In this first episode of Season 3 of the Theology for the People podcast, I speak with Michael Payne about the biblical genre of lament and its role in the life of a believer today.
Michael Payne is the Worship Pastor at White Fields Community Church in Longmont, Colorado. Previously he served as a missionary and worship pastor in Hungary at Golgota Budapest. Prior to that, he served in the US Marine Corps.
Welcome to Season 3 of Theology for the People!
Michael Payne is the Worship Pastor at White Fields Community Church in Longmont, Colorado. Previously he served as a missionary and worship pastor in Hungary at Golgota Budapest. Prior to that, he served in the US Marine Corps.
Listen to Mike's original music on Spotify here, or see him in action on the White Fields Church YouTube page.
The books Mike recommends in this episode on the topic of the biblical genre of lament are:
Michael Card, A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament
Mark Vroegop – Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy
Walter Brueggemann – The Message of the Psalms
For the Theology for the People blog, or to submit a question or suggest a topic, visit nickcady.org
What does John 10:16 mean, where Jesus says: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
In the Gospel of John, chapter 10, Jesus explains that, opposed to the bad shepherds (spiritual leaders) of Israel, he is the “Good Shepherd.”
The occasion for this message was that in chapter 9, the Pharisees were upset with a man whom Jesus had healed of blindness, because he refused to stop saying that Jesus had healed him. In response, the Pharisees excommunicated this man from the synagogue, and thereby the Jewish community (see John 9:35).
Fulfillment of Messianic Prophecies
However, by denouncing the bad shepherds and declaring himself to be the Good Shepherd, Jesus wasn’t just saying that he was a more caring spiritual leader than the Pharisees of that day – Jesus was actually identifying himself as the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies, that God was going to raise up ONE shepherd, a good shepherd, to lead his people.
In Ezekiel 34:23 and 37:24, Ezekiel (writing hundreds of years after the death of King David, predicted a future day when “David” would rule over the people of Israel as their single shepherd.
Rather than having many shepherds (spiritual leaders), who were often bad, God was going to raise up a single shepherd, from the line of David. This was certainly a reference to the promise God made to David in 2 Samuel 8, called the Davidic Covenant, in which God promised that the Messiah would come from David’s family line.
Consider this passage from Jeremiah 23, which is clearly speaking of Jesus as the future, coming “Good Shepherd.”
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: The LORD is our righteousness.’
A Flock of Seagulls Gentiles (Too)
The surprise twist that Jesus introduces to his Jewish audience, is that this flock that he will shepherd will not only be made up of Jews – who were traditionally referred to as the flock of God (see Psalm 100:3). Instead, Jesus was telling them, he was going to also bring “others” into the flock. The others he was referring to are: Gentiles (non-Jews).
These Gentiles, who would also come to believe in Jesus as their Savior, points to the fact that Jesus’ message and mission were not just for the Jewish people, but for all people, regardless of their ethnic or national background.
This idea of the universality of Jesus’ message is a central theme of the Gospel of John. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus is depicted as the Light of the World and the Savior of all people. This passage emphasizes that Jesus’ mission is not limited to a the Jewish people, but extends to all people who will listen to and follow Him.
This message is not unique to John’s Gospel. In Luke 4, when we read about Jesus’ first sermon in his hometown of Nazareth, this message of God’s love and grace extending to the Gentiles is something which causes an uproar, leading to people trying to throw him off a cliff.
Furthermore, this message was also an important part of the Old Testament, going all the way back to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12, that through his offspring (the Messiah), people of all nations would be blessed. It’s a theme that is found in the prophets, who spoke of God’s love for and care about the salvation of the nations.
In John 10:16, Jesus is likely alluding to Isaiah 56:8, which says: “The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”
Though many Jewish people in Jesus’ day were surprised to hear that God was interested in and cared about the Gentiles too, their surprise was due to their failure to read their own scriptures carefully enough.
The Fulfillment of Jesus’ Words
The fulfillment of this promise of creating “one flock” with “one shepherd” is realized in the New Testament in the Church. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus instructs his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul the Apostle talks about how Jews and non-Jews have now become ONE “flock” in Christ, who has torn down the wall of division between them.
