December 4, 2013 by
Categories: Articles | Church planting
Jon Payne is the lead pastor of Redemption Hill Church, which was just recently planted in Round Rock, Texas. We asked Jon to share what God is teaching him as a church planter. These lessons Jon shares are wise words for anyone in leadership, not just church planters.
Church planting is going to school under the wise instruction of God. Every day, every week, every month he is teaching and training and helping me, helping me grow in my understanding of him in the schoolhouse of planting a church. Here are a few of the lessons I have received so far.
Know what to build before you start building. The temptation to craft messages and structures to create numerical success or to appease the widest audience is never greater than in the first, vulnerable days of a church plant. Building on Biblical values and gospel centrality means accepting in advance that not all interested guests will want to stay.
Don't let your heart rise and fall with attendance and the bank account. Security and impact seem to be tied up with enough money and enough people - yet unless the Lord builds this house we will be laboring in vain.
Beware of success that tempts you to neglect prayer. Seeing immediate fruit can lead to complacency in prayer, long before there is complacency in study or leadership.
Beware of disappointments that lead to anxiety and micromanagement. Godly effort and leadership is marked by peace. Pride causes worry and demands perfection.
Delegation is an act of worshiping God. Trusting God means trusting his grace at work in others - each fulfilling their own role in the body in their own God-given way.
Encouragement and thankfulness is a constant priority. Team members quickly feel the burden of the church planting task and need the strength communicated by a leader constantly pointing out how God is using them. Also, be much more concerned about preserving your team's joy and faith than upholding your ministry's appearance for guests.
Don't underestimate the familiar moments that happen every week. Anticipate God using this particular sermon, song choice, counsel, comfort to the suffering, spontaneous ministry moment, public humility, display of faith, repeated emphasis on the gospel. Church defining moments don't always advertise themselves.
Build for 100 years from now, or until Jesus returns. Your first week, month, year, sermon series, failures, successes, and new members classes, will not define the final testimony of your church. You're building for the long run. The Word, the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit will bear fruit. Don't get dismayed by the little hills and valleys in the various decades along the way.
Highlight partnership for your church. Celebrate your partnership with the theologically orthodox church of history past and a family of supportive churches in the present. Prepare your church for the potential of your own serious failure by recommending the wisdom of leaders that they can trust if you fall. Make sure they know who to call if if you die or dare to turn away from the Lord. Don't build the church's ultimate confidence into your faithfulness.
Enjoy true fellowship and friendship with your team, whoever they are. Receive correction, advice, encouragement, and accountability and enjoy moments of fun when you are not making church decisions or leading a meeting. You need Biblical community.
Enjoy your wife and children. Give time to your family, even in the earliest days of church planting. Even when you'd love a little more sermon prep. Even when you have phone calls to return. There will always be more to do, but prioritizing the family requires a constant choice to leave the "more" in the hands of the Lord.
Pursue joy in the Lord as your strength. The gospel is good news. You're going to heaven even after the end of the worst day. The worst and best emails don't define your identity. You always have hope to give people. You always have hope for yourself.
If I really had it all together, this would be a list of seven or ten lessons. But I don't have it all together, and I'm not sure which lessons to leave out. I'm grateful for all of them, as I am for the church planters that have gone before me and passed them on to me. I'm most grateful for the Lord's gracious patience to keep teaching me as I go to school each day.
Teach us, Lord, we are listening.
+original photo by Robb North
December 3, 2013 by
It was a rare moment where I was driving down the highway by myself, meaning that no one else was in the car with me. I was all alone. (Which really means that I could think and finish a thought.) I actually prefer the beautiful chaos my kids provide. But in this moment, God was speaking to me in the quietness of my Honda Odyssey.
There were some recent events that had led my mind into thinking about fear and how God relates to us in our fear. For me, there are some easy triggers that ignite a despairing fear in my heart and mind. It can, at times, feel like I can’t get out of the darkness of my fears. But God’s light and his promises are so much bigger than my fears. And I’m learning to trust them.
