Advent

Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Christ and anticipate the Second Coming of Christ by observing Advent.  The word “advent” is Latin for “coming” or “arrival” and it has a double meaning. We worship Christ for the fact that in His first coming He came in humility as the baby born in Bethlehem—the infinite God-Man in the flesh, our Emmanuel. Yet, we also wait for the “coming” of our King a second time when He returns to earth to rule and reign in righteousness and justice and make all things new.

            Just as the Israelites in Egyptian bondage longed to be free from slavery and God provided a blood sacrifice through the Passover Lamb, we as pilgrims in this fallen world long for the day when we will be free from sin and live forever with our Lord.  Advent is a time of longing, anticipation, repentance, and hope.

As we approach Christmas, may I encourage you to “long” and “anticipate” the Second Coming of Christ as you celebrate His first coming by reflecting upon the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.  Matthew 5:1-4 states, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’”

Jesus is speaking specifically to believers in the Sermon on the Mount and as the King of the Kingdom, He is pronouncing these blessings upon those who have entered through repentance and faith.  The word “Beatitude” is also Latin, and it means “blessed” or “congratulations to you”. It means that those who have been saved by God’s sovereign grace through salvation in Christ have every spiritual blessing as adopted children in His family.  These are not natural personality traits, but supernatural attributes given to us by the Holy Spirit at conversion.

In the first Beatitude, Jesus blesses us by showing us what it means to be spiritually bankrupt. Being poor in spirit means that we have this overwhelming sense of our nothingness before Him and that we recognize that we are helpless and hopeless without Christ. The old hymn “Rock of Ages” captures this vividly when it states, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”  We are spiritually impoverished in our sin and in desperate need of a Savior. And the promise from Jesus when we realize our bankruptcy is that we possess the kingdom of heaven.

In the second Beatitude, Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who mourn. Mourning means that we grieve over our own personal sin and all its ravaging affects. We express deep sorrow that we are spiritually bankrupt and that we have offended a holy God and that sin is a cosmic offense against our Creator.  When we mourn over our sin and own up to it and confess it and repent from it, the promise from Jesus is that we will be comforted. We will receive the comfort of the gospel. Comfort in knowing that our sins have been forgiven. Comfort in knowing that we have the gift of the Holy Spirit. Comfort in knowing that the power and penalty of sin have been cancelled. Comfort in knowing that we will one day see our Jesus face to face in the new heavens and new earth.  We discover that intense mourning results in incredible joy.

During this Advent season, have you experienced this acute awareness of your absolute nothingness before God by being poor in spirit? Have you mourned over your personal sin against God and sought comfort in the gospel of salvation and forgiveness of sins? As you celebrate the first coming of our Lord and wait in anticipation for His Second Coming, long for Him alone. Let these words of Jesus ring constantly in your ears this Christmas season: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

Sinning is…Fun??

The writer of Hebrews describes the active faith of Moses who refused to rush headlong into the bountiful pleasures of Egypt. Hebrews 11:24–25 states, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” The word for “enjoy” in the original language means “to cling tightly.” Moses did not want to hold on tightly to the fleeting pleasures of sin although he had every amusement at his disposal. As a member of the royal court of Pharaoh, he could have had all the women, money, food, and delicacies his heart desired. He had every pleasure imaginable at his fingertips. But instead of buying into the deceitfulness of sin, Moses understood that the comfort it offered was only fleeting.

This passage tells us that sin is pleasurable. We would not sin if we did not think it brought us pleasure. Sin feels good. Sin is fun. Sin promises excitement and allures us with the prospect of enjoyment. But these promises are empty. These pleasures of sin are fleeting. They are temporary. They only last for a season. Sin is so deceitful because it tricks us into believing that disobedience is fun. If we are honest with ourselves, we know all too well that sin can be fun. We happily rush into sin because we believe that we will experience ultimate pleasure at that moment. But what does iniquity reap in the end? We experience the crash and burn of this deception when the fleeting pleasure passes. Paul reminds us in Galatians 6:7–8: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Paul warns us not to fall into faulty thinking that sin will bring no real consequences. We do not find this word “mocked” anywhere else in the New Testament and it means “to turn your nose up in contempt or mockery.” You can’t outsmart God and how he has governed the universe with the law of reaping and sowing. There is an unstoppable law that always remains true in agriculture. If you plant corn seeds, you will not reap strawberries. You will receive a harvest of corn. In the same way, in the spiritual realm, you will always reap what you sow. The consequences or the harvest may not be immediate, but the harvest will eventually come.

