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Category Archives: Disciple’s Focus

What’s the Difference Between a Christian Witness and a Christian Advocate?

Lloyd-Jones’ book on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit has been one of the most stimulating reads on that subject that I have read in some time. The following excerpt warns us that there is a distinct difference between Christian labors in the strength of the flesh, through human wisdom and genuine Spirit filled Christian labor. It is so easy to substitute our own wisdom for an enabling that alone can make our labors valuable to God. Truly, without Him we can do nothing. We must humbly recognize that our fleshly labors are useless in the great spiritual battles of our personal growth and service. Read this excerpter, take it to heart, and by God’s grace be a witness of God’s intimate work in your Christian experience rather than a sterile advocate of God’s absolute truth.

“…the filling with the Spirit happens for the sake of service; it gives us power and authority for service…Let me emphasize this. This filling is an absolute necessity for true service. Even our Lord Himself did not enter upon His ministry until the Holy Spirit had descended upon Him. He even told the disciples, whom He had been training for three years, who had been with Him in the inner circle, who had seen His miracles and heard all His words, who had seen Him dead and buried and risen again, even these exceptional men with their exceptional opportunities, He told to stay where they were, not to start upon their ministry, not to attempt to witness to Him, until they had received the power which the Holy Spirit would give them.

This is something, therefore, which is vital to our witness. It was the whole secret of the ministry of the apostle Paul. He did not preach with enticing words of human wisdom, but preached, he said, ‘in demonstration of the Spirit and of power’ (1 Cor. 2:4). He was filled with the Spirit for his task. Is this not something which causes us all to pause? Whatever the form of our ministry, it is only of value while we are filled with the power of the Spirit. So we should realize the necessity of seeking this filling of the Spirit and of power before we attempt any task, whatever it may be.

Let me put it like this: there is all the difference in the world between being a witness and being an advocate. Men and women can be advocates of these things without the Holy Spirit. I mean that they can have an understanding of the doctrine; they can receive the truth, and can present it, argue for it and defend it. Yes, they are acting as advocates. But primarily, as Christians, we are called upon to be witnesses, to be witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as the Savior of the world, as our own Savior, as the Savior of all who put their faith and trust in Him. And it is only the Holy Spirit who can enable us to do that. You can address people and act as advocates for the truth but you will not convince anybody. If, however, you are filled with the Spirit, and are witnessing to the truth which is true in your life, by the power of the Spirit that is made efficacious. So this filling is essential to all our Christian service.

But also it is equally clear that the infilling of the Spirit is essential to true Christian quality in our life. That is why we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. It is a command to every single Christian: ‘Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit’ (Eph. 5:18). We are exhorted to be filled with the Spirit. And this is commanded in order that our graces may grow, in order that the fruit of the Spirit may develop in us and may be evident to all. It is as we are filled with this life that the fruit and the graces of this life will be manifest. Indeed, the filling of the Spirit is essential to a true act of worship.”[1]


[1] Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1997). God the Holy Spirit (241–242). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossways Books.

 

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The Biblical Focus of a Disciple: Conclusion

The Biblical Focus of a Disciple: Conclusion

I cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper focus in Christian living.  Imbalance will adversely affect every aspect of our lives! The following extremes often flow from an unbiblical focus in the Christian life:

