Archive by Author | Paul O'Brien

Unrest and Our Rest

I have friends that are cops.  I have friends that are black.  I have friends that think COVID-19 is a hoax and friends that I couldn’t coax out of their house if I tried.

Friends, we are in a time of unrest; economic, social, political, and physical.  I’m not trying to be dour or dark.  I believe that is an accurate articulation of our current time.  And yet people are pining for peace and rest.

Where is this peace and rest to be found?

Jesus purchased peace with God for us and will soon bring an eternal peaceful reign to the world but Jesus didn’t purchase a sleeping pill for the masses.  And He doesn’t lull us to sleep. We are to neither be restless nor so settled that we don’t stir.  We are to be a blessing to the cities and towns and villages that we dwell in even while we are exiles and sojourners here (Jer. 29:7).  So, we are to care and be wise but thankfully our eggs are not placed in the basket of this world. 

Jesus said. “Come to Me all who are restless and tired and I will give you rest for your souls.”  Jesus doesn’t, however, call us to just rest and relax.  He doesn’t call us to be lethargic but to love. And thankfully Jesus empowers us to do this.  It is as we abide in Him that we bear much fruit.

The truth is, we are responsible to love and not just be lethargic to everything that’s going on.  The truth is, we’re powerless but Jesus empowers us by the Spirit.  The truth is, we live in a place that is very often godless and chaotic but Christ is the Lord.  The truth is, many are restless but in Christ, all can find rest.  The truth is, we need a savior, this world won’t change on its own. 

Brutality to blacks is an unacceptable evil that Messiah Jesus will judge.  Brutality to cops, looting of stores, disregard for people, and even property, is evil and will be judged.  There will come a day of rest because there will come a day when King Jesus soon returns and puts a stop to the restless tyranny of sin and Satan’s reign (2 Pet. 3).  Jesus will destroy the destroyers of the earth (Rev. 11:18).

Until then, the LORD patiently waits in love for people to repent (2 Pet. 3:9).  And so, until that Day, let’s love and share the LORD’s love and lovingly fight for the cause of all those that are oppressed and hurting.  And let’s show them that all hearts are restless until they rest in Him. 

Let’s pray for people to find peace in the One that was oppressed and afflicted for them. 

“O my God, incline Your ear and hear. Open Your eyes and see our desolations … For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of Your great mercy.” (Dan. 9:18).

The Work of the Spirit | pt. 8

Prophecy

The ministry of a prophet does not contradict or add to Scripture but if truly from God is infallible. This is very controversial but it seems to be the correct conclusion when we unbiasedly consider the biblical evidence. It is helpful here to consider what Sam Storms has said, “If noncanonical revelation was not a threat to the ultimate authority of Scripture in its emerging from, neither should it pose a threat to Scripture in its final form.”[1] Many, however, do not buy that.

For example, John MacArthur says, “extrabiblical revelation always leads to error!”[2] Then he proceeds to look at cults and mentions the Book of Mormon as an example. It is true that there are many false claims to revelation but that in itself does not mean that there is not still revelation. If we truly believe in solo Scriptura we need to show where the Bible says there is no longer revelation.

Schreiner, in his helpful book Spiritual Gifts, argues that prophecy no longer continues because the prophecy in the New Testament was infallible and what is happening now is not infallible.[3] He never demonstrates, however, that all of what is called “prophecy” today is not at least in some cases from God and thus infallible. Further, this is not an argument grounded in Scripture. Instead, Schreiner is simply making an assertion about all modern claims to prophecy.[4] That, we should see, is a big sweeping claim.

I believe Schreiner actually helps the case for the continuance of prophecy because he makes a strong argument that not all prophecy is inscripturated. That is a big part of what I believe regarding prophecy. I believe infallible prophecy continues today but just like in the Old and New Testaments, not all infallible prophecy is included within the canon.

Schreiner shows that New Testament prophecy does not differ from Old Testament prophecy.[5] He says,

New Testament prophets spoke authoritatively and with complete truth to the situations in their churches. The fact that most prophecies weren’t written down and preserved is completely irrelevant as far as the truth of the prophecies is concerned. It is a category mistake to think that if prophecies are without error, then they must be written down and included in the Scriptures. And it doesn’t logically follow that prophecies must contain errors if they aren’t preserved and written down. God spoke authoritatively and truly through the prophets, even if their prophecies weren’t recorded and preserved. They spoke the infallible word of God to their contemporaries, who needed to hear these true and authoritative words of God.[6]

Further, in chapter 7, Schreiner makes a convincing case for infallible prophecy. He argues that “the idea that New Testament prophecies are mixed with error is mistaken.”[7]

I believe that what the prophets of today share is similar to what Agabus shared. Of course, some claim that Agabus’ prophecy in Acts 11 was wrong. They, however, are mistaken.[8] Ferguson concludes, “Paul’s testimony assumes its accuracy. We have no reason to believe that Agabus’ prophecy failed. Luke gives no indication that Paul thought it had done so.”[9]

Prophecy is never produced by human will[10]; instead, the person with the prophecy speaks what God gives them to say by the Spirit (2 Pet 1:20-21).[11] Thus, prophecy is infallible because prophecy gives the words of God and God always speaks the truth (Titus. 1:2; John 17:3,17; Heb 6:18; Prov 30:5).[12] Of course, we can misunderstand or disobey but God’s words are always without error.

