How do we distinguish the promptings of the Spirit of grace in His guiding and governing of our lives from the delusions of the spirit of the world and of our own sinful heart? This is a hugely important question if we are to be calm and confident that the spirit with whom we are communing really is the Holy Spirit.
John Owen suggests four ways in which the Spirit and the serpent are to be distinguished:
The leading of the Spirit, he says, is regular, that is, according to the regulum: the rule of Scripture. The Spirit does not work in us to give us a new rule of life, but to help us understand and apply the rule contained in Scripture. Thus, the fundamental question to ask about any guidance will be: Is this course of action consistent with the Word of God?
The commands of the Spirit are not grievous. They are in harmony with the Word, and the Word is in harmony with the believer as new creation. The Christian believer consciously submitted to the Word will find pleasure in obeying that Word, even if the Lord’s way for us is marked by struggle, pain, and sorrow. Christ’s yoke fits well; His burden never crushes the spirit. (Matthew 11:28-30)
The “motions” of the Spirit are orderly. Just as God’s covenant is ordered in all things and secure, (2 Samuel 23:5) so the promised gift of that covenant, the indwelling Spirit, is orderly in the way in which He deals with us. Restlessness is not a mark of communion with the Spirit but of the activity of the evil one. Perhaps Owen had particular members of his congregations in mind when he wrote:
We see some poor souls to be in such bondage as to be hurried up and down, in the matter of duties at the pleasure of Satan. They must run from one to another, and commonly neglect that which they should do. When they are at prayer, then they should be at the work of their calling; and when they are at their calling, they are tempted for not laying all aside and running to prayer. Believers know that this is not from the Spirit of God, which makes “every thing beautiful in its season.”
The “motions,” or promptings of the Spirit, Owen says, always tend to glorify God according to His Word. He brings Jesus’ teaching into our memories; He glorifies the Savior; He pours into our hearts a profound sense of the love of God for us.
How, then, does the Spirit act on the believer? The Spirit comes to us as an earnest, a pledge, a down payment on final redemption. He is here and now the foretaste of future glory. But His presence is also an indication of the incompleteness of our present spiritual experience.
Owen here writes in sharp contrast to those who spoke of release from the influence of indwelling sin and struggle through the liberty of the Spirit. Precisely because He is the firstfruits and not yet the final harvest, there is a sense in which the indwelling of the Spirit is the cause of the believer’s groaning: “We ourselves who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23) The presence of the Spirit brings us already a foretaste of future glory, but also, simultaneously, creates within us a sense of the incompleteness of our present spiritual experience. This, for Owen, is how communion with the Spirit-understood biblically-brings joy into the life of the believer and yet a deep sense that the fullness of joy is not yet.
This excerpt is taken from The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen by Sinclair Ferguson. It appeared on the Ligonier website on November 17, 2014.
Is It Christians’ Job to “Reclaim the Culture for Christ”? – It is not the job of Christians to "reclaim" this present world's cultures. Christianity is the culture of a people who are no longer at home in this present evil world destined for destruction. They are citizens of the world to come.
Why Christians Need Confessions – Despite claims to the contrary, the Christian world is not divided between those who have creeds and confessions and those who just have the Bible. It is actually divided between those who have creeds and confessions and write them down in a public form, open to public scrutiny and correction, and those who have them and do not write them down. The reason is simple: every church (and indeed every Christian) believes the Bible means something, and what it thinks the Bible means is its creed and confession, whether it chooses to write its beliefs down or not.
Christianity Is a Religion (Thank God!) – We don’t need less religion; we need more! We need a religion that affirms that all people stand condemned before the holy bar of God’s justice, and that all believers stand justified in God’s gracious presence. And we need a religion that stimulates rescued sinners to devote their entire lives to the praise of their rescuer. This religion will compel men and women to do good and resist sin.
A Defense Of Halloween – It has become routine in October for some Christian schools to send out letters warning parents about the evils of Halloween, and it has become equally routine for me to be asked questions about this matter.
