Arminian Today

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Posts Tagged ‘Holy Spirit

The Gospel As The Power of God Unto Salvation

I think both Arminians and Calvinists need to rethink our positions on the issue of the gospel as the power of God unto salvation.  Here is what I mean.  Both Arminians and Calvinists assert that because of sin, mankind is unable to hear the gospel and be saved.  Calvinists teach that mankind must first be regenerated by the Spirit of God to come to salvation.  Arminians deny this but still teach prevenient grace as the work of the Spirit to bring sinners to salvation which in essence frees their will to believe the gospel.  Both sides teach that mankind is totally depraved to the point that even if we preach the gospel to lost sinners, they are incapable of responding to the gospel apart from this other work of the Spirit either in effectual calling or in prevenient grace.

However, how can it be that the gospel given to us by the Spirit is incapable of drawing sinners?  What if part of the work of salvation is the preaching of the gospel to lost sinners?  After all, Jesus makes much about the preaching of the gospel (Mark 1:15-16; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).  Notice that in Acts 1:8 the Holy Spirit would empower the disciples to preach the gospel yet is the gospel still not able to save?  What if the work of the Spirit is drawing (John 6:44) but He does so through the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:14-17)?

Paul the Apostle wrote in Romans 1:16-17:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Notice several things.  First, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  The same Greek word used in Acts 1:8 is used here.  The Spirit of God brings the power of God into our lives but the gospel is also the power of God unto salvation.  I ask again, if the gospel not able then to save?  Could it be that the Holy Spirit works through the gospel that is preached and He also works on the hearts of those who hear the gospel so that they can respond and be saved?

Secondly, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  I think this is where Calvinists get this part wrong.  They teach that a person must be regenerated to be saved.  Even the great Charles Spurgeon saw the folly in this:

“If I am to preach the faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate. Am I only to preach faith to those who have it? Absurd, indeed! Is not this waiting till the man is cured and then bringing him the medicine? This is preaching Christ to the righteous and not to sinners.” [Sermon entitled The Warrant of Faith].

The difficulty lies in trying to prove that a person is regenerated before faith.  To do this, the Calvinists must take their doctrine to the Scriptures and presuppose this upon the text.  Because of time, I will only say that the biblical case for the Calvinist doctrine of regeneration before faith is weak.

As an Arminian, I believe that mankind is depraved (Ephesians 2:1-3) but I believe that the Spirit works through the preaching of the gospel to draw sinners to the Savior.  He also works on the human will to draw sinners to salvation through the preaching of the gospel that He inspired through holy men of God (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).  The Holy Spirit does both!  He works through the gospel to draw sinners to salvation but He doesn’t stop there.  As the gospel is preached, the Holy Spirit works on the person to prepare them and draw them to salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Can I prove this from Scripture?  Lets look at two examples both used by Arminians and Calvinists: the salvation of Lydia (Acts 16:11-15) and then the example of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30-34.

  1. The Salvation of Lydia (Acts 16:11-15).

Notice the text.  Lydia hears the gospel from Paul and believes (Acts 16:14).  The Holy Spirit opened Lydia’s heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.  She hears the Word, repents, and is baptized just as Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19) and Peter preached (Acts 2:38).

We must not gloss over the truths here that the Holy Spirit did both the opening of her heart and He used the Word of God to bring salvation.  This is the biblical pattern (Ephesians 1:13).

2.  The Salvation of the Philippian Jailer (Acts 16:30-34).

The pattern here is clear: the jailer asks what must he do to be saved.  Does Paul say “There is nothing you can do to be saved.  If God wants to save you, He will save you for His glory!”  No!  Paul preaches that he must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and he would be saved.  Paul preaches to him the gospel (v. 32), the jailer demonstrates his repentance and is baptized (v. 33).  Again, the gospel is preached here.  While the text says nothing of the ministry of the Spirit as in Lydia above, no doubt He is at work doing just what Jesus said He would do by exalting the Savior (John 15:26).  As A.W. Tower proclaimed: “We need not cry out for God to pour His Spirit for He already has beginning at Pentecost but now we simply exalt Jesus Christ and we have the assurance that this is the work of the Holy Ghost.”

