(This is the fourth lesson in the series on the Church and Discipleship. The previous lesson can be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/the-church-is-logocentric/
The Church is Empowered by the Spirit
I. The Spirit’s Work in Acts
A. Acts 1:2: “After he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.”
1. One interesting question remains in the last half of v. 2. How does the Holy Spirit fit in? The NIV translates “after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit.” The account in Luke 24:44–49, however, has the risen Jesus personally instructing the disciples, as does Acts 1:3–8. The Greek order is somewhat ambiguous in verse 2b and could also be translated “after giving instructions to the apostles whom he had chosen through the Holy Spirit.”12 Either translation shows a close connection of Jesus with the Holy Spirit, and this is fully in accord with the picture in Luke’s Gospel. During Jesus’ ministry, there is no reference to the Holy Spirit being upon anyone except Jesus. The Spirit descended upon him at his baptism (Luke 3:22), filled him as he returned from the Jordan (Luke 4:1), led him both in and out of the wilderness (Luke 4:1, 14), and rested upon him in his programmatic sermon at Nazareth (Luke 4:18).13 The introduction of the Spirit in Acts 1:2 is probably not incidental for Luke. He emphasized that the same Spirit who rested upon Jesus in his ministry would empower the apostles for witness. And the same Jesus who taught them during his earthly life would continue to instruct them through the presence of the Spirit once they experienced the Spirit through the presence of Jesus. Formerly they had experienced the Spirit through the presence of Jesus. After Pentecost they would experience Jesus through the presence of the Spirit.
2. “The testimony o f the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets
B. Acts 1:3-4:
1. They are commanded to await the “promise of the Father”.
a. John 14:15-17
b. John 14:25-26
c. John 15:26
d. John 16:7
e. Matthew 28:20
2. Baptized with the Holy Spirit.
a. This promise goes back to the John the Baptist: Luke 3:16
b. John was announced earlier by Isaiah: Luke 3:1-6.
c. The Spirit’s work was also announced by Joel: Acts 2:16-17.
C. Acts 1:8-11
1. You will receive power.
2. You will be my witnesses.
3. The Ascension
a. Ephesians 1:3. All of the benefits which the Church receives are given in Christ and communicated to his people by the operation of the Holy Spirit. That power promised by the Father and Christ comes only from the Father, through the Son, mediated by the Spirit.
Ascension and Power. Clearly the greatest theological emphasis of the New Testament regarding the ascension is that Christ now regains the glory he had with the Father before the world began, is now able to send his powerful Spirit into the world, and reigns from heaven over every authority and power in heaven and earth. Thus, in John, Jesus connects attaining his glory and the sending of the Spirit with ascending to the Father (6:61–63; 7:39; 12:12–16; 16:5–11). Similarly, Acts 2:33–36 presents the ascended Jesus as the one who has been placed on the throne of David; the appearances of the ascended Christ are exclusively in Acts those of a powerful, enthroned Christ (Acts 7:56; 9:3–9 and pars.). Paul writes that God put his “mighty strength” to work “in Christ when he … seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:20–21). It is from this exalted position that he “gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:8–10). Peter, too, emphasizes the power that is now Christ’s because of the ascension: “[He] has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Peter 3:21–22).
The author of Hebrews shows this in his unique analogy between the exalted Son of God (4:14) who has “entered the inner sanctuary” and the priest/king Melchizedek (6:16–20). Melchizedek blessed Abraham, was king of righteousness and peace, and was without father, mother, genealogy, beginning of days or end of life (7:1–3). Only the ascended Jesus is powerful enough as the one who, like Melchizedek, has the power of an indestructible life (7:16) to enter before the throne of grace as a high priest who is “exalted above the heavens” to offer himself once for all (7:26–27).
b. Garrett Dawson wrote a book on the Ascension (Jesus Ascended – excellent book) in which he explains the trouble in the Church broadly and in his local congregation as related to this matter. Now neglect of a doctrine may be a mere historical curiosity – but Dawson draws a practical pastoral implication. He reviewed the nature of the life of his local congregation:
All of these signs point to a membership composed of committed Christians who are living in the grip of a world that has claimed them as its own. I do not believe my people are consciously trying to serve two masters. Generally, I do not think they even realize the contradiction between our beliefs and our life as a church. They are kind, happy, forgiving, dear church fold. Their pastor, however, knows himself to be compromised, realizes that he, too, has ‘the world is too much with us’ disease, and wants to get better (21).