On this particular day, I was thinking about my girls and how fear develops in their lives. My firstborn seems afraid of everything. Really. Lint? Terrified. The sound of tractor trailers stopping at the light near our house? Runs in the house to hide. And I was thinking about my recent battle with fear and how she will handle fear. How will I teach her about how God helps us in those scary moments? Where will she struggle when there are truly fearful situations? In my heart, I quickly vowed to protect my girls from anything that would cause such fear in them.
And it was in that moment that I felt God gently say, “I sent my son to protect you (and them) from fear.” Simple, I know. But it can profoundly shape the way I view God and life. I had forgotten how the gospel speaks to my fear. I had forgotten that he is the one who calms the sea. I had forgotten that Jesus died on the cross so that I no longer have to be a slave to fear.
In his book, Running Scared, Ed Welch writes, “As we possess more things, care about more people, accumulate more bad experiences, and watch Fear Factor and the evening news, it is as if we absorb fear. If they are not obvious in your own life, perhaps it’s because you have been living in a war zone your entire life. At first you noticed every gunshot. After a while the mayhem blends in with the rustle of the trees, the TV, and the children playing in the other room. Fear gradually became the background noise of everyday life” (21). Until I was in the quietness of my van, I hadn’t realized how accustomed I had become to fear being the background noise of my everyday life.
So what’s next? I find comfort in 1 Peter 5:6–7: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” I find rest in humility, rest in the mighty hand of God, rest in God’s timing, rest in casting all anxieties on him, and rest in the knowledge that he cares for me. Ed Welch calls this the secret to battling fear. I call it my resting place when fear is overtaking my mind and heart.
Fear is never too far off; anxiety is a constant temptation. But the results are never satisfying. Let’s learn to repeat and trust the promises of God in the small and big fears and anxieties of this world, believing that He will deliver us and that in the midst of it all, he truly cares for us.
Erin and her husband, Chris, have two daughters and are members of Covenant Fellowship Church.
December 2, 2013 by
Categories: Articles | Worship
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November 27, 2013 by
“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.” John 2:11
Jesus turned water to wine. Does that make a difference in my life today? It should. It is an event that will replace complaining with gratitude, discouragement with hope, and self-centered introspection with Christ-exalting extrospection.
The whole point of this miracle is captured in John 2:11: Jesus is manifesting his glory. This powerful sign of Jesus points to the splendor of Jesus. First, we glorify him for his creative power. The one who turns water to wine also made something out of nothing. He was there in the beginning. We exist because of him. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3).
Second, we glorify Jesus for his abundant provision. The prophets spoke of a day in which there would be a never-ending supply of wine, symbolizing the bounty and provision of salvation. God will come to his people, and in that day, the mountains will drip with sweet wine. Jesus is a generous king, giving us gospel blessings filled to the brim and causing our hearts to overflow with gratitude.
Third, we walk away from this wedding glorifying Jesus for the hope of a future feast. This wedding feast reminds us of a coming wedding feast—the great banquet of the Lamb that is coming at the end of the age for all who believe (Rev. 19:6–10). No matter how low we are taken in this life, and no matter how poor we find ourselves, there is a feast Christ has won for us through his death.
This is only “the first of his signs.” John selected seven signs to record in his gospel: turning the water to wine (John 2:1–12), healing the official’s son (John 4:46–54), healing the paralytic (John 5:1–17), feeding the 5,000 (John 6:1–14), walking on water (John 6:16–21), healing the blind man (John 9:1–41), and raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1–46).
John is writing against the backdrop of the Old Testament signs in the book of Exodus—the plagues. But those were signs of judgment; these are signs of salvation. The signs in Exodus culminated in darkness and death. Darkness covered the land in the ninth plague, and the tenth plague focused on the death of the first born sons. Jesus, however, does not bring darkness and death. His signs culminate in the exact opposite—light and life. The blind man who walked in darkness will see through the power of the one who is the light of the world (John 9). The dead man who was buried in the grave will live again through the one who is the resurrection and the life (Lazarus in John 11).