What is clear is the preaching of the gospel.

Conclusion

Calvinists believe in the preaching of the gospel.  I don’t want to undermine that truth.  I know of many good Calvinists who are out on the streets preaching the gospel to the lost and calling people to repentance.  I appreciate them doing this very much and I admire them greatly.  I do think they are not consistent with their theology and I know they feel the same toward me.  I rejoice that Jesus is preached (Philippians 1:18).

In Galatians 3:2 Paul wrote this:

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

Notice that Paul makes the receiving of the Spirit conditioned upon hearing the gospel.  The term “hearing with faith” can only mean that as we see in the context from Galatians 3:1.  We preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23) and we exalt Jesus as the One who saves from sin (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  When we preach Christ, the Holy Spirit is at work.  The Holy Spirit has come to glorify the Lord Jesus.  The Holy Spirit takes the gospel preached and He woos sinners to salvation.  The work of regeneration is the Holy Spirit’s work (Titus 3:5).  Being “born again” is being born from above (John 3:3).  When a sinner humbles themselves, the Lord brings the forgiveness of their sins and they are born from above by God’s grace.

Now both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge the necessity of the new birth.  Both acknowledge the necessity even of preaching the gospel to the lost.  The difference lies in whether depraved sinners can hear the gospel and be saved.  Calvinists deny this.  Arminians affirm this but only with a view of prevenient grace wherein the Spirit works on those whom God has foreknown will believe.  I am more comfortable preaching that the work of the Spirit is in the preaching of the gospel and sinners can hear and be saved.  Simply ponder the amazing work of the Spirit in conviction of sin (John 16:8).  When does this take place in Calvinism?  If regeneration is first, when is conviction of sin?  And how can dead sinners be convicted of sin if not first made alive?  While I acknowledge depravity of sinners, I also believe that the preaching of the gospel is powerful enough to open sinners eyes to their sins.  Most reject the gospel and continue in their sins but a few believe and repent and are saved.

Denials of the Trinity & Attacks on Christ

Almost every denial of the doctrine of the Trinity will lead to an attack upon the Lord Jesus Christ or a gross application thereof.  For example, in Jehovah Witness theology, Jesus is Michael the angel.  Jesus is created by the Father and He is not eternal nor equal with the Father.  Jesus is not even worshiped among the JW’s (although they did worship Jesus until 1954 when the Watchtower banned JW’s from worshiping Jesus).  In the case of the JW’s, they are simply replaying the old heresy of Arianism and making Jesus simply a part of God’s creation instead of being God.

Others attack the person and work of Christ outright.  The Hebraic Roots movement is gaining speed in the West (due in large part to a reaction to the shallow seeker churches).  This movement at first seems to affirm the Lord Jesus but the more you get to studying under “rabbis” the more you’ll come to “learn” that Jesus is not God.  In fact, they deny that salvation is accomplished by the finish work of the Messiah but instead they believe one must keep the law of Moses to be saved.  This is nothing more than the old heresy of the Judaizers of Acts 15 all over again.

Paul the Apostle was so protective of the gospel and the Person and Work of Christ Jesus that he issued a curse upon anyone who did not preach the truth (Galatians 1:6-9).  Paul warned the Corinthians against the lies of Satan (2 Corinthians 11:2-4).  He wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:5 what he was passionate about preaching: Christ as Lord!  Paul used the Greek word kurious as he did also in Romans 10:9 and Philippians 2:11.  Jesus is Lord was his cry!  This same word was used by the Jews in the Greek Old Testament about God.

In Isaiah 40:3 we find that Jesus is both Yahweh and Elohim.  Mormonism teaches, for example, that Yahweh and Elohim are different persons.  Elohim is said to be the Father of the Lord Jesus who is Jehovah or Yahweh.  Yet Isaiah wrote:

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD (Yahweh);
make straight in the desert a highway for our God (Elohim).

