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August 2007

August 31, 2007

How can I know how the Holy Spirit has gifted me?

This is the second part in what I anticipate will be a brief three-part series examining the spiritual gift of discernment. The first part is available here: The Gift of Spiritual Discernment. In this first article we looked at the question of “What is the gift of discernment?” and concluded that “Men and women with the gift of discernment are specially gifted in distinguishing between those words, deeds and appearances that are true and those that are false.” Today we move on to how you can know that you have been gifted in this way (or in another way). We pause briefly to look at how we can understand how we’ve been gifted.

How do I know if I have this gift?

The Bible seems to indicate that Christians will typically know how they have been gifted. There is certainly nothing that would hint at the modern methods of discovering gifts through surveys or assessments. And yet, while most Christians know that the gifts of the Spirit are given to God’s people, they continue to struggle with identifying the ways in which God has gifted them.

Because gifts are given for the benefit of the body, it seems likely that where there is a need, there will be someone with the gifting to fill that need. If a church has a desperate need for a person with the gift of teaching, it seems likely that someone within the church has been given such a gift and may fill the need, at least for a season. Similarly, if a person is a member of a church where there is no opportunity to exercise a certain gift, it may be that this church needs to create opportunities or that, in extreme cases, the person needs to seek a church where he can be of service to others. The leaders of churches should seek to ensure that they are providing opportunities for members to exercise the full spectrum of gifts. Wayne Grudem writes, “Though the lists of gifts given in the New Testament are not exhaustive, they certainly provide a good starting point for churches to ask whether at least there is opportunity for these gifts to be used.”

For those who continue to struggle with identifying how God has gifted them, here are a few principles that will prove helpful.

Begin with prayer. God promises to give wisdom to any who ask for it. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). Thus we should begin our search for gifting by asking God to make it plain to us how He has gifted us and how He desires that we serve Him by serving others. We must ask for wisdom in seeing how God has gifted us and in opening our eyes to opportunities to serve Him.

Look for passion. Where God has given a gift, we can expect that He will also give passion. A good place to begin when considering spiritual gifts is to see where God has given desire and passion. A person who is passionate about having people into her home may well have a gift of hospitality; a person who loves to organize events may be gifted with a kind of leadership; a person who is passionate about the truth of God may be gifted with discernment. Those who look for their gifting should look to what interests them and what makes them feel passionate. As they look to their passions they may just find their gifts.

Ask others. Another way of seeking gifting is to ask other believers and especially those in spiritual leadership over you. Simply ask other Christians, those who know you best and who lead and guide you, where they feel you should serve within the church. Ask them to prayerfully consider your gifting. Their wisdom and guidance may surprise you.

Try them! Christians should try different opportunities to serve within the church. As we attempt different things and do so in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can expect that He will reveal passion and gifting in ways we may not expect. There is a danger in doing only those things that we are comfortable with or serving only in the ways we think we are most talented. Think of Moses, a frightened and timid man being called to lead a nation or the Apostle Paul with a thorn in his flesh being called to take the gospel to all the nations. God does not always gift us in ways we are comfortable with or in ways we might expect. By attempting different gifts we can look to those where God brings blessing and success and perhaps see that we have a special gifting in these areas.

Keep trying! The Bible does not tell us that all spiritual gifts are given at the time of conversion or that, once given, they are given permanently. As we grow in our knowledge and love of the Lord, we should continue to seek ways of serving Him. We may be surprised to find that our gifting changes along with the needs of our local church. We may find that God wishes us to emphasize different gifts now then in the past. So keep serving God and keep searching for His gifting in your life.

If confusion continues, take heart, wait patiently for God’s wisdom and guidance, and serve Him whenever and wherever possible. He will answer your prayers.

In the final article of this series we’ll look at what you can do with the gift of discernment, what to do if you want it, and what to do if you don’t have it.