Here’s the adage: “Sow a thought, reap an act: sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit; reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” This constant sowing to the flesh leads to corruption which in the original language means a rotting corpse that slowly decomposes over time. The more you sow to your flesh, the more sin gradually pollutes your life until eventually, it ends with destruction. What are some examples of sowing to the flesh? Maybe you surf the Internet and find yourself trapped in a hollow world of pornography. Perhaps you struggle with bitterness where you can’t bring yourself to forgive those who have deeply hurt you. Maybe you’re driven by success to climb the corporate ladder at all costs, which makes you irritable around your family. Perhaps it’s an insatiable need to gossip where you lie and backstab to make yourself look better. Maybe it’s a spiral into materialism, greed, and envy where your appetite for stuff has led you into major credit card debt.

We face an enemy who promises a great deal of enjoyment, but in the end, all we receive is destruction. In addition to sin deceiving us with fleeting pleasures, our adversary the devil also tries to hide the consequences of sin from us. Sin fools us into believing that there will be no real damaging consequences for our actions. We may suffer a little discomfort here or there and maybe have a guilty conscience for a while, but the payoff for the pleasures of sin far outweighs whatever consequences we might have to endure. Not only are we blind to the immediate results of sin, but we fail to see the ultimate future repercussions for giving in to this deceptive enemy.

Sin is a ruthless enemy that has resulted from Adam’s fall in the garden. Sin is insidious. It is manipulative, devious, and never rests for a moment. May we all be watchful and not fall into temptation!

The Gospel in a Nutshell

Titus 3:3–7 gives us what I call the gospel in a nutshell. In these five verses, we find some glorious gospel declarations that tell us what God has done for us in Christ and how we can be assured of his love for us. This passage succinctly summarizes your identity in the Trinity. Paul writes: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

I want to encourage you with seven gospel declarations that emerge directly from this passage of Scripture that I pray you can use to saturate your heart and soul with the good news of God’s love for you in Christ. These declarations will help strengthen you in your identity.

Gospel declaration #1: The gospel tells me of my former identity as an enslaved sinner before trusting Christ. Paul reminds us that we were once foolish, disobedient, enslaved to passions and pleasures, and engulfed in our sin. In other words, that is not our identity anymore. The gospel tells me that I have a new identity. Praise you, Jesus, that you have taken me out of the kingdom of darkness and brought me into the kingdom of light.

Gospel declaration #2: The gospel tells me that God’s awesome mercy and love have come to me personally through Jesus Christ. I’m not the source of salvation. Salvation starts in the heart of God for lost sinners, and he chooses to shower us with goodness, lovingkindness, and mercy through sending Jesus.

Gospel declaration #3: The gospel tells me that I can in no way contribute to my salvation since God saved me by His grace alone. How do you preach this to yourself? You always remind yourself that God is sovereign in your salvation and that you can’t do any good work to make God love you more or love you less. As a believer God loves you perfectly—on your best day when you’re doing everything great for Jesus and on your worst day when you fail miserably, God’s love for you is constant. It doesn’t change based upon your performance one way or the other.

Gospel declaration #4: The gospel tells me that I have been born again as a new creation in Christ. Remind yourself daily that God has washed you. God has regenerated your heart. God has caused you to be born again. You are a new creation in Christ

Gospel declaration #5: The gospel tells me that God has richly given me the indwelling Holy Spirit. We have the Holy Spirit living inside of us as the very presence of Christ. He empowers me to obey Jesus and promises to conform me to the image of God’s Son.

Gospel declaration #6: The gospel tells me that God accepts me, and I have a clean record before him. That’s what it means for God to justify you by his grace. God declares us as righteous. He wipes our record clean and gives us the record of Christ. We stand not guilty, clothed in Christ’s righteousness and not our own, and God accepts us on the basis of Christ, not our performance.