Recently someone wrote in asking about the meaning of John 10:34-36, where Jesus, having been accused of blasphemy for claiming to be God, responds by saying:
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
There are two schools of thought on this, which are related and are not mutually exclusive.
Viewpoint #1: “gods” = judges
First of all, this passage is interesting because it shows that Jesus had a high view of the Old Testament scriptures. He says that it is written in the “Law,” but then proceeds to quote from Psalm 82:1 & 8, showing that He believed the Psalms to be the inspired Word of God in the same way as the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible). Some people at this time, e.g. the Sadducees, only accepted the Pentateuch as the inspired Word of God, but Jesus spoke of the Psalms as being part of the canon of Scripture, and just as much “the Bible” as the Pentateuch.
Jesus’ main argument is that he should not be accused of blasphemy for calling himself the “Son of God” (see: What Does It Mean that Jesus is the “Son of God”?) since God himself had used the word “gods” to refer to the Jewish people in His inerrant Word.
The word “gods” (Elohim in Hebrew) can also mean “judges.” An example of this is found in Exodus 21:6 & 22:8, where the word translated “master” in English (because it refers to a human master), is actually “Elohim” in the Hebrew text… but since it is referring to a human master, it is understood that though the word for “elohim” is used, it is not talking about Yahweh, but about human “masters.”
E.A. Blum explains, in his commentary on the Gospel of John:
“Psalm 82 speaks of God as the true Judge (Ps. 82:1, 8) and of men, appointed as judges, who were failing to provide true judgment for God (Ps. 82:2–7). “Gods” in Psalm 82:1, 6 refers to these human judges. In this sense, God said to the Jews, You are gods. In no way does this speak of a divine nature in man. Jesus was arguing that in certain situations (as in Ps. 82:1, 6) men were called “gods.” The Hebrew word for God or gods is ’ělōhîm.This word is used elsewhere (e.g., Exodus 21:6; 22:8) to mean human judges. Since the inerrant Bible called their judges “gods,” the Jews could not logically accuse Him of blasphemy for calling Himself God’s Son since He was under divine orders and sent into the world on God’s mission.”
Blum, E. A. (1985). John. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 312). Victor Books.
Viewpoint #2: “Living like gods”
C.G. Kruse explains another viewpoint, based on the rabbinic exegesis of Psalm 82:6-7:
The full text of Psalm 82:6–7 reads: “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’ But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.”
The statement ‘You are gods’ was understood in later rabbinic exegesis to be God’s word to the Israelites at Sinai when they received the law. God said to them, ‘You are gods,’ because in receiving the law and living by it they would be holy and live like gods. But because they departed from the law and worshipped the golden calf while still at Sinai, he said to them, ‘you will die like mere men’. The opening words of Jesus’ argument, ‘If he called them “gods”, to whom the word of God came’, suggest that he interpreted the quotation from the psalm in relation to the Sinai events as did later rabbinic scholars.
Jesus used the exegetical methods of his opponents to show they had no grounds for accusing him of blasphemy.
Kruse, C. G. (2003). John: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 4, pp. 240–241). InterVarsity Press.
What Jesus is Not Saying
Jesus is not saying here that all human beings are divine – we are not.
Jesus is not downplaying his own divinity – he affirms it multiple times and in various ways throughout the Gospel of John.
Jesus is not saying that Psalm 82 was incorrect – just the opposite: he references one of the most confusing passages for modern non-Hebrew literate Bible readers, in order to make us dig in to seek understanding of that passage!
What Jesus was Doing
Jesus was masterfully diffusing a situation by using the very Scriptures and exegetical methods of his attackers, to show them they they were being inconsistent in their theological method.
Today is the day in the United States when we set aside to give thanks and reflect on all the Lord has done in our lives over this past year.
Other countries, like Canada and Ukraine also have national holidays dedicated to giving thanks, but days of thanksgiving have a rich history in Christian groups all over the world, going back before the pilgrims held their famous thanksgiving feast in Plymouth.
