Let Us Press On To Know The Lord

Are you settling for salvation?

This interesting phrase is one I’ve heard used by the Rabbi in my local Messianic congregation to describe those who accept Jesus as their savior and then don’t really pursue a deeper relationship with Him. Maybe they go to church most weeks and go through the motions of being a “good Christian,” but they don’t tap-in to the fullness and depth of their faith.

Shallow faith has been a problem throughout God’s history with His people. Evidently it will be a problem to the end, for Jesus questions if He’ll really “find faith on the earth” when He returns (Luke 18:8). But we want to be found faithful. I don’t think any Christian would say they don’t want to know Jesus better or strengthen their faith (and if they would we should pray for them!). So how do we get to deeper faith?

The Problem of Inconsistent Faith

For many of us, our faith waxes and wanes. We’re excited about God when we first meet Him and we turn to Him when things get bad, but the rest of the time it’s easy to become complacent. In a sense, we set Him on a shelf until we want/need Him.

Come! Let’s return to Yahweh; for he has torn us to pieces, and he will heal us; he has injured us, and he will bind up our wounds. … Let’s acknowledge Yahweh. Let’s press on to know Yahweh. As surely as the sun rises, Yahweh will appear. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain that waters the earth.” (Hosea 6:1, 3, WEB)

Hosea records these as Israel’s words when they turned back to God once again after a season of punishment. This was a cycle for them — they’d fall away from God, bad things would happen, they’d turn back to God, and then the whole thing would repeat. God forgave each time they repented, but He got tired of the cycle. Read more

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How Visible Is Your Commitment to Christ?

The culture we live in is not a godly one. None of us can say we live in a “Christian nation.” While we may share some values with the dominant culture(s), living the way Jesus did involves a very different lifestyle than the ones that are most socially acceptable.

That leaves Christians with a choice. We can either lie-low and try to fit in as much as we can, or we can embrace the fact that a commitment to living like Christ involves living counter-culturally. The later is hard. But if we want to become part of God’s family, we have to become like Him instead of staying like the world.

How Visible Is Your Commitment to Christ? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

We need a transformative relationship with Jesus

It’s not something we like to think about, but the scriptures indicate that not everyone who thinks they’re following Jesus will actually end up in His kingdom. One of these passages is found in Jesus’ sermon on the mount. It’s a serious, scary warning that we do well to pay attention to.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’ Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. (Matt. 7:21-24, WEB)

We learn several important things from this passage. Firstly, it’s possible to think you’re following Jesus and still not be in a relationship with Him. Whether or not He knows you is more important than the showy things you do in His name.

Secondly, He tells us how to become people He knows. We must do His Father’s will, hear His teachings, and act on them. Those actions will give us a strong foundation so that when life pounds on us we won’t fall (Matt. 7:25-27). It’s also going to drastically change how our lives look. Read more

What (if anything) must you do to be a Christian?

Is there anything we have to do in order to be a Christian? Some will tell you the answer is “no” — that salvation is a free gift and once you accept it you’re a Christian and there’s nothing else you need to do. Others will say “yes” — that you’re not a Christian unless you keep God’s commandments and follow Jesus Christ.

The truth is that God offers salvation freely, but you have to accept the gift on God’s terms. Those terms are called covenants — agreements that involve two parties binding themselves together with oaths. On the spiritual level, God initiates covenants, establishes the terms and promises, and binds Himself to the covenant oaths. These covenants are unfailing and sure, regardless of human action. We can choose whether or not to walk in covenant with God, but the covenant, and associated consequences for sin, stand whichever you decide.

What (if anything) must you do to be a Christian? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Choose Covenant

“I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, but with him who stands here with us today before the Lord our God, as well as with him who is not here with us today,” Moses recorded in Deuteronomy 29:14-15. Not entering into covenant with God does not mean you’re getting out of consequences for sin — it means you’re choosing a path of death (Deut. 29:18-28).
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Who Receives The Holy Spirit?

This blog post is, like my last posts, inspired by something I heard while keeping the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) this year. In this case, though, it was something I disagreed with. During a Bible study, the study leader said that ordained ministers receive an “extra measure” of the Holy Spirit. That teaching is an old one, but is it correct? I wasn’t sure. Another thing that didn’t sit right with me was several speakers calling groups other than those like ours “nominal Christianity.”