Gospel declaration #7: The gospel tells me that I have the hope of eternal life. Remind yourself daily that this is not your real home. You have a home in heaven. You will one day see Christ face to face. He has an inheritance waiting for you. He holds you in his grip and will never let you go. He will ensure that you make it to heaven. Allow the power of the gospel to affect your thinking, your affections, and your actions as you celebrate God’s amazing grace for sinners in his Son Jesus Christ.

Walking with a Limp

Genesis 32:24–32 records the account where Jacob wrestled with a mysterious man who changed his life forever. This scene takes place at the Jabbok river, which is an essential detail in this narrative because it’s the boundary to the promised land. The name Jabbok is a play on words with Jacob’s name. Do you see it? “Jacob/Jabbok!” The word “Jabbok” means “wrestling” or “twisting river.” For his entire life, Jacob was the epitome of a fierce wrestler as well. He wrestled with Esau in the womb and came out grabbing his heel. Later on, he again wrestled with Esau and cheated him twice. Jacob also wrestled with his uncle Laban and tricked him. At this wrestling river called Jabbok, Jacob is about to have the ultimate wrestling match of his life. In the solitude of darkness, this mysterious man begins wrestling him, and this struggle continues with intensity all night. Right before dawn, this man touches Jacob’s hip socket and wounds him. The word used for “touch” here means a soft touch. It wasn’t a powerful torque or a punch, but simply a touch. In other words, God gently, yet powerfully, wounds Jacob’s hip and leaves him writhing in pain! As the day breaks, this mysterious man urges Jacob to let him go, but Jacob is relentless and won’t let go until he gets blessed. This is somewhat shocking. What would we expect? We would expect Jacob to be bowled over in agony because God knocked his hip out of its socket. Wouldn’t Jacob want this man to let him go so he could nurse his wound? Instead, he grabs on more tightly and won’t let go until he’s personally blessed.

This story still carries more tension as the mystery man asks Jacob for his name. Why would he need to know Jacob’s name? Was God in need of some information? In this definitive moment of truth, Jacob would have to finally admit to the living God his real identity—his identity as a deceiver. What does the name Jacob mean? Deceiver! Heel Grabber! Jacob would have to come clean and admit that he was a wicked con man and a master manipulator. You can picture it in your mind, can’t you? Jacob is dripping with sweat, writhing in pain, breathing heavily, and then he pauses—it hits him—he comes face to face with the sinister meaning of his name. In agony, he whispers “Jacob. My name is Deceiver! Heal grabber! Sinner! Unworthy wretch!” In another powerful turn of events, God changes Jacob’s name to Israel because he fought with God and won. Only the living God has the power to change Jacob’s name and his identity.

Jacob then calls the place Peniel which means “face of God.” He has seen God face to face. He wrestled with God and wasn’t annihilated. The LORD didn’t scorch him with holy fire. The LORD didn’t obliterate him into a million pieces. In mercy, God wounded Jacob, and he came out with a limp, even though the LORD spared his life. And more importantly, his name was changed. He had a new identity, Israel, which was profoundly significant. Jacob stood on the border of the promised land as the only one who wrestled with God. This new identity as Israel would serve as a foreshadowing of the life of the nation from there on out—a people that wrestled with God. For the rest of his life, Jacob walked with a limp as a daily reminder that God had touched him, changed him, wounded him, broken him.

Does this make any sense? How does God bless Jacob? By wounding him. How does God strengthen Jacob? By humbling him. How does God transform Jacob? By wrenching his hip, breaking him, and ultimately giving him a new name. Sometimes God must wound us before he can use us. Does God desire for us to live in prideful self-sufficiency where we have life all figured out? Does God prefer that we are in charge of our lives as we walk confidently in our power? Or does God will that we would walk with a limp? That we would walk in weakness and utter dependence upon him. Does this attitude describe you? A. W. Tozer said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.” Have you been hurt deeply through enduring sufferings and trials so that God can use you mightily for his glory?