In the Old Testament, God instructed his people to hold several days of thanksgiving every year: Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in early Spring, thanking God for delivering them from slavery and for the beginning of the barley harvest; the Feast of Weeks in early Summer, thanking God for the beginning of the wheat harvest; and the Feast of Tabernacles in the Fall, thanking God for the end of the harvest season. God told them to “Be joyful at your festival…because the Lord your God will bless you” (Deuteronomy 16:14-15).
For us as Christians, Thanksgiving is not only a day we celebrate, but a way of life. Colossians 2:6-7 says: : “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
Thanksgiving Shapes Us
Spending time reflecting on what God has done for us and giving thanks not only honors Him, it also shapes us. The Thanksgiving meal obviously shapes us into certain kinds of people: slightly rounded than we were before! But the practice of giving thanks also shapes us: the more we give thanks, the more our eyes are opened to see the things God is doing and has done – which builds our faith and trust in Him!
Does the Bible encourage people who are poor to ask for help, or does it put the onus on the rich to provide for the poor?
The Bible gives a pretty nuanced view of provision for the poor, which includes both proactive provision for the poor, while still requiring action on the part of the recipient.
For example, in Leviticus 19:9-10, farmers were instructed to leave the corners of their fields unharvested so the poor could come and glean. So while the rich were called to sacrifice some of their profits to provide for the poor, the poor were still required to go and harvest the food for themselves. Rather than giving them flour, for example, those in need were required to harvest grain and grind it into flour themselves. If someone was unwilling to work, in this case, they would not eat – but provision was made for them, via sacrifice on the part of those who had enough, to be able to get what they needed to survive.
A similar sentiment is found in the Epistle to the Galatians, where in Galatians 6:2 it says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” but a few verses later, it says, “Each person will have to bear his own load.” (Galatians 6:5). The difference is that the “burden” mentioned in 6:2 refers to a crushing burden, whereas “load” in 6:5 refers to an individual’s burden of responsibility. So, we are called to help those who are facing burdens they are unable to bear on their own, yet with the goal of helping those people to stand on their own two feet and take responsibility for themselves and their lives.
In 2 Thessalonians 3, we read an interesting passage:
If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
2 Thessalonians 3:10-12
For some reason, there were people in the Thessalonian church were unwilling to work, and were living off the generosity of others. Some believe that the reason for this attitude is because they believed it was more spiritual not to work, since they expected the imminent return of Jesus. While Paul encouraged them that Jesus could return at any time, they were encouraged to work in order to provide for themselves if they were able. Here again, we see the importance of providing for those in need while at the same time encouraging people to take initiative and responsibility to work if they are able.
So, to answer the question: The onus is first on those who have to help provide for the poor, no matter how or why they became poor. But this generosity is not to be done in order to create dependence, but rather to relieve a burden and encourage responsibility and independence.
Local Resource: Table of Hope Food Pantry
Table of Hope Food Pantry is a ministry which was born out of White Fields Community Church in Longmont, Colorado and serves Southwest Weld County, Longmont, and the surrounding communities by providing residents in need with nutritious food, the ability to become more self-sufficient, and hope for their future.
Table of Hope is open to anyone, no questions asked, and no ID required. For more information about Table of Hope, check out Table-of-Hope.com
This week’s episode of the Theology for the People podcast is a discussion I had with pastors Benjamin Morrison and Craig Babcock on the topic of hermeneutics and Biblical interpretation.
Hermeneutics is the method by which we interpret communication, particularly texts. Legal hermeneutics, for example, is the study of how laws, or the constitution for example, are to be understood and put into practice.
Biblical hermeneutics is all about how to correctly interpret the Bible, so that we can be doers of the Word, not hearers only.
It must be said that not all hermeneutics are equally valid. Some hermeneutics are better than others. Sometimes we even intentionally use a hermeneutics in order to properly interpret something, as we do with “Christ-centered hermeneutics” – in which we intentionally read all of Scripture as pointing to Jesus, which we do because Jesus himself told us that this was the proper way to read and interpret the Old Testament Scriptures (see Luke 24:44-48).
