These are troubling times for every born-again Christian. The apostasy seems to be increasing exponentially. Biblical Christians are having greater difficulty finding churches that preach and teach the Scriptures. Extra-biblical content has captured the imaginations of growing numbers of Christians as they turn to religious bestsellers and “biblical” movies rather than to the written Word of God. Even with the rise of discernment ministries and “watchmen” blog sites, doctrinal confusion has increased, seemingly unabated.
The Bible warns that such conditions will take place and tells us that we are not to be surprised when they do. The Bible also gives us some of the reasons why this is occurring. Scripture declares prophetically: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy:4:3-4). Again it says, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils…(1 Timothy:4:1-3).
Whether we’re in the last days, or even the last of the last days, it should be obvious to every biblical Christian that “sound doctrine” is scarcely being “endured.” In fact, it’s ironic that at a time in the Western world when access to the Bible has never been greater, biblical illiteracy among Christians abounds. Rare is the believer who can name the twelve Apostles; more critical, however, is the number of Christians who have difficulty explaining the simple gospel. The “slipping away” from the truth, of which Hebrews:2:1 warns, has become a steep slope for the church.
The Bible doesn’t downplay the struggles that accompany a believer’s life in Christ—some of these may be revealed as the bad fruits of one’s old nature, but others are the consequences of the world and Satan’s opposition to God’s Word. Jesus declared: “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me…” (John:15:20-22). After Christ’s ascension and the martyrdom of Stephen, the church was scattered by great opposition to the gospel. The Apostle Paul, formerly a persecutor of Christians, was subsequently subjected to persecution after his conversion and throughout the rest of his life. Nevertheless, he wrote, “As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans:8:36-37).
It may seem that continual trials in a believer’s life could have no such good end, but Peter gives further insights: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified” (1 Peter:4:12-14).
Few believers in the US have experienced the kinds of physical trials that Paul and Peter have described, yet there are trials of a different sort that are destructive spiritually even though they are not necessarily physical. There are the trials of one’s faith in the realm of religious seduction, e.g., being deceived by popular false teachers and unbiblical doctrines, being ostracized from one’s fellowship for not going along with a new teaching or practice that isn’t supported in Scripture, or for being a “thorn in the side” at a Bible study group for not compromising the truth of God’s Word. These are things that often create conflicts simply by one’s trying to be steadfast in the faith.
Then how can that steadfastness be maintained without causing conflict and division? It can’t, except in rare situations where there is a willingness to repent and to submit to the truth of God’s Word. Nowhere does Scripture promise that there won’t be opposition to God’s Word. Instead it makes available a condition of “exceeding joy” that takes place within the heart and enables the believer to “conquer” or handle the situation in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. How is that accomplished? First Peter 4:14 tells us: “…for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you….”
The work of the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary in the life of a believer. That’s why Jesus said, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.…Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you” (John:16:7,13-14). Every true believer in Jesus is born of the Holy Spirit (John:3:5), sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians:4:30), and enabled, empowered, and led by the Holy Spirit (Romans:15:13, 8:14) in order to glorify God and to live one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him. According to the Scriptures, this is the only way that a believer can be spiritually fruitful.
In the late 1960s, Dave Hunt edited a book by William Law titled The Power of the Spirit. In the 18th century, Law wrote An Affectionate Address to the Clergy (full title: An Humble, Affectionate, and Earnest Address to the Clergy). It was brought back into print in 1896 by one of Dave’s favorite Christian authors, Andrew Murray. Murray retitled Law’s book The Power of the Spirit and said of it: “I confess that in all my reading I have never found anyone who has so helped me in understanding the Scriptural truth of the work of the Holy Spirit….I beg of my brethren in the ministry to give it no cursory perusal. I am confident that a patient and prayerful study will bring a rich blessing.”
Dave certainly concurred: “It is my conviction that Andrew Murray has not been unduly high in his praise of this volume by Law. And although, like Murray, I cannot agree with all of Law’s teachings, I too believe all included herein to be soundly based upon Scripture.” Dave further noted the relevance of Law’s writing to the current issues stemming from the spiritual abuses of the Pentecostals and Charismatics and the criticism of conservative and fundamental Christians: “What William Law had to say is, I believe, a very important contribution to this present discussion. He would rebuke the pride, lack of love, and inconsistencies in both camps, and would seemingly take side with neither extreme. But he would unquestionably maintain a Scriptural basis for the present full display and vitality of New Testament Christianity. To the mainline denominational adherent he would press home the necessity of the sovereignty and power of the Holy Spirit for today; and upon the Pentecostal he would impress the fact that the power of the Spirit is bestowed primarily to enable one to witness and to live a holy life. And his very delineation of that life would bring conviction of sin and a sense of falling short to both fundamentalist and Pentecostal.”
