Life In The Spirit: Part 4

There are three noteworthy objections levelled against charismatics with regards to the Baptism of the Spirit. These are often related to a legitimately difficult translation of 1 Corinthians 12.13, the hermeneutical problem of interpreting narrative and the specific transient context of Acts. Again it must be said that it is not my aim to speak disrespectfully of any theologian or theological position but merely to answer some of the important questions levelled at charismatics.

1.The Exegetical Objection: 1 Corinthians 12.13

It is argued that 1 Corinthians 12.13 implies that all believers are baptized in the Holy Spirit at conversion. The Greek word ‘en’ can be translated as ‘in’ or ‘by’ so we need to look at its immediate literary context[1] for clues. Those who translate ‘en’ as ‘in’ view this verse as referring to the baptism of the Spirit. The logical conclusion is that this verse teaches that all believers are baptized in the Spirit and this rules out the possibility of a post conversion Spirit baptism. However those who translate ‘en’ as ‘by’ suggest that a baptism by the Spirit is distinct and different to the baptism in the Spirit referred to elsewhere. How do we translate this sentence?

1 Corinthians 12.13 (ESV) 1 Corinthians 12.13 (NIV)
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Those who choose the English Standard Version (ESV) translation draw attention to two primary interpretive clues. They are the adjectives (‘all’ and ‘one’) and the verb (baptized). The context reveals that Paul is teaching about unity to a church divided over spiritual gifts. Some thought their gifts where superior to others and still others thought the gifts should be discontinued all together[2]. Paul repeats the adjectives ‘one’[3] and ‘all’[4] stressing the unity we all share through baptism in the common Spirit. Hence the “body is one and has many members”[5] and that “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body”[6]. The idea of a post conversion Spirit baptism being referred to in this text or elsewhere would go against the argument of all being filled with the one Spirit.

Secondly the verb “baptized in the Spirit” is argued to not be instrumental (baptized with the Spirit) since “that would be the only place in the New Testament where the Spirit is the agent of the Baptism” (Carson, 1987 p.47). The argument is one of frequency. This cannot be a baptism by the Spirit because it is irregular and does not occur elsewhere.

Some scholars like Grudem have suggested that “apart from one small difference (he refers to “one Spirit” rather than “the Holy Spirit”), all other elements are the same: the verb baptizo, and the prepositional phrase contains the same words (en plus the dative noun pneumatic)”. Therefore “the original hearers would have seen this phrase as referring to the same thing as the other six verses, because for them the words were the same” (Grudem, 2007 p.768).

While I admire and respect all of the scholars I just quoted there are some inconsistencies. Firstly, below are the parsed verbs of the phrase ‘baptized in the Holy Spirit’ in the seven verses that it occurs in the Bible. This comparison will show what the original hearers read or heard in their original language. A quick glance (even to an English speaker) at this table shows that the original hearers would not have heard the same words (contra Grudem) as the form of the verb baptizo changes dramatically throughout.

Transliterated phrase as it occurs Parsing Reference
baptizei en pneumatic Future, active, indicative, 3rd person, singular. Matthew 3.11
baptizei umas en pneumatic Aorist, active, indicative, 1st person, singular. Mark 1.8
baptizei en pneumatic Future, active, indicative, 3rd singular. Luke 3.16
baptizon en pneumatic Participle, Present tense, active voice, nominative case. John 1.33
en pneumati baptisthesesthe Future, passive, indicative, 3rd person, plural. Acts 1.5
baptisthesesthe en pneumatic Future passive indicative, 2nd person, plural. Acts 11.16
pneumati emeis pantes eis en soma ebaptisthemen Aorist, passive, indicative, 1st person, plural. 1 Corinthians 12.13

Lloyd-Jones stated that this verse “does not deal at all with the doctrine of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit” (Lloyd-Jones, 1984 p.173). The primary reason Lloyd-Jones gave was linked to the voice of the verb. Greek grammar demands that when a verb is in the passive or middle voice (to be baptized) the noun must be in the instrumental case (the Spirit baptizes). The sense is that one is baptized by the Spirit.

The passive voice indicates that an action is happening to you. So you would expect the writer to tell you who is carrying out the action happening to you. In this case you are being baptized. It is more plausible then that we should read ‘you are being baptized by the Spirit into the body’. It is less plausible to assume that the author meant to say that ‘you are being baptized into the Spirit and into the body’ without making the noun the instrument of Baptism. The passive verb points to the Spirit being the instrument for the baptism as the NIV, NASB, NKJV amongst others has it.

1 Corinthians 12.13 Bible Version
For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body NIV
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body NASB
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body NKJV
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body ESV*

In response to Carson it must be noted that while a lack of frequency (the first time the Spirit is the means for the Baptism) is a clue it is not a solid exegetical reason that emerges from the text. This kind of argument cuts both ways. For example Lloyd-Jones argues that throughout the Bible it is the work of the Spirit to regenerate and engraft believers into the body of Christ. This is exactly what we see here and is inline with Paul’s broader concern for unity. Therefore Lloyd-Jones interpreted the meaning of this passage as being the same as Carson – that all Christians receive the Spirit at conversion and should therefore “not think of yourselves as separate units” and be unified (Lloyd-Jones 1984 p.178). But that the Baptism referred to is not the Baptism into the Spirit but the Baptism by the Spirit into the Body of Christ. All this to show that utilizing Scripture to interpret Scripture in this case could prove both translations.

In my view this is a very difficult verse to translate. Both sides of the argument have approached their translations utilizing the rules of the Greek language and the context of the verse. However it is my opinion that it is more plausible that this refers to a baptism by the Spirit as most English translations of the Bible have rendered it.

Furthermore if all believers receive the Baptism of the Spirit at conversion and therefore are engrafted into the body of Christ as Carson and Grudem suggest why do we see post-conversion Spirit outpouring in Acts? What explanation is given for the post-conversion outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts? These are normally explained as being special cases not to be repeated due to the transient nature of Acts.

2.The First Hermeneutic Objection: The Transient Nature of Acts

Many theologians could be quoted here[7] but I will follow Grudem’s argument which explains the Pentecost experience, the Samaritans and the disciples in Ephesus all as special cases not to be repeated due to the transient conditions of Acts (Grudem 2007 p.772-775).

It follows that Pentecost was the time of the fulfilment of the promise of the Spirit and the reason the disciples received a post-conversion experience was because “they were living at the time of transition between the old covenant work of the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant work of the Holy Spirit” (Grudem 2007 p.772). It’s important to note that this reason is not explicitly taken from Scripture. The disciples were told to “wait for the promise of the Father”[8] but they are not told why. No doubt it was a time of transition and fulfilment of the promise but this is not necessarily the explanation for why they were told to wait. While Grudem’s suggestion is logical and plausible it is none the less speculative at best to explain why Jesus told them to wait for a few days before he would baptized them in the Spirit. Grudem uses this rational to suggest that “though it was a “second experience” of the Holy Spirit, coming as it did long after their conversion, it is not to be taken as a pattern for us, for we are not living at a time of transition” (Grudem 2007 p.772). This is a strong conclusion based on an unsupported biblical explanation.

In Acts 8.4-25 after Phillip evangelized parts of Samaria Peter and John are sent to pray for the converts to receive the Holy Spirit. Grudem argues that the reason for the post-conversion outpouring was so that the empowering of the Holy Spirit came directly from the hands of the Apostles so that “it might be evident to the highest leadership in the Jerusalem church that the Samaritans were not second-class citizens but full members of the church.” (Grudem 2007 p.774) Again this line of reasoning is not supported by any exegesis. We have already established that the coming of the Spirit would be a sign of God’s inclusion of all people yet it cannot be imported into this particular pericope. Nor can we assume that the coming of the Spirit had to be tied to the Apostles themselves. It is described this way but there is no verses of Scripture that would suggest that only if the Apostles laid hands on the Samaritans then they would be viewed as fully included. The clear emphasis throughout the biblical narrative and in Acts is not on the Apostle hands as the instruments that validate inclusion into the people of God but on the powerful coming of the Holy Spirit. The instrument is not nearly as important as the gift of the Spirit.

The third special case is that of the disciples in Acts 19.1-10. Grudem argues that the disciples were not Christian since they had not heard of the Holy Spirit[9] and possibly never even knew that the Messiah had come, lived, died and was resurrected because Paul had to explain “John baptized with the Baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus”[10]. It is certainly possible that they may have been Christians without knowing about the Holy Spirit. Paul’s explanation doesn’t clearly prove that they had no knowledge of Jesus. Paul’s mention of Jesus may be a repetition of the gospel in order to explain the blessing of the Spirit. I haven’t explained the role of Jesus in the fulfilment of the promise because I think the readers of these blog posts have never heard about Jesus. Jesus is a part of the explanation and his inclusion in Paul’s instruction in no way proves ignorance by theses disciples. Grudem concludes that these disciples therefore heard the gospel for the first time and believed and received the Spirit.