  •  Pride: Men who view their Christianity as a list of rules, rather than an abiding relationship with God that produces genuine spiritual fruit, do not realize the weight of Jesus statement, “Without Me you can do nothing!”  When we are focused on externals and substitute man-centered standards for genuine spiritual fruit, religious pride, similar to that of the Pharisees during the inter-testamental period will often follow.  We become full of pride as we live to “please men rather than God.”  “We already have our reward!”
  • Pragmatism: Those who focus on the fruit of a healthy walk yet ignore or misunderstand the Biblical process open themselves up to serious pragmatism.  The ends do not justify the means!  Those who seek spiritual fruit by the strength of the flesh are still “sowing to their flesh,” by means of a “pseudo-religious process.”  Galatians 5 says that those, who “sow to the flesh will reap corruption.”  Sowing to the flesh may be as subtle as our motives for obedience, evangelism, choice of dress, choice of associations, music style, entertainments, church attendance, or ministry commitments.  External forms and actions are instruments of deception when they are not properly motivated. Practical righteousness is not a means to walking with God, but a result of walking with God.  Those who become focused on fruit often are more concerned with the results that bring them comfort, than whole-hearted obedience and fellowship with God!
  • Discouragement: Men, who nominally understand the weight of Christ-likeness, are overwhelmed when they attempt to do God’s work by means of the flesh.  It is an impossibility!  Those who strive in the flesh will fail, and are prime candidates for discouragement.  Building a life on what does not work will produce crisis when failure meets reality.  Mid-life crisis is inevitable for the believer who strives by means of the flesh! 
  • Carnality: Pragmatism and discouragement inevitably lead to one dead end, carnal Christian living.  Carnal actions are nothing more than the fruit of carnal habits.  Striving in the flesh is just as carnal as the tragic carnal actions of pragmatic and discouraged believers. Misplaced focus will always produce carnal living. 
  • Legalism: Charles Ryrie has an excellent chapter on legalism in his book Balancing the Christian Life.  He defines legalism on page 168 as, “A fleshly attitude which conforms to a code for the purpose of exalting self.”  Legalism is a term often thrown around without being defined carefully.  Holy living is not legalistic!  Avoiding places and practices that cause you to stumble is not legalistic. Legalism is an attitude toward God and His laws.  It is an unbiblical motive for obedience.  My service to God in every sphere of Christian service should flow out of my walk with Him.  It is not a means to spiritual growth, but the expression of growth.  It is not the focus but, the by-product. 
  • Emotionalism: Christians who walk with God are emotional people.  Joy is an emotion. Peace is an emotion.  Love is highly emotional.  The fruit of walking with God is highly emotional, and genuine worship is an eruption of emotions that flows from a proper understanding of truth.  Sadly, many Christians do not understand that a subtle counterfeit for love, joy, and peace can all be produced by the flesh.  Church groups today are masters at producing an imitation of the real thing. Those who seek the fruit of the Spirit by means of the flesh are highly susceptible to emotionalism.  This emotionalism is not the fruit of an abiding relationship with Christ, firmly grounded in truth, and produced in the process of sanctification; rather it is produced at the expense of truth by means of the flesh!
 

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The Biblical Focus of a Disciple Part 4: This concept throughout the New Testament

This concept throughout the New Testament

The relationship between abiding in Christ and spiritual fruit is not limited to John 15Matthew 22:37-38 says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  Christ emphasized that every command in the law hung upon the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul, and mind…” In I John, John makes the connection between the command to love God, and the command to love our fellow man.  He made it clear that no man can say that he loves God if he hates his brother. The corollary to these verses is that no man can love his brother if he does not love God.  You see the ability to love your brother naturally flows out of a love for God and is intimately connected to it.  Ephesians 5:18 says that we are to, “Be filled with the Spirit…” The result of being filled with the Spirit is found in the next several verses. Galatians 5:16 says that we are to “Walk in the Spirit…” A few verses later in the chapter, Paul records the fruit of spirit-filled living. In Ephesians 3:16-19 Paul prayed that: they the church of Ephesus would, “be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith; that they would be rooted and grounded in love, they would grow in the depth of their knowledge of the love of Christ, that they would be filled with all the fullness of God.”  Notice how Paul’s prayer parallels John’s description of abiding in Christ in John 15. When Paul prayed that these saints would be “filled with all the fullness of God,” he was praying that as they abide in Christ, and that God would produce the spiritual fruit of Christ-like character in their lives.  Colossians 1:9-10 is very similar to Ephesians 3. Paul prayed that they: “might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.” Once again, by thinking through Paul’s prayer, we can see the relationship between abiding and fruitfulness. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.” Like Ephesians 5, this aspect of abiding in Christ produces a list of spiritual fruit actions and character qualities.  I John 1:3-4 gives us the purpose of the book of I John.  It says, “that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” John wrote the book of I John so believers would know how to have an abiding relationship with God.  He wrote it so they would know what hinders this abiding fellowship with God.  He wrote it so they would recognize the evidences or fruit of that abiding relationship.  The New Testament is packed full of examples.  Those who walk in fellowship with God will be bearers of much spiritual fruit. This walking with God is called: abiding in Christ; walking in the Spirit; being filled with the Spirit; having fellowship with the Father and His Son; knowing the true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hath sent; walking in the light as He is in the light; letting the word of Christ dwell in you richly; being filled with the knowledge of His will; being strengthened by His Sprit in the inner man; loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and being filled with all the fullness of God.  Are you walking in this available relationship today?  Is this the focus of your Christian experience?