Other examples of good hermeneutics would be “biblical hermeneutics,” in which read the Bible understanding all of the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, meaning that each individual part of the Bible should be understood in light of what the rest of the Bible says. We might intentionally choose to read the gospels through a Jewish lens, seeking to put ourselves sin their shoes in order to understand the things that happened or were said.
Oftentimes, however, our hermeneutics are not intentional, and we may not be aware of them, and they do impact how we interpret and understand what the Bible says. How then can we become aware of the hermeneutics we’re unintentionally using so that we can determine if they are good or not?
In this episode we discuss this and other questions surrounding the topic of hermeneutics. You can listen here or in the embedded player below.
Hermeneutics: How Do We Correctly Interpret What the Bible Says? – with Benjamin Morrison & Craig Babcock –
Theology for the People
In this episode Nick Cady and special co-host Craig Babcock speak with Benjamin Morrison, lead pastor of Calvary Chapel Svitlovodsk, Ukraine and coordinator for City to City Ukraine, about the topic of hermeneutics: the interpretation of texts, particularly the Bible. Hermeneutics and biblical interpretation is the focus of Ben's masters studies at London School of Theology, Nick's alma mater.
What is hermeneutics, and why is it important? Can't we just read the Bible without having to worry about interpretation?
As Ben shows us, everyone who reads the Bible has a hermeneutics and we are all interpreters, the question is: are you a good and faithful interpreter of the biblical text? If, as Ben points out, not all hermeneutics are equally good, then how can we determine which ones are better than others and how do we identify our own hermeneutics in order to examine whether they are good or not? We discuss these questions in this episode.
Based on your knowledge of activity in Heaven what was going on in Heaven prior to the crucifixion and how did it change, if at all after Jesus resurrection? For example, was there joy in the presence of angels over sinners repenting before Jesus died and rose??
Interesting question! Here are my thoughts:
The Sons of God Shouted for Joy
In the Book of Job, when God speaks, God challenges Job by saying this:
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? …when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
The “sons of God” mentioned here is a reference to the angels. What this is telling us is that at the creation, the angels were “the audience” who watched and cheered as God created the universe.
The Heavenly Audience
This theme of the angels being an audience, watching the things which happen on Earth, is carried through the Bible.
At the beginning of the Book of Job, we read about Satan asking for permission from God to afflict someone. The picture we get from that scene is that those in Heaven are aware and attentive to the happenings of people on Earth.
Not only are those in Heaven aware and attentive to what is happening on Earth, they seem to be emotionally invested in what is happening on Earth. For example, in Revelation 5, we read that when no one was found who could open the seal, there was weeping in Heaven until it was revealed that the Lamb was worthy to do so.
The whole picture of Revelation is that John the Apostle gets a preview of Heaven. Starting in chapter 4, John is caught up to Heaven, and what he describes is how, from that vantage point, he joins the angels in watching the happenings down below on Earth. The picture, therefore, is of Heaven being aware of and attentive to, as well as emotionally invested in, the happenings here on Earth.
The Stadium and Those in the Stands
In Hebrews 12:1 we read:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
The picture the writer is painting here is that of a stadium, and Greco-Roman competitions, such as the Olympics. He describes life as being a race, a theme which Paul also discusses, using similar language drawing from Greco-Roman athletic competitions.
But here the writer highlights a particularly interesting aspect of those competitions: as we run this race, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. The “witnesses” are those who were mentioned in the previous chapter, Hebrews 11, where we are told about those who preceded us in the faith – the “Old Testament saints,” as they have been called.
The image the writer is invoking is that of a stadium, in which the stands all around us are full of those who have preceded us in the faith, and who are now “cheering us on” as we run the race that is set before us.
The Angels and the Saints
What we are left with, therefore, are two groups: the angels and the saints. Both groups are apparently aware and attentive to what is happening on Earth, and are rooting for us and eagerly awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promises.
What Changed in Heaven When Jesus Died and Resurrected?