I talked these two points over with several friends at our Feast site, and was relieved to find I wasn’t the only one bothered by them or suspicious that they didn’t have a solid scriptural basis. So the question is, who does God give His Spirit to, and how much do they get? and does it vary depending on the individual’s role in the church, or what church they attend?

Who Receives The Holy Spirit? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

(For a quick over-view of my beliefs about what the Holy Spirit is, click here)

Those Who Believe

God has been giving His Spirit to believers apparently from the very beginning. David prayed, “do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11), and Peter said “the Spirit of Christ” was in the Old Testament prophets (1Pet. 1:10-11). The Spirit wasn’t readily available, though, until after Christ’s sacrifice and ascension — “the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).

The disciples received the Holy Spirit dramatically at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. As part of his sermon that day, Peter told others what they had to do in order to receive the Holy Spirit.

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

This simple formula gives the Holy Spirit after baptism and repentance in the name of Jesus Christ to everyone who God decides to call. There were exceptions to this order — namely the gentiles who were given the Spirit before baptism in Acts 10 — but the Holy Spirit is only given to those who 1) believe in Jesus and 2) are called by God.

The Called, Who Ask

The first requirement for receiving the Holy Spirit is being called by God since we can’t get to Jesus without that calling (John 6:44). Who receives a calling is entirely up to God. It is a gift of grace that cannot be earned (Gal. 1:15; Rom. 9:11), which is given “according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

I do think, however, that someone can ask for a calling. The Father is actively seeking those who will worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23), and Jesus tells us that if we ask, seek, and knock persistently, God will respond (Matt. 7:7).

Who Receives The Holy Spirit? | marissabaker.wordpress.comThen you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:12-13)

God choses who to call, but He does respond to sincere seeking of Him. If someone hears the gospel preached and wants to learn more, God will see that. We’re not called because of our works, but God does call those who will do good works, obey Him (Acts 5:32), and commit to becoming holy (2 Thes. 1:11; 1 Thes. 2:12; 4:7).

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13)

Committed, Prayed-for Believers

Once God calls us, He gives us to Christ (John 6:65; 17:11). Jesus is the only one who can provide salvation (Acts 4:12), and that’s why the converts in Acts were all “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:16; 19:5). With the exception of the Gentiles mentioned earlier (who God used to show He was opening up salvation to non-Jews), the Spirit is given after baptism. We have two examples of disciples being baptized, but not receiving the Spirit until an apostle prayed and laid hands on them. This happened in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-6), and in Samaria.

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet it had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17)

There aren’t really apostles today, but the principle, I think, stands. God typically gives the Holy Spirit to someone after they’ve made a commitment through baptism, and after a more mature believer who already has the Holy Spirit prays and lays hands on them.

Those Who Use It

On the question of whether some people get more Holy Spirit than others, I’ve only found two scriptures that talk about how much Spirit an individual is given. In 2 Kings 2, Elisha asked for, and is given, “a double portion” of “the spirit of Elijah” (2 Kings 2:9-12, 15). Then in the New Testament, John the Baptist explains that Jesus received an unlimited supply of the Holy Spirit.

 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. (John 3:34-35)

You could extrapolate from this that people other than Jesus are given the Spirit “by measure” (i.e. “a limited portion,” Strong’s G3358). It makes sense that we would all have less Holy Spirit than Jesus because we are infinitely less worthy. But I can’t find scriptures that clearly support the idea you’ll find in some churches that ordained leaders are given an “extra measure” of the spirit compared to other believers.

On the contrary, we find several scriptures that remind us God is not a respecter of persons. He opened salvation to the Gentiles because “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). He wants us to treat people fairly “knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.” (Eph. 6:9, see also James 2:1-9). He will judge everyone righteously by looking at “each one’s work” “without partiality” (1Pet. 1:17).

God doesn’t show partiality in how He distributes the Spirit, but we can affect how much Spirit is available to us by whether or not we use it well.

Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim. 1:6-7)

“Stir up” is from anazopureo, and means “to kindle” or “re-enkindle,” as in reference to a fire (Strong’s G329). It’s the opposite of sbennumi, which means “to extinguish a fire” (Strongs G4570). Sbennumi is translated “quench” in 1 Thes. 5:19’s command, “Do not quench the Spirit.”

