A Theological Framwork for Pursuing a Spirit Empowered Lifestyle

[The following series of entries is an expanded version of my notes from a conference on Revival held in Springville, IA from April 26 to April 29, 2015.]

What is a “Spirit Empowered Lifestyle?”

I take the term “Spirit Empowered Lifestyle” from Luke 4:14, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.” Jesus begins ministering at this point and it quickly becomes apparent that he was far superior to the other teachers of his day, for his words carried authority and he had power to back them up (4:36). For the rest of his time on the earth, Jesus’s ministry was marked by manifestations of God’s power which provoked a change of heart and mind within multitudes of people. Jesus didn’t live this kind of life simply to display his own virtue, he offered himself as the model of what humanity was supposed to have been, and what humanity would once again be after he finished his work on the cross.

It is important to realize that every miracle Jesus performed he performed as a man dependant on God. Jesus performed no miracles out of his divine nature. While Jesus was never less than God, he never lived as more than a man. This is essential to understand, for if Jesus performed miracles as God, then that is a model unattainable for us. BUT, if Jesus performed miracles as a regular human being dependant on the Holy Spirit… then that changes everything; and we are responsible to pursue his lifestyle.

Two Examples of Revival

I define revival as: “A Holy Spirit inspired event where people are convicted of the Goodness of God or their own sinfulness, which results in mass conversion to the cause of Christ and conformity to his character.” Central to the idea of revival is the Spirit Empowered Lifestyle, God manifesting himself through a willing and obedient servant. The four Gospels contain dozens of stories of Jesus healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, expelling demons, taking authority over storms and natural order, multiplying food and other such things which resulted in revival or revival like situations. I’d like to focus on two: Jesus expelling the Legion (Mark 5) and Jesus ministering to the woman at the well (John 4) because they stake out two extremes of God’s manifestation.

Mark 5

Jesus has just crossed over the Lake of Galilee to the region of the Ten Towns. Upon his arrival, Jesus is greeted by a demoniac, a man infested with a mob of demons who is notorious in the area for his violent outbursts, madness and strange behavior. This man runs to Jesus for healing and is delivered from his torment after a brief struggle. The people of the area are so freaked out by Jesus’s obvious power and authority that they ask him to leave the area. As Jesus packs up to go, the now delivered man begs to follow Jesus. Instead, Jesus sends him away with these words, “Go to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (v 19). Obviously the man did so because when Jesus returns to the region in Mark 6:53 the people recognize him and bring to him everyone in need of healing. 

John 4

In this instance, Jesus is waiting beside a well while his disciples went into town to get lunch. While Jesus is sitting there, a woman comes to draw water. This woman had a reputation for sexual immorality and was obviously trying to avoid conversation by coming out to draw water at the hottest part of the day. Jesus strikes up a conversation with her and gets a Holy Spirit inspired glimpse into this her life. Jesus gently confronts her with her sin and she is astonished. She quickly goes back into town to round up the people saying, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did” (v 29). The people come and are equally astonished by God’s work through Jesus. They beg him to stay a little longer to teach them and heal them. At the end of Jesus’s ministry tour, the people say to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (v 42).

The Two Extremes

Both of these stories of revival and heart transformation were provoked by God’s decision to move powerfully through Jesus (demonic expulsion and words of knowledge respectively). Both of these stories resulted in massive amounts of people putting their faith in Jesus as the Savior of the world. Where the stories differ is the means by which this heart transformation occured. The “Ten Towns Revival” was based on a revelation of God’s goodness – there is no conviction of sin presented in the story.  Conversely, the “Samariitan Revival” happened because the people were convicted of their own sinfulness and need of a Savior. These represent two extremes in revival history, most revivals are a blending of the two.

Jesus Lived an Intentionally Average Life

I believe Jesus lived an intentionally average life, that he established “par for the course” in the Kingdom of God. And maybe that is being generous, because in John 14:12 Jesus clearly expects his disciples to surpass him in the scope, magnitude, frequency and efficacy of their miracle ministry. “Great things” implies greater in ever way. Again, everything Jesus did he did as a human being dependant on God and empowered by the Spirit… just like us.

Jesus’s Strategy for Kingdom Advancement

Luke does the Church an invaluable favor by tracing for us the systematic expansion of Jesus’s ministry through the empowerment of his disciples in his Gospel and the book of Acts. Luke begins his Gospel by depicting Jesus as a single messenger of God, almost overwhelmed by the pressing needs of humanity. Jesus is seen ministering late into the night and then waking up early to try to have some alone time and escape the clinging demands of the people who want to make his their prophet on tap. 

After a year or so of modeling the proclamation and demonstration of the Kingdom to his disciples, Jesus commissions them to “Proclaim this message: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with leprosy and drive out demons [to demonstrate the truth of this message]” (Matt. 10:7-8). When Jesus commissions the twelve disciples, he delegates to the authority over every demon (Luke 9:1) and power over every sickness and disease (Matt. 10:1).