So we see prophecy in the New Testament was both accurate and highly significant for the actions of the church[13] but it was not on par with Scripture in the sense that it was not to be inscripturated.[14] It is not the type of revelation to be inscripturated. It is not didactic revelatory teaching but pertains to the local body or a local situation. As in disclosing someone’s heart (as in the Spurgeon’s real-life example[15]) and that encourages the local body because they see the Lord at work. It is not something that would add to the canon.

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The Work of the Spirit | pt. 7

The Gifts Must Function in Accordance with Scripture

When the gifts of the Spirit are carried out and employed within the parameters of Scripture then a lot of the concerns that cessationists have should be able to be set aside. So, first, let us consider some of the parameters that Scripture puts in place for us. The gifts must function in a way that serves others (1 Pet 4:10-11), edifies (1 Cor 14:3, 12), is clear and ordered, not confusing or chaotic (14:23, 29, 33, 40), is loving (1 Cor. 13),[1] and exalts Christ (Eph 3:21; 1 Cor 12:3).[2]

Scripture further says that tongues must be interpreted if they are shared in the gathering (1 Cor 14:27-28), prophecy must be weighed (v. 29 cf. 1 John 4:1; John 7:24), only two or at most three prophecies or tongues can be shared at a public gathering (1 Cor 14:27-29), and all things should be carried out in an orderly way (vv. 30-33, 40) for the express and emphatic purpose of building up the body of Christ (e.g. v. 12). Paul says, “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation” (v. 26). Why? “For building up” (v. 26). Thus, Paul tells us to “earnestly desire” (12:31; 14:1, 39) the Spirit-empowered gifts and “strive to excel in building up the church” (14:12).

Second, let’s ensure we have a biblical understanding regarding the more controversial issues related to the gifts of the Spirit. I created an acronym to help us consider this subject more effectively. The acronym is G.I.F.T.S. Here is a summary of the acronym:

  • God continues to give gifts to build up the church.
  • Individuals with the gift of prophecy do not contradict or add to Scripture but if what they share is truly from God then it is infallible.
  • Fallible apostles still exist and are gifted men of God but the office of Apostle does not continue.
  • Tongues are used in two overlapping ways in Scripture and should be pursued and practiced as outlined in the Bible.
  • Scripture is to always be obeyed as the final authority.

We will now look at each of those bullet points in order.

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C.S. Lewis on Scientism in Out of the Silent Planet

Have you ever heard of C.S. Lewis’ book series, The Chronicles of Narnia? It’s good. But, Lewis’ Ransom Trilogy is even better. And one of the reasons for that is because he confronts scientism.

Scientism exalts the natural sciences as the only fruitful means of investigation. In the words of Wikipedia: “Scientism is the promotion of science as the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values.” In short, scientism is the view that says science, and science alone, tells us what is right and true.

Science, of course, is different. It is the study of the natural world through systematic study (observation, measurement, testing, and adjustment of hypotheses). Scientism goes beyond science and beyond the observation of the physical world into philosophy and ethics.

How can observations about the natural world tell us how to think and live? How cans science tell us how to best do science? What can be said about the problems of scientism? C.S. Lewis gives us a few things to think about, and in a very enjoyable way.

Weston, one of the main characters in C.S. Lewis’ book, Out of the Silent Planet, holds to a form of scientism and belittles other ways of acquiring knowledge. Unscientific people, Weston says, “repeat words that don’t mean anything”[1] and so Weston refers to philology as “unscientific tomfoolery.” The “classics and history” are “trash education.”[2] He also says that Ransom’s “philosophy of life” is “insufferably narrow.”[3]

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The Work of the Spirit | pt. 6

You can see the previous post in the series here.