The word angel literally means “messenger” in Greek, and this aligns with what the Bible tells us about angels; that they are “ministering spirits.” It would seem that the angels have been and still are aware, attentive to, and emotionally engaged in what is happening on Earth.
Thus, to answer your question, I do think there was joy in the presence of the angels over sinners repenting – prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The one thing which changed when Jesus died and resurrected, is that those who were kept in Abraham’s Bosom awaiting the redemption of their souls were released from Sheol and taken to be in God’s presence.
In regard to God’s treatment of Eli in 1 Samuel 2-4, I’ve always been disturbed that Eli was included in judgement because of his sons.
1. Aaron was not condemned to death because his sons offered “strange’ fire. 2. Eli raised Samuel to be an upright man of God; he must’ve done something right.
I know that perhaps Eli’s heart was not right with God as the text does not elaborate and it does not say that he asked for forgiveness or repented. His admonition of Hannah for being drunk may also reflect that he did not possess the compassion and empathy that reflects God’s character in his servants. Still, I was hoping you might point to other portions of the Bible that explains Eli’s punishment more effectively rather than trying to “read between the lines” and dangerously make up what’s not written.
Still, this has always made me ask if my heart is in the right place and whether or not my faith in Jesus’ redemption is truly “genuine enough”
For those who might need a refresher on the story, Eli was the high priest at the time recorded in the beginning of 1 Samuel. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, served as priests in the temple, but they were corrupt, stealing, embezzling, and committing acts of sexual immorality by abusing their positions of power with women who came to the Tabernacle to worship. As a result of their actions, not only was the Tabernacle profaned, but people avoided coming to worship because of the presence of these wicked priests.
The reason for God’s judgment on Eli is outlined in 1 Samuel 2:27-29, in which a prophet tells Eli that he is going to be judged for the sins of his sons because he did not do enough to stop them from doing these acts. In 1 Samuel 2:29, God states that Eli honored his sons more than he honored God, and it is for this sin that Eli is being judged. Although Eli had scolded them, he did not do anything besides talking to them. Eli’s responsibility is two-fold, since he was both their father and their boss – as high priest. Eli should have fired his sons or carried out some sort of disciplinary action, and it is for this reason of allowing these things to take place and not doing anything about it, that Eli received God’s judgment.
I’ll never forget that one of my mentors fired his own son in law over an act of impropriety in the church. It must have made for a very awkward Thanksgiving, but at least he was not following in the sin of Eli.
The sin of Eli was covering up the abuse of his children
Allowing them to stay in power
when he knew they were taking advantage of ppl
Caused God to remove Eli
We must call out abuse
Even when it’s in our own families or party or churches
Two Important Thoughts About Judgment: Temporal Judgments and the Mercy of God
It is worth noting that the removal of both the priesthood from Eli and his life were temporal judgments, rather than eternal or spiritual judgments upon his soul. I think it is likely that Eli, recognizing his shortcomings and sins, and knowing the promise of God to send a savior to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), he would have cast himself upon God’s mercy and received forgiveness. Temporal judgments, in other words, do not preclude eternal salvation.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that the very nature of justice is that it entails getting what is deserved. Mercy, on the other hand, is not getting the judgment that is deserved. So, for God to judge Eli for his failure to lead well as high priest, is fair. On the other hand, when God chooses to give mercy, such as in the case of Aaron, that is His prerogative. As Paul puts it in Romans 9:18: “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy.” Mercy is never deserved, nor can it be demanded or expected. God reserves this right, and does so for His purposes, which we may never fully know on this side of eternity.
Knowing this helps us understand both the reasons why sometimes God doesn’t save us from the consequences of our sins even when He forgives us of them, and it helps us marvel all the more at the undeserved grace and mercy of God towards us!
Through the prophet Habakkuk, God spoke to the people of Judah, telling them this:
“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”
But what exactly would this thing be that God was going to do, which was so incredible that people wouldn’t have believed it even if they were told? The very next verse reveals the answer:
For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.