The Twelve returned after several months of ministry to report complete and total success. Seeing this phase of his plan accomplished, Jesus (in conjunction with the Twelve, I’m sure) trains another 72 disciples to do the same (Luke 10). He commissions them with the same power and authority and they have equally dramatic success. Seeing the effectiveness of this model-equip-empower-deploy method, Jesus prophesies that Satan’s kingdom will fall faster than lightening from heaven if they will keep it up (v 18). Jesus’s plans don’t stop here with 84 trained evangelists. We see Jesus continuing to equip, empower and commission the 120 believers at Pentecost (Acts 2) and the whole Church in Matthew 28:18-20, what we call “The Great Commission.”

Commission

When a nation is at war, it is often necessary to expand the army, promoting those already in service by issuing them a commission. When an officer in the army receives a commission it comes with additional powers and responsibilities. The promotion comes with an increased measure of authority as well as greater access to necessary resources. The commission also comes with an objective, a goal, which is the reason for the increased power and authority.

When Jesus says in Matt. 28:18, “All power and authority has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples… Jesus is commanding us by his authority and commissioning us to advance the Kingdom of God by freeing people from their bondage to Satan’s kingdom, specifically the areas of sin, sickness, demons and death. As we’ve already seen, the power and authority Jesus gave his disciples to fulfill this mission was absolute. There is only one instance recorded for us in the Gospels where the disciples were unable to cast out a demon (Mark 9:14-29) and hounded by this failure they question Jesus as to the cause. He told them that this particular kind of demon only comes out when fasting and prayer are a regular part of your lifestyle. Presumably the disciples started fasting and praying at this point because they never have issues with demons again, though Paul does record some failures to heal in his letters.

The point is, the disciples knew the power and authority that had been entrusted to them and were troubled when their experience failed to measure up to God’s promise. Rather than excuse their impotence they sought out Jesus for the reason – and they got an answer! I find it fascinating that Jesus NEVER taught his disciples a theology that accounted for unanswered prayer. Delayed prayer? Yes. Spiritual warfare? Yes. Prayer needing great persistance and faith? Yes. But never unanswered prayer.

Our Takeaways

1) By studying the life and ministry of Jesus we see that it is God’s desire to regularly work through his servants to provoke a radical change in the way people think about God and themselves.

2) Every time Jesus did a miracle, it was as a man dependant on the Holy Spirit. Jesus modeled for us what it looks like to be a disciple. Because Jesus has empowered us with his Spirit, we are responsible to persue his lifestyle.

3) We have been commissioned to serve in God’s army, liberating people from the power of sin, sickness, demons and death and proclaming to them the Good News of God’s Kingdom and eternal life in Jesus Christ. We have been given power and authority over every sickness and disease and authority over every demon we will encounter.

4) If our experience fails to live up to the Reality promised to us in Scripture, then it is our responsibility to find out why and to make the necessary adjustments to our beliefs, expectations and lifestyle.
Thanks for reading this first installment. There will be several more to follow in the next couple days. Stay tuned.

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Eternal Rewards

Yesterday, Erik taught out of Luke 6:20-26, Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. One of the ideas that Erik touched on was “living for a reward.” I wanted to expand on that idea a little more here.

Several places in the New Testament, we encounter this theme of heavenly, or eternal, rewards and we’ll get to those passages in just a minute. First, I’d like to discuss the idea of a “reward.” What does it mean and is it right to persue them?

Defining Reward

Merriam-Wester defines reward as “giving money or some other form of payment to someone for something good that has been done.” This is pretty much how the New Testament uses the word, but it also uses it in a negative sense (i.e. punishment). Reward simply means “wages” or “the fruit of one’s actions”, good or bad.

What rewards mean for you

The whole idea of eternal rewards implies that God sees and takes into account the things you do in this life and repays you for them in eternity. 

Now, the ultimate eternal reward is salvation – life with God in his Kingdom forever. The action that secures this reward is submitting your life to Jesus, acknowledging him as your Lord and Savior. Of course, the truth of that decision is played out over time as you “bear fruit in keeping with reptentance” to use John the Baptizer’s phrase. Choosing solidarity with Jesus in his life mission, love for God, love for people and identifying with him in suffering and persecution results in his confession on Judgement Day “This one belongs to me.” What Jesus says about you in that Day is the most crucial thing you can imagine – eternal salvation or damnation is in his hands.

In light of such immense consequences, one might be tempted to think of any other rewards as petty, even inconsequential. In many ways, that is correct. And yet, over and over again, God holds out this promise of reward.

For many of us, the decision to follow Jesus comes well before our death. What do we do with that time? Do we sit idly by, secure in the knowledge of our salvation? Do we continue on as before – doing some good things and some bad things and not really concerning ourselves too much one way or the other? Or, do we embrace the idea of loving and sacrificial service, realizing that we were made to do good works and that those good works have both temporal AND eternal rewards. One this side of the Judgement Seat, eternal rewards seem petty. However, on the other side they will mean a whole lot more.

Let’s look at one passage and then move on.