He does acknowledge that even though they were first time believers they received the Spirit post-conversion since they were first baptized (vs 5) and then “when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came” (vs 6) which technically is after their conversion according to Grudem. He explains this as being so close that it is negligible. However Grudem doesn’t deal with Paul’s initial question to these unbelievers “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”[11] There are four questions that Grudem doesn’t deal with. Firstly the implications are that Paul viewed them as believers because that’s the event he refers to “when you believed?” Secondly, if Paul thought these disciples to be non-believers it makes no sense to ask them if they received the Spirit. It is inconceivable that Paul thought a pre-conversion Baptism in the Spirit was possible[12]. Thirdly, that the word disciple in Acts is never used of unbelievers. Fourthly, that to Paul a post-conversion outpouring was normative and therefore Paul enquires to ensure that they should receive the Spirit. And lastly if we are to view these and other passages in Acts as irrelevant for today due to the transient nature of the promise and fulfilment then why did the Holy Spirit allow it to be Scripture without recording a clear corrective? It appears that Scripture is clear in what it is describing but that the transient argument builds on speculation not exegesis to explain why these texts in Acts are not to be viewed as normative for contemporary Christians.

3.The Second Hermeneutic Objection: Doctrine Should Not Come From Narrative

Secondly, the hermeneutical challenge with narrative is that it’s difficult to differentiate between what the text describes from what the text prescribes. Therefore the narrative literary style of Acts makes it unfavourable for establishing doctrine and practice. While this hermeneutic apprehension is valid it must be noted that Acts is also the only New Testament writing that gives us the start and growth of the church. It has therefore ecclesiological relevance and should impact doctrine if we are to fulfil the great commission. The gospels are primarily biographical narratives of Jesus – his life, death and resurrection and the epistles are letters to established churches. Acts describes the beginning of the church. It reveals how churches are started and the beginning of the Christian life. If we dismiss Acts from shaping our doctrine we will have an incomplete doctrine of sanctification and ecclesiology.

Paul’s hermeneutic allowed him to draw instruction from the Exodus narrative “these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”[13] The danger in differentiating the description from prescription is often linked to what is being described. In Acts it is not a horizontal action that is described (like polygamy) but a vertical one (Jesus Christ is baptising believers in the Spirit). Furthermore, the frequency of the post-conversion experiences recorded without any corrective  reference (unlike polygamy[14]) to its cessation seem to indicate that Luke intended the reader to view it as the continued work of Jesus[15] and therefore as normative Christianity. Furthermore no epistle denounces or is sentimental about the post-conversion outpourings in Acts. This indicates that for the writers of the epistles what happened in Acts was normative and probably continued happening.

Lastly what Acts describes is just the kind of dramatic encounter one would expect when we follow the promise of the Spirit thread throughout Scripture. What many describe today as the Baptism in the Spirit at conversion would not include the radical activity in Acts and would be an anti-climax if it was recorded in Scripture. Many of the theologians I have engaged with have a pastoral concern for the implication of a post-conversion Spirit baptism. It has the potential to create two categories of Christian and perhaps division. However charismatics also have a pastoral concern that believers are not given the power they require to live missional lives.

[1] For example “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26.52), “lest they trample them under foot” (Matthew 7.6) same as Luke 1.51 and “justified by his blood” Romans 5.9. The word ‘in’ cannot be used in any of these translation though in each case ‘en’ is used.

[2] In Corinth there was also a camp that wanted to exclude spiritual gifts from public meetings hence Paul’s “do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14.39).

[3] “one body” twice in vs 12 and mentioned once in vs 13 and “one Spirit” twice in vs 13.

[4] “all the members of one body” vs 12 “we were all baptized” vs 13 “all were made to drink”

[5] 1 Corinthians 12.12

[6] 1 Corinthians 12.13

[7] For example Millard Erickson who employs the transient argument and sees the recipients as “the last of the Old Testament believers (Erickson, 1994 p.880).

[8] Acts 1.4

[9] Acts 19.2

[10] Acts 19.4

[11] Acts 19.2

[12] See section 2.4 What will the Holy Spirit do.

[13] 1 Corinthians 10.11

[14] These verses seems to indicate that marriage has always been intended for one man and one woman polygamy Matt 19.9, 1 Timothy 3:2, 12.

[15] The gospel of Luke records what Jesus “began to do” by implication Acts reveals what he continued doing (Acts 1.1).


Life in the Power of the Spirit 3

I have sought to do a biblical analysis of some of the major doctrines of the Holy Spirit as these will significantly shape ones view and expectation of God. In the following two posts I would like to consider the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is a contentious matter and yet so central in shaping the values and praxis of the local church. So I would like to consider what the Baptism of the Spirit is? How is this different to being filled with the Spirit? And how is the Baptism of the Spirit received? It’s therefore also with humility that I engage with the writings of great Bible teachers as my theological interlocutors. Many devout Bible believing Christians seem to disagree at times on doctrines of the Spirit. This section will highlight some of these tensions and reflect my personal answers. At some points I humbly acknowledge that I am still processing information and do not have answers to some very important questions.

How is the Promise Fulfilled?

The opening chapters of Mark’s gospel bring the promise into still greater clarity. The prophet John proclaimed “After me is one who is mightier than I, the straps of who’s sandals I am unworthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”[1]. John associates the fulfilment of the promise with the coming of the messiah. Jesus reaffirms that indeed he is the awaited messiah through whom the promised Spirit will come. On the final day of the Feast of Tabernacles Jesus promised “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink”[2] he had “said this about the Spirit”[3]. As theologian D.A Carson notes “These ceremonies of the Feast of Tabernacles were related in Jewish thought both to the Lord’s provision of water in the desert and to the Lord’s pouring out of the Spirit in the last days” (Carson, 1991 p.322). Jesus claimed to be the fulfilment of the eschatological promise through the prophets. This was the fulfilment of Ezekiel’s prophetic vision of the stream which becomes a river running from the Temple bringing “life”[4] and “healing”[5]. Jesus echoes Isaiah “come, everyone who thirsts”[6] he brings fulfilment to this particular eschatological promise and many others. The promise however is not fulfilled until Jesus had been glorified[7]. The age of the church began when the resurrected Messiah commissioned his disciples “As the Father has sent me even so I am sending you”[8] and breathed his Holy Spirit on them “Receive the Holy Spirit”[9]. At this monumental moment, the glorified Christ fulfilled the great promise of the Scriptures and the new era of the Spirit began. It’s against this backdrop that the concluding words of Jesus to his disciples are; “behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high”[10] and therefore it’s an appropriate juncture to consider the Baptism of the Holy Spirit[11] and the local church.

What is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

Baptism in the Holy Spirit is an endowment of the Spirit that results in special assurance, power for witness and spiritual gifts that may occur at or post-conversion. The general charismatic view is[12]:

  1. Jesus’ disciples were regenerate at least by John 20.22[13] and yet Jesus told them to wait to “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you”[14].
  2. The reason for the need for the Spirit is tied to their empowering for the mission[15]. Essentially the rational is that Jesus “ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem” and to “wait for the promise” so that “you will receive power” in order that “you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1.4, 8).
  3. They waited for ten days and while in prayer “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues”[16]. This experience was post conversion. Christ was the baptizer and they were baptized into the Spirit. It was existential and most times it resulted in the spiritual gift of tongues and great empowering for ministry.
  4. Christians today ought to seek this Baptism in the Spirit. Further biblical support for this is found in Acts 8, 10 and 19[17].
    1. Acts 8.4-25 Phillip saw many conversions in Samaria through his ministry. Subsequent to Phillip’s ministry after the leaders in Jerusalem “heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit”[18]. The Spirit was received through the laying on of their hands[19]. It was clear that some sort of power had been received by the Samaritans because one of the onlookers then tried to buy this ability from Peter and John[20]. The implications are that the Baptism in the Spirit was post-conversion and that it was a noticeable experience.
    2. Acts 10.1-48 A Gentile named Cornelius and his household received the Spirit while Peter is preaching to them[21]. Immediately they were “speaking in tongues and extolling God”.[22] The implication is that the Baptism in the Spirit was a noticeable experience that produced a spiritual gift.
    3. Acts 19.1-7 Paul found some “disciples” in Ephesus[23]. The term ‘disciples’ in Acts is only ever used to describe Christian believers without exception. Paul then asked them “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”[24] The implication is that for the Apostle Paul it was possible to believe and not yet have the Holy Spirit’s Baptism. It is impossible for Paul that a believer could not be regenerate[25] but from his question we must assume that he thought it possible for the regenerate believer to not yet know the Baptism of the Spirit. Then when “Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying”[26]. The implications are that the Baptism in the Spirit was post-conversion and that it was a noticeable experience that resulted in a spiritual gift.