The General Equity Of The Law – The general equity was the moral law that the judicial laws, unique to Israel, were based on. Thus it is the moral law that continues to be of use. The judicial laws *only* help provide us with specific examples of how the moral law was applied to Israel
Nobody Is Going To Get Left Behind (Because There Will Be No Rapture) – Are we living in the last days? Absolutely, but we have been ever since Jesus walked out of the tomb on Easter morning.
5 Ways To Lose the Battle Against Sin – The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. One of the ways such deceit manifests itself is through convincing us that we have battled a sin and put that sin to death when really we have done nothing of the sort.
Why ‘Left Behind’ should be… left behind – To put it bluntly, and perhaps to the chagrin of some readers, the idea of a “rapture” is simply not biblically based (and that's where I've lost a third of you!) It represents, instead, a theology based on escapism and in the process does damage to what the Bible really do
When A Brother Or Sister Is Ensnared In Sin – What To Do (And Not Do) – God’s word says that if anyone is caught in ANY transgression we should restore them with gentleness. ANY transgression – believers fall hard at times. Believers get ensnared in bad things. Sin is deceptive and very often believers fall prey to its wiles. Although it’s disappointing and sad and at times shocking when a fellow believer confesses falling into a serious sin, we must be careful in the way we react to them.
Help for those who feel “Disconnected” at Church – What follows is a list, some help for those who are aiming to feel connected at church.
The Ordinary Christian Life – Ordinary does not mean mediocre. Athletes, architects, humanitarians, and artists can vouch for the importance of everyday faithfulness to mundane tasks that lead to excellence.
Semper Reformanda by Michael Horton – What does "Semper Reformanda" mean?
Justification by Death? by R.C. Sproul – It is an implicit universalism that assumes everyone goes to heaven when he or she dies.
Setting Priorities For The Congregation – Why are we here (as a local congregation)? To preach the Word, administer the sacraments and discipline. To worship God according to his Word. To reach the lost with the law and the gospel. To catechize covenant youth and converts. To nurture communicants. To visit the ill and infirm. To relieve suffering in the congregation.
He Is The Savior And We Are The Saved (1) – “Too many Christians think they are a little Jesus’. They aren’t. They are Christians.” – Christians are often tempted to try to do the work that only Jesus can do.
There are some professing Christians who can speak of themselves in terms of admiration; but, from my inmost heart, I loathe such speeches more and more every day that I live. Those who talk in such a boastful fashion must be constituted very different from me. While they are congratulating themselves, I have to lie humbly at the foot of Christ’s cross, and marvel that I am saved at all… I have to wonder that I do not believe Christ more, and equally wonder that I am privileged to believe in Him at all–to wonder that I do not love Him more, and equally to wonder that I love Him at all–to wonder that I am not holier, and equally to wonder that I have any desire to be holy at all considering what a polluted, debased, depraved nature I find still within my soul, notwithstanding all that Divine grace has done in me. If God were ever to allow the fountains of the great deeps of depravity to break up in the best man that lives, he would make as bad a devil as the Devil himself is. – C. H. Spurgeon
A Biblical Theology of Sleep – We all want the sleep of Proverbs 3:20, “If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” But often we experience the tossing and turning of Job 7:4, “When I lie down I say, 'When shall I arise?' But the night is long, and I am full of tossing till the dawn.”
Westside Reformed Church » Why is worship such a “one-man show”? – One common misconception is that “different means unequal.” In other words, people think that giving a minister a different function means that he is given a greater importance before God. This is not true, though
The Best Kind of Church Members? The normal ones. – Lord, please send us some normal church members. Please send us some families that attend regularly, listen to the sermons, participate in church life, and don’t have any axes to grind.
Insider Movements: Why Should I Care? – An excellent layman’s guide to understanding the Insider Movements theology and methods.
Is The Christian Life More Like Colorado Or Nebraska? – For many Christians the Christian life is the quest for intense, mountain-top emotional experiences. The assumption is that these sublime experiences are the norm and that those less exciting periods of life are abnormal, inferior, disappointing, and perhaps a sign of some spiritual failure.