There is no exegetical reason for believing the gifts have ceased. Ninth, despite what many believe, there is no convincing exegetical argument for the cessation of the grace gifts.[1] 1 Corinthians 13:10 plays a prominent role in many cessationists’ arguments. It did for me when I was taught as a kid. There is another hermeneutical issue, however. Thomas R. Schreiner says,

To see ‘the perfect’ as referring to the New Testament canon is an example of anachronism…

Instead of referring to spiritual maturity or to the canon of the New Testament, ‘the perfect’ most likely refers to the second coming of Christ, the end of the age. The perfect is equivalent with seeing God face to face (1 Cor. 13:12).[2]

John MacArthur says although many “scholars [e.g. B.B. Warfield, Richard Gaffin, Robert Thomas, Thomas Edgar, Simon J. Kistemaker] disagree on the identification of the ‘perfect,’ they all reach the same conclusion—namely, that the miraculous and revelatory gifts have ceased.”[3] He goes on to say that “we must look elsewhere than 1 Corinthians 13:10, to passages like Ephesians 2:20, where Paul indicated that both the apostolic and prophetic offices were only for the foundational age of the church.”[4] 

Many, such as John MacArthur, Richard B. Gaffin, along with Schreiner, end up making the argument that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased because they claim, otherwise, the canon of Scripture would be in jeopardy.[5] That, however, is rather a different issue than if the gifts of the Spirit continue or not. For one, the canon of Scripture, as well as the very existence of the Church, has been in jeopardy since the outset. The way to defend Scripture, as well as the church, is a more robust understanding of what Scripture teaches, not fear.

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C. S. Lewis on Longing

Introduction

You can trace the theme of longing through most of Lewis’ writings. In some places, it is explicit in other places it is implicit. For example, Perelandra does not so much make an argument as much as make you desire and long to experience something of what Lewis wrote. When reading some of Lewis, we often find ourselves hoping what he writes about is true. Lewis’ argument is not really cognitive and logical as much as it is “kardialogical,” that is, reasoned from the heart. As Blaise Pascal said, “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.”[1]

It is also important here to look at what Lewis meant by longing or desire. Lewis himself said, “From the age of six, romantic longing—Sehnsucht—had played an unusually central part in my experience.”[2] Sehnsucht is a German term that communicates the longing that all of humanity has. It means “longing,” “yearning,” or “craving.” It is a way of saying, “something is intensely missing, there must be more.” Joe Puckett defines Sehnsucht this way:

The aching, and yet pleasurable, intense longing for a life that we cannot yet have but naturally and universally crave. It is the feeling of having lost something that we once had—giving us a sense of homesickness and discontentment with the less-than-ideal world we currently find ourselves in.[3]

Lewis was specially equipped to discuss longing since from a very young age he had experienced such longing and had the ability to write about it with apologetic force in both narrative and essay form. My thesis is that Lewis is correct, our longing does point us beyond this world. Our longing ultimately points us to the Lord and His coming Kingdom.

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The Work of the Spirit | pt. 5

You can see the previous post in this series here.

Gifts of the Spirit confirm the gospel. Fourth, the gifts of the Spirit serve to authenticate the gospel message (e.g. Rom 15:18-19[1]) and that is still necessary especially in certain contexts but that is not the exclusive reason that God gave the gifts of the Spirit. D.A. Carson correctly points out that just “because miraculous signs have a distinctively attesting role in some instances, it does not follow that this is the only role they play.”[2] Although some assert that the gifts of the Spirit ceased with the closing of the canon they make that claim without biblical warrant. As Carson says, “There is no exegetical warrant for thinking certain classes of the Spirit’s manifestations cease once the crucial points of redemptive history have passed.”[3]

Gifts of the Spirit are poured out in the last days. Fifth, the gifts of the Spirit are part of what it means to be in the last days and we are in the last days.[4]

Cessationists who claim that the healings of Jesus and the apostles where merely authenticating signs of their status as bearers of canonical revelation misunderstand Jesus’ own explanation of them. For Jesus, they are rather expressions of the liberating reign of God, bursting into history, and it is as such that they attest the message of the kingdom.[5]

The gifts of the Spirit are to be expected because they indicate the presence of the Kingdom in the last days. The presence of the Holy Spirit is a sign of the new covenant.

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The Work of the Spirit | pt. 4

You can see the previous post here

There is no indication that the gifts would cease before Christ’s second coming. The Bible never indicates the cessation of the grace gifts until the return of Jesus, this is the second reason I believe in their continuance. There is no indication in the New Testament that the gifts would cease before the coming of Christ. Of course, it is possible that they could just fade out but we would not expect that to be the case from reading the Bible. Jack Deere contends that “If you were to lock a brand-new Christian in a room with a Bible and tell him to study what the Scriptures have to say about healing and miracles, he would never come out of the room a cessationist.”[1]

In 1 Corinthians 1, it seems to indicate the expectation that the gifts will continue until the coming of Christ. If you read the letter as the first recipients would have there is nothing at all that would make you think otherwise. In 1 Corinthians 1:7, Paul says, “…you are not lacking in any gift[2], as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice it says “any gift” and it seems as if the gifts will continue until the revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ. That seems to clearly indicate that the gifts of the Spirit will continue until Jesus returns.