This is intentional on John’s part. He knows Exodus. He knows what he is doing. Back then, it all started when water was turned to blood. Now it all starts when water is turned to wine. John’s entire gospel is written as a new Exodus, which is why he has already introduced Jesus as the Lamb of God and the reason he will make a really big deal out of the significance of the death of Christ occurring during the annual Passover, when all the lambs are being slain.
Every sign manifests his glory. Every sign showcases the worth of Jesus Christ. Find strength today in the one who turned water to wine. The one who created us is upholding us by the word of his power. The one who walked with earth is with us today. The one who stepped into our darkness and death brings light and life. The one who knows all our suffering and sorrows promises a wedding feast. Look to Jesus today, and he will manifest his glory yet again.
November 26, 2013 by
Exposed, uncovered, unprotected, found out.
Always on the outside, never with the “in-crowd.” Rejected. An outcast.
Not as good as everyone else: not as pretty, not as slim, not as strong, not as smart…not as valuable. Worthless.
Have you ever applied these labels to yourself? This list is intended to put flesh and bones to a concept you may think doesn’t apply to you: shame. Here’s the dictionary definition: “a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.” That works, but let’s put the definition into stories.
Shame is what you experience when your spouse commits adultery and quits the marriage, leaving you wondering, Is there something wrong with me? Am I the problem? Shame is the emotion you feel when you’re praised for doing something well, but inwardly think, If they only knew the real me, they’d never say that. Shame is gathering for Thanksgiving with your extended family and knowing you have the smallest income, the fewest business accomplishments, or the kids with the smallest number of recitals or sports awards to boast about. Shame is feeling dirty and stained because of something someone did to you in the past.
Shame is not the same as guilt. You can be declared “not guilty” and still feel like a wretch. You can know you’re forgiven, but still feel like damaged goods. Shame makes you want to avoid deep and transparent relationships, to hide from being truly known – even if you’re convinced that you’re not going to Hell for the things of which you’re ashamed. To feel shame is to feel tainted.
Does the Bible speak to shame? Yes, it certainly does. Just as the gospel provides the solution to our guilt and sin (forgiveness and justification), so it also provides the solution to our shame and dishonor. Here it is in a nutshell: honor by association. Or you could say, glory shared. Worth given. Consider this passage in Romans 9, quoting the prophet Hosea: “Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'beloved.' And in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' there they will be called 'sons of the living God.’”
Remember, this is Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the maker of all that is. And he says to dishonored, shamed sinners, “You are my beloved.” Not just “your sins are forgiven” – as glorious as that is! – but, “I delight in you. I accept you. You belong to me.” Do you see it? Honor by association. You belong to the King.
One more passage. 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Do you see how this passage goes beyond forgiveness (again, as glorious as that is) to include honor and worth? We are God’s chosen race, a people for his own possession, the apple of his eye (Deut. 32:10, Psa. 17:8, Zech. 2:8). In other words, honor by association. Shared glory. Worth given.
A blog post can only begin to address a topic as big as shame. But if something in this resonates with you, if shame clings to you and constantly whispers in your ear, if it defines your identity more than being a child of God and fellow heir with Jesus Christ – then you need to dig deep into the riches of honor by association, of shared glory, of worth given by God our Redeemer.
Psalm 25:3: “Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame.”
Psalm 34:5: “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”
Note: the thoughts in this post came from Dr. Ed Welch’s book Shame Interrupted. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in this topic. Consider this a blog-length introduction to themes Dr. Welch explores at length.
November 25, 2013 by
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. Prov 13:4
There is a point where holy longings stop being holy even when the things longed for are holy. That's because genuine holy desires will eventually find concrete expression beyond mere mental processes. God's “gospel longing” begotten in eternity did not remain a static thought of an infinite mind, but found expression in time and space. So it is with prayer.