Three Enemies of Fellowship

The Pixar movie Wall-E serves as a modern-day parable of an ancient problem. This film, set in 2805, shows Earth as an abandoned planet covered in trash due to the excess and consumerism brought about by a megacorporation called “Buy-n-Large.” With no hope for restoring the earth, little trash compactor robots called Wall-Es are sent back to clean up the planet. Since the toxic environment on earth cannot sustain life, one Wall-E unit is left. He is lonely and longs for true love as his only friend is a cockroach. He ends up falling in love with E.V.E.—another robot—and they go on an adventure in a spaceship called Axiom back to where all the humans live as obese and selfish consumers. This film addresses the issues of loneliness, disconnectedness, the desire for real loving relationships, the tricky way we have to handle technology, and our consumer-driven culture of selfishness.

As believers, can we avoid having relationships with other people? Can we avoid the messy parts of living life together as the body of Christ? In a culture obsessed with technology and plagued by isolation and loneliness, how do we as God’s people handle these issues of relational disconnectedness? How does the gospel address a sincere desire for lasting friendships?

Acts 2:42–45: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

The word fellowship, or koinonia, means to share or to have a partnership as it carries the idea of having things in common. This passage describes fellowship with two particular details: (1) breaking bread together, and (2) taking care of each other’s needs. In that ancient Jewish culture, eating a meal together signified a deep friendship and intimacy where they shared life around the table. Today, we often relegate fellowship to something that happens in a fellowship hall with a quarterly potluck. Luke also describes the early church as selling their possessions and having everything in common. The sharing of possessions was a voluntary, spontaneous act of love that was not compulsory. This fellowship was a beautiful expression of gospel generosity.

I want to address three ruthless enemies that stand against “fellowship” and which are so commonplace in our lives that we barely recognize them. These are selfishness, busyness, and complacency. Let’s face it, we are selfish people that put me at the center of the universe. We don’t even bat an eye at the fact that selfishness is a sin against God. Selfishness says, “I’m more important than everybody else; therefore, everyone else must serve me.” We end up using other people for our gains whether we know it or not.

The second enemy is busyness, where we over plan, overcommit, and overextend ourselves so that there’s no time to cultivate genuine relationships and friendships with others. Busyness says, “My life is too complicated; therefore, I will not invest in building relationships.”

The third enemy to fellowship is complacency, where you don’t want to make the effort to foster new relationships. You want to avoid the messiness of getting heavily involved in others’ lives. You may silently want deeper relationships, but you make no effort to actually grow in this area. We face an uphill battle in light of our culture and the sinfulness within our soul that fights against practicing true biblical fellowship.

Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:8: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” Do you hear Paul’s affection and love for other believers? Paul was not content to share the gospel with them, and then quickly move on to the next town on his missionary agenda. Instead, he also wanted to share his life generously with them. Are you marked by selfishness, busyness, and complacency? Do you possess a deep affection for other believers shaped by the gospel of grace where you share your life generously? Are you connected to a local church where you can experience true biblical fellowship?

Colossians 2:6-7…Growing in Christ

Are you growing in Christ? Are you making progress in spiritual maturity? Paul gives us insight into what a healthy Christian looks like in Colossians 2:6-7: “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.”

Paul begins by reminding us that we have received Jesus as Lord.  If you are a Christian, Jesus is your Lord. You have surrendered your life to Him to lead you and to be your King. You are living under His rule as sovereign in your life. Also, Paul tells us to walk in Him. This means that we have a dynamic and living relationship with Christ where we orient our entire lives around Him. He is more than just an abstract thought or philosophy. He’s more than just something we tack on to our lives. He is more than just a free ticket to heaven.  He’s more than just a nice teacher who gives us direction in life. He’s more than just a life coach or wise guru who exists to give us our best life now.

If we claim to be a Christian: it means that we have received Jesus as our sovereign Lord to rule and reign over our lives and that we are to have a lifestyle marked by continually walking in fellowship with Him. What does that look like? What does that produce? What should be the result of walking with Jesus as our Lord?

Paul uses four metaphors or imagery from common daily life to help us understand more fully what it means to walk in intimate fellowship with Jesus. The first is that we are to be “rooted” in Jesus. This is an agricultural metaphor. It’s in a Greek tense that conveys the idea that it means we are “deeply rooted” or “well-planted” into Jesus.  We aren’t just causally connected to Him, but we have been united to him with roots that go deep. Jeremiah 17:8reads, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Second, he uses an architectural metaphor. He says we have been “built up” in Christ. What is your foundation? What are you building your life upon? Is it Jesus or something else? If it’s anything else other than Jesus and His Word, it will eventually crumble.

