Since the Holy Spirit is present everywhere, there has never been a
time when He was not in the world. In fact, It was the Holy Spirit who
moved upon the face of the waters on the first day of creation. It was
the Holy Spirit who kept the true religion alive in the centuries prior
to Christ's advent. It was the Holy Spirit who brought the nation of
Israel into existence and inspired the Holy Scriptures. And, it was the
Holy Spirit that indwelled David and all others who understood the way
of salvation prior to the time of Christ. [Genesis 1:2, 2Peter 1:21,
Proverbs 1:23, John 7:39, Psalm 51:11, Numbers 11:26-29, Luke 2:26-27,
Luke 1:35,41,67, Psalm 139:7-10, John 16:7.]
Therefore, when the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit being poured out on the day of Pentecost, it is not saying that He was not present before that time, or that He did not bring people to faith in Christ before that time. Instead, it is telling us that He began His work of bringing Christ to the nations at that time. In other words, because the work of world evangelism is to be accomplished by the testimony of Jesus Christ [i.e. the gospel], not by cruelty and violence, it did not begin until Christ had completed His work of reconciliation. [John 6:44, John 12:32, John 16:7, Luke 17:21, 2Corinthians 10:4-5, Ephesians 6:12, Romans 1:16-17, 1Corinthians 1:21, John 14:16-18.]
The same love that moved God to send Christ to the cross also moved Him to give us the Bible as a divine testimony to Christ's sacrifice. For that reason, nothing that the Bible says came by the will of man. Instead, holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2Peter 1:21). Furthermore, because the Bible must speak both to those who are saved and to those who are unsaved, its testimony consists of two distinct messages, the law and the promises (Galatians 3:6-22). Since the law cannot make us righteous, it was never intended to make us righteous (Romans 3:10-20). Instead, it was given to show us our sin and need of a Savior. In contrast, the promises were given to assure us of forgiveness in Christ. Therefore, the law is God's message to the unrepentant, while the gospel is His message to those who repent (1Timothy 1:9). The law shows us our sin and need of a savior, while the promises of the gospel assure us of God's mercy in Christ. [2Timothy 3:16, 2Peter 1:21, John 5:39, John 20:31, 1John 5:13, Galatians 3:21-22.]
When this is explained to some people for the first time, they react by saying, “Saved people need the law too.” What they fail to understand is that when saved people use the law, God is not speaking words of condemnation to them. Instead, they are using the law to condemn their own wicked thoughts and desires. In fact, that is what the Bible is talking about when it says, “If we would judge ourselves we would not be judged.” (1Corinthians 11:31) Our entire life should be a life of repentance, in the sense that we daily use the law to put to death any sinful feelings or desires that arise in our heart, while reminding ourselves of our need for forgiveness in Christ (Romans 7:16-17). Of course, there are times when saved people fail to do this and fall into sin. And, on such occasions the law does condemn them, as it condemned David when he sinned (2Samuel 12:7-12). Nevertheless, it condemns them because they are unrepentant, so the rule still holds true. The law is God's message to the unrepentant, while the gospel is His message to those who repent (1Timothy 1:9).
Since works cannot make anyone righteous, the law was never intended to make people righteous through works. Instead, its purpose has always been to reveal our sin and need for God’s mercy (Romans 3:19-20). It is that mercy, and more specifically, the forgiveness that is ours through faith in Christ, that cleanses us of all sin, making us pure, perfect, and holy in the sight of God (1John 1:7-9, Hebrews 10:10,14). [Romans 3:20, 28, Galatians 3:21, John 1:29, Acts 4:12, 1 Corinthians 11:31 and 12:3, Romans 5:1-2, Galatians 2:16 and 3:8, Galatians 5:4, Ephesians 2:8-9.]
[Note: Luther's, “Commentary on Galatians” is a great book for those who want to know more about forgiveness in Christ. Both John Bunyan and Charles Wesley came to faith through reading that commentary.]
Contrary to what the world thinks, our confidence in what the Bible says is a gift of God not an assumption. As the Holy Spirit works through His Word to bring us to faith in Christ, He bears witness to the truth of what is written, thus giving us faith in His Word (John 10:26, 1John 5:6, Romans 8:16). Having come to faith, we then have a responsibility to reject any ideas that contradict His Word, starting with our own ideas (Isaiah 8:20, Romans 3:4, 2Corinthians 10:5). That responsibility is important because the carnal mind can easily deceive us, and those who would rather explain away the words of Scripture than change their own thinking are rebelling against God (Jeremiah 17:9, 1John 4:6, Psalm 107:11, 1Samuel 15:23, Romans 12:2, 2Corinthians 10:5, Proverbs 3:5).