August 31, 2007
Friday August 31, 2007 Mother Teresa’s Redemption
Rick Phillips has written a great article about Mother Teresa and the meaning behind the revelations of her crisis of faith. It’s a must read!
Interview with Steve Lawson
I just stumbled upon this—John Hendryx of Monergism interviewing Steve Lawson.
Sale at WTS Books
Westminster Books is having a sale on some good commentaries.
Shepherds’ Conference
Registration for the Shepherds’ Conference opens next week. It’s likely to fill fast, so get your pastor to sign up ASAP. Looks like Phil Johnson got a promotion to keynote this year!
August 30, 2007

The Introduction to J.C. Ryle’s Holiness

This is the first of what I hope will be many opportunities to read the classics together. You can read more about this effort here: Reading the Classics Together. Today we start into an 8-week study of J.C. Ryle’s Holiness. Written in 1879, this book has stood the test of time and is considered one of the best works on practical holiness. At just eight chapters, it seemed like a great place to begin in our quest to read some Christian classics together.

I hope this will be a collaborative effort, meaning that we will read the book through the week and then discuss it together right here on Thursdays. I believe some seventy or eighty people expressed interest in reading it, so I trust many of you did so and will have your own thoughts to contribute. I will provide a brief overview and then post a few thoughts of my own. The comments section is available for discussion.

Summary

In the Introduction Ryle provides a defense for writing this book. He saw a lot of interest in the subject of holiness, but “had a deep conviction … that practical holiness and entire self-consecration to God are not sufficiently attended to by modern Christians in this country.” Ryle felt as if he had to defend the doctrine of sanctification, assuring the reader that it is “quite as important as justification. Sound Protestant and Evangelical doctrine is useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is worse than useless; it does positive harm.” Tragically, at his time and in ours, any movement towards personal holiness can be “damaged by crude, disproportioned, and one-sided statements.” Satan hates holiness and will do all in his power to stop and destroy it.

As he surveyed the subject of holiness and the reaction to it, Ryle felt deep concern and expressed this in the form of seven questions to the reader, questions that together form the heart of this chapter:

  1. Is it wise to speak of faith as the one thing needful, and the only thing required, as many seem to do now-a-days in handling the doctrine of sanctification? Is it wise to proclaim … that the holiness of converted people is by faith alone, and not at all by personal exertion?
  2. I ask, in the second place, whether it is wise to make so little as some appear to do, comparatively, of the many practical exhortations to holiness in daily life which are to be found in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the latter part of most of St. Paul’s epistles?
  3. I ask in the third place, whether it is wise to use vague language about perfection, and to press on Christians a standard of holiness, as attainable in this world for which there is no warrant to be shown either in Scripture or experience?
  4. In the fourth place, is it wise to assert so positively and violently, as many do, that the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans does not describe the experience of the advanced saint, but the experience of the unregenerate man, or of the weak and unestablished believer?
  5. In the fifth place, is it wise to use the language which is often used in the present day about the doctrine of “Christ in us”? I doubt it. Is not this doctrine often exalted to a position which it does not occupy in Scripture? I am afraid that it is.
  6. In the sixth place, is it wise to draw such a deep, wide, and distinct line of separation between conversion and consecration, or the higher life, so called, as many do draw in the present day?
  7. In the seventh and last place, is it wise to teach believers that they ought not to think so much of fighting and struggling against sin, but ought rather to “yield themselves to God,” and be passive in the hands of Christ?

He wrapped up (reluctantly, it seems) by providing a brief glimpse of the state of the church and the importance of recovering holiness.

Discussion

Like any true classic, this book has stood the test of time because it deals with issues that are always relevant. Many books come and go because they discuss issues that soon pass away. But in the introduction we see that the concerns of Ryle’s day match the concerns of our own. There may have been different emphases and a different cultural setting, but it is clear that his concerns at the close of the 19th century are very similar to ours at the dawn of the 21st. Consider Ryle’s seven questions:

The first question may not be asked in those terms today simply because so many people within churches have no real sense of the doctrine of justification by faith. But reading the Christian books you might encounter in your local bookstore will show that very few discuss the Christian life as difficult and laborious. Rather, they discuss a life of constant victory where sin and Satan melt before us. Rarely do they discuss just how difficult it is to overcome sin and how this life is a constant battle with evil. They promise an abundant life, but with no abundance of labor.