I think most Christians want to pray. They want to pray more than they actually do. That longing is holy. Such longings count with God. But only for so long. Fresh bread is great out of the oven but grows moldy pretty quickly if not eaten. Its meant to be eaten, not watched, smelled and “longed for”.
If we always think about praying more “someday” but never put those longings to actual use, our longings quickly slip from something like fresh bread to being something moldy and inedible. When we get used to wanting and desiring what we never practice, we start a process of slow, almost imperceptible spiritual drift in our lives.
Proverbs 13:4 tells us that lazy people are not short on desires. But they are astonishingly deficient on delivery. Like the lesser known story of the two sons (Matt 21:30) the lazy person wills not to will. The desire to pray is real, but the desire not to pray is stronger and that desire wins. Like the man who wants to lose weight but also wants to eat the cherry cheesecake. Which desire will win? Usually the desire that requires no sacrifice in the moment.
So what's to be done? It appears that something needs to enter the heart in the space between desire and action. I propose that the missing piece is faith. A particular kind of faith in which we believe something different from before. Something that believes that future reward is 10,000 times better than the present cost required for my obedience. This then requires yet another deeper level of faith—a faith that believes that God actually answers persistent prayer. This is most likely the real cause of the lazy persons non-prayer life. They just don't believe it's worth the effort. All pain no gain.
So where is this kind of faith to be found? Where do we “obtain” faith? Scriptures tell us that it's the Christ-focused word that births faith—the “word of Christ”--another one of Paul's code words for the gospel (Rom 10:17). In other words, we need Jesus and the power of His redemption to be able to pray. Desire to pray, even if that desire is strong, is not enough to produce the action of prayer and lift us heavenward. But adding the power of the gospel to our desires is like adding a lit match to kerosene. Cold liquid instantly becomes hot flaming gas!
The person lazy in prayer doesn't lack subjective desires but objective gospel realities in the mix. They have never preached the gospel into their prayer life.
As Jesus said “apart from me you can do nothing”! (John 15:5)
original photo by pedrosimoes7
November 22, 2013 by
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” John 3:1
Jefferson Bethke’s spoken word “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” swept the internet as a YouTube sensation in January of 2012. Within a few days, it received millions of views (currently, it has over 25 million views). A lot of people enjoyed the video. Some critiqued it. One of the more common critiques had to do with Bethke’s use of the word “religion.” It is right to hate religion?
I was helped by D.A. Carson’s section on the definition of religion in his book Christ and Culture Revisited. Carson says, “To speak of Christianity in the first century as one of many ‘religions’ is more than a little misleading.” And, “There is no Greek or Latin word in the first century that means exactly what ‘religion’ means in the 21st century.” He briefly discusses some of the original language translated ‘religion’ in Scripture and concludes: “All of us use ‘religion’ in different ways, and we are best off acknowledging the point and allowing the context to guide the sympathetic reader.” Carson’s counsel is wise: context and sympathetic reading (or listening) are essential.
One of the things I appreciated about Bethke’s video was his willingness to identify man-made religion as a problem. There are many people in the world today who are religious but are blind to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. People are pursuing spirituality and practicing religion, but they don’t have any true spiritual life.
In fact, one of the main ways people seek to hide from the Lord is by pursuing spirituality and religion. For thousands of years, people have been exchanging worship of the true and living God for man-made religion. Romans 1:23 talks about those who “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” We exchange the worship of Jesus for religion. That exchange is appalling, and that is a problem that is alive and well in our own day.
Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus teaches us that regeneration is greater than man-made religion. Nicodemus was an accomplished and reputable man: a religious leader and teacher, a ruler of the Jews. He had lots of knowledge and education, lots of good works, religious position, and stature. He respected Jesus, like so many people in our world today who say good things about Jesus. So, we would expect Jesus to commend him.
