Coop's Column - Vivid Awareness of the Greatness and Goodness of God
This week and in the weeks following we’ll focus on seven Christian character qualities, each of which the 17th-18th century English Puritan Christians claimed is Spirit-endowed and ought to mark faithful followers of Jesus. Serious Christians, said these Puritans, measure their spiritual progress by them. The first of these marks: “Vivid Awareness of the Greatness and Goodness of God.”
Notice Paul’s juxtaposition: “Do not get drunk on wine…but instead be filled with the Spirit.” My pastor friend, Ren Broekhuizen, puts the contrast this way: A person inebriated with wine (or, for that matter, with any object or activity he vainly idolizes) steers his life drunkenly. He’s a DUI, after all—one who’s “Driving Under the Influence.” The swerving-this-way-and-that, out-of-control pattern and path of his life shows it.
On the other hand, a person who is “filled with the Spirit” acts as an “LUI”: she is “Living Under the Influence” of the Spirit; and the careful, purposeful direction and course of her life shows it. Her Spirit-energized gifts enable her to live with singular purpose: She aims to live in, with, like and for Jesus Christ, her Savior and Lord. Over time she makes progress toward this goal. More and more she learns to dwell in Jesus; more and more she fellowships with him; more and more she becomes like him; more and more she offers her life for him.
Filled With the Spirit
This week and in the weeks following we’ll focus on seven Christian character qualities, each of which the 17th-18th century English Puritan Christians claimed is Spirit-endowed and ought to mark faithful followers of Jesus. Serious Christians, said these Puritans, measure their spiritual progress by them.
The first of these marks: “Vivid Awareness of the Greatness and Goodness of God.”
The setting of Acts 4 is clear. Peter and John, empowered by the Spirit, had healed a crippled man. As a result, the religious authorities, sensing a threat to their privileged position, summoned the two apostles and demanded an explanation about how the healing happened. “By what authority or what name did you do this?” they asked. In response, Peter and John, “filled with the Spirit” (cf. v. 8), seized the occasion boldly to charge these Jewish rulers for their direct hand in having Jesus condemned to die, and then for crucifying him. They also announced the stunning news of what God had done in response: “But God raised [Jesus] from the dead.” (v. 10)
The leaders tried to silence Peter and John, but couldn’t. Having been released from interrogation and custody, the two kept heralding the glad news about Jesus’ resurrection. They also returned to the congregation of their fellow believers to report the astonishing things that had happened—how God had used the entire event of a crippled man’s healing and of its aftermath as an occasion for them to proclaim the Gospel.
A Stunning Prayer
How stunning is the prayer which the entire congregation of believers, as with one voice, then raised to heaven in response. Note their direct careful, respectful words of approach toward God. They entered the Divine presence and broke holy silence with two solemn words: They address him “Sovereign Lord”(v. 24). Immediately thereafter they began to laud God for what he had created: “You made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.”
But these believers praised God for doing more than to create the world. They acclaimed him as Lord over the events of history too (cf v. 25, 26). Earth’s kings and rulers may well hold some measure of temporal power, but God’s authority towers over them all. It is he who lends them their power. They serve—and subserve—his purposes alone.
Thirdly, this congregation of believers gave God praise for his redeeming work in Jesus Christ, the crowning expression of his Divine power and goodness. (cf v. 27-28)
The Spirit having given them eyes of faith to see God at work in these three areas—in creation, in history, and in redemption—these early Christians, prompted by the Spirit, in effect were proclaiming with their lips—no, fearlessly and jubilantly their voices were singing!--“He’s got the whole world in his hands!”
Being an LUI Christian
Then, through death-defying acts of courage amid fierce opposition went on to prove that they really believed what they had spoken in their prayer.
The first mark of an LUI Christian, then, is this: To be vividly aware that God is great: His sovereign authority extends over all, and his power knows no limits. It is to be believe, too, that God is good: To affirm that he marshals and directs his power in such a way that he protects and guides, helps and blesses the children he so much loves, those who by the Spirit’s work have become inseparably bonded to God’s eternal Son Jesus, and who belong to him now and forever.
The difference such LUI-living makes? The Heidelberg Catechism, a 500-year old Christian confession, declares the difference memorably:
[We, God’s children]
“… can be patient when things go against us,
thankful when things go well,
and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father
that nothing can separate us from his love.”
“Every growth of spiritual life, from the first tender shoot until now, has been the work of the Holy Spirit.... The only way to more life is the Holy Spirit. You will not even know that you want more unless He works in you to desire it.... The Spirit of God must come and make the letter alive, transfer it to your heart, set it on fire, and make it burn within you, or else its divine force and majesty will be hid from your eyes.... Prayer is the creation of the Holy Spirit. We cannot do without prayer, and we cannot pray without the Holy Spirit.”
(Charles Haddon Spurgeon, British Particular Baptist preacher, 1834-1892)
“It is not so much great faith we need, as faith in a great God.”
(Hudson Taylor, pioneer British missionary to China, 1832-1905)