Third, he uses a marketplace or business analogy. He says we have been “established” in the faith. The word “established” was used of a legal guarantee such as a title deed when there was a transfer of property. In other words, Jesus owns us because He has bought us and as a result, we hold fast to the faith. The first two metaphors relate more to how we are interconnected to Christ as a living Person, yet this word picture focuses on how we hold fast to the Word of God.

The fourth descriptor Paul uses is not so much of a metaphor but a result or the outflow. What should flow from us if we are walking with Christ, and we are rooted in Christ, and we are built deeply into Christ, and we are established in Christ? We should be overflowing with thanksgiving. We are thankful people.

Paul provides a vivid picture of a growing, maturing follower of Jesus. One who has received Christ as Lord and is continually walking in a dynamic and powerful fellowship with Jesus. One who is rooted deeply in Him. One built firmly upon the Lord. One who is established in the faith and doesn’t waver. And one who overflows with thankfulness. Does this describe you?

Welcome One Another

Paul instructs us in Romans 15:7: “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” This word “welcome” means to accept or admit others into fellowship. Paul roots this command to receive one another in the example of how Christ has welcomed us in the gospel. How did our Savior welcome or receive us as rebel sinners? Did he wait for us to get our acts together before he died for us? Did Christ expect us to get rid of all of our depravity before he decided to come to earth and serve us? What if Christ had the attitude that he would only accept or welcome us if we were worthy or polished enough to earn God’s love? If Christ adopted that attitude, none of us would ever be saved. At the end of the verse, Paul tells us the overarching aim of embracing one another—the glory of God. When we have a lifestyle of accepting and welcoming one another by showing love and concern, we model the love of Christ, which glorifies God. The opposite of embracing one another involves a plastic fakeness where we display attitudes of perfectionism, hypocrisy, and judgmentalism where there is no real communication or authenticity. That behavior does not glorify God.

So how do we welcome or accept one another as Jesus accepted us? Galatians 3:28 provides a helpful, practical model of how we should welcome one another as fellow believers. Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul addresses three issues that our sinful culture abuses and distorts that should have no place in the life of the church. Think about the questions or comments our culture asks: “What color is your skin? What language do you speak? How much money do you make? Why are you so poor? She’s a stupid blond. He’s a male chauvinist.” These statements reflect a worldly attitude toward others instead of welcoming one another for the glory of God.

First, there is neither Jew nor Greek, which represents the ethnic or racial barrier that prevents us from receiving one another. In that culture, Greek and Roman men regularly thanked the pagan gods that they were not born as barbarians, slaves, or women. Jewish men would ask rabbis to say a blessing of thanksgiving over them that they were not born a gentile, slave, or woman as well. As baptized believers, we are all one in Christ as the children of God. He has adopted us into his family, and there should be no sinful divisions. We all share a unified gospel identity in the Trinity that binds us together. Christ eradicates all ethnic barriers in the church. Sadly, not understanding this unity can lead to the sin of racism. Racism is utterly sinful, and we should never mistreat, malign, or show prejudice against anybody who is of a different color or ethnicity than we are. In the church, we should fellowship and love one another across racial and ethnic barriers.

The second issue reflects the socioeconomic barrier of neither slave nor free in Christ. Our world naturally associates according to class and socioeconomic issues where the rich look down on the poor and the poor look down on the rich. We should fellowship across socioeconomic barriers. Sadly, this barrier often leads to materialism and oppression. The rich get richer by oppressing the poor. Or those less fortunate shun and resent the well-off.

Paul’s final description refers to the gender or sex barrier of neither male nor female in Christ. We need to be careful here because some have taken this verse to promote radical feminism and say that there are no gender distinctions in the home or the church. I hold to a complementarian theology which means that I believe that the Bible instructs that men should be the spiritual leaders in their homes and that wives should graciously submit to that leadership. Likewise, in the church, only males can be elders who teach and preach in positions of authority. This verse warns against the sin of chauvinism, sexism, or misogyny.