The Chaldeans are also known as the Babylonians. What God was telling the people through Habakkuk was that He was going to raise up the Babylonian Empire to bring judgment on both the Assyrians and… upon Jerusalem!
The result of the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem would be that the Temple would be destroyed and the people of Judah would be carried off into exile for an entire generation.
The idea that God would allow a wicked nation like Babylon to attack and destroy Jerusalem was inconceivable to the people of Judah; it was the kind of news that was so incredible that they wouldn’t have believed even if someone told them!
After all, they were the people of God! Didn’t God love them? Then why would he let this wicked nation to attack them, defeat them, destroy the Temple, and carry them off into exile, making them slaves and subjects who lived as minorities under pagan rulers?
The Unexpected Blessings of the Exile
But perhaps even more difficult to believe, would have been the fact that in many ways, though the exile was painful, it would end up being one of the best things that ever happened to the people of Israel.
The destruction of the Temple and exile in Babylon were their greatest fears, and what God was telling them was that their greatest fears were going to become reality. The people of Israel assumed that because they were God’s chosen people, God would never let anything like that happen to them, and yet He did.
It begs the question: if God loved them, why would He let this happen to them?
The answer is: God intended to use this to accomplish good things in their lives that wouldn’t happen any other way.
In Hebrews 12, God tells us that as a loving father, he disciplines His children. He does this not in spite of His love for us, but because of His love for us!
Here are some of the blessings that Israel experienced in exile:
The divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah were reunited (because Babylon conquered Assyria), and they would come out of the exile as a united nation once again.
Many of the people turned back to God and forsook the worship of idols, which had long plagued them as a people.
A new form of worship was born: because they were cut off from the Temple, the Jewish people began gathering together in Synagogues, where they would study the Scriptures and pray.
Synagogues developed during the exile, and the Jewish people brought them back home with them and continued them after the exile and after the rebuilding of the Temple. Prior to the exile, the people of Israel had a relatively weak relationship with the Scriptures. Consider the fact that when King Josiah found a copy of the Scriptures in the Temple during the renovation, it was the only known copy, and no one had seen it in many years!
Because of the exile, and fueled by the lack of a Temple, the people began regularly studying the Word of God in Babylon, and as they became familiar with it, their hearts were being prepared for the coming of Jesus in the years to come.
The exile was the people’s greatest fear, it was a form of chastisement from God, but ultimately it was one of the best things that ever happened to the people of Israel.
More Than Conquerors
The idea of being in exile was considered by the early Christians to be a good picture of what it means to be a Christian: we are a minority group living in a place that is not our home, and in this place we experience hardships.
As Paul wrote to the Philippians: to be a Christian is to live on Earth, but to have your primary citizenship and identity rooted in Heaven. And yet, as foreigners and sojourners in this world, we understand that God has us here for a purpose.
Just as the exile and the destruction of Jerusalem were the greatest fears of the people of Judah, we might have things in our lives that we consider to be our greatest fears: whether on a social or a personal level. Yet what we learn from Israel’s exile and the realization of their greatest fears, is that God uses even terrible and painful things to accomplish beautiful things in and through our lives.
This is what it means in Romans 8:37 when Paul says that in Christ we are “more than conquerors”: it means that because of what Jesus did for us to redeem us and make us children of God, the worst things that could ever happen to us in this life are also the best things that can ever happen to us! And if that’s the case, then you have absolutely nothing to fear!
Trials and difficulties will be used by God for your good and for His purposes. Hardships will draw you closer to Him. Death will literally bring you to Him. All the worst things that can possibly happen to you, in Christ, are also the best things that can ever happen to you – because of God’s love for you and commitment to you. In him, you are bulletproof! You are more than a conqueror through Him who loved you!
That is very good news that can fill us with confidence, that no matter what comes our way in this life, we can face it boldly and without fear, knowing that we are here in this place for a short time, with a mission from God to carry out with however much time we have left: to be representatives of His Kingdom and messengers of the good news of what Jesus has done to save souls from this present darkness unto eternal life.