Dawson locates recovery of the doctrine of the Ascension as vital antidote to the poison of worldliness:
A solution to the world’s being too much with us is an increasing awareness of how much our true identity and life’s destination is located in heaven, followed by the change in life here on earth that comes from the transformation in vision. (26)
Dawson then makes a reference to the postscript of Swete’s volume which bears more substantial examination. Swete identifies seven ways in which right knowledge of the doctrine of Ascension would affect the manner in which we live as Christians in the current age.
The first aspect (which Dawson quotes in part) is that the doctrine directly countermands the spirit of the age: The current age of the world seeks to make the here and now, the getting and spending, as the beginning and end of human existence. Yet, when we rightly realize there is a human being – God incarnate, Jesus Christ at the right hand of majesty on high and that he is ushering in the age to come, it transforms the manner in which we think of this world:
The Ascension and Ascended Life bear witness against the materialistic spirit which threatens in some quarters to overpower those higher interests that have their seat in the region of the spiritual and eternal. They are as a Sursum corda—’ lift up your hearts’—which comes down from the High Priest of the Church who stands at the heavenly altar, and draws forth from the kneeling Church the answer Habemus ad Dominum—’ we lift them up unto the Lord.’ Faith in the Ascended Christ was S. Paul’s remedy for the sensuality which he encountered in the Greek cities of Asia Minor: seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth; for your life is hid with Christ in God; mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth. How strong a motive this appeal supplied is evident from the history of the primitive church. The grosser vices of paganism have less attraction for our age, but the downward pressure of external things remains; at a time when life is being reduced to a complex machinery for the production of wealth, there is ample room for a doctrine which points men persistently to an order of realities which are at once present and eternal, a world which already surrounds us and waits only for the coming of the Lord to be manifested in overwhelming power. (Swete, 155-156).
D. Prophecy: The matter of prophecy runs through the scope of Acts. Prophecy and Scripture come by the Holy Spirit’s work. This demonstrates foreknowledge, direction and care for the Church by the Holy Spirit.
1. Peter states they must pick a new apostle, and he relies upon a prophecy in Psalm 69. Acts 1:20
2. Peter explains the work of the Spirit in light of prophecy. Acts 2:16, et seq.
3. Peter’s sermon explains Jesus’ ministry in light of prophecy. Acts 2:25, et seq.
4. When the church faces a trial, it turns to Psalm 2. Acts 4:23-31. The result was “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 2:31).
5. Stephen’s sermon (Acts 7) relies upon the unscripturated history of the people and the prophetic utterance to rebuke the unbelieving and defend the Church.
6. Philip uses prophecy to evangelize. Acts 8:25-40.
7. Paul’s sermon in Antioch in Pisidia (which may take as a model for at least of some Paul’s preaching) relies heavily upon prophecy. Acts 13:13-41.
8. James resolves the conflict over Gentile circumcision with a quotation of prophecy. Acts 15:13, et seq.
9. The description of Paul’s ministry ends with Paul turning to the gentiles with a citation to Isaiah 6: Acts 28:23-31.
E. The Church begins with the coming of the Spirit. Acts 2:1-4
F. The Spirit worked through preaching:
1. Peter, having been filled with the Spirit, stood and preached on Pentecost. Acts 2:14; cf. 6:10.
2. Peter states that such preaching of Christ is empowered by the Spirit. 1 Peter 1:10-12.
3. “[P]reaching [is] an activity under the influence and power of the Holy Spirit” (Lloyd-Jones, Preachers and Preaching, 98).