Here’s the bottom line: When God saved us from sin and baptized us into a church family, he freed us from the evil forces of racism, materialism, oppression, and sexism. Instead of acting like the world which abuses and distorts these categories and distinctions, we who have a gospel identity in the Trinity should live lives which are radically different from the culture around us.


Who is the Holy Spirit?

Do you have a good grasp on the Person of the Holy Spirit? Much confusion exists within evangelical circles as to who the Holy Spirit actually is. On the night of his betrayal, Jesus gave some of the most in-depth teachings on the person and work of the Holy Spirit to his band of disciples in the Upper Room. Jesus says in John 14:16–17, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”

The Holy Spirit possesses all the attributes of God as well as divine personhood. Sometimes it is easier for us to think of God the Father as a person since we can relate to our earthly fathers. We also see Jesus the Son as a person because he came physically to earth as a man. Yet, it’s a little more difficult for us to wrap our minds around viewing the Holy Spirit as a person—especially when referred to as the Holy Ghost. What comes to your mind when you think of a ghost? A phantom floating around or Casper the friendly ghost or some misty fog? I want you to notice the masculine pronouns Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit—“him” and “he.” Jesus doesn’t say “it” will be with you and “it” will dwell in you. First and foremost, the Holy Spirit is not an “it” but a “he”—a divine person who is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and Son. The Holy Spirit was not created. He is not subservient to Jesus or the Father, but shares the same essence or being as God. I encourage you to be careful in how you speak of the Holy Spirit, and to do so as a “he” or “him,” not an “it” or a force, energy, fog, mist, anointing, or anything else that is something you can easily manipulate or confer onto another person.

Jesus also describes the Holy Spirit as “another helper.” We can translate this word “helper” (parekletos) as “counselor” or “comforter” or “advocate.” There is no good way to translate this unique Greek word into English and capture all of its nuances because it has multiple meanings where the context will determine how to best understand the term. When you think of a Counselor, today’s usage of the word like a marriage counselor or a camp counselor may impact your thinking. This may cause some confusion in thinking about the Holy Spirit solely in therapeutic terms. In popular usage, one goes to a counselor for psychological help which does not convey the original meaning of the word “helper” or “counselor.”

The word “helper” is a good translation, but it can also mislead you to think that you’re the one in charge of your life and the Holy Spirit is more of your personal assistant to help you along whenever you need him. This may confuse the issue to think that the Holy Spirit is subordinate to you as merely your helper, but not a sovereign and divine person who is fully God. The word parakletos also describes the role of a legal advisor or an advocate who helps in the court of law, whether as a lawyer, witness, or representative. The word also denotes reinforcements sent to the front of the battle to help the struggling troops.

Jesus does not simply say that he will ask the Father to give you some help now and then. He promises a divine person—a helper, an advocate, a strengthener. In this Upper Room discourse, Jesus is about to leave his disciples and ascend to heaven after his resurrection. How will Jesus mediate his presence and do what he has been doing the past three years while physically on earth? How will the ministry, help, encouragement, teaching, and leadership of Jesus continue in our lives if he is not physically there? Christ’s presence will come through the gift of the Holy Spirit sent to strengthen, lead, guide, protect, and help us until he returns and brings us to heaven.

The Holy Spirit will supply all of our needs and continue the ministry of Jesus in our hearts. While on earth in a physical body, Jesus guarded, protected, advocated, taught, ministered, and cared for the disciples. Now that he has ascended into heaven as the resurrected Messiah, the Holy Spirit will continue to carry on this work of Christ in our lives as well.

Zephaniah 3:17

Zephaniah 3:17 paints a beautiful picture of how the Father tenderly receives us: “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” The LORD made this promise to the nation of Israel during a time of intense rebellion and military oppression. This passage portrays God as a “mighty one” which conveys the image of a powerful warrior who will conquer all of our enemies. Poetically, this verse gives three ways in which God shows his fatherly compassion to his people: by rejoicing, quieting, and singing! One commentator makes this statement: “To consider Almighty God sinking in contemplations of love over a once-wretched human being can hardly be absorbed by the human mind.”       