The second question can be answered in a way that is similar to the first. Look at the books and teaching that arises from contemporary Christianity and you will soon see that there is little time given to true personal holiness. There may be lip service to it, but there is little of the particulars, the nitty-gritty details of how we are to destroy sin in our lives. We are given generalities, but few specifics; we are told to whitewash the tombs but without removing the scent of death.

The third and sixth questions seem to me to deal with very similar issues and ones that still exist today. Great harm has been done by those claiming that there are different “levels” of the Christian life and that we are to strain to be like those who have reached a state of perfection (or even of near-perfection). This teaching exists in the fringes of the charismatic movement but also in more conservative circles. Ryle’s illustration of Christians occupying varied positions along an inclined plane is a good one, for it shows that all Christians exist in a sinful world and that they can never fully rid themselves of its influence. What an encouragement it is to know that even the greatest Christian exists on the same plane as we do, the only difference being his effort in attaining sanctification and God’s subsequent blessing upon his life.

The fourth question confused me just a little bit, but I believe he is pointing to some kind of antinomianism or lawlessness that must have existed at that time. Clearly people were using Romans 7 to defend sinful and lawless practices.

The fifth question discusses the doctrine of “Christ in us” that was clearly denying the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. People were ascribing to the Son the work of the Spirit. While it is more common today to make the opposite error, focusing almost undue attention upon the Spirit, I can see shadows of the “Christ in us” teaching even now. I think, for example, of those who discuss “being Jesus” to others or those who do not understand that it is the Spirit who does the work of sanctification within us.

The final question discusses a kind of passivity towards holiness that certainly exists in our day. Too many people believe that becoming more godly is not a battle, but simply a process of leaning on Christ and expecting him to change us. But the testimony of Scripture is clear—we are to exert ourselves in pursuing holiness; we are to strive after it.

I say all of this to express confidence that Ryle’s book is relevant to us today, not only because it claims to simply provide what Scripture says on the subject of holiness, but because Ryle was writing it as a reaction to trends we see even today. He could as easily be describing 2007 when he writes:

There is an amazing ignorance of Scriptures among many, and a consequent want of established, solid religion. In no other way can I account for the ease with which people are, like children, “tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” ( Ephesians 4:14.) There is an Athenian love of novelty abroad, and a morbid distaste for anything old and regular, and in the beaten path of our forefathers. Thousands will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine, without considering for a moment whether what they hear is true.—There is an incessant craving after any teaching which is sensational, and exciting, and rousing to the feelings.—There is an unhealthy appetite for a sort of spasmodic and hysterical Christianity. The religious life of many is little better then spiritual dram-drinking, and the “meek and quiet spirit” which St. Peter commends is clean forgotten. ( 1 Peter 3:4.) Crowds, and crying, and hot rooms, and high-flown singing, and an incessant rousing of the emotions, are the only things which many care for.—Inability to distinguish differences in doctrine is spreading far and wide, and so long as the preacher is “clever” and “earnest,” hundreds seem to think it must be all right, and call you dreadfully “narrow and uncharitable” if you hint that he is unsound!

I think my primary take-away through reading this portion of the book is not so much a point of theology (as I’m sure it will be in subsequent chapters) as it is a sense of how the history of the church is cyclical. The same problems arise time and again; sin continues to manifest itself in the same way from generation to generation. This shows to me the value of turning to the old masters, men like Ryle, to show how they faced these problems in their day and to see how the gospel was the remedy, even then.

Next Time

We’ll continue the book next Thursday (September 6) with the first chapter (“Sin”). If you are interested in joining in, please do. There is still lots of time to purchase the book or to read it online. See this discussion (Read the Classics Together - Holiness) for information.

Your Turn

I am interested in hearing what you took away from the Introduction. I realize that we have not yet struck at the heart of the book, but I am sure you benefited even from reading the Introduction. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts).

August 30, 2007
Thursday August 30, 2007 Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith
Dr. Mohler writes about Mother Teresa’s recently-revealed crisis of faith and discusses the importance of having faith in Christ, not faith in faithfulness.
Does God Author Sin?
At the Desiring God blog Dave Mathis is using John Frame’s “Doctrine of God” to answer the question.
Interview with Gary Johnson
Martin Downes has an interview with Gary Johnson, editor of “By Faith Alone.” He asks about Federal Vision, New Perspective on Paul, and other important issues.
August 29, 2007

A brief examination of the gift of spiritual discernment.

