Born to be Alive: After the Second Chapter

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It is the custom of Evangelical and Pentecostal authors these days to finish their works with the confident assertion that, if the reader follows what is in the book they have just read, everything will be all right, as the advice given is sound Biblically and workable.  I have made every attempt to insure that the contents of this book are both.  But if we are honest with ourselves we realize at the end of a journey through any portion of Scripture that what we have written is totally inadequate to explain what is set before us in the Word.  For we are dealing with the movement of God in the Second Chapter, just as we do in Spirit filled worship and prayer.  And how can we as people adequately explain such a thing?  “Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there if I make by bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”[1]  Dante put the matter poetically in his vision of God when he wrote

Like a geometer wholly dedicated
to squaring the circle, but who cannot find,
think as he may, the principle indicated–

so did I study the supernal face.
I yearned to know just how our image merges
into that circle, and how it there finds its place

but mine were not the wings for such a flight.

But in the end our inadequacy to explain the Pentecostal experience, with all of its implications and ramifications, is the whole purpose for it.  For no one can ultimately explain God but God himself, and by pouring out his Spirit he does this to every believer who seeks the experience.  “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, Abba, Father.  The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”[2]  Those who are born of the Spirit ultimately need no explanation, because they have received and are receiving such illumination from God himself.

And this passage is an excellent introduction to the heart of this book, and perhaps to the heart of Pentecost and the whole Pentecostal experience.  God’s purpose in pouring out his Spirit — and in sending his Son as well — was not to establish martial law in the church, but to give life to those who partake of it.  The church needs to set for itself, its members, and its leaders high standards of moral and ethical conduct, and consistently expect everyone to live up to them.  But dead people cannot live up to anything.  It makes no difference whether the people are physically or spiritually dead.  Before we press on to the mark of the high calling, we must first be alive, and this life is what Pentecost and the Holy Spirit are all about.

At the very outset “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”[3]  God gave life to man from the very start, and placed him in a situation where men and women would not have to experience death.  But man, in his inimitable fashion, rejected this life, and so brought both sin and death into the world.  Jesus Christ came so that man could really live again, and the Holy Spirit came so that this eternal life could be partaken from the moment a person became God’s child on into eternity.  Physically speaking, man is born to die.  In Jesus Christ man is born to be alive, and through the pouring out of the Spirit, he can partake of that life from the hour he first believes.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”[4]  When we obtain life from God, we obtain the ultimate liberation that can be found in all of creation.  Freedom and license are frequently confused these days.  When we are free in God, we are free from the most restrictive jailor or all — ourselves.  When we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, we are not only free from our sins, but free from our limitations as finite creatures, having the power of God within us to carry us through.  In this day when many are seeking such power for themselves through all manner of methods and ending up either in a fantasy or worse in a demonic reality, Pentecostal and Charismatic believers carry in themselves something that no mere spirit guide can offer, and that is the constant companionship of the Creator and Master of the Universe.

Many will say that most of what has preceded this point is not uniquely Pentecostal or Charismatic that at some point in Christianity’s long course — even after the Apostolic Age — every one of these features claimed for Full Gospel Christianity has been experienced by someone else.  However, just as the day of Pentecost and the Apostolic Age had the fullness of the Gospel with all of its features, so also does Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity, coming at the end of the church age, sums up in itself all of the important features of authentic, Apostolic Christianity.  While it has continuity with what has gone before, it is more comprehensive because of the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

But there are dangers about us these days.  The world, steeped in rationalism but still insecure, worries about the unleashing of divine power through a group of people it would rather consign to the margins.  But the largest potential obstacles to future Pentecostal greatness — no matter how long or short that future might be, until heaven sounds the last cry — do not come from the world or the Devil but from ourselves.  We and our forefathers have been set ablaze but are we too wet with sin and self-sufficiency to stay lit?  Or will we be obstacles to others and to ourselves in the quest to spread the good news that people can be fully indwelt by God if they will allow him in.

What is to be done?

As we said it would be from the start, most of this book has been one of reflections on Pentecost and what it means to those of us today who bear the name.  But we cannot live in books, and we cannot even live in church services or seminars we must live in the real world, where real people live out real problems, and we are called by God to minister to them.  What do we do with all of the benefits that God has conferred upon us?

The first thing that we must do is to be born again, to be saved.  It doesn’t matter whether we were raised in church or not, because God has no grandchildren.  Each and every one of us must come to know God through Jesus Christ in a real salvation experience, not someone else’s experience.  It’s not much important where this happens either.  Christian churches have developed many techniques over the years to help bring people to a decision about Jesus Christ, and there are many have testimonies about meeting God “at an old fashioned altar”.  But God’s saving power isn’t restricted to altars or to churches or vacation Bible schools, but can touch us anywhere we are ready to receive him.  When Peter preached at Pentecost, he didn’t have a mourner’s bench ready for the sinners even if he had, it probably wouldn’t have been big enough to accommodate the response he got.