G. Salvation comes and the Church grows by the work of the Spirit:
So we find here that these people underwent a complete change. How did it happen? It was not the preaching of Peter. If you read Peter’s sermon, you see that he quotes Scriptures, he develops certain arguments. Quite right. Logically sound. He makes his case, and you cannot contradict it. But Peter’s sermon, read in cold print, does not account for the fact that something vital happened to 3,000 people! What accounts for that is the action of the Holy Spirit. “They were pricked in their heart” (Acts 2:37). The men and women standing there and listening to an exposition of certain Old Testament Scriptures were in trouble. They were disturbed, and they cried out. This was the work of the Holy Spirit, and there would never have been a Christian church but for this. This is what makes her; this is what causes her to persist. This is the explanation of the revivals and reformations down through the centuries.
H. The Church proceeds through the empowerment of the Spirit. Acts 4:8
I. The Holy Spirit provides correction within the church. Acts 5:1-6
J. The Holy Spirit empowered people for ministry.
1. Acts 6:5
2. Acts 6:10
3. Acts 7:55
4. Acts 20:28
5. 1 Corinthians 12
K. Acts 11:12. Peter explains mission to the Gentiles was directed by the Holy Spirit.
II. The Spirit’s Work.
A. The Spirit begins the work of discipleship by convicting:
1. The first step in discipleship is the evangel proclaimed.
2. The words of the evangel bring conviction by the work of the Holy Spirit.
a. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would convict.
4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 16:4–11 (ESV)
b. This was evidenced at Pentecost. Acts 2:37-41. Here you see they were convicted and such conviction led to repentance. True repentance is a work of the Spirit (failing to understand what a surpassingly supernatural thing repentance is, can lead one into sin thinking, I can repent later):
Remedy (1). The first remedy is, seriously to consider, That repentance is a mighty work, a difficult work, a work that is above our power. There is no power below that power that raised Christ from the dead, and that made the world, that can break the heart of a sinner or turn the heart of a sinner. Thou art as well able to melt adamant, as to melt thine own heart; to turn a flint into flesh, as to turn thine own heart to the Lord; to raise the dead and to make a world, as to repent. Repentance is a flower that grows not in nature’s garden. ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil,’ Jer. 13:23. Repentance is a gift that comes down from above.2 Men are not born with repentance in their hearts, as they are born with tongues in their mouths:3 Acts 5:31, ‘Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.’ So in 2 Tim. 2:25, ‘In meekness instructing them that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.’ It is not in the power of any mortal to repent at pleasure.4 Some ignorant deluded souls vainly conceit that these five words, ‘Lord! have mercy upon me,’ are efficacious to send them to heaven; but as many are undone by buying a counterfeit jewel, so many are in hell by mistake of their repentance. Many rest in their repentance, though it be but the shadow of repentance, which caused one to say, ‘Repentance damneth more than sin.’
B. The Spirit causes regeneration. John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:10-12, 22-25.
C. The Spirit performs the work of sanctification:
1. Romans 8:13; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 Peter 1:2
2. Here is an abbreviated section from John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin:
I have only, then, to add the heads of the work of the Spirit in this business of mortification, which is so peculiarly ascribed to him. In one word: This whole work, which I have described as our duty, is effected, carried on, and accomplished by the power of the Spirit, in all the parts and degrees of it; as, ‑‑
a. He alone clearly and fully convinces the heart of the evil and guilt and danger of the corruption, lust, or sin to be mortified. Without this conviction, or whilst it is so faint that the heart can wrestle with it or digest it, there will be no thorough work made. . . . John 16:8.
b. The Spirit alone reveals unto us the fullness of Christ for our relief; which is the consideration that stays the heart from false ways and from despairing despondency, 1 Cor. 2:8.
c. The Spirit alone establishes the heart in expectation of relief from Christ; which is the great sovereign means of mortification, as hath been discovered, 2 Cor. 1:21.
d. The Spirit alone brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin‑killing power; for by the Spirit are we baptized into the death of Christ.
e. The Spirit is the author and finisher of our sanctification; gives new supplies and influences of grace for holiness and sanctification, when the contrary principle is weakened and abated, Eph. 3:16‑18.
f. In all the soul’s addresses to God in this condition, it hath supportment from the Spirit. . . . Zech. 12:10; Rom. 8:26. This is confessed to be the great medium or way of faith’s prevailing with God. Thus Paul dealt with his temptation, whatever it were: “I besought the Lord that it might depart from me.” What is the work of the Spirit in prayer, whence and how it gives us in assistance and makes us to prevail, what we are to do that we may enjoy his help for that purpose, is not my present intendment to demonstrate.