In summary (1) in Acts it is normative to experience the Baptism of the Spirit at or post-conversion, (2) it is received often through the laying on of hands though not exclusively so, (3) the Spirit outpouring is sometimes accompanied by spiritual gifts though not exclusively so, (4) the outpouring was always experiential but we are not given exact details and (5) the outpouring empowered believers for ministry as evidenced by the transformation of the disciples and the growth of the church.

What are the Evidences of the Baptism in the Spirit?

An important pastoral question then is how can contemporary Christians know if they have received the Baptism of the Spirit? Traditional Pentecostalism viewed speaking in tongues as the initial evidence of the Baptism in the Spirit. While the gift of speaking in tongues is often associated to the receiving of the Spirit it is not always the case. For example in Acts 8.4-25 we do not see the Samaritans speaking in tongues. Furthermore by definition one cannot expect or demand a gift. Paul writes to the Corinthians warning them of pride and disunity encouraging them to honour all the different parts of the body. He asks rhetorically “Are all apostles?”[27] To which the answer is ‘no’ and follows it up with “do all speak in tongues?”[28] since it is the “Spirit who appoints to each one individually as he wills”[29]. The implication being that every part of the body is interdependent along with the other parts. What are the evidences then?

Martin Lloyd-Jones insisted that the Baptism of the Spirit was experiential and had both subjective and objective evidences and was therefore always memorable. The subjective evidence was the assurance of salvation and its implications. While the objective evidences ranged from physical manifestations like that of shining face of Moses, to inner confidence in witness and spiritual authority (Eaton 1989 p.174-180).

In my view there are two dangers. First there is the danger of downplaying the experiential component of the Baptism of the Spirit into a theoretical assumption. If the experiential aspect of the Baptism of the Spirit is removed from its definition then there is no way of differentiating between the Baptism of the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit. This is not consistent with the wider survey of the biblical material. The Baptism of the Spirit is a writing on one’s hand “the Lord’s”, its prophetic endowment, it’s an end to thirst and so on. To diminish this experiential component is to remove the true north from the believer wishing to know the promised Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

However the opposite danger is that we go beyond Scripture and say what it doesn’t. For example some say that the Baptism of the Spirit is always memorable. This may be going beyond what the Scriptures say on the matter. The subjective and objective evidences that Dr. Lloyde-Jones suggests are not measurable but are relative. In contrast the Pentecostal view that tongues are an evidence is measurable. You either speak in tongues or you do not. While this view is not supported by Scripture it is perhaps easier to see why it was adopted as an evidence because it is measurable and therefore memorable. A sense of assurance is experienced in different ways by different people at different times in their lives. Anyone who has become a believer is made regenerate and is therefore alive to God. A Christian knows that they are a Christian. They have some measure of assurance. How much assurance does an individual need to experience in order to safely assume that it is evidence of the Baptism of the Spirit? It is a relative concept.

Similarly the objective evidence that Lloyd-Jones suggests are in fact subjective and also relative. A physical response to God’s Spirit is not quantifiable, unless it is the experience that Moses had of having ones face shine for several days. This however is surely not to be expected as normative evidence and does not happen in Acts. Again different people respond in different ways at different times in their lives to God. There is no standard physical response to the Holy Spirit. Some may cry, some may laugh, still some may not display any outward expression whatsoever. It is relative.

There may be an individual who is unsure about when exactly it happened that they were baptised with the Spirit but they know the inner assurance and power for witness and spiritual gift/s. My concern is both for the safeguarding of Scripture and of souls. My concern is that someone should spend themselves searching for something they already have only because they cannot provide a date and time on which they should have had some vaguely described experience.

In summary then after the Baptism of the Spirit we should (1) often expect and encourage spiritual gifts especially the gift of tongues and prophecy yet not view it as exclusive evidence, (2) consider over time the subjective inner witness of the assurance of salvation and (3) watch to see for a marked increase in boldness in witness, (4) not be too dogmatic in labelling what is and what is not evidence of Baptism in the Spirit so as not to make believers doubt on the basis of not being able to locate the experience and not to play down the experience so as not to make the believer to presumptuous that they have received it, (5) rather it is my view to take the time to gently and patiently pastor people into this experience and listen to them and to God for their next steps. Next week I will consider the major objections to the doctrine of the Baptism of the Spirit.

[1] Mark 1.8

[2] John 7.37

[3] John 7.39

[4] Ezekiel 47.9

[5] Ezekiel 47.12

[6] Isaiah 55.1

[7] John 7.39 It is often objected that the Spirit was again promised in John 20 but not received because Jesus had not yet been glorified (Carson 1991 p.159). That the glorification of Jesus includes his death and resurrection and is not only limited to his ascension is in view here. He was glorified by the voice of God before his death (John 12.28). His death was glorious in that it made a public spectacle of the forces of evil and his resurrection was a glorious affirmation that he was the Christ. It is also unclear why the imperative ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ should be taken as ‘wait a while longer’. For a detailed discussion see Lloyd-Jones p. 261-263 in Joy Unspeakable.

[8] John 20.21

[9] John 20.22

[10] Luke 24.49

[11] My personal reflection on this promise-fulfilment thread has caused me to be self-critical. In summary then it’s my conviction that the believer or local church that does not celebrate, anticipate and make much of the fulfilment of this grand promise in their values, doctrine and praxis has overlooked this biblical metanarrative. May God continue to open my eyes to the wonder of his Spirit and guard me from being short sighted.

[12] This framework is adapted from Grudem (2007 p.764-765)

[13] It may be that the disciples were regenerate much earlier than John 20. For example Peter’s affirmation of Jesus as the Christ was affirmed by Jesus and evidence of regeneration “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16.17)

[14] Acts 1.8

[15] “He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem” and to “Wait for the promise” for “You will receive power” (Acts 1.5-8)

[16] Acts 2.4

[17] It could be argued that Acts 9 has the Apostle Paul converted at his confession “Who are you Lord?” (vs5) and subsequent filling days later with the Spirit (vs 17) is another example of a post-conversion Baptism in the Spirit. Similarly the case of Apollos in Acts 19.24-28 who “taught accurately the things concerning Jesus though he knew only the Baptism of John” could be made (vs 25).

[18] Acts 8.14-15

[19] Acts 8.17

[20] Acts 8.18

[21] Acts 10.44

[22] Acts 10.46

[23] Acts 19.1

[24] Acts 19.2

[25] It was also Paul who said that “no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12.3).

[26] Acts 19.6

[27] 1 Corinthians 12.29

[28] A Corinthians 12.30

[29] 1 Corinthians 12.11

Life In the Power of the Holy Spirit 2

Last weeks post looked at the start of the overarching promise of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. I looked at who the Holy Spirit is and how Old Covenant believers experienced the Spirit. This week I continue to look at the Old Covenant promises of what the Spirit would do and its implications.

The Spirit and the Law

The Spirit came upon specific individuals to empower them for specific tasks. However the contours of the promise came into even clearer focus as the prophets comforted Israel. God will indwell his people in order to empower them to holiness; “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes”[1] declares Ezekiel. The prophet Jeremiah does not explicitly state the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit but the regenerating work of the Spirit is certainly implied; “This is the covenant I will make with the people, I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”[2]. Law is spoken of in two primary ways in the Apostle Paul’s writing. Negatively as identity markers[3] and positively as being a reflection of the character of God[4]. Fee summarizes this tension between the covenants well “Discontinuity, therefore, lies in the area of Torah observance, the use of Torah either to identify the people of God or to identify one’s relationship with God. Continuity lies in the Spirit’s “fulfilling” Torah by leading God’s people in the paths of God to live in such a way as to express the intent of Torah in the first place – to create a people for God’s name, who bear God’s likeness in their character, as that is seen in their behaviour” (Fee, 1994 p.815-816). This New Covenant holiness however doesn’t come from legalistic obedience. It comes from the grace of God and the gift of the Spirit that inspires deep affection for and an overarching identification with the Lord “This one will say; “I am the Lord’s…and another will write on his hand “The Lord’s””[5].