Who Receives The Holy Spirit? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

God gives the Spirit to whomever He wants. These are people who seek a relationship with Him, who ask for His Spirit, and who believe in Jesus Christ. Once given the Spirit, our actions determine how well we can use it. We can either stir up the Spirit we’re given so it burns brighter, or suppress it till it flickers and dies in us. That’s our choice. The closer we draw to God, the more powerful His presence will be in us. That’s what determines who gets the Holy Spirit and how much they can use — the individual believer’s relationship with God. It doesn’t matter whether you’re ordained, and where you go to church only matters in so far that you’re attending a church which preaches God’s truth. What matters most is that you’re following God the way He commands.

Thoughts on John 9

I don’t often spend most of a week studying just one chapter of the Bible, but John 9 captured my attention and didn’t let go. It is the story of Jesus healing a blind man, and unlike many miracles which are recorded in just a few short verses, this story takes up an entire 41-verse chapter.

This chapter is packed full of interesting things to learn. I focused on three main points that I noticed for this post, but I’m sure there’s more. If anyone else feels moved to study John 9, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

A Reason For Suffering

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. (John 9:1-3)

The assumption the disciples made is all too common, even today — that the bad things which happen to us and others are a kind of punishment. Sometimes, however, God allows trials of various sorts to affect us because they fit into His plan for doing good. In this particular case, the man’s blindness was used to introduce him to Jesus and demonstrate to other people that Jesus is the Son of God.

It worked, too. This healing caused a huge stir in the Jewish community. This was partly because of the spectacular nature of the miracle, and partly because Jesus healed on the Sabbath. As the Word of God, Jesus was the One who told Israel about the Sabbath in the first place — He knew how to keep it holy. Doing good on the Sabbath wasn’t a sin, but it did anger the Pharisees because it violated some rules they’d added.

 Therefore some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. (John 9:16)

Though they publicly condemned Jesus, they weren’t so sure behind the scenes. This miracle made them think, and I wonder if some of them eventually became believers. Nicodemus couldn’t have been the only Pharisee wondering if maybe, just maybe, Jesus really was the Christ (John 3:1-2).

A Simple Testimony

After he was healed, the man who’d been blind doesn’t leap, shout, and tell everyone what happened. He didn’t do anything to call attention to himself, and only talked about the miracle when people started asking him what happened.

He answered and said, “A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and I received sight.” (John 9:11)

After hearing this, the people took him to the Pharisees and he repeated his story again (verse 15). Not believing him, they called in his parents, who were scared of being excommunicated and wouldn’t say anything except to affirm that he had, indeed, been blind (verse 18-23).

So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.”

He answered and said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:24-25)

I think what the Pharisees were trying to do was convince this guy to say God healed him, and leave Jesus out of it. That never works — for “whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either” (1 John 2:23). When the Pharisees kept pressuring him, this man delivered a very simple testimony that enraged the Pharisees, who prided themselves on their intellect and knowledge of God.

The man answered and said to them, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.” (J0hn 9:30-33)

There’s something to be said for paying attention to “the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). The man who went with the simple, obvious explanation — that Jesus is a good man who performed a miracle — was much closer to God than the thoroughly educated church leaders.

A Personal Connection

After testifying to Jesus’ work in his life, the Pharisees excomunicated the formerly blind man (verse 34). This relates back to an earlier verse, which tells us “the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22). This doesn’t sound so bad to us today — if we get kicked out of one church there are plenty more right down the street. In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ time, though, it meant banishment from religious life.

In his definition of aposunagogos (G656), Zodhiates notes that the highest degree of “casting out” (there were three) is “an exclusion from all the rights and privileges of the Jewish people, both civil and religious. The offender was considered as dead.” Jesus warned His followers about this possibility in John 16:2. Following Jesus was a huge, dangerous step for Jews. It meant risking isolation from other people and, if you believed the Pharisees, from God.

Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?”

He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”

And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.”

Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him. (John 9:35-38)

We don’t often see examples of Jesus making follow-up visits with people He healed, but it is clear from these verses that He was keeping track of what happened with this man. As soon as He heard about the Jews excommunicating the formerly blind man, Jesus tracked him down to encourage him and confirm his faith. This man was cast out by the Jews, but he was welcomed by the Messiah.