This verse is applied to John the Baptist in Matthew 3:3 about the Lord Jesus.  The Lord Jesus is both Yahweh and Elohim!

The biblical doctrine of the Trinity is not easy to grasp and is unique among Christians.  No other religion compares to Christianity in this regard.  Islam and Judaism both claim monotheism along with Christianity but Islam and Judaism are both unitarian monotheism or that God is absolutely one.  Christianity is unique in that we believe in one God (monotheism) but in three persons in the one God.  In this way, Christianity is trinitarian monotheistic.  Three who’s and one what.  One what and three who’s.  This is how I teach my children the doctrine of the Trinity.  All three persons in the Godhead are called God in the Bible.  Yet the Bible affirms one God.  The answer is not to deny monotheism nor to deny Trinitarianism but to embrace both as true.  There is one God and three persons in the one God.

Denials of the Trinity bring many problems.  What do we do with the divine persons being mentioned together such as in Matthew 28:19 or 2 Corinthians 13:14?  What do we do with the baptism of Jesus where all three persons are manifest (Matthew 3:13-17)?  What do we do with Jesus’ clear affirmation of both His own deity and yet His submission to the Father?  What do we do with the Spirit of God raising Jesus from the dead?  What do we do with the clear affirmation of Deuteronomy 6:4 in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 yet Paul’s clear understanding that Jesus is equal with God?

The bottom line is not to try to deny the person and work of the Lord Jesus but to affirm His work and His glory and His deity and to bow down and worship Him.  We are to praise God through the Lord Jesus Christ who gave Himself our sins and sits at the right hand of God to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25) as our mediator before God the Father (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  We must pray to the Father in the name of Jesus (John 14:13-14) giving Him the glory that is due to Him.  We must worship God in the Holy Spirit (John 4:23-24; Philippians 3:3).  To deny the Trinity only leads to chaos and various attacks on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

01/05/2015 at 4:04 PM

The Promised Spirit Through Faith

So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
– Galatians 3:14

The Calvinist view is that a person is dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) and therefore the Spirit must regenerate the dead sinner so that they can hear the gospel, believe, and be saved.  Many appeal to the story of Lazarus in John 11 as an example of regeneration.  Calvinists also appeal to John 3:3 saying that one must be born again to believe and enter the kingdom.

Here in Galatians 3:14 the Calvinist view has a problem.  Paul the Apostle clearly states that we receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.  The Spirit comes through faith.  The Spirit does not come before faith.  This is a problem text for Calvinists.

The Arminian understanding is that all who believe will be saved (John 3:15).  Our view is that the Spirit works through the preaching of the gospel to bring forth faith but He can be resisted and He does not force the person to believe (a point that Calvinists would agree with in regard to force).  John 6:44 is used by both Arminians and Calvinists concerning this work of the Spirit.  The Spirit opens the heart of the sinner to hear the gospel and He enables those who believe to be saved.  The work of regeneration is entirely His work (Titus 3:5-7).  But the belief, while certainly a work of grace, is done by the believer themselves.

The Arminian order of salvation then would be that the Spirit is given to those who believe (Acts 11:17; 15:9).  We are justified before God through faith (Romans 5:1) and at the moment of regeneration, we receive the promised Spirit (Romans 5:5).  There is simply no way around this.

While Charles Spurgeon was no doubt a Calvinist, I do agree with him here:

“If I am to preach the faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate. Am I only to preach faith to those who have it? Absurd, indeed! Is not this waiting till the man is cured and then bringing him the medicine? This is preaching Christ to the righteous and not to sinners.”

Spurgeon battled hyper-Calvinists in his day because Spurgeon rightly preached that all could and should come and be saved while he also believed in unconditional election.  Spurgeon was inconsistent in his theology but for that I am thankful.