The New Testament confirms that the Holy Spirit and God the Father regenerates the believer by enabling saving faith. Regeneration is defined by Wayne Grudem as “a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us; sometimes called “being born again”” (Grudem, 2007 p.1253). Regeneration is a work of God alone while the person being regenerated is passive. The person is “born again”[6] and made into a “new creation”[7] “not of the will of the flesh …but of God”[8]. The New Testament repeatedly teaches that it is both the “Father of lights” who “brought us forth”[9] and that we are “born of the Spirit”[10]. This means our “spirits are alive”[11] to God and we therefore put our faith in him and experience new desires for God. The Spirit implants desires of affection towards God and causes us to put our faith in Him.

The Continued Work of the Spirit 

Many classical reformed theologians at this point would speak of the reception of the Spirit and his continued work in the life of a believer under one category. If the category ‘Baptism of the Spirit’ is used or ‘filling of the Spirit’ or ‘sealing of the Spirit’ it would be viewed as referring to the same work of the Spirit[12]. This work would include many blessings such as the assurance of sonship (Isaiah 44.5 & Romans 8.14-16), the opposite of feeling orphaned (John 14.18), knowing God’s love (Romans 5.5) and receiving power for witness (Luke 4.14, Acts 1.8). However this is not consistent with the New Testaments narrative.

I will from this point make a distinction between being ‘Baptized in the Spirit’ and being ‘filled with the Spirit’. Lloyd-Jones’ insisted that there is no direct connection between the continuous filling of the Spirit (which concerns sanctification) and the Baptism with the Spirit (which concerns assurance, power for witness and Spiritual gifts). For example the church at Corinth had many baptized in the Spirit as evidenced by their spiritual gifts yet many were still infants in their sanctification as evidenced by their immaturity. Every Christian has the regenerating presence of the Spirit prior to conversion and may also be baptized in the Spirit at conversion. But these two events may not always happen simultaneously. A post conversion Baptism in the Spirit is possible as it was in Acts 1.4-8, 8.4-25 , 10.1-48, and 19.1-7.

Every Christian is encouraged to continue to grow in holiness through being filled with the Spirit, which is progressive sanctification. Whether one agrees with the classical reformed view or the charismatic view it is agreed that all Christians can and must continue being filled with the Spirit and seek for more of God’s empowering presence.

Next week I will look at how this promised is fulfilled and worked out in the New Testament. Thanks for reading and please do post your comments or questions as these are always a great source of learning, challenge and encouragement to me.

[1] Ezekiel 36.27

[2] Jeremiah 31.33

[3] Law brings the knowledge of sin (Rom 3.20; 7.7-12), Law observance is “mutilation” (Phil 3.2) and Christians are not under law (Rom 10.4, Gal 5.18, 23).

[4] Law is “holy” and “spiritual” (Rom 7.12,14), Jewish nation was advantaged for receiving the law (Rom 3.2) and the commandments of God are to be upheld (1 Cor 7.19).

[5] Isaiah 44.5

[6] John 3.3-8, 1 Peter 1.3

[7] 2 Corinthians 5.17

[8] John 1.13

[9] James 1.17-18

[10] John 3.8

[11] Romans  8.10

[12] John Stott for example in The Baptism and fullness of the Holy Spirit


Fee G.D, (1994) God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the letters of Paul. Hendrickson Publishers

Grudem W, (2007) Systematic Theology: An Introduction To Biblical Doctrine. England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Lloyd-Jones M, (1984) Joy Unspeakable: Power & Renewal in the Holy Spirit. Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers.

Life in the Power of the Holy Spirit 1

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is the source of much joy for many Christians throughout the ages. Unfortunately it has also been the source of much debate. Over the next few weeks I will write about a balanced biblical practical theology of ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. Every believer lives and ministers in the power of the Holy Spirit. Ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit is the process of growing in active dependence on the Holy Spirit for the assurance of salvation, personal sanctification, empowering for Christian ministry and corporate identity in obedience to Scripture. I hope to expand this definition in a practical and encouraging way.

The Metanarrative of the Promise of the Holy Spirit and its Fulfilment

The New Covenant teaching on the work of the Spirit comes into clearer focus when considered within the broader literary context of the biblical redemption narrative. Throughout redemptive history the Holy Spirit has been actively at work as the third person of the Trinity. Yet as the redemptive story unfolds ‘promise and fulfilment’ language is introduced. The Spirit of God remains active throughout the Old Testament yet with the promise to be manifest in a remarkably different way with the coming of the awaited Messiah. This biblical meta-narrative is fuel for anticipating and appreciating the work of the Spirit for the New Covenant believer. It also provides the context for accurate interpretation of the work of the Spirit within the New Testament Scriptures.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

The Old Testament affirms the oneness of God and makes clear the violation of idolatry[1]. Yet the Bible defines God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Since God is one and three persons the Holy Spirit is equated with God[2]. He has the incommunicable attributes of God[3]. He therefore has been actively doing the work of God. This work stretches across the old and new covenants.

How did the Old Testament Believers Experience the Spirit?

There is much continuity and discontinuity between the covenants. In the opening chapters of the Bible the “Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters”[4]. Very early on in the redemptive drama we are introduced to a worn out character called Moses. Moses encounters the inexhaustible power of God through a burning bush[5]. Similarly a wondering Israel experienced the Holy Spirit on a mountain[6], then through the Tent of Meeting[7] and finally through the Temple[8] as it became the place that God dwelled. The common thread, not without exception, is that the presence of God was experienced in a physical location to lead and aid his people.

The exceptions where unique individuals who experienced the Spirit of God for certain task and mostly for a limited time. Bezaleel for artistic work[9], Samson for strength[10], Gideon for leadership[11], David for leadership[12] and the prophets to prophecy. The Spirit of God was experienced primarily in physical locations or on specific individuals for specific tasks. However as the redemptive story unfolds a promise begins to emerge. Moses who was one of these exceptions, a man filled with the Spirit, expresses a “wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them”[13]. The prophet Joel affirms this longing that the Holy Spirit will be poured out on “all flesh”[14]. The Old Testament expresses a longing that all of God’s chosen people will be given various supernatural ability to prophecy and have visions.

These promises are fulfilled under the New Covenant. The gospel proclamation therefore included a call to “receive the gift of the Spirit”[15]. Instead of Tabernacle or Temple believers themselves are “a dwelling place for God by the Spirit”[16]. The Spirit came upon Jews[17], Samaritans[18] and Gentiles[19]. This New Covenant supernatural empowering came through receiving the Holy Spirit and means that “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”[20].

Who is the Promise of the Spirit intended for?

During the exile, this longing is accentuated and tied to the restoration of Israel. The exiled Isaiah prophecies that “the palace is forsaken, the populous city deserted…until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field”[21]. This is the backdrop to the disciples response in Acts 1.6 to the promise of the Spirit by the resurrected Lord; “will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” The ensuing discourse reveals two important features. That the disciples of Jesus along with the nation of Israel expected a final consummation of the Kingdom of God. Within the ministry of Jesus however we see a now and not yet tension emerge. The second feature is the unforeseen implication of the promise that had broader consequence than just the restoration of Israel. Since the Holy Spirit is promised to ‘all flesh’ this created the possibility of greater Gentile inclusion in the people of God. The Spirit no longer resides within the Temple but within the heart of believers; hence paving the way for the inclusion of Gentiles. Both these features have dramatic implications for the local church.

Now And Not Yet Kingdom

Jesus spoke of the future Kingdom to come. The opening declaration in Marks gospel is that “The Kingdom has drawn near”[22]. It has ‘drawn near’ is a reference to its approaching and coming. Similarly Jesus told the parable of the fig tree[23] in the context of his second coming and final consummation of the Kingdom. The illustration that Jesus uses is agricultural. The farmer knows that the “summer is near” when “the branches of the tree become tender and the leaves grow”. “So also when you see these things taking place”. The important fact is not the list of things that will precede the Kingdom coming but that summer is not spring. The Kingdom is not yet upon us. Jesus taught us to pray “May your Kingdom come”[24] pointing to its future nature. The future Kingdom would also usher in an “Eschatological reversal” (Dunn, 1989 p.412) that would see the poor, those who mourn, the persecuted and others lifted victoriously from this state[25]. The consummation of the Kingdom would also usher in a period of suffering[26], final judgement[27], reward and heavenly banquet[28]. The future coming Kingdom then is to be preceded by signs of cosmic turmoil and will be a place of vindication to the oppressed, no poverty, no suffering, no death, no injustice and great reward for the Christian. Evidently this is not descriptive of the world we live in.