Moreover, as we read God’s Word we need to understand that the doctrine God wants us to learn from His Word consists of what the Bible clearly and plainly says, not elaborate explanations (2Corinthians 1:13 and 3:12). In fact, because the Bible contains everything that we need to know to be saved, man made explanations only serve to obscure the truth, thus hindering the work of salvation. Therefore, as we learn what the Bible says we need to be careful not to read our own ideas into the text, interpret the words to contradict what the Bible says elsewhere, or explain away what is written. [1John 4:6, John 8:31, Isaiah 8:20, 2Peter 1:20, Jeremiah 23:26, Proverbs 30:6, 2Corinthians 10:5, Romans 12:2, Ephesians 1:16-19, 1John 2:27, Luke 24:45, Job 32:8, Revelation 22:18-19, 2Corinthians 1:13 and 3:12.]
As the Holy Spirit brings people to faith in Christ, they receive the forgiveness that Christ died to obtain for them, and through that forgiveness are cleansed of all sin and declared innocent of any transgression (Romans 3:28 and 5:2, 1John 1:7, Galatians 3:6). At the same time, they are translated from death to life — from Satan's dominion to the kingdom of God (Luke 17:21). However, because God’s kingdom is not an earthly organization, it is sometimes called the “invisible church.” While some people have a problem with that name, it is only intended to reflect the fact that since we cannot see into people’s hearts, we have no way of knowing who really believes, and thus who belongs to God’s kingdom and who does not. [Mark 1:14, Romans 2:28-29, Galatians 4:26, Luke 17:20-21, Matthew 6:33, Luke 8:1, Matthew 21:31, 1Corinthians 12:12-13, John 1:12-13, Colossians 3:1, Ephesians 2:1,5-6.]
[Note: Not only is our salvation a gift, but the faith by which we receive that salvation is a gift as well (1Corinthians 12:3, Ephesians 2:8-9). Furthermore, just as the Holy Spirit brought us to faith through His Word, He also works through His Word to keep us in faith (1Peter 1:5, Romans 10:10,17).]
Since God instituted baptism in order to make it clear that those who come to Christ must come as sinners seeking forgiveness, the Bible makes several references to forgiveness in connection with baptism (Acts 2:38 and 22:16). However, because the truth of the gospel is obscured whenever those statements are interpreted to contradict what the Bible says about faith in Christ, it is important for us to remember that forgiveness comes to us only through faith in God's promise of forgiveness in Christ (Galatians 3:6-22). In other words, God uses baptism (just as He uses preaching) to give us His promise, but it is only through personal faith in Christ that we receive what is promised (Romans 5:2, Galatians 3:22, Mark 16:16).
God also uses baptism to place those who desire baptism under the spiritual care of a congregation. The Holy Spirit then works through the ministry of the Word to strengthen their faith, by continually reminding them of their sin while assuring them anew of forgiveness in Christ (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Mark 1:4,8, 1Corinthians 11:27-32).
Everyone whom God has reconciled to Himself, through faith in Jesus Christ, has been called by God to the ministry of reconciliation (Galatians 5:8, 2Corinthians 5:18). In that ministry, we are priests and Christ is our high priest (1Peter 2:5,9, Hebrews 4:15 and 8:1). However, since Christ has already made the sacrifice for sin, our job is not to offer sacrifices, but to apply the benefits of His sacrifice (Hebrews 9:28). In other words, just as we are cleansed of sin through Christ’s death on the cross, we cleanse others by leading them to faith in Christ (1John 1:7-9, John 20:21-23). At the same time, because God intends for that work to be carried out in connection with the local congregation, every believer has a God-given responsibility to either find a congregation where the gospel is taught or start one. [Matthew 28:19, Romans 10:17, Luke 24:47, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.]
God has given each congregation the responsibility of nurturing those under its care, while disciplining those who fall into open sin, yet remain unrepentant (Hebrews 10:25, 1Corinthians 5:1-5). At the same time, within each congregation all members are equal, and the only authority is the Word of God (Matthew 23:8). Of course, that does not mean that everyone should pull to himself, for God wants us to cooperate and work together (Romans 16:17). However, it does mean that every believer has the right to judge what is taught by the Word of God, and that those who have been chosen to lead the congregation have no authority to impose their own will on everybody else (Acts 17:11, 1Peter 5:3). Nevertheless, if those who lead are speaking the Word of God [i.e. what the Bible says], those who oppose that Word are opposing God. And, if any member speaks the Word of God, those who go contrary to it are rebelling against God (Luke 10:16).