One final point.  Calvinists acknowledge that the Spirit convicts people of their sins before salvation (John 16:8-11).  Even if we grant that the Spirit only convicts those who are elect, how can He convict those who are dead?  The Calvinists would have to preach that the Spirit regenerates before conviction instead of before faith.  What is the point of the Spirit’s convicting work toward dead sinners if the dead sinner must be regenerated to believe the gospel?

The Arminian understanding of the convicting work is consistent with our teaching on prevenient (or enabling) grace.  The Spirit convicts the sinner through the gospel (1 Timothy 1:8-11).  The Spirit takes the law of God and He shows the sinner their sin (Romans 3:19-20; 7:7).  The sinner must believe to be saved (Acts 16:30-31) but the Spirit woos the sinner under the guilt of their sin and He regenerates the sinner who believes the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:21; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

How Much Sin Can I Get Away With?

We have such a low view of God’s holiness and His glory that we have given in to the spirit of this world and this age and have adopted a view that teaches us that we want to get away with as much sin as we can get away with and still claim to be disciples of Christ.  We claim we want the world to like us and we want to be “relevant” to them so we seek to be like them, to love what the world loves, to desire what the world desires, to watch and do what the world does.  We want our motto to be, “Hey, I may be a Christian but I am still just like you!”

Even a cursory reading of the New Testament gives us a different picture.  We are to be a holy people (1 Peter 2:9-11).  We are to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).  We are to be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).  We are to blameless in this world (Philippians 2:14-15; 3:14-16).  We are to not love this world not the things in the world (1 John 2:15-17).  We are to rather set our affections on things above and not the things here on the earth (Colossians 3:1-4).  Jesus didn’t promise that the world would love us if we are His disciples but He promised that the world would hate us (John 15:18-25).  The promise Jesus did give us is that in the world we would have trouble but He has overcome the world (John 16:33).

I have been praying that God would help me to be “that Christian” that others see and mock.  I want to be that Christian that others see and they despise me for my pursuit of holiness.  I am not meaning that I want people to despise me because of my attitude (some “holier than thou” approach) but because I am different, I am odd in comparison to the world.  I love Christ and I adore Him with all that is in me and I want others to see that and know that.  I want to be that Christian that speaks of Jesus in all things (Colossians 4:2-6).  I want to be that Christian that is passionate for prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  I want to be that Christian that is other world focused.  I want my mind to be filled with the Word of God (Romans 12:1-2).  I want my thoughts to be pure and pleasing to the Lord (Philippians 4:8).  I want my language to be full of God’s grace and mercy (Ephesians 4:29-30).  I want to be a man after God’s own heart.  I am so sick of this world, the things of the world.  I want to be desperate for the presence of God in my life on a daily basis.

I don’t want to be like those Christians that seek to love the things of the world in order to be like the world.  I know of people who claim Christ and they will sit on their computers for hours looking at Facebook, Pinterest, etc. but they don’t pray, don’t have a passion for Christ, don’t truly worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24), don’t share their faith ever.  They claim to be justified through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) and to be His sheep (John 10:27-29) but they love this world more than they love Christ.  They will sit and fill their eyes with worldly programs and listen to worldly music but they claim all the while that they are bound for heaven despite not even loving the One who has gone to prepare a place for us (John 14:1-3).  Oh how I long for the Lord to sanctify them!

It is my earnest prayer for a revival of holiness in our day.  I rejoice that the doctrine of salvation is being preached but oh for the people of God to preach and live holy lives.  I pray that we would be different (as God has called us to be) from this world.  Who cares if we have right standing with men if we have no standing with God!  This sinful world should not pull us down since we are dead to it (Romans 6:11-14).  People at our jobs should see the grace of God at work in us (Titus 2:12-14).  The world should see the power of God at work in us who believe, making us more like our Savior and our Lord (Ephesians 5:1-2).  Oh for the people of God to truly be the people of God!