But instead—and we have to feel the shock of this—Jesus says that if Nicodemus continues as he is, an upright, moral, religious person, he will never enter heaven. “There is no hope of you ever entering the kingdom of God, as remarkably moral and religious as you are.” That is Jesus talking. We can’t dismiss Jesus. He came from heaven and is there now, so he knows a little bit more about heaven than we do. And he says to humanity, “You must be born again!”
The reason that man-made religion will not solve our problems is that we are spiritually dead and lifeless. All of the religious observance in the world and all of the good deeds in the world might make me feel good about myself, but they cannot bring me from death to life. We cannot train or educate people from death to life. Imagine taking a pile of books to the graveyard to teach the dead. “A little more learning, then they will come alive.” You can teach corpses until you are blue in the face, but at the end of the day, they are still dead.
This is our awful condition apart from Christ. What we need is not a little bit of tweaking or moral improvement, but the creation—the birth—of an entirely new nature that was previously non-existent. Man-made religion will not save you. Hell is filled with people who lived religious lives. This is the gospel: Jesus saves through his substitutionary death and triumphant resurrection. And saying that Jesus came to bring new life is radically different than saying Jesus came to help us improve or help us be more religious. Thank God, there is one who gives us new life: Jesus truly is greater than religion.
November 21, 2013 by
In our rush to produce gospel-centered books, blogs, music albums, ministries, and churches, we’re forgetting one important thing: Being gospel-centered is dangerous.
At its most basic, “gospel-centered” means putting the message of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection at the center of your theology, your church, your very life. But we’re often unaware that this can and will wreak havoc on everything we’ve built, everything we’ve worked for.
So how is being gospel-centered dangerous? Here are four reasons:
1. It stops us from being impressed with ourselves.
Believing the gospel requires us to admit that none of us are righteous before God, that none of us are good, and that none of us seek after God (Romans 3). It’s only when we utterly strip away our faith in ourselves that we can place it in Christ. But when we do this, we leave no room for boasting in ourselves, our accomplishments, or our good works. As we grow in our knowledge of what Christ has done for us, our view of Christ will be more glorious and our view of ourselves will be more (painfully!) accurate.
If you’re looking for a pep talk about how great you are in and of yourself, the gospel isn’t it.
2. It puts us to work (and it’s tough work).
The gospel isn’t good news for lazy people. Our sin pushes us to do as little as we can, and what little we do, we do to focus on ourselves. The gospel propels us forward at an alarming speed to grow in godliness, to build the church, and to take the message of Jesus to those around us. In light of all God’s mercies, Paul says to present your whole life as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). The more we understand what Christ has done for us and the more that message works its way into our hearts, the harder we’ll work to lift up the name of Jesus.
If you’re looking to simply bide your time until Jesus returns, don’t look to the gospel.
3. It hijacks our agenda.
Paul says often that he is a “servant” of Christ, which literally means he is a bondservant or slave of Christ. Being “redeemed” is great news for us because it means we’ve been bought out of our slavery to sin, but it also means that we now live to serve Christ. Jesus’ commission in Matthew 28 is not a suggestion; it’s a command. The more that the gospel penetrates our hearts and lives, the more we die to our own agenda and replace it with Christ’s agenda.
If you’re looking to get God onto your agenda, don't look to the gospel.
4. It means we’re not allowed to go it alone.
We like the idea that we can survive and thrive by ourselves with no assistance from anyone needed. We like not having the baggage of other peoples’ problems and issues and being answerable to no one but ourselves. But here’s the problem with that: Jesus died to save a people. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” From Genesis where God begins to gather people to himself, to Revelation where we see a glorious assembly of the redeemed every nation and tribe, God is about the work of redeeming individuals, yes, but also a people. Even worse for our sinful tendencies, we’re brought together with people we don’t even like and don’t naturally get along with.
If you’re looking to be a on solo journey of religious self-discovery, don't look to the gospel.
The gospel is not safe. It is dangerous. Yet this is gloriously good news for us. The gospel grows our peace and joy and security in our identity in Christ. It propels us into glorious good work. It brings us into a universe-shaking plan of redemption. It adds us to a redeemed people gathered to glorify God. This truly is good news.
