Monday, September 29, 2008

The Witness of the Holy Spirit

Over the last several weeks we have looked at a number of ways that we can tell if we are sanctified or not. Some of you may be thinking, “Several weeks? It has been forever, geesh! Let’s get on with it!” I promise we are coming to the end of the series on holiness. Next week’s article should be the end of it. I only hope that this series has helped you to become a better person but most importantly to be a deeper believer with a deeper walk with God. But anyway, we have looked at how you know if you have it. We have talked about giving every single aspect of your life over to God; about what your conscience says about your life; we have asked if we have a passion to serve others; we have questioned if other people see it; we have challenged our love for others; and we have even searched ourselves to discover if we have power over willful sin. We have answered a whole slew of questions about these but as you may have already guessed, there are more questions to be answered before we are finished.
Does the Holy Spirit witness to your heart that you are in fact sanctified? Believe it or not this day and age there may be some who are asking, “Who or what is the Holy Spirit?” The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity. He is God’s presence on Earth since Jesus physically left. The Holy Spirit is very real although we cannot see Him. He is God’s presence living and working among us. He is God’s power, God’s strength, and God’s wisdom. He is God’s everything. Does the Holy Spirit confirm with you that you have it?
God will not leave the sanctified believer hanging forever. He will let you know. It may take days, weeks, months, or even years but His Spirit will make it known to you. It will not be just some feeling either, “Oh I feel like I might be, maybe.” It will be deeper than that. It will be a certainty and a conviction within you. I mean, I feel like I might get a million dollars tomorrow, but I do not know that I will; most likely I will not but I feel like I could. Does my feeling like it make it so? For that matter does my knowing something make it so? No, of course not. The fact that I know something is a result of it being so, therefore if it were not so then I would not know it I would simply hope, feel or think it to be so. Sometimes our feelings can get us into a whole mess of trouble. Do you know it or just feel it?
The conviction we are talking about is much like when you were saved. How did you know you were saved? The Holy Spirit witnessed your salvation and He confirmed in you that it was real and genuine. There may have been evidence of a changed life, but other than that you just knew it. How do you know that you chose the right college, career, or mate? You just know it. Somewhere deep down in your spirit you just know it. If God has sanctified you then the Holy Spirit has witnessed it and He has no reason to keep it secret from you. He isn’t going to play the “Guess what?” game with you. He will speak to you. God’s Spirit speaks to you on a very deep level; much deeper even than feelings. If you can truly answer yes to all the questions leading up to this evidence, but you cannot say that you know that you know, wait for God to tell you. Until He tells you, you cannot be absolutely sure. So you cannot raise your hands if you’re not sure. (Sorry about that silly reference to a 70’s and 80’s commercial. It seemed funny but now it just looks stupid) When He does tell you He will speak it directly into your heart and spirit. Your heart will be “strangely warmed”[i] by the Spirit of God. “The Holy Spirit is faithful, and He will convince, even re-convince, of His work in your heart. Wait for His witness.”[ii]
All of these evidences and the sanctification itself will bring about joy in the life of the believer. Joy, not happiness. Happiness is dependent upon circumstances. Joy is present regardless of the circumstance or whether or not the believer is happy. When the believer is sanctified they can find joy and praise in and for every circumstance of life because in every circumstance, good or bad, there is an opportunity for God to be glorified and this brings great joy to the sanctified believer.

[i] John Wesley when he finally felt convinced of his salvation.
[ii] Keith Drury, Holiness for Ordinary People, Wesleyan Publishing House, 1983, pg. 120