Pray oh saints for holiness!  Pray for the worldly-minded people to be convicted of sin and to forsake this world (John 16:8-11).  Pray for the Lord to be exalted among His saints through holiness.  Rejoice in our salvation but pray also for our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

Salvation is the Work (Energeo) of Only One (Mono)

I borrowed my title from a sentence in George Bryson’s book The Dark Side of Calvinism.  This statement reflects the Arminian doctrine of salvation.  Arminianism affirms that salvation is the work (energeo) of only one (mono) and thus we can affirm monergism.

Arminians affirm that Jesus alone saves.  We are not saved by what we do.  We are not saved by our good works (Ephesians 2:8-9), by our being Jewish (Romans 11:5-6), by our being part of a certain denomination or church.  Our only hope for salvation is the Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done for us.  This is clear from passages such as 1 Timothy 2:5-6 where Jesus is our only mediator before God.  Hebrews 9:22 tells us that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.  Romans 10:4 tells us that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.  Jesus shed His own blood for our salvation (Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:14).  Ephesians 1:7 reminds us that in Jesus alone do we have forgiveness of our sins.  Acts 13:38-39 tells us that faith in Christ frees us from the bondage of sin.  Romans 5:1 tells us that we are justified before God through faith in Christ.

It is not then our works that save us.  It is faith in Christ and His works that save us.  The cross stands as the point of our salvation.  Jesus laid down His life for sinners (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-9).  1 John 4:14 tells us that Jesus is the Savior of the world but only those in 1 John 4:15 are truly the saved.  The same is true of 1 Timothy 4:10.  It is not enough that Jesus shed His blood but one must place their faith in Jesus alone to save them.  We don’t place our faith in our faith, in our election, or in our goodness.  We place our faith in the Lord Jesus alone to save us by His grace (Romans 4:5).

The notion then that Arminians believe in “works righteousness” to save us is not biblically based.  We affirm over and over again that salvation is the work of God.  We affirm total inability in which no one can earn salvation by their good works (Isaiah 64:6).  We affirm that we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:3) and apart from the gospel and the work of the Spirit in the preaching of the gospel, none could be saved.  The Spirit opens the sinners heart to the gospel (Acts 16:14-15).  Jesus Himself told us in John 6:44 that none can come to Him unless the Father who sent Him draws them.  Jesus promised in John 16:8-11 that the Spirit would do His work in the whole world.  The Spirit works through the preaching of the gospel to bring people to salvation (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47-49; Romans 10:14-17).  This is why missions and evangelism are vital.  People must hear the gospel to be saved.

What then brings condemnation?  Romans 1:18-19 teaches us that people rebel against God because they love their sins.  It doesn’t matter if the person is in a Christian nation, a Muslim nation, a Hindu nation, etc.  People, by nature, rebel against God (Romans 3:10-18).  People love their sins and do not want Christ as Lord over them.  They are thus condemned because of their sins.  Secondly, people are condemned because of their refusal to repent.  We learn this in 2 Thessalonians 2:10 where Paul tells us that people “refused to love the truth and so be saved.”  The just condemnation of God is not based on His part but our part.  We are condemned because of our sins and our refusal to repent (John 3:18).  This is not an issue of divine decrees but our own stubbornness and ignorance.

Our passion then must be to preach the gospel to the lost.  People must hear the gospel to be saved.  This is no salvation apart from Christ (John 14:6).  Salvation is the divine work of God based on His work, His energy (energeo) and is based on one (mono) person only, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Strange Fire Review (Chapter 12)

This is the final chapter of John MacArthur’s book, Strange Fire.  To find the previous posts, you may begin here.

In this final chapter, MacArthur writes an open letter to his continuationist friends.  This would include mainly Reformed theologians and preachers who are charismatic such as John Piper, Wayne Grudem, CJ Mahaney and Sam Storms.  Both Piper and Mahaney have spoken at MacArthur’s church and at conferences with him and I believe that Grudem has taught some classes at the Master’s Seminary.  All of these men (and many other charismatic Calvinists) would disagree with MacArthur over some (not all) of what he has written in this book.