A question I am frequently asked is if there is a difference between the “baptism” of the Holy Spirit, and being “filled” with the Holy Spirit. Are they two different words which describe the same thing? The answer is: in some cases ‘Yes,’ and in other cases ‘No.’
Let me explain:
Understanding the Three Relationships the Holy Spirit Has with People
Throughout the Bible, we can see three distinct relationships which the Holy Spirit has with people. I would say that there are no less than these three, and no more than these three.
However, there are various terms and phrases which are used by the biblical authors to describe these relationships, and here’s what leads to confusion: some of the biblical authors use the same words to describe different relationships!
And yet, by looking at the context and the meaning of what the authors are describing (by the inspiration of the Spirit), we can see that three distinct relationships with the Holy Spirit are described in the Bible.
These three relationships can be easily remembered by connecting them to three simple prepositions: With, Upon, and In.
With – Conviction. (All People)
The Holy Spirit is WITH all people, bringing conviction about 3 things: sin, righteousness, and judgment.
In the Gospel of John chapters 14 &16, Jesus tells his disciples (at the Last Supper) that he is going away, but he will send the Spirit. Then he tells them about the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth… You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
Jesus then tells them that the work of the Spirit with people is that he brings conviction about sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Spirit speaks to people, to bring conviction that they have sinned, that God is righteous (and they have fallen short of his righteousness), and that a day is coming when God will judge the world, i.e. they will have to stand before him in judgment because they have fallen short.
In other words: the work of the Holy Spirit in the world with all people, is that he is bringing conviction of sin and the need for a Savior.
In Genesis 6, God says that his Spirit will not always strive with humankind. In other words, the Spirit is striving with people, to bring about conviction of sin which will lead to repentance in some cases, or a hardening of hearts in other cases.
What this means is that God’s Spirit is speaking to people’s hearts in the deepest jungles, in closed countries, as well as to the hearts of your loved ones. It is possible to harden your heart to the voice of the Spirit, as we are told in Hebrews 4:7, among other places.
The ultimate rejection of the work of the Spirit in this way is what constitutes the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit: rejecting the work of the Spirit to bring conviction leading to repentance and embracing the Savior.
Upon – Empowerment. (Some People)
Throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, we see a second relationship with the Holy Spirit, in which the Holy Spirit empowers people to fulfill particular callings that God has put on their lives.
Sometimes this empowerment manifests itself in supernatural gifts, such as with Saul in 1 Samuel 10, or with the charismatic gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 & 14.
This empowerment is often described by the term “upon” in the Old Testament, and in some places in the New Testament:
“And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon [Samson]” (Judges 14:9)
And 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.” (Luke 24:49)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
This empowering relationship was described by the anointing with oil of priests, kings, and prophets in the Old Testament. The oil symbolized the empowering of God to fulfill a calling he has put upon our lives.
It seems that this empowering is sometimes given by God to people who are not believers, and who do not have saving faith. Example of this might be King Saul in 1 Samuel 10, or the high priest Caiaphas in John 11:49-52, who prophesied that Jesus would be killed in order to die for the nation. Furthermore, talking about the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, Paul seems to imply in 1 Corinthians 13 that it is possible to exercise spiritual gifts and not be a Christian! Jesus himself says that some people who cast out demons will not go to heaven (Matthew 7:22-23)
Furthermore, the word Messiah (anointed one) carries with it the connotation that the Spirit is upon this one, to empower him to carry out a unique mission from God: to atone for sin and bring salvation to the world. This is why Isaiah 61, which Jesus quoted in Luke 4 in Nazareth when he announced that he was Messiah, says:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound
Isaiah 61:1-2, quoted in Luke 4 by Jesus and applied to himself
This is an important distinction from the next relationship with the Holy Spirit, and I will explain why it is so important as we go on.
In – Indwelling. (Those who have been born again through faith in Jesus)
Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper that the Holy Spirit had been with them, but would soon be in them (John 14:16-17).
This indwelling of the Holy Spirit was something which was prophesied and predicted, but which never happened until after Jesus had died and risen from the grave.