So if the gospel isn’t wreaking some healthy havoc on your life, it’s entirely possible that you’re not truly gospel-centered. When the gospel truly becomes the center of our lives, it is a glorious, powerful, dangerous thing.
November 20, 2013 by
“…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” John 3:5
As believers, it is good to always remember the great difference between the heart we once had and the heart we have now been given by grace. Every Christian can say that his or her heart is no longer what it used to be. Every Christian should often celebrate the personal miracle of regeneration and the power of a new heart.
When clay is left exposed to the air, it becomes hard. And after the clay is fired in the kiln, it is stone hard. It’s not soft; it’s not shapeable. That is the unregenerate heart. The truth is, my heart was once stone-cold to the glory of Christ. I was hardened and unresponsive to the gospel of grace. To be born again means that God has taken away that heart of stone, and he has given me a soft and responsive heart—a heart of flesh. The reality of this new heart transforms our understanding of the Christian life.
Jesus once told Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Later, in verse 10, Jesus rebukes Nicodemus for not understanding these things. “You are a teacher of the Scriptures, an expert in the law, and you don’t know about these things?” meaning that there is something somewhere in the Old Testament that sheds light on the meaning of being born of water and the Spirit.
I’d like to use a lifeline and phone-a-friend named Ezekiel. The prophets spoke of day when the promised Holy Spirit would come and work a deep, fundamental, glorious change in the people of God. This promise has been fulfilled in our lives today. It involves water and the Spirit and a new heart. Ezekiel 36:25–27 says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
Water and Spirit. How will my uncleanness and guilt be dealt with? How will I be cleansed of my sin against God? He will sprinkle clean water on me, water to wash away the defilement of my soul. And what about my cold, stubborn heart? God gives a new heart through the new birth. John Piper says, “In the new birth, our dead, stony boredom with Christ is replaced by a heart that senses the worth of Jesus” (Finally Alive, 42). That is the glory of the new birth! Because we have been born again, because the Spirit has been placed within us, because God has done for us what we could never do for ourselves, we now love new things!
I obviously don’t know the details of the struggles every Christian experiences in the heart. But this is what I do know about every Christian I meet: We have been given hearts that treasure Christ! We have been given hearts that hate sin. We have been given hearts that hunger for God’s Word. We have been given hearts that love God’s commands. We now want to walk in his statutes, and we have a desire to obey his rules!
How did this happen? God has given you this heart. You have been born of water and the Spirit. We now find there is a new nature at work within us, waging war against the flesh and bearing fruit in our lives. Not that we are already perfect, but we have been given an inner power and a new nature that makes all the difference as we run the Christian race. Give thanks to God and never forget: dead, stony boredom and hopelessness has been replaced by a new life, a new heart, a new love, a new power. The old is gone, the new has come.
November 19, 2013 by
“This is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” John 1:33
Pop quiz: What does the Bible mean when it talks about Jesus baptizing people with the Holy Spirit, and why does this matter for us today? Christians differ on this, and we intentionally (and I believe wisely) don’t have an official position on this issue in Sovereign Grace or at Covenant Fellowship Church. But since I happen to have the microphone (or the keyboard), I’ll go ahead and share my take.
Perhaps the most important thing that needs to be said is that this baptizing is an activity of Jesus for which we should honor him. John the Baptist introduces Jesus with these words so we would praise Jesus as the Mighty Baptizer and recognize how far superior he is to John (and to us). This Spirit-baptizing should produce far more doxology than debate. Each of the gospel accounts tells us Jesus will baptize with the Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16-18). That means this is a really big deal. For John the Baptist, the metaphor of baptism captures and summarizes the glorious activity of the ascended Christ in the new age through the power of the Spirit.
John’s words would have immediately brought to mind for his hearers a host of Old Testament promises regarding the coming of the Spirit: “In those days I will pour out my Spirit” (Joel 2:28–29); “I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring” (Isaiah 44:3). Now the time has come. And this is exactly what we see throughout the book of Acts: Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, drenching the world with the Spirit—he pours out and fills and floods and baptizes with the Spirit.
