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Second Quarter 2015 (April–June)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF LUKE
Week 7: May 9–15
COMMENTARY ON JESUS, THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND PRAYER
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Commentary: I intend this to be an overview of the entire week's lesson, because Mrs. White is quoted more than usual. A brief commentary on the Holy Spirit and prayer will follow.
What are we to do with such sincere statements from Ellen White? They certainly read well. The SDA church stands by them. In fact, it treats them as scripture, God's word to this generation.
But let's take a closer look. I'm not picking nits here. Rather, I believe these quotations reveal the heart of SDA theology regarding the Holy Spirit and prayer.
Paragraph 1: Are we in danger of deviating from the path? Only if we think prayer and supplication are the primary means of staying on the path. The Bible tells us otherwise:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14 NASB)
Grace is a person. It is none other than the Holy Spirit. He brings salvation and instructs us with regard to godliness. His job is made easier when we pay attention and engage with him, but we are promised in Philippians 1:6 that he will finish what he started in us.
Please note the crucial difference between our responding to the Spirit and our doomed-to-fail efforts to get him to respond to us.
Paragraph 2: It is not the forgiveness made possible at the cross that transforms us. Rather, it is the Spirit who transforms us. Since we have “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:10-16), our minds can be transformed (Romans 12:1, 2).
This belief, that the transforming life of Jesus is found at the cross, is the source of constant defeat in much of Christianity. Denomination after denomination properly brings people to the cross to see Jesus' victory over their sin, but then leaves them there instead of leading them past the cross to the empty tomb.
Paragraph 3: The same error here as in Paragraph 2. Staying at the cross results in untold amounts of human effort to make real in a corpse what can only be made real in the resurrection.
Paragraph 2 mistakes God's reclaiming us from sin at the cross for God's granting of eternal life, while Paragraph 3 calls us to human effort (meekness and lowliness). The first short-changes God; the second saddles us with the responsibility to make up the difference.
Paragraph 4: According to Mrs. White, it is your job to train your mind in order to experience peace. Again, the Bible disagrees:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7 NASB)
Note that prayer and supplication with thanksgiving indeed are parts of the Christian's life, but it is the Spirit's job to guard our hearts and minds. Why the Spirit? Because Paul personifies the peace of God. Peace, as one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, is possible only when the Spirit is present in one's life.
Sunday, May 10, 2015: The Holy Spirit
“God the Father declared from above that Christ is His beloved Son sent to redeem humankind, while the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove (vss. 21, 22). From then on Jesus was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1, NKJV) and ready to take on the foe in the desert, as well as to begin His ministry (vs. 14).” (Standard Edition Page 57) [Emphasis added]
Jesus was not like you and me. He was fully God and fully man. In addition, he was Spiritually alive from birth. To be Spiritually alive means that he already had the Holy Spirit living within. If this wasn't the case, then we're in real trouble, as we'll see in just a bit.
It is true that the Spirit became more active from his baptism onward, but it was the Spirit who led him into the temple when he was 12 and to John for baptism when he was around 30.
Remember, John recognized Jesus as someone who most assuredly did not need to be baptized for the remission of sins. Jesus' baptism was a fulfillment of prophecy, not an act of repentance and confession.
Here's the exciting part. The same Spirit who was in Jesus his entire life can be in your life today. This is the point of the cross and resurrection, or, as Paul describes it, the Gospel. Jesus died for sin once, for all. His victory over sin was complete. I invite you to read Hebrews 10 for a ringing endorsement of this statement.
It required more than victory over sin. The cross closed the gap that existed between us and God, but it was Jesus' resurrection that demonstrated his victory over death. As a result of his resurrection and ascension Jesus sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Pentecost changed everything! Note the following passages.
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.' “ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39 NASB) [Emphasis added.]
The Spirit was not given to us until Jesus was glorified.
Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; or John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4, 5 NASB)
Jesus told them to wait for the Spirit, and he emphasized the difference between John's baptism in water and the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
We all know the story of Pentecost in Acts 2. The Spirit came!