 

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The Biblical Focus of a Disciple Part 3: The focus of John 15

The focus of John 15

Now we come to the key that unlocks the door to abundant spiritual fruit!  This key opens the door to the changes that we all need in our lives.  John 15:4 says: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.”  John 15:5 says, “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”  John 15:6 says, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” John 15:7 says, If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” And John 15:10 says, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.”  Jesus makes it very clear that the key to any fruit is not striving to produce it in the flesh, but abiding in Christ.  I have heard Galatians 5 taught as character traits that we must work diligently to produce in our lives.  This approach misses the point of the passage.  Galatians 5 was given as a litmus test that reveals the nature of a believer’s walk. Earlier in the same passage, Paul writes that the works of the flesh are the following: “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like…”  Paul was showing that there are two ways to walk as a believer.  One produces the following actions, while the other produces miraculous/unnatural character.  This character is unnatural, because we are born sinners and that indwelling sin nature has defiled every aspect of our person.  The Spirit-filled believer grows in Christ-likeness daily and bears the marks of Spirit-filled living, not the works of the flesh.  Paul’s point was that these character qualities are the products and evidences of Spirit-filled living, not the means to that ends.  This truth does not eliminate striving and discipline in the Christian life, rather it properly focuses and motivates Christian striving and discipline. 

So what is the focus of John 15 and Christian striving? Christ commanded His disciples to “abide in Him.”  If we know that we are to abide, then what does it mean to abide in Christ? The tense of “abide” in John 15 carries the idea of “make abiding in Christ a way of life;” therefore, abiding in Christ is a way of life in which we cultivate and maintain a vibrant relationship with God through meditating in His Word, obediently responding to what it reveals, communing with Him in prayer, and walking with Him in obedient fellowship.  The striving and disciplines of the Christian life are to be focused upon cultivating and maintaining this relationship through: Putting God’s word into our hearts; responding in obedient submission to things God reveals to me about my walk; seeking restoration when I sin against Him; growing in my knowledge of God; learning what kinds of things to pray for; learning how to approach God; worshipping God; and loving Him supremely!  As we strive to be disciplined in our walk with God, the fruit of this relationship will be produced by God.  The balance is that as I walk with God, He energizes me in that walk, and also does His work in and through me to produce abundant spiritual fruit.  What a liberating truth!  The Christian life is not a box or list of rules, but growth in a relationship that progressively changes my thinking, and transforms my character and actions to reflect more purely the glory of God in my life.  This truth is liberating and transforming! While justification is a position in Christ, sanctification is progressive growth into Christ-likeness through this vibrant walk with God. This righteousness and position that we receive by grace through faith sets us in a relationship with God that we are to grow in from the time of our conversion, forever!

John 17:3 says, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Eternal life is not deliverance from eternal damnation, though this is one result of our justification.  Eternal life is growth in a real relationship with our Creator and Lord.  It is a growing knowledge of God and the joys and blessing that are associated with and flow out of this relationship.   Christ prayed in verses 19-26 “That they [those who believe through His word] all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” This eternal life that we will grow in and enjoy forever is not simply a future hope, but a present and eternally enduring reality.  Though indwelling sin and a sin-cursed world fight to limit the degree of our eternal life experience, it is God’s will that every believer fully experience the joys and fruit of their eternal life today.  Believers who walk with God are simply doing the will of God by enjoying eternal life today, and the eternal blessings that are produced as we walk with God.  Are you experiencing this abiding relationship and the blessings that flow from it?

 

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The Biblical Focus of a Disciple Part 2: What is spiritual fruit?

What is spiritual fruit?

Before we look at the focus of the passage, I want to answer the question, “What is spiritual fruit?”  Spiritual fruit can be broken into the following categories: personal thinking changes, personal character changes, and personal action changes.  Romans 12:2 says that we are to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds…” this transformation of the entire person is spiritual fruit.  Galatians 5:22-23 says that, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” Both passages emphasize different aspects of spiritual fruit, one being a thinking change, while the other is a character change.  II Corinthians 3:18 says that we are, “changed into the same image [the image of Christ] from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”  Once again, the spiritual fruit mentioned in this passage is a character change of the entire person.  In John 15, Jesus mentions loving the brethren, answered prayer, and joy as spiritual fruits produced by God in the lives of believers.  The church of Ephesus in Revelation 2 was commended as a church that was tenacious, active in service, discerning, and doctrinally and practically pure.  These marks of spiritual maturity are forms of spiritual fruit. The church of Philippi was commended by God as a giving church.  This was spiritual fruit.  The church of Thessalonica was commended for being thorough in their spread of the Gospel throughout their province.  This thorough proclamation of the Gospel was an example of spiritual fruit.  We can see that spiritual fruit involves spiritual practice, thinking, and character changes.