The Word of God authorizes every believer to study the Bible, go directly to God in prayer, judge what is taught, condemn false doctrine, proclaim the gospel, intercede on behalf of others, and, when necessary, to baptize and administer the Lord's Supper (1John 2:27, 1Corinthians 10:15, Mark 16:15, Galatians 1:6-9, Matthew 18:15-18, John 16:22-27, 1John 5:15-17). At the same time, it also authorizes believers to call certain men, who meet Scriptural qualifications, to carry out the work of the ministry on behalf of the congregation (1Timothy 2:11-12 and 3:1-14).
Since the men who have been called by the congregation, have been called to carry out God’s work, it may be said that they are “called by God.” However, their call is not an endowment of authority, but a request to serve (1Peter 5:3). In other words, they are not being called to run the congregation, but to serve the congregation by carrying out the ministry of the Word (Matthew 23:8). Nevertheless, because they are trying to care for our souls we should deal with them kindly, and show them a certain amount of respect. At the same time, that respect is a matter of Christian courtesy, not something demanded by their position (Mark 10:42-43).
In carrying out his duties, a minister serves the congregation by carrying out in a public and official capacity, the same commission that Christ has given to every believer (Matthew 28:19). Nevertheless, because God has limited those who are allowed to teach or hold a position of authority in the congregation, congregations that call those God has excluded (including women) are rebelling against God, and those whom they call are not called by God (1Corinthians 14:34,37, 1Timothy 2:11-12).
At the time of Christ, the pastors of a congregation were usually older men that had been chosen from the membership of the congregation, and served without pay. Under the leadership of those men, the congregation would then hire a teacher (Rabbi), whose duties would include leading Sabbath Day worship. Since such teachers were usually ordained, the Jewish practice of ordination was carried into the Christian church. However, even though ordination is mentioned in the New Testament, it is not required by God and has no divine promise connected with it.
Church discipline is an important responsibility that God has given to each congregation. And, because the purpose of that discipline is to rebuke those who are clearly unrepentant, it is a crucial part of the ministry of the Word. For that reason, we should never let it be perverted into a way of manipulating people or making members submit to human authority. While the congregation is to deliver those who have clearly transgressed God's Word (yet remain unrepentant) to Satan. That action should never be carried out as a self-righteous attempt to eliminate the unrighteous. Instead, it should be seen a way of conveying to the guilty party the seriousness of his sin, and the importance of repentance. At the same time, those who are on the receiving end of such discipline need to know, that God has said that when this is done He will stand behind it (John 20:22-23, 1Corinthians 5:1-5,11, 2Corinthians 2:6-7, Titus 3:10, 1Corinthians 14:40, Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, 1Corinthians 11:27-31, Galatians 1:6-9). [Note: Because church discipline is a serious matter, a person who is under discipline in one congregation should not be accepted into membership (or admitted to the Lord's Supper) by another congregation until the problem has been dealt with and repentance is forthcoming.]
The word, “communion” has to do with the unifying factor that binds a group together, or more specifically that which they have in common. And, in the case of Christian believers, the one thing that binds us together is our faith in Christ (1John 5:1). In short, because we have all been cleansed of sin through faith in Christ’s sacrifice, we are all children of God, citizens of heaven, brethren, and co-heirs with Jesus Christ. [1Corinthians 10:16, John 1:29, Romans 9:30-32, Romans 10:1-4, Romans 3:28, Romans 4:1-8.]
In order to understand how the Lord's Supper relates to faith in Christ and why it is called a “communion,” consider carefully the words that Christ used when He instituted that supper (Luke 22:19-20, Mark 14:20-24, Matthew 26:26-28, 1Corinthians 11:24-25). When He said, “This is My body which is given for you… this cup is the new testament [gospel] in My blood, which is shed for you,” He was summarizing the very essence of the gospel. In other words, faith is believing that Christ's body was given for us and that His blood was shed for us for the remission of sins (1Corinthians 15:1-4, 1John 1:7, John 1:29, Ephesians 1:7). Therefore, in order to understand how the Holy Ghost uses that ceremonial proclamation of the gospel, try to visualize a poor peasant woman who is under conviction for her sins and longs for assurance of God's mercy and forgiveness. Even if she cannot read the Bible for herself, and her pastor is not preaching the gospel, because she partakes of the Lord’s Supper believing that Christ’s body was given for her and that His blood was shed for her, she is accepting Christ as her Savior. In other words, there is no difference between accepting Christ, and accepting His body and blood for the forgiveness of sin, in either case faith is believing that His body was given for you and that His blood was shed for you.
[Note: Because the unrepentant are unworthy to partake of the Lord's supper, it should never be offered to unbelievers, those under church discipline, or those who are not able to examine themselves (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).]