However Jesus is clear that the Kingdom is presently at hand. He taught his disciples that “some standing here will not taste death”[29] before experiencing the king. “This generation will have by no means passed away before all these things happen”[30] referring to another list of atrocities that is believed to have taken place during the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and precede the Kingdom. Interestingly in Mark 1.15 the opening declaration the “time has come” is the Greek word ‘kairos’.Which means the appointed time, the time of fulfilment. The verb ‘to come’ is in the perfect tense which indicates a past event with present significance. The long awaited climax has arrived and it has immediate implications. This verse encapsulates the now and not yet sense of the Kingdom. The Kingdom can be possessed here and now like a “treasure” or like a “pearl” [31]. John the Baptist’s question to Jesus is essentially ‘are you the one – the promised Messiah?’ Jesus replied; “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me”[32]. The ministry of Jesus is a scandal (“offended” literally in Greek scandalon) to John because his eschatology was possibly under-realized. As Dunn notes “the scandal here has nothing to do with the offence of the cross” but the “scandalous character of his mission” (Dunn, 1989 p.450). Jesus spoke of healing and good news from Isaiah[33] but makes no mention of judgement which characterized John’s ministry. The nuanced omission is not accidental and is the reason for Jesus appeal to John to not take offence.

The Holy Spirit had come upon Jesus and he was healing the sick, casting out demons, speaking prophetically and proclaiming blessing on the poor. Jesus promised that his disciples “will do greater things”[34] and then four verses later spoke of the promised Holy Spirit. The same pattern is carried out in Acts as the Holy Spirit comes upon believers in the way it came upon Jesus and the same supernatural activity followed. To assume that this paradigm of Kingdom advance has ceased is to reverse the grand narrative of the promise of the Holy Spirit and to ignore the teaching of Jesus about his present reign and rule. This was the temptation of John.

The tension that exists then is that the Kingdom has come and is still coming. We live between the times and therefore with an eschatological tension. There is a danger of over emphasizing the future aspect of the Kingdom. This results in (1) a depreciation of healing, miracles, and other supernatural activity of God in this age, (2) a deification of the Bible and an over emphasis on teaching as the miraculous works recorded in Scripture are assumed to not be replicable and (3) an overly appreciative perspective of suffering since it is to be expected in this age and not resisted.

Conversely the overemphasis of the present establishment of the Kingdom could results in an over realized eschatology. The ‘prosperity gospel’ is one such example with an overemphasis on God’s present triumph over sickness, poverty, and suffering. In this theological camp God always heals, never uses suffering for our sanctification, and will add wealth in accordance with one’s faith. However health and wealth in this age is always unsure as (1) death is the inevitable consequence of the fall for every person, (2) consequently it’s not always God’s will to heal (3) God does use suffering for sanctification[35] and (3) God has allowed poverty to continue for various reasons. Secondly an over emphasis of the imminence of God’s present reign has historically been associated with dualism. For example within fringe Pentecostal camps there have been pockets who have rejected the usefulness of medical science or formal theological studies because its assumed that all we need is given through supernatural means – divine healing and revelation. This also tends to elevate particular miraculous gifts above seemingly natural ones. The Apostle Paul however viewed serving, encouraging and giving equally as Spirit inspired as prophecy[36].

The Spirit and the Inclusion of the Gentiles

The second implication of the link between the Spirit and the restoration of Israel is the inclusion of the Gentiles. Intrinsic to Abraham’s call was God’s intention to bless the nations of the world. Through Abraham “all the families of the earth shall be blessed”[37]. Similarly the Torah was given to Israel in part to draw the attention of the foreign nations and to incite worship of the true God. Israel was to “listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them”[38] so that the nations will say “what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is”[39]. Exiled Israel was called to bless the foreign nations they were in[40]. But Israel simultaneously assimilated into foreign cultures, compromised faithfulness to God, and developed national pride that dampened the mission of God. Converts did exist[41] but it was incomparable to rate of New Covenant conversions. The New Testament makes it clear that it was always and will continue to be God’s intention to have a people from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages[42]”.

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles then became the basis for their acceptance into the chosen people of God. It was the final sign that God wanted the Jews and the Gentiles incorporated into one believing body. After the Apostle Peter reported to the Jerusalem leadership that the Spirit had been poured out on Cornelius and his household it was this event that was deemed the sign that “to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life”[43]. The plea for Christian unity became rooted in the common indwelling Spirit; “for in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body”[44]. Gordan Fee comments on this verse; “For Paul the reception of the Spirit is the sin qua non of Christian life. The Spirit is what essentially distinguishes believer from nonbeliever (2.10-14); the Spirit is what especially marks the beginning of the Christian life (Gal 3.2-3); the Spirit above all is what makes a person a child of God (Rom 8.14-17)” (Fee, 1994 p178). It is therefore unquestionable that the local church should attempt to reach out to all people with the gospel in the power of the Spirit.

In summary these dual implications have dual practical applications that I will discuss in more detail later. But the duel application is that (1) a believer that embraces the now and not yet nature of the Kingdom will be a humble pilgrim full of nuisance and tensions and course corrections as they follow the winds of the Spirit and (2) the local church should be custodians of good news for all and not homogeneous enclaves that simply mirror a post-apartheid South Africa.

[1] See Exodus 20.2-3 and note the Shema prayer of Deuteronomy 6 which called Jews to daily affirm that “the Lord our God is one” vs4. See also James 2.19, 1 Tim 2.5-6.

[2] Lying to the Holy Spirit (vs 3) is lying to God (vs 4) Acts 5.3-4 and note he has equal status as God the Father and the Son in the Baptismal formulae (Matt 28.19).

[3] Omniscience (1 Corinthians 2.10), omnipotence (Lk 1.35), Omnipresence (Ps 139.7-8).

[4] Genesis 1.2

[5] Exodus 3.4

[6] Exodus 19.18

[7] Exodus 40.34

[8] 1 Kings 8.11-13

[9] Exodus 35.30-34

[10] Judges 15.14

[11] Judges 6.34

[12] 1 Samuel 16.13

[13] Numbers 11.29

[14] Joel 2.28-32

[15] Acts 2.38

[16] Ephesians 2.22

[17] Acts 2.1-4

[18] Acts 8.5,17

[19] Acts 10.1-2,28,44-47

[20] 1 Corinthians 12.7

[21] Isaiah 32.14, 44.3

[22] Mark 1.15

[23] Mark 13.28-29

[24] Matthew 6.10, Luke 11.2

[25] Matthew 5.3-12, Luke 6.20-23

[26] Mark 13.1-37

[27] Matthew 11.21-24

[28] Rewards of eternal life – Mark 10.29-30, Heavenly rewards – Luke 17.7-10, The great banquet – Matthew 22.2-10.

[29] Matthew 16.28

[30] Mark 13.28

[31] Matthew 13.44-46

[32] Matthew 11.5-6

[33] Isaiah 29.18 (blind see), 35.6 (lame walk), 29.18 (deaf hear), 26.19 (dead raised), 61.1 (good news to the poor)

[34] John 14.12

[35] 1 Peter 4.12-13

[36] Romans 12.6-8

[37] Genesis 12.3

[38] Deuteronomy 4.1

[39] Deuteronomy 4.7

[40] Jeremiah 29.7

[41] For example; Ruth the Moabite, King Nebuchadnezzar, Rahab, foreigners who became slaves within Israel and the many God fearing Gentiles referenced in the New Testament.

[42] Revelation 7.9. It could be argued that a central question in the gospels is ‘who are the true people of God?’ and Acts and every epistle deals with Jew/Gentile conflict to various degrees thus stressing this issues importance.

[43] Acts 11.18

[44] 1 Corinthians 12.13


Dunn J.D.G, (2003) Christianity Remembered. Volume 1: Jesus Remembered. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Fee G.D, (1994) God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the letters of Paul. Hendrickson Publishers


Beauty in difference

What does the Bible have to say about the current transformation debate spreading across our country? From start to end God has an unmatched heart and vision for all humanity. From the opening pages in Genesis where we are made in the precious image of God, through to Revelation where the people of God spend all eternity together. The central question in the gospels are ‘who are the true people of God?’ and almost every letter of the New Testament addresses the Jew-Gentile conflict to some degree. Let’s consider one such letter. Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.

Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God.

                                                                                            Romans 15.7

The Roman Context

A few years before Paul wrote this letter, approximately two thirds of the church in Rome was Jewish, while the rest were Greek speaking Gentiles[1]. The gospel had taken root. Synagogues had been transformed into churches. But then tragically due to socio-political reasons, all the Jewish people were forced to leave Rome. They were forced to leave their places of work and worship as families and friends were torn apart by their relocation. Twelve or thirteen years later due to a change in Roman governance, the Jewish people were allowed to return to Rome. This is when Paul pens the letter to the church in Rome.