Monday, September 15, 2008

To Sin or Not To Sin

The last few weeks we have been focusing our attention on other people in our quest for holy living. We have talked about a passion to serve; asked if others could see it in you and about your love for others. Holy living is more about others living then it is living for self. However, there are still things within you that need to be dealt with and looked at to fully understand your own level of holiness. So today we are going to turn our attention back to self.
The next evidence of holiness is power over willful sin. DeNeff asks, “Can I confidently say I will resist the next temptation, or do I only hope to?”[i] There are two ideas of sin. One is anything that falls short of God’s perfection and the other is to willfully break His desires when we know better. Which idea of sin is the one that affects holiness? Well let’s look a little closer at each idea.
The idea of sin being anything that falls short of God’s perfection says that any thought, word, or deed done or not done that falls short of perfect Christlikeness is sin. This idea includes anytime we purposefully choose to go against God’s will as well as all the times we fall short not realizing that we are. According to this idea of sin you have to be absolutely perfect in Christlikeness to have power over sin. I do not know about you but I do not know many perfectly Christlike people. I am not sure that humans can achieve a perfect Christlikeness this side of heaven. So, how do we explain the scripture that calls us to a life of holiness if holiness requires power over sin and we cannot have power of sin without achieving Christlike perfection?
According the other idea of sin, we have only sinned when we make the wrong decision knowing ahead of time that it is the wrong decision. Like my Dad use to say to me, “You knew better but you did it anyway!” Holiness does not give you the power to be absolutely perfect. You will still fall short of God’s perfection. The power is when faced with the dilemma of doing what you know is wrong or doing what you know is right; you will be able to do what is right even if it costs you.
You will only be able to reach this level of obedience when your will is totally submitted to God’s will. How do you know if your will is totally submitted? Well first you can remember a time when you once and for all decided the ultimate question of “Who is going to be king over my life?” Secondly, even though God has given you freewill, you have chosen to control yourself by submitting yourself to Christ and allowing Him to control you. Thirdly you see more and more of your desires going by the wayside to make way for God’s desires and you are okay with that. Fourthly you do have power to overcome those temptations when you know better.
God does not promise to remove temptation when He sanctifies you, only to give you the power to withstand it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that you will not be tempted by anything that others you have seen fall were not tempted with. So God will not remove temptations from your life simply because you are holy. They will still come for you just like they do for anyone else. I mean, what is the use of making you strong if you have no opportunity to use the strength? This verse goes on to say that He will not allow the temptation to be so strong that you cannot stand up against it. In other words, He has already given you the strength to stand up against any temptation. Also, to make sure that we do not go on thinking that God is going to somehow lessen the temptation for us or take it away all together if we are too weak, the verse goes on to say that when you are tempted He will show you the way out. But He will only show you the way; it is still up to you to take it. Let me ask, if you were in a burning building and someone showed you a safe way out; would they have to drag you out or would you go on your own? A weight lifter will never get any stronger if others always lift the weight for him and you will never get any stronger if God always does everything for you.
God will give you the power to overcome willful sin, but it is up to you to exercise that power or you will lose it. If you are truly trying but can’t succeed then God has not given you that power yet. If God has not given you that power yet, then there is something of your will that you have not fully submitted to Him yet. The great redneck philosopher, Mark “Tiny” Wilburn says, “Your ought to and your want to gots’ to get together.” The choice to have power over willful sin is yours. Do you want it or not?
Talk to me,
[i] Steve Deneff, Whatever Became of Holiness, Wesleyan Publishing House, 1996, pg. 145

Sunday, September 7, 2008

How's your love?

Last time we talked about whether or not other people could see the holiness in you as an evidence of holiness. This time we talk about one of the things that others need to see in you. I believe that this one is such a big deal that it needs to be an evidence all in itself. So, to further the idea of others; does the believer have a genuine love for God and for other people? You guessed it; the only way to answer this question is to answer a series of other questions. Isn’t it cool how life’s biggest questions always lead to more questions? Why is that? Well, that is another writing altogether; probably one full of more questions. Here are the things you need to answer before you can honestly say if you love others which in-turn tells if you love God.
Do you have the capacity to love everyone? Think about this one before you answer it. It does not just mean everyone you have ever met. It means loving those that you usually do not think about. We will get deeper into that with more (you guessed it) questions later. Can you love your friends and family unconditionally? That means no matter what they do to you, you still love them. No one can hurt you like those closest to you and when that happens can you still love them? When they don’t turn out the way you think they should and don’t make the best choices, you still love them. Can you love one who has hurt you or your family? This is one who is not close to you but hurts you or those closest to you. Sometimes we get more hurt over our loved ones getting hurt than when we get hurt. When your child is the victim of a crime, can you still love the attacker?
Can you love the non-believer? This sounds easy because this is what we are supposed to do but sometimes the non-believer can get on our nerves because of their choices. We may not approve of their lifestyle and it may make us uncomfortable. We have to love them through the bad choices and consequences they face because of those choices. Sometimes the non-believer even lives a lifestyle of deep morals and great choices. This can be more challenging to love because of envy or inability to show them a need for Christ. Can you love them through this and let them met Christ at their own pace? Can you love the atheist who claims that Christianity is a farce and that you are lying about loving them? All of the words in the world are not going to convince them that God exists. The only thing that will is the love of a believer who never leaves their side, even if things fall apart in their world. When things do fall apart for an atheist, they have no God to lean on, they only have people. Wouldn’t it be great if the most loyal and loving person they have to lean on happens to be a follower of Christ? Then they will see your love. Can you love the homosexual, even the one who refuses to admit that it is a sin? Here I am not talking about the whole “hate the sin love the sinner” thing that we Christians try to throw at them all the time. I mean truly reaching out to them right where they are in life right now and loving them through it all. If we can love and reach out through other sins why not this one?
Can you love the drug addict or the alcoholic even if they are in that place by their own choices? The great “love” chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 is less about martial love and more about holy love. Without love all the gifts in the world are worthless. Without love the believer cannot be sanctified. Do you love God? Not if you don’t love others! If obedience is an issue, if consecration is an issue, if how we treat others is an issue, or if fruit of our ministries is an issue, then we do not need to check our gifts or our willpower; we need to check our love. If you focus on loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and body then everything else will fit into place and God will give you the capacity to love all these other people. So if you love God, then you will love others; if you do not love others then you do not love God. You can love others without loving God, but not to the depth and width as you can with Him. So it is that it’s your love of God that gives you the capacity to love others.
Holiness will give you a distinct increase in your love for others. An increase that you will notice and so will others. A truly holy person will live by this creed: “The world will not believe or care that Jesus loves them until they first see that I, the Christian, loves them.”
Talk to me.