 

The Biblical Focus of a Disciple Part 1: I am the “True Vine”

I am the “True Vine”

Perhaps one of the most liberating moments of my Christian experience came when I began to understand more thoroughly Christ’s teaching in John 15.  As a young man going into ministry, I became allured with many things that capture the attention of your average Bible College or Seminary students.  I dreamed of having a powerful, growing soul winning ministry where souls were being saved on a weekly basis.  I can remember praying that God would save a certain number of people on college extension, and then purposing to make it happen.  I can remember reading statements in books and publications like America’s biggest Sunday school, bus ministry, or number one soul winning church.  Numbers in my mind were equivalent to God’s degree of favor.  If I were right with God I would see numerical blessing.  I expected results, and had a tendency to manipulate situations to accommodate those results.  One week as a summer evangelist in college, began a renovation toward Biblical thinking in this area.  I remember spending a week at a church where a board in the back listed the names of members and the number of professions of faith they had personally witnessed that year.  I saw scores of people flood the aisles during the invitation for a message that was far from Biblical in content or manner of delivery.  At the end of the week I saw a record of a child who “got saved” four times that week.  I saw a man get baptized upon coercion and then refuse to stay for dinner on the grounds after the service.  This is certainly an extreme situation, and I assume what I shared with you is rare, yet it made me radically question my mindset.  I began to think about cities that rejected Christ.  Was He not right with God? Obviously not! He is the perfect Son of God.  I thought of Paul thrown out of some cities while others embraced the Gospel.  I thought of Ezekiel and Jeremiah’s ministries.  These men did not always see great numbers, yet they were faithful.  While some men in Hebrew 11 trusted God and saw mighty miracles performed, others God gave the miraculous grace to face death with confidence in the Him.  I realized that my perspective was woefully unbiblical, and prone to fleshly manipulation.  While my evangelical zeal was good, my focus, methods, and motivation were unbiblical. John 15 forever changed my understanding of motive and enabling!

Jesus says in John 15:1-5 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

I want to study the passage by studying Christ’s illustration, the nature of spiritual fruit, and the focus that flows from the process.   First, think about Christ’s illustration.  He used an illustration that vividly portrays the nature of the production of all Christian fruit.  When I was a child, we moved to a house that was overgrown with vegetation.  I remember finding some old pruning tools in our garage.  The next day I “pruned” several bushes around the side of the house.  Like most children my age, I knew how to make a mess, but not how to thoroughly clean it up.  The day after “pruning” the bushes I was surprised to see the branches that I had cut off the day before.  They wilted!  Without the bush these branches were lifeless and powerless to produce fruit.  This is exactly what Christ says in John 15.  He says, “I am the true vine.”  Christ said that He was the only source of fruit producing life.  He emphasized this truth by saying, “without me you can do nothing!” It does not get any clearer that that.  No Christian can produce fruit in his own life. Apart from the work of God in the believer’s life, no spiritual fruit will or can be produced.  Jesus said that the Father is like a farmer caring for His vineyard.  The purpose of planting a vineyard is to harvest fruit, not to go through the motions of gardening.  The farmer, God the Father, desires every branch in Christ to bear abundant fruit, and those fruitless branches are not fulfilling their God-given purpose when they fail to bear fruit.  Since the Father wants abundant fruit, He cares for the vine.  He lifts up branches that are drooping down so they will produce fruit.  He prunes branches so they will produce more fruit, and He removes branches that are dead weight and not bearing fruit in the vine.  These actions all serve the purpose of productive fruit-bearing.  God’s desire is abundant fruit, and He works to produce it in every believer’s life.  The process of producing fruit is co-operative, however it is critical that we understand what aspects of this co-operation are the work of God, and what aspect is my responsibility.  Balance in understanding this process is critical if we are going to see genuine spiritual fruit produced in our lives.

 

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The Biblical Focus of a Disciple: Introduction

The Biblical Focus of a Disciple: Introduction

Over the few years of my Christian experience, I have been exposed to a wide array of methods and philosophies in Christian ministries.  Some ministries emphasize evangelism as the focus of Christian living, others the glory of God in general, others obedience, and others service.  What should be the primary focus of the disciple?  If we will mentor others, we must understand the main thing in order to properly teach it.  I believe that the supreme focus of the disciple is growing in an abiding relationship in Christ.   I am not minimizing evangelism and local church service.  These are Christian responsibilities!  I am trying to show that a vibrant abiding relationship with Christ is the only pure spring from which all acceptable Christian services flow!  In order to observe this concept in Scripture we will be studying John 15.  From this study we will look at numerous other passages that shed light on this critical component to genuine Christian living.

 

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