Since the heart of the gospel is the good news that Christ took our sins upon Himself and died in our place, in order to better understand what that means, try to visualize your sins being washed away by His blood (1Corinthians 15:1-3). Close your eyes if necessary, and begin by picturing yourself as dirty all over, vile, filthy with sin. Then picture the blood of Christ swirling all around you like a flood, washing away every sin until you begin to glow. Finally, visualize yourself standing before God, radiant with holiness, not because of any goodness in you, but because every sin has been washed away by the blood of the lamb. That is true holiness! That is the perfect righteousness of Christ Himself (Romans 10:4). And, that is how God sees us when we trust in Christ. In fact, nothing that we do (no set of rules that we keep) could ever improve one bit on such perfection. Because His blood has cleansed us of all iniquity, when we stand before God it is as if Christ were standing there in our place. He has taken our sin upon Himself and given us His righteousness in exchange for it. And, that is what the Bible means when it says, “By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).
While the word “sanctify” means to set apart or make holy, because our works cannot make us holy, sanctification has nothing to do with our own vain efforts at making ourselves righteous (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:20). On the contrary, because the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us of all sin, we are sanctified in the eyes of God as soon as the Holy Spirit brings us to faith in Christ (Romans 3:28, 1John 1:7,9, Hebrews 10:10-14). At the same time, the Bible does speak of an earthly sanctification, which sets us apart from the world (1Thessalonians 4:3-5). Nevertheless, that earthly sanctification is worthless without the forgiveness that sanctifies us before God (Romans 3:19-20).
Our behavior will improve as our conscience is trained to recognize sin and the love of Christ is shed abroad in our lives (Galatians 5:16,22, Ephesians 4:32). However, that improvement has nothing to do with trying to keep a list of do's and don'ts. On the contrary, those who try to make themselves righteous, often regress; becoming mean-spirited, contentious, and legalistic. Furthermore, because sin goes far deeper than outward behavior, and because we will never be free of sin in this life, any improvement in our behavior will never be enough to make us righteous before God, or worthy of His favor (Romans 3:19-20). It is simply the fruit of true repentance and faith in Christ. [Romans 8:29, Galatians 5:18-25, Romans 12:1-2, John 17:17, 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, 1 John 1:8, 1 Corinthians 15:50-54, Romans 15:16, Ephesians 1:4, 1 John 5:2-3, Hebrews 10:10,14.]
To walk by the Spirit is to walk by faith, not by an imaginary law that requires obedience to impressions and inclinations. And, we walk by faith when we trust in Christ's atonement to make us righteous, instead of trying to make ourselves righteous by our works. However, when we do trust in Christ the Holy Spirit resides in our heart and helps us to resist the flesh (Galatians 5:17). That does not mean that the flesh will never tempt us, but we will never be tempted above that which we are able to resist (1Corinthians 10:13). Furthermore, if we really appreciate the fact that our sins have been washed away by the blood of the Lamb, we will not want to soil ourselves by wicked behavior. In fact, our conscience should not allow us to sin willfully, for willful sin robs us of the peace of mind that comes with knowing that our sins are forgiven (Hebrews 10:26-27). Instead, we should want to walk in a clean conscience. Nevertheless, because we are not perfect, we may slip up from time to time. However, if we truly have a repentant heart we will not excuse or explain away our faults, but will confess and forsake them, while trusting in the atonement that is ours in Christ to make us righteous.
Although Christ's death on the cross took place at a particular point in time, because God is not bound by time, the efficacy or effect of Christ's sacrifice is not limited by time, but has been the same in every period of history (Revelation 13:8). In fact, that is what the Bible is trying to tell us when it says “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Galatians 3:6). Just as Abraham was cleansed of sin and counted as righteous through faith in Christ, all who were cleansed of sin prior to the time of Christ were cleansed through faith in Christ. Therefore, because the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice extends backward in time, the “New Covenant” — the Covenant of grace — is really older than the “Old Covenant.” And, that is why the Bible says, “The covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul” (Galatians 3:17). To put it briefly, because the covenant of grace existed before the law, and was not disannulled by the law, salvation has always been by grace and it always will be by grace!
Just as the Holy Spirit worked through His Word to bring us to faith, He works through His Word to keep us in faith (Romans 10:14-17). And, that is why Satan is continually at work trying to lead people away from the Word of God. For that reason, we need to stay close to the Word while exposing, condemning, and shunning those who would lead us away from the truth of Scripture and faith in Christ (Acts 17:11, 2Corinthians 10:4-5, Jude 3, Romans 12:2, John 8:31).