There had been a growing hostility between Jews and Gentiles and the return of the Jews to Rome only compounded things. It is into this context of hurt and hatred that the Apostle Paul writes “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God”[2]. When Paul speaks about Jew Gentile unity it was radical. He boldly espoused a vision that there was “no Jew or Greek… for you are all one in Christ”[3] and that “Jesus himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”[4]. We must see that this was radical inclusion to Gentiles and that it had massive implications on multicultural relationships. We must also sense just how similar their struggle was to ours. Let’s consider each part of Romans 15.7 beginning with the end phrase ‘glory of God’.


Paul is captured by a vision. It is a vision that he was willing to die for and, as legend has it, he did die for. It’s a vision of all people, both Jew and Gentile glorifying God. How does this happen? The gospel of Jesus Christ. The first eight chapters of Romans is a prelude and explanation of the good news of Jesus. Paul shares the gospel and now in chapter fourteen and fifteen he deals with the implication of this good news; Jew and Gentile must welcome each other as Christ has welcomed you’. The mission of God is that his elect would experience his glory through the gospel. This vision runs throughout the entire Bible.

God made Adam and Eve and said they were ‘very good’[5] and the Psalmist says ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made’[6]. Every human being born or unborn, irrespective of culture, sexuality or creed is sacred because they are formed and shaped by God in his invaluable image. In Genesis 12 God called a pagan man named Abram to follow him. God promised to make him into a great nation. A nation through whom God would bless all the people of the earth[7]. The nation would become Israel. But Israel forgot their mandate and abandoned the vision. God sent prophets reminding them that he had a plan to rescue and save people from the whole world and that he would do it through his chosen one; the new Israel, God’s perfect Son Jesus Christ. Paul says it this way and uses Old Testament prophecies to show that this has always been God’s plan.

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.” Again, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.” And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.[8] Ultimately we know that the story concludes with the vision realised as the Apostle John saw it in Revelation. He sees in heaven “every tribe and every tongue worshiping God”[9]. This means that God values different cultures and different people so much so that I will retain some of it in heaven (e.g my characteristically “coloured” grammar!) Paul is a man captured by this biblical vision. Is this biblical vision your framework? Has this vision captured you? It is this biblical framework that inspired Nelson Mandela who was also a man captured by a vision.

I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

                                                            Nelson Mandela

Martin Luther King too was captured by vision when unscripted Mahalia Jackson shouted from the crowd “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” and from his heart, from deep within his bones, unrehearsed he waxed lyrical about the vision:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and we will live out the true meaning of its creed: “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

                                                                         Martin Luther King

The biblical framework has many implications and one implication is that it should guide our personal responses to our country’s need. Here are some of the needs we have as a nation. Half of our country go to bed hungry despite the country producing more than enough food[10]. One out of every four of South Africans are not only hungry but go to bed starving[11]. And the richest ten percent of South Africans own seventy five percent of its wealth, while fifty percent own just under three percent of the wealth.

There is something wrong with our country and we do need transformation and you are the influential ones who can fix it. But we need more than just statue toppling, we need people who see the worth and value of all human life. We need to be convinced not that we must merely pursue tolerance and a quota system but that we must value the beauty of difference. There are other visions calling for your allegiance, promising societal transformation yet only the vision of God will provide true heart transformation.


How is the vision realized? How does God create this kind of people? It is through us welcoming one another as Christ has welcomed us.


Jesus preaches on Leviticus 19.18 “love your neighbour as you love yourself”. But when he preaches on this verse he says ‘A new command I give you: Love one another’ not as you love yourself but ‘love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this will all men know that you are my disciples if you have love one for another’[12]. Paul follows the tradition of Jesus by pointing us to love and welcome as Jesus himself has loved and welcomed us. How does Jesus love? By entering into my space, by living the life I was supposed to live but failed to and then by dying in my place for my sins. Paul is saying the same thing that Jesus is: when you love one another in this way others will see and glorify God. This kind of love validates the gospel. At this point you may become suspicious and wonder what I am actually saying? You may feel that this is not practical or prescriptive enough. You may have questions about who’s right and who’s wrong? Should the statues stand or fall or not?

I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that the disciples of Jesus wanted him to prescribe specific actions. Peter was a Zealot – the Umkhonto we Sizwe of the Jewish people. They employed violence to fight against Roman oppression. Then you had Matthew the Tax Collector. A sell-out who extorted his own people by collecting taxes for Rome and lined his pockets through overcharging. And then you had John who may have been a part of the Essene’s. A community who withdrew from general society like the community at Qumran so that they could dedicate themselves to God. Imagine when they all first met and joined the team, and were faced with the question should the statues stand or fall? I imagine Peter would without hesitation arrange for its demolition. John may caution us to pray about it and allow the Spirit of God space to work. While Matthew may be tempted to change the subject to the fact that Zayn has left One Direction. But Jesus doesn’t always prescribe specific action. He does however caution that whatever the action, it must come from love. Why major on love?


When we love each other in the way Jesus has loved us we will send a message to Cape Town and to South Africa that Jesus is the saviour of the world. They will see and believe. We will not only get the attention of our city but we will send a message to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. There are evil forces behind so much of the turmoil. The message goes like this. Jesus is winning! There is no leader greater because united we follow. There is no force stronger because his love teaches us to love; which is an unstoppable force. Jesus is winning! Even though spiritual forces of evil have tried to divide and conquer, even though it orchestrated the Anglo boer war, Apartheid, xenophobia and afrophobia, we are still forgiving, we are still uniting and we are still preaching the gospel. Jesus is winning because he has given us a new identity. An identity that has superceded yet not obliterated the old identity of coloured, white, black, comrade or Boer. In this identity we have more in common than apart. It has not replaced but it is bigger than. It defines us. We are in Christ. We are children of God. We are sons and daughters or God. We are co-heirs with Christ. You’ve tried to dehumanize us but we know who we are and who we are is royal. Jesus is winning!

In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ… This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus… His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

                                                                                                Ephesians 3.4-7

The phrase ‘rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms’ appears again in Ephesians chapter six in the well-known verses about the armour of God. Many times we use those verses for personal encouragement as we take our stand against personal battles which is right. But do you see that the armour of God is giving to the Christian who is fighting for unity in the church? That’s the context. When you join God in his mission of glorifying himself to all people God supplies you with the armour for the fight. And it is a fight. That is ultimately why we are still struggling with these issues. But it is not ultimately a fight against black or white or coloured but against spiritual forces of evil. And it is a fight that we will win and the sooner we open our hearts to the vision of God and stand firm in the power of practicing His love, we will realize it.


How do we actually proceed? We do need to talk and pray and transform but how? Does unity mean silence? Does unity mean that we all wear the same t-shirts, go tandem cycling, have sleep overs every weekend? Unity doesn’t mean conformity or uniformity. Christian maturity is the key ingredient to transformation. Here’s how we mature. We serve, submit and we grow up.


The Greek word for brothers is used eleven times in this text. The point is that we are family. What is the difference between going for a family lunch and going to a restaurant? You come to serve not to be served. You don’t sit down, place an order, complain if the lasagne is dry or bland and then debate whether or not to return. You get involved, you roll up your sleeves and unpack, clean up, wash plates and contribute. Who has a perfect family? A family where there’s no arguing, no crying, no slamming of doors, no butter flicking? So, why expect your spiritual family to be perfect? Our sanctification is a life-long process. This may take time. When you can see that someone is short sighted in their perspective remember that our sanctification may take a while. When she is insensitive remember – it’s going to take a while, when he speaks you totally don’t hear the vision of God but it may take a while. Instead of critiquing or quitting the family we get involved and become the change we want to see.


One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

                                                                                     Romans 14.5-9

We belong to God. Jesus came for you, lived the life you couldn’t, died in your place to ransom you from the power of sin. Now you belong to him. Every part of my life must come under the overarching Lordship of Jesus Christ. My culture, my likes and dislikes, my spirituality, my sense of right and wrong it must all come under the lordship of Christ. Some cultures eat other people – cannibalism. It’s not ok. That part of the culture must come under the lordship of Jesus. But often there are cultural blind spots that we can’t see on our own. Culture is to us what water is to a fish. We don’t know we are in it. So we need hearts that are submissive to the Lordship of Christ and open to each other. We must pastor each other and lovingly study the Bible together so that we can start having transformative insights about our cultural blind spots. Whether it be individualism or ancestral worship, tardiness or selfishness, no culture is perfect. It takes a submissive heart towards Christ, time and a loving community to identify cultural blind spots.