The following excerpts are from chapter one, “The Indwelling Spirit of God Essential to Salvation,” of TBC’s exclusive edition of The Power of the Spirit, edited for today’s reader by Dave Hunt:
The Spirit of the triune God, breathed into Adam at his creation, was that alone which made him a holy creature in the image and likeness of God. A new birth of this Spirit of God in man is as necessary to make fallen man alive again unto God as it was to make Adam at first in the image and likeness of God. And a constant flow of this divine life by the Spirit is as necessary to man’s continuance in his redeemed state as light and moisture are to the continued life of a plant. A religion that is not wholly built upon this supernatural ground but that stands to any degree upon human powers, reasonings, and conclusions has not so much as the shadow of truth in it. Such religion leaves man with mere empty form and images that can no more restore divine life to his soul than an idol of clay or wood could create another Adam.
True Christianity is nothing but the continual dependence upon God through Christ for all life, light, and virtue; and the false religion of Satan is to seek that goodness from any other source. So the true child of God acknowledges that “no man can receive anything except it be given him from above” (John:3:27). All goodness comes from God just as surely as all life comes from God….
Man’s fall from his first state brought separation from God and thus from the life, light, and virtue that is in Him. Man’s salvation can therefore only be effected by a reconciling of his spirit with the Spirit of the Creator. “Be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians:5:20), wrote Paul. Nor can this reconciliation be accomplished by man’s own efforts, but it must by its very nature be a gift from God. No angel or man could begin to show any love, faith, or desire toward God without a living seed of these divine affections being first formed within him by the Spirit of God. And as a tree or plant can grow and bear fruit only by the same power that first gave birth to the seed from which it sprang, so faith, hope, and love toward God can grow and fructify only by the same power that created the first seed of them in the soul. Therefore, the continuous inspiration and working of the Holy Spirit in the spirit of man is no less essential to that salvation, which God has provided through Jesus Christ, than the new birth itself.
This divine life in man can never be in him but as a growth of life in and from God. Hence it is that resisting the Spirit, quenching the Spirit, grieving the Spirit, gives growth to every evil that reigns in a fallen creation and leaves men and churches an easy and inevitable prey to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Nothing but obedience to the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, trusting Him for continual inspiration can possibly keep men from being sinners or idolaters in all that they do. For everything in the life or religion of man that has not the Spirit of God for its source, direction, and end is but earthly, sensual, or devilish….
A lack of…complete submission to the will of God, and a failure to realize that our salvation can be worked out only by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit forming the very life of Christ within the redeemed heart, has placed the Christian church today in the same apostasy that characterized the Jewish nation. And it has occurred for one and the same reason. The Jews refused Him who was the substance and fulfilling of all that was taught in their Law and Prophets. The Christian church is in a fallen state for the same rejection of the Holy Spirit, who was given to be the power and fulfilling of all that was promised by the gospel. And just as the Pharisees’ rejection of Christ was under a profession of faith in the Messianic Scriptures, so church leaders today reject the demonstration and power of the Holy Spirit in the name of sound doctrine.
The Holy Spirit’s coming was no less to fulfill the gospel than Christ’s coming was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. As all types and figures in the Law were but empty shadows without the coming of Christ, so the New Testament is but dead letter without the Holy Spirit in redeemed men as the living power of a full salvation. This is clear from these words, “It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you. But if I go away; I will send him to you” (John:16:7). Without the cross and resurrection, Christ could not have “gone away.” These antecedent events made possible His ascension, for it was “by his own blood that he entered into the presence of God for us” (Hebrews:9:12, 24). Thus the coming of the Holy Spirit, being the fruit of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, is essential to the fulfillment of the salvation Christ procured.
Where the Holy Spirit is not honored as the one through whom the whole life and power of gospel salvation is to be effected, it is no wonder that Christians have no more of the reality of the gospel than the Jews had of the purity of the Law. It could not be otherwise than that the same lusts and vices that prospered among apostate Jews should break forth with as much strength in fallen Christendom. For the New Testament without the coming of the Holy Spirit in power over self, sin, and the devil is no better a help to heaven than the Old Testament without the coming of the Messiah. Need any more be said to demonstrate the truth that the one thing absolutely essential to man’s salvation is the Spirit of God living and working in the spirit of man? And though we still cling to a religion that does not acknowledge this, it is a full proof that we are not yet in that redeemed state in our communion with God that is intended by the gospel.