Following this, we must proceed to get all God has for us in sanctification and the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Spiritual progress isn’t optional for the Pentecostal he or she does not have the luxury of sitting for a lifetime on a salvation experience.  Drawing closer to God is a lifetime adventure, and by reemphasizing the biblical concepts of sanctification and of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, this growth is gracefully reintegrated into the Christian life.

Along with this we must stick to the Word of God in our daily life.  Preachers emphasize this, but neither they nor lay people can do so too much.  We must know the Word of God and we must be able to turn it into reality in our own lives.  We must not place what we or others think is biblical practice with what really is, but to be salt and light both to the world and to our fellow believers.

We must also communicate with God regularly through prayer.  Having a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ implies that, like any other personal relationships, we have regular, two-way communication.  This can come in a variety of ways, and the ways people talk about should be biblical helps and not rigid regulations.  We must also maintain a dialogue with God, to listen to him as well as present our needs.  No one likes to deal with a person who does all of the talking and none of the listening we should keep this in mind when we consider God’s position in this relationship.

Finally, we must learn to live out the greatest commandment, to love one another.  It is a waste of time for us to separate ourselves from the world when all we end up with is either a group of bickering, snarling, self-righteous people or a stuffy society whose highest aim is respectability rather than righteousness.  If we love one another, bear one another’s burdens, and lift each other up as Christians, the world will see something they just don’t have.

 

Stick with the course

All of these things are important but most of all they must be backed up by commitment.  We must be really saved, sanctified, baptized in the Holy Spirit, knowers and doers of the Word, and people who stay in touch with God.  One of the major advances evangelical churches made is to encourage — perhaps require is more accurate — people to be sold out to God on a daily basis, and this is both biblical and Pentecostal.

People who dislike Christianity frequently do so because of all of the perceived hypocrites in the church, or about being hurt in church, or about some other problem with the people there.  These kinds of problems also sap the morale of Christians.  Such problems should remind us “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”[5]

The Pentecostal thing to do, of course, is to call on the power of God to rectify such problems.  Long after the first Pentecost and even longer before the second one, about 450 Leo the Great wrote a letter to Rusticus, a bishop in what is now southern France.  Rusticus was having quite a lot of trouble with many of his church people who, unhappy with his performance, were hounding him with their mouths.  Rusticus was ready to quit, but Leo responded with advice primarily for ministers but which is equally applicable to laymen as well who face many of the same problems.  We would do well to follow this advice as we see the Lord coming in the end:

But I am surprised, beloved, that you are so disturbed by opposition in consequence of offenses, from whatever cause arising, as to say you would rather be relived of the labors of your bishopric, and live in quietness and ease than continue in the office committed to you.  But since the Lord says, “blessed is he who shall persevere unto the end,”[6] whence shall come this blessed perseverance, except from the strength of patience?  For as the Apostle proclaims, “All who would live godly in Christ shall suffer persecution.”[7]  And it not only to be reckoned persecution, when sword or fire or other active means are used against the Christian religion for the direst persecution is often inflicted by nonconformity of practice and persistent disobedience and the barbs of ill-natured tongues: and since all the members of the Church are always liable to these attacks, and no portion of the faithful are free from temptation, so that a life of either of these nor of labor is devoid of danger, who shall guide the ship amidst the waves of the sea, if the helmsman quit his post?  who shall guard the sheep from the treachery of wolves, if the shepherd himself be not on the watch?  Who, in fine, shall resist the thieves and robbers, if love of quietude draw away the watchman that is set to keep the outlook from the strictness of his watch?  One must abide, therefore, in the office committed to him and the task undertaken.  Justice must be steadfastly upheld and mercy lovingly extended.  Not men, but their sins must be hated.  The proud must be rebuked, the weak must be borne with and those sins which require severer chastisement must be dealt with in the spirit not of vindictiveness but of desire to heal.  And if a fiercer storm of tribulation fall upon us, let not be terror stricken as if we have to overcome the disaster in our own strength, since both our Counsel and our Strength is Christ, and through him  we can do all things, without him nothing, who, to confirm the preachers of the Gospel and the ministers of the mysteries, says, “Lo, I am with you all the days even to the consummation of the age.”[8]  And again he says, “these things I have spoken unto you that in me ye may have peace.  In this world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, because I have overcome the world.”[9]  The promises, which are as plain as they can be, we ought not to let any causes of offence to weaken, lest we should seem ungrateful to God for making us his chosen vessels, since his assistance is powerful as his promises are true.


[1]Ps 139:7-10

[2]Rm 8:13-17

[3]Gen 2:7

[4]2 Cor 3:17

[5]2 Cor 4:7

[6]Mt 24:13

[7]2 Tim 3:12

[8]Mt 28:20

[9]Jn 16:33

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