MacArthur gives eight reasons why he believes that the continuation of the revelatory gifts is dangerous.  I will only list them without comment:

1.  The continuationist position gives an illusion of legitimacy to the broader Charismatic Movement.

2.  The continuationist position degrades the miraculous nature of the true gifts that God bestowed upon the first-century church.

3.  The continuationist position severely limits the ability of its advocates to confront others who fall into charismatic confusion.

4.  By insisting that God is still giving new revelation to Christians today, the Continuationist Movement opens the gates to confusion and error.

5.  By insisting that God is still giving new revelation to Christians today, the Continuationist Movement tacitly denies the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

6.  By allowing for an irrational form of tongues-speaking (usually as a private prayer language), the Continuationist Movement opens the door to the mindless ecstasy of charismatic worship.

7.  By asserting that the gift of healing has continued to the present, the continuationist position affirms the same basic premise that undergirds the fraudulent ministries of charismatic faith healers.

8.  The continuationist position ultimately dishonors the Holy Spirit by distracting people from His true ministry while enticing them with counterfeits.

MacArthur ends by calling his continuationist friends back to the Reformation and what it means to be Protestant.

Interestingly, I read after the Strange Fire Conference that MacArthur stated that he wanted to draw a line in the sand at some point and ask all who agree with him to stand with him.  He stated that he would ask his friends who share his theology (Reformed) to cross over and denounce the charismatic movement once and for all.  I have not heard more about this as of this post.

In my estimation, Satan usually offers counterfeits to the truth.  Cults often take some truths of Scripture and build on them but they deny the gospel in essential ways.  Satan will take some truth and sprinkle it into many lies but he seeks to counterfeit the power of God.  This is the case with false healings.  Satan raises up fake healers to spread their heretical “health and wealth” gospel while using a truth about God, that He can do miracles but they ignore that God does them for His glory.  I think that we should not cast away our desire for God to do miracles, for His name to be glorified through His divine intervention simply out of fear of fakes.  This is what I see and hear when I read Strange Fire.  

MacArthur has made many valid points and Pentecostals can read this book and will no doubt amen much of what he has written.  I believe that all disciples of Jesus (whether you agree with MacArthur or not) would agree that the Bible must be our sure foundation.  The Bible alone is the inerrant and infallible Word of God (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12-13) and we must stand on the Word of God (Matthew 4:4).  This must be the case when examining healings or those who would claim to speak for God (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21).

Yet I also believe that MacArthur has labeled many people in the Pentecostal or charismatic with tags that they would not appreciate.  I know of godly Pentecostal missionaries who are gospel centered in their preaching and are in foreign nations now preaching the gospel to the lost.  These are not heretics who are wishing to dethrone Christ from His place of honor and worship.  These are godly men and women who have given up everything for the King.  I know of godly Pentecostal prayer warriors who spend hours in prayer for others and for the nations.  I know of godly Pentecostals who love the Bible and seek to exegete the Word of God using sound skills of interpretation.  To simply label the entire charismatic movement as a false manifestation of the Spirit is misleading and wrong.

That said, all of us need godly correction.  None of us (including MacArthur) are perfect in our understanding of God or His Word.  We see through a glass rather dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12).  While our hearts must be for sound doctrine (Titus 2:1), we humbly acknowledge that we are imperfect people seeking to know a perfect God.  I rejoice that God reveals Himself to us in His Word (John 20:31) and I rejoice that the Holy Spirit leads us into His truth (1 Corinthians 2:12-13).  I rejoice for the grace that He has given to me to know Him (Philippians 3:9-11).  None of us have arrived to perfect doctrine but we strive to know God, to understand His truth, to interpret His Word, and to preach His gospel.

I pray that whatever areas of correction I needed while reading Strange Fire, I pray that the Lord does use MacArthur and the Word of God to correct me.  But I equally pray that for MacArthur.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

04/26/2014 at 9:02 PM

Strange Fire Review: Chapter 10

I have been doing an ongoing review of Dr. John MacArthur’s book, Strange Fire.  The book focuses on the abuses that MacArthur sees in the modern charismatic movement.