The lesson uses a couple of verses out of Romans 8 regarding the Spirit, but it leaves out the most important one.
However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. (Romans 8:9 NASB)
The ONLY way to belong to Jesus is to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The absolute necessity typically is ignored, not only in Adventism but also in most other religious communities. That, or the idea is turned into horrible, behavior-based bondage.
This also is the key to understanding that Jesus always had the Spirit. If he was not born with the Spirit, that is, if he was not spiritually alive, then he was nothing more than a lost, condemned human being. He would have needed a savior. He could not have been the Savior.
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13, 14 NASB)
When a person receives the Holy Spirit at the moment of accepting Jesus, that person is sealed, once and for all. That person is in Christ, and Christ is in him. That person's salvation is guaranteed.
This is why Adventism's reliance upon Ellen White does such a disservice to its members. If Mrs. White is the de facto Holy Spirit, then the average member never finds out or takes advantage of this incredible gift.
The Holy Spirit does not “come upon” us. He consumes us from the inside out. This is life. This is power. This is hope.
Monday-Friday May 11-15, 2015: Prayer
A simple search in BibleGateway.com yields 60 examples of the word prayer in the New Testament and 131 in the Old. If you look for words like pray, prayed and related terms it is easy to see why prayer is such an important topic.
I invite you to do your own word study.
If you keep the truths described above regarding the Holy Spirit in mind while doing the study, you will be amazed at the utter simplicity of prayer.
When you allow the indwelling Spirit to initiate in your life you will find yourself praying all the time. It certainly won't be like the prayers you've probably prayed since you were a child – Dear Jesus, please [enter your list of needs and wants here]. No. That kind of prayer reveals a me-focused approach.
What I'm talking about is the constant communication you have with the Spirit. Sometimes, he will make you laugh at yourself. Sometimes, the intercession he pours through you will be almost overwhelming. Sometimes, the joy he gives will drive you to your knees (which is really tough when you're driving). The Spirit's creativity is boundless. Your response, not your initiation, but your response is equally creative, because he is working in and through you.
This isn't the kind of prayer which talks about missionaries, as you breathe a sigh of relief that you're not one of them. This isn't the kind of prayer that asks for forgiveness, because you'll be too busy thanking him for it as he convinces you that nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ.
Prayer is not formal, but neither is it course. You are talking with the very God of the universe who has deigned to live in you. Talk about the burning bush! How is it that the very Fire of God can live in you without turning you to ash!
And yet, you are invited to communicate with him in ways that are far more intimate than the human marriage relationship, because this is the relationship between Christ and his bride, the church. Your desires will be transformed. Your focus will be on Jesus alone.
Prayer is not a discipline in the sense that you must do it in order to grow in grace. Not at all. But prayer will serve to discipline your life as you get to know both the Spirit and yourself better.
It is important, however, to pay attention to the difference between prayer under the Law, as Jesus taught, and prayer in the Spirit, as Jesus promised us in the New Covenant.
Prayer within the Old Covenant was a beautiful thing, but it was lacking the oh so important reality of the indwelling Spirit. This is because the entire Old Covenant was looking forward to Jesus. It was the shadow of which Jesus was the reality.
Now, as explained above, the reality of Jesus has completely defeated both sin and death, so we get to experience life with the Spirit within. This literally changes everything.
You have the awesome privilege of conversing with the mind of Christ. That voice in your head is not insanity, but the only means of maintaining sanity.
In short, we've been given the same relationship that Jesus had with his Father.
Can you imagine not acting, unless the Spirit tells you what to do? Can you imagine not speaking, unless the Spirit both tells you what to say and how to say it?
This truly is the abundant life Jesus promised.
Leave your feeble, hopeless self-effort behind. Leave your fear of not measuring up in the trash where it belongs.
Accept Jesus, and receive the Spirit. Begin living your life as you were created to live it, utterly dependent and truly free.