Paul, thus, seems to believe that all of the gifts will not be lacking until “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7). Paul expects that those who are witnesses of Christ[3] will have the spiritual gifts available to them until “the perfect comes” (cf. 13:8-12), that is “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:7).[4] It is also important to note that in the context of 1 Corinthians, “spiritual gifts” (χαρίσματι cf. HCSB, NLT, NIV, Rom 1:11) cannot be limited to encouragement and the like but must also include what is considered the “charismatic gifts.”[5]

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The Work of the Spirit | pt. 3

In the last post, we looked at “God the Spirit and the Filling of the Spirit.” In this post, we will be looking at…

Grace Gifts

Next, we need to understand that God the Spirit gives “grace gifts.”[1] God’s abundant grace that we see demonstrated all throughout redemptive history issues in grace gifts.[2] God expresses His grace concretely in the rich number of grace gifts He bestows upon the Church for its upbuilding.[3] Schreiner observes this and says, “I would define spiritual gifts as gifts of grace granted by the Holy Spirit which are designed for the edification of the church.”[4]

The Spirit was vital at the beginning of the church and He continues to be on through to the consummation. He brought the birth of the Church, He hovered over the Church like He hovered over the water at the beginning. The Spirit does not bring charismatic chaos but the creation of order. That was the Spirit’s work at the beginning and it is the Spirit’s work today. There is no biblical warrant for believing in some big discontinuity between the work of the Spirit then and the work of the Spirit now in the last days. Actually, Scripture says, “in the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17). We are in those latter days today and we still need the empowering presence of the Spirit.

The hodgepodge, unlearned, and often unimpressive group of Jesus followers did not see the messianic movement die. Instead, the people of the way (Acts 9:2) actually exploded in growth, this group of people that followed a crucified and cursed man who claimed to be God, this group of people who had no leader on earth. How did this group survive let alone thrive?

Because Jesus did not leave His disciples without what they needed. Jesus sent the Helper.

Jesus said, that it was better that He go. That seems shocking. As it should. And as it did for the first disciples. We are left asking, how could it be better that Jesus’ bodily presence not be with us?

Thankfully Jesus answers that question. He tells us that He will not leave us as orphans. He gives us the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to be with us (See John 14).

The Grace Gifts Continue Today

“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8[5]). Will we? Will we receive power?

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“Hello, My Name is ______ and I am Transformed”

This post is from chapter 11, “Hello, My Name is _____ and I am an Addict Transformed,” from my book, Gospel-Centered War: Finding Freedom from Enslaving Sin. 

The Bible does not deny that we were various things—addicts, homosexuals, hateful, prideful, pornographic masturbators—but that is what we were (past tense) (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Titus 3:3-5). The emphasis in Scripture is on what we are and what we are called to be. The Christian does not say, “Hello, my name is _____ and I am an X Y or Z.” The Christian says I was dead, but now I am alive. The Christian says I am a struggling sinner, yet I am a saint. The Christians says, I am a new creation; I am transformed.

We must remember however that we are “simultaneously saint and sinner.” This is the biblical balance. We are holy in Christ and yet we are progressively becoming holy (see 1 Cor. 1:2; Heb. 10:14). I like how John Owen says it: We, who are freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it our business all our days to kill the indwelling power of sin.[1]

Paul wrote a letter to a church located in Ephesus back in the day. The people there had many struggles. Many of them use to worship various false gods and perhaps were even involved in cult prostitution. But you know what Paul called them when he wrote to them? He called them “God’s beautiful creation,” “God’s masterpiece” (Eph. 2:10). He didn’t say, “Now church, make sure that you are constantly reminding yourselves that you were part of the occult. In fact, when you meet together say, ‘Hello, my name is ______ and I am an occultist.’” No! He said, “You are new! In Christ! Transformed!”

One of the problems in claiming the identity of “addict,” “alcoholic,” or “overeater” is that we deny that addiction is a habit that can be finally overcome. I am not saying it won’t be a struggle. I am not even saying that it will even finally be overcome in this life. Yet, the Bible teaches the freeing and empowering truth that in Christ we are currently a new creation. It says we are adopted children of God. We are even God’s beloved; His treasure.

Labeling may not seem like a big deal but it is. In hospitals, it is important for people to be labeled correctly. If someone has a gunshot wound on their leg, they should not be taken to a cardiologist and someone that has the flu, they should not be life-flighted. Labels are important for treatment. Labels are important for our own treatment. The treatment of ourselves. How we look at ourselves, talk to ourselves, think of ourselves.

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