Can you genuinely fathom how the Creator of the universe rejoices over you as his child? Do you find bedrock assurance in the truth that our Father will quiet you by his love? This Hebrew word for “quiet” can also mean that God will “renew” you with strength by granting you a sense of peace that passes understanding!

This verse may be the only incident in the Bible where God himself is said actually to sing, and he bursts into joyous singing over his children!

The writings of John Owen have profoundly influenced my understanding of this Trinitarian identity. One paragraph in his book, Communion with God: Fellowship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, had a dramatic impact on me when I first read it many years ago, and it continues to resonate with me:

“So much as we see the love of God, so much shall we delight in him, and no more . . . but if the heart be once much taken up with this eminence of the Father’s love, it cannot choose but to be overpowered, conquered, and endeared to him . . . Exercise your thoughts upon the eternal, free, and fruitful love of the Father, and when you do this, you will find that your heart is wrapped up in delight for him . . . Sit down a little at the fountain, and you will quickly discover the sweetness of the streams. You who have run from him, will not be able to keep a distance from him for a moment.”

I love his imagery! He calls us to sit down with God by spending quality time in his presence to be overwhelmed by his love. Draw near to him, and he will draw near to you! And when you draw near and sit at the fountain of his love, you experience a sweetness in his presence. You won’t want to run away anymore. You won’t want to hide from God, become distracted by the world, or experience feelings of guilt and defeat. You will not be able to keep your distance from him at all because his love has overpowered your heart and you desperately want to bask in his breathtaking affection for you in Christ.

This is the greatest mystery in the universe, that the sovereign God in all of his blazing holiness, perfect righteousness, and sovereign power would dare save sinners such as you and me! This love is grace unknown. It is unthinkable. It is unimaginable. It is a love beyond degree.

Psalm 32

Psalm 32:1–2 reads, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” David uses three specific Hebrew words to describe sin. First, “transgression” means a breaking loose or rebellion in that we have committed treason against our Infinite Creator. Second, David uses the basic Hebrew word for “sin” which conveys a deviation, falling short, missing the mark, or turning from the right path. This word describes how archers would shoot arrows and miss the target. “Sin” describes how we fall short of God’s holy standard of the law. Third, David employs the word “iniquity” which connotes our spiritual condition as distorted, twisted, and corrupt to the core. These three expressions of sin sum up the totality of what it means to stand condemned under God’s wrath. Not only have we offended him personally and rebelled against his law, but we are radically depraved by nature.

How does the LORD respond to this overwhelming sinfulness inherent in humans? First of all, God pronounces the blessing of forgiveness. This Hebrew word means to be lifted off or carried away. Psalm 103:12 beautifully captures this idea: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Isaiah 43:25 reads, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” We are forgiven in the Son!

Second, David describes the LORD as “covering” our sin which refers to the Day of Atonement. The word “cover” means to propitiate God’s wrath against sin. On that special day, the high priest would take blood from an animal that had been sacrificed into the Holy of Holies which was in the very center of the tabernacle. He would then sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat, which was the lid or covering of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark represented God’s presence, and it also contained the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. The cherubim, or flaming creatures inscribed in gold on the lid, represented the absolute holiness of God. The seat, or lid, showed the clear separation between a holy God and the broken law inside the Ark. The blood sprinkled on the mercy seat covered or appeased God’s wrath, shielding the Israelites from his rightful judgment because they had broken his law. Propitiation, or the covering of sin, means that on the cross Jesus as our substitute fully absorbed the wrath of God that stood against us. He deflected this justice that should have been aimed directly at us by becoming a curse for us.

Third, David expresses how the LORD does not count” our sin against us. This is none other than an Old Testament reference to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The Father does not count or credit our sins against us in his courtroom because the righteousness of Christ declares us not guilty through justification. Paul quotes this psalm in Romans to support the doctrine of imputed righteousness of Christ. Romans 4:5–8 reads, “And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’”

Martin Luther is so helpful here: “Learn to know Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him and say, ‘Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours. You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not!” That’s profoundly stated. What was Jesus not? A sinner! And yet what did he become? A sin offering in our place condemned by God. And yet what were we not? Righteous and accepted by God. But yet, now because of this beautiful transaction, we can stand in the righteousness of Christ.