Sermon in the IREF Service June 8th, 2014 (Pentecost). ‘How do you recognize the Spirit of God?’ (1 John 4 vs 2)
Read: 1 John 4: 1-6 and Acts 2: 1-13.
Pentecost, the feast of fullness of the Spirit.
We have read through the first 13 verses of Acts 2. Several times we find the word fulfilling in this passage. In the first 4 verses you will find it three times.
- Literally verse 1 says: the day (vs. 1) was fulfilled. It was the 50th day after Pesach (after seven weeks). For the Jews: celebration of the giving of the Law on mount Sinai. Exactly on that day God poured out his Spirit. By the Spirit He brought His law into the hearts of people.
- The house was fulfilled. Here the 120 were together praying and waiting. The extraordinary presence of God came into the house. It filled the whole room and touched everybody, the whole fellowship. Expressed in wind (from heaven, very powerful) and in fire (indicating purity and warmth) that filled the fellowship.
- The people themselves were fulfilled. One of the clear signs of it: they spoke about the great deeds of God, in different languages
It all indicated the extraordinary gift of God by the Spirit: (1) It was God’s timing evidently. (2) It was powerful and pure. (3) It happened in a miraculous way, above all rational thinking and human acts. (4) It pointed to God’s great deeds.
True and false fullness
Many people in the church to which the apostle John addresses his letter (probably Ephesus), were keen to emphasize the extraordinary character of the work of the Holy Spirit. Several itinerant teachers influenced that church and neighbouring churches claiming a special work of the Spirit. They stressed the role of the Spirit in guiding the believers to full spiritual maturity. They taught the fullness of the Spirit in a pure and holy life. They also taught people how to reach spiritual perfectness and how to get rid of the dirt of the material world. Sometimes they gathered people in spiritual groups, in which they brought their teaching about illumination by the Spirit of Christ. But in practice they had little concern for brothers and sisters in need. They acted as an elitist club and were selfish in their approach.
Test the spirits!
Now John is very alert and warns his church from far away. Test the spirits, whether they are from God. Many look spiritual and attractive, but you easily can be deceived. Is this something that we should be attentive to today? Do we need to be alert to this teaching of spiritual fulfilment today? We may think about modernized (Western) forms of Hinduism and Buddhism. There are quite a lot of teachers, Christian and non-Christian, who say: ‘Every religion possesses a part of the truth. No religion can claim the full truth. So let us all try to be spiritual people, because the spirit connects all religions’. In their opinion Jesus is an interesting and wise teacher. He showed deep moral principles and a strong spiritual power. So they like to add Him in the pantheon of gods that they consider important. Often the teaching comes to us in a therapeutic form: indicating ways to bring your soul to rest, quietness and spiritual satisfaction. Mindfulness is one of the very popular therapies in our society. But you don’t realize that you are taught to focus on yourself, to make your actual feelings happy. You are focused on yourself and your mind and feelings and you use religion as an instrument for your happiness.
The Spirit reveals our sinfulness and brokenness, not our ‘godliness’.
The apostle John says: be alert. Many so-called spiritual teachers mislead you. Test the spirits. How can you recognize the work of the Spirit of God? (vs. 2). The true Spirit of God always wants to honour Jesus. He wants to open your eyes fully to Him. So that you acknowledge in particular that He came in the flesh…The Spirit of God let you see and confess that Jesus, the Son of God, Eternal God himself, became a human being. He descended into our reality, completely and fully. Into our fragility, pain, suffering, into our reality full of sin and hatred. Deeper he couldn’t go into our human existence. So He teaches us not how we human people can become more spiritual, more like God. Not at all! He opens our eyes for our sinful and broken reality, more: how the Eternal God in Jesus came down into that sinful reality. He came to be one of us. Why? Because this was the only possibility for Him to take away our sins, our pain, brokenness and hopelessness.
Spirit from Above and the spirit from below
John is very clear: ‘If somebody doesn’t acknowledge or confess that (vs.3) – that spirit is not from God, but from ‘anti-christ’ (in the place of Christ, against Christ)’. Such a spirit is not from Above; it is from the world. ‘And don’t be astonished’ Johns says, ‘you know that they should come and do their work in the world.’ (vs. 3). And don’t be afraid that they take it over…that they win…Because you have become acquainted with the Spirit of God. Your roots are in Him. He is the Spirit of truth. He is the One who is in you (vs. 4). John doesn’t say: ‘You are better people, or more moral or more spiritual people.’ Not at all. It is a matter of truth or lie. You need to discern what is true and what is false. Because those teachers feed a lying spirit, a spirit ‘from below’. That’s the reason why the world around is ready to hear and accept them. And that is the reason why people of the world cannot understand and accept us, says John.
