flame of the cross that fuels the fire of our love for Christ.  For the Christian, the cross not only removes the penalty for sin (placing it upon our sinless substitute) but it empowers us to live above sin’s dominion and enslavement. It is in the shadow of the cross, with its abiding echo of “It is finished,” where Satan trembles – as he is powerless to touch any who abide therein.

The second critical truth to embrace in our ongoing struggle with sin is that, with the new birth and the indwelling of His Spirit, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Pet 1:3).  That is, the power to live morally upright lives does not come from within us, but from God. As believers, we are to appropriate that power in the ongoing daily struggles with the world, the flesh, and the devil (James 3:15; Gal 5:16-17; Eph 6:10-13). While perfect sinlessness will never be achieved this side of glory (1 John 1:8), progressive sanctification, as evidenced by the believer’s sinning less, can and should be (1 John 2:3-6; ).  The well-known testimony of John Newton speaks for itself:

I am not what I ought to be—ah, how imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be—I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be—soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

May the Lord encourage your heart today through the grand and glorious truths of the cross and the sacrifice of His Son! May there be a renewed sense of wonder and awe at the power of the gospel and of its transforming power in the lives of those who embrace it.

Lessons from a Barn, Part 3

As I stood there with the sound of cracking wood and the barn colliding with the ground echoing around me, there was much to take in. The imminent collapse was now a reality. The building had been converted, in a matter of seconds, into a pile to rubble, followed by one or two brief creaks and shutters. Gravity, with a bit of help, as I mentioned in a previous blog, had finally won the battle with the weathered barn.

As we watched the fallen barn and the rising dust, the echoes of the crash and the whiz of camera shutters filled our ears and this question filled our minds — “Now what?”

The leaning barn was now a pile of aged lumber that could not be left unattended. Some of the pile could serve no further purpose—it could not be resurrected or reclaimed. However, barn boards and timbers are prized by crafters and craftsmen alike. So my son and I decided to mount the fallen giant and start stripping its outer shell.

Now what caught my attention as we climbed the ladder and scaled the fallen structure was one lone pigeon. I had seen her right after the collapse of the barn. She circled overhead through the dust and in and out of the trees which once had stood alongside the barn. Now several minutes later she was still circling the barn in spite of our presence. When I went outside the following morning, the same pigeon was in the trees and in the air circling over the fallen barn. As the day went on I found myself looking for her and it never took long to find her…she was always in the vicinity of the barn.

The reason the pigeon was there through the collapse of the barn and into the following days was that she had chosen the barn as her home. She had nested in the barn. She had young in the barn. She was searching for her nestlings.

I was reminded of Christ’s lament in Matthew 23:37.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.

Christ recognized their history and condition which they fully deserved and had brought upon themselves. In response, perhaps to our amazement, He reacted with compassion, something he repeatedly offered (“how often I wanted”) along with care (“the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings”). However, and this is truly amazing, that is not what caused Christ’s lament at this time. His lament was over their unwillingness to accept His compassion and care, or as the CEV puts it “But you wouldn’t let me.”

In a manner similar to the circling pigeon seeking her nestlings in the fallen barn, Christ offers compassion and care. Christ’s offer springs from His heart in response to our fully deserved condition. Christ’s offer is repeatedly given, circling us as the mother pigeon circled the fallen barn.

The question is whether or not this offer will result in lament or rejoicing. Will we accept it or are we so lost in our circumstance and routine that we don’t even recognize the offer?

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