Chapter 10 focuses on the work of the Holy Spirit and sanctification.  I am grateful that MacArthur does focus on the biblical truth of sanctification.  So many in our day want to ignore the work of the Spirit in sanctification.  They want to proclaim salvation through faith in Christ but they ignore the call of the Spirit to sanctification.  They fail to preach that true disciples of Christ must turn away from sin (1 John 3:4-10).  This is not negotiable.  True disciples despise, hate, and turn away from sin as part of repentance (Matthew 3:8).  I remember hearing MacArthur preach powerfully from Matthew 3:8 many years ago during the early 1990’s when the “Lordship” controversy was raging.  I was thankful to hear him preach hard against sin and preach that true believers must be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).  Holiness is not an option for the disciple of Jesus (Hebrews 12:14).

2 Timothy 2:19 is clear on this:

But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

Holiness is to be preached and into’s modern church, it is hard to find teachings that cause people to hate their sin.  Few preach that God is holy and that He demands holiness from His people both in the Old Testament and in the New.  Few preach that God’s grace has been given to us not to help us live in our sins but to overcome sin (Titus 2:11-12).  How can we abound in sin when we have been set free by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (Romans 6:1-4)?

But I am moving beyond the point of this post.  This post is on chapter 10 where MacArthur deals with the precious truth that the Holy Spirit  helps the true disciple be holy or sanctified.

However, MacArthur believes that the charismatic movement falsely teaches that there are emotional encounters with God that bring about holiness.  Rather than biblical teaching, the charismatics believe that their experiences bring them closer to God.  While MacArthur briefly points to the baptism in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, prophesy, etc., he takes aim the most at being “slain in the spirit.”  MacArthur rightly points out that there is no biblical warrant for such a practice.  He spends a couple of pages dealing with this issue but in my estimation, too much time.  I know some charismatics do practice this but I think that most level-headed Pentecostals would deplore such events.  Yet in the Pentecostal-Charismatic church I will admit that there is much freedom to worship God as you desire (as long as it is not out the flesh) and this has led to some “falling down” but is not encouraged nor discouraged.  It is just allowed.  I myself enjoy laying prostrate before the Lord.  In our church, a very conservative church, this would not be entirely welcomed sadly.  During my prayer times, I enjoy just laying before the Lord God and crying to Him.  I enjoy the freedom to do this and wish that I could do this when I am with other saints worshiping the Lord.

MacArthur dives into two main distinct teachings about sanctification and the Spirit and that is what does it mean to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and what does it mean to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25)?  He begins with the infilling of the Spirit.  MacArthur, of course, rejects the charismatic understanding of the baptism in the Spirit as separate from salvation.  He believes that the baptism in the Spirit occurs at regeneration (1 Corinthians 12:13).  MacArthur goes to Ephesians 5:18 and deals with this lone command in the New Testament for believers to be filled with the Spirit.  What did Paul mean?

MacArthur teaches from Ephesians 5:18 that:

  • This command is in the present tense of the Greek so this is an ongoing event.  This is not a special event apart from what Christ has already done for us in salvation.
  • While the Apostles and their brethren were filled with the Spirit repeatedly in Acts, this was for the purpose of the gospel and not for sanctification nor for ecstatic experiences.
  • To be truly filled with the Spirit is to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  To be truly Spirit-filled is to be controlled by the Spirit (Romans 8:5-9).  To be Spirit-filled is to seek to please God by pursuing practical holiness (2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Peter 3:18).