As you well know if you are a regular reader of this site, I’ve written a book called The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment and that book was the result of spending almost a year studying the topic of spiritual discernment. As I hunted down all the references I could to discernment and as I studied what the Bible has to say about the topic, I was struck by how many people show interest in discernment as a spiritual gift, but also how the description of this gift rarely matches what the Bible tells us about it. Far too often the gift of discernment is said to be little more than a gift for making good decisions—for knowing God’s will when we need to turn to the left or the right. Yet the Bible tells us that it is more. For that reason I wrote a whole chapter interacting with gifting in general and this gift in particular. In just a couple of short articles I want to draw upon some of what I learned, sharing what the Bible says about the spiritual gift of discernment, showing what it is, how we can know if we have it, and what we are to do with it.

Unfortunately I can’t provide an exhaustive theology of the spiritual gifts to serve as a foundation for this series for that would make it go just a little bit too long. In my book I’ve done a more thorough job of discussing the basics of spiritual gifting, so you can always consult that when it becomes available (in January of 2008). For now, suffice it to say that the basic theology of spiritual gifts can be found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (and that this theology is consistent whether you are continuationist or cessationist—charismatic or non-). “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). We see here several important principles regarding gifts: there is a variety of gifts; they are empowered by the Holy Spirit; they are in all believers; they are a manifestation of the Holy Spirit; and they are for the common good of believers. We will leave it at that for the time being.

What is the Gift of Spiritual Discernment?

The Bible makes it clear that, even in the church’s infancy, there were many false prophets and teachers who claimed to speak God’s words with God’s authority. These men were strangers to God and yet claimed to speak for Him. Many Christians were drawn in by their words and were led astray by them. Because of this Scripture contains many exhortations for Christians to test all teaching. John writes, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Just one verse earlier, in John 3:24, John has spoken of the fact that the Holy Spirit is given to us as evidence of God’s presence in our lives. And having spoken of the Spirit, John now ensures that his readers know that not every spirit is holy. We are tempted to believe and obey spirits, for they represent a spiritual realm that is outside of our experience, but many spirits are commanded by Satan, the father of lies. Because of this we need to test or prove the spirits to see if they come from God.

Some commentators draw a direct line from the spiritual gift of prophecy to the gift of discerning spirits, but I am not sure this argument can be sustained. When we combine the presence of this gift with Paul’s exhortation to “test everything,” it seems that the gift of discernment would be likely to extend far beyond prophecy.

All Christians are responsible to test words of teaching and prophecy. The Bereans were considered noble for hearing the teaching of Paul and Silas, receiving them with eagerness and “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). These believers tested the words of the apostles, examining the Scriptures to see if what they were being taught was consistent with what they knew of God’s revelation of Himself. In doing this they modeled the task of all believers. Christians are ultimately responsible for what they choose to believe, no matter whether or not they have been gifted with the spiritual gift of discernment.

While all Christians are responsible for what they believe, it seems clear that some people are especially gifted by God for this task. This is not merely a gift, but a responsibility. New Testament commentator Lenski says, “Certain difficult cases occur, for which more than common Christian discernment is necessary. False prophets love to use deceptive language. For the purpose of unmasking these prophets the Lord provides this gift and thus enables his church to turn from lying spirits to the one Spirit of truth.” The gift of discernment is the Spirit’s special defense against the lies that come from lying Spirits.

The power and influence of spirits can be discerned in word, deed, and appearance. Satan communicates in words that are inconsistent with Scripture and which convey information we know to be false. This happened when Satan approached Eve and directly contradicted what God had told her (Genesis 3:4). It happened when Jesus rebuked Peter for denying that He would die, saying “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23). Jesus discerned that behind Peter’s voice was the spirit of Satan. And so every word about God or that supposedly comes from God must be carefully tested and examined in light of the Bible.

