It’s hard for some people to believe in heaven because they can’t touch it or see it. It can feel too far to grasp onto and too distant to find assurance in. Other people hope in heaven but go through life uncertain that they’ll ever get there. The doubts are too strong and the promises too abstract. Wouldn’t it be great if God gave us a down payment on heaven, here and now? Wouldn’t it help if heaven came with a guarantee for those who had truly put their faith in Jesus? Amazing at it sounds, the Bible says that, in the Holy Spirit, God has done exactly that.
Christians have been taught some strange things about the Holy Spirit over the years. There were some who taught you had to “tarry” to receive the power of the Holy Spirit, based on the King James rendering of Luke 24:49. By tarry, they meant that people have to wait, often in hours-long prayer meetings, for a sign of the Holy Spirit. Many people found the wait exhausting and never experienced what they were told to wait for. There are others who have so tied speaking in tongues with the Holy Spirit that the Holy Spirit can take a backseat to speaking in tongues and God’s power is missing in people’s lives as a result. Others have been so freaked out by horror stories of “tarrying” and fiascos related to tongues that they want nothing to do with the Holy Spirit altogether. None of this is helpful. Over the last several weeks we’ve been looking at who the Holy Spirit is, why He’s just what we need, and what He seeks to do in people’s lives. Today, let’s consider three basic ways Scripture gives to connect to His power in our lives.
Last week, we considered Jesus’ amazing claim that the disciples were actually better off that He was leaving them because it meant that they would receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is just what we need but misunderstanding about what He actually does in a person’s life can cause confusion and frustration. There are at least four things that the Holy Spirit does in a person’s life.
It was Jesus’ final night with the disciples. How could He prepare them for all that would come? How could they face losing Him? How could they go on without Him? I think of times when I’ve had to leave my family because of work. The separation will be difficult, but you try to reassure each other. I’ve been with many families as a loved one faced their final hours. There are affirmations of love and gratefulness. But I’ve never heard anything like what Jesus told His disciples. He didn’t just tell them that His departure would be hard, but they should try and make the best of it. He said that it was better for them that He was leaving. Let’s consider why.
For many people who are introduced to Christianity, the Bible’s teaching about the Holy Spirit can be one of the most bewildering topics they face. Jesus is entirely relatable. The idea of an all-powerful, heavenly Father we get. But the Holy Spirit is tougher to get your head around. And the older translations that called Him the Holy Ghost only made things harder. Until we understand who He is, it’s difficult to relate to Him. It’s like when you get a call from someone. They may have your best interest at heart. They may have called to help you. But until you understand who it is on the other end of the line, it’s hard to trust them or really hear what they’re saying. There are three things you should know about the Holy Spirit.
The question gets phrased in a variety of ways. The rabbi, Harold Kushner, famously asked, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Many times, during our three-year struggle to build a parking lot I asked, “When we’re trying to do something good, why does it seem as if you’re making it so hard?” A couple of months ago, I was asked how the apostle Paul dealt with so much discouragement in his life. Throughout the summer, I have been mulling over these questions. Let me share what I’ve learned.
I wrote last week about whether a person can lose their salvation. What we learned was that the Bible addresses the question with far more complexity than we do. Today, I want to address a related but slightly different question, “What do I do if I’m worried that God won’t forgive me or save me?” Maybe you’ve put your trust in Jesus and prayed for forgiveness, but you’ve done things that make you doubt. Or you’ve become worried about the future. You fear coming to the end of your life only to find out that you’re one of the people of whom Jesus says, “I never knew you; depart from me,” (Matthew 7:23). The following are four questions you can ask when you find yourself in that position.
I don’t think the doubts have completely gone away, but recently I hear fewer people asking the question, “Can I lose my salvation?” I fear that may be because more people presume upon God’s forgiveness. ‘Of course, God wants me in heaven!’ But reassuring ourselves with false hope is not a path of honesty or true confidence. Last month, a well-known Christian author and former pastor announced that he was no longer a Christian. Many of you have read at least one of his books. He wasn’t one of those preachers that makes people cringe when he opens his mouth. He was a thoughtful, conservative evangelical. But is no longer. I think his announcement raises some important issues for all of us.
Children seem to have an infinite capacity to ask the “why” question. They start early with their questions. “Why do I have to eat my vegetables?” “Why do I have to go to bed?” As children go off to school, the questions keep coming. “Why do I have to get up so early?” “Why do we have to study calculus?” And sooner or later, children will ask the “why” questions about your family’s rules and moral choices. How you answer reveals a lot about how you see the world. How you answer will also shape your child’s understanding of your beliefs. What do you say when they ask why?
I remember a woman in one of my Bible studies in Japan who approached me, puzzled, one day. She said, “I don’t know what to do with the Bible. It contains stories that are so remarkable that they can’t be true. But it’s not written like any of our legends or myths. It reads like a collection of eye-witness accounts and historical records. How am I supposed to read it?” She was actually asking a very profound question. Whether people read the Bible or reject it, they often do so without considering what the Bible says about what kind of book it is. The Bible makes the following five claims about itself.