Here’s my position, only because you asked: I think there are good reasons to be cautious about taking John’s words to refer narrowly to only one aspect of what Christ does in our lives and in history. It seems that John envisioned the day when all creation would be flooded with a massive outpouring of the Spirit and fire, with salvation and judgment. As the last of the Old Testament prophets, he is restating earlier prophecies of the outpouring of the Spirit with a metaphor taken from his own work of plunging and drenching people in water.
If this is correct, the picture of Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit is a broad metaphor referring to the generous outpouring of the Spirit by the risen Christ in the new covenant. John Piper says, “As I have tried to let John define for us what he means by baptism with the Spirit, it seems to me that the term is a broad, overarching one that includes the whole great saving, sanctifying, and empowering work of the Spirit in this age.”
Max Turner also summarizes this perspective nicely: “For the New Testament writers, then, ‘baptized in the Holy Spirit’ was probably a very plastic symbol encompassing all activities of the risen Lord through the Spirit, from ‘new birth’ and ‘washing with the Spirit’ to deeper sanctification through the Spirit (expressed in the ‘fruit of the Spirit’) and empowerings of the Spirit for acts of service (both to edify the church and to evangelize the world), all the way to the final overwhelming cleansing of God’s people in resurrection effected by the Spirit. All is Jesus’ ‘baptizing’ of the people of God with Holy Spirit.” (Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 20)
D.A. Carson explains the exegesis that leads him to this view, challenging the traditional Pentecostal and Third Wave views. Embrace the big words and use them in casual conversation today for bonus points:
Charismatics tend to want to make all occurrences of the expression [“baptized in the Holy Spirit”] refer to a postconversion effusion of Spirit; [others] contemplate 1 Corinthians 12:13 and conclude, with equal fallacy, that all New Testament references are to the effusion of Spirit all Christians receive at their conversion.…The problem is the assumption on both sides that we are dealing with a terminus technicus that always has the same meaning. There is insufficient evidence to support that view…Interestingly, the Puritans adopted neither extreme. Apparently detecting in the phrase baptism in Holy Spirit no consistent, technical meaning, they took it to mean “effusion in Spirit” or “inundation in Spirit” and felt free to pray for revival in the terms, “Oh, baptize us afresh with thy Holy Spirit!” (D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd Edition, 46)
A parallel example might help. Most of us correctly recognize the language of the Spirit “falling” and being “poured out” as flexible, non-technical terms. The result is, even though that language is never used in Scripture to describe something believers experience in an ongoing way, we are comfortable (and believe it is thoroughly biblical) to pray for the Spirit to be poured out on us. What if Jesus baptizing with the Spirit is a metaphor that stands alongside other metaphors of the Spirit’s activity? What if the biblical authors don’t intend for “the baptism of the Spirit” to be limited to one moment in our lives any more than “the outpouring of the Spirit” is?
It is this more flexible understanding of the expression that enables John Calvin to say that Jesus is baptizing each of us in the Spirit every day, and Charles Hodge to say that there is a sense in which any communication of the Spirit can be called a baptism, and George Smeaton to say “The history of the apostles shows that not once, but on many occasions, they were made partakers of the baptism of the Spirit,” and Charles Spurgeon to pray that the Lord would take him and baptize him yet again in his Spirit.
Again, there are other legitimate perspectives on what John the Baptist was saying, complete with responsible exegesis and able scholarship to support them. Ask any of the elders I serve with at Covenant Fellowship for their position, and you will get a different response depending on who you ask. But regardless of how we understand the phrase, we can certainly join our voices together in praising Jesus as the one who baptizes with the Spirit. And we can join our voices in crying out to the Mighty Baptizer for a greater measure of the Spirit in the world today. This is the great need of the hour: Lord, pour out your Spirit upon us, and fill us with your power and your presence!