MacArthur then contrasts this with the “Spirit-filled” movement and he points out that the movement is full of people who have not been controlled by the Spirit at all.  He points out the many sexual sins that have arisen in the charismatic movement

MacArthur continues to teach from Ephesians 5:18 by moving on to verses 5:19 to 6:9.  MacArthur shows the true Spirit-filled believers show the influence of the Spirit in their daily lives by making us not just right before God but to others as well.  The key mark of the true Spirit-filled believer is not experiences but love toward others (1 Peter 1:22-23).  MacArthur’s point: spiritual gifts are not the sign of the Spirit filling.  Sanctification is.  Spiritual gifts are given to saints to help saints.  God only gives gifts to those who have been sanctified (1 Peter 4:10-11).  Spiritual gifts are given to help others (1 Corinthians 12:7) and not to build up ourselves (1 Corinthians 13).

MacArthur spends the duration of the chapter speaking of what does it mean to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).  MacArthur concludes this is what happens as we abide in Christ by faith and trust in Him alone.  We look to Him to save us, to empower us, to fill us with His righteousness, to strengthen us to overcome the flesh, to help us during times of temptation, to glorify His name through us.  This is the key.  It is not striving in our own flesh but trusting in the Spirit to help us to be holy (Romans 8:1-4).  To walk in the Spirit is to live under His control by submission to His Word (Ephesians 3:16; 6:17-18; 1 Peter 2:1-3).  We are not saved by our own efforts (Galatians 3:3; Philippians 2:12-13) but by faith in Christ Jesus alone who sanctifies us by His grace (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Holy Spirit helps the believer be conformed to the image of Christ.  MacArthur points out that the Spirit was very much active in the ministry of the Lord Jesus.  While Jesus was God (John 1:1, 14), He depended on the Holy Spirit His entire life to glorify the Father and pay the price for our sins.  Even His resurrection was by the power of the Spirit (Romans 8:11; cf. Acts 2:24; Romans 1:4).  Jesus, the perfect Son of God, depended on the Spirit so how much more should we?  After dealing with the work of the Spirit in Romans 8:1-27, Paul declares in Romans 8:29 that the work of the Spirit is to conform us to the image of Christ.  This truly glorifies God (Romans 8:30).

Conclusion

Pentecostals and charismatics who love the Word of God no doubt appreciate MacArthur’s focus on the Bible.  I appreciate this much about his ministry through the years.  His sermons, his books, his blogs, etc. are full of the Word of God.  His focus on expository preaching is excellent.  We all should copy this.  We should love the Word of God.

However, exceptions will be made with MacArthur spending too much time attaching “slain in the Spirit” and emotional experiences as basis for Pentecostal sanctification.  This is misleading and simply not true.  I grew up in a Pentecostal home and church and while I saw much flesh (as I believe you would see in any normal evangelical church), I often heard, “God does not care how high you jump but how you walk.”  While some will view this with legalism, I saw many godly people who lived this truth.   Yes there would people who would be in the flesh and people confused this with being “Spirit-filled” but I saw many saints who loved Jesus and loved to obey the Word of God.

My question is why would the devil give a person a spiritual experience that leads them to love Jesus more?  I am not advocating all charismatic experiences.  I would not.  I am simply wondering out loud why the devil would let people claim to be filled with the Spirit only to watch them become stronger disciples?  And I have seen this.  I have seen people who went to Pentecostal churches and claimed to be filled with the Spirit and this experience took them deeper in holiness, in worship of God, in their evangelism.  How does MacArthur explain this?  One could attack the language of the experience but why attack the experience itself?

Furthermore, what about countless Christians down through the years who claimed to have an experience with the Spirit?  I am not talking about charismatics either.  What about Spurgeon?  What about Wesley?  What about Whitefield?  What about Moody?  While these men did not agree 100% on theological issues, they all had deep experiences with God.  I recommend the book, Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians.  I also recommend Richard Taylor’s book, What Does It Mean To Be Filled with the Spirit?

I long for the Lord.  I want to know Him more and more.  This is why I study His Word.  This is why I pray to Him.  This is why I worship and adore Him.  I want to love Him and obey Him with all that is in me (Matthew 22:37-40).  I also long to have Him near.  I don’t want to just know Him abstractly.  I want to know Him deep within my soul.

I pray I have been faithful toward God in this review.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/30/2014 at 7:05 PM

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