1 Corinthians 3

In this passage, Paul is talking about the life we live after choosing to love and follow Jesus. He uses the analogy of a building a house with Christ as the foundation. Then judgement comes, a house fire. Here is the passage:

12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

The time we have between our confession of Jesus as Lord and our death is all the time we have to “build our house.” Obviously, the younger you are when you begin to follow Jesus, the more time you have… theoretically. Many times, people who grow up in Christian homes don’t live with the passion and zeal one would expect – it is almost as though they have been innoculated against the Gospel. Conversely, people who come to faith later in life realize their time is short and their singleminded determination to live differently oftentimes allows them to make a far greater impact in the world than someone who has been following Jesus for much longer. The point is, it doesn’t matter when you choose to follow God, there is ample time to make your life meaningful now and in eternity.

Paul likens Judgement Day to a house fire – will what you’ve built remain? The things you did in life, did you do them for yourself, for others, for God? With all the time God gave you, how much of it was used doing things that really matter and how much of it was spent frivolously? I am NOT saying that following Jesus is joyless drudgery – quite the opposite! Interacting with the Living Gd on a daily basis is invigorating and fun. Knowing that he is taking all this into account and is going to reward me for it later is simply over the top.

Verse 15 is a verse that haunts me (in the best way possible), “If anyone’s work is burned up [meaning it can be, not everything I do garners reward], he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

I don’t want to enter eternity smelling like smoke. I don’t want to look back on my life at Judgement Day and see it all burn away to ash. I don’t want to live my entire life on the earth and have nothing to show for it in eternity. That is tragedy, THAT is loss. Yet it will be the case for some people – they themselves will be saved for they were in fact followers of Jesus, but they will feel the pain of loss keenly as they look back on their life and wish they could have lived it differently.

The idea of receiving a reward for your efforts is not unspiritual, rather, it is what makes long term effectiveness and faithfulness possible. Living with an eye on our eternal reward is what keeps us from becoming apathetic, lethargic and sleepy. Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Your heart is designed to follow after treasure, to follow after reward. If you are not purposefully trying to store up treasure in heaven, if you are only trying to fully fund your retirement and investment acconts, what hope do you have of actually loving God? “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God…” “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your [only] consolation.” It isn’t bad to want to retire or have wealth. It IS bad to pursue that as your main goal to the neglect of your eternal destiny. 

Living for a reward is crucial to a life of faith

Unless you have a clear understanding and desire for eternal rewards, you will not live life without regret. What is  even more sobering is that we can’t please God unless we live for eternal rewards. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” 

Faith stands on two legs – (1) that God exists and (2) that God is Good. We can’t draw near to God if we don’t think he is there – that much is easy. But how do we draw near? Tentatively? Fearfully? No! Confidently we come before the throne because of Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf. We trust that God is Good, that he lavishes rewards on those who seek to know him, love him and obey him. We believe that God is kind and generous. We believe that every command is for our benefit. 

Let’s face it, very few of us actually do the things God asks us to do because we’re just such good people. Case in point – evangelism. The Great Commission is pretty much the only task Jesus gave to his Church. To paraphrase, “Make disciples – it is the most important thing for this time. It is the main thing I want you to do once you start following me.” … and how many of us do it? It is really our only job, yet we’ve developed tremendous theologies to excuse ourselves from the need of it. I put very little stock in my willingness to do what Jesus commands unless I see a significant benefit to myself for doing so. I don’t have any youthful illusions of my own magnanimous nature, passion or zeal.

Simply put, I won’t do what Jesus tells me to do unless I get a reward for it. 

I know that sounds harsh. I know it sounds childish, foolish and ungrateful. I know that in saying it, I wish it were different… but it isn’t. That is the truth of my heart. AND GOD KNOWS IT. He doesn’t know it and react with disgust. He knows it and appeals to it – how wild is that?  ‘You don’t want to pray, I get that, but if you do I’ll reward you.’ ‘You don’t want to fast, but if you do and don’t make a big deal out of it, I will heap blessings into your lap.’ ‘I know money is tight, but if you will trust me and tithe and give some away to those who have even greater needs than you do, I will increase your buying power far beyond anything you can imagine. You will be better off finacially with 90% blessed by me than if you kept the whole lot.’ Those are the kinds of offers God gives us. In case you think I made them up, read through Matthew 6 very carefully.

Those that think they can live a fruitful, effective and pleasing life to God without living for an eternal reward are kidding themselves. It may be a well intentioned delusion, but it is fantasy none the less. Living for a reward is not unspiritual, it is the key to mature spirituality. Even Jesus didn’t embrace the cross selflessly. Even he was looking for a result, a reward. He was looking to ransom people from death. He was looking forward to the joy of being the firstborn of many brothers. Isaiah, prophesying about Jesus says, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied… I will give him a portion among the great.” Because Jesus was willing to set aside his Godhood and embrace the role of a servant, he has received a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord. If eternal rewards helped to steady Jesus in his life and mission, how much more do we need them?