I’m touched by the personal attention Jesus gave this individual, and the parallels with our own calling. Jesus healed him, apparently without being asked to, and changed his whole life. In much the same way, God may call us when we’re not even looking for Him and don’t know how desperately we need His life-changing power.

This healing opened the blind man’s spiritual as well as physical eyes. Many of us today can relate the rejection he experienced when he started to share the story of how Jesus touched his life. I hope we can also relate to the comfort of having a personal connection with this great Being, who doesn’t leave people alone to navigate their new-found faith.

Ready To Be Faithful

How do you know when you’re ready for baptism?

For those in churches that teach baptism is the sign of our covenant with God, this is a weighty question. If you’re just coming into the church, how do you know when you’re ready to go through with this ceremony? If you grew up in the church, how do you know God is really calling you into covenant with Him? What should you look for, and what do you need, before you get baptized?

The answer is both simpler and more complicated than you might think. It has very little to do with how long you council with a minister or how many baptism booklets you read, and everything to do with the state of your heart. Before we get into the body of this post, though, (just so we’re starting out on the same page) here’s a bit of background. I believe baptism by full immersion in water is an outward sign of an adult Christian’s covenant with God. I grew up in a Christian community that taught this, and I was baptized shortly after my 19th birthday.

Repent

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bg image credit: Kelly Hunter, CC BY

When John the baptist began his ministry, he preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2).  Those who came to be baptized confessed their sins as part of the baptism (Matt. 3:6). To further emphasize the need for repentance, he told the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptism to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” if they wanted to be saved (Matt. 3:8).

In the Bible, repentance is “regret accompanied by a true change of heart toward God” (G3340, Zodhitates). To enter covenant with God, the first requirement is that we realize we are sinners, genuinely regret the wrongs we’ve committed, and recognize our need for Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38)

In general the steps are: 1) repentance, 2) baptism, 3) receive the Holy Spirit (there are exceptions to this order, as in Acts 10). Often, we feel like we need reach perfection, or at least be “good enough” before baptism. Really, though, we need to realize we are not perfect so we can commit and submit to God. Then, after we realize how desperately we need Him and ask Him to be part of our life, He gives us the tools we need to grow toward perfection.

Believe

Looking at another baptism recorded in Acts, we find one more requirement for baptism. Here, Philip is teaching an Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus.

 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”

Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”

And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:36-38)

In the New Testament, “believe” is translated from the same words as “faith” — pisteuo (G4100), a mental persuasion, faith, or belief, and pistis (G4102), ” a knowledge of, assent to, and confidence in certain divine truths” (Zodniates).

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Heb. 11:6)

Your faith doesn’t have to be perfect before you get baptized, but you should believe that God exists, that Jesus is the Messiah, and that They have a plan for your future. Maybe our faith is young or small, and we’re at a place where we’re saying, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). That’s okay. God knows we’ll still have work to do after baptism. In fact, He expects us to keep growing after we commit to Him.

Commit

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bg image credit: Kelly Hunter, CC BY

When you’re counseling for baptism, ministers typically have you read the “count the cost” scriptures in Luke 14:25-33. We learn we can’t cling to anyone or anything other than Christ. We’re told we must be prepared to give up everything we have. Before taking this step in our relationship with God, we must seriously evaluate our commitment level. Christianity isn’t something you can do part-time or half-way. We have to be all-in.

I’m willing to venture a guess that those of us who’ve been baptized didn’t really understand exactly what we were getting into. Our knowledge and understanding deepen so much as we grow, and the commitment I made at baptism means more to me now than it did back in 2008. We don’t need have perfect knowledge before we get baptized — we just need to know we’re willing to follow God no matter what. I’ve heard it compared to marriage. You don’t have to be perfect to get married, or even understand everything about marriage, but you do have to make a commitment that you’ll be faithful.

I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord. (Hos. 2:19-20)

If our commitment to God is a marriage (2 Cor. 11:2), then baptism is when we say our vows. We promise to stay faithful to Him in sickness and in health, to follow His authority, and to work through our problems with Him instead of running away. Baptism is a promise of faithfulness to our faithful Creator. If we’re ready to be faithful, then we’re ready to be baptized.