D. The Spirit alone gives assurance of salvation: A believer who lacks assurance will constantly flounder and fail. Indeed, assurance of salvation is one of the great means and supports for transformation in the Christian life. In short, without assurance of salvation, the Christian will struggle to progress as a disciple:
In The Christian’s Great Interest, William Guthrie, sets forth the reasons why a Christian may lack a “distinct knowledge of their interest in Christ”. He first notices that a believer may lack knowledge of his saving interest in Christ, because he does not know what God does.
Imagine a man who hears that precious gems can be found in a particular canyon. He explores the canyon and finds a sapphire. However, he had thought that all precious gems looked like rubies. Therefore, picking up the blue stone, he casts it away because he does not know it is valuable.
In the same way, a believer may lack assurance because he does not know what is truly valuable. Typically, when it comes to assurance, a believer is seeking a subjective feeling of safety and peace. What Guthrie helps to demonstrate is that the subjective, should it come, would be a conclusion based upon what one has from God. The subjective emotional state is the result of understanding what God provides.
Guthrie sets forth three elements of how God ordinarily displays his love to the heart of man. First, God reveals the man’s sinfulness (Phil. 3:8). Second, Christ is seen as the solution to the plight of man; “the full and satisfying treasure”. Third, the love of God causes the man to “approach onto a living God in the ordinances” (Ps. 62:5, 65:4).
Put differently: The love of God reveals itself to the heart of a man by showing the man his sinfulness and Christ’s merit (Guthrie combines both the merit of Christ and the desire for Christ in the phrase “full and satisfying treasure”). — Now my sin and Christ’s merit maybe admitted to by even a false professor. The key lies in the third element: the desire to approach to God in Jesus Christ, sight of Christ as desirable and precious. Only a truly converted heart can desire and love God in Jesus Christ.
Typically, the one who lacks assurance lacks the subjective emotional sensation of being “saved.” Guthrie turns this expectation on its head: Rather than expecting that I should feel good about myself (I’m safe), I should expect to feel bad about myself (I’m sinful) but good about God (he is desirable and lovely). (That is why a successful sermon will convict and encourage. A manipulative sermon will make one guilty.)
This accords with the biblical evidence. For example, when Paul wishes to establish the assurance and safety of the Roman Christians he writes of the “love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). Paul earlier wrote that we have received “a Spirit of adoption” (Rom. 8:15). In another place he writes, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).
Assurance would then be a conviction based upon my self-examination which reveals my admitted need for a savior and the beauty and desirability of that savior. I could know that I am saved — perhaps even feel “safe” because I know that my safety does not lie in God’s acceptance of me but in the acceptance of Jesus Christ.
How this would work in counseling/discipleship: The faltering believer will come to you to seek knowledge that somehow they are safe: they will typically come because they feel bad or because they are engaged in some sin to relieve the pressure of feeling bad.
Guthrie says, do not concern yourself primary with their feelings. First concern yourself with their expectation: Get them to see what they should expect to know from God: We are sinners, Christ is the Savior, we should desire him.
Next, we work through the individual elements: First, do you see yourself as a sinner? Second, do you see Christ as a savior? Third, do you desire him?
E. The Spirit Illuminates the Word of God. 1 John 2:20-27; 2 Cor. 3:16-4:6; Psalm 119:18; Ephesians 1:17-18. Related: as teacher: John 14:26, 16:23.
F. The Spirit Creates Communion with God on the Basis of Adoption: Romans 8:12-17.
G. The Spirit creates a unity among believers. Ephesians 4:1-6. [We will explore unity at more length in a separate lesson.]
H. The Spirit brings forth fruit. Galatians 5:22-26.
I. The Spirit gives gifts to the church. 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:7-16. [This will be addressed as a separate lesson.]
J. The Spirit intercedes and produces prayer. Romans 8:26-28. Cf. John Bunyan, Prayer.
John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 80–81.
Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, electronic ed., Baker reference library; Logos Library System (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997).
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authentic Christianity, vol. 1, 1st U.S. ed., Studies in the Book of Acts (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), 49.
Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 31.