The dead end of syncretism
The Spirit focuses on Jesus and His unique work of salvation. Because He left the glory and the perfectness of the Father and humbled himself to become a servant, even to death, event to the death on a cross! Because of this: He searched us, we didn’t search for Him, it is impossible to place Jesus in a gallery with founders of other religions. You cannot mix Christian faith with other religions and spiritualities and bring them in one box. You cannot say: ‘It is all-spiritual, or all religions lead to God’. The American theologian/philosopher John Hick said: ‘Let us respect the idea of one Supreme Being in all religions. That should be the origin of everything above all’. He brings back religions to the rational idea of a supreme being. We should note that Hick proposes that rational thinking makes the supreme decision or recognition of God (actually making rational thinking God). Another (Roman Catholic) theologian Paul Knitter says: ‘Every religion is a window to the reality of God. Every religion considers its own window unique. Let us keep it like this.’ It is as if I praise my beer. ‘This beer, Heineken, is unique’. When I say this, I don’t deny that there are more kinds of beer, but this is my favourite, unique one. (Etc.) These are trials to bring all kinds of religions under one denominator, creating a ‘universal spirituality’ by which every human can be happy whatever he or she believes, but all these efforts fail.
The deepest work of the Spirit of God
What is the deepest, most necessary work of the Holy Spirit? I believe it is: giving us new eyes in order to show us the reality of Christ, the unique and irreplaceable truth in what He did on earth. We cannot see this with our own natural eyes. In ourselves we are blind to this reality and we are not prepared to accept this in ourselves. Joseh Tson (Romanian pastor, who was persecuted severely by the communist regime under Ceausescu) said that we need repaired eyes. Not only new glasses, but new eyes. Eyes are the mirror of our soul. The Spirit wants to give us eyes-of-the-heart to see Jesus, the Author and Perfector of faith. The Spirit is the Connector. He doesn’t only show Jesus to us, but also connects us with Christ through faith in Him. His work is necessary, otherwise we cannot see Jesus, love and embrace Him with all our heart. The unique work of the Spirit brings us to Jesus and He brings Jesus to us. Only through the Spirit it is possible to find joy in Christ and let Christ’s joy be in us. In particular the Spirit needs to open our eyes for the beauty, the preciousness that He came in the flesh. That He, being eternal God, suffered in a human body. That He took our sins as the Lamb of God. That He raise from the dead in a new, but still human body and that He is combining the two natures in Himself and represent us at the right hand of the Father. This is a wonderful and unconceivable truth that the Spirit needs to reveal to you and me.
Illustration by a parable and a story
(1) You may know the ‘parable of the man in the pit’ already. Still I want to ask your attention for it. It goes like this:
‘Mohammed passed by and the man said: help me, I am in a deep pit and I cannot go out. Mohammad said: you should say the shehada (confession of faith in Allah and Mohammed), you do five prayers a day, and don’t beat your wife except when she deserves it and you will find credits enough to be rescued. But the man wasn’t rescued. Them the Buddha passed by and said: you should notice your breathing, concentrate on your mind, do a lot of meditation and free your thinking to escape from the reality where you are. And you will be lifted up. But the man stayed there more hopeless than before. Then Jesus passed by and said: ‘You are right. You cannot go out with your own effort. I will come down. And He descended into the deep pit to find the man and took him on his shoulders like he was with all the dirt and brought him out.’
(2) The second parable I heard from a priest in the monastery Wadi Natroun in Egypt. It is a variation on the ‘Christopher’s legend’. Here is the story When the monastery had started sometime in the Middle Ages, the rumour was the Jesus wanted to appear on a hill in the neighbourhood. And on the day when it was announced, all the monks went out and ran to the hill. On their way they passed by a little village. There was a beggar, a crippled man, who asked: ‘Where are you going?’ They said: ‘To the hill, because Jesus will appear there.’ He cried: ‘Take me with you, please. I want to go there.’ But they were in a hurry; they didn’t like to miss Him. Also father Bchoi the leader of the monastery, passed by the crippled men. He had mercy with the man. He took him on his shoulder. It was a heavy load and he could only move slowly. He seemed to come to late. But as nearer he came to the hill, as lighter his burden seemed to be. He saw other monks coming back disappointed. They said: we didn’ see Jesus. He was not there…Finally father Bchoi was on the hill and then the man on his shoulder who had become very light, revealed himself to Him. It was Jesus himself. He recognized him with joy. Jesus asked: ‘Where are the other brothers?’ But they all were gone, looking for a spiritual experience with Jesus, and forgetting to express His love to the people around.
Conclusion. How do we know that God’s Spirit is in us? Here are three important indications
- When He has opened our eyes for Jesus, the Son of God who has become the Son of man. Jesus, who came in the flesh. This is our faith in Him.
- When we love the brothers and sisters, especially those in need. When we love them with the love of Christ and when we are concerned about them. It is our passion to serve them and to help them in Christ’s name.
- When we enjoy walking in God’s commands and to do what is righteous (cf. I John 3:10, 22). It is our passion to do what He has said and to stay in His word. This all indicates that the Spirit if God works in us, and that we are guided by the Spirit of truth, and not by the spirit of falsehood. Let us praise God for that with all our heart.