It All Leads Straight to the Cross – Everything that God had revealed needed to be understood in light of Jesus' redeeming work on the cross and in the resurrection. If we read the Bible incorrectly, we'll congratulate ourselves for what we don't find there. As Machen said: "Without the cross the Sermon on the Mount would be an intolerable burden; with the cross it becomes the guide to a way of life. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus held up an unattainable ideal, he has revealed the depths of human guilt, he has made demands far too lofty for human strength. But thank God, he has revealed guilt only to wash it away, and with his demands he has given strength to fulfill them. It is a sadly superficial view of the sermon on the mount which substitutes it for the story of the cross. A deeper understanding of it leads straight to Calvary."
A Review of Jesus Calling – You want to hear Jesus speak to you personally, you'll only find it in the Bible. If you go looking for Christ outside the Bible, you won't find him. Same with God. If you go looking for him outside of Christ, you'll only find the devil.
Jesus and the Church – Jesus only mentions the church twice in the gospels. But, instead of looking at simply at the number of times they are mentioned, we must look at their weight.
“Truly Reformed in a Great Measure”: a Brief Defense of the English Separatist Origins of Modern Baptists (PDF) – Where do reformed baptists come from?
You’ve Been Invited To A [Fill In The Blank]: Should You Go? (1) – How should we respond? There are two things that we must do: communicate our genuine love for those involved and our resolute commitment to honor Christ and his Word in every circumstance Let’s start with the latter. How do we honor Christ in a difficult circumstance, when by saying “No” we may seem to be unloving and thus perhaps judgmental, uncharitable, and even unchristian?
The Mystery of the Trinity Teaching Series by Dr. R.C. Sproul from Ligonier Ministries – Many of us, when asked about the Trinity, unknowingly offer heretical answers. Yet a proper understanding of this doctrine is essential to the health and welfare of the church. In this series, Dr. R.C. Sproul gives a sweeping overview of this important doctrine, explaining difficult concepts, exploring biblical teaching, and defining what the term mystery means.
The death of Christ on the cross, and the fact that his tomb was empty come Easter Sunday morning, and that his dead and decaying body was never brought forward by any of his opponents is one of the best attested historical facts of the time. That Christ died, and was raised again gave hope to the scattered, dejected and demoralized apostles.
Because of the fact of the empty tomb, all but one of the apostles died horrific martyrs’ deaths for their faith. Even the Apostle Peter, who was so frightened he denounced Christ to a young a girl on the night of Christ’s betrayal, spent the rest of his life, after that tomb was empty, preaching Christ and him crucified until he too was crucified upside down.
The Apostles were nourished by their knowledge of Gospel, that Christ died for their sins. This same idea, remembering and proclaiming the Lord’s death until he returns, is what feeds us in the Lord’s supper.
The Christian doctrine of assurance is like a three legged stool. All three of the legs support the stool, and without even one, the stool cannot stand.
One of the legs of the stool is the inner witness of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. Romans 8:16 says, “16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” This is just like Galatians 4:6 wherein the Spirit cries out from within us, “Abba, father!”
The second leg is of the stool of assurance is evidence of spiritual fruit in the life of the believer. 1 John 2:3 says of this leg that, “3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” As we God transforms us to be more like Christ, we will keep more and more of his commands. Not because we have to, but out of our ever growing love and thankfulness for what we’ve been freed from.
Now, the third leg of the stool is the Gospel of Jesus and all of God’s promises related to it. John 1:12 says, “12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
And although the stool of assurance has three legs, and will not stand if even one of the legs are missing, the third leg is nothing like the other two. It is huge, it is solid, and it will not falter. If in your coming week you can’t find your inner witness, if God seems far from you, or you are truly depraved and find no spiritual fruit in yourself, think back to the Lord’s Supper. Think of what it represents. Remember that just a surely as you eat the bread and drink the cup, Christ died for sin, and through him you are right with God.
In Song of Solomon 4 verses 7, Christ says of his bride the church, and of you the believer:
You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.
You are beautiful because of Christ, not because of who you are or what you do.
We were the “sister church of the week” at Trinity Reformed Baptist Church in La Mirada, CA yesterday. We thank them for all their prayers!