There are four helpful categories in Romans 14 and 15 that show four attitudes. These verses are about identity markers such as food, kinship and various interpretations of the Bible and it was a big deal to these people.


The strong are those who have the right belief. Paul says in Romans 14.14 that all food is clean. Jesus says the same in Matthew 15.11. But the judgemental-strong are those who have the right answers but the wrong attitude. They know that all food is clean but they judge those who can’t eat. They are proud and arrogant and they look down at the weak in faith. Once I heard two Christian co-workers argue over drinking alcohol. The guy with the right belief (that it’s fine to drink alcohol) was really mocking the other guy’s view. What he didn’t care to know was that the other guy had come from a home with an alcoholic father. You can be right and still be wrong. In the racism discussions it’s so easy to say all the right things with the wrong attitude. You don’t say the wrong things but something is ‘off’, it may be an unwillingness to be sensitive, an uncaring approach and it’s not Christ like.


These guys are probably Jews who grew up believing that certain foods would defile them and so they are not ready to transition to the teachings of Jesus about all foods being clean. But they are not only wrong in their doctrine, they condemn those who eat! Sometimes when we have been hurt and someone comes close to the sensitive area we can respond by being very condemning. During my student years I tried sharing the gospel in Long Street on Saturday nights. But I got lambasted by an older Christian guy who felt that it was ungodly for me to be in Long Street in the first place. He condemned the action because he was unable to reconcile how I would remain unaffected by that environment. Weakness in ourselves can often surface as condemnation towards others. Perhaps there is an area of hurt or weakness in your heart because of our country’s history. Won’t you identify what these are and ask God to heal and restore you.

  1. PITIED-WEAK[15]

Paul says that for some people if they can’t eat certain foods then that’s ok they shouldn’t. They should just be fully convinced in their own minds. If you can’t drink alcohol, then don’t. But what’s implied? It’s that you’re weak! No one reads this and goes ‘yes! That’s me! I’m the weak person and proudly so!’ Paul is gently but not so subtly calling the weak to greater strength. There is hurt because of racism and it’s possible to know that you can’t engage in this discussion or that you can’t hang out with certain people of a particular cultural group for a while. That’s ok but know that God has a plan to grow you and a vision to give you. He doesn’t want you to get stagnant and stay there.


This is where God wants us. Know that you can eat anything but have the ability to not eat because you love your brother or sister. I have the right but I am overwhelmed by my sense of responsibility to my fellow brother or sister. This is how more mature Christians deal with less mature people. You sacrifice for your brother or sister like Christ sacrificed for you. We sometimes even give up our right to be offended or hurt in order to win them over. Sacrificial love will take different forms for different people. But what is certain is that all South African Christians must start to emulate Christ and welcome each other. It takes this kind of attitude to engage in truly transformative relationships and build a truly transformed nation.

This paper is a summarized transcript of a sermon by Ryan Saville given at a Fusion Student event on 15 April 2015. For more articles by Ryan please visit or .

[1] Gentile is the term the Bible uses to refer to non-Jews.

[2] Romans 15.7

[3] Galatians 5.16

[4] Ephesians 2.14

[5] Genesis 1.31

[6] Psalm 139.14

[7] Genesis 12.3

[8] Romans 15.8

[9] Revelation 7.9

[10] That’s 46% live off R20 a day. That’s 23 million is at risk of hunger.

[11] That’s 20% live below the food line which is R10/ day and are not able to feed themselves. That’s 10.2 million starving people.

[12] John 13.35

[13] Romans 14.1

[14] Romans 14.1

[15] Romans 14.2,5

[16] Romans 14.14-15

Tolerance Homosexuality & Diversity

I was asked to give a lecture on the above-mentioned topic at a local film & media college called AFDA in Observatory Cape Town. This is my transcript. It in no way is a reflection of the views of AFDA but I’m making it available as a few of you have asked me for it. Hope it stirs some thought.

I want to introduce a big idea that makes tolerance hard, then chat about tolerance & racial diversity, then tolerance & homosexuality, and maybe leave 5 min for Q&A. 10.10


This my family (I had a picture of my family). We’re super diverse. Sachi is half Japanese. Her mom is full on Japanese. Her mom owns a Samurai sword and often swops her ‘Rs’ & ‘Ls’ which makes talk about the elections very awkward. I’m a thoroughbred Cape Coloured. I like tongue at Christmas and I have family members who could steal the milk out of your coffee. And our son Jude is, well, I’m still working it out. He has a big blond Afro and stormy blue eyes. But I don’t like being left alone with him in public because I’m going to have some old lady stare at me puzzled with that look ‘put that white baby down’.

I know from first-hand experience that along with racial diversity comes plurality – different world-views coexisting & sometimes colliding. Therefore we need tolerance. I’m thankful for pluralism because in Cape Town you can eat Chinese food, Thai food, Sushi even though most times it’s the same Indian guy who makes it all.

But there seems to be a cultural shift from pluralism to relativism – the idea that there is no absolute truth. What’s true for you is true for you; it doesn’t have to be true for me. This way of thinking started to develop after the Second World War, which was really a war against fascism. Hitler, Mussolini and Franco; all totalitarian leaders held the view that everyone must conform to their ideology and they used violence to achieve conformity. This led many philosophers of the 20th century such as Karl Popper to develop the idea that any claim to absolute truth is inherently totalitarian and threatening. Isaiah Berlin who also lived through the atrocities of Nazism argued that the enemy to freedom was monism, the conviction that there is one single belief into which all other beliefs must fit. Culture therefore became critical of anyone who claimed knowledge of absolute truth. Hence pluralism – freedom of religion, speech, etc but this morphed into relativism – a complete rejection of absolute truth. I get it. Pluralism is hard. But is truth the real problem? And is there a middle road between relativism and totalitarianism? Besides you cant have tolerance – that is disagreeing agreeably when everything is relative. Relativism is both/and philosophy. The law of non-contradiction. No absolutes. So there is no need to disagree. And totalitarianism on the other extreme which is either/or. Do this or …. Has no room for tolerance too. Is there a middle way? This has implications for diversity and sexuality.


If you don’t really believe in anything you can’t stand for anything and today we need a youth revolution for racial unity. The map of apartheid is still the map of the Western Cape. People still live in the same places, go to the same schools, hang out in the same class groups. We have been politically desegregated for 21 years but functionally still live segregated. And the ‘youth’ who are doing something, are doing it in such an immature manner that it shames those who dreamt and fought for a new South Africa. G.K. Chesterton speaks of the power of relativism.

The new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never really be a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. . . . As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. . . . The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.

                                                                                   G.K. Chesterton

Is this descriptive of our relativist generation, a generation of Millennial who are into controversies for controversies sake and the flavour of the month with no deeply held convictions? You know who wasn’t a relativist? Nelson Mandela:

I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

                                                                                   Nelson Mandela

Here we see the third way emerge. He had a conviction of truth but it was wrapped up in grace! I once witnessed Mandela walk into a crowded room on his way to give a public speech. Instead of hurrying to the podium he stopped at the door and proceeded to shake the hand of every single person in the room. Here we see the third way emerge. Mandela won the heart of South Africa through truth & grace. Martin Luther King had a conviction of truth when unscripted Mahalia Jackson shouted from the crowd “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” and from his heart, from deep within his bones he waxed lyrical:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and we will live out the true meaning of its creed: “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”… I have a dream that my four little children will one day be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

                                                                              Martin Luther King

Truth has never been the problem but its been thrown out with the proverbial bathwater. Men & woman changed the world by believing and loving deeply. I can’t speak about tolerance if no one cares; if there is no right and no wrong. Let me tell you what’s wrong.

List Facts About Poverty

  • If South Africa was this class then half of you are probably going to bed hungry despite the country producing more than enough food.[1]
  • If South Africa was this class then 1 out of every 4 of you are starving.[2]
  • If South Africa was this class then richest 10% of South Africans own 75% of its wealth. While 50% own 2.4% of the wealth.

Get Personal – stand up if:

  • If your family earned R12000 or more last year. You are in the top 20% of the worlds wealthiest.
  • If your family has sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house or apartment and have reasonable means of transportation. Please stand. You are among the top 15% of the worlds wealthiest.
  • If you have any money saved, a hobby that requires some equipment or supplies, a variety of clothes in your closet, two cars, and live in your own home, you are in the top 5% of the worlds wealthiest. (everyone was still standing at this point)

There is something wrong with our country and you are the ones who can fix it. Instead of only asking you to speak nicely, I want to envision you. The Biblical vision has no mention of tolerance. Because all monotheistic religions believe in the Imago Die that is that we are made in the image of God and therefore irrespective of how young or old, rich or poor, we are equally valuable. In Genesis 1 God made Adam and Eve and he said they were ‘very good’. In Psalm 139 the Psalmist says I am fearfully and wonderfully made and in Revelation the last book of the Bible the writer has a vision of heaven and he sees “every tribe and every tongue worshiping God”. This means that God so values different cultures that I will retain some of it heaven, my characteristically coloured grammar will be there in heaven – ‘Yous guys! Come check this out; all my teeth is back’.