As Satan and his spirits communicate in word, they also communicate in deed. Just as Jesus was able to perform miracles, so Satan and his minions are able to perform signs and wonders. 2 Thessalonians 2:9 warns that “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders.” In the last days, Jesus warns, “false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). Deeds, no matter how extraordinary and how beneficial they appear, must be examined and compared to the Word of God.

Satan and his spirits can be discerned in appearance. Satan invades the Christian community with teachers and leaders who counterfeit the truth. These people will always introduce teaching that is foreign to Scripture. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are met by a slave girl possessed by a spirit of divination. Men and women with the gift of discernment are specially gifted in distinguishing between those words, deeds and appearances that are true and those that are falseFor many days she followed the apostles crying out “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). Though her words were true, the spirit behind them was false and sought to lure people with a little bit of truth so that the opportunity could be used to heap reproach upon the gospel. Paul judged her words to be true, but knew by appearance that the spirits guiding her were insincere. He was not fooled by what might have been an appearance of godliness. And so appearances must also be carefully weighed against the Scriptures.

Men and women with the gift of discernment are specially gifted in distinguishing between those words, deeds and appearances that are true and those that are false. In his commentary on 1 Corinthians John MacArthur summarizes the implications of the gift of discernment in this way: “It can be said that the gift of discernment is given to tell if the other gifts are of the Holy Spirit, if they are merely natural imitations, or if they are demonic counterfeits. I believe God still empowers some of His people to unmask false prophets and carnal hypocrites. He gives them insight to expose imitations and deceptions that most Christians would take as genuine.” Those Christians who are gifted with discernment will be able to compare ungodly words, deeds and appearances with what God has revealed in Scripture and expose the fraudulent leaders and teachers for what they are. They are gifted with unusual ability in separating what is true from what is false and what is right from what is wrong.

In our next article we’ll look at how you can know whether God has gifted you in this way. And in the third article we’ll look at what you can do with the gift, what to do if you want it, and what to do if you don’t have it.

August 29, 2007
Wednesday August 29, 2007 Reading Classics Together
A reminder to those who will be reading “Holiness” with us that we’ll be discussing the Introduction tomorrow.
A Great Reformed Evangelist Retires
Rick Phillips brings an interesting perspective to the retirement of D. James Kennedy.
Overdressed
The reviewers at “Christianity Today” (who are often pretty tough to please) give five stars to the latest release by Caedmon’s Call.
9Marks on Race and Church
Thabiti provides a roundup of the content of the latest 9News ejournal.
August 28, 2007

Lucado and R.C. and Moore, Oh My!

Here is your update on the latest reviews at Discerning Reader. We have uploaded six new reviews for you this week—reviews that come from the pens of four different reviewers and which examine books by some of the Christian world’s most popular authors. It’s a banner week!

Leslie Wiggins, who writes reviews of books that are of particular interest to women, has a courageous review of Get Out of that Pit by Beth Moore. I say “courageous” because Leslie dares to suggest that perhaps this book has some poor theology and too little focus on the cross. Read the review and see if you agree.

I have reviewed Max Lucado’s upcoming book, 3:16: The Numbers of Hope (a review I’ve also posted here). A guaranteed bestseller that is going to receive massive publicity, this book is an examination of John 3:16. Though not without its strengths, the book suffers by not defining the target audience. This leads the author to make promises that are not his to make. I have also reviewed Quiet Strength, the autobiography of Tony Dungy, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Dungy is a Christian who is very outspoken about his faith and this biography tells his story. Finally, I’ve added a review of A Taste of Heaven by R.C. Sproul.

From Scott Lamb comes a review of Foundations of Grace, the first volume of Steve Lawson’s series (five volumes are planned) dealing with the history of Reformed theology.

And finally, Colin Adams brings a review of Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. He says, “This is not to say there is nothing helpful in the book. … Church is never truly simple, and Simple Church over-reaches by claiming that it is “returning to God’s process for making disciples.” (book subtitle). Put simply? Gain insights from this book; don’t build your ecclesiology on it.”

You know we’ll be back next Tuesday with more reviews…

August 28, 2007

A Review of Max Lucado’s latest book.