In Ezekiel 37, God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel, telling the people about a future day when he would place his Spirit inside of his people.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:13-14 & 4:30, and 2 Corinthians 1:22 & 5:5 that when we put our faith in Jesus, and believe the gospel, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that we have been redeemed by God, and he see us through until our redemption is complete.
The Spirit within us sanctifies us, guides us, teaches us, reminds us of the words of Jesus (John 16:13-15).
It is incorrect to say, as some do, that “God is within all of us.” What the Bible teaches is that God’s Spirit is only within those who have placed their faith in Jesus and been redeemed by Him.
Where these distinctions bring clarity
These distinctions bring clarity to some things, for example: in Psalm 51, David, having sinned with Bathsheeba, prays: “Do not take your Holy Spirit from me.”
Without making these clear distinctions in relationship, we might draw the conclusion that if we sin, we are in danger of God removing his Holy Spirit from us who are believers. And since Romans 8:9 says:
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
We might then conclude that we are in danger of losing our salvation if we sin, since God might remove his Spirit from us. However, it is important to remember that David had the Spirit with him (bringing conviction), and he had the Spirit upon him (as King to fulfill his calling).
David was not, therefore, worried about losing the indwelling of God’s Spirit, but rather the convicting and comforting presence of the Spirit, and/or the empowering power of the Spirit in his life.
Furthermore, it helps us understand how people like Saul, in the Old Testament, were able to do things by the Spirit of God upon them, and yet it seems that they were not amongst those Old Testament saints who died in saving faith (cf. Hebrews 11).
Where it gets confusing: Luke and Paul use the same words to mean different things
Here’s where it gets interesting and here is the source of some of the confusion on this topic: Luke and Paul use the same terms to mean different things in their respective writings!
Luke, in his writings (Gospel of Luke & Acts of the Apostles), talks a lot about the Spirit, but he does so exclusively in regard to the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Seriously, look into it: there is no direct reference to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Luke or Acts.
Paul, on the other hand, focuses mostly on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
So, when Luke talks about the disciples being filled with the Spirit of God in Acts, he is talking about empowerment, not indwelling. This is clear from the context, but it is also clear from other clues. A great example of this is how it says in Luke 1 that John the Baptist would be “filled with the Spirit” from birth. This filling cannot be understood as the indwelling of the Spirit, since: 1) John could not have trusted in the gospel before hearing it and understanding it (see Ephesians 1:13), and 2) since Jesus had not yet accomplished his saving work through his life, death, and resurrection.
Furthermore, it is important to note that in John 20, after his resurrection but prior to his ascension, Jesus imparted the Holy Spirit to his disciples:
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
And yet (and this is important!), prior to his ascension, he told those same disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit had come upon them to cloth them with power from on high, to empower them to carry out the mission he had given them (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8).
The Holy Spirit then came upon them on the day of Pentecost, 10 days after Jesus’ ascension.
So we see that the imparting of the Holy Spirit by Jesus in John 20 prior to his ascension was for them to receive the Spirit indwelling them, but the coming upon of the Spirit in Acts 2 was a separate event for the purpose of empowering them.
For these empowering events, Luke uses the terms “filled with the Holy Spirit” and “baptized with the Holy Spirit” interchangeably. Paul, on the other hand, uses the term “filled” with the Holy Spirit to speak of the indwelling work of the Spirit. The meanings of the two uses of the word “filled” are clear from their contexts and what they describe the Spirit doing in each case.
It is in this way, therefore, that Luke can describe believers being filled with, or baptized with, the Holy Spirit multiple times, such as in Acts 4, where people who are already believers receive a fresh filling of the Spirit, leading to even more boldness. The key here is that while they already have the Holy Spirit indwelling them, there is apparently need for fresh fillings of the Spirit for empowerment. Thus, to sing songs in which we ask for the Holy Spirit to fill us is acceptable and right, as long as we understand that we are asking for empowerment from God’s Spirit, not sealing by God’s Spirit.
Hopefully this explanation helps you as you read the Bible, seek the Lord, pray, worship, and serve!