It’s wrong to just amass wealth when half our country is starving. God cares about every cultural group. People call it capitalism, I tell you it’s wrong. And over the next three years of your life at AFDA will your time and your money be spent on you alone, on having fun only, or will you invest in making a difference in somebody else’s life?! Will you speak and engage in a proud egotistical manner or will you learn from others. Point number 1 in life you will not find ultimate happiness in the things you accumulate but in the people you appreciate. Practice tolerance. Persue truth with grace. Make a difference.


I’ve spoken to loads of people about social justice and they applaud it, but the underlying scepticism emerges when they say to me; ‘why is that you speak so passionately about racial equality but then discriminate against gay people!?”. And I know that’s the question that many of you have; ‘What is your churches view on homosexuality? And are you truly practicing tolerance in this area?’ So, here are three things that we believe the Bible says about homosexuality.


Christians must not only tolerate & respect people who differ in culture or creed or sexual orientation, but they must love their neighbours. Jesus told a parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10). There’s a man lying beaten by the side of the road the religious people walk by and the person you least expect; a Samaritan; like a taxi driver, stops to help. What’s the point? You’re spirituality is worthless if you cant show love. It was Frederich Niche, the atheist philosopher who said that love & power are inversely proportional. The more power you exert in a relationship the less you love. Jesus tells this story and then he lives out the story by being undressed, tied to a pole, face down and then brutally whipped by Roman Lictors with flagellum whips made from lead balls and shards of glass, that systematically tenderized and ripped his body apart and then he died on a cross literally from a broken heart. At Jubilee we welcome anybody, LGBT whoever you are, straight from the clubs and you will be welcomed. You can belong before you believe because we follow the example of Jesus.


The Gospel pulls the self-righteousness out of a Christians. Because often it’s not what you say about homosexuality but it’s the way you say it. So many gay people have been hurt by Christian’s who don’t get the gospel because of self-righteousness.
A Christian who understand the gospel cannot be intolerant.


Lastly, the plain teaching of the Bible is that marriage consists of one man and one woman providing mutual comfort & love in a complimentary fashion for as long as they are alive. That means no sex before or outside of the husband-wife marriage covenant. So homosexuality along with loads of other heterosexual behaviour is not only a violation of God’s will but of oneself. It’s like the car manual that you get with a new car – it says change the oil every couple of months, don’t drive the car in the red, it’s not busy work its living in the way you were designed to live. It’s being who you are, everyone else is saying ‘be who you want to be within the realms of the law’ but the Bible alone says be true to yourself. So the question really isn’t what does the Bible say about homosexuality, the question is ‘did Jesus raise from the dead?’ If he did, he is God, and he knows you better than you know yourself.

Is this intolerant. No. Tolerance by definition means disagreeing agreeably. Is this another form of totalitarianism? No. Its truth comingled with grace. There’s no coercion into conformity. It’s an invitation to a relationship with a person – Jesus Christ. Pursue tolerance but don’t settle there. Move on to love, humility and the pursuit of truth. And may many of you come to know the unconditional, identity changing love of God that he lavishes freely on any who would believe in Jesus.

[1] That’s 46% live off R20 a day. That’s 23 million is at risk of hunger.

[2] That’s 20% live below the food line which is R10/ day and are not able to feed themselves. That’s 10.2 million starving people.

The call of Moses

Believers understand many doctrinal truths in the mind, but those truths seldom make the journey down into the heart except through disappointment, failure and loss.

-Tim Keller[1]

I’ve just returned from traveling in Europe where it’s easier to see the contrast between wealth and biblical Christianity. Seasons of comfort, affluence or economic abundance can make reliance on God seem irrelevant. This mind-set is not unique to Europe. The late John Stott believed that “there is an urgent need in the church today for more genuinely Christian thinkers who have not capitulated to the prevailing secularism”[2]. He emphasizes his point by citing Harry Blamiers “The Christian mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness and nervelessness unmatched in Christian history”. He goes on to define what is meant by Christian thinking; “it’s a (1) a recognition that the world is God’s, and transient, (2) its awareness of evil, (3) its conception of truth, (4) its acceptance of authority (God’s revelation requiring from us not an egalitarian attachment but a bending submission)”[3]. Much of these orthodox doctrines are deemed archaic today but the price however is spiritual bankruptcy.

Shaping Worldview

Moses was born into a similar cultural climate. He grew up with opulence and wealth. He was educated at the finest institutions of the most powerful empire in his day. He was a prince of Egypt and had power and status. But he had to make a choice. A choice between the faith worldview of his parents and the almost scientific worldview of Egypt. A worldview in opposition to the God of the Bible. Ironically, the precursor to his spiritual authority was a recognition of his spiritual bankruptcy, a lesson he struggled to learn.

Greatness through failure

Exodus 3 records the call of Moses. The context reveals that he felt completely overwhelmed by God’s commission. Alec Motyer suggests that the verb “tending” (Ex 3.1) stresses continuance[4]. In other words ‘Moses was watching the sheep, and watching the sheep, and still watching the sheep, day in day out, week after week, month after month, year after year, for 40 years’. The verb carries a sense of repetitive monotony. Moses was at a dead end and ok with it. He once had physical strength, money, influence, and status but that was gone.

Moses was forty years old when he first tried to rescue Israel. He tried and failed (Acts 7.25). He beat an Egyptian to death and unexpectedly his own people turned on him. This failure and rejection by his people left an indelible scar. So he fled to the desert and spent forty more years as an obscure shepherd. But now God appears to him. And God says “Now I have heard the cry of my people… come now and I will send you” (Ex 3.9-10). Now! The irony is that ‘now’ he was eighty years old. Why now? Why not back then? As a prince he had social capital, physical strength, status and powerful allies. Now that Moses has experienced failure, failure so great that he never recovered from it. Because now he’s ready.

Self-reliance is tenacious. It remains scarily active even post-conversion. It turns knowledge of God into a weapon of self-righteousness. It makes God seem smaller than he is. It signals a self-destructive cycle of pride, sin, shame, and worldly sorrow. Sometimes the only way we stop to hear God is through humiliating failure. C.S. Lewis said that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.” It is failure that transports doctrine from the head to the heart. This is why Moses is finally ready.

Time – A thorough teacher

In chapter 4 Moses responds to God’s call with a series of excuses expressing the indelible imprint of his past failure. First he says “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” (Ex 4.1). Basically ‘I’ve tried this before but I failed. I don’t know if I can trust you again.’ Then he speaks about his limitations: “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Ex 4.10). And as you would expect God responds by assuring Moses that God himself will rescue; “I have come down to rescue them” (Ex 4.8). However, just when you think that Moses finally gets it – God nearly murders him!

He is about to confront the most powerful man alive on God’s behalf. But he hasn’t circumcised his own son (Ex 4.24). God had commanded him to do it but he obviously didn’t think it important enough. The desperate dependence on God’s power has not yet hit home! It has literally not worked its way into his home life.

The problem with affluence co-mingled with sin is that it works into our bones a deep seated self-reliance. It took Moses eighty years to start to see his bankruptcy and start depending on God. The only way we can sustain faith in ever increasing secular city life is by depending on God daily. A recognition of orthodox theology; our sinfulness and God’s holiness, leads us to the cross of Christ. This is our remedy. The self-reliant life is a burdensome life. Relying on one’s own ability to succeed, to please people and to please God is not only tiring.  It is a curse. The apostle Paul called faith based on rules and law “cursed” (Galatians 3.13). Being one’s own saviour is hard work. Jesus took the punishment of sin upon himself so that we wouldn’t have to. Self-reliant people know first-hand the guilt and shame they feel when they miss the mark. But reliance on God frees us by resting on grace. Growing as a Christian is growing in grace. Ultimately the victory of God in the Exodus was a victory of grace. Everything was stacked against the nation and against Moses the man, but for grace! As the well-known acronym goes; grace is God’s resource at Christ’s expense. A pardon for sin and victory in life!

[1]Keller, pg 5, Walking with God through pain and suffering

[2] Stott, pg 59, Life in Christ

[3] Stott, pg 60, Life in Christ

[4